I apologise for the delay in this race report, it was delayed when I vomited everywhere in my bathroom and had to lay down for an hour or so before I could face cleaning it up.
First things first, I was wrong about the Flinders Tour trail run course being not hilly. It was really bloody hilly.
Secondly, I was wrong about my body loving trail runs and not getting sore after. I am really bloody sore and I feel like crap.
Thirdly, I would like to sue whichever member of my family had the original idea to move to Queensland. Because yesterday it was 33 degrees outside and I am pretty sure that today was about the same. And we’re supposedly in the middle of winter! This was an issue because I always run faster in the cold so I am blaming the State of Queensland and its incomprehensible weather for how slow I went in the race.
But yes, despite some obvious problems which I will provide further detail about below, I made it. I am alive. The 26.4km loop was conquered. At this point in time I am saying I will never do it again, but I guess we will see how I feel when the afterglow sets in properly.
By the way, if you didn’t read Part One of this special surprise post (and therefore probably have no idea what I am going on about) please catch up here. Or don’t, see if I care.
So I woke up this morning feeling very nervous and unsure, as you would imagine. I gobbled down some porridge for breakfast, which was a challenge in its own right because my stomach had already decided to go on strike in protest of the conditions I was about to subject it to.
All of my clothes were laid out ready for me to get dressed, but I nearly decided not to wear the Garmin watch when I realised the heart rate monitor strap was very ‘noticeable’ around my chest. I had visions of getting extra chafe in places I wasn’t prepared for, or even giving up on the chest strap half way around the course and having to carry it the rest of the way.
In the end I told myself that thousands of people run with these straps on every day, so I had to trust that once I got out there I would forget all about it.
Being only a 20 minute drive to the start line (I actually had to drive less than 26.4 km to get there!) I was able to try and relax a bit after breakfast. I made a few last-minute changes to the previous blog post and set it up to go live at about the time I expected to finish. Then I had a cuddle with Matilda the angel dog who thought she might like to go to the trail run with me.
I explained that 26km is too far for a little dog and eventually she relented. She was happy to get a bone instead.
It was a bit strange driving to this race all by myself, probably because I’d only had a week and a half to think about it so the whole way there I was worried I’d got the wrong day of the week, or the wrong location, or the wrong start time. I was quite sure I was not going to have to run the race at all, because I’d surely missed an important factor that would prevent me from taking part.
Indeed, when I parked my car and made my way to the registration tent, the nice lady who handed me my number asked if this was my first ‘half distance race’. I said yes and for a very brief second I thought she might reply that I would only be allowed to run if I’d proven myself at this distance before. But she didn’t. She just wanted to note it down so that the emcee could announce this was my first go when I crossed the finish line.
‘Hey, half distance of what?’ I thought to ask her, before I turned away to begin preparations.
‘Half an ultra’ she replied.
Half an ultra? What the F*CK? I suddenly realised that this 26km was longer than the epic long-course option I’d seen the crazy folk set off on at Wild Horse Mountain. For a minute I cast my memory back, to when I was standing in the race precinct of that event and marveling at the insanity required to set off on a 25km trail run. I remembered that I had told Shane I’d never be able to do a distance like that.
And yet here I was, a matter of a few weeks later, lining up to do 26.4km. Half of an ultra-marathon.
I wandered off to find some toilets and a sunny spot to warm up in before the race commenced at 9am. At 8.36am I was ready to go. Damn it. So I had no choice but to look around me at the rest of the crowd.
It was really hard, for the next ten minutes, not to jump in my car and head home. I felt so totally alone and out of place among the 100-strong group of excited, colourful, tall and lean people. Many of them were clearly members of clubs, all wearing matching uniforms that said things like ‘Sunshine Coast Trail Blazers’. In comparison, it seemed obvious to me that the short stocky chick dressed all in black with a sick look on her face did not fit in at all. Trail running is not ‘my thing’ – it belonged, quite clearly, to the Trail Blazers. What an idiot I am. I stood in the corner a little out of the way and tried to believe that this was a great opportunity to have a go, no matter what happened. But I did nearly cry. Everyone else looked so confident.
I managed two more toilet breaks before it was finally time to listen to the race briefing. It was an interesting one, with a description of the course that I had no hope of remembering at all, as well as the reminder to look out for white flagging tape hanging from the branches, to ensure we stayed on track. The race director, Bruce, mentioned that one year they’d had a guy who ended up 12km off course. My jaw dropped. Even though I’d had navigation issues during the Wild Horse at Night race, I’d kind of expected a trail run in daylight to be simple to follow.
With the fear of God set into me, it was time to line up at the start. Somehow I managed to find myself very close to the front which was weird but also so absurd that it didn’t really worry me. I was off to one side and the track started off quite wide, so everybody (literally everybody) could get around me as needed.
The first kilometre of running is always a little bit hard, as your breathing and heart rate adjusts to your new level of activity and you try to find a nice steady rhythm. So I didn’t enjoy the first few metres. And just as I was finding my perfect pace, we hit the first hill. Mount Beerburrum.
