When I started running again a few years ago I did it to get fit and to shift the baby weight. After a few months I remembered how much I loved running and I decided to set myself a goal of a half marathon. Six months later I ran one and finished and so set myself another goal of a marathon. I remember thinking during training that I had “no idea” how I was going to make the distance of a marathon. It just seemed so far, especially when my training was only at 22k. I didn’t know how I was going to run another 20km, but I did and I did it again two more times aswell, each marathon getting easier and each marathon teaching me things about my running that I didn’t realise for the last one. Having established an amazing community of women in RMA I kept hearing this talk about trail running and how awesome it was, so then one day in my training I decided to go on a local trail for a run and I was instantly hooked. Something just clicked and changed in me. I was no longer looking at my watch and feeling the pounding of the pavement, but I was navigating turns, jumping over rocks, keeping my eyes on the trail as to not trip and letting the wind blow through my hair. I was running free, for the first time in a while and it felt good. Then I ran my first trail race at the Southern Highlands Classic and it cemented what I was feeling all those weeks before on that local trail.
A deep joy of running in nature.
Just after my last marathon in Adelaide I saw that someone was trying to get rid of two entries to the Coastal Classic in Sydney. Knowing that getting an entry to that was as rare as hens teeth I didn’t even think for long before I had snapped it up and convinced fellow RMAer Jenny Morris to come with me! I hadn’t even read the description of the course. All I knew was:
1. it was a trail.
2. it was 30km.
I didn’t give much thought to the fact that I had just run a marathon that would be less than two weeks before this race and that my muscles might not come to the party! I just wanted in. I wanted to be part of this race. The lead up hadn’t been ideal. I was seriously low on energy and almost pulled out on the Thursday. I didn’t even own a hydration pack other than a belt so I borrowed one from a fellow RMAer and I thought I better have a read of the course description.
Lets just say that reading it didn’t do it justice.
The morning came of the run and I had everything I needed in my pack. Gels, food, salt, hydration, NUUN, water, a wind jacket and my phone. I was so excited. Jenny had managed to get another entry for Natalie, another RMAer to run the event too so we all drove off to the train station at Sutherland where we would catch our train to Ottford for the start. Being the wonderful world of RMA this was the FIRST TIME I had met these girls in person and they were just as lovely as online and on the phone! We really do have the best ladies in our midst.
The train was packed with runners. This is the part I love about any race, just looking around to see who is there, all shapes and sizes, ages and backgrounds, all ready to run and give it their all.
We all disembarked the train and walked to the starting area for a time of queuing for toilets and getting rego sorted and dropping bags in the back of the truck for the finish. Everything ran so seamlessly and I was very impressed given the amount of people that they needed to get through in a short amount of time.
In no time we were waiting at the start line ready to run. I hand’t given much thought to how I was going to run this race as really I was going in blind to what lay ahead. Perhaps a novices mistake? Perhaps a good thing, but in hindsight I really kind of wish I knew what I was going to put these tired marathon legs through! I had walked part of this course in reverse with my family at Garie beach last year and all I remember was that I was transfixed by the scenery that day and kept telling my friends that we had to come and run here.
At the start line they let runners go in waves. Two to three at a time and before long it was our turn. Off we went into the unknown…..
The first kilometre after a short downhill was all uphill. Steep uphill. Jenny being gung-ho was off like a bull at a gate and never to be seen again and Nat and I held back and walked the uphill to save our energy! It felt very strange to me walking in a race, but I knew the smart moves to make sure that I got to the finish was just what I needed this day. Infact only a few kilometres in I got a stitch! I couldn’t believe it! I haven’t gotten a stitch for years! I breathed my way through it and slowed my pace and before long we were traversing our way through the national park. I must admit I had a moment where I got scared that I had made the wrong decision here, but then I told my mind to shut up and get over it and it went away…thank God.
The first leg of the course was a combination of pure fun for me and an eye opener to the world of trail running. Remember I had only run two previous trails, one was the local pretty easy, not muddy 5k trail and the other was the Southern Highlands Challenge which was pretty much a fire trail, nice and wide and relatively flat…..this….not so much. As we navigated our way through the rainforest part of the course there really wasn’t a whole lot of running going on. There was mud. Thick unrelenting mud. Being a newbie I spent most of my time trying to dodge it until there came a time that there really was no point in trying. So then I spent most of my time trying not to fall over as the course had become one giant slip and slide for all the competitors. It did have an element of fun to it but then it started to frustrate me as I just wanted to run and I couldn’t. I was more like dancing side to side on light tip toes searching for higher ground!
As we came out of the forest and rambled our way down the thick mud laden hill across our first beach crossing then we had our first major mountain to climb. This is where running just couldn’t happen as we all scrambled up the hill. It was a hard beast to climb, the one I remember climbing with my family on a hot day, but today it felt ten times worse! The best part about that hill was that there was so many women in front or behind me all doing the same thing. All having a go. It lifted my spirits and we all huffed and puffed and pulled ourselves to the top. The view was magnificent. Just glorious but I didn’t stop long to admire it. Then we tried to run down without having a stack and navigating all the steps. Or lack of steps. By now my quads were telling me that they were hurting a bit and to take it easy but I just wanted to stay with Nat and so I kept up the pace. We crossed around past Garie beach and to our first oasis in the desert. The first aid station.
