As I sit down to write this recap I am flooded with words and emotions – I hardly know how to start it off…
Leg 1: Mel Sykes-Bridge
The Sri Chinmoy Canberra Trail Ultra is one awesome event, the organisation is outstanding and the small community feel is just perfect. After completing the course in a team last year, I put the call out to the wider Canberra RMA cohort to see who wanted to join in the fun. Very quickly teams were formed and before long there were 5 confirmed teams and lots of training runs being set up. We covered off each leg in recce runs, practised running at night and shared the journey together. Our team ‘RMAzing’ re-formed (myself, Rose Young, Sam Post and Sheryn Ringland) and set out to smash it out again – we each chose a different leg from 2016 and excitedly prepared for race day.
I set up to run the first leg which I found a little daunting – it had the shortest cut off 3.5 hrs for 26kms, some serious elevation and starting first made me feel a bit of pressure to set the team up with a good start. Leading up to the event one of the other RMA leg 1 runners, Kerren, asked if I wanted to run with her and we agreed to push each other along and keep each other company.
The start line was a buzz of excitement, lots of laughs, encouragement and photos being taken. We observed the traditional moment of silence and away we went. The first 6 kms were actually on cycle paths as we wound our way around Lake Burley Griffin (waving to RMA volunteer Megan and high fiving Sam), Parliament House and up a gradual incline to meet the base of Red Hill and the trails. Once we reached the trails I was in my happy place much easier than footpaths and so much more natural to me.
Then we reached Red Hill we walked the super steep sections and trotted up the easier sections, waved and smiled at another RMA volunteer, Bridget and powered on across the ridge (waving again to Sam who popped out cheering and taking photos) down the saddle and then up the next steep section to Davidson Trig. Then down along the ridge and towards the storm water drain that we would crawl through to go underneath a major 6 lane road. I was having a ball chatting to Kerren flying along the downhills and really enjoying the run. We arrived at the drain to be again cheered and photographed by our personal cheerleader and motivation provider Sam, then in we went. I turned my phone torch on to see where we were going, mentioned something about Pennywise the clown 😛 and then quickly popped out the other end, to the cheers of more RMAs and the beautiful Donna who was taking some amazing professional photos!
Here we rounded a pond and climbed through a fence, traversed some single track, then fire trails (I may have had a little stack) and then started the climb up one of steepest sections of the course to the top of Isaacs Ridge. Thankfully we had done the recce training runs as someone thought it would be hilarious to remove the course markings in this section, Kerren and I found ourselves helping a couple of runners navigate the course. Another steep rocky single track and then we were flying down to an underpass, waving to more RMAs cheering us on and taking photos. The next section was open fire trail and a great opportunity to just settle into a rhythm chatting and laughing along the way. Next a road crossing and the big booming voice of the ACT parkrun ambassadors, Gary and Denise Clarke (also a fellow RMA), another photo and high five from the amazing Sam who seemed to pop out at every location. Then we reached the base of the final mountain, a tough climb to the top of Mount Taylor, catching up with another RMA Kat as she was suffering from cramping (she was smashing it btw first trail run and doing fantastically). Kerren told me to go ahead at this point as I was powering up the mountain and I wasn’t sure that I would get going again if I stopped. I reached the top, shouted some words of encouragement to Kat and started the steep downhill run to the finish line. I felt amazing and smashed the downhill as fast as I could, without slipping and sliding (later I noticed that I really must have wanted to get down as my Strava time was the same as Kelly-Ann Varey’s for that section :P) I was feeling so proud, another paparazzi shot by the beautiful Donna and round the corner to the waiting crowds at the changeover point. So much cheering, cow bell (thanks Trace) and people calling my name – I felt like a celebrity, it was amazing!! I crossed the line and gave the biggest hug to Rose, changed over our ankle timing band and sent her on her way.
