It has been a long time coming. Something I have dreamed about for quite a few years now since I started running ultras. The pinnacle if you will of ultra running for me was to complete my first 100k race. Originally it was to be Ultra Trail Australia 100k this year, however a lower left leg stress injury had me out of training for a while and backing down to the 50k event. I ran that event rather successfully even on reduced training, and getting in a lot of my training on the bike to keep fit. I decided that I would use UTA50 if it was successful as a building block to hopefully my first 100k at Surf Coast Century later this year.
I kept it pretty quiet for a long time because I felt like I had a lot of pressure leading up to UTA100, and I didn’t want the same thing to happen and get injured and have to pull out again. It wasn’t until I completed my last big training run that I really made it common knowledge. I know it sounds silly, but fear of failure is something I really have always struggled with. Once I knew that I was on the home stretch to race day, I felt confident in letting the world know my plans.
As always the support of RMA behind me to this goal is a massive motivator for me to give my utmost best, not only for myself and my family, but as inspiration to any woman who wants to go out and chase down a dream. I want to show everyday women that anything you put your mind to is possible, and that setbacks happen, but it is when you never give up that the magic really happens. Good things come to those who are patient and don’t give up.
Training went well and I spent a lot of time out on the trails building my long runs up. Each run went to plan, except for the final big one at Glenbrook marathon where I had been sick leading in. I still finished, not too badly, but had a pretty hard race. Little did I know that this race was meant to be to set me up mentally for what was to come running my 100k event.
Race week came and Saturday’s race day was looming down apon me. I was so excited, yet terrified all at the same time. Wednesday night I woke with fevers and a really sore throat and aching body. I couldn’t believe it. This couldn’t be happening. On top of that I had had a really sore adductor for the last few weeks since Glenbrook and it was really worrying me. The next day I seemed a little better, but the virus was still lurking beneath the surface. I think I spent the next two days taking as much vitamins and sleep in as possible.
Before I knew it, it was the day before race day. I had flown down with another RMA 100 runner Jess, and we met up with some of the other RMA girls from Brisbane, Tina and Connie who were running the 100 and Sara who was running the 50k. We went to the race precinct, checked out some of the course and headed to dinner with my support crew, and then to the briefing. Excitement was in the air. The event was like no other, set up next to the beach. The weather preceding the event had been cold, rainy and windy in epic proportions, so I was expecting mud and a lot of it. My support crew were amazing. It was made up of two lovely RMA ladies from the local area, Sophie and Sandra, Sophie’s husband and even 5 kids between them! They had run the 100k before, so the knowledge they gave me and the way they knew the course was imperative to my race. I knew I was in good hands, and to top it off I felt like we had known each other a lifetime, when in actually fact we had met once!
After a fitful night sleep, race day was here. All of us got up, fed our bodies (mine was two pieces of honey toast, a black coffee and a banana), and we headed for the start line. It was 5am in the morning. cold and dark. We walked down to the beach where the race would start, met my crew, took a few photos and before we knew it we were off and running.
Leg 1: 0-21km. Leg 1 is made up of mainly sand running, rock platform hopping, water and some single trail sections.
The gun went off and we were off and running on the dark beach. Headlights flashing. I tried not to go out too hard, but I was told by my crew to go out just hard enough to not get caught up when the climbing over rock platforms on the way back to the start line was going to occur. This was good information. Off we went, along the beach and then out and up onto the trail above. I was moving at a swift steady pace, loving the vibe and atmosphere. I stuck behind my friend Jess and we moved along nicely. When we got to the rocks I welcomed a little breather and climbed up and over the rocks in the conger line, careful not to slip. We ran back past the cheers of the start line where I heard the announcer mention my name and RMA. I was so excited to be running along and taking it all in. It was a surreal experience running along in the dark along the beach with the sound of the waves crashing and the ridge of the cliffs high above reflecting off our torch lights. Before too long light began to light the sky as the sun rose. It was magnificent. Running along the sand was easy. The tide meant that the sand was hard, so it was just like trail under my feet. Navigating along the rock platforms though was really tricky and I was so worried that I was going to slip. I tried to move as quickly as I could and watched where others put their feet in front of me.
Coming out and up from the beach at the 10k checkpoint was exciting, my crew waiting to swap over my bottle of tailwind for me. I ran swiftly through and up the road where a lovely lady cheered out to me and mentioned how much she loved RMA. I kept running with this fuelling me on.
