Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Hubert100 Ultra - my comeback tour

It has been said by so many that if you don't like starting over, then don't stop!  Well the last 4-5 weeks has been somewhat of a challenge to get myself back moving again after such a long period of pathetic excuses that kept me spiralling down into a black hole of self doubt, and fear of inability to compete driven by damaged self pride.  I'd love to say I had genuine reasons for how I let myself get so far off course, but I have none.

After injuring my back, twice, early last year playing cricket I was forced to a complete stop with running for nearly 3 months.  When I was finally able to get moving freely again my performance was clearly not where I'd liked it to be and somewhat affected me.  I wouldn't admit to it then but I was too ashamed to run.  Even my flat 5-10km runs were pathetic (in my eyes at the time), and going out on the trials with the social groups I'd find myself struggling along with the back of the packs.  So what's the most logical thing to do?  Give up.  Crawl into a hole and find excuses why you can't run today, or tomorrow, or join in on that invite for a social run next weekend.  All the while, keep consuming high energy foods that I'd become accustomed to while training at high levels meant my kg's were going up quicker than my training miles were.

Fast forward to August 2015, Yurrebilla time approaching fast.  The one race I'd promised myself in 2012 when completing it as my very first ultra marathon, that no matter what was going on in my life at the time, Yurrebilla will not be missed.  I gave myself around 6 weeks to at least do something to enable the body to drag itself through.  This should've been my wake up call to slingshot myself back into the game, but no.  I managed to fake it through for a 10hr something finish and then fall back into the abyss.

Continue to roll the tape until March 2016, and a total of 28.5kg's later and we finally have some lights come on.  WTF am I doing?  Why?  The Clare Half mara is on next weekend so I enter at that moment knowing it'll be the worst run in history but who cares.  No more excuses.  I turn up, I run the event (if you can call it running) and allow the poor result to resonate and expand my purpose for sorting myself out.

The Hubert100 Ultra has been something on the cards for the last few years and finally it has come together for an official start.  I'd camped and done some minor hiking through there and knew it's potential for making an ultra like no other.  3 distances on offer, 41km, 51km and 86km.  Not knowing the trail precisely but knowing what the terrain can be like, I opt for the 41km option with the mindset of soaking up all the reasons I used to love these events.  The people, the scenery, the challenge, the self resolve.

I deliberately plan to not plan........ No overthinking. No pulling the event down piece by piece to strategize how I will carry out the run.  Just turn up, enjoy the moment and use it to refill my purpose.

With a number of familiar faces and friends going along, the weekend had the makeup to be quite enjoyable.  I pick up Tania and Michael the day before and share the drive up to Wilpena Pound where 5 hours later we sort out our tents and gear while sharing quick hello's with the other runners as they filter through the camp grounds.  Just after sunset we all gather at the resort for the welcoming by a local Aboriginal with loads of historical connection and passion for the region; telling some intriguing stories of the dreamtime for St Mary's Peak and some of the region.  A quick dinner with Mark, Mel, Tania and Michael shortly after before we all get an early night leading into race morning.

An unusually late start of 9:30am meant a no pressure morning, free to take our time getting organised.  Driving out to the start was just as I'd remembered from ultra's.  A few laughs, and some event banter while taking in the sights that wonderful Flinders have to offer.  "How long have we driven?  Because I thought we were only running 41km and it feels we've gone a lot further than that from the finish line......"

A long, bumpy ride later, we come to the starting area of the 41km, share some happy snaps and loose typical chats amongst the others of "are you ready?' etc, and we're off.  A great way to start with just a taste of what's to come, we lead straight into a couple of small hills that offer some stunning views of our surrounds.  Before 1km is up, the phone is out and I'm up to 5-6 pics already.  as we come down from there we come to a long, very rocky and technical creek bed.  Now THIS IS TRAIL RUNNING!  This is what I've been missing.  The group, while starting to segregate, still has a number of people bunched together so the time flies through here sharing small talk and various random discussions.  It's always great value to have Michelle Hanlin around.  Love your energy and spirit out there Michelle.

Considering my lack of training and carrying a shit-ton (official measure of weight in this context) of weight, my legs and general energy levels seem to be holding quite comfortably.  A lot better than I'd expected.

At approximately 8km in, I hear the sounds of sudden pain and discomfort from Tania just behind me.  She's blown her knee out turning awkwardly across a boulder.  The risk was always going to be high for an existing injury on this run but with the comfortable start it looked as though she was going to get a little more life out if today, until now.  The pain is clearly intense and can barely move without the stabbing sensation.  With a mix of not giving up, stubbornness, and a touch of stupidity Tania predictably decides to continue at any cost.  It's at this point I make the clear decision that I will not leave her on her own out here.  Not in this state.  I seen an eagle on the way to the start could easily pick her up and carry her away...... ;) Whilst it continues to plague her all day, she completes the next 33km of outrageous terrain in an awe inspiring spirit.  That must've been a constant battle of demons and I admire the sheer determination. 

