The air is thick but crisp; I see a figure running ahead of me passing through the forest; blades of sunlight piercing the heavy canopy. The forest is thick with tree ferns and palms; the path is flat and narrow. The forest starts to swirl in my peripheral vision, black sheet like figures are moving through the forest beside me. Wisps of black smoke curling at the edges as they move. The dark crowd of translucent figures settle in to travel along with me. Together we form a tight claustrophobic running pack. The figures ever increasing in number; my vision is darkening at the edges, progressively narrowing. The track is now like running down a fractured drainpipe with sharp light penetrating the cracks. I must be hallucinating. Is the runner blurring in and out of my vision ahead of me real? Am I just imagining the runner in the distance?
Up ahead the Bright Purple Michelin Man is helping all athletes fill their bottles and mouths with a smorgasbord of sweet and savoury treats to fuel them along. Who is wearing my Mont down jacket that I can see 500 metres before I get to the aid station? My brother, Dennis, is assisting at this aid station. I passed through 2 hours ago on my way out to Australia Zoo. Dennis has managed to sleep in his car beside the aid station for an hour since I last passed through. That is all the sleep he will get tonight before he to races in the 11km trail run in a few hours. The aid station worker tells me my Mont jacket is doing a fantastic job keeping her cosy and warm. These people who give up a warm bed on a cold night are angels and a sight for sore eyes and bodies. It amazes me that they will assist those having reached for the dark side of running. I thank them all every time I pass the magic oasis of an aid station. During this run my watch recorded the coldest parts of the run as -1oC. Hats off to the angels, working those wonderful aid stations in every race.
Now the fun begins. In the pre race briefing Ian says the part under the powerlines is a little hairy. How bad can it be? Turning left at the A board it starts immediately. How do you climb up that embankment after running 48 km? Further down the track you think that was nothing compared to what is ahead of you now. Thank heavens you don’t already know! It is now a beautiful bright clear crisp cloud free morning. Someone pass me a harness and rope; where is my abseiling gear – I could use it right now. This is technical running; the exhilaration is welling up inside me from the end of my toes to the tips of my fingers. Each step is an adventure into the unknown. Place your foot carefully but don’t look down, as you will end up face planted, sliding to the bottom of this ravine. Now there’s clear running water through a pocket of rich rain forest under high voltage powerlines, thick red oxide mud needs to be ploughed through then up the other side on hands and knees. This is fun, an adventure, this type of running will continue for another 8km. It is the highlight for me during the run. The feeling of “no way you have to be joking” to “wow, how good this is”?
I have not been able to drink gatoraide or endura for some time because of the gut contracting urges to throw up that they cause the second the liquid touches my tongue. I know that things are not great but I am running at 9km/h according to my watch. I don’t want to walk! Just keep running! I am gaining on the runner in front of me. I take out an accelerade from my pack and squeeze the toothpaste like sticky gel into my mouth. My mouth instantly feels dry; it is too thick to swallow. I swig some water from the tube running over my shoulder and swish the water around my mouth making a bubbly thick shake in my mouth. It takes another 3 gulps of water to rinse the rest of the goo from my mouth.
I keep up my fast shuffle – I have just caught the Principal. The runner who was ahead of me is the Headmaster of the local school. I ran with him for the first 34km until I started cramping so badly that I had to slow my pace to keep going forward. It has taken me 30km to make up that time and catch up with him. We exchange hellos. The principal then asks “Can you grab me a gel from my backpack pocket”? It has become difficult for him to take his pack off and put it back on. I feel through the small mesh pocket, finding all sorts of dried fruit and a power bar. These things are far too hard to eat at this stage of the race. “No goo” I say to him. His face just dropped. He had been counting on the gel to keep him going. You could see the life just draining out of his body. I check my pocket to see how many gels I have. I have more than I need to get back to Aid Station 8 where I have a drop bag full of goodies. I pass the principal a gel and he thanks me. That act was selfish in many ways. I felt great performing such a small act of kindness for someone in need that my pace increased and it helped me pull away from him. On my way to Aid Station 8, I passed more and more runners.
The duel has begun; it is just 20km until that magic place, the finish line, Woodford pool. I have left my running pack at the last aid station and now just carry my bottle. I have shoved two accelerade gels in my right sleeve and I have an ipod shuffle clipped to my left sleeve. I am running down hill. Sophie my regular training companion’s wife has just informed me that Nick is just down the road. I put on the gas and increase my pace to 6min 30sec kilometres. I catch Nick and we exchange greetings for the second time during the race. Nick says “go, go, go!” and I keep moving past. Nick is a strong character; he has broken a bone in his right foot but says nothing of it. Four more runners are now in view ahead. I catch them and they pull away, I don’t change my pace but they increase theirs. The path that lies ahead is mostly flat with slight inclines and declines. The difficulty comes in the condition of the path – deep sand, sharp rocks, and mud. The sand is the killer as it saps the energy from the legs faster than lightening.
I am now in a three-way competition with two other runners. We exchange the lead many times, never moving out of sight but always within reach. Then one of the runners is not able to hold onto the pace. It is now just Mr Redshirt and I. We don’t speak – it will waste too much energy. I maintain my pace, Redshirt runs faster, overtakes and shoots