My first ultras: Tears of joy and pain

In my 30th year, I decided to tick an ultra marathon off my bucket list. So, I did, but instead of doing one, I did two. That wasn’t my original intention. The first race was so tough (so much tougher than I imagined), that I decided at the finish line that I never wanted to see or hear the words ultra marathon ever again. That’s why I had to do another one: to make peace with it.

I didn’t know what to expect from an ultra. I had only recently started running trail routes near my home town. 10k, 15k, then I joined the Sydney Trail Series and conquered 24k, then 30k. It was a combination of the beautiful surroundings, meditation, and wanting to explore my limits that pushed me to keep challenging myself.

Race 1, April 2018: Jabulani Challenge 45k

It’s just a few kilometres over a marathon. I’ve ran a marathon before (on the road). How hard can it be?

Well, it felt like it broke me. It was a very hot day. I ran to water stops that I hoped to see but never appeared. I didn’t take enough water. There was no back up plan for that. I rationed water for the duration of the hill climbs that I could only walk up in the beating sun, and I was slow. It was the most brutal part. I have learnt to persevere through pain, but lack of water ruins me. I’ll take pain over dehydration any day.  For many parts of the race, I thought my body wasn’t strong enough. I lost my focus, I lost my confidence, I didn’t think I could do it. I remember sitting on a rock about 30k in thinking that I wanted it to end. I was done with it. “Someone get me out of here, please”. But there was no way out. There were no roads, just trails. No cars could get to me. My only option was to keep going. Just keep moving. So I kept moving and I finished the race, but I felt defeated.

You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have
From Scott Jurek's book: Eat and Run

A big lesson in my first ultra was realising how much your mind can affect your performance. If you allow your mind to believe that you can't go on, or if you fear any part of a race, you'll be more likely to fail that part. Whatever the challenge, you have to tackle it. Believe that you can do it. Even if you walk up hills (everyone walks up hills in these races anyway) or even walk on the flat, it doesn't matter. What matters is that you keep moving. Be strong, get into a rhythm. If you hit a tough bit, ignore the pace on your watch until you're out of it. Just focus on moving one foot in front of the other. Sarah, who coached me back in Brighton (she's awesome!), gave me a good piece of advice: when it gets tough count your steps. Keep counting to 20. This really helps me focus.

Race 2, May 2018: UTA 50k Blue Mountains

I went to this race more prepared than the first. I had a much better idea of what was coming this time. I even did a practice run, so I was familiar with the route. No surprises this time.

I expected pain so I created a defence in my mind. I had more resilience this time. I was ready for it.

I cried three time during this race. The first was because I’d never been running in a more beautiful place. I felt so lucky to be where I was; to have been fortunate enough to move here and see such incredible sights. I thought about my life and how far I’d come; difficult times that seemed very distant now.

The second time I cried was due to pain. It was about 35k into the race. My hips were starting to ache a lot. I’d just been running down to the valley for a while, so it was a long way back up. I reached a check point. I stopped for a minute, took a moment to appreciate my surroundings again and caught my breath. Took a deep breath and got ready for the final stretch up hill. Somehow, despite the pain and tears, I managed to keep smiling.

I joined a bunch of really nice people who I chatted to for a few kilometres. We helped each other with words of encouragement. We talked about previous ultra experiences. Sharing the experience with others helped a lot. I often talk about the value of forming communities; sharing experiences and supporting each other. I have loved becoming part of a running community. Without it, I wouldn't have had the courage to take on an ultra marathon.

The third and final time I cried was at the finish line. I was overwhelmed with relief, exhaustion and a little bit of pride in my achievement.

So what's coming next year? More ultras and hopefully i'll complete my first 100k race!