At a quarter to six my alarm chirped. I was already awake waiting for it. The first thing I did was reach over to my sleeping laptop and check the race website. After a miserable and very rainy end to the week I wasn’t feeling too hopeful about the trails being open, but “The Race Is ON!” in big red letters greeted me, and so with relief and excitement I rolled out of bed, never even minding the early start or the cold chill air outside the warmth of my duvet.
I had my race day breakfast helping of Weetabix (very important stuff is Weetabix), pulled myself into my running attire all neatly laid out for me and ready to go.
Under Armour Bra, check.
Mizuno Thermo Breath tights and long sleeved top, check.
Awesome purple tartan running skirt, check.
Mizuno head wrap keep ears warm thingy, check.
With slippery muddy trails in the forecast I pulled out my latest and cleanest pair of Nike Air Max Assails. Worn maybe twice before so not terribly well broken in, but I decided given the weather that the extra grip remaining on the bottom would not go amiss today. I then bid farewell to my pretty clean shoes as they wouldn’t be looking so pristine when they returned to the house.
Trusty trail shoes, check.
Garmin Forerunner, check.
Getting up was so relaxed, even with Baby Bea awake and in the mix, I decided to take the last moments before going to collect Martha from her hotel to roll around on the floor in our living room doing some stretches. After my hip debacle the previous weekend I was nervous and wanted to put some extra effort into that area before heading out.
I picked up a patiently waiting Martha in a haze of light drizzle and off to the White Water Centre we went. Within moments Side Show Jesus appeared, as if by magic, as I was rummaging around in my boot after almost forgetting to put my race bib on. He would be doing the big boy of trails this morning, while I was tackling it’s middle sibling. There followed introductions between my friends (Martha Screw-It, Side Show Jesus; Jesus, Martha) while I completely arsed up getting my disposable timing chip onto my shoe. Trail running accomplice Ashley also then came striding over and introductions were repeated…Ashley, *cough* uh Laura, uhm Michael. Yeah.
OK Toilet stop! While Martha and I waited in the queue for the toilets Ashley apparently managed to complete a warm up mile!
We then reconvened and tried to make out what the announcer was telling us over the loud speaker. Confusion! Something about the 13 and 8.2 milers starting at the same time, get over to those flags at the trail head now. 3.8 milers would be starting 10 minutes later. So off we wandered towards the flags, not really knowing which way we were going to be descending into the trails. Cunning plan to remain at least centre of the pack for the start failed when we ended up at the back. Suddenly without a to do, as I was looking down at the ground checking out someone’s pair of Vibram Five Finger Sprints, and commenting on the crazy number of expensive car fobs attached to people’s shoelaces and wondering if those people would still be driving home afterwards, we were off!
I lost Martha and Ashley fairly instantly and took the easy jog out past the whitewater to the North trail head chatting to SSJ (Wooo big congrats on the new job mate!) before we hit the North Trail head and the easy jog turned into a snail’s pace amble. Oh how I wished I had been more forthright at the start and found the front of the pack as the snaking throng turned into a not very fun mix of apparent hikers who were observed being ever so precious and gingerly picking their way along the path instead of getting stuck into the mud, and impatient runners eager to stretch their legs and get dirty.
Mind you, I was relieved to find that the centre had bridged the stream access to the Figure 8 trail and it was now an easy gravel ford instead of the ankle plunge into icy running water that greeted me only two weeks ago.
Blimey, it felt like I was stuck behind a women’s institute meeting at this point. There was a lot of chatter when I just wanted to let loose on the trail. I checked my Garmin and balked at the 29 min mile pace reading. Ankle biting is not how I want to run on trail so I bid Jesus adieu, took advantage of my smaller frame, and started impatiently picking my way through the crowd ahead. I darted through any opening I could find, swinging around trees as I took the rougher line of attack. Now we’re cooking.
It was hard work but I made some good progress until I got stopped in my tracks by a guy with headphones on who was taking up the entire trail with his side to side wide gait. I asked him many times if I could pass and got nowhere. Frustrated, I clenched my fists and prepared to forge past. This was forgetting that I had a pressure activated water bottle in hand and so instead I squirted cold water all over his back. I was mortified for a second, but then he still didn’t react! I ended up trapped behind him trying to run at a walking pace until the trail gave me a glimpse of freedom and I took it, and never looked back.
After that passing got easier and easier and I felt good. I was worried that I was going out too strong, but I was having a great time and I felt fairly confident that if I could build up a bit of a time cushion even if I flagged later in the race, a brief rest stop and then a push on would be just fine for this eight miler.
And so it felt like I blazed into a water stop around the mile and a half mark. Bill had given me said hand held water bottle for Christmas and I had decided to test that out in this race. I was able to just take a sip or two when I needed it rather than have to try to hold on for a water stop then gulp back a cup and try not to choke (I’m really bad at water stops, and really great at spluttering). That water bottle did good and it held just enough for an eight mile trail, even when much of it went onto that guy’s back! Onwards, without hesitation, through waterstops I ran.
