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My First Ultra-Marathon

Alright, sorry for this complete brain spew. I'm gonna get this blog out in one hit and post it before it takes up too much time or I overthink it.

Firstly, and for those in the "too long, didn't read" category. Let me say a big thank you to everyone who sent me messages of encouragement and support. It really helped and really means a lot. On to the blog.

I signed up for the 53 km Wild Goose Chase Ultra Marathon in February this year. It was to be my first Ultra Marathon, in fact it's my first marathon and it's only the 2nd race I've done since high school Cross Country. Since I started seriously running back at the start of 2018 I always had something big in the back of my mind, so I jumped in the deep end. I've always thought I could finish a marathon, in February 2018 I wrote in one of my notebooks a question. That question was; "Have you done it yet?" looking back it kinda sounds like something teenagers ask each other haha, yeah dick talk. But for me it was to remind myself that I hadn't yet run that marathon yet, a kick up the ass to say "stop talkin bout it, be about it". Me being me, a marathon, a normal one, wouldn't suffice, plus I really don't like road running. After the Margaret River Ultra was a no go (day after my mates wedding) I settled on the Wild Goose 53 km. Thank god because Margaret River is 80 kms. Fuck that's already a paragraph.

From January this year all I cared about was compiling my weekly kilometres and settled in on about 50-70 km most weeks. I did challenge myself and managed to hit 100 km in a week about 6 weeks from race day which I was quite chuffed about. Most of my running was done in the Rockingham Salt Lakes, a nice flat track, more to come on that later. I did manage to change the scenery a bit in the last few weeks as I hit some trails from Jarrahdale down to Serpentine Falls. Something about the trails just does it for me. I had racked up 1000 km for the year about two weeks before race day, this was another goal ticked off for me. Pumped. I knew I had to rack up the k's to be able to last 53.

From January until race day I ran 19 half marathon (or longer) runs. The longest run I did in training was 35km. It was horrible, I bonked hard at 27km and only did the rest because I was in the middle of the bush and Kelly was at work. After that I was thinking "what the fuck have I got myself into, how am I gonna do 18 more?". Coming into the race my week was loosely structured like this:

Monday: 10-15 km

Tuesday: Off

Wednesday 20 km+

Thursday: Maybe 5 km

Friday: Maybe 5 km

Saturday: 15-32 km (split in 2 runs)

But, to be honest the last 3 weeks were average. I went to Adelaide and missed a long run, I got a little crook and missed a long run, on my last long run (Wednesday before the race on Sunday) I pulled out 1 km in with a weird side strain. I wasn't having doubts, but I was frustrated with it and it was annoying me when I was breathing hard.

Onto the actual fucking event, thank Christ. I'm quite blasphemous for a catholic boy hey haha. So the Wild Goose Running festival is held over 3 days in the Avon Valley National Park about an hour and a half north east of Perth. Runners can choose between a handful of different race lengths and if you've lost your marbles enough you can run 3 days in a row for a total of 177 km. Yep that's right. These people are not ok. Help has been sent for.

The runners village was set up at a CEC Burrows Campsite and was the start and finish line. Toilets, showers, a communal shelter with couches, microwave etc etc, you could even purchase the "glamping" option. The event was organised by Ultra Series WA and you could tell it wasn't their first rodeo. The logistics of a multiple day event like this covering so much ground with so many people would take a lot of organising and to be honest, everything was seem less. Kudos.

Anyway, the 53 km was held on the Sunday and started at 7 am, because it's in the middle of the bush and a good 2 hours from home, I decided to camp the night before. I knew I wouldn't get the best night's sleep but it was gonna suck either way. Little did I know, the fruitcakes doing the 106 km (I know!) on the Saturday where actually finishing in the early hours of Sunday morning, so staying asleep was a task when people are being cheered across the finish line at 2 am.

On Saturday I made sure I ate up big, hydrated and had everything organised for my aid station drop bags and mandatory gear we had to carry (space blanket, whistle, bandage etc).

My alarm went off at 6:15 and it was race day. I nervously checked-in like the first day of school holding all my gear and two bananas that I wrote breakfast on. The ladies at the check-in table laughed and could see my vulnerability so they helped me out with where to put my drop bags, where to fill up my hydration pack and gave me my bib number. 505. Yeah boy.

An ultra-marathon, which is anything longer than 42.2 km, starts like the opposite of the 100m sprint its actually pretty funny. 3,2,1 and - pace yourself and chat. The race consisted of two loops, the first was a 16 km loop from the village start line out in an easterly direction and back to the village. One main climb to navigate. The second loop was 37 km, back out the way you came in and west for 4 brutal climbs, including an out and back (up and down) just for fun.

The start of the race is relatively flat, I say relatively because the actual hills on this course are fucked, sorry Mum, there's no other way to describe them. Overall there is roughly 2000m of elevation on the 53 km. The most I'd hit in training out in Jarrahdale was 460m. This is something I would change if I had my time again. So back to the flat start, I was cruising at about a 6 min pace for the first handful of kilometres, the group thinned out as people went about their race plans. For me, if it went uphill, I hiked, otherwise it was a cruisy pace. Conserving energy. After about 5 km a couple of runners caught me up and I ran with them for a while before looking at my pace and deciding it was too fast, I dropped back and let them go ahead. It was never about anything but finishing.