Back down onto the beach now and across some more rock platforms, through some thigh deep water, just ticking along and making sure I didn’t slip over. Before too long I was coming up towards checkpoint 2 and the 21k mark. I was focussing on moving when I looked up and saw the most amazing sign that my crew were holding that said GO NICOLE!. It boosted my spirits high. It was so beautiful. What a lovely gesture!!! Up the path I went to the checkpoint, found my crew and changed over my saturated shoes, socks and gaiters. I was feeling pretty good. I changed over my nutrition and grabbed some food and off I went out of the checkpoint. Jess had come in at the same time and my crew were also able to support her.
Leg 2: 21-49Km, mix of gravel trail, fire trail and single trails.
This leg started off okay. We were running up on the gravel trail path along Bells beach, and every now and then it just felt so much harder than I thought it should feel at this point, so I backed off my pace. We headed off into some winding single track sections. It was really pretty, but my glutes felt like they were on fire. I took some pain killers as I was really worried that I wasn’t going to be able to finish with this feeling I was having so early on, and I needed to keep moving. After a while this proved to work and I could no longer feel the pain in my glutes, so I continued on. What I was having trouble with was fuelling. I felt like I could no longer take in as much of my tailwind, or most of my gels when I wanted. I tried sipping on the water, but before long my stomach wasn’t crash hot. I moved along as best I could but I really started to slow down a bit coming into the next checkpoint at 32km. I had a quick chat with my crew, grabbed my supplies and headed off. I tried to eat my sandwich I think at this section to see if some solid food might help. It didn’t seem to do too much.
I ran and hiked, ran and hiked and just as I spotted my crew on the side of the road Connie called out from behind me…she had caught up. It was nice to see a familiar face, so we ran and hiked a little way together, and then I felt good to run so I went on my way.
The next stretch along here had moments of highs and lows but I just focussed on what was around me and moved as best I could while not blowing out my pace. As I was heading back into Anglesea I saw RMA Admin Kelly in the distance. I was so excited I called out, and as we got close I gave her a big hug. That was a real boost, and made me move as quickly as possible through this section towards the next checkpoint. We came out at the beach again and I was horrified to see that we had to cross a huge water section where the water from the inlet went out to the beach. This meant changing socks again! Sophie from my crew found me and ran me into the checkpoint where the chair was looking very good indeed. I changed my shirt and socks, but kept my shoes. Jess wasn’t there, but before long she came running in…she had gone off course for a little bit and tracked back. I was glad she was okay. She was a little shaken. I grabbed some more fuelling supplies, including having some coke this time. I also took some of the oat slice that seemed to be the only thing that I could manage to really get in well.
Leg 3: 49k-77k, firetrail, single track and climbs
I left the 49k checkpoint with Jess. It was clear that we seemed to be running pretty much the same race. We stuck together for a lot of this leg, either of us in front or behind by the most a few hundred meters, and we seemed to for the rest of the race end up in the checkpoints together. As we left the checkpoint we headed towards the bridge. This part of the course has a bridge where you have to get literally on your hands and knees and crawl under on a rubber mat. It is unusual and cruel punishment when you have already run 50km to do this. As we went under Jess dropped her phone out of her pack. As I was already delirious I just started laughing. I couldn’t stop. The whole thing seemed ludicrous and Jess was cursing running and the race at the top of her lungs. I just laughed and laughed. The mat had even moved into the water so there was the tiniest bit of mat to go under on and the hard jagged concrete dug into our knees. Before long we were out….and running up the road towards the hills.
Through this section we used each other and then we lost each other as I ran ahead. I ran and hiked the hills and ran the single trails. some of the trails had a real bite to them. There was moments in these single trails I wondered if I was still on the right trail as I didn’t see anyone. Then I came to the fire trails and was welcomed by running bodies. My stomach was still struggling, and I was just trying to sip as much nutrition in as I could and eat little bits at a time. I saw my crew at the 60k mark who made me hold a sign to celebrate running the furthest I had ever run ( I had run 60k previously twice before).
By the time I ran into the 70k checkpoint I was a little concerned about having 30k to go. I ran out but had forgot my coke so ran back, grabbed it and kept going. The next checkpoint was doable as it was only 7km away, so it was nice to know I would see my crew before too long. During the next leg I found myself next to an RMA Kellie who started chatting. She was doing it easy chatting away, I wasn’t feeling crash and managed to get some words out every now and then. The good thing is that she kept me focussed on moving. We ran and hiked together for probably 5 out of the 7k before I told her to go ahead. It was a nice distraction. During this time my watch decided to die. I tried not to panic. From now I would have to just run by feel, and then I found myself coming into the 77k checkpoint. Jess was also there and the crew were great trying to work out what I would want to eat to settle my stomach. They offered me soup, risotto, chips, and all manner of things, but I didn’t want any of it. I took some more slice and shoved a bread roll into my pack to try on my way. I decided no more tailwind and took electrolytes instead in my bottle and I think from memory some coke. I changed my socks again, grabbed my headlight just incase I found disaster, and was on my way with one leg til home.
