To start with, I will go back, waaaayyy back. 

15 years ago, I found myself a single mumma to 2 beautiful children. My daughter was 7 and my son 4. My son is on the autism spectrum and intellectually impaired, so I moved across the country to move closer to my family for support. I worked full time in a high powered role, in people management,  HR. I was great at juggling my life, until one day I wasn’t.  

Suddenly I completely fell apart. I had a complete and total mental breakdown. This would be about 12 years ago. For the ensuing 5 or 6 years I just managed to hold my head above water, doing the very best I could to raise my 2 kids almost completely alone. I struggled to work. I struggled to socialise. I withdrew from family, friends and life really.  I was the master of putting on a brave face. 

I had been on and off anti depressants. I was desperate to loose weight and quit smoking. I had met the man of my dreams but I had no self esteem. No self belief. We were on and off.  So 6 years ago, I felt I simply could not go on anymore. I felt I had nothing to offer anyone or anything in the world and that everyone around me would be better off without me. I just felt i could not go on anymore. The darkness had completely overtaken me and there was simply no more light at the end of the tunnel. I attempted to take my life. Whilst I won’t go into the details of this, suffice it to say that the help I needed came from people and places I least expected. 

I learned so much about myself in the journey back from the dark side. I set serious goals for myself and weight loss and quitting smoking and a commitment to my relationship (we moved in together) were all in the mix. I started back bush walking. I never ran. I walked, fast, hiked , climbed mountains etc, but the bush was my therapy. But being about 75kg overweight, I struggled with some serious injuries, planter faciitis,  bursitis in my hip and tendonitis. I  had finally quit smoking. And kept trying to loose the weight. But it was a vicious circle of injury and weight gain/loss. So 3 yearsAgo I had bariatric surgery and had a gastric sleeve done. While for many the weight falls off them, it didn’t work quite as easily for me. I lost about 30kg and then I really had to start working for the rest. But it was enough to get me excerising again with less injury. I took on a p.t and started to push hard. Very hard. 

I found the fitter I got, the lighter I weighed,  the faster I wanted to go and the more ground I wanted to cover.  So I slowly started run/walking. I am still a carer to my now 19 y/o son, own my own small business and run a busy household. So this was my outlet. Plug in my earphones and off on my own.

I’m now happier than I’ve been in probably 20 years. I’m fitter and stronger both physically and mentally than I’ve ever been. Running has become my therapy, and my anti depressant. I am now medication free. 

The best part for me is the community of people I have met in the running community.  I have started to put myself out there again socially.  I’m making friends,  meeting people, enjoying group run sessions and totally loving the event vibes. Trails are still my “bush therapy”, I just go a lot further and faster these days. I’ve had injuries, but I’ve worked through them to be stronger than before.

Don’t ever underestimate the power that your mind, your will, your fight for survival, has over you. Its what will make you complete the most gruelling of tasks, and so I set my sights on completing the SCENIC RIM 69K ultra, my first ultra.

It was 6am and the race was about to start and my mind was In serious turmoil. You see my lead up for this event was less than ideal. My 1st planned ultra 50k event was cancelled and in the 4 weeks since that and this one, things had gone rather pear shaped. I was sick, body niggles and a knee injury. Less than ideal training also contributed to my fears. So instead of going in with plan A- to finish within a certain time with certain markers, I went to Plan B- Just finish, walking was always going to be in this, but I still had the cut off of 14 hours to consider. However as I will further explain,  plan C was implemented at the 1/2way point.

Start to checkpoint 1. (Leg12k) I started slow. I took forever to get moving and start to find a rhythm.  I was struggling with a tight chest  (residue of the flu) but a couple puffs of ventolin got me moving better and I came into c.p1 strong. Here I met up with 4 of the trail chix doing the 109k that were cruising together.

Checkpoint 1. to 2. (Leg, 22.5k, total distance travelled 35k) We powered on together for a while and I gradually started to edge ahead a little. There was a serious climb up and down Mt Joyce in the stretch, but manageable and I was doing well until I hit the semi flats on the other side of this range and it was open and exposed and the heat had really started to kick up full blast. I was still run/walking, but started to realise my water supplies were getting low and I was having to ration it to try to get to the next checkpoint. The chix caught up to me and we leap frogged for a while, but unfortunately I ran out with about 5kms to go, the temps had soared to something like 36 degrees. People were seriously struggling, not just me, and I had a full 3 litres of fluids for this stretch.

We had also caught up to Kerinda, another of our group. I was seriously struggling, I was literally cooked. I was dehydrated and my body started to rebel. My hands and feet started to swell. One foot became excruciatingly painful, but I didn’t want to stop to fix the problem (swelling due to over tightened shoe) until I had fluid. I had to ask for help. And I asked Kerinda if she had any spare water, and she blessed me with a 500ml bottle (I was insistant she didnt leave herself short,  as everone was rationing) and we slowly reeled in those last 5 km. I ran out of water with about 1.5 k to go, which is ok if your running 6 min kms, but it was taking us 10mins per km at this point. Kerinda was insistant she was quitting, this was insane, I convinced her to get to the checkpoint to cool down, rehydrate, and reassess. And We did.

This checkpoint crew were amazing. I was met by a lady, Brenda, that i met volunteering at Brisbane Trail Ultra, she gave me a hug and unlaced my shoe. They sat us down in the shade, took our packs, gave us ice baths and gave me hope. Janelle (our crew chic) was amazing at trying to refocus me and tend to my needs. I took my time here to regroup. By this time cutoffs were closing and I was told that if I continued, I had 10km to the next check point and 2 hours to do it in. I can do that right? I absolutely just wanted to reach my longest distance of km ever run. That would take me to 46km. Kerinda And the other chix had already powered on after a teary hug, as I was so distraught. I really thought my journey was over here, as it was for a great many of the runners. This stretch claimed many seasoned runners. So I chose to just make it to the next checkpoint and keep reassessing as I went. 

