I’ve raced the Australian Day Ultra the last two years and managed a podium on both occasions. The first year I ran the 50km and nabbed a third place after dropping down from the 100km after a few bad runs in training had drained my confidence. I figured to run 100km I needed confidence in my ability and without this I wasn’t sure I’d complete the distance. As it turned out it was probably the right decision as even on the 50km race I fell off my goal pace early and had to work really hard for a 3 hour 38 minute finish with the T-train (that is Tony Smith) chasing me to the finish, and trust me having the T-train in hot pursuit is not pleasant, the man is relentless ! Last year I stepped up to the main event and off the back of a good training block ran 8 hours 4 minutes and a second place finish. It was a great day and as much as I enjoyed the experience (I use the word ‘enjoy’ loosely) I vowed not to return and retired on the spot !
Of course this was instantly forgotten when the event opened up in July and I must have been one of the first to put my name in the hat, how does that happen ? Anyhow the race was put on the back burner as other events came and went but after the 6 inch ultra in December the ADU suddenly became my next ‘target race’ and one that now demanded my attention. I must admit to not being that enameled with taking on the ADU again as the event got closer. To be prepared for this race you have to train very hard over the Christmas period, which is in the middle of a Perth summer, heat becomes your running partner and this makes all runs that little bit more ‘challenging’. It also comes at the end of the race calendar when you are looking forward to a break pre-Perth marathon in June. It can be very easy to drop the ball on this one , which would be a problem of course come race day.
Training wise I was on a good wicket and managed to put in three solid training weeks after the 6 inch ultra. Weeks of 118k, 130k and 154k had me feeling that training wise I was ready, it was just the mental side that needed work. I hadn’t fully convinced myself running again was such a good idea after a solid debut last year. Would I run as well again and was I risking too much taking on the ADU for a second time? These thoughts stayed with me in my 2 week mini-taper (do you taper for an ultra? I wrote a post on that where the answer was no if I remember correctly? ) and even the night before the event I was still questioning my reasons for racing.
I spoke to my Wife the night before the event, from the hotel room before I treated myself to two hours sleep, and made her promise to never let me run the event again. She asked me to make a video of me proclaiming this which I luckily conveniently forgot to do. Anyhow I digress, needless to say I got my two hours sleep awoke at 10:30pm , had some toast and honey with bananas on top, the breakfast of champions and made my way to the start which was scheduled for midnight. So yet again I found myself in a high visibility vest (council stipulations) wearing a head torch staring into the dark about to set off on another 100km adventure.
There was another carrot dangled in front of me, and probably the main reason for my return to the ADU after retiring last year (?). The Australian Ultra Runners Association M50 age group record was a tantalizing target after my 8 hours and 4 minutes debut 100k time in 2017. Bryan Smith, the current holder of the 50-55 age group, was an Ultra Running Legend who died while competing in the Big Foot Trans-Atlantic footrace in 2001, coincidently enough on my birthday, February 2nd. Bryan still holds the Australian record for 1,000 miles (1609km) which he ran in 11 days, 23 hours, the second fastest time anywhere in the world. Although I never knew Bryan it seems really was a ultra running great and he is considered one of the best ultra runners Australia has ever produced. To beat his time would be a great honour.
Right so off we go into the night, I had persuaded my good friend Jon Pendse to run with me for one lap as the T-train was shying away from our pace and was set to run his own race. Last years winner Richard Avery set off like a scolded cat and I could tell he was aiming for a sub 7 hour finish. So myself and Jon settled down into 4:30 min/k pace and enjoyed the unique atmosphere of running at midnight. Due to logistics and volunteers the course is a 12.5k loop 8 times which sounds boring but due to the night start it actually works quite well. The first four laps you run within yourself but because it’s dark you don’t feel like you’re repeating yourself. There is an aid station at the start, after 3k and at the far end of the out and back , so basically you’re never more than 3k from an aid station, plenty of opportunity to eat and drink on demand, an ultra runners dream course really. As I have always maintained an ultra really is an eating and drinking competition with running between refreshment tables. Basically get your hydration and nutrition right and you’re in with a good chance to finish, get it wrong in an ultra and you have a long way to think about your mistake. This year, like last, I had my esky full of ‘tukka’ at the middle aid station so passed it twice a lap. My plan was to use a 600ml drink bottle of electrolyte and a carbo-shot every lap with banana’s, protein bars and revvies ( http://www.revviesenergy.com ) as backup. (I never used these backup options, just too hard to think about and I never got in a state I really needed them.) This worked well for the first 6 laps but after that I couldn’t stomach any more electrolyte so moved to flat coke at the middle and end aid stations with water as backup.