At aid station 1, 8 km in I met back up with the them and we hit the first real climb of the race which had us going up a valley along a creek back towards the village. It was all single trail and the markings were kind of hard to spot as we criss-crossed the creek. For me, this was my favourite part of the course. We went up a zig-zag goat track on the eastern side of the valley and back to the village.

At the top of that climb at about 13 km into the 53, I was cruising back along flat ground to the village and started to feel my quads show the first signs of cramp. It came on quick and a minute later I was fucking cursing the world. I'd had a few training runs where I'd cramped but nothing very recent, so I was livid. I slowed to a shuffle, it sort of made it worse. I walked for a bit before managing to jog into aid station 2 back at the village.

I ate a banana, changed my bottles over and headed back out for the longest stretch between aid stations 18 km from the village to the third aid station Big G. Big G is a hill guys, and the hill is big. A few minutes later the cramp had really set in. As a last resort I had with me a product called CrampFix, I'd never used it, because I'd never needed to. But the reviews on it were outstanding so I packed some for the race as a last resort. It's a harsh blend of vinegar, salt and electrolytes. You take it like an energy shot and supposedly it will stop cramp. I can tell you now it tastes horrific. But it worked, this first time. I was able to jog and ran back down the Eastern side of the Valley and back along the awesome creek banging Run The Jewels and feeling heaps better, at least for the time being.

At the bottom of the valley we turned West and followed the Avon River until we got to what trail runners call an out and back. This was an up and down. A climb to the top of Bald Hill, it was actually pretty fun. I had picked up a runner called Sergio, who had actually won the 106 km the day before, he was swearing at the hill and race director Shaun in his European accent and it made me happy. I told him we were better for it. We went up and down together and trotted alongside each other for a little while longer before I very slowly cruised ahead. I'd see him again very shortly as after the out and back was another very long slow climb, the cramp had set back in, I took more Crampfix, it wasn't working, I nailed some gels and a muesli bar but it was still right there and getting worse. I'd run some, shuffle some, walk some but it was all shit-house and the climb up Big G hadn't even started. Sergio and another runner slid past, giving me encouragement.

Running poles, what's the deal? I didn't think I'd need them. It seemed like 80% of the field had them. My quads wished I did as well. From the start of the climb up Big G to the aid station until about 5 km past it, was horrific. I kept telling myself make it to Big G, make it to Big G. In my race prep I broke the race up in the 16 km loop, 18 km from the village to Big G, then a 10 km from Big G to Noble Hill, then a 7 km home. Big G was where I would go past my longest run yet. I stopped at least 10 times going up that hill due to the pain in my quads. A couple of runners went past me as I was hunched over. They asked a few times if I was ok, I told them yep, and I was ok. Cramp isn't serious, it's just fucking painful and annoying. I get shuffle up the fucking hill.

I finally walked into the aid station at Big G, sat down next to the fire and thought I'd give myself a good 5 minutes and get my head right. I had some coke, water, electrolytes, another muesli bar, another banana and gel. Sitting down the cramp would go away, while that's great, it's not the best way to get a running race finished. Feeling better and spurred on by the awesome dudes at the aid station I was ready for the next 10 km block to Noble Hill. Cool, sweet, let's go. Off I ran, for about 150 metres before just like that "Bang Fucking Bang" both quads fully locked up. Back to a walk it is. I walked and shuffled and ran and hiked the next handful of km before deciding to make my own aid station and take a seat. As I sat on down on the ground at one point by adductors cramped as well. For those who've never had hammy and adductor cramps, trust me, you would rather it be in your quads times 10. I got myself comfy on a mound of dirt put RTJ back on the headphones and chilled for a couple of minutes. Another runner cruised past asking if I was ok. Trail runners are sick dudes like that, I said "yeah mate just cramp" as he shuffled on. I'd eventually catch him back up.

We had one big climb left up Noble Hill to the last aid station, but before that a steep descent. I'm not sure what it was, maybe the coke, or maybe it was Run The Jewels - Close Your Eyes, but I bombed that descent with disregard for my safety, let alone my cramping quads, it was probably the fastest I'd run all day, it was glorious, yet short-lived. Back to the shuffle. Throughout the race I'd been updating my IG story as a way to document it. At times during the race I'd see I'd have messages from friends spurring me on, telling me to get it done, giving me encouragement. Those messages at this time meant everything. I forged ahead.

I managed to catch up with that last runner that had passed me. I think his name was James, but I called him "The bro". We chatted as we started our last ascent up Noble Hill, which was about 4kms of rolling incline, we'd play cat and mouse for a bit but caught back up and shuffled into the last aid station. I was stoked as we were passing the marathon (42.2 km) point in the process. Now this was an Ultra. By this point, I knew I was getting it done, but the legs were absolutely cooked.

We chilled for a couple of minutes at the Noble Hill aid station and took on more coke, chocolate coffee beans and snakes. The bro and I were feeling upbeat after being told we only had 7kms to go. It was actually 9. Nevertheless off we ran, for about 250m before we both had to slow to a shuffle again. Cat and mouse again. After about 3 km the bro and I had separated. I'd put some time between us by simply going at one pace, almost a run, but not a walk, the cramp was holding at bay, slowing down actually made it worse and running faster just wasn't happening. The last 5 km or so, I did by myself, I was kind of glad I did, because I was emotional. All the runs I had done, the time and effort I had put into running 1000 kilometres in preparation was all worth it. I had set myself a goal, it was my goal, I worked hard for it, I fought through shit on the day and finished that motherfucking ultra-marathon. I wanted it and I went and got it. I am better for it.

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