Unicorns, ultrarunning and all things in between – an ultramarathon experience.

jill

 To tell my story I need to go back to May 2013 when my husband Wes, did his first Ironman at Port Macquarie. I was currently training for my first marathon at South West Rocks to be held on the June long weekend. I was out for a long run one morning and thought I’d go along the paths around the beaches. When that didn’t work and I couldn’t settle into a rhythm, I ran along into town and up behind another girl out having a run. She had a full fuel belt on and I thought there’s no way this girl is doing Port and running so long she needs a fuel belt! I ran up beside her and had the urge to make a little conversation on my way past. Well that was quite the turning point because I didn’t run past but ended up running 2 hours with my new friend Sally. She mentioned to me that she had run about 40k the day before and needed to do about 30k on this day. She was training for an ultramarathon. In my mind I thought she may be a unicorn. People that choose to run further than a marathon, you’re kidding me right? Do these people exist?

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Jill and her hubby

 Fast forward to Sunday 6 April 2014 at 6am and I’m lining up for the Nerang State Forest 50k trail race. I have been planning for this race since September last year. I entered “Hell of the West” long course triathlon with a plan to keep some bike and swim training in my program, so I didn’t bust out and start doing long runs, but rather build into it and try to avoid injury.   A local Ironman triathlete and good friend has been writing programs for me since Port Macquarie Half Ironman in 2012 and he set me up for Hell of the West and I told him my goal to do a 50k and he wrote the program for that too. I did request that there was to be no speed work because I didn’t think I could handle such long distances and speed all together. I knew the course would be really hilly and so I ran hills everywhere I went with the odd flat run to keep some leg turnover. I built the long runs up and my week would be something like this:-

Monday – Rest

Tuesday – wind trainer session on the bike

Wednesday – 90 min run (this built up to 140 mins towards the end)

Thursday – wind trainer session

Friday – 90 minute run (or whatever the program said, up to 140 mins)

Saturday – 3 – 4 ½ hours

Sunday – 2 – 2 ½ hours

Swimming whenever I could

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Jill concentrating before her ultra

I started doing trail races with the Gold Coast Trail Runners and these were nice little 11km, 14km, 12km races respectively, to build into longer stuff. I then ran “Up the Buff” because it was a 25k race with loads of steep hills to test the water. I thought that if I made it round in 3 hours, I would enter the Nerang 50. Yes, I had done all this training but was terrified to actually enter the race! Two weeks out and in a lather of sweat and nervous energy, I entered.

Some of my training runs on the weekend would not start until 9 or 10 o’clock because I have kids and needed to wait until my husband came home from his long bike ride (he is training for Ironman Port again this year). It would be so hard trying to find somewhere to run for that length of time and I would come home feeling like I’d been out on an adventure for half the day. Other times they would suck in such a big way and one day I sat at the Headland in Lennox and was so close to calling Wes to come and get me as I just could not run another step. I gave myself a big lecture and told myself to HTFU and run home. These are the moments that get you through the tough parts of a race. All those shit runs you do and come home and whinge that it hurt or you didn’t feel the love that day or whatever, they are the ones that go in the “race day bank”.

In the lead up to the race I had been trying different forms of nutrition because I found myself buying copious quantities of GU every Thursday in readiness for the big weekend. I’ve tried Hammer Nutrition and there’s some good stuff there but I got onto a product called “Tailwind”. It seems a lot of the ultra runners use it and they report they don’t need anything else. In my opinion if it’s mixed right it works fantastic.

I’ve been running in Hoka One Ones pretty much since I started training for this event because after the marathon last year, I developed cesamoiditis in my right foot which is inflammation in the joints on the ball of the foot. The Hokas have worked like a dream and I just find that I don’t get the same fatigue in the legs like I used to with “regular” shoes. That being said, what works for some does not work for all.

The race started nice and early and because we live fairly close by, we got up early and drove to the start on the same day. I set the alarm for 2.30am and set about my business of curling eyelashes and checking facebook. A few things that will stand out in my mind for some time is the fact that at that silly time of the morning the “Running Mums” page was alive with pictures of one of you finishing a race in Prague, another photo of someone’s run in Paris, someone else’s meaningful PB and some other poor gal with a back so sore that she was throwing up with pain. I thought of all that were out there that day, I felt for the ones that can’t run because of injury, the ones that have just started and how I felt when I did my first 10k race, the ones that run with their kids and the ones that are trying to reach their new goal of a longer distance or better time. I still chat to my friend Sally the unicorn on a very regular basis. She did her first 100k last year in Sydney and got 3rd in the womens category! Complete legend and I still can’t get my head around it! Isn’t it amazing the friendships that are formed with one mutual thing in common…..running. I will see Sally again in May at Port Macquarie and I cannot wait to run with her and share some stories.

