** Please note some of the images in this story some people may find distressing**
Following the stillbirth of my daughter, Luca, in January of this year, I sought solace in trail running to keep me getting out of bed every morning. My first real goal of 2018 started with UTA22 which went beautifully and lit a fire in my belly to keep pushing and build to an almighty ultra marathon. I was uncertain as to which to do. However, the stars aligned and suddenly it was decided that I would run Surf Coast Century 50km on the same day that Nicole would crew for our very own Ana Croger as she tackled the 100km.
From there I gradually built up my kilometres each week and entered other trail races, including a Rafferty’s Coastal Run 36km, and Glenbrook Marathon. I used these as training runs, with my eye on the prize of Surf Coast Century as my A race. Nicole has been my coach for a couple of years now, so I trust her immensely, and she knows exactly how to train me to get me to the start line of every event in the best shape possible. She’s been especially wonderful in helping me to regain my fitness and strength following the birth of Luca, but even more so, she’s stood by me to emotionally build me back up. I am proud to say that I was unwaveringly consistent in my training and I know that was a major factor in my calmness and readiness come race day.
Before I knew it Nic and I were on the road travelling down to Victoria. For me, one of the things I love about many of my races, are the road trips they bring (that more often than not involve Nic, her spikey ball, inappropriate banter and far too many snacks). After an overnight stay in Albury, we finally made it to the Surf Coast on Friday afternoon to find a nervous/excited/anxious/jittery Ana.
Following registration I was driving back to our cabin with the girls and suddenly the magnitude of what I was about to attempt dawned on me. For me this race was more than just physically pushing myself. This was a way to prove to myself how strong I am both emotionally and physically. In my head, I needed to give this year some form of meaning and purpose. I needed to do this forLuca, and at the same time, I was only able to be there attempting this because Luca wasn’t with me. This is a reality I don’t believe I will ever be able to fully comprehend. Once I managed to calm myself again, I remained focused and in a good headspace until my race kicked off.
I woke in time to go with Ana watch her begin. It was wet, windy and freezing in Anglesea, but I just tried to convince myself that by the time my race kicked off at 11:55am, the weather would have cleared. Ha! Wishful thinking! Our race began on the beach and as the gun went off, I began my adventure, mindfully keeping to a conservative pace. I had been optimistic and started without my rain jacket on. Within a matter of kilometres, I found myself getting soaked so stopped to get my jacket on. Being on single trail at this stage I was acutely aware of the number of people passing me as I was getting sorted. It was also around this time that the rain started to hurt my face. Confused, I suddenly realised that it was in actual fact hail. Well this was a delightful start I mused to myself, as I also questioned what on earth I was doing! But as she always does, the image of Luca’s beautiful, cherub-like face came to me, and on I went. She continued with me for the entire race.
The race began with a combination of single trail and fire trail. Unfortunately the firetrail drenched with rain and now just slippery clay mud! My shoes felt like bricks, and I would often find myself taking a step forward and sliding right back down! Not exactly the pace I was hoping for!The mud also saw me come unstuck at about the 19km mark, when my foot caught a sharp rock, and I flew like wonder woman, slid in the mud and gauged my knee out. Initially I didn’t realise the damage I had done, but soon I noticed the blood pouring from my knee. Some spectators at a road crossing poured a bottle of water over my knee, and shortly after a volunteer at an aid station helped me to bandage my knee just to try and stop the bleeding. Rattled, I kept going.
Thankfully soon after I came to a check point and was surprised to see Nic, Sandra and Sophie, Ana’s A-team crew. Their hugs and encouragement meant everything and got me smiling again! But still I felt low and doubting myself for several more kilometres, until I came across a sign that read Melaleuca Swamp. My husband and I had created Luca’s garden and planted it out with various Melaleuca plants. I felt like this was a sign from my girl that she was with me. It was all I needed to lift my spirits and feel on top of the world again.
The remainder of the race was a combination of single trail, fire trail, sand and road. I was blessed to run into Sophie Garaghty (who was crewing for Sarah Grealy) with about 13km to go. She ran with me, hugged the begeezers out of me and was another lift to my spirits. From here on out I knew I had it in the bag. The moment I heard the finish line was everything. The cow bells, cheering, and music. Then I could see the disco lights shining through the bushes. Crossing that finish line I burst into dry (dehydrated!) tears. With the girls busy at a checkpoint looking after Ana, the amazing Gavin (husband of Sophie) was there cheering me on and taking photos, even though he had never met me before (that’s how strong the RMA force is!). And I even got Sophie and Sarah at the finish line with me! I was expecting to take between 7 and 8 hours, and I came in at 7hrs 52mins and I am so proud of this time given the conditions and my knee.
I spent the rest of the night firstly being dressed in warm clothes by Nic and Sophie, and then stinking out Nic’s car with my 8 hours worth of sweat, and cheering Ana at every point possible. It was honestly one of the best weekends I’ve ever experienced, even with the 11 hour drive home!
My Luca remained with me the whole time. She got me to the start line. She got me to the finish line. She is my reason. She is my why.