Monday, May 16, 2011
Cook's Tour 50 miler
You're running up a wide, dusty, yellow dirt road in the heat of midday. The air is still, and the sun is exposed, seemingly penetrating your skin. You look up from the metronomic motion of your feet to survey the horizon; the road rises and dips for kilometres ahead. All is quiet in the immediate surrounds, but far off a dog barks, the engine of a bike buzzes and the wind moves through the trees.
Your gaze shifts to the watch on your arm. You're binded by it, it makes the rules. Only one minute gone - in reality, it's been a day, a week, a month worth of pain. But that doesn't matter. What does is that if you endure 47 more of those minutes, you'll be done. You'll be done in good time.
It's about 74km into the race, the kind of geo-temporal situation that I live for.
What's more is that, unlike usual, I'm not stumbling along barely coherent, drawing wavy lines in the dirt, bleeding inside.
I'm running, balancing on the red line which separates a non-race effort and utter annihilation. I'm listening closely to the body; quads are bartering with calves to trade some strain, the right hamstring just woke up, shoulders are moaning. Everything is pushing hard, working in synergy to extract the utmost forward motion from each muscular contraction. Everything is strong.
It just feels 'right'.
But getting to that point was a different story.
Stayed the night before with Nic and Mallani, and we consumed a Mexican feast prepared by the man of the house (very impressed!).
Up at 1:08am, then Nic drove us up.
Standing on the start-line, the hamstrings were twingey, and everything else felt stiff and heavy.
Deb, Nic and I started down the road shoulder to shoulder, bantering and laughing, opening up a large gap on the rest of the field reasonably quickly. I was trying to stick close to Deb, because she had a headlamp that could blind the sun. Soon enough, Nic started to fade, while Deb and I chugged along chatting. One thing that I noticed about this incredible running woman was her quick stride rate - she must have been taking about 200-220 strides per minute, compared to my measly 170-180.
As such, after little over an hour, I had to take a pit stop.
As Deb's luminescent glow bobbed off into the distance, I looked down at the ground, and came to a crushing realisation. My headlamp was as good as useless; I had zero depth perception on a patch of light about one metre squared. So I ran hard in an attempt to catch up.
I could've breezed through Checkpoint 6 and ran with her, but I knew that my bottle needed refilling, so I took the smart option, also bolstering my gel-lined stomach with some real food.
Deb became the course marshall for me, as I was unable to follow the markings in any way other than by fixating my gaze on her lamp in the distance.
At some point, while descending a seemingly flat road, I strayed into a 1.5-foot-deep rut without noticing, and before I knew it, I was on my knees and chest, screaming expletives (to some extent, in the vain hope that Deb would turn around and help me with her flashlight - no such luck). Pretty soon after that, I wiped my hand across my knee, and realised that there was a fair amount of blood. I then fell over again. It was around this point, some 16km into the race that, mentally, I let Deb go. The way she was running, there was no way that anyone could pass her later on, unless by divine intervention.
After falling into more mud puddles and generally stumbling around the technical trails at the base of Tiberoowuccum, I saw a headlight behind me. Nic!!!
I slowed and slowed, eventually stopping to let him catch up. With a stronger light, we were back in business. The miles rolled by, as we chatted away - traffic, race tactics, and bodily conditions were the main topics of discussion. Before I knew it, we were at Beerburrum, and just under 24km into the race.
I picked up some food, water, and abuse from Geoff about not wearing a shirt, and we were off again, running shoulder to shoulder, the way we came, into the dark.
After about ten minutes, we passed a pack of four runners coming in the opposite direction: Walter (who is usually a strong contender in the mens), Suzannah (National team 24-hour runner), Tymeka (winner of a few ultras), and this other veteran dude who was battling some intense foot pain. At this point, we had atleast 3km on them.
The race was starting to take shape: Deb was unassailably in the lead, Nic and I would be battling for second overall, and the rest would be jostling for position behind us.
New strategy: stay with Nic.
And that I did, even when on some flat and downhill sections it looked like he would open a gap, and on the uphills he faded. I could have run away from him in a few places, but I wasn't looking forward to another 50km of running alone, so I played the waiting game and stuck to him like gum on a shoe.
Approaching CP 6 for the second time (about 42km), the pesky hamstring tendons flared up, and I was dreading the prospect of dealing with this issue for another 40km. I tried frantically to get the two ibuprofen pills out of my back pocket, but the zip was broken. Damn it to hell!
Eventually, I was able to extract them, but had no water so I waited until we rolled into 6.