I felt incredible! I had finished in my goal time of 3 hours, I had a smile on my face the entire time, I had an awesome time running with the beautiful Kerren and honestly felt like I could run another leg!! It was probably the most perfect run I have ever completed. On reflection so many things contributed to make the run perfect, but above all it was the support, encouragement and fun that my beautiful running friends and community provided. The rest of the day was incredible, I drove around to various points of the course supporting the rest of my team and other RMAs providing high fives, water, smiles, cheers, laughs and encouragement. The day is the highlight of the running calendar for me, it is a true representation of everything I love about running and the running community… This recap hardly comes close to conveying how much I love this event; the training runs, the friendships, the trails, the atmosphere and the love! I can’t wait to do it all again in 2018!
Leg 2 sri chinmoy – Rose Young
It was my first trail event last year and the best day ever, so when asked if I was up to joining the team again, there was no hesitating! I asked to tackle leg 2 this time, it would be my longest run and I was keen for the challenge.
But let’s go back a few weeks; five of them. I joined fellow RMAs in tutus, to celebrate Sam Post’s birthday. We did a recce run of the 3rd leg from the Arboretum, up Black Mountain and into Dickson. We were about 500m from the finish, running through a drain, when I slipped on the most miniscule amount of slippery gunge and slammed myself into the concrete. It hurt my wrist and my knee, but it was superficial. Well, that “superficial” decided to escalate that afternoon when it became clear that I had also sprained my intercostal muscles (the ones that hold your ribs together and ones you can’t really rest!). The pain was immense and I didn’t even realise how immense until it started to subside a week later and I could start thinking clearly again. It took some weeks for the pain to clear up, so my training took a back seat, which is not what anyone wants before an event, right?
But in times like this, we dig deep, remember (and are reminded by beautiful RMA friends) that we have a strong base of training to pull courage and strength from and I am thankful that I was able to take on the challenge at all. With this in mind, I want to take a brief moment to shout out to our wonderful friend, Amanda, who fell during a run a couple of weeks ago and broke her arm, which meant she was unable to run leg 2 of this event. While walking with me at parkrun, she asked if I could “take her with me” out on the run. I was sure I could do that for her!
Now, I planned well in advance with my family and let them know that this event would be an all-day event. They knew Mum was running for a few hours, but the event was about cheering the team on, crewing where I could and soaking up the atmosphere – all day. They didn’t get the memo!!
Hubby got the flu and was bed ridden and my son started getting a head cold. I was so thankful to my daughter, who at age 11 was ready to make tea, lunch and generally nurse the boys so I could at least get my run done. I missed the early morning start to cheer on the solo runners and see my team take off, but through group chat knew our first runner, Mel, was flying along. Time flies too so I got ready to leave the family and checked in on hubby. I found him on the floor in the foetal position, ready to spew (I don’t do spew – I think there is nothing worse. Maybe wobbly teeth – I hate those too). I settled hubby back into bed while reading the many messages from my team letting me know they can help with the kids if need be – again I’m reminded how awesome the team is. He was ok, the kids were settled watching a movie, I was good to go!
Walking up to the transition point, ready to welcome Mel in after a spectacular run, the nerves hit. I felt underprepared and worried about my family. It was the smiles and hugs of so many RMA at the checkpoint that gave me a buzz and got me pumped to run. And there really were so many RMA there. I couldn’t even begin to name them all. There were photos taken, hugs galore, cheers and excitement. And there was Amanda, unable to run but so ready to cheer us on. I was ready to run for her.
Here came Mel – flying down Mount Taylor. We hugged, we cheered and we swapped the timing chip and I was off! Running away with a crowd calling out your name, wildly clapping and cheering was so awesome!
I was in familiar territory, running on paths I knew and winding my way through the urban trails that would take me out to the mountain ranges west of Canberra city. I was given a high five from the wonderful RMA, Megan, who was volunteering as I took the path that would start my first uphill trek for the day.
I love meeting people and running with friends makes the kms melt away. My first new friend was Matt. We regaled about our running adventures to date and encouraged each other about how far we had come already as we rounded the base of Mt Arrawang. Then he left me for dead on the ascent!
