Sunday, July 24, 2011

Flinders' Tour 50km: Of Mice and Men

I finished the above-mentioned novella the day before the race and, for some reason, it's poignant ending served to cool the nerves.

My "best laid plans" were:
1. Take it easy up & down Mt. Beerburrum,
2. run consistent 5-5:15 minute kms on the first loop,
3. run consistent 4:45-5 minute kms on the second loop,
4. finish in 4:30.

Ian characteristically muttered "go" and stepped aside, letting the 40-odd runners pass him by. A large pack came together, running comfortably to the base of the climb up Beerburrum. As dirt road gave way to steep concrete we started to spread, until it was just Dave, Mick, Caine and I going together at the front. I was keenly awaiting a shift down-gear to power-hiking, but it just never happened; Mick seemed super-comfortable running up the 30% grade, and we were all eager to follow. We then proceeded to bomb it downhill, making some tight passes and greeting those coming in the opposite direction.

As the road flattened we settled into a solid pace - about 4:40 minutes per km.

My best laid plans had gone awry... but I wasn't bothered, as I still felt quite comfortable.

After we turned left off of that ghastly section of pavement along Steve Irwin way, Nigel and Jordan (and a few others maybe? I can't remember) caught up and sidled in close. It was great running in the pack, bantering, laughing, sharing stories and jumping logs and fences.

As we rolled over gently undulating fire-trails Nigel started to push the pace -"Leave us alone mate!" - before we came to a steep rocky uphill that slowed most of the pack down. I took a bit of a lead here, but was wary of making any statement of intent that would incite the others to pace-related violence, so waited for everyone near the top of the hill. Somewhere around the next section of log hopping and puddle avoiding Jordan and Nigel dropped off the back, so that when we got back into the pine plantations, it was back to Mick, Dave, Caine and I. Through the aid station, where Mandy handed me a bottle of Endura, and I was in and out seamlessly, again waiting for the others.

We went Around the back of the Twins at a pace that was still pleasant, but my achilles began to play up. Mick gave me some ibuprofen, for which I was incredibly grateful; a true gentleman of the sport. Then it was onto some sandy single-track where I opened a small gap again. And again, it just didn't feel right, so I waited for the others as we neared Beerburrum. It was nice to pass the 25km runners and cheer them on just before we hit the bitumen for the final few kilometres to the half-way turnaround. We got back to the school and had a little nibble before turning to run clockwise; to my surprise, Dave hadn't stopped at all, and had opened about 50 metres on us! I ran hard to catch up, and pretty soon Mick and Caine had also fallen back into step.

And then it was time to separate the mice from the men.

Mick surged and surged, accelerating to 3:50 minutes per kilometre. Suicide pace.

I looked left to Caine; he wasn't giving much away through his tinted sunnies, but his laboured breathing suggested a world of hurt.
I commented on the pace to Dave, and he just looked straight ahead with a somewhat disgruntled expression.
Having personally made the decision to slow down after about 2km of this nonsense, it was now a matter of having the courage to let them go. Just let them go...
But I couldn't do it alone, so I coerced and begged and pleaded with Caine to drop off with me.
And pretty soon we did, settling back to 4:30s-4:40s. Slowly but surely, Mick and Dave disappeared into the distance and first and second places seemed secure. Caine was still breathing hard, so I told him multiple times "I'm happy to slow down if you want to", masking the fact that it was I who wished to back off! He later described it as psychological warfare, but at the time I was just trying to help both of us to finish strong.

"Yeah mate, I'm gunna let you go ahead, the calves are packing it in".
We shook hands before I accelerated on the uphill, ignoring my cramping quads. I pulled ahead gradually, before we got to the steep, technical uphill that had presented itself as a fun descent on the first loop.
Zac, you must run it.
The tactitian inside me knew that I'd have to run hard here to bluff Caine, presenting a facade of utter strength and impassability to hide the much less intimidating reality; sick, hurt and weak. Arriving at the top was an utter relief, and I was excited to see Dave hopping over fallen logs about 50 metres ahead. Walking. So I tried to be sneaky, and went past as quickly as possible, receiving a healthy ass-slap of encouragement. It seemed that keeping up with Mick had finally taken its toll.

Ok, crunch time. Run hard some more. Soon enough, he was out of sight, and I was focusing on my twinging, cramping hamstrings. Oh no, oh no, oh no.
I felt that if we didn't deal with the cramping it could be game over, so I thought about it, and realised that between the gels with electrolytes and the Nuun tablets I'd been taking in too much salt. Passing the next runner (in the 10k), I gratefully stinged a couple of mouthfuls of water to restore the balance and felt better immediately.

Through the next aid station I whinged like a child about the cramping, taking a quick swig of water on my way through. After a few kilometres, I glanced over my shoulder to see a guy closing in behind me: 10km runner, 25km runner, Dave?
As he drew level, the mystery man shoved a salt tablet in front of me "here, take this, for your cramps". I was overwhelmed with gratitude and couldn't thank the guy enough. Although a salt tablet was the last thing that I needed, this man had run 2 or 3km from the aid station just to lend a hand. What incredible kindness!

After that point, with under 8km to go, it was pretty much all aboard the pain train - running the uphill sections with the lungs busting and smashing the descents with the quads screaming. Counting down the kilometres.

I slowed to a walk near the top of the rock-strewn Hamburger Hill, still anxiously glancing behind me in fear of a bounce-back by the two casualties of Mick's sub-4s.
Trying not to be overwhelmed with fatigue, reminding myself that I run ultras for the suffering. This is what you came for.

Through the 50km mark in 4:00:30 (damn it! So close to sub 4), there must only be about a k and a half left.

Then the silvery shades of parked cars came into view, followed by the school buildings...and the finish line. Yeeeew!

The first thing I did after crossing was to give Mick a massive, embarrassing bear-hug. He's a great runner, a great person.

The rest of the afternoon was spent eating, talking with everyone and just having a good time in general.
I am so grateful for Ian for organising the event, the volunteers, Nic and Mallani for the bed to sleep in and the lift up there, and all the good friends (old and new) who helped me out:
- Maddie for positive thinking,
- Mandy for handing the waterbottle and the new pair of shorts,
- Mick for the ibuprofen,
- Caine for running with me for as long he did and for picking up my watter bottle and pouch multiple times after my clumsy fumbles,
- Jordan, Dave C, Dave S, Mick, Caine, Tymeka, Nigel, Nic, Mandy, Mallani, Libby, Suzannah among others for great conversation and encouragement before, during and after,
- Delina for that extra burger,
- The guy who spared some water,
- the salt tablet guy,
- and many others.

The best laid plans of this mouse had gone a good way - I came in 24 minutes under the goal time!

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