Sunday, 20 October 2013

“The person who really wants to do something finds a way; the other finds an excuse.” Sir John Marks Templeton

It's now a little over a week since the Great Ocean Walk 100km and I've now had time to think about the day I had on the beautiful trails of the Victorian coast and what unfolded.

The race kicked off in beautifully mild conditions at 6:30am when we were greeted with a fantastic sunrise as we made our way along the flat walking track from Apollo Bay to Marengo. The plan as always was to go out at a conservative but comfortable pace and let the day unfold before me. There were a bunch of really keen runners up front going pretty fast including Stu Gibson and Blake Hose who were from what I had gathered going to be the main competition for the day. I was more than happy watching them up ahead and was enjoying the warmth of the early morning sun.

The first leg from Apollo Bay to the Blanket Bay Checkpoint was relatively undulating, a few climbs here and there and also a couple of sections running along the soft sandy beaches which was nice to mix up the terrain. After about 8km I had caught up to youngster Blake Hose and Damian Smith who I had actually run the first 15km or so at the Glasshouse 100km with last September. For the next little while we chatted and made our way through some nice single track and ducked under and around the fallen trees that were taking over parts of the trail. About 4km from the checkpoint it started flattening out and became more downhill where Damian and Blake started pushing a quicker pace of around 4min k's which I felt was a touch quick with more than 80km to go so I eased off leading into the aid station. After a quick bottle change I ended up exiting the aid station before both of the guys and made my way along some more awesome single track.

A couple of km later Blake caught me up and we were running along one behind the other for around about 10km. The single track through here was mind blowing! Narrow, windy and in parts technical - we were having a blast. There was a really soft sandy section at around about the 32km mark. It only went on for approx. 1.5km but by the time I had made my way onto some firmer terrain I knew something was up. Initially I thought it was just one of the many aches and groans I have learned through ultrarunning that come and go for no apparent reason. So my initial response to the pain was that it was only going to be temporary and soon I would have the spring back in my step and would be on my way again. A few km later I still had the pain and it had gotten worse. The more flexion I gave my knee the worse it got, the more load I put through it upon landing the worse it got. I was left thinking that only 10 minutes ago I was smiling and happy about how the race was unfolding. Stu was around 5-10mins ahead going fast and hard, and Blake had pulled away from me and was putting on a bit of a break which meant I was able to do what I love best and just cruise along at my pace, nice and quiet through the bush. Although it was around here that the race for me had ended and it was now just about finishing.

Coming into the 41km aid station at Aire River, I had spent the last 20 minutes or so contemplating pulling out. The only positives I could find out of my new 'situation' was that going uphill wasn't quite as painful as everything else. As I came in Liz must have known something was up when she asked if I was ok. Generally in a 100km race runners would aim to feel pretty awesome through 40km as there is still a hell of a long way to go. My reply was short as I grabbed some more water and food before making my way out of the aid station. I figured that if I stopped the chances of a DNF were much higher.

I knew that leaving Aire River I only had around 14km or so to get to Johanna Beach which from there was the toughest and hilliest part of the course through to the 80km checkpoint at The Gables. My plan was to battle my way through to Johanna Beach, take some time to recoup there and then set off on the hills from there. To say the next 14km were tough is a ridiculous understatement. Combining the pain with the frustration that everything else on my body seemed to feel fine was tough. Everything was wanting to race except for my knee. My jogging into the 40km aid had now turned into a ridiculous ultra shuffle/walk/limp. It got progressively worse through to Johanna Beach at 55km. The last km into the checkpoint along Johanna Beach was brutal, I felt pretty useless as anything more than a slow walk was really painful on the soft sand.

I'll keep this short and say that from Johanna Beach (55km) through to The Gables (80km) was absolutely brutal. Emotions were high as I was coming to terms with the fact that I was going to likely have to pull from the race. Now my knee was excruciatingly painful, steep downhills were being performed backwards and the only time I was able to shuffle seemed to be on certain inclines where my knee briefly went from excruciating pain to slightly less excruciating pain for about 20-30secs. I was trying to understand how the rest of my body was feeling strong and good to go but my knee was hampering any decent forward progress. During this section, eventual 2nd place Damian, 3rd place Dan Beard and lead woman Jo Brischetto had passed me looking pretty good.