I ran to the sound of footsteps slopping into mud, leaves crunching along the woodland floor, the huff and puff of my hard breathing and the slosh slosh of water in my hand.
Trusting confident foot falls to carry me along the trail traversing slippery wooden bridges, over roots and branches and stones, across loose leaves hiding surprises, and through thick claggy mud and puddles, I felt terrific. The North Trail integrated into the South trail and along the way I completely missed where we then neatly veered onto the carpet trail loop. That was a pleasant surprise when I realised I was almost done with that section, when I had been thinking it was yet to come.
Somewhere just downhill from the second water stop one unfortunate runner had, I presume, taken a bad tumble and was not in good shape trying to haul herself off the trail. She was the only casualty of the day that I saw though and I raced onwards, catching up with the next group of runners I passed on the message for medical attention on the trails Chinese Whisper style. By the time I did make it to the next volunteer point myself the message from the trails had been relayed and help was already on its way.
Rejoining the South Trail I was confident knowing that next I’d traverse the Toilet Bowl Loop, and then it would be back to the South Trail before heading for the finish. I had to do a definite double take and got a big sinking feeling when I came across signage pointing both 8.2 and 13 mile racers up Goat Hill.
What? Goat Hill? That wasn’t in the deal?!
Phew. After a cracking run I was halfway up Goat Hill when the trail finally made me catch a breath and haul myself up to the top with a fast stumbling walk until I was all set to charge back down again. I took the opportunity to reflect and munch on some raisins on my way up. Goat Hill knocked my confidence somewhat. It was an unexpected hurdle and from that point on the race became much more of a mental challenge.
Mr Garmin was consistently reading about half a mile shorter than the mile markers on course by now and I rather lost trust in my local knowledge of the trails to read how much further I had and how to now pace myself to finish. It occurred to me that maybe with the heavy rain the trail had had to be switched and Goat Hill substituted for the Toilet Bowl Loop? But no. That theory was laid to rest as I waved goodbye to the South Trail once more and headed off out on that one mile loop. I was very confused, and getting tired.
I was even more befuddled when suddenly I ran past an 8 mile marker without ever having seen a 7. With the unexpected course change and Garmin being obviously inaccurate I was taken aback but trusting, and even with my knowledge of the trails screaming at me to reconsider I decided to start to try to push for the final short leg.
Yup, that final short leg must surely be the longest .2 mile ever. I hunkered down and was pushing on wondering what was going on when lo and behold another 8 mile marker popped into sight. Damn. I need to trust myself and the Garmin more! I relogged this more accurate distance in my head and even though I still knew the trails had much more than a fifth of a mile left to meander before the finish could be in sight I was still thrown off by this information. Was the finish line stealthy and hiding elsewhere?
Taking a brief disheartened walk break just before that second 8 mile marker a male runner passed me. “Come on, you going to walk the rest of the way? No harm in that, right?” I picked myself back up and hurried on.
This last stretch was grueling. Over the last mile or so there were a couple of solo runners and pairs that I kept passing with spurts but who would then recatch me and give me another target to chase.
Kudos especially to the girl in all vivid green who was vying with me for position, but I think finally got the better of me as we slipped over and down the rolling open red dirt hill before heading back into the woods to be spat out onto the gravel track and homeward. Good run girl.
Another girl in a pair of bright blue shorts seemed to elusively be skipping along the trail ahead of me. I don’t think I ever quite caught her.
I hauled myself up the last hill, trying to maintain a rhythm and not come to a screeching halt so close to the finish. I popped up through the entrance flags and with the finish line in sight, scanned for the telltale bright red stroller looking for my husband and kids. Nothing. Disheartened and about to curse, I almost faltered. Then I spotted two small roaming children wearing Sam and Bea clothes, and towering over them was Bill, grinning with camera in hand. My feet had lost time but were able to lift again. I grinned back and waved to Sammy Woo as I charged across the parking lot and through to the finish.
Sam was first to greet me as I bent over and caught my breath. “I was missing you Mummy!” he said. “I am very cold. Can we go now?”
Ashley came storming down to the finish shortly later at 1:32:00 guntime followed by Martha at 1:41:41.
I went over to check the incoming results and almost squealed when I saw:
Sadly didn’t see Jesus finishing his 13 mile race as I was too distracted by jumping around to keep warm and waiting to collect my medal. Hehe. Sorry Side Show. He did great too though, I believe 2:01:08 and a personal record for him. My friends are hard core!
The race was brilliant. I had an excellent time and am really grateful to the USWC for allowing the race to go ahead despite the wet conditions. On to the next one! (Red Top Rumble 11.5 miles – February 7th)