5:15am – You’re standing there on Eden beach, having just arrived for a few happy snaps with your loving father, supportive boyfriend, Jerel, smiley pacing friend, Katy, and student physio, Tiffany. In comparison to your frantic 24h track race in Coburg this year where you had you’re specific target of >200km, you’re rather relaxed, soaking in the atmosphere of the most sought after Australian ultra on every endurance runner’s trajectory, Coast2Kosciuszko. For you, it’s a finish on the cards. With the onset of a head cold and what you like to call an extra Swiss chocolate layer, you just want to make it up the top, alive. Your cardiologist, having done a full examination on your heart, has given you double thumbs up for health but, reluctantly, told you that ultramarathon running is bad for your heart. Something definitely that you should and will ponder about as you conquer the 240km that lies ahead…
The first third
Somehow the hype of the event gets you into a bit of a relatively fast start that you don’t notice until your Garmin gets satellite reception. You’re chatting away with Darren from WA whom you met at Coburg this year – talking about Skins, Ultramag and your support crew. Noticing you are above your premeditated 8km/h, you slow down to slot into a conversation with Roger, talking about how the race begins after Jindy and congratulating him for how dedicated he has been to his training this year. He runs off into the humidity as you cruise along on cruise control. Next it’s Sabina, someone you’ve run with so often, mostly around a 400m oval or a loop-type course. She is her talkative, bubbly self as she talks about her children at home, not quite up for a 30+ hour support crew endeavour. Not until they can drive that is…
Now that everyone has spread out, you use this as an opportunity to grow, listening to a few sermons your minister had recommended; Francis Chan, Tim Keller, Simon Manchester and Cornerstone. How often do you get so much time alone just to worship and praise God? It’s so easy to get caught up in life and collapse in bed day after day exhausted, all energy drained, only to squeeze in a quick prayer and ‘verse-of-the-day’ style reading of the Bible. Your first few sermons are on Revelation, arguably the most confusing part of the Bible. You can’t help but feel the urgency of Christ’s coming, praying for the salvation of those loved ones around you who don’t know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour as the book of Revelations is already beginning to unfold…
Your next sermon is titled ‘don’t waste your sports’. You thought this one would be quite topical to listen to as you run. You’ve been in a bit of a mixed mindset about how much of a part of your life your running is occupying. Taking a step back with this sermon, God reveals His plan for your running – a place to worship and glorify Him (Colossians 3:17 – and whatever you do…do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, giving thanks to God the Father through him). You’re challenged to think about where your thoughts predominately are when you lie down in bed to think about nothing. As a bit of a fast-paced forward planner, being in the moment, meditating in gratitude and thanks doesn’t come naturally. You pray, centering and focusing yourself on God.
You’ve now reached the first marathon, slap the hands of Jerel, Tiffany, Katy and dad and continue down the dirt road at your slow, Cliff-Young-style pace, frosty fruit in one hand, ½ a choc-almond croissant in the other.
You’re next sermon is on your relationship with God. This metaphor really speaks to you. Everyone likes iced chocolate. Same goes for a good hot chocolate on a cold snowy day. But who likes to drink a lukewarm hot chocolate after it has been left out in the room for one hour? No one including God himself (Revelation 3:15-16). Something that you’ve really latched onto in saving up for your investment property development project is money. God has blessed you with these gifts that earn you the money I get, He gave His son for you and you are hesitant about giving to Him? It sounds so silly.
You’ve now moved back into the world of interactions, beginning with your pinnacle of excitement: going up the 7km Jack Mountain with Jerel alongside you. The downpour of rain proves to be a romantic bonus as the two of you chat away, catching up on the last 7 hours, sharing with him everything you learnt on those podcasts and hearing what’s been happening in the Maui campervan. He brings out his phone to snap some selfies of the two of you conquering this hill, taking only a mere ten until he reaches that perfect angle to store away in his memory box. Your mind is already playing games as you mistakenly call him a ‘suss’, only to find his head tilting the exact way your little puppy Maximillian would when he’s confused.
“Do you mean wuss?”
“Uh…yes…Oh dear I’m going crazy already… and I’m only 7 hours in!” You are staring out these prickly things just near his underarms that he was jumping up and down about in fear.
You’re now playing games, distracting yourself from the relentless up on this hill. It’s eye spy followed by memory until you come across a quilted man walking next to his runner, Jason, going up the hill. Complementing the outfit, you pass the two, promising to play tag team as the race unfolds.
Jason later becomes a bit of a man saviour for you as you are confronted by your first storm. You’ve recently developed this utter fear of lightning so upon seeing the first strike, you pancake to the road, not caring one bit of the exposure to the rain, almost crying realising there is no one around.
“Is everything okay?” Jason runs on by, seeing you down low on the road.
“Yes I’m just petrified of lightning…”
“Come with me. I’m taller than you.” It’s this comradeship of ultramarathons that make them really stand out. You run on over to Jason, absolutely comforted with the company amidst the storm.
You get to 80km and its pelting down in rain. You’ve jettisoned your Ipod that was playing ‘Monster, How Should I Feel’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYS_qFWx7-M) on repeat and opt for a rain jacket, only just realising how cold you have become.
The second third
Any ultramarathon is like a story to you – there’s the orientation, the complication and the resolution.
“Why did you start this race? Why aren’t you just in the Maui, helping out other runners rather than running yourself? You shouldn’t run with a head cold. Your physio, cardiologist and doctor would not be awfully happy with you…” Your complication is your mind – how much of it is actual head cold and difficulty breathing and how much of it is actually your thoughts and anxieties? 99% of the population fear death.
