About a hundred of us stood in the gusty winds that assaulted us along the exposed shore. Aldinga beach, a relatively bare shoreline with an awkwardly positioned blow up banner touting the start line for our 65 km Ultramarathon. The course was essentially a very liberal version of ‘follow the sea for 65 km until you get to North Haven’. This naturally meant course marking would be not only sparse, but potentially non existent.
I was a ‘bus starter’. Leaving our cars at the end point, about 20 of us caught the grey liner at 5:30 am to the commencement point. If only I had anticipated what the day would entail, I may have made some very different decisions with my food consumption the night before. You will understand my meaning very soon….
The gust was strong, a headwind blowing our bodies back towards the start line, but we all fought our little hearts out, energy stores still fresh ready for the burning. I was struggling with a random pain in the ball of my foot that developed overnight. There was no blunt trauma, no gradual onset, just a sudden discomfort as I walked barefoot to the bathroom before laying down in deep slumber the night before. I was sure that it would abate once I started running, however the contrary ensued. Running over a sharp, rocky shoreline was not conducive to the perpetually increasing pain. I contemplated my options, persevere or pullout. To be blatantly honest I was beyond puzzled. The degree of pain was uncharacteristic, what could possibly be the cause? Eventually, we exited the rocky beach side and footpath running commenced.
I’m not a fan of the bitumen so I kept my feet on the nature strip. I gradually found a foot placement technique that minimised the pressure and pain to the ball of my foot. Sure, it wasn’t perfect, but it was manageable and, I prayed, sustainable.
Slowly, the wind reduced its ferocity, however as one challenge was overcome, another developed. My stomach chortled with an uncharacteristic gurgle, as the pressure in my upper abdomen increased. I felt as if I was about to explode, the aftermath I visualised to be disastrous. I poked and prodded my tummy that was now so solid with gas that my finger recoiled as if I had poked a medicine ball (I wish I could claim that was the result of solid abs…)
This was not looking good. Fortunately, respite was in sight, a public toilet not 300 metres ahead. As I sprinted towards the fortuitously unoccupied toilet I will simply state that the timing couldn’t be more ideal….disaster was thwarted….for now.
Unfortunately, this first incident was but a mere taste of what was to come. My only saving grace was the prolific presence of an array of bathrooms along the entire route, a comforting presence. Being a northern suburbs girl, my geographical appreciation of the southern area was virtually non existent. Hence, once the shoreline disappeared and the direction arrows were no longer present, I became hectically lost. Running past an intersection where a left turn was required, missing a trail turn off, back tracking to locate other runners that could guide my path were all ‘mini adventures’ that progressively layered the toilet toils and foot throb.
By the third wrong turn and at least 5th toilet stop I achieved my mental friction climax. The psychological switch clicked and I began a sporadic, unstoppable laughing episode. Fortunately, I was in the back streets of some unfamiliar suburb, running solo, thus not scaring the pants off any locals. The experience was highly therapeutic. I reflected on the inconsequential nature of my woes. I was still breathing, running, alive, selectively struggling by virtue of actually CHOOSING this challenge, this struggle. The only factor I could entirely control was my outlook. My bowels were raging and unfortunately, they would only be remedied with time. My foot was hurting but it would only find reprieve at the end of the race, my path had been muddled with many wrong turns, but the esplanade awaited which indicated a straight, direct and hopefully uncomplicated remaining course. Cloud nine was back in sight and baby, I was going to surf it.
My confidence gradually returned as I hit the beachside again with it’s multiple bathrooms. I realised that a number of the more developed public areas had upgraded their facilities to automatic cleaning bathrooms which made the toilet stops an even greater delay, a hindrance but nothing compared to the potential disaster that their absence would have guaranteed.
Eating during this less than ideal digestive state was somewhat challenging. I feared the effect continued consumption would have on my already compromised stomach, yet I was acutely aware of the definite energy depletion prolonged fasted running would create. I took something in every half an hour or so, primarily Atkins Lift protein protein bars which proved great in training and previous events. I had no issues stomaching them, and my energy levels did not wane throughout the entire event. The issue was the battle with the latent effects of the previous nights dietary tactic, or lack thereof.
Eventually, I began to approach an area of greater familiarity; Grange Beach. I was super excited, hopeful that I would no longer have to fear another unintended detour. Being an unseasonably beautiful day; the blissful sun glowing, breeze gently teasing my hair, meant that the public was out in droves. The sights were wholesome, young families kicking balls around on grassed areas, grandparents taking spritely grand babies for ice cream, lovers walking hand in hand in the vitamin promoting rays. As poetically inspiring as the scenery was, it did become somewhat of a hindrance trying to pass the melancholy public. Lots of ‘excuse me’, ‘sorry’, ‘may I pass’ phrases escaped my lips. Of course, there were the mandatory looks of intrigue as people attempted to decipher what on earth this colourfully clad girl with a race number and backpack was doing running along the beach line.
Eventually I found Glenelg Beach where I whipped out my printed course map in an attempt to re-establish my coordinates. The area was flush with beach goers and I secretly crossed my fingers hoping to find a Marshall who could direct me towards some bridge I was meant to cross.
