So it is now the Tuesday after the Surf Coast Century 100km event that I raced last Saturday. It was a fantastic event with a lot of my fellow running buddies in the Surf Coast Trail Runners (SCTR’s). Lots of massive personal achievements over the weekend in a range of the different distances on offer. The organiser Sam from Rapid Ascent really knows how to run a top notch event.
For me however it was bitter-sweet. I can say it was the toughest journey by far I have ever been on during an ultra. From heavy legs in the beginning to slurring my words like a drunk at 45km to smashing hills faster than ever at 80km there were some very extreme lows and very extreme highs.
Rewind. Training plan went well. Pretty damn well actually. A good taper of 2 weeks and I was feeling nice and relaxed prior to the event, definitely ready to go. My plan was pretty simple. Tailwind nutrition (approx 175cals in 400-500mls) per hour. Cliff Shot Bloks (33 cals per blok) to chew on and add additional cals – approx one per hour. So just over 200 cals per hour which I have tried and tested in training and other events with success.
Leg 1 – Anglesea to Torquay. 21km
The start was fantastic. I made sure I snuck up towards the front as not to get caught up to much in traffic going through the starting arch and around the first few headlands. Ended up running with my mates Sean and Jarrod after a couple headlands and stuck with them for the entire leg. Perfect pace, feeling comfortable, legs started to feel a little heavy and I put it down to the soft sand around (a little more than last year). Came into the checkpoint in Torquay at 21km to friends cheering and my parents waiting to fulfill their duties as crew for the first time. My friend Matt was also on hand to lend some advice and support. A quick change into dry socks and Hokas, a swap of empty flasks for full ones and I was off again.
Leg 2 – Torquay to Anglesea 28km
I felt pretty good running into the start of leg 2. I knew the trails and knew what was ahead. The hills did feel a bit harder then normal and the legs were not responding the way I would have ideally liked however. Sean was behind me and closed the gap so we could have the odd chat. A few relay runners passed us. Then climbing up from Bells Beach things started to feel a little harder. I pushed on with Sean. We went through Ironbark checkpoint, I grabbed a quick sip of water and Sean stopped to refill a flask. He soon caught up with me again and into the Eumeralla single track we went.
This is where things started to get a little fuzzy. I usually love love love single track but I was not feeling this at all. I was leading Sean and another runner through and I was starting to struggle. My legs felt heavy. I started to feel a little nauseous and was even having the odd dizzy spell. The first thing that went through my head was “not enough calories, get them into you” so I made sure I was swigging my tailwind at regular intervals and throwing down more cliff shot bloks to top me up. It didn’t take long though and I needed to stop to take a leak and also to take a very quick break to center myself. Sean and the other runner charged on. It was the last I would see of my mate Sean for the day.
Seeing the colour of my pee was my first major indicator that things were not going well. It was a very dark tea colour and I knew that that dark pee was usually an indication of dehydration. The weird thing was I was definitely on top of my hydration and I wasn’t pushing anywhere near my limit. I had hydrated well going into the event also. Pee colour noted – I continued. I did start to feel very warm as I wound my way through the undulating single track. Relay runners were catching me easy now and the odd 100km and 50km runner. My pace was decreasing. I stopped and had to take off an adidas ‘compression’ type short sleeve top I had under my SCTR top. My head was spinning a little here as well. The cooler air blowing through my top did feel fantastic. I pushed on.
I tried to keep my tailwind going down but something was wrong and it was getting worse. On the hills when I would start my normal power hike I felt like throwing up. So I would start to run and feel a little better but then when on flat ground again I would feel dizzy and start to stumble on the odd rock or root sticking out. I was at about 40km and I started to get pretty out of it. I thought to myself all I had to do was get to the next checkpoint at halfway and I would be fine. That was still 9km away and the last 3-4 km had felt like eternity though. The next 5-6km were most mind-bending and challenging kms I have ever done. At the top of almost every small climb and sometimes halfway up I had to stop, hands on knees, swaying side to side, trying not to puke and just wanting to crawl up in a ball on the side of the trail and fall asleep. I resisted, but shit it was hard.
So many people were passing me, I wished each one the best and gave them support where I could. I didn’t want to let on how bad I was suffering – I’m not sure why – maybe pride or something like that. At around 45km I rang through to my parents to let them know I wasn’t good and I would need some extras ready at the next checkpoint – some coke, chocolate, water, and my handheld bottle filled with Tailwind. My mum later advised me that she knew I didn’t sound good as I was slurring my words. I took another pee – even darker than before and bloody stinky. Awesome I thought. My insides hurt, I was slurring my words like a drunk, running/walking like one too and I was peeing smelly tea. A number of times while stopped I had my phone out ready to call the event director to say I was done, but I didn’t. I’m not sure what it was but I something inside of me said just keep moving you dick and you will be fine. Just get to the next checkpoint. So I did.