The aid stations on this course were so well stocked and perfectly organised. The volunteers were amazing and so helpful and friendly. There was bowls full of lollies, bananas, oranges, water, energy drink…. I grabbed a banana and some orange. Scoffed those down and gave myself a little breather before filling up my little bottle in the front of my pack and chucking in another NUUN. Then I grabbed a few lollies and we were off again. For this race I pretty much used my little bottle most of the way and sipped on my bladder water every now and then. I really didn’t touch any of the food that I brought with me apart from my Gels and a few mini mars bars. I had a gel every 8kms in this race and it made all the difference to my energy levels.
After the aid station we had our next long beach crossing and this is where Nat went ahead of me up the next mountain and I let her go into the distance. This was something that I needed to do alone. She was feeling a lot stronger than me this day and my aim today was to finish this thing, not race. So I started to really make sure that I was conserving my energy and so walk/run method was employed. We had another hill to climb and it felt almost as hard, if not harder as the last hill for my poor quads, but I took my time and made it to the top. The next leg of the run was one of my favourites. It had us running over this vast plateau with amazing cliff views. There was some awesome grates that went over the top of sections and that allowed for some fast running which felt absolutely amazing through the landscape that we were in. There was times I was running with others and then there was one particular moment that I was running for a few minutes without seeing another human being. And I felt so free. So calm and so at peace.
I had stopped to take some pics and was trying to do a selfie when another runner came out from the bush and offered to take a photo of me. Thats what I loved about this race. Noone really was in a major rush. Of course we wanted to get a decent time, but it is so different to road running and I loved the relaxed nature of it.
My shoes were covered in mud and soaked through from running through water, but I didn’t care. I worried that I might get blisters, but I had on my compression socks so nothing seemed to be moving about which was good.
As I ran up the next climb I could hear someone at the top yelling my name. I was trying to work out who it was as I focused on getting to the top and it was one of our members Kath, who I had borrowed my hydration pack from. I hadn’t even met Kath yet, she had just dropped it off at my house when I was at work and had run this run before. She was such a welcome surprise. Although she thinks I looked quite good, I felt like I was quite finished and if it wasn’t for the landscape around me being my inspiration and thing to spur me on to the finish I reckon I could have given up when I saw her smiling face! She was so lovely and ran along side me to the next aid station. I took my time at that station filling up my bottle, eating another banana and some orange and lollies and having a little chat and even a photo with her. Having Kath there to cheer us on meant so much to me. It really optimised what RMA is about. She went out of her way to motivate fellow members (Jenny and Nat too) to keep going on a gruelling tough run that she wasn’t even taking part in! To me that was just so amazing and so selfless and I will be forever grateful to her for being there at my first long distance trail. I will never forget how she kept me going. If I ever need a support crew, I definitely want Kath on it!
As I said my goodbyes to Kath she told me what lay ahead. A few more climbs, and two more beach crossings…..so now I knew what was coming and I was mentally preparing myself.
The next leg was up and down through scrub and around cliffs. The views were spectacular and I navigated my way around rocks and managed to have one spectacular stack as I caught a tree root. A lovely man checked if I was okay and I brushed myself off and kept running. I kind of thought I was a bit badass to have some skinned knees…..I couldn’t run out of that national park without something on me as a battle scar or perhaps I would think I didn’t go hard enough! I took some pics, smiled for the camera, chatted to other runners and navigated my way through more thick mud. I got more relaxed with the fact that I simply couldn’t run some parts and so had to just walk or dance through parts and run when I could and it took a lot of the pressure off in the end.
Soon enough I came to the second last aid station at Marley and I had a brief chat with the volunteers, had some more food and drink and I felt this overwhelming sense of achievement when I knew that I only had about 8km to go. 8km. Walk in the park right? Wrong.
The next 3km went by quickly to the next aid station but my quads were starting to really feel it now. I really wanted to give them a good stretch but was worried that they would cramp up. I ran with a guy for a little of the way and we helped each other along to the next aid station at 25km. (actually I am sure it was more like 27km on my garmin but anyway….).
After this aid station I knew I had to dig deep to get to the finish. It was only a few kilometres to go and relatively flat, but my quads started to cramp up every time I started to run. Kath had put some salt sachets in for leeches so I decided to eat some to see if it would help and it did! After a while the cramping stopped and I was able to run again…albeit slowly! The last few kilometres felt like 1oo as we rounded our way out to the beach at Bundeena, across one last sand crossing and out and up onto the road through the streets to the finish. Crossing that beach was hard. My legs felt like lead and I just wanted it to be all over. A few of us running along the beach helped each other along and the guy who I had chatted to prior encouraged me to run with him. I did for a bit but then I had to walk and let him go ahead. As I got out off the beach and up the hill onto the road I could hear the crowd cheering and music so I knew it wasn’t far. And I asked everyone who would listen coming the other way….”is it just around the corner?”…..
As in most of my races something comes over me towards the finish and I get this burst of energy that comes from somewhere deep within me. A desire to see it through….to accomplish what I started. To fulfil the commitment. I dug deep. There would be no more walking, after all I was on a road! This was now a road race to the finish and I was going to run to that finish line even if my legs didn’t agree with me. And I did. I ran down that street to the cheer of the crowd through that finish chute of my first long distance trail run. The man I had run with was there on the ground just past the finish and we cheered each other and congratulated our effort. Then I saw my friends Nat and Jenny who called out to me and I hobbled over to them. Collapsed to the ground with a huge smile on my face and I think the first thing I said to them was “that was so hard”, but I felt the most amazing sense of accomplishment, exhaustion and joy all wrapped into one package.
I may not have been the fastest runner out there that day. I didn’t know really how to even run a trail or what to do. I did use my marathon experience for the pacing and nutrition but I learnt so much about trail running that day. One thing I learnt is that it is hard. So much harder than road running. But the other thing I learnt was that I loved it. I can’t wait for the next one!