Leg 4: 77k-100k. Single trails, fire trail, sand to finish.
There was something that lit a fire in my belly about this leg, because I knew that I was on the home stretch and I had gotten this far. Although my stomach didn’t feel great, my legs felt pretty good. Every now and then my hamstring went to cramp if we were going down a hill or my knee had a niggly pain, but I chose to ignore the pain and keep moving telling myself it is supposed to hurt, and sometimes just backed off my pace a little. Jess was with me through the start of this leg also but then I lost her. I tried not to let it bother me and just kept moving. I knew it was only 9km until I would see my crew again, so that kept me going. The views from this section were amazing when you finally got up to see the view out to the lighthouse. I stopped to take a photo as I simply couldn’t miss the opportunity. I was so thankful that I was experiencing something so wonderful, and the sun was slowly going down towards the ocean. I knew that daylight time was precious, so it made me move faster.
My belly at this point was really distended and starting to worry me, my race belt was digging in, and I was still trying to get electrolytes in and a bit of food every now and then. Before long I could see the 86km checkpoint, but before I got there I had to go under another bridge! This time I was alone, and I was so worried that I would slip and fall into the water. There wasn’t many easy places to put your feet and hands. I made it through and ran through the breeze to my waiting crew. I changed my shirt and buff, grabbed my gloves and supplies and Sophie encouraged me to go to the toilet to see if it would help my belly. I was worried about losing time doing this, but really it was the best thing I could have done, and a quick wee and I was back out on course ready to tackle the final 14km. Before I left my crew told me I had 2 hours to get the 14km done to get in under my goal of 14 hours. Because I didn’t have a watch anymore, I quickly calculated in my head that I would need to run a certain pace to get there. I vowed to myself to hardly walk.
The next section I was on a mission. I put my iPod in and decided to run as much as possible and just keep moving. My legs were tired, but my heart was on fire for my goal. Surprisingly I was able to still sip on my electrolyte and even managed to get two gels down in the final leg to fuel my body to keep running. I ran the trails along the cliff line, inching closer and closer to the finish when I came to the beach. This was the final 7k. Here I saw my crew member Gav who told me that I had 4k of beach running here, then 3k of trail and beach to finish. The end was in sight.
I turned the iPod up loud and belted out that beach section keeping my eye on the red marker at the end towards the point where I could see headlights heading. That was the end of the beach. When I walked, I only allowed myself to walk for 10 seconds. Then I ran and ran and ran until I hit the stairs. I told myself “it is supposed to hurt, push through the pain Nicole” out loud on numerous occasions in this section. By the time I hit the stairs it was dark.
The next section was single trails up and down and around the cliff lines towards Anglesea. I passed quite a few runners in these last few kilometres. It was hard to focus as it was dark and I had not really had any experience running trails with a headlight before. All I wanted was to move as quick as possible without falling. Then I was out of the single trail and onto the roads and gravel tracks that we ran along the first part of the race, about 1km from the finish line. I quickly grabbed my phone and looked at the time. I knew I was there. I knew I had my goal in my sights. I kicked it into gear and ran as fast as I could down to that stretch of beach.
The beach was still runnable. I dared not look back, but focussed my eyes towards the light in the distance along the beach which marked the finish turn off the beach to the finish line. I ran as fast as my fatigued legs would go, then I hit soft sand, but kept running. There was no walking now! Suddenly I saw a sea of people lining the finish shoot and cheering and clapping. I ran like I was running a 100m race down that finish line straight into the arms of my friend Tina. I was so elated. I had done what I had came for. I had finished my first 100k, and 11 minutes under my 14 hour goal in a time of 13:49:07.
What I learned during this experience of this race is this:
-I was made for ultra running. It is my passion.
-When you first don’t succeed in hitting your goal, don’t give up, try again.
-Anything can go great in training, but in a race it can all go out the window, so be open to change your plan and try new things.
-Through the course of an ultra you will have good times and low times. The test is getting through the low to get to the good. You always will. Just believe in yourself to keep going.
-I am stronger than I thought I was.
-I will do 100km again. And probably again.
-It was worth every step.
-Find what you love, and do it for the rest of your life.
Images: Gavin McLeish