I made it down to Anglesea and the last 1-2km were actually much better – I put it down to the relief of being so close to seeing my wife, son and parents. I had been thinking about my family the entire way and it definitely helped push me through. I ran into the checkpoint to familiar friends and family again which lifted my spirits immensely. Hugging my wife and son felt fantastic and it was so good to see them. Matt was also here again and his advice was crucial. I collapsed on the grass and started chugging back water and coke. It was so good to sit down. It was decided that I would take my hand-held bottle and fill it with water – not tailwind as I had just downed a can of coke – enough calories to last me for some time. After 5-10mins I felt a whole lot better. I couldn’t believe that just 30min ago I was contemplating ended the race. I was also not too far over my goal time of 4hrs 30 mins for the first half and left Anglesea for the final 51km at 5 hours 7 mins.
Leg 3 – Anglesea to Moggs Creek – 28km
I was starting to get my groove back. I took it easy and was feeling a whole lot better. Sipping only on water for the next 12-14km I felt pretty good. Heartbreak hill came and went – not too bad. I was passing the odd runner and keeping up with some of the relay runners. I caught up on a small train of runners (mostly 100km’ers) heading into onto Currawong Falls track and played swapsies for a while. I was back on the Tailwind now and started the small climb towards Currawong Falls itself. Uh oh, I was starting to get that nauseous feeling back. I walked. It got worse. I ran slowly and it was bearable. Until I passed Currawong Falls and started the climb up to the trig point. “Shit” I thought, not again. The dizziness started to return and I played a game of trying to run and walk without the dizziness and nausea tipping into the red zone. Others started passing me again. The hills were really hurting and I knew the hills on this course hadn’t really started yet. I wasn’t sure how I was going to cope.
Then it hit me. I clued onto what wasn’t working and my body was somehow trying to reject. My go-to nutrition for over a year was maybe to blame. So 67km in I decided that at the next checkpoint I needed to switch it up. I knew they would have water and some solid food. Having this epiphany I did feel a little better and was actually looking forward to trying to claw something back from the race. I rang my parents at around 69km and said to pour out my tailwind and replace it with some back-up powerade I had in my supplies. I came into the 70km checkpoint at Distillery Creek and had a good 5min break guzzling a decent amount of water and getting a few pieces of some kind of oat slice down. I filled my handheld bottle and one flask with water, the other flask with an electrolyte solution (which I guessed was a Hammer electrolyte product) and carried on. I knew it was only 7km till the next checkpoint then 23km till the finish – it sounded so easy.
Between 70km and 77km I knew there was a decent climb which I was a little worried about. After my break at 70km though I was feeling a little better. I took it easy and ran when I could. I caught up with another runner Garth who I met during the Two Bays 56km Trail run earlier in the year and was glad to have some company for a while. He was going at a nice steady pace so I stuck with him as we past the dam and started the hill. As time went on I felt better and better. The more water I got down the more energy I seemed to acquire. I quickened the pace near the top of the hill and by the time I was coming back down the other side I was feeling fantastic. In fact better than fantastic – this was the best I had felt all day! I smashed the downhill coming into Moggs Creek checkpoint passing numerous runners running close to a 4min pace at times. I was pumped. I ran hard all the way into the checkpoint looking for my parents as I passed through chute of supporters. I couldn’t see them but found Matt once again and also another friend Erin. Matt did a quick perimeter search for my parents but there was no sign of them. A quick call on Matt’s phone to them and we worked out through a little bit of miscommunication that they were waiting at Distillery Creek which I passed 7km earlier. I couldn’t wait so I told them to wait at Aireys Inlet Checkpoint with my supplies which I would pass through in another 9km at the 86km mark. In the meantime I loaded up with water and another refill of the Hammer electrolyte solution. I also took out my emergency Cliff Shot gel I had in my pack.
Leg 4 – Moggs Creek to Anglesea – 23km
I raced off still on a high and ran reasonably hard into the last set of major hills on the course which led out to the coast lookout. Taking the smallest amount of the gel as I didn’t want to upset my stomach I gradually nibbled away at it for the next 9km. It tasted really good actually – double caffeine/coffee flavour. My kidneys felt like someone had kicked the shit out of them, my abdomen was also feeling pretty beaten up, my hips and hammies were tight (probably due to poor form from my fatigue) but I was in such a good headspace nothing could stop me. I power hiked a couple of small spots on those hills before heading down that beautiful lookout track, passing through the small area of houses and up the dirt road that lead up the hill behind Aireys Inlet. I rang my parents one more time just to check they would be there.
