My Coastal High 50 experience by Rhiannon Mulhearn

I first saw the inaugural Coastal High 50 advertised in about April this year. I have never run that far, at that time I was still training for my first marathon at the Gold Coast. The lead up to my marathon training had been marred by many injuries – 3x bulging discs, a disc protrusion, an issue where my left hip/butt would send numbness down my leg causing pain then for it to give out under me, pain under my right foot toes and my heart rate monitor cut my chest. In addition, I have spina bifida occulta and L5/S1 and degenerative disc disease, both of which are permanent and require some modifications to my usual training.

But yet something about the Coastal High 50 spoke to me, the beautiful scenery of running from O’Reillys to Springbrook, the challenge of doing a 50km trail race, the thrill of being part of such an awesome inaugural event. So with some persuasion from a friend and fellow RMA Olivia, I signed up.

Completing the GCAM on 5 July gave me another injury in my patella tendon. After having 2 weeks off and then attempting a few shorter runs resulting in more pain, my physio directed me to not run for 3 weeks, which took me to mid August (the CH50 was on 5 September).

So unable to run, I took to walking long distances so that I could practice hours in my legs and varying terrain and hills. My longest walk was 30km in 5 hours, and I came away with only some crazy under-the-skin blisters on my heels. I was also doing strengthening exercises from my physio and pilates twice a week to try and build up core strength and stability.

My physio strapped my knee and I did a short 5km run on 22 August and everything felt fine, happy days! I started gathering all the mandatory gear for my pack (that thing almost weighed 4kg when full!). I did another 5km run the weekend before and felt niggly pain in my knee, hip and ankle. I was nervous and had moments of doubt about doing CH50, but my physio strapped both knees and my back and wrote out a game plan for me.

The game plan was to run/walk the majority of the course, only walking up hills (unable to run them due to my spinal conditions) and taking it very easy on the downhills, as that’s where most people do damage. If I made it to check point 2, then he was confident that I would finish within cut off which was 10.5 hours. I also had to promise him that I would not sign up for anything else until the New Year – deal!

The night before we stayed up at Springbrook in anticipation for our 2am wake up. I cooked up my race fuel of fried eggs, ready to chop up and put in mini ziplock bags the next day. I triple checked I had everything I needed then attempted to sleep (after setting 3 alarms to ensure I woke up!).  I ended up with a few hours solid sleep and then tossed and turned the rest.  Woke up easily and managed to have breakfast (more eggs and avocado!) and take my Imodium tablets.

We got to the finish line at 3.15am, picked up our bibs and waited for the bus to take us to the start line at O’Reillys. Any attempt to sleep on the bus was thwarted, but I did manage to doze for about 20 minutes until the lights came on at a pit stop in Canungra. Nerves were starting to kick in and I couldn’t sit still on the bus.

As we arrived, we could see the start archway and CH50 flags everywhere, OMG this is real! I’m actually about to start my first ultra marathon!!! Of the initial 220 who had entered, 20 had been scratched prior to the day so that left 200 to start.

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I was in wave 10 (the last wave) and without any time at all, we were off. I started out nice and slow, doing my run/walk technique but varying it for the terrain. By the time I got to some of the technical parts of the trail, they were just pure mud so I took my time getting through them so as to try and prevent further injury.

About 8km my knee started to hurt, so I started walking more regularly to try and delay the onset of the really bad pain. Unfortunately this didn’t work, and the pain was there from then on. I had packed 6x Endone tablets as well as 10x Voltaren and I used every single one of them, and would’ve used more if I had them as it felt like they did nothing.  I fell in step with a lovely lady and we ran together for about 2km until she had to start walking more, but those 2km were awesome as it was the only time I got to share this experience with anyone, for the rest of it I was on my own.

I made it to check point 1 (22km) at 3 hours 40 minutes, cut off was 4 hours 40 minutes so I was feeling comfortable. I had seen the sweeper a few times as he ran past me, not cause I was close to him but he was enjoying his run and checking in with everyone’s positions. I chatted to him a bit about my injuries and game plan, and he said just one foot in front of the other will get you through.

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Between check point 1 and check point 2 (35km) was the worst downhill section, many people have been known to wipe themselves out through that stretch as they try and use the downhill momentum to take them quicker. Downhill motions hurt my knee more, so I spent almost 10km trying to walk/hobble with a straight leg – agony!

