Can you do it twice? It was a dare. The question posed by the Lamington Eco Challenge taunted me. Could I do a 42km trail run twice in two days? Sure, there were 8km and 21km options, but I am too stubborn – some might say foolish! – to not throw myself at a challenge full pelt. Two x 42km it had to be!
The Lamington Eco Challenge is unlike any other event I’ve done. It is unique not only because you commit yourself to running your chosen distance twice in two days (although there is the option to race on just one of the days), but because of the spectacular location. The start line is at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat, a mountain-top guesthouse nestled in the subtropical rainforest of Lamington National Park, south-east Queensland.
My husband, three-year-old daughter and I drove up the steep, winding road to O’Reilly’s the evening before the first of the two races. We stayed in one of the garden villas, but there’s also the option of pitching a tent in the campground. I packed my hydration backpack before going to bed so all I had to do in the morning was eat my banana and peanut butter, plait my hair and try not to let nerves get the better of me!
I honestly wasn’t sure if I’d be able to run 42km twice in two days, but I was going to give it a good crack. I had no time goal – I’d given up worrying about PBs long ago. My goal, as always, was to enjoy it. And, most importantly, to finish without feeling as though I was about to die!
After the start gun cracked at 8am on the first day, I kept to the back of the pack. I had mentally prepared myself for the high probability I would be out on the trail ALL day, so there was no point wearing myself out early on. My strategy was simple: walk whenever I felt like it! I also took the advice of champion Brisbane ultra-marathoner Jodie Oborne to heart: the first half of the race should feel easy. For fuel and hydration, I was relying on Tailwind, with a gel thrown in every 10km-15km and whatever snacks the checkpoint volunteers kindly had on offer!
We ran down the sealed road from O’Reilly’s for about 1km before turning onto a rocky track shaded by lush rainforest. The track opened to the stunning, rolling landscape of Luke O’Reilly’s farm. We made a steep descent, then a sharp ascent to the first checkpoint at 3km and on to Duck Creek Road. This is a 4WD track through the rainforest with snatches of gorgeous, mountainous views. We shared the track with many 4WDs that weekend – I even opened and closed gates for some of them!
It was mostly downhill to the next checkpoint at 9km, where the 21km runners turned around to go back. The 42km runners continued along Duck Creek Road, mostly downhill, which sounds great but after a while, the impact of constant downhill had me wishing for more uphill! We hit an undulating open valley with lots of wandering cows. I was able to pick up the pace a little and “rest” my legs as we hit some flat bitumen for a while.
I refilled my water at the 18km checkpoint and helped myself to some cake, made by one of the wonderful volunteers. I nibbled on it as the pink tape led me to the next challenging stage through private property. I didn’t do much running for the next 5km, as the ascent through the forest was so steep. I stopped a few times to catch my breath and admire the sweeping views beyond. I felt truly fortunate to be privy to such a beautiful landscape – it was my reward for all the super-early mornings and long training runs!
At 23km, I stumbled into the fourth checkpoint, which we’d been told would have water, but it wouldn’t be manned by volunteers. However, the owner of the property happened to be there refilling the tank of water when I arrived. It was nice to have a quick chat with him after having spent the past 5km on my own.
At last, there was some downhill! But my relief quickly disappeared when I shuffled into what was to become my second-least favourite part of the course – the vines. These underfoot hazards made running almost impossible for a klutz like me! After a couple of kilometres, the track emerged into a brightly sunlit grassland with a sign warning of hazardous rocks for the next 1.5km. For me, this was the worst part of the course. I stumbled along, tripping many times and saying a few choice words, but thankfully I didn’t land on my face. Finally, I reached Duck Creek Road again and made my way back up to what was CP 2 on the way down, but was now CP 5. I’d made it to 30km. All considered, I felt pretty good, and knew I was definitely going to make it to the finish line!
I consumed a caffeine gel, which quickly gave me my second wind. I felt great and passed some of the other 42km runners along Duck Creek Road, before arriving back at Luke O’Reilly’s farm. The course took us along the clumpy grass to the true reward of the race – the bluff. A painted sign saying, “Caution. No playing, all Pokemon fell off,” made me laugh but also gulp – we were on the edge of a cliff! I stopped to take some pictures of the dizzying backdrop of waterfall, mountains and valleys, but made sure I stood well back from the flimsy tape that separated me from a very long fall!
After another steep climb up Luke’s farm, I was back on the rocky track. I felt immense jubilation when I reached the bitumen road headed to the finish line at O’Reilly’s (… and the chocolate peanut butter brownie I knew was waiting for me back at my room!). WAHOO! I made it in 5 hours, 49 minutes, and I felt fantastic – not as though I was about to die at all! Later that afternoon, I went for a short walk in the rainforest with my family to keep my legs moving. It was the best thing I could have done. We were given a light supper by the event organisers, where we heard some inspiring stories from our fellow runners. My legs weren’t too sore and I went to bed that night feeling confident I could at least attempt another 42km the next day.
Day 2. I woke up a bit stiff, but overall in pretty good shape. My feet felt a bit tender and I started the race more slowly than the day before. It was wonderful having the chance to appreciate the landscape a second time around. My feet took a real bashing, though, but again, I mostly felt great that second day. Whenever I had mobile reception, I kept my family up to date on my progress via text messages. I also received lots of loud encouragement from the event First Aider as he checked in on me from his motorbike. It gave me such a lovely boost!
I crossed the finish line on the second day in 6 hours, 14 minutes – 25 minutes slower than day one. My slower time did not bother me in the slightest – I was over the moon to have finished! And, better still, I had loved every moment (… maybe not so much the rocks and vines!). It was a unique, wonderfully organised event, with heart-warming camaraderie amongst my fellow runners.
So, the answer is yes. I CAN do it twice!