It was great to see my parents at 86km. I quickly changed my flasks over for powerade, got a new packet of Blok shots and cracked a can of Red Bull just to help keep my ‘perkiness’ going. I had half the can and had to get going. I walked with my parents for a couple of mins towards the lighthouse before trotting off for the final stretch. The last kms were pretty uneventful. I had a few ups and down, similar to a normal long run. The 3.5km stretch on the beach after Urqhart’s Bluff wasn’t much fun however as the sand was a mud-type consistency. Not enough to make you slow too much but you still felt every single step take a little more effort.
I did have my eye on a sub 11 hour finish leaving Aireys Inlet but with 5km to go I knew it was just out of reach. I actually couldn’t believe I still had managed to scrap back something from this day and finish within my last resort 12 hour cut-off goal. No matter what – I was getting that big boy beer stein (sub 12hr finishers receive a 1L beer stein, sub 16hr finishers a 700ml stein which I recieved the year prior). I was still passing people in the last 5km as they were obviously starting to feel the effects of the 95km prior. My race had started at 65km so I felt like I had a bit more to give! Seeing my friends Bin and Vonsie with around 1km to go was fantastic too. I actually stopped and had a quick chat which allowed another runner to pass me. I didn’t care too much though as I was just happy to finish the race under 12 hours now and see my family.
Running along the final stretch of beach it was so nice to be running here in daylight. Last time it had just got dark so it emphasised how far I had come from my 13hr 30min finish last year. I am always so humbled by all the spectators and supporters who cheer for you and everyone else out on the course – no matter what distance they are doing. It makes you feel really nice inside and I tried to thank every single person. Seeing that finish line though was a relief. By far the hardest day I’ve had out in an event so far. I crossed the line and was in my wife’s embrace within seconds and hugging my cheeky little son. 11hrs 7 mins.
So what went wrong? I had been at bit of a loss of words to explain how and why the day went so pear-shaped. Here are some thoughts I have had too:
- Tailwind – on this particular day my body did not like Tailwind nutrition. Whether it was too high in salt or I was perhaps getting too many calories in I’m not sure. Bottom line however was I couldn’t drink it. This was so strange as well as I have had it every long run and every event for an entire year and have never had a problem. I can’t get my head around it and am now a little reluctant to go back. I probably will though as it has been so reliable and easy.
- Overheating? – I started the day with two layers (a thin compression layer and thicker trail tshirt) and arm sleeves. I took the arm sleeves off as soon as I was warm enough later in Leg 1 and took off my compression layer halfway through Leg 2 – was this too late and the damage done? I’m not too sure. I did feel better after the compression layer was off but I haven’t had this issue before and it didn’t stop the downward spiral I was already in.
- Going out too hard? – I thought about this and I was only 2 mins ahead of my target time after Leg 1 (1hr 48mins), I didn’t go hard after this and then the crash happened. So I don’t think it was going too hard.
- Illness? A possibility. I did wake up with a light headache which I took two panadol for. I also took a hayfever pill. These have never affected my running previously. Perhaps I was coming down with something and the headache was the first symptom? Unlikely but a possibility.
I have bounced back really well since the event, even the next day I was eating like a horse and feeling pretty good considering. I realised I did lose a lot of weight – perhaps more than 10%. I weighed myself 2 nights later and I was sitting on 74kg (normally 78.5kg). After most events I will bounce back to my normal weight within 1-2 days easily but this time it took me 4. So I estimate my weight possibly being less than 70kg at race finish. If anyone has any ideas or has had a similar experience to what happened to me I’d love to hear.
Here is a link to the details: http://www.movescount.com/moves/move40526234. Thanks to Anthony for letting me use his Ambit for the day!!
I’d also like to say a massive thanks to my parents for racing around crewing and supporting me on the day. My mate Matt Hosking for delivering crucial level-headed and logical advice when I wasn’t in the best state to make decisions for myself. All the support from other friends, runners, and SCTR’s was amazing – thank you! And of course as always my wife – for putting up with my long runs, looking after our son, unwavering support throughout everything and for just being her – thank you and I love you.
I’m not sure what’s next. I have nothing booked. And I kind of like it that way 🙂