At the beginning of 2016, I set myself three running goals. They were to acquire a coach, achieve consistency in running sub 20 min/5 km and complete the Ultra Trail Australia 100 (UTA100) in less than 14 h. They were big goals for a part time runner of only 12 sporadic months, derived from failure.
My failed attempt at running The North Face 100 the previous year for the silver buckle (<14 hrs) completely and painfully opened my eyes to the world of ultra running. I finished the event in 16:40:00 with the trail justifiably illustrating the total lack of respect I had shown my preparation and the sport of ultra running. It also highlighted the need to alter my approach.
After securing a great coach through Brendan Davies UpCoaching (@brendanjdavies), Australian representative and ultra runner Jodie Oborne (@jodieultrachick), I was well and truly running. For somebody who thought they trained hard before the amount of running scheduled each week blew me away. I had never run so much, or for so long, in all my lifetime. I genuinely thought it was unsustainable.
My sessions ranged from easy hours, tempos and intervals to hill repeats and long runs over the weekend. It took a long time for my body and mind to adapt positively, however, If I have learned anything from my first year of running it is that your body and your mind will adapt once you have proven and demanded the need to do so.
My first running breakthrough came during a tempo session away from home. I knew training was going to be tough and the willingness to complete it after listening to lectures all day was not there. I had run uncomfortably high 3s in all my lead up training to this point and did not look forward to the pain I was about to receive. That day, however, something clicked, my pace was quick, and my mind focused in on this uncomfortably comfortable run runners describe. It was the first time I felt in control of my running and broke free of that horrible feeling of just trying to run fast. Like anything, it takes time to see and feel significant results. I have had other breakthroughs in my running since then, however, this was the first time that I experienced a body, mind connection as a runner.
My preparation leading into the UTA100 was flawless. I hit the majority of my training targets and had missed only a hand full of training sessions. I had also raced a few short distance events and a couple of longer ones and to my surprise done quite well. I was beginning to see that you do get back what you put in and hard work can beat ability. Or reputation.
As I toed the line at the UTA100 in group one, I felt way out of my depth. I had moved from one of the later groups forward based on my race results in the lead-up. I could not shake this sense of not belonging there or the possibility of letting my UpCoaches down. I had a race plan, I had race goals, and I had done the hard work to get there. Now I only had to do what has become a running and life mantra. Respect the distance and be patient.
I completed my mission in 12:03:53, placing 42nd overall. What I experienced as a result of that race was nothing short of life changing. The sense of accomplishment was overwhelming in its self but being able to share this with my amazing support crew (mum and dad) just completely activated sensory overload. Coming up the Fuber steps with the sounds of applause amplifying with every step closer to the finish line does something to the soul that you could only ever experience for yourself. Words will never do it justice.
From that, to injury depression.
After the UTA100 I developed a pain in my left knee that resulted in many months of frustrated training. I had aspirations of competing in my first 100 miler, the Great North Walk, however, as the date drew closer my hopes diminished. I saw physio's, got massage therapy, needling and strapping, everything I could think of to eliminate the problem did not work. I trained when I could while playing guessing games as to how long I could last, all of which frustrated and deflated me physically and mentally. I only began to gain confidence this injury was not permanent once a running partner suggested I saw an osteopath and then gave up her appointment to do so. He was able to provide me with an understanding of my problem and insight into the mechanics of my particular body and running style. This guy still continues to work wonders.
After experiencing the lows that come with this sport and battling through some horrible days while injured, I now believe it was my goal testing me. It tests me to see if I will do what it takes to achieve it. Instead of self-pity, I had to look for self-improvements.
A few weeks before The Great North Walk I withdrew from the race and shifted my focus to a new mission, The Light Horse Ultra 12 h. The allure for me being the chance to run with my best mate (@alldarce) and the repetitive nature of the event which provided me with the opportunity to run as far as I could in the set time. My training had become stronger, and I was focused on my race goals. With the help of my coach and Australian ultra runner Kev Muller, a man I have developed a lot of respect for in the way he operates and his willingness to provide advice when approached, I was sufficiently prepared.
After spending five hours running loops of a 2.5 km trail, you would think the desire to ever do this again would well and truly fade with my legs, quite the contrary. It was about this time as dawn cracked the horizon, and the Kookaburras laughed that I filled with passion for this discipline. I would go on to run 129 km in 12 h.
In closing out my first year as a runner, I take particular mindsets eagerly into the next. Through discipline, dedication and desire you are limitless in what you can achieve, you must invest sufficient time for your goals to begin to take effect and the body and mind in unison is a mystifying beast that will adapt and overcome once aligned to your vision and thoughts.
Dedicated with love and appreciation to my mum and dad who have supplied me with so much more than just their efforts as support crew.