I made it to the top and it was time to meet up with Amanda. I said I would take her with me on this run and I did – literally. I pulled out her head on a stick (a photo of her head, not her actual head) and took a photo with her at the top of the mountain, with glorious views I never get sick of. I packed Amanda back into my pack and we set off down the mountain. I ran past my trainer’s house – he was conveniently out in the back garden weeding. He yelled words of encouragement to me, oh no, that’s right, he was yelling at me asking me to stop and help with the weeding! I yelled back that he should be useful and give me a snack, water or run for me – he didn’t stop his weeding and he didn’t give me a snack!
I think I was literally blown across the ridge. The wind was fierce and at times it was a struggle to move forwards but I finally made it down and I ran into Mel who hydrated me – it was already so hot and the wind was stripping the sweat off me! Sheryn drove past and jumped out with her cheer squadding kids and a red jelly snake – nothing better than friends cheering and a red jelly snake when out running in the bush!
That was the end of the familiar territory. It was all new paths for me and I was ready for the adventure and the next friend. His name was Denis and he was a legend. (He still is, I don’t think he could stop being a legend). He did not stop running, not once. Ok, maybe once to have a drink at the aid station, but other than that, he Did. Not. Stop. I ran past him on the flat and downhill, he caught me up on the uphill. He had a steady pace that was amazing. I tend to run when I can until I can’t anymore, then walk up the hills and get going when I can again. Denis just powered on, he was a machine and I did my level best to soak up his experience and strategy. He yelled things at me, I’m sure they were amazing morsels of advice, but alas the wind took his words away, along with the snot that was continually dripping from my nose. Seriously, could I dehydrate any faster? Then Denis left me for dead up Mt Stromlo!
Mt Stromlo is a beast – it looms up ahead of you as you run towards it and it was pretty daunting. But up, up, up I went, winding my way up, up, up the road to helpful volunteers who told me I had more ‘up’ to go! I was so thankful to come across a group of RMA at the top. Mel handed me a flask of water to carry which I became so grateful for later, as my water bladder had a malfunction and despite having 1 litre left, I couldn’t suck it to save myself. I meant to get Amanda out so she could have a breather and take in yet another phenomenal vista. But I knew if I took off my vest, it would’ve been a battle to get going again. Amanda would have to stay put and enjoy the ride! The RMA crew rang a cow bell and this was fortuitous for I was about to meet another friend, this time of the bovine variety.
Before meeting my next friend, I enjoyed a really fun downhill section, had a photo op on “poo bridge” and came across the final aid station. They had lollies. I stood and ate lollies. I don’t know how many lollies. Lollies never tasted so good. I didn’t want to stop eating the lollies! It was clearly time to move away from the lollies when the Vollie told me I only had 6km to go and I would find a helpful tailwind to take me home. A tailwind? Really? So far, it had been a headwind that made every km feel like 2. I could do 6km. I could handle a tailwind. I was off!
My new bovine friend, was Bessie – I named her. I met her as she stood on the dirt, courteously a little to the side, but she had some stare to her that’s for sure. I think she was wondering why so many people were traipsing through her paddock. Maybe she was wondering why I was plodding along when others had zoomed through. Either way, she gave me a fright when she turned around to face me front on. By this stage, the wind was changing direction so often, so just as I thought I was running upwind so the cows couldn’t smell my fear, it would quickly change so I was running down wind and I thought, well – they’ll smell it for sure now! I don’t know much about cows and I tried to do a quick calculation – would I be able to out run Bessie? I didn’t know, and thankfully I didn’t have to find out. She gave me a mighty “moo” as I ran on ahead.
Sadly I made another friend. His name was Ryan. It’s sad because he was a sewer vent fan. Yes, I was so tired, I started talking to inanimate objects. Ryan was his actual name though, he had a sign which told me so. He was a stocky pylon of cement and I told him that I would start running once I went passed him. I was thankful for his silent encouragement and enthusiasm. I started singing to myself…out loud.
The tailwind I was told about gave a new definition to the term “dry needling”. The dirt and small rocks were whipping into my calves. It stung, but I was also grateful that I still had feeling in my legs, my oh so tired legs. The last few kms were a tease. I could see the Arboretum and knew the next transition point wasn’t too far away. This section was fierce; I had been running in the sun all morning. I was tired. I was ready to stop. The tailwind seemed to pick up whenever I slowed to walk and this buoyed me to keep plodding along. 2km to go, I turned a corner and, “oh, come on!” the wind didn’t turn with me. It was a battle against the wind for the final part of my run and it threatened to win.