I kept trying to run/walk but it was getting harder and harder. We came to a water crossing and I took my shoes and socks off to cross, as I knew further down the track my blisters would play up and I didn’t want any more issues. I made it to check point 2 with still 45 minutes up my sleeve. I got a little teary and asked the volunteers if it would still count as an ultra marathon if I walked the rest of the way as my quad muscles were starting to seize every time I tried to run. They assured me it would and told me to go for it.

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Between checkpoint 2 and check point 3 (43km) were the WORST set of stairs I have ever seen. There is a sign at the top of the stair section that says you have just walked further than the height of Q1 – believe me, it felt like it! I had never felt so alone then from this point on, and kept turning around expecting to see the sweeper pulling me off the course.  Many times through that stretch I totally felt like giving up. However I was running for my 4 year old daughter Ruby, to be the best role model that I could, and I also run for a little girl called Addy, who has severe autism and q15 duplication syndrome and can’t run #irun4addy #runforthosewhocant. Every time I started to cry and think about quitting, I thought of Ruby and Addy and kept going. The sweeper’s words of “just one foot in front of the other” stayed with me and that’s what I did.

I got to check point 3 with 40 minutes to spare, crying and feeling queasy. I asked them to add more strapping to my knee, and kept saying “I should never have done this, I am too stubborn for my own good!” They fixed me up, gave me some more water and told me there was only a little bit more downhill then the rest was up.

Heading on the downhill part, it started raining again and light was starting to fade. I was super paranoid that I was going to take a wrong turn and get lost, but thankfully I kept seeing the pink ribbon tags along the way. Half way down, I felt a searing pain in my left heel and realised another blister had come to the surface and ripped. I struggled to get my shoe off as every single move I made, my muscles were cramping into golf ball shapes. I finally got it off, applied more chafe strapping tape to my heel and put my shoe back on. My legs initially refused to move but eventually I got going again. Hundreds more stairs, which I had to take my putting my left leg down first, then the right onto the same step, and repeat. It took bloody forever!

I made it down to the bottom and across the creek and bridge, got to see the most beautiful massively high waterfall and then slowly start my way up the mountain for the last stretch. I developed a new sharp pain on the left side of my groin, which caused me to have to shorten my stride further. My Garmin had been threatening to turn off from flat battery for a few kms. It finally turned off at 10 hours 10 minutes.

Light was fading quicker and I started imagining rounding the last corner and no one would be there, and kept looking over my shoulder for the sweeper convinced he would show up at any moment.

I rounded the last corner and saw some finishing flags and the archway. Then I heard clapping and cheering, and saw both race directors, my husband and daughter and a handful of other people. The feelings I felt at that moment are almost indescribable – I was crying, and smiling, and cringing, and hobbling all at the same time, as my daughter ran to me with arms open shouting Mummy! I crossed the line in 10.18, 12 minutes under cut-off. I got big bear hugs from both directors, and a kiss from hubby and Ruby. They handed me my medal, shirt and hat.

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Driving home, I was feeling so queasy that I vomited twice in the car and then on the side of the road. I basically got home, had a hot shower and then crawled into bed to sleep.

I woke up this morning with a sense of disbelief that I had actually completed what I set out to do. I am very disappointed with how my race played out for me, but I am so insanely proud of myself for pushing through and finishing. In hindsight, I probably shouldn’t have actually done the race yesterday given the state of my body and all of my injuries, but I’m nothing if not stubborn and determined. I sometimes think that I don’t really deserve the title of ultra marathoner as there was a lot more walking then running involved, but then I remember just what I did and went through to earn that medal and title – fast or slow, 50km is still 50km. Plus they gave me the medal, so there’s no taking it back now!

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Right now, I am in intense pain especially in my knee and I am hoping I haven’t done any further (or permanent) damage.  It hurts to walk down (or up) stairs, I can’t bend my leg to sit or lie down properly, my neck is stiff, my back is very painful and my heels are a mess of blisters upon blisters. But to be honest, even feeling like I am now, I think I would do it all again just to experience that moment when I crossed that finish line and became an ultra marathoner and an ALUMNI finisher of CH50. I am hoping to come back next year, but much fitter, healthier and injury free so that I can give the course a better crack (I plan on doing the same for GCAM16 too!)

One response to “My Coastal High 50 experience by Rhiannon Mulhearn

  1. What an amazing achievement, you should be so proud of yourself. I enjoyed reading your story so much, good luck for 2016.

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