I, among others, experienced something completely new on the weekend:
Being woken up by German tourists at 3:15 on Sunday morning after a restless night of illegal camping, with a sub-40-minute 10km in the legs, knowing that we'd be racing 43km through the sand in 75 minute's time. I think the complexity and oddity of the situation overwhelmed my mind, so that all I could do was relax and be excited about what the day would bring.
Despite being peer-pressured by Caine to enter against better judgment, the 10km of beach on Saturday went off pretty much hitch free. Caine strode out an easy low-37 on the sunny 2.5km out and back, while I had to quote lines from "Lord of the Rings" to myself to come in under 40 minutes. Speedwork may be in order. Tymeka finished up first female in 43:xx I believe, while James watched on, wisely saving his legs for the next day.
The rest of the afternoon was spent chilling with team geek at the Warbus; trying to do handstands, throwing large sticks, talking trash, the usual.
After dinner at the sports club and a nice walk on the beach, it was time to hit the tents and get some shuteye before the main event.
"GO" just after 4:30, up the road outside of the sports club. By the time that Caine, James and I had jostled our way to the front, some dude had already gapped the field by about 50 metres. Who is this man who has dared to disrespect the Trail Geeks!
Caine and I were too busy talking crap to each other to catch him, but as soon as the road gave way to trail, Warburton led the charge ahead. We snaffled him up in little time, and the three geeks locked into formation, battling against this lone challenger. Onto the soft surface of the sandblow we went, and I moved into poll position for the cameras.
We were soon back on the trail, with a continuous stream of egotistical chatter from Caine and I providing some relief for our lethargic legs. We tried to invent some code words for pull back and charge ahead; I suggested "for Frodo" for the latter.
James pulled slightly ahead on a long descent.
We upped the pace, attempting to drop the other runner. "Come on fellas, just a couple of minutes at threshold and we'll lose him", I demanded, but Caine made the good point that it was too early in the race to be making moves. So we let him reel us in, and remained as a group of four for the next hour or so.
James kept us very honest on the downhills (Caine exclaiming "bloody pescetarian"), and otherwise for the most part I was copping the wind in front. Or rather, Caine was copping the wind from my 6am flatulence. Marty, the other runner, seemed to be frustrated at being held up on the single-track behind the three of us, unable to make a pass. We tried to involve him in the small talk, but he seemed to be concentrating on the running. Funny that.
So when the trail widened on a sandy climb, he made his move.
Caine kept by his side, and I busted my gut to remain in touch, a few metres behind. James was fading.
The lactic in the quads was nearly unbearable, and I entertained thoughts of dropping out/pulling back. I communicated this by a hand signal to Caine, but he reassured me silently that Marty was hurting too. It certainly didn't look like it to me!
As we crested the top, Caine and I pulled away, and on the next uphill, Marty was all but gone.
"He's played his card".
By the time we'd reached the beach, we had atleast 200 metres on him.
Caine stepped it up to 4:15s and I was struggling. The hamstring issues were returning. Pretty soon I was shat out the back, down to 4:30s and always glancing over my shoulder to ensure that the gap between Marty and I remained.
A few close calls with 4wds were enough to break me from a deep reverie, and after what felt like a lifetime (but was much closer to 8km) I was watching Caine stride uphill to the lighthouse. I followed suit, the awareness of Marty's ominous presence preventing me from walking.
The climb was much shorter than expected, and not the critical point in the race as Caine and I had speculated. Barring a huge trump card from someone behind, the placings seemed pretty well sorted. That is, as long as I could keep chugging along at a decent clip.
This became quite difficult when I got back down to the beach: a series of rocks presented a good technical obstacle, and the arrow pointing uphill in the opposite direction a minor headache. I just followed Caine's claw-marks in the sand and hoped for the best. If he was lost too, he couldn't beat me!
Along the beach, past many P-platers in their 4wds, dozing families and huge sand slopes. Although the hamstrings were absolutely killing me, it was pretty nice.
As the despair concerning our apparent mislocation was deepening, a man next to the forest waved to me. We're on the right track!!!
It was the friendly runner who'd raced with us the day before; "plenty of dunes in the next section" he warned me.
He was right to: under the beautiful green canopy lay soft sand and 30% inclines. It was picturesque and incredibly demanding. I disappointingly slowed to a walk two or three times, but just churned out 8 minute kms on the uphills otherwise. It was the point in the race where the end felt much further than you wanted it to be.
Mentally, I was faltering between: "Oh my God, Marty's going to catch me, hurry the hell up" and "that joker's been dropped, just cruise it in". I was glancing behind at every opportunity and not once caught sight of him.
The trail hardened, a checkpoint was passed, and a long sloping downhill was pounded. I was trying to channel Jordan's ability to let go and pound it all out. Despite the volunteers' belief that it may have been 11km to the finish, I was sure that it was 4 or 5.
At this point, I was prepared to run for four hours. I'd expected three and a half before the race, but the brutality of the course was cause for revision. Counting down the minutes.
Then came a somewhat demoralising climb: the top of the hill, some 500 metres away was visible. Now's not the time to walk.
Step, step, shit this is slow, step, step, look behind, step, step, where's Marty, step, step, look behind.
The run home would have been an absolute joy and breeze, but the problem hamstring tendons were the most painful that they've ever been. Eventually, I became fed up with the negative attitude I'd adopted to towards it, and exclaimed out loud "It's only pain you f***ing p***y, there are people who don't have anything to eat, and you get all the food you like". Nothing like an ultra to bring on epiphanic moments of self-degradation...or self-transcendence.
Some houses appeared next to the trail...An information centre...The road!
I slowed and slowed around the runway of orange cones, hugged Caine, and came in at a pinch over 3:48.
Marty was there after another 9 minutes, looking pretty destroyed, with James striding easily home another ~10 minutes after him.
What an event. That has to be the best and most difficult course that I've raced on. The soft sand and surprising amount of vertical made all the difference. Joe Raftery, Ian Javes, and all of the organisers and volunteers must be lauded for what was an incredible day.
We spent hours lounging around, chatting, drinking, eating. Watching Tymeka come in after a duathlon (I'll let her tell you that story) and Alun after an assisted adventure race. A swim at the beach was enough to wash away most of the pain, and before we knew it, James and I were crusing down the Bruce at 110, headed for home.