So I managed to persuade Jon to stay with me to about 48k which was very good of him as we were a lot quicker than his target goal pace and I was worried after I left him he’d be swallowed up by the chasing pack. He actually carried on and finished with a massive PB of 45 minutes, a time of 8 hours 6 minutes. This was way beyond what he expected and again backs up my theory that sometimes you got to put yourself out of your comfort zone to achieve ‘great things’. So thanks Jon, as always I enjoyed your company and it helped the kilometres tick by. After I left Jon I knew I had just over 50k to go and would be alone bar passing other runners (and being passed by the 50k and 25k runners) . It was time to buckle down and get the job done. Time wise I was ahead of schedule and lapping the 12.5km loop consistently under the 60 minutes. I think my first 4 laps were all 57 minutes so everything was looking rosy. At the turn around for lap 5 I went past the race leader drinking at the aid station and his race was obviously run. Richard had set himself a goal ‘A’ deliberately with no Goal ‘B’, it was an ‘all or nothing‘ run and unfortunately this time it was to be nothing. A very brave roll of the dice and one Richard will learn from. I suspect next year he will realise his sub 7 hour dream and I hope to be there to witness it, albeit only as he cruises past me on each lap.
I passed Jon and mentioned to him I was in the lead and he had moved up to second place, all we had to do now was run for another three and a half hours and we’d be podium bound, easy really ? As it was the race panned out as most 100k ultras normally do. The first 50k you should be relaxed and aim to get to halfway feeling good, any other feeling and you are in for a world of pain of course. 50k -70k and things start to get real, 70k – 90k and the race begins in earnest. These 20k or so kilometres is where the race is defined, (similar to the last 10k in a marathon really.) run strong through this part of the race and you set yourself up for success. After running for 90k you can normally find something for the last 10k, ok it may not be pretty but if you get to 90k you are going to finish, eventually. This is what happened, lap 5 was bearable and I started to notice the spring in my step was not as ‘springy’ as in previous laps (is springy a word?) . Lap 6 and 7 is where you dig deep, 25k of pain really and if you can get to lap 8 you are there, after 7 laps you can always find something for the last one, trust me.
Personally when I run a race this long I break it down into smaller manageable chunks or goals. The ADU is easy as it’s an eight lap course (I typed in ‘course’ wrong and the spellchecker changed it to ‘curse‘, interesting?) so straight away you have eight smaller races, for me each 12.5k loop needed to be less than 60 minutes. Add in a halfway split and you have two 50km races. Trust me running 100k takes a long time, surprising that, and you need to be patient. The first 50k really is a jog to the start of the race which starts in earnest after halfway. On both occasions I’ve had great company for the first 50k of the ADU so it becomes more of a ‘Sunday long run with friends’ before morphing into a race. When you initially start the thought of running for eight hours is frightening so you need to just concentrate on enjoying the run and interacting with company, in a similar vein to a Sunday long run. Trying to get into ‘race mode’ for eight hours would be difficult and I admire runners who race from the first kilometre to the last, personally it’s too long mentally for me and I save my racing for laps 6 and 7 when its time to enter the pain box. I remember thinking on a number of occasions will this race ever end ! Eventually though it does…..
I finished in 7 hours 47 minutes and 29 seconds which was an AURA record and good enough for a maiden victory at this distance. (Ignore the clock in the photo below, that is the time of day I’m assuming because the other side showed the race net time? I’ll mention this rookie error to the race directors!) ) Jon came home in second place with my training buddy Tony ‘T-Train’ Smith completing the male podium places. It really was a perfect day. Other notable times for the day was the two first female runners setting times good enough for Australian Ultra Team qualification and the women’s winner, Bernadatte Benson, setting another Canadian record for her age group, beating her time she set in 2015, this was also another course record. Margie Hadley, who ran a strong second place, is one of my favourite runners as she probably runs more than me and certainly more times a day than me. I admire hard work when it comes to running and I don’t think many people work as hard as Margie, there is more to come from this young lady mark my words.
After finishing I did the obligatory ‘I’m retired’ speech again to all who would listen but I feel they don’t believe me as they’ve heard it twice before and each year I keep returning. I must admit it doesn’t take long for me to forget about all the pain of the previous 8 hours after a few minutes and if I see a camera I’m smiling instantly and show boating with my medal, funny that ? I think the photo below shows this.
Best thing after finishing an ultra is the ‘I can eat what I want‘ feeling you can give yourself for a few days after the event. Traditionally for me and Jon this starts at the Dome cafe about an hour after we finish. Pancakes, bacon, berries and maple syrup is the order of the day as we sit down and dissect the race, blow by blow. The last few years it’s always been ‘we ain’t doing that again‘ but this year was different, I think we both knew we’d be back but this was unspoken for the moment. As you can see from the photo below we are two very happy ultra runners in all our splendour with fresh medals proudly displayed for all to see.
All that was to do now was return to the event for the presentations and also to encourage the last few runners on their way. The event started just after midnight but there were still runners on the course when the presentations started just after midday, some with multiple laps to complete. This is Ultra running , where the runners at the back of the pack work so hard just to finish. Running can be a cruel sport but as we are in awe of their determination they seem to be equally in awe of the leaders pace. Both sets of runners appreciate the other and that’s what makes the whole community feel of ultras running. It really is a special type of event where you make great friends and meet great people, as well as getting to run for a long time, it really is the event that just keeps on giving
Finally to quote Dean Karnazes, who knows a thing or two about ultra running, “If you want to run a mile, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon. If you want to talk to God, run an Ultra.”
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