Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Yurrebilla Ultra Marathon (56km) - Ultras are tough.

So it has been forever since I last posted anything. I blame a combination of laziness and busyness. Bit of an oxymoron!
In the last six months I've had; a week in hospital, months of recovery from my broken jaw, swine flu, lots of work and my wife and I have an energetic 2 year old! So my preparation for the Yurrebilla Ultra Marathon hasn't been ideal, but to be honest most runners feel the same. Life.
Nevertheless I have managed to maintain a fairly high level of fitness through the year. I've tallied some pretty big training mileage too. I've run beyond 40kms on several training runs and despite the setbacks was feeling strong as I stood at the start.
As 8:30 am (start time) approached, the butterflies of fear and excitement fluttered in my belly. The weather forecast for the day was stupid. 29 degrees C and winds of 100km plus... I swear the bureau of metrology is mocking us ultra runners sometimes. Jerks! Not really looking forward to the hot windy day ahead I tried to remain positive as we set off into the Belair National Park. I had a plan too. Despite there being a drink station every 5-6kms on the course I opted to carry my 2lt camelbak. Some delicious food and salt tablets. Having the extra water on board was going to be vital. Could even save my life, (but let's not get dramatic).
Within the first 400 metres the leaders were well out of sight. Those guys took off at about 3:30m/km and were more than capable of maintaining that pace for the majority of the race. Eventual winner, Stu Gibson smashed the course in record time 4hours 31mins. With 2000metres of vertical incline and some pretty tricky terrain, that's not just fast, it's ludicrous! Freak!
So anyway, I was already way back in the pack running a more civilised 5:30m/km but nevertheless feeling hot already and trying unsuccessfully to find my groove. About 2kms in the single bush trail goes through Echo tunnel. It's a 100m (maybe 200m) tunnel that goes through a steep hill and under a train line. It gets very dark and the roof is very low so most runners have to slow to a fast walk and duck so as to avoid any unseen obstacles. Inside the tunnel it is cool and moist. Very refreshing. As I exited the tunnel into the warm air I felt a little pang of anxiety knowing that I wouldn't feel cool again for another 54km. Sad face.
As I struggled on in search of my rhythm I tried to distract myself by chatting to some other runners. I'd met a few others on the training runs organised prior to the race. One of the best things about ultra running events is the sense of community and friendship. You might be racing one another but the course and the clock are the real competition. Having allies out there on the course with you experiencing the same pain, discomfort and exhaustion helps you run better and push further and dig deeper than you ever could alone. This is one of perhaps only a handful of reasons why I run. One of the other reasons is learning about my own physical and mental limits. Despite the early encouragement from some other runners today was going to be a tough day inside my head and outside my body.
No significant hills in the first 5kms so when I approached the first drink stop and was feeling shit, I must say I was pretty disappointed. I had a little drink  and pushed on. The heat was already oppressive and the eucalyptus trees above swayed violently in the wind. Shit day for an ultra.
From about 6kms there is a beautiful down hill section leading onto Brownhill creek road. It goes about 4kms and is a perfect time to get into a relaxed rhythm. Running down the first part of this beautiful downhill section is so much fun because  there are about 34 switchbacks in quick succession. You get a little dizzy but it's interesting and well... Did I mention it was downhill?
Running out of the switchbacks onto Brownhill creek road I decided to turn the screws a little and increase the pace just to try and shake the heaviness out of my legs. Bad idea. As I approached the end of this beautiful down hill section. I caught a mental glimpse of the course elevation profile that I had studied so much. Another bad idea methinks. I knew that most of the next 20kms was uphill. Balls.
Pushing up the first significant hill to the 10km aid station for I started to push some of the little negative thoughts out of my head. As I left the aid station I pulled out some baby food that I was carrying. Mashed pear and banana I think. Delicious. And good idea. Within minutes the delicious energy from the baby food was taking effect and suddenly I was good... Well goodish. (End of part 1. Part 2 coming soon... Tomorrow in fact)