The temperature on race day was quite nice for about an hour but that was it. Nerang is in the hills of the Gold Coast and it can get pretty hot in there but given I’d suffered in the heat during training I wasn’t really worried about that. I mixed my “tailwind” into a 2ltr hydration pack and here was the first mistake……I put in a little bit more than I had trained with to make the most of the cool morning and get some good nutrition in before I made a weaker solution at the halfway mark.   I made the drink too strong and had shrivelled lips for the first half of the race (learn from this). There was a cut off time for the 25k mark of 3 ½ hours so I didn’t muck around at the aid station (there was only one out on course there at the 12k mark and another at the start which would be halfway for the 50k) and kept motoring along up the hills where I could all the while keeping my heart rate in check. I don’t wear a monitor but rather go by feel and if I felt ok running some of the hills I would but there were some that walking was the only option.   Cramps started in my toes but I tried to ignore them and keep on with my nutrition. I made friends with another lady running and turns out we had some a few others together including “Up the Buff” 25km trail race two weeks prior. She started telling me how she’d done the Northface 100 in the Blue Mountains and it was then that I lost concentration and rolled my ankle followed by a hideous crack! I cursed and groaned and hopped about! “Orange shirt” as I called her was so concerned but out on this trail there really was only one way to get back to the start and that was to keep running. I told her to go on and said I’d be OK. I remembered something a very dear friend of mine saying that you need to keep moving and keep the blood flowing to the area or it will seize up and you won’t be able to move. So I walked and trotted a bit and funnily enough it came good and there was no pain. I caught back up to “orange shirt” and gave her the thumbs up. I said to her that I was leaving as an ultra runner today and that was final! The cramps came and went and I refilled at the 25k mark and headed back out for the torturous second lap. The hills seemed steeper up and down and it was hot and by this time I’d lost “orange shirt” and everyone else.   I passed a few guys, one doubled over, another girl crouched punching her quads to get rid of the cramps and then I saw him……the “brown clown”! Someone you don’t want to meet in any race but eventually most of us will see what he has in the bag of tricks. Just as well there was a nice little creek crossing complete with a beautiful little “powder room” just for me (not really, it had 50,000 mosquitos though). DON’T MIX YOUR DRINKS TOO STRONG!!!!! I made friends with another guy and we ran to the next aid station together. We were so relieved to see each other and we laughed at how it felt like we’d been out in the bush for days. He said he took a big fall, I complained about the rolled ankle, we pushed each other along with all sorts of encouragement, joked about how stupid we were to enter the race and what a joke it was to want to run an ultra and finally made it to the aid station. I watered my nutrition down and it was the best thing I’d done all day. Slowly the K’s ticked off the Garmin and I was back on my own until another fella in Vibrams and a kilt (it takes all kinds) asked if I was ok because I was limping and fussing around with cramps again. He said a few encouraging words and off he went. By now I had only about 3k to go according to my Garmin but I knew I was closer than that and just like that, it was all over. The little expo that was setting up that morning had long gone as were the people that busted their arses doing the 9k, the 17k and the 25k. But my husband was there and that was all that mattered. 6 hours, 24 mins and 24 seconds on a course that measured 1,755m elevation over 48.2K.

FYI he didn’t wait all day for me……in the 6 ½ hours that I was gone he went and rode the Currumbin Half Ironman course, rode up Mt Tomewin and ran off the bike for ½ hour. He’s never one to sit idle hahaha.

How did I feel after all that? My feet hurt because I think after that length of time you need a very roomy toe box in your shoes (going to try the new Altra Repetition I think) my ankle hurt and it was swollen and bruised and my hip hurt because by the end I was compensating a lot because I didn’t want to go over again. I was disappointed that I didn’t get the big “50” number on my Garmin and they only had XXXL shirts left. But hey, I’d just run my first ultra! I worked so hard to get there and with one physio visit, no injuries, no sickness and plenty of long runs in the bank, I did it and I feel pretty damned proud of myself. Then, during a quiet moment I asked myself, could I have done another lap or two if the feet felt ok? Hell yes!

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 So much more to learn but the old “listen to your body” is so important. I get crazy little things like a pimple on my tongue, cracks in the corner of my mouth, poor sleep or loss of appetite. These are my warning signs that I’m teetering on the edge of being run down. Back it off, sleep in, change your training a bit (cause it doesn’t matter too much), or simply take a few days off.

I use a protein shake after every session and in that I add Vital Greens, Yakhult, cinnamon and some Udo’s oil and make the shake on Almond, Quinoa, or skim cows milk with water. This is the bomb for recovery!

As with big races you train for months in advance and once the race is done you remain on this lovely high for a while and then it happens……the crash! You can feel a little lost after such a big build up. From my experience, the best way to fix it is enter another bloody race!!!!!!

One response to “Unicorns, ultrarunning and all things in between – an ultramarathon experience.

  1. I ran the Nerang 50 as well and it was a super hot day with steep hills and a Rocky terrain that leaves your feet sore for days afterwards. You ran a consistent race and looked strong. I like a shoe with toe box room as well and I can’t go past the inov8 – I have the road, trail and crossfit shoe all because of the room in the toe area. They don’t have the cushion of the Hokas but they are a credible trail shoe originating in the UK.

    Keep up the great running
    Kerrie

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