Like so many mums-be-be, my pregnancy enforced hiatus from running made me dream of bigger things, for me this was my first 100km event.  After my 3rdbeautiful daughter was born in September 2018, the real work began to regain my fitness, training 2-3 times a day and working it in around sleeps and feeds.

Race weekend arrived all too soon and I managed to meet up with a fellow RMA mum runner, Lisa. She was also running in her first 100k, we were both a bundle of nerves and it was great to be able to support each other.

Race day morning was uncharacteristically serene for me as I normally struggle to keep my emotions in check. I took some solace in knowing that there was nothing else I could do to prepare me for this race.

In the lead up to Surf Coast Century, I was lent “Rise Of the Ultra Runners” which really focuses on the mental toughness required for endurance running.  A particular quote really resonated with me.

‘The Devil whispered in my ear: “you’re not strong enough to withstand the storm”.  I replied, “I am the storm”’. I had written this on my forearm that morning for the tough times ahead.

We walked down to Anglesea Beach for the start of the race.  The excited buzz at the Start line was contagious and the music was pumping as the runners began to focus on the task ahead.

I said goodbye to my support crew, Hubby and 3 kids, I knew I would be out there for a long time but I also knew that we had a good race plan and they would be there to support me at every check point.

And then we were off!!! Some advice I’d been given prior to the race kept replaying in my head.  Firstly, don’t be a hero in the first half and don’t be a wuss in the second half.  Secondly, beware the chair, and finally save the coke for the second half of the race. 

There was a short out and back section around Anglesea Surf Life Saving Club before we headed back onto the beach and towards Torquay.  Lisa and I ran together for most of the first 10km’s before CP1, chatting as we ran along. We cruised along the beach around the headlands, at some points having to wade through the freezing water just above knee level.  

Just before CP1 I lost Lisa (sorry hun, not sure what happened there?), and saw my crew for the first time.  I was feeling pretty good at this point, so decided to not stop, keep going and ran straight through.  

We continued running along the beaches, and at some points it was slow going, especially around the rock pools, they were extremely slippery and the path through was not always obvious.  I was happy to go slow at these points, as it forced me to catch my breath, but also helped to avoid any silly trips and falls this early on.

I didn’t mind the beach running, it was mostly wet hard sand and it was easy to get into a good rhythm.  At the end of Bells Beach, we climbed around another headland, using our hands to help pull us along a rock ledge.  Luckily, the tide this year, meant that we only got wet up to our ankles, unlike previous years where it was waist high.  

Torquay Beach and CP2.  This checkpoint was manic as the field of runners had not yet spread out and between the 100km solo runners and the relay runners there was quite a lot of people, it was hard to find my crew or even the toilets.  When I finally found Justin and the girls, there was hardly room to change my shoes. We were lucky to have an additional pair of hands from our friend and fellow runner, Murray who was also running the 50k later that day. New food, new shoes and all topped up I was able to get going again. 

There was a small section of boardwalk before we hit the undulating single track of the coastal walk heading back towards Anglesea.  I was mindful that it was still early days and so took the opportunity to take it easy where possible.  

A few k’s before reaching CP3, the heavens opened up and it started to rain.  I was started to feel a bit flat, although I could not quite pin point why.  My nutrition was good and I was well hydrated, I guess I was felling a bit lonely. I was about 45 minutes ahead of schedule which gave me a small boost as I left CP3, with a request to have a coke ready for me at the next checkpoint in 16 kms,, also marking the halfway point in the race.  I knew this was going to help get me through the next stage.

Track and fire trails were to follow.  I kept running the flats and the downhills, and used the small uphill’s as a chance to get my breath and save my legs, I knew the hardest part of the race was still to come.

My morale started to drop and I fell into pace beside another 100km first timer, Suzie. She was in the same boat and we used the time to try to lift each other’s spirits before I picked up the pace.

43kms in I was surprised by pain in my left knee, which hampered me on the downhills. CP4 was not to far away so I pushed on through.

The first 50km had taken its toll and I entered CP4 with tears streaming down my face. We were lucky to have some help from family with the girls so I had Justin’s undivided attention. The warm soup from Race Kitchen and the requested Coke picked me up along with a quick leg massage to help with the knee pain.  Oh Crap! Now I was unknown territory, I had never run more than 50km before and before me was the longest, hardest section with 20km to CP5.  This was also going to be the longest section between checkpoints.  I knew this part was going to be mentally tough.  ‘I am the storm’.

We headed inland for the first time, and it wasn’t long before we hit an incline.  I knew there was more to come so I just put my head down and put one foot in front of the other.  I had trained on a lot of hills (for those in Sydney, I had run Quarry Road Trail and surrounding trails as part of my training), but I did feel like I was slowing down considerably and mentally I was really starting to struggle.  

The energy from the start and the first few legs of the race had gone and there was not a lot of talking going on.  There was an eerie feeling as we went up and down the long fire trail hills, and you could sense that everyone was trying to deal with their own demons.  