You powerwalk on into the dusk, one step in front of the other, riding out this wave of negativity. It’s raining, your cold, you’re not breathing at your best and you’re surrounded by lightning. Yay…
It’s 8:30pm and the rules tell you your pacer, Katy, is allowed to join you. You’ve really been looking forward to this; you really enjoy Katy’s company and smiley positive personality. A little bit of the negativity somehow lingers; you’re not running as you think about your breathing and you just keep wondering why you are here…
A quick refresher in the Maui campervan, praying to God for guidance, grabbing some sticky rice, warmly heated up nestling on your fresh beanie, you enter into the stormy night, screaming ‘WE’RE GOING TO DO THIS!” as the race director, Paul, drives past.
The slumber party begins as you and Katy chat away and giggle into the night. She’s giving you targets – run to that pole and then you can power walk. You run through storms and power walk through the darkness, shouting in glee as you hear the chirps of the first sound of daylight as you arrive in Dalgetty to be greeted by a sea of tired runners and crew.
As an extrovert you draw in your energy from the chats over warm pesto pasta, placing your feet up on the table. It’s so lovely this community atmosphere, sharing Aeroguard to combat the flies that are now loving this bit of sunshine coming through, attracted to your smelly body. Onwards and upwards as you run with the sunrise glistening and warming up your body.
The final third
The next complication presents itself – making the 190km cut-off. It’s a scary 41km of highway speeding cars and you’re just feeling glum, never having been awake this long and really wondering what you are doing. You can’t even smile or talk to your bubbly Katy – its music time, listening to your rave music as you conquer this cut off. It’s 6km/h and any faster you treat yourself to a stretch, massage and lie down as you eat a frosty fruit. The sun is holding up nicely but you can see the storm in the horizon, where you are heading, rumbling in the mountains.
As you make it to Jindabyne, your crew are enjoying their lunch in the campervan, of which you sit and join them for a bit, knowing you are way ahead of the cut off with only 13km to go in 2.5 hours. You hear the amazing news that Sabina has won the female event and you can’t help but shout with joy! Go Sabina! The break is short, enough time to put on your rain gear and ‘hail-proof’ hat which you make good use of in the next stretch…
With the hail pelting down, you begin to get your smile and laughter back. You are joking with Katy as to how this could be so much worse, thinking of leeches, wind and snow. You know you’ve made it now.
You reach Thredbo River with half an hour to spare. It’s time to change into another set of clothes and different wet weather gear as your conquer the climb from the 1000m you are now at to the 2200m you will finish at.
Jerel accompanies you up the hill, chirpy, energetic and his usual fun self. You get 7km and are soaked from your hips down on your thermals (you of course failed to pack rain pants). Getting warm clothes on in the van, Jerel decides to crazily wait outside in the downpour, starting at a puddle. You get your temperature read – 36 degrees Celcius. Your dad motions Jerel in to find him reading at 35 degrees Celcius. That explains a lot!
He puts on some warmer layers and continues on with you. You know he can’t last much longer with such a low body temperature so receive a big blessing – one of the sweepers offering to pace you. Jerel gets the gift of warm dry clothes, a blanket and the spacious confines of the van whilst you and Rod purposefully continue on up the mountains.
Rod’s an interesting man. At 67 he is amazingly fit, but not only that, he has slept 40 minutes in the last 30 hours and still shines with passion about this race. He just loves helping out. He teaches you about pacing, how a pacer should lead (and is sometimes not liked for that reason) and you chat away, passing numerous runners along the way who are finding the weather and the last stretch the hardest, as Roger predicted.
Come the nightfall, the rain is so heavy your headlamp is not working so you use the lighting of the Maui behind to run up the hill to the finish. You’re hallucinating, as all the trees become Maximillian woofing at you. But you know you’ve got this.
9:10pm: It’s an uphill finish but you and Katy, who joined you for the last 10km, are holding hands, running together, acknowledging the team aspect of this event. Team Coldral passes the finish line in Charlotte’s Pass in 39h40min, a quick kiss on the cheek to thank Paul and a ever-so quick happy snap crossing the finish before you retreat to the Maui to regain warmth and feeling in your limbs!
In the car its kisses and hugs all round! Brushing your teeth in bed you lay down in you warm change of clothes and thank each and every one of your support crew for everything.
Dad, having slept very minimally, drives you to Jindabyne where you shower and sleep at a very reasonable time of 10:30pm.
Thank you to Dad for his loving support throughout the race from driving to his project management skills in helping organise to his mindset altering psychology challenges when my thoughts were riding the wave of negativity.
Thank you to Jerel for being that bubbly, excited face to look forward to each 5km, for conquering the rain with me and for keeping me laughing. I love you very dearly.
Thanks to Katy for pacing me 102km, for helping me think in setting goals and for our slumber party deep conversations in the night.
Thanks for Tiff for the stretching, massages and tending to my strange lumps on my feet. You are a great physio and I can’t wait to get you to your first marathon:)
Thanks to Sean for coaching me in my running, getting my 1km times down to 3min33! Really looking forward to your running camp between Christmas and New Year:)
Thanks to everyone for their best wishes, to Monique for the bible verses and to Tom for the recovery Thrive smoothie.
Thanks to Bren for getting me into ultra running when I was 19 – it was great to share this race with you
Thanks to FILA. Your running attire proved very light weight in the rain!
Thanks to Macquarie University for getting me there and for your financial support and academic flexibility.
Lastly, thanks to all the runners, the other support crews who at one stage took some rubbish from my hand, and to Paul for granting me entry into this race and organising such a fantastic event.
I will be back.