Checkpoint 2. To 3.- (leg11k. Total distance travelled 46k). Off I headed feeling much fresher. There was a lot more shade on this section and although we hit yet another steep incline, I managed to power on. I had a great downhill run into c.p 3, where I had caught up with the chix again about 1k out. I was moving. Not fast, but consistently. And everything seemed to be holding up ok. I made it in 1.45 hours. Refill, restock, loading up with a huge full pack as I was seriously powering thru all my fluids. I had used almost all of my 3 litres again so I headed out of c.p3 with 4 litres for 8km.

Checkpoint 3. To 4.-(leg 11k. Total distance travelled 56k). My pack was killing me, but I was trying to play catchup, and I was not going out there with anything less as it was still so hot. I started out with the chix. (they had elected to drop to the 69k so they could finish) but I soon lagged as we hit another incline that seemed to just go on forever. I was almost at the top when I found De sitting down taking a break and she was really considering calling it I think. I told her only 4k to the next checkpoint, you can do that. Let’s go! And up she got and away we went. BUT, struggle city was really starting to set in for me.

Cramps had started on the uphill in my calves, so it was a slow plod along. We just seemed to keep going up and up and up. But eventually we had to come down, and boy was it a technical downhill.  By this time I knew I was in some serious trouble. Those 4 klms into c.p 4 turned into 7 (misinformation), and the damage I had done by over heating and dehydrating earlier, was starting to really take its toll. The cramps started to take over my whole body. I was getting them in my rib cage, stomach, calves, back and quads. My biggest concern at this point was that IF I continued on, on my own, I’m doing it in the dark, with a body that was in spasms and if that happened on my own out there I was in trouble.  So as we stumbled into c.p4 I was in tears, at war with myself. This c.p crew again was amazing and massive shout out to the gorgeous RMA Leah, that made herself known to me at c.p1. You all helped me gain some sense, collect my thoughts and gave me information about what I was to expect in the next leg if I chose to do it.

I was so close I could taste it. Why come this far and not finish? I was desperate to believe I could do it, but would I do my body serious damage doing it? My inner turmoil turned into sheer grit and determination to not let it beat me. So I prepared all my gear, shovelled in some salt and vinegar chips, prepared my mind and got ready to hit the trail for 8k into the last c.p. The only catch being this was one serious leg. A seriously technical climb and decent, in the dark. Did I want to do it alone? No. But I didn’t want De to think she had to do it for me. I wanted her to do it for her. In the time we were at this c.p. the race director turned up and was helping me make my decision. All cut offs were waived. So as I kitted up, Pysched up and prepared to leave I turned to De to give her one last chance to do this. For her. So up she got and my parting words to everyone as we headed off was “Come on De, if this 47 year old broken body can do this, my 1st ultra, in these conditions, so can you. You’ve got this girl.” and away we went with our headlamps glowing in the dark with our glow sticks attached to our packs cheered on loudly by all the c.p crew and the race director.

Checkpoint 4.-5.- (leg 8k.Total distance travelled 65k), not much to say really.  But the s&v chippies had really helped settle my spasms. So I just soldiered on as fast a pace as my legs would allow. There was a little run/shuffle in there in places, but Mt Crumpet was awaiting and it was a very very slow slog up (the night views were amazing). A legless lizard and a couple of giant spiderwebs (and spiders), a few more hours, and we came to the steepest most technical downhill, come scramble, try not to slide down the cliff face, descent for the entire journey. All under headlamp lights, which added that extra element of difficulty. Yes it was hard, but by this time we knew we were going to finish this. So it was a slow steady descent into c.p5. Our last c.p. 5km to go!! 

Checkpoint 5.- finish (leg 5k total distance travelled 69k) we restocked lightly here. We knew this section was a gentle descent to the finish. The hardest part of this section was finding the trail markers. My head lamp was fading, I had spare batteries, but De said just to use her spare so we could keep moving forward with the best pace we had done in hours. De was good. But I only had spurts in me before my calves started screaming at me. So after a slight off course, turn around I sent De on her way, I knew she just wanted to get it done and she had endured me for the better part of 7 or so hours. Off she went, only for me to stumble on her 5 mins later as her headlamp had died and she was trying to find her spare batteries. So I gave her back her spare headlamp and just decided to try and manage the last 1.5k with my dying one rather than try and change batteries. We decided to stay together for better light. Not long after with our hands locked together and held high in triumph, 15.5 hours, 69klm, 2500mtr vert. Enduring 36deg blazing hot sun we finished. Together.

We were greeted at the line by our friends. I was very emotional, in extreme pain, but elated I had completed my set mission. Not how I had planned, I certainly walked way more than I wanted to. But I still crossed that finish line. And I was one of only 40% of total starters that actually completed their race and in a big statement, the race director approached me and asked for a hug too. He told me that my mental strength should be commended and that was how he wanted his races run, with true grit and determination.

There are some bonds that can never be broken, and De shared some of my darkest moments on that trail. You my friend should be commended just for your true sportsmanship and compassion alone, but you also completed a race you were going to quit and I am so very proud of you for that. I know you are happy you made that choice to finish. You lent me poles, your headlamp, you support and your friendship, we shared food and many quiet moments of reflections.

To all my other trail chix. Everyone of them contributed in one way or another and the comraderie and support is second to none. And to the general trail community, checkpoint angels etc. We wouldn’t be able to do what we did out there without the love, passion and devotion that goes into our sport.

For a little while we will feel the physical pain of a challenge, but I learned mental strength has no limits. I can do what ever I want to do, if I work hard for it.

Endless possibilities.

Raquel Andrews.