Well. I soon realised that the elevation map mentioned in my previous post had been provided to let those who hate hills give the Flinders Tour Trail Run a miss completely. It was a bit crazy and even my tree-trunk legs were struggling after the first couple of hundred metres up. But, what comes up must come down, and the down-hills were plentiful too. So it wasn’t all bad.
I’d set my Garmin to ‘start run’ as the buzzer had gone, and I was thrilled to find that it buzzed and made a cute little noise every time I ticked off another kilometre. The first 3 or 4 seemed to buzz through quite quickly, and I had great fun looking at the beautiful scenery, including a creek that smelled of eucalyptus and fresh mud (in a good way)
The first checkpoint, as shown on the map above, appeared suddenly at about the 4.8 kilometre mark. I was so excited! 1 down, 2 to go, I thought to myself. But less than 5km is a pain-free run in most people’s books and I really had no idea at that stage how bad things would get.
Even though I’d expected to come dead last in this race, I actually overtook a couple of people at about the 8km mark and never saw them again. Furthermore, I was not far behind a couple of ladies running together (I think they were mother and daughter) so I wasn’t running by myself at all, for the first three quarters of the race. This was nice because we were able to remark on the wonderful scenery together. It was really, really pretty in sections. Lots of wildflowers were out and occasionally we’d get to a clearing where you could see across to something spectacular, like The Twins:
At around 9.5kms into the race, we had to cross over a sty. You know the kind of thing, a big gate that is locked with a special low bit of fence to cross over if you are on foot.
As I pulled myself over the bars, I accidentally pressed a button on my Garmin watch. I think I bent my hand back and my wrist hit a button. I wasn’t sure what I’d done for a moment but I panicked a bit because the screen had gone back to zero and was starting the time and distance counter again.
I swore. Then I kept running. After a bit of fiddling, I realised that I’d simply set a new lap. So the watch knew I was still running, but it thought I wanted to do the same section of run again and time myself to see how much better or worse I would do.
This was really unfortunate as I had no idea whether I’d messed up the whole thing. In trying to diagnose the lap-setting, I’d obviously pressed a few more buttons (as you do) but I couldn’t tell if I’d changed anything other than the lap. I lost a bit of confidence in my watch as a result.
The next check-in point arrived at about the 12km mark. I had planned to have some water at this station, because even though I was carrying my CamelBak filled with water I knew it didn’t hold enough to get me through 3-4 hours of exercise, so I needed to supplement with the free water at the checkpoints.
‘Do you have any water?’ I panted breathlessly to the little boy helping to man the aid station.
‘There are electrolytes here’ he replied. So I made the split second decision to grab a cup of electrolytes. And then I spotted the water further down on a second table.
My plan had not been to take on any electrolytes from the aid stations, because I’d worked out my energy gels for fuel and essential nutrients etc. I didn’t ned the electrolytes from the checkpoints as well. But faced with nothing else (or so I thought) I’d downed one. And I paid for it almost instantly.
I ran off, pleased that I was nearly half way through. I was starting to feel the pain; I could feel a good-sized blister appearing on my right foot in the usual spot, and my hips were creaking and trying not to bend more than absolutely necessary. But I was happy to be about to cross the half-way mark.
Unfortunately, my stomach was mightily upset by the sudden addition of electrolytes. Well, that’s all I can think of that caused my next 3 kilometres of pain. Because my stomach sounded like a science experiment was taking place in there. Or maybe like a blocked drain when you try and run water down it. It was really loud and really uncomfortable. For 3000 metres, I cursed that damned electrolyte something rotten.
On the plus side, the pain and fear of my stomach being about to explode kept me entertained for a little while. When I finally hit the 2 hour mark, knowing that I was already ‘on the way home’, I was feeling quite positive. The trail changed dramatically with just about every twist and turn, so there was always something new to look at. Every time I thought I couldn’t bear the heat of the sun any longer, I’d find an arrow pointing me down along a shady ‘goat track’ with logs to jump over and crevices to fall into.
I was determined to make sure that I reached the 21.1km mark (the length of the upcoming half marathon) as comfortably as possible. But at checkpoint 3, which my watch said was only a few metres after it buzzed ’18’ the lady who handed me a slice of watermelon said I had about 10km to go.
You’ll be pleased to know I didn’t curl up into the foetal position and give up there and then. I also didn’t punch her in the face. I did, however, turn away in disgust and carried on running. I shook the watch. I pressed some more buttons (you know, just in case) and wondered if I could ask the ladies in front of me if they had any idea of the distance we had left. Except they had pulled off and were about 100 metres in front of me, so probably couldn’t hear me anymore.
The only answer was to run. But it was under protest. I couldn’t believe we’d still got 10km to go, if only because otherwise it had taken me over 2 hours to run 16km. Which IS THE EXACT AMOUNT OF TIME I TOOK TO RUN 16KM AT WILD HORSE MOUNTAIN. Yes but there was a bit of walking around the puddles in that one. It was dark so I had to go a bit slower. SURELY.