The people there were really friendly and gave us all we needed; biscuits, fruit and WATER - the pills could now be washed down.
My inner-junkie rejoiced as they slid down my gullet, and almost immediately, the pain started to fade. It would continue to do so progressively over the next 20km, until it wasn't there at all.
Pretty soon came the famed powerlines section. Nic had been talking about how horrible it was, but I fell in love with it immediately. I was a series of 20m long ups and downs with 20-40% gradients, huge puddles, ruts, roots and rocks. Again, I could have pulled away here, but restrained myself. Save it for later Zac, you don't want him catching you at the end!
The next 7km from to CP 8 was relentlessly flat, and I really struggled to keep with Nic. I couldn't count the number of times that I coerced him to slow down, and was starting to feel a bit guilty. Then again, we were working well together - the advantage was mutual.
Coming into 8, we were greeted a reasonable crowd, led by Mandy, who ordered us onto the scales and then sent us to the aid table. Libby was there too, and she doted on our every wish, bringing drop bags and filling bottles.
"Come on Zachariah, let's go", said Nic, as he ambled back onto the trail.
The next section - the first of two loops beginning and ending at 8 - was a combo of flat single-track, and very steep ups and downs on technical 4wd tracks. We passed Mallani (who was running the 50km race) while crossing a creek, and both noted how fresh and happy she looked. At some point, I ate my first coffee flavoured gel (I had been taking two gels per hour before this), and was instantly wired.
I started singing very loudly, much to Nic's annoyance, until he decided to add some wicked air bass solos. Who said running isn't fun?
I then decided to break the strict one-gel-every-30-minute regime and put off taking another one for a little while to avoid the risk of a deep crash later on - all I had left in my handheld were two more coffee flavoured GUs. Well, my blood sugar plummeted with impeccable timing - just as we started walking up the longest hill of the race (that we would meet again at the end of the next loop). I felt low and sad and destroyed. So I was indescribably happy when Libby came down the hill with one of Mandy's sons, and accepted my request for a hug.
Into 8 again, I grabbed my second handheld; full of gels and energy bars; and did the usual restocking. Nic and I were out of there quickly, climbing up a steep hill.
Then came the most talked-about section of the course: Cook's climb (or Cook's descent, in this case). We went downhill at a slow pace, but I started to pull away from Nic a little. And then I fell over again.
"Zac, I need to shit"
"Well, tell me when you're going to," I said, fully intending to wait for Nic. There were still about 18km to go, and I didn't want to make my move yet. Nic faded and faded and faded, until I was descending entirely alone, with his skinny figure out of sight.
Okay Zac, time to go.
Reluctantly, the training wheels came off, and I went.
I hit the flat, and turned it up a notch, frequently checking over my shoulder, fearing to see the imposing bald man breathing down my neck. No such bad luck. I passed a few 50km runners as the small hills rolled on, then after a few kms of dead flat came the game-breaker. That big hill. Thinking of Lance Armstrong, and how he always busted the tour open in the mountains, I knew that if I was going to seal the deal it would have to be here.
Run it Zac.
Those mornings running up Mount Cootha on the steepest tracks, barely eeking out 8kms per hour in the hardest sections, lungs and legs searing, came to mind. I passed Fitzy (50k) and asked if he wanted to come with. No was the answer, so I trucked forward and up.
I arrived at 8 for the last time, in a world of hurt, got weighed, stocked up, hugged Mallani, and then set off on the most painful/enjoyable/incredible 13km of my life. I had 1:10 to play with if I wanted to get in under 8:00 - I would have to run everything.
And that's how I got to the situation described in paragraph 1.
Then came the final checkpoint; they told me the finish was 5km from there. I had 30 minutes to do it in. Well, it was certainly longer than that, as I couldn't have been averaging less than 10.5km per hour, but it still dragged on and on and on. Turn left, turn right, into the forest, into the open, onto the grass, onto the dirt, and then... onto the road. The Woodford Pool, the finish line, was in sight. I ran hard up the final hill. Sub-8 was gone, but I wanted to finish strong.
Over the line - 8:01:49 for 82km total. Second overall, first male.
Although a few things went wrong in that race (headlamp, hamstrings) I think that I made almost all of the right decisions in regard to pacing, food, and hydration (well, carrying a bit more water would have helped). Because of this I'm really happy with the race, and I know that with a year of training under my belt, I'll be able to cut quite a bit off of that time.
Nic had some serious stomach issues and ended up finishing about 20 minutes later - I sort of would have preferred to cross the line by his side, but it just wasn't his best day out I suppose (unlike a few years before, when he ran sub-7:30!).