Below is Part 3 and the final part, of a multi-part series on my experiences in the Ultra Trail Australia 100km trail race, held in May 2016 at Katoomba, NSW, Australia. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.
Nellies Glen road guided us towards the first real climb of the day which was going to be something of a test for an already tired set of legs. However at the base of the climb I could feel the energy coming back into me, via a sense of enthusiasm – a strange thing to have prior to a major climb. A climbed like a road cyclist, gradually building momentum, passing people on the rock stairs and never backing off the pace. I felt good, really good and before I knew it I could feel the warmer air from the sun bouncing off the rocks at the top of the climb and it wasn’t long before I entered the next checkpoint which was nicely tucked away inside the sports centre.
I hadn’t planned on meeting anyone here but I really felt like a boost, a familiar face, but alas, no one I knew was there so I stood alone eating lollies and chips like a lost child. By the time I left and ran outside again there was a chill in the air. I had my secondary head torch at the ready, a backup in my pack and my main torch waiting at the next checkpoint. Already I’d made a big mistake and would pay for it in the coming hours but for now it was time to take in the scenery and watch the dying light on the cliff edges change its colours.
By the time dark had fallen upon us I’d realised my head torch batteries were dying. I’d put new ones in of course but nope, the torch was flashing , three flashes followed by a pause which apparently means – replace the bloody batteries you fool. For two hours this pattern would repeat until my mind kind of gave up, my body was suddenly tired and each stair tread became more like a hurdle to be jumped and tripped over. I attached my backup torch on my head along with the failing secondary lamp to try and get some extra light. I even used other runners behind me but my tiring body would create a dark shadow making things even worse. Stairs became invisible and running became a guessing game. So much energy spent trying to see, trying to lift my legs and by the time I got to the next checkpoint my eyes were literally wired open as if I was preparing for an appearance on 70s cult classic, A Clockwork Orange. The lights were so bright that it hurt my brain but to my pleasant surprise my friends were there. I heard my name called. I smiled, they enthusiastically helped. Everything was a blur, I sat down, my legs got massaged, one girl per leg – bliss, my water re-filled, what more can a tired and spent runner ask for? All I can remember thinking is how lucky we are as runners to have other runners as friends. It makes you emotional, but then when I stood back up the pain in my muscles quickly shook me back into reality. “Oh shit my quads are sore.”
I ran off down the dark road with my brand new and full-powered main head torch – it needlessly lighting up every tree for miles. The plan over the last leg was to really increase my speed. Instead, after running with virtually no light, all that had occurred was to expend energy on simply keeping upright. I was exhausted now and my legs were not liking the downhill decent at all. I shuffled, I walked and I saw a dropped Buff headscarf on the ground thanks to my bright light on my head. “Ooh, I’ll grab that”, I thought. I bent down to pick it up and was hit by two great big, enduring leg cramps. “This was going to be a tough evening,” I thought, as I straightened back up, prize in hand. I shuffled down the hill and to no great surprise there were more climbs waiting – mocking and taunting us. At one point my head torch lit up a scene of utter desperation. Runners walking sideways, someone slumped over, another urinates with no energy left to feel self conscious, another struggles up backwards while crying, two are hunched over heaving up nothing from empty stomachs and I just stood there for a moment. “Bloody hell”, I thought. “What are we doing to ourselves?”
Up ahead was a fire. Around it was a scene of sadness and trauma. If I could paint this it would be in oil and based on a 19th century post-battle scene. Eyes staring almost lifelessly into the fire. Heads bowed towards the ground with bodies hunched into submission. I stopped at the table being careful to stay clear of the fire, grabbed a handful of chips and walked off. I love a good fire, but this one, this one had bad juju. Someone, a medic maybe, walked up to me and said, “this is the last chance we can easily get to you. Are you ok to continue?” All I could manage in reply was, ” I think I took too many chips”.
I walked off with only 9 kilometres remaining, up a seemingly endless hill. Things had stopped hurting now and I was just dreaming about a shower, a warm, long shower and that tiny single bed in my apartment was calling me.
Running through the single track within the forest was peaceful in the dark. I sang songs to myself – aloud. Alone and content now the only thing to bring me back into the moment was the flash of a camera, left out there automatically lighting up the forest to assist in taking pictures of us hapless souls. I swore when it went off – it had disturbed my little alone moment.
The final climb appeared above me now and I sat for a while under a rock overhang, on a natural rock bench just for a brief moment to take it all in. Another day over, another long day done. I started up the steel stairs, a runner above me would take three steps, pause and vomit and continue the pattern. I had to get around him before it turned into a duel act. I placed my hands firmly on the railings and pulled to help my tired legs upwards. At the top one of my friends was there, her smiling face a welcome reminder that this is something most of us do purely for fun, enjoyment, some kind of personal fulfilment. I ran around the left-hand corner and there it was, the finish. More friends to the right – a high five. These people are the best there are. It’s done. Before I knew it I was in the car, back in my apartment, walking into the shower, adjusting the water pressure and temperature and finally there it was, that warmth, the comfort.
Sometimes I think we push ourselves so the simple and mundain can become the extraordinary and most exhilarating. Water can taste perfect when you’ve been suffering from thirst and likewise showers can feel absolutely stunning – sublime even, after a day-and-a-half of moving through the trails by foot. What ever the reason, my bed was now waiting and with it, sleep.