I argued and cajoled myself for what felt like a very long time, and eventually my watch ‘bing’ed to say I’d hit 21km. Or so it thought, but at that point I’d half given up on it. And almost at the exact same moment, my phone pinged. It was a message from my friend which I had to ignore, but this sudden contact with the real world gave me an idea. I could ring Shane.
I ran along, pumping my left hand harder to make up for my now-stationary right hand.
‘Hello?’ Shane’s voice said. As if he didn’t know who it was.
‘It’s me,’ I panted, ‘I think I’ve got 4km left to go and I don’t think I can do that.’
My voice, admittedly, broke a little bit as I made this not-very-startling confession. Shane is now claiming that I was crying but I maintain that no tears escaped my eyes at that point.
‘Yeah you can.’ Shane replied.
Silence. Well, panting.
‘No really, I don’t think I can.’ I insisted ‘The lady at the checkpoint said I had 10km to go but my watch says it is only 4km now and I don’t know what to believe. I might be able to do 4km but I can’t do 7 or 8km.’
‘It’s just your head you have to get right. It’s in your head.’ Shane said.
Now, anyone who has ever met Shane will know this is MAXIMUM SUPPORT MODE in action, right there. Usually (particularly if someone is having an EMOTION which he does not have experience of first hand) he is absolutely useless at encouragement. But in my moment of need, he stayed on the phone, listening to me pant along for a good five minutes. I barely said anything, but frankly I think he might have quite liked that version of me. It suited him. So he just stayed on the phone. And when I said ‘right well I have to blow my nose now so I have to hang up’ he said ‘don’t give up’ and that was very much appreciated.
The last few hills were so hard. I am getting a bit tearful as I think about them now, and yes I admit I cried on one of the downhills. You know things are bad when you are crying about running down hill. It was just so freaking steep and I had nothing left.
I ran out of water with about 3km to go, although I didn’t know at the time exactly how far it was. I would have done anything for a few drops more and I desperately wished I’d brought a bottle with me as well, as backup. At one point I saw a little puddle that looked muddy but nice and deep, and for a split second I was sorely tempted to plunge my face into it and take a big gulp.
Eventually, my watch beeped to tell me I’d hit 26km, supposedly. And then after a lifetime it beeped to tell me ’27’, which was a blow to my confidence but not unexpected. Finally, about 400 metres in front of me, I saw a traffic sign saying ‘school ahead’. And I knew I was almost back to the race precinct.
I’m going to put it out there, that running that last 1.5km, even when I could see the school ahead of me and knew it was almost over, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. No part of me wanted to continue.
But I made it. And a lovely crowd of runners who had already finished had settled in to clap us crappy runners over the finish line. It was lovely to be cheered and clapped even though I was clearly crying like a loser. I haven’t seen the official photos yet but I don’t think I want to, either. And instead of being presented with a blingy medal as I tried not to collapse in the way of others behind me, race director Bruce was standing there behind a table of beautiful hand-made mugs. He told me to pick one, so I chose a blue one with a little picture of Mount Tibrogargan on the front. It will take pride of place somewhere special.
As you may recall, all finishers were entitled to free BBQ at the end. Unsurprisingly, I could not face looking at it, let alone taking any.
I stumbled to my car, wondering whether I should call Shane and have him pick me up in case I was about to crash. But that would have delayed me getting home and I felt sure that with a hot bath or shower, I’d start to feel better.
A couple of times on the short drive back to reality I wondered whether I should pull over and see if I needed to vomit. I certainly felt very queasy. I had to drive sort of slumped over the steering wheel, inhaling the cold air blasting out of the air conditioner and willing the minutes away.
I practically crawled from my car, down the driveway and into the house. I managed to make it to the bathroom but not the toilet before the vomit exploded everywhere. Then I had a lay down for an hour, after which I told Shane that I needed some food, but the only food I could face was a Grill’d burger and chips. So off we went to get burgers and chips for a late lunch. when we returned the vomit had gone dry and crusty so it took me a while to clean. Hence the aforementioned delays to writing this blog post.
And what was the deal with the watch, you ask? Well now that I have uploaded all the data to my Garmin account I can report the following:
- It counted each kilometre as a lap. So lap 1 was kilometre 0-1. Hence we got to lap 27 when I hit the 26km mark. So there was nothing wrong with it at all, just a useless operator. And the lady at the checkpoint was incorrect.
- I did forget to turn the watch off at the end, so my time is not entirely accurate but it says I took 3:37:20, which I am pleased with.
- It says the distance I ran was 26.94km so I am going to claim 27km
- My average pace was 7:38 per minute
- I burned enough calories to eat for free all week
So hooray! I can officially run a half marathon – with some change. I’ll admit that this was not my finest hour, nor was it my brainiest decision ever. But I am glad I did it, if only to get the pretty mug. I do like mugs.