Green filtered light made its way through the tree canopy and in the distance dark clouds were building up. It was bound to happen, it had been a hot day, a storm was brewing and right now I’d welcome some rain drops on my face. Only a light sprinkle though. Oh well, it’s time to run again, the climb has finished and it’s time to use gravity as much as possible. Powdery dust rose up with each step as I wondered just how many feet had travelled over this exact same bit of dirt today. Different tread patterns, laying on top of other tread patterns. It’s the little things that you tend to focus on after so many hours on your feet.
The course had been altered due to a local bushfire and I refused to let the idea of three extra kilometres get into my head. I was approaching 83 kilometres, that’s 83 kilometres on these feet with a large toe nail that was obviously in the process of ejecting itself from my right big toe. A left turn and it’s another descent down to checkpoint 5 for the fourth time today. Why hadn’t I stopped a little longer at the previous checkpoint – the very one I am returning to now? Blood sugar level is low. I attempt some simple calculations. What pace am I doing? At this pace when will I arrive? Nope, I laugh, a drunk type of laugh. For me, that’s a warning sign that all energy should be diverted to the sole purpose of getting glucose into my body. Thing is, when in that state, you can stop caring. I had to make it to the checkpoint and once I make it I will think about those details then. I’ll get help, things will be fine – won’t they?
I ran, then walked a little, just moving forward with each step. I smile at other runners heading up hill, passing me in the opposite direction. I smile, recognise other kind and smiling faces, I say a few words and it feels like I hear my own voice delayed by a few seconds. ‘Well done’, I say. At least I think I said that, I may have just mumbled ‘rubber plug’, I can’t be sure anymore.
I have hiking poles in my hands and I use them again to propel myself forward and run again and a small dip in the road, then another slight climb and there it is, yep, that’s it, checkpoint 5 sitting on the left, down the hill. I can already see the parked cars.
Clapping hands either side of the road, ‘well done, looking good’, the mouths behind the hands say, as I smile – then I arrive at the checkpoint. I’d labelled this checkpoint in my head, checkpoint blue, for the blue coloured shirts of my friends and fellow NUTRs. The sudden stop makes me a little dizzy, my body has stopped but I am still in motion. Like a sailor fresh off the yacht the land is no longer a steady and stable support base. I sit in a chair. Sweet drinks, that’s what I’m given. Stomach hasn’t allowed much to enter today but that’s ok as right now I’m drinking and with each gulp things are in focus again. A friend massages my legs, it hurts, but its a good hurt. The day seems a little lighter and I’m happy again. Mood is a great indicator and suddenly I am keen again. Moments ago I was thinking how much I’d love to just surf again, relax, walk, hike a bit, but never run another bloody step ever again! Now, now I’m grinning like a fool and ready for the final approach to the finish line. Just 20 kilometres now, it’s still light so I play some games in my head like seeing how far I can get before I need my head torch. I need to pee, so I see how much further I can go before I make another pit stop and find a suitably sized tree.
I love running through the forests and mountains. I love moving for long periods of time. I can never quite pinpoint the moment, but after a certain length of time or perhaps it’s time combined with exertion and I feel like everything around me, in front, behind and below is very crisp and clear. I remember a line from a movie and I think the character may have been quoting other sources but he said something to the effect of ‘who are you to appear in all these forms?’ I find myself uttering these words a lot. For me, the meaning of those words is the acknowledgement that we are connected with all living things so much so that at times the separation is hard to distinguish. Then again, perhaps it’s just exhaustion and my brain’s way of telling me, ‘I’m tired’? What ever it is I’ll admit, I am totally addicted to that moment.
During the race today I felt it a few times and as the kilometres disappeared beneath my shoes I felt at peace again. Dark had arrived and wrapped its blanket around us. The final checkpoint with its artificial light brought friendly help again, a sip of warm noodles and it’s back into the darkness for the final time. No more walking now as we weave through vines and jump over logs. A large carpet snake welcomes us to the hard surfaces of the road and pathways that would carry us to the finish. We are a group of four. No talking, just running. Eager to finish. Finally someone says, ‘well the quicker we run the sooner we arrive’. That’s a fact that we all adhere to.
We had already completed 100 kilometres and the extra distance now no longer mattered. The first 20 kilometres, beautiful, humid forests. From checkpoint 4 to 5 it was a dirty rollercoaster ride up and down slippery dusty roads and rocks and the circuit around the dam provided a place to be fully baked by the sun.
We are trail runners and we understand that things change and resilience is an essential friend. We understand each other. We might joke around and say to each other ‘aren’t we crazy’, or agree with a non-runner that we must be mad. But we know we’re not. We’re very sane and we all know why we do these long distances. For most of us it’s not about winning or places or paces. It’s about that feeling we get after moving all day long. That connection we all have to everyone and everything around us. We’re explorers and we are addicted to it. Addicted explorers of the mind and body.
Finally the right-hand turn appears and the finish line is only a couple of hundred metres away now. This is the third time in as many years and it’s time to ring that finish bell again.
More info on the race: Blackall 100