At about 60km’s I passed a group of women who were out there supporting the runners.  I had passed them a few times already throughout the race and they were always encouraging and supportive of us all.  It was really nice to have some support outside of the checkpoints.  I was really starting to miss my girls when one of them yelled out, ‘you are the storm’, having seen my quote on my arm earlier in the day. It really hit home and I shed some more tears, but this shifted something in my mindset.

I had a stern talking to myself and told myself to just keep moving with one foot in front of the other.  I had worked so hard for this and was not going to let it go.  I had spent many hours away from my family training for this and I wasn’t going to let that be for nothing.

At about 61-62km’s we entered some runnable single track. I just needed to keep moving, run the flat and downhill sections and walk the hills.  Surprisingly at this point my left knee pain had disappeared, so this made running easier again.  I started to overtake people who were walking, and I just kept moving, knowing that as the k’s ticked by, I got closer and closer to CP5 and the 70km mark.

Not long before CP5, I passed Suzie again (although don’t remember her passing me back), after a quick exchange of words I continued on.  I was so focused on seeing Justin at CP5, that’s all I could think about.

When I arrived at CP5, the emotions came back again and I ran straight into Justin’s arm for a much needed hug.  He went straight back into race mode , refilled my water and food and sent me straight back out there, knowing it was only another 7km’s to CP6.  I was an hour ahead of schedule.

I was in the back end of the race now and knew that there was a couple of quick checkpoints before the final hurdle.  I broke it down in my head, checkpoint by checkpoint.

The next 7km’s were not easy though, there was a mix of runnable single track and hilly fire trail.  I put my head down and just kept putting one foot in front of the other.

I arrived at CP6, just before dark and it was starting to get cold. I shoveled as much food into my body as I could stomach, mainly warm veggie soup as my usual sandwiches and potatoes were a struggle to keep down  

I tried to not stay to long here, as it was only supposed to be a moral support checkpoint and I only had another 9km to go before CP7. I again avoided sitting down, grabbed my sleeves and head torch and tried to get moving again.  

The next 9km seemed to go so slow.  The first few km’s were single track that had a gradual incline, which I ran/walked as much as possible.  When I hit around the 80km mark we hit gravel road, which was a mix of flats, down and a massive climb up.  I just needed to keep moving 

At about 82km’s, I received a phone call from Justin with some much needed words of encouragement.  He told me that he was at the next checkpoint waiting for me, and that I was very close.  His phone call was exactly what I needed at this point, he had faith in me and I really needed to hear it. 

We ran through the gravel streets, until we hit the bridge just before CP7.  The course requires you to cross underneath the bridge and I knew this was something that I would find difficult, but it had to be done.  The first few steps were okay, and I was slowly following the person in front of me, but when they started to move through quickly, I froze. I freaked out, and my legs would not move.  It was difficult to maneuver under that bridge and when I looked down all I saw was blackness.  

Luckily for me, I was surrounded by a great bunch of guys one of them told me where to put my legs and feet and got me moving and out to the other side.  I was extremely grateful and thanked him again at the finish.

By the time I hit CP7 eating had become a real struggle and I was a little unsteady one my feet but I knew I couldn’t stop.  Justin grabbed two handfuls of chips and gave me some coke and sent me on my way.  I had 14km’s to go. I just kept repeating my mantra for the race ‘I am the Storm’.

I rounded the lighthouse with a quick high five leading to more undulating single track.  It was slow going for me and I felt like every kilometre was taking forever. 

My knee pain returned but I had to push that pain to the side and keep moving.  We hit the beach at 92km’s, I had been warned that it may feel like it never ends, but was relieved to finally be on some flattish, runnable surface especially in the dark and I took full advantage of this and just ran.  I could see the headtorches of other runners ahead of me, but had no idea how far ahead they were. I just ran.  Finding my rhythm, I passed quite a few people in that 3km’s and gained a lot of time.  

I have never been so focused in my life.  These last 4 km’s, were relatively flat, winding through the streets before hitting the coastal walk at Anglesea Beach.  

I could do this, I had less than a kilometre to go.  I am the storm.  Step, Step, Step. I was moving faster than   thought I would be capable of at 99km’s.  ‘I am the storm’.

As I ran through the final boardwalk section. I felt strong , powering through, knowing that if I stopped to walk, I would not be able to start running again. ‘I am the storm’.

I rounded the final corner and the Finish Line was in sight.  All the emotions and the effort of the day came to the surface and I was no longer able to control myself.  The tears flowed and nothing I could do would stop them.  

I ran through the finishers shoot to everyone cheering for me and then I spotted my girls on the sideline.  I ran over to them and gave them all a kiss and a cuddle and grabbed my baby girl.  Crossing the line, holding my daughter, in 14 hours and 49 mins.  Almost 2 hours under my goal time.

One year after giving birth to her I had accomplished which had previously only been a distant dream and a goal.  I had run 100km.  I could not believe it.  

I gave my family the biggest cuddle.  Without them as support crew I am not sure if I could have made it.  We are a team and always will be, and I knew with them supporting me I can achieve anything. 

‘I am the storm’.

Jennifer Brookes, RMA Community Ambassador