I was told my part of the run would be 30.4km. Well let me tell you, when I made it to 30.4km I had a tantrum as the finish line was nowhere to be seen. “Where the bloody hell are you” I yelled channelling Lara Bingle with all my might. I knew where it was. It was on the top of the hill. And I knew where I was. I was at the bottom. Who the heck stuck a hill at the end of my run?
Up, up, up I went, knowing I would soon see my teammates. I thought I would cry. Then… a fence? My problem-solving skills were as tired as my legs. Thankfully my preschool teaching skills kicked in and I sang “Can’t go around it, can’t go under it, can’t go through it…I have to go over it”. This event had everything, I was now clambering over obstacles.
Finally, I made it to the top and at the top there was a small flattish part of the dirt road which gave me enough time to compose myself, find the last bit of strength in my legs so I could start running again and as soon as I started running, I saw the crowd, the checkpoint, and my team mates waiting. They cheered, I smiled, I picked up speed and I pumped my fists. It was done. I was finished!
I headed home to find my hubby sleeping and my children still watching tv – I don’t subscribe to the idea that there is such a thing as too much screen time, at least not today. I couldn’t get out to cheer Sam as she ran leg 3. But after the most glorious bath, hanging out with my kids and feeding the family dinner, I tucked hubby and son into bed and drove out to see our team finish. My daughter came out with me and I was proud to show her how to cheer on team mates and how we celebrate each other and what we have achieved.
Sheryn had 4km to go when we saw her at the top of Mt Ainslie. We took in the view, cheered her as she flew past and told her we’d see her at the finish line. And this was some finish line – the smells of fresh bread and minestrone filled the air. Crowds of people cheered every runner across the line. We celebrated by eating apple crumble!
I am in awe of the wonderful women I ran with today. I love them, I am proud of them. Our team, the other teams, the solo runners – an inspirational, strong bunch of amazing women. And I showed my daughter that I am one of them.
Leg 3: Sam Post
A simply massive day yesterday, shared with my amazing teamies and lots of other fabulous RMAs and fellow Canberra runners, who were out and about on some of the most beautiful urban trails in Australia, for the annual Sri Chinmoy Ultra.
After a very poor night’s sleep I picked up Mel at dark o’clock, and took her to the start, and then spent the morning on an exciting adventure, chasing Mel on her leg 1 journey. She was a bucket full of smiles and kick-ass energy the whole way and she simply blitzed her mountain strewn course. Wonder Woman…be warned. You have competition!
Mel filled me with unbridled enthusiasm and I went home after I’d seen her pass the baton to our leg 2 runner, Rose, determined that I was going to give my leg 100% effort…at a minimum. That was something for me. I don’t ‘race’ much. I don’t go into these things thinking I’m going to smash them out. I’m in them for the fun, the joy I get from being outside and chipping away at a long course or a huge mountain. And I love stopping to take photos or to just feel the serenity (so much serenity!). I don’t much care for speed. It hurts me mentally and physically, and I don’t find that fun. But today, I wanted to pour some gas on the fire…!! At home I lay down. I was tired, really tired already. I’ve done 40+ km long, slow runs every weekend for the last three weeks, and with the lack of sleep and early (4:30 am) start…I was ready to nod off, and had that crushed glass feeling in my eyes. But I was also buzzing and the lie-down was a complete waste of time. So I set up Livetrack, checked on Rose’s progress (she was flying ??), got dressed…and failed to eat anything at all….rookie error.
I rocked up at my start line with Mel, having consumed a measly 350 calories between 7 pm Saturday night, and my 2 pm Sunday start. Folks…that’s not an ideal fueling strategy for a run you want to ‘smash’ (this is a relative term…).
