In the past I've stated that 'this run' or 'that run' is the hardest I've ever encountered. I have a new contender....
Bogong to Hotham.
For me it wasn't even all the way to Hotham, I only made it to 35k, finishing at Langsfords Gap. The full distance is 64k. My hat is off the guys and girls who finished the whole thing.
This race is in my back yard (at least this year's back yard) so I sent off an entry, thinking I'd probably not even be accepted to enter.
I found out a week before the race that I had indeed scored a spot, thankfully my brother had me out running trails every other day over December.
I drove down the evening before to register and attend the briefing.
"Look out for snakes, fill up with water at this stream, if you get lost, this is the number to call..." Freaking out mildly by this stage.
I caught up with some friends from Sydney, who all further helped to fuel my fears by telling me just how hard this run really is. Thanks guys xx
After everyone had gone to their respective motels/tents, I sat on the balcony of the pub, under the shadow of the second highest peak in Australia, contemplating what the hell I was doing here. It got me thinking.
I wondered if I came to these races simply as a social outlet. But I arrive at the last minute, am on my own within 200m of the race starting, am usually alone for the full distance, finish when most others have long since been and gone, and then drive home almost immediately after. No, I really love running trails.
I may not be very good at it, certainly I'm the slowest out there, but I revel in the challenge. It's so far removed from my everyday life of kids and housework. To be alone in the Australian wilderness, map in hand, winding my way through trails.... seeing the wildlife, chatting to other bushwalkers as we pass, there is nothing better.
Even the hard times, when it all seems folly. When I know I won't make a cut, when I feel like a fraud for even turning up, knowing the winner has finished and I'm only half way there. These times are still memorable. It's a cliche, but the hard times make you stronger.
Back to the race. I picked Tim up at 4.30 on the way to the start line and I think I babbled incessantly for the 10min drive, I was so nervous. Rain, damn rain... it's going to be cold. Or steamy when the sun rises... who can tell?
We lined up in the dark, on a stretch of dirt trail, waiting the starters order to 'go'. A few commented on my choice of footwear, questioning my sanity and sense. It's not my feet I'm worried about frankly!
The runners take off and I quickly fall into last place. I have never seen the course, so pick my way along in the dark, making sure I don't take a wrong turn. By the time I start up Staircase Spur, the light is filtering through the trees. I have never seen the elevation profile for this run, so have no idea what is ahead. In hindsite this is a good thing.
I know now. 1400m of constant climbing up the side of a mountain. Everyone who started at either 5.30 or 6.15am passed me somewhere on the climb to the top. It rained all the way and the top of the mountain was clouded in. It was cold, very cold, and I was tired already. Only 9km in and I'm ready to quit. I seriously considered turning around at this point, my thinking being that I didn't want people waiting for ages for me to finish. What do I do? Push on and possibly make a long day even longer for those assisting, or turn around and head back, to face the realisation that I didn't give it a good shot.
The decision was to go to Cleve Cole Hut, not far way and reassess. By the time I reached here I was in good spirits and back to jogging again. A quick chat about my 'feet' with the checkpoint folk, some bikkies and off down the path.
I loved the downhill section to Big River. The tough trail, bush and overgrown areas all bring back childhood memories. Reaching the river, I walked through, my feet glad of the cold water.
It had become apparent by this stage that my KSO's (Keep Stuff Out) had become LSI's (Let Stuff In). The stitching was undone and rocks were lodging themselves in the cracks. No matter, it takes my mind off the pain in my quads.
At the river I looked up, dismayed at the seemingly endless mountain rising up before me. All my new found bravado was gone. Back to trudging. Even slower than the first climb, as the heat of the sun was now burning my back. I made deals with myself here... just to the next bit of shade, then I can wait for the sweepers.
The sweepers never came, and I made it to the top and Ropers Hut site. I had some food and fluid here (coconut water... the best drink on earth) and immediately picked up. I resumed a slow jog as the course meandered across the plains, ski pole after ski pole passing by me.
I came across a group of walkers who formed a guard of honour for me, a nice bit of light relief after a long day. I chatted briefly with them before heading off toward the aquaduct.
I often become emotional near the end of a long run, relieved that I have made it and thankful that I have been given the opportunity to participate. Today was no exception.
There was a small handful of people who stood to give me a cheer and applause as I crossed the 'line'. While their thoughtfulness meant the world to me, I would have done it if there was no one there to see me. This truly is spectacular country, and we are blessed to be able to share it.
My goal for the day was to stay in front of the sweepers for as long as possible. They finished 15 minutes behind me :) Next year I'd like to get closer to the cut off. I don't think I could finish the full distance, but you never know.