Moving through the rocky creek bed, we come out to a slightly undulating track that offers some relief from the mind on the constant lookout for rocks and trip hazards, to a smooth and easy going step for the next number of kms.  It is hear that we come across Brenton struggling immensely with dehydration and body heat issues.  Spending what may have been close to an hour with him, it is clear he needs help and he decides he cannot go further.  Whilst uncomfortable to leave him, we must move forward knowing the next aid station is around 5-6kms away and no phone reception to call for help.  I take off to source help but around 3km to go, a mountain biker comes cruising past and offers to advise the upcoming aid.  I rest a little from picking up the pace and find Tania catch me up shortly after. (We find out later that Brenton had sought medical help and was fine)

Coming out to a wide expanse, the true view of what was to come was staring us in the face.  The almighty St Mary's Peak!  What a gorgeous sight.  Kelly comes trotting up behind; and although I'd heard early on that she'd not had an ideal start, appeared to be looking pretty comfortable and in good spirits. A few gentle kms and a quick review of the maps to ensure we're headed the right way and we come to the checkpoint that marks the next phase of the adventure; the climb up!

Up until this point, and for over 3 weeks leading up to the event I'd been completely free from processed sugar.  Knowing what was to come, I stupidly thought I could do with the energy and downed some coke and lollies in prep for the daunting ascent.  What a silly move that proved to be shortly after.........  Slowly making the way up through the initial gentle climb was ok, but around 20 minutes later as it slowly begins to get steeper, I feel my belly begin to turn.  Nothing major, but certainly not comfortable as it had been all day.  I manage, but it has been clearly noted.

Coming clear of the tall trees and out to the vast scrub, the views begin to become some of the best for the day.  Yet only 1/3 of the elevation is underfoot, this is clearly going to be a wonder to behold.  We continue to follow the trail the best we can, relying heavily on the blue markers along the way.  However, trail markers are only as reliable as their placement........  It becomes apparent very soon that the trail is fading. It now disappears.  Within minutes of second guessing where we have gone wrong, we are greeted by others who have clearly made the same mistake, (and I discover post race that this was a common spot for many others).  We spend what must've been 20-30 minutes looking for the trail before finally coming back to where we had missed a turn, spotting the post around the corner rather than at the turn.  Great spot for a marker!

Finally back on track and moving freely, belly slightly on edge, and Tania trudging along like a soldier with what must've been like a dagger embedded into her knee, we share the final climb up St Mary's Peak to the saddle.  Wow! Just wow!  The steepest, most vertical 'trail' I've ever come across.  This was not trail running. This was rock climbing!  Whilst I was swearing enough to make a sailor sound like a saint on the way up the last 1km, I'll admit later that it was clearly worth every step.  This section showed a strength of Tania's who clearly found this much easier than I, who patiently waited as I dragged my sorry ass up.

Reaching the saddle with the sun still in the sky was a great result considering the position we were facing early on in the day.  A few more happy snaps and it's time for the looooong and rocky descent.  This becomes a fav sectiont for myself as I begin to recover and feel quite comfortable, however it is clearly the worst of the worst for Tania with a bad mix of downhill slope and technical landing making a bad situation worse on the knee.  Where so many would've pulled the pin hours before, this rock solid nutter keeps putting one foot in front of the other with nothing more than a murmur of pain here and there.  Big respect right here.

Around 6km's down and it begins to clear up, flatten out and becomes more manageable to get a solid rhythm going.  These next few km's become the smoothest, and best running of the day since before the rocky creek bed early on.  All up until the final 2-3 kms where Tania's knee decided enough was enough and will not make this finish an easy one.  Once again, would not give in and kept a regular run/walk pattern right through.

It become apparent through the last few kms as the light slipped from the sky and required a quick grab of the torch that this day was about over and the watch was going to land a little bit short of being a marathon distance of 42.2km.  That's not acceptable.  Finally, some lights off in the distance and as we approach, some noise grows stronger to the point of an awesome cheer once they see lights coming towards them.  It's done.  Finished.  I give Tania a quick 'well done' as I look at my watch to find it's come up short as predicted so I trot on through and past the finish line until a few minutes later it ticks over.  42.2km's, ok now I'm done!

What a day! What an adventure!  An event like no other and one to return to once better prepared to have a good solid go at.  Next year, IT'S ON!!!!

Big thanks to Ben at Yumigo for such an awesome concept that his hard work has finally brought to life.  Big thanks to Michael, Tania, Mark and Mel for a good time spent across the couple of days.

It's clear I've finally found my passion once more and loving the journey back to form......