We waited at the arboretum as the roaring wind blew in half of Denman Prospect, and literally sand-blasted the backs of my knees….filling my shoes with grit. I do wish I’d thought to chuck on a pair of gaiters. The timing tent was taken down…lest it be hurtled all the way to Wamboin, and I stood with my back to the wind…gazing at the unobstructed view of the towering Black Mountain…which was fitting, as that is exactly where I was headed!! Rose powered in, and I took a deep breath and headed off, feeling like a pony that’s been given a large bucket of oats….and I ran the first uphill kilometre in 6 minutes ?….let’s just say that was NOT going to be sustainable….even with the wind at my back, and even if I’d had the good fortune to have a bucket of oats in my belly (which would have been sensible). I knew the course well, and it was well marked so I simply put my head down and dug in. I was doing breathing exercises by the end of the second kilometre….which I’d knocked off in 5:43 minutes…and was wondering if I’d actually make it a whole three kilometres ??. I gradually eased off, got myself and my galloping heart-rate under control, and started ticking off the distance in a more sustainable manner. I powered up Black Mountain channeling Lucy B the entire way. I was lucky there was no-one within cooee, as I might have started channeling out aloud at some points ?. I was like, ‘this is how Lucy climbed Scafell Pike’, ‘this is how Lucy blitzed the TDS’, ‘NO…Lucy would not be stopping for a photo here’. There was a bit of back-chat along the lines of ‘but Lucy is less than half your age old-girl!!!’…..?. It kept me amused and I got to the top to be warmly greeted by Emily and Teena which, at that point was simply lovely!!
I managed NOT to sit down with them, which was what I desperately wanted to do, and I trotted off and ran back down the other side of Black Mountain. ‘Ran’ is, again, a relative term…I do not imagine my ‘ran’ is Lucy’s ‘ran’….but I was NOT walking, and for me, I was flying. It is a steep, gravelly, single track…and I was fanging it down ???…and simultaneously wondering how much a broken leg would really hurt. The rest of the run passed in a blur. I didn’t see anyone else out there for ages. Mel and her lovely family came out to give me a boost near Belconnen Way, and it was such a lift to see them then! Pretty soon I was back pounding the pavement and heading for Dickson shops. By now, the lack of food in my system was front and centre….in a ‘where am I, who am I’ kind of way. I’d been very good with hydration, knowing that the wind was drying off all the sweat and sucking out more…so I forced myself to drink regularly. During those last few kilometres into Dickson I became aware of an important scientific find….and I was mentally checking off who I needed to inform about the tear in the space/time continuum that exists along that piece of path. How was it, that in 2017…no one else had noticed that it was possible to run 6978 km flat-out, on one straight section of footpath there, in downtown Dickson, and yet appear to be making no progress at all? I was going to be famous once this tear in the fabric of the universe was brought to light. There were going to be movies about the Postian Time Discontinuity. Jodie Foster would play me!
Aaaaaaaaanyway, I eventually managed to engage warp-drive and bust myself out of that vortex of doom….and finished my leg in 3:04:40. OMG I was happy! Words can not explain!! An average of 7:43 mins per kilometre over 23.95 km (in the afternoon for heck’s sake….did I mention I’m a morning ‘runner’??)…and with 608 metres of elevation gain, and a lousy 1 min difference between my elapsed and moving times…is a NOT TOO SHABBY result for this old Clydesdale!! As I lay on my back at the transition area, staring up into the clouds and gulping in air, with lots of wonderful offers of help from the potentially, slightly alarmed Denise and Chris…I was imagining how it might have gone with some food in my belly ?. After a shower and some FOOD (thank you dear hubby for filling me up with delicious fresh spring rolls ?), I managed to get myself back to the top of Ainslie to see our leg 4 runner Sheryn in the final kilometres of her fantastic run, and then it was done! Our team finished with a time of 13:47!! We rocked it ?????. I was utterly exhausted, but it was a crazy good exhaustion ?. And I remember gazing into my warm cup of heavenly minestrone on the finish line last night and feeling very, very content!
Leg 4: Sheryn Ringland
This time last year a call was put out to join some other RMA’s and form teams for the Sri Chinmoy 100. I somehow ended up on the team with the wonderful Mel, Sam and Rose. I felt a bit star struck being on a team with some very well known RMA’s, and that I wasn’t the fastest trail runner and wouldn’t be able to pull my weight. But they were so supportive and lovely, I couldn’t say no when the opportunity to run in a team with them again! My training was minimal to say the least, and my anxiety started to get in the way at the thought of letting the team down. But yet again these amazing ladies showed their support and encouragement and I began to look forward to the race!
