Last weekend I finished my second ultra marathon. The Sandman 50. A 50km effort from the old Dunsborough Boat Ramp to the Busselton Jetty and back, all along the beach, with a 2am start time. The run coincides with the full moon and low tide, or something like that.
I had not heard about the run until 2 weeks before it when Corey Green from Athletic Institute randomly swung me an invite. I’ve known Corey for a few years now after doing some practicum work under his guidance while we were both just starting our businesses. Since then, we’ve kept in touch as we’ve challenged ourselves across different modes of fitness. Something we have in common. Corey’s current interest and by the looks of it something he will be sticking at for a while, is triathlon. After his Ironman event had been cancelled, he was looking for a challenge and the Sandman 50 was it. Fortunately for me, Corey’s mate had pulled out and the invite was there. So about 10 days out I pulled the trigger and signed up.
Following Christmas my weekly running mileage has been lacklustre with my longest runs being a 7km here and there. In fact, the preceding weeks before the event my weekly kilometres were 25, 27, 28 and 0kms. Yep 0 kilometres the week before the race, not because I was resting or tapering but because about 8 days out, I got hit with a flu. I am still getting over it now to be fair. But alas, I was in and it was happening.
The logistics of a 2am start are pretty, well, annoying if anything. It is definitely late(early?) enough to still get some decent shut eye, but you’d better hope you can fall asleep quickly. As I was the late arrival and jumping unannounced into Corey’s AirBnB, I chucked my sleeping mat on the floor with a bunch of pillows while Corey rightfully snagged the bed. I slept decently, probably getting 4, maybe 4 and a half hours. I think Corey got a little less but as soon as our alarm went off at 1am we were both buzzing.
We knocked back some breaky and a coffee superbly made by the man himself with his own coffee machine. Yes, you read that correctly, the man travelled for a 2am race with his own machine, milk, beans even that little stainless jug for the milk. He cranked that thing at 1am, like a freight train while our AirBnB hosts upstairs were no doubt heading to the air raid bunker. Fucking LOUD! What a specimen.
From there we made our way to the start line at the old Dunsborough Boat Ramp where a gathering of maybe 60 or so other crazy folk waited nervously for the 2am start. We both relieved ourselves for the second time since waking just in time to make the start line. Raring to go.
The start to an ultra-marathon is pretty chilled and being all about self-preservation Corey and I did well to stick to our pace while we let others cruised past us. It is far too easy to get carried away and put yourself in a hole. I would let that happen later. Corey was looking to hold about 6:15/km for the first half of the race and then come home faster. I was happy to sit with him for the start of the race and then relax into something a touch slower as the race went on.
The first 500m of the course was along the footpath eastward from the boat ramp, after that the whole run was all along the beach. On the outward leg as the tide was the highest the beach had a slight right to left slope and was more annoying than anything, nothing too drastic and compared to most beaches it was very forgiving. Most competitors donned some form of minimalist shoe, there was a few in bare feet and I am pretty sure I saw someone in Crocs. Though that might have been some sort of 2am sleepy time trip. I ran in my Vivo Barefoot Swim Runs. The beach itself was quite firm, with minimal soft sand to navigate. Both Corey and I remarked post-race that a normal running shoe would’ve no doubt sufficed. Though they would get wet.
After the first 5 or so kilometres most of the field had settled into their paces. I found myself alone, cruising along, feeling pretty grateful to be out amongst the moonlight and headlamps only a handful of days after deciding to do this thing. I kept Corey within view, for now, as he executed his race plan. He was about 3 headlamps ahead for the majority of the first 15 or so kilometres.
As well as the beach and the odd little wave lapping at your feet, we also had to navigate across several river mouth crossings and sea walls. This meant getting wet. Not completely wet but we would be in up to our knees at least a dozen times throughout the race. I relished these parts of the race as an escape from the monotony of the beach plodding. It is also why I would prefer a course like this over a footpath. Any day.
I was in good spirits as I came into the 14km checkpoint. My body felt good and nothing was falling apart just yet. And nor should it be. I re-filled my chest bottles at the aid station and continued onwards toward Busselton. 10kms until I hit the turnaround point at the jetty. This portion of the race was relatively boring to be honest, the odd sea wall to navigate around and a few beachfront setups to check out with just a hint of jealousy at their proximity to the water.
As I continued on in darkness the Jetty lights slowly got brighter and closer. I knew at some point I would start to cross paths with the lead runners as they headed back to Dunsborough. Some of these guys and girls are exceptional. Fast, efficient, and built to run. I’m not really any of those, but I do love a challenge and after finishing 2 ultras, that I haven’t really been ready for I’ve learnt that I can hurt and hurt I would.
I crossed paths with Corey at the 24km mark. That meant he was 2kms ahead. I was pretty chuffed at that. At this point in time he is a much better endurance athlete than me, has finished an Ironman and has his sights set on many more accomplishments. To only be a couple of kilometres behind actually buoyed me a bit. It didn’t last long. As I entered the softer sand leading into the Jetty turnaround I could feel my quads and adductors verging on cramping. I slowed to a walk through the soft sand and into the jetty aid station for a much needed drink, stretch and a lot of head noise.
25 down, 25 to go. This wasn’t going to be pretty. 10km back to the aid station. That was the first goal. The sun began to rise and everything started to come undone. My legs were toast. I’d managed to stay away from completely cramping quads by slowing my pace even more, walking at times and constant stretching. I’d pick a landmark up ahead and I’d tell myself, run to there, then we can stretch and walk for a bit. I did this the entire last 20kms. Run 1 kilometre, walk 300m, stretch and run again. This is the price you pay for coming in underdone. A price I was willing to pay but that still doesn’t make it enjoyable. The tide had been on its way out so one good thing about the return leg was there was minimal slope to contend with, just a few metres of flat beach on the waters edge.
By this time, the world was awake and the Saturday morning beach walkers were out in force. A couple of friendly folks would ask if I was ok, I’d reply “yeah, will be when I’m done” before shuffling off down the beach. As I got into the aid station the volunteers seemed baffled when I asked for a chair. “Like to sit in” I said. They didn’t have one. I was crushed. That was all I wanted. It might have been a blessing in disguise because maybe I wouldn’t have got out of it. On I plodded, 1km on, 300m walk, stretch and repeat.
While my legs were completely goosed, I never for one second doubted that I was getting this thing done. I literally signed up knowing that I would fall apart. I almost welcomed it. If I got to the end and still felt good, I would’ve wanted a longer race. I’ll tell you one thing for free. On this day 50km was all I needed. In fact, my Garmin clocked 270m extra and I was dirty.
I always tell people if they only do things they area ready for they are missing half the fun. So when your mate hits you up to run a 50km because they think you are crazy enough to say yes. You say yes and worry about the details later. Our minds are so much stronger than we think. It’s easy to say, “I’m not ready, maybe another time” or even have doubts like “I won’t finish” “I’ll come last”. There is never any dishonour in a failed attempt, don’t ever let that doubt stop you from finding out what you’re really made of. You’ll likely surprise yourself.