Coming into the 80km checkpoint I had the best km I'd had since before the 32km mark. As I shuffled/jogged my way up the hill a good friend Andre made comment that it was nice seeing me running again and that I was the only runner in the top 4 to run that whole hill. I've since found out this might not have been 100% correct but it helped in convincing me to finish so it worked, Cheers Andre ;)

It was funny how 1km of slightly less demoralising running put me in a better headspace coming into the aid station. After spending the last 25km urging my body along telling it that it would all stop at the 80km mark. I had gone back and forward, finish or DNF...DNF or finish. The whole time I thought about how I felt after the Tarawera 100km where I did DNF and how bad that felt and still feels. I started doing the math in my head and worked out I only had to cover approx 3.5km an hour to make the 18hour cutoff. For those that know me well know I'm not a huge fan of walking at the best of times, but I had come to grips and was ok with the fact I was going to have to walk this one in. After some ice and massage treatment from the race doctor at the aid station and a few mouths full of coke I got up quickly as the 2nd woman Janet Ng from Hong Kong had left. I figured if I could maybe hang onto her for even 1km then it was 1 less I had to do on my own.

The next 7 or 8km were easily the best km's I'd had since early on in the day. Still ridiculously slow for me but they had slightly more shuffling than walking and even some sub 10min km's so I was trying to take the positives from that. I'd managed to catch up to and pass Jo who was also having a really tough day on the trails and she did incredibly well to finish, super strong and showed great courage. A couple of km later the coke, massage and ice wore off - damn it. I knew it wasn't going to last forever but was ambitiously thinking if I could get to 95km or so that'd be great! Around 89km Janet passed me again on a dead flat gravel road section doing about 5:30min km's. I hung on for about 12 metres and then realised I wasn't kidding anybody. Back to my shuffle-limp which I had become slightly more efficient at over the last 55km or so.

Some of the short and steep descents over the final few km were brutal. My knee as it had done for the past 7hrs felt as though someone was stabbing me in the side of it. The scenery over the final section was incredible like the rest of the course. Coming up over a rise and seeing the 12 Apostles was surreal. Even amongst the pain and frustration they were truly amazing.

I crossed the line in 11:35:48 for 4th male and 5th overall behind Janet who ran an amazing 11:23! I pretty much stumbled my way over the line where my knee finally buckled beneath me. I was done, no more pain and I could finally switch off. Mentally this race was my toughest assignment yet. Somehow convincing myself numerous times that it was a good idea to push through the pain and finish the race, I'm still not sure how I did.

Post race things haven't been too bad. An appointment with my sports doctor and physio have revealed that it was literally a combination of bad luck and timing. Because of tapering before the race my glutes and ITB tightened up and switched off and combining that with the soft sandy running it was basically asking too much biomechanically of my body. The reason it was so painful was because there are so many nerves etc in the knee joint which basically starts to settle down as soon as you stop. That's also the reason why the body feels so good now, because I was hampered by my knee my other muscle groups were only able to work to a certain threshold. It's nice to know I haven't done any major damage and it is now just a case of strengthening my glutes and core muscles to relieve the load on my ITB's.

Looking forward I feel that my experience here has only made me stronger. I now know I have been to a really dark place and come out on top which I can use for my next race. It has almost given me confidence leading into 2014 where I am likely going to be attempting my first 100 miler, because that distance is a whole new challenge physically and even more so mentally.

Finally, congratulations to Blake for winning the race in his first 100km, keep an eye on this guy! And also Damian and Dan for rounding out the podium. Congratulations to Janet for a cracking run and Katherine and Jo on the women's side of the podium. Also congrats to everyone who finished a tough 100km course. Thanks to Andy and Brett for putting on an awesome race and all of the amazing supporters and volunteers for helping make this race happen. Thanks to my support crew Isaac you were awesome and also to Nick and Lisa for coming down to support as well. Not wanting to let you all down was a big motivator for pushing through the pain :)

As always I cannot say enough thank yous to Liz. Amidst all the dark moments I only had to think of her to bring out a smile. As tough as this whole experience was I knew that seeing her at the aid stations was going to give me a boost, or at least a kick up the backside to hurry me along ;) Already looking forward to our next race together.

Thanks to my sponsors Hoka One One, RaceReady, Ryders Eyewear and Peak Podiatry. I am very thankful for your continued support of me following my passion.

Until next time...

Some images courtesy of Patchanida Pongsubkarun, thankyou so much for capturing some of my race.

Crossing the creek before the Blanket Bay aid station

Approaching the Blanket Bay aid station
Staying dry before the Blanket Bay aid station

Happy times early on, obviously not realising what the sand was doing to me

Approaching Aire River aid station (41km) the beginning of the end

Feeling the pinch

Likely the moment where Andre had told me the good news ;)

Stoked to finish, rest time now!

Broken but not beaten

The amazing scenery approaching the Aire River aid station

Pre race crew photo

Trying to do a patch up job to get a few more km's out of my knee