Just before I was about to work myself into a frazzle, I saw her, the beautiful angel, jumping, screaming, running towards me, her light footedness creating the vision of a celestial being ready to take off. It was Michelle Hanlin, the vivacious, expressive, token face of Adelaide’s trail running scene. My eyes were not deceiving me, the woman was sporting bright red angel wings, complementing her blindingly bright red tights and similarly hued hair. I was elated to see her, as she ran up to me, wrapped her warming hands around me and pointed me on my way to the elusive bridge. Finally, only a straight path remained, some 15 km to go.
Now, I’m not a big fan of pavement, and flats aren’t my forte. Hilly trails, steep climbs and varying terrain give me an indescribable sense of adventure and rogue satisfaction. Unfortunately, this ultra didn’t sport much of these factors, so l knew I would have to dig into an element of the uncharted and persist through the flat pavement for this last bit.
The toilets continued to summons me, but by now I had accepted the discomfort and began looking forward to crossing the finish line. I managed to catch up to another female competitor who I later learnt was a lovely woman, Sarah Harvey.
As she remained at the final checkpoint refuelling, I ploded along towards the final leg of the run. Unfortunately, in the hope of remaining closer to shore, I took a path I thought was a shoreline alternative to the roadway. After getting stuck amidst a bunch of prickly bushes, I conceded there was no actual way of traversing the scrub… time to backtrack.
On my return journey I bumped into fellow runner Sarah and our slog of the pavement began. We virtually jogged side by side, silence between us. I certainly didn’t perceive this to be a personal issue, I was stuck in my own state of personal trance, the beats of my iPod instilling a manageable rhythm in my feet. I imagine Sarah was experiencing the same internal battle, placating the screaming legs and pending cramps.
It was at this point that I started to somewhat panic. I had not run past a bathroom for at least 6km and something unsightly was brewing in my tummy. Fortuitously for Sarah, she stopped to walk a few steps. I used this opportunity to release some of the accumulated gas, however I was cautious in doing so (use your imagination)
The next few kilometres passed somewhat swiftly and soon I was running past Fort Glanville, along the esplanade. I recognised this area from my police academy days, so I knew the finish line wouldn’t be too far ahead, maybe some 6 km. The track was super runnable and I actually somehow reclaimed a fresh bout of energy. I was concerned that my limited food intake would cause an energy dip before the finish line, yet I was simultaneously wary of taking in too much nutrition, in light of the somewhat prolonged departure from using the bathroom. F#*k it, I thought, as I gorged on my final protein bar and stuffed a handful of mixed nuts in my mouth.
All seemed fine…for the next kilometre or so. Suddenly, a deafening gurgle began brewing in my stomach. I was in a state of immense fear, I needed a toilet, pronto! Despite my fatigue, the legs found a jolt of energy as I sprinted to the bathroom, making it just in time. I stayed there for some five minutes, and left feeling like I was dancing on clouds. With less than a couple of kilometres to go, I decided to just give it all I had. As I passed Strathfield Terrace, I could hear my hamstrings screaming a chaotic melody, my problem foot beating the pain drum, yet my stomach was great. I then saw it, that gorgeous red blow up banner that had marked our start point 65 km south. I raised the gear and crossed the finish line. Sarah was on the ground, stretching out and looking somewhat perplexed at my second placing. She had crossed the finish line a minute and a half in front of me. We introduced ourselves and had a good old chinwag where the gorgeous girl said she felt guilty for overtaking me while I was stuck in the toilet. We had a good laugh, and joked about the concrete slog along military road.
The volunteers at the finish line were helpful beyond belief, constantly asking if I needed any nutrition supplements, removing my backpack, checking whether I needed warm clothes etc. I felt like a queen…one that was super sweaty, stinky and lacking in the pampered department.
I also had a chance to chat with my favourite event organiser and super awesome dude, Ben Hockings. Still pretty high from the endorphin dump, I probably dribbled a lot of crap but as always, Ben was a gentleman and refrained from telling me I was babbling.
Whilst I would have loved to have stayed and embraced the balmy weather, and partake in the ultrarunner comradery, I had to scoot home as my dear ma was returning from her weeklong Darwin adventure. I was also in need of a desperate shower, one I had been envisaging for no less than half the day. I was given my trophy and upon returning home soaked my woes away in an Epsom salt bath.
That night concluded at a very early hour, after a scrumptious, hearty and completely excessive dinner and a catch up with Ms. Holidays (mum). Unfortunately, my foot did not magically heal the following day, as much as I had willed it to. The week entailed xrays and ultrasound scans while I continued a persistent TLC protocol. A week later and I’m still hobbling around on it, my training being all machine based cardio to limit the trauma to the foot. The verdict is a bursitis of the ball of the foot, a marked improvement from the initial fear of a stress fracture. Now it’s a matter of being patient, icing, ultrasound, tens machine and of course visualisation and herbal treatments. Rest…..well, not so much…I love the physical exertion of my training protocol so rest tends to only happen during sleep.
All in all, the Coastal 65 km was a fantastic event and the perfect excuse to spend the day in the sun. Sure, the comfort factor was elusive, in light of all the ancillary afflictions, however isn’t that why we do these events? I overcame some perils, continued on in a shitty…..state, and reached the finish line. Again, massive, massive appreciation to the selfless volunteers who sacrificed their day to respond to the whims of us ultra runners. Of course, Ben Hockings cannot be thanked enough, as always structuring a superb event despite his own ridiculously overwhelming schedule.
Next time, there shall be no sugar alcohols the night before, maybe just the regular kind of alcohol after the event.