Below is part 1, of a multi-part series on my experiences in the Ultra Trail Australia 100km trail race, held in May 2016 at Katoomba, NSW, Australia.
If it had been just a training run I would have turned around in the first hour, gone home and tried again another day when things felt better.
I think I’m a realist when I say that racing is a thing of the past and these days it’s about a very personal and deep sense of enjoyment, and yes that often seems to mean a level of grimacing and the occasional long-winded moan too. But generally running, especially on a trail in the forest makes me smile, even when I’m grimacing I feel like I’m also smiling … a smiley-type of grimace.
However, all that aside, I was out there. I was on the trail, I’d put the race number on, and when that happens I get a strange sense of obligation. My heart rate was high, my damn nose was running from the cold of the early morning and I generally felt uncomfortable. When things start to go wrong you can get hyper focused on one particular thing. Mine at that moment in time was my runny nose and I nearly came crashing down in a heap on the slippery stairs several times just trying to wipe it and preserve some dignity. I had a horrible feeling I was covered in snot and everyone who looked at me was thinking ‘oh gawd I can’t look at you, you horrible man’. In reality I was just having one of those moments of irrational panic … I hope.
I smiled at the volunteers as they rang the cow bells, encouraging us, or perhaps reminding us we are really just like a herd of hapless cattle being led to the slaughter? I’d slow down, take a picture of the view, say to myself ‘wow’, then I’d internalise my thoughts, searching for something inside me that says ‘come on, you’ll feel better soon’.
It had been a stressful build up to race day. Having a tiny, beautiful two-year old terror will have that affect. Still, I’d managed to put in some good training days even with a major setback. I’d broken my little toe about 6-weeks earlier, chasing my daughter trying to get her to put her nappy back on when I knew it was poo time. ‘Come here you little…’ wham goes my foot on a chair leg and snap goes my tiny, tiny toe bone! Little toe is now at 45 degrees. You cheeky little thing!
Ever the optimist I’d seen the positive side of that. It forced me to walk and do lots of hilly stair repeats, which, I’d been told, would be ideal for the hills and stairs of the Blue Mountains. It also forced me to remember, when you have a plan, take into account the unexpected and adapt. I adapted and walked and limped and sometimes complained to myself during moments of self pity. But here I was on race day and things weren’t going that well. My toe throbbed, but it was bearable. It was mainly a case of just not being truly healthy on the day. I think I needed a good sleep but instead I chose to run and walk and climb and crawl my way through some of the most satisfying scenery I’d been witness to in quite some time.
I climbed up to the first checkpoint, the watermelon … the sweet, sweet watermelon tasted so good. It would become my friend during the daylight hours. Later the sweet lollies would be stuffed into my pack in a child-like frenzy and they too would become good friends during the darker hours, to be consumed when ever I felt the need to smile at someone to convince them I should be allowed to continue. I walked, no, I meandered through the checkpoint as if I was a little lost or perhaps looking for a lift. I kept on moving and before I knew it I was being sucked into the deep blue sky that sat in front of each small rise in the road. It made me smile as I’d let gravity pull me down the trail moving ever closer to the intriguing ladder descent. The photographer was out there too. Capturing moments in time and I did my best to hide behind other walkers not wanting this moment to be digitally frozen in time. What if I had snot on my face?
To be continued …
Read part 2 here.