I was concerned about running over 2 peaks and at night, but knew I would get there eventually! Then I saw the lovely Bridget offer to be a helper (later starters of the last leg had the option to have someone run with them). I love running with people, so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to have someone run with me!
Being the last leg of the day was good for me, as I prefer running at night than in the morning, but it did mean that I had a very long and nervous wait until my leg!! I got through that by following my amazing team members around the course with my kids! We turned up to the first transition to see Mel running down the final hill and pass off to Rose. I drove around and cheered her on, and went up to Mt Stromlo to cheer her and a few other RMA’s. I got the the next transition and saw Rose come in strong and Sam head off for the third leg. Now I started to get nervous! I headed home to finally get myself ready! I had no idea what to wear and what to take, but eventually put something on and shoved a bunch of things into my pack! I dropped the car off at the finish, and realised Sam was smashing the course and I better hurry up and get to the transition!
I finally met Bridget and soon after I arrived Sam came running in! We were off! I had done most of the course the weekend before and was wary of what was ahead. My calves had been giving me a lot of grief from 2-6km’s in my last few runs and was worried how they would go. But Bridget and I were chatting away, walking where I really needed and before we knew it we were over 7km’s in and enjoying some views over Canberra at dusk! Then we hit the steep goat track up the first peak! It was hard work, but we got to the top and I was feeling better than I had the other times I had gone up it.
We traipsed up the rest of Mt Maura and hit the first peak and the first aid station. Watermelon has never tasted so good! Compulsory pics at the trig point, lights on and off we went down the hill. There are some steep rocky trails down, which I went through easily before. But then we hit the new single track down the last bit. It was steep and very rocky and very slow going getting down it in the dark. We got there in the end, and then worked our way along the saddle to the next peak. I was feeling pretty good at this point and was flying down any holds. I was a little worried about Bridget at this point, but we hit some slower declines and she caught back up.
Much more chatting and before we knew it we were at the second aid station. It was covered in fairy lights, and looked so pretty in the dark! It was made even better by it having a lovely gentleman with water, chips and coke! A quick chat, eat and drink and we were off again. I knew it was all uphill from here to the second peak, but the coke had done its job and I was feeling good again! We ran when I could and power walked up the hills. We passed a soloist and hit the worst bit of the incline to the second peak. It hurt but I just powered up as hard as I could! I was just amazed my legs were still moving! I got past the worst bit and really started to power up the last section. I was getting some amazing messages of support from my family and team mates, and I knew that some of the team would be at the top! I marched up the steps, high-fived Sam (and possibly blinded her with my headlamp!) and headed up the the peak.
I was feeling great and was ready to fly down the hill to the finish. Bridget said off you go, I’ll see you at the bottom! A quick drink of coke and some hellos and I was off! Rose was up there to cheer me on but I was so focused on getting down, I barely got to say 2 words to her! but just knowing they were there was such a wonderful push! I had run down this hill in the day so many times I was quite confident at running down it at night. I got halfway down and was feeling ok, but really just ready for the run to be finished!
Got to the bottom of the hill and had less than 2km’s to run down a road to the finish line. Those 2km’s hurt! I could see the finish, but had to detour round under the busy road before I could get there! I could hear people and started to get emotional. I was so glad and proud to have gotten through the leg feeling pretty good almost the whole way, and to be crossing the line for my team. My negative thoughts crept in, saying that I was slow, but then I heard my wonderful team mates! They cheered me on and across the finish line! It wasn’t fast, but I had done it! It wasn’t my longest run, but I was so thankful to have Bridget run with me for most of the way! It kept me going faster than I would have on my own, and made the run so much more fun and the km’s go so much quicker!
My team mates are just awe inspiring, and I think I am just so lucky to be part of a team with them. I can’t believe what we all did that day, and I really hope they will have me back again next year for another amazing adventure!