A last minute decision found me 3 weeks out from an ultra marathon. I hadn’t planned to do this event, nor had I trained for it. I was just out of a surgery when a friend contacted me to ask if I wanted her entry for the 50K. I was intrigued, excited, tempted, but wanted to get the go ahead from my surgeon before I did it. I knew that mentally I was capable, and that I have great endurance, so my main concern was simply can I make the cut off times. After my surgeon gave me the all clear (with the proviso that I keep checking in with myself throughout the event), I was keen to start.
As you can imagine, there isn’t much training you can do in only 3 weeks. For the first two weeks I was on strict instructions to not do anything excessive apart from walking, until I am healed. That left me 1 week. I couldn’t do anything in 1 week that wouldn’t leave me too fatigued for the event, so I did minimal workouts, some weight lifting, light jogging, and spent my energy focusing on how I’d get through the event.
I set myself some scenarios;
- I don’t make the cut off to a checkpoint and get pulled – fair enough, I still turned up and gave it a go.
- I don’t feel well enough/recovered enough and pull myself out at a checkpoint – fair enough, I didn’t train for this and I just had surgery.
- I make it the whole way – amazing.
Throughout, my focus was to enjoy the event. A supported hike with purpose through one of the most beautiful mountains in Australia, surrounded by like minded people, the epic scenery, and wildlife. I was focused on enjoying every step, no matter how many steps that ended up being in the end. That took a whole lot of pressure off and freed my mind of expectations, the best thing that could have happened for this event.
The day before I headed up to Katoomba with what I hoped was everything I needed for the coming run. I was staying with a friend from my days back in Brisbane and her group of amazing runners. This was one of the best moves I made. Instead of staying somewhere alone, I was with a bunch of enthusiastic and supportive runners, not a single one of which made me doubt myself, something done by a few of my other friends with their misguided advice (i.e. that I shouldn’t do it). I felt incredibly excited to start the race, nervous, but thoroughly excited. That night, we headed in for the briefing, and the Welcome to Country was perfect. A local Indigenous man and woman, David King and Elly, told us the importance of connection with country, of what this country means to them and their families. It made me yearn for that connection and brought a new perspective to the run I was about to do the following day. He spoke of the wildlife, of the Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoo, how to respect the land. When we drove to the start line the next morning, I saw a couple of those cockatoos fly past, and it had a beautiful spiritual feeling for me. Every step of my run I felt the ground that these people have lived for centuries, the sounds of the birds whistling and singing as we jogged up and down the hills, the water, sometimes rushing over the rocks in cascading waterfalls, other times trickling through the undergrowth in gentle creeks. I didn’t listen to any MP3 players, to any music or podcasts, instead I listened to the Earth. It was uplifting, it carried me, eased the pain in my knees, quads, feet. In those moments, I was connected to world around me, to the Indigenous people whose land I was on, to a sheer sense of appreciation and enjoyment.
There were so many good points to this event, but I want to be as brief as I can. No one wants to read an essay. Strange as it sounds, my outfit was a top pick – my Pink Punk pants got so many great comments from runners and supporters alike, that there was never a chance for me to feel down before someone told me they loved my tights. My Slothfit shirt was the same, if people couldn’t read my name tag, they yelled “Go Slothlete!”. The fact the people could read our names and yell out personal encouragement was phenomenal. The number of supporters that seemed to be everywhere, and cheering every one on, was beautiful. The attitudes of these people, of the runners, the volunteers, the organisers, the friends and family, it was so inclusive and supportive – they wanted to see everyone cross that finish line. Out on the track, every runner checked in with every other runner they saw on the side of the track, to see if they were ok, if they needed anything. That camaraderie is priceless.
Each checkpoint felt like a win. I got to the first an hour under the cut off time. I was totally shocked! I felt good, checked in with my body, and after filling my water and stuffing my face, I headed to the next. Each checkpoint after this was the same. I was getting quicker as I went, coming in under the predicted arrival times, my pace well controlled and allowing me to put a little more mustard into each leg. My nutrition was perfect, my mind was steady. Don’t get me wrong, it hurt and I was fatigued for sure, but somehow, it felt easy, somehow, it felt completely doable. So, I powered on through, stopping for a few minutes at each checkpoint, then like a stubborn farmyard pony, not flash, not fancy, I headed out again, head set on the next stop.
That brings me to the stairs. On the way, I picked up a brand new friend and our chats until the stairs made time really fly. We supported each other, got each other to the bottom of the Furber Steps, revitalised to take on this last challenge. I was excited. I can’t say I was looking forward to the stairs, I was a little afraid I wouldn’t make it up them… Until we got to them.
I’ve been called stubborn, many times, but it is determination. When I reached those stairs, I got a second wind. I didn’t feel the pain any more, I just counted each step, sang to myself, smiled at the eyes of the spiders that glittered in the light of my head lamp, marvelled at the beauty of the scenery around me, the Three Sisters were lit up and I took a moment at the top of a particularly steep set of steps to pause and take it all in. I put my head down, and climbed each of those 951 steps. When I was close to the top, I could hear the crowds and it brought me even more energy. I jogged up the final ramp, hopped up the last 5 steps, and then ran around the corner through the cheering supporters, and crossed the line with the biggest grin across my face. I was a little embarrassed that it had taken me so long to finish, but I was incredibly proud of my effort, how my mind and body held out for the distance (the longest run I’ve ever done was only 23kms!), that I had achieved so much especially so soon after my surgery and without any training.
During the event, I kept thinking this is great, but I don’t need to do it again. Then, hours afterwards, I was thinking, hmm, I wouldn’t mind doing another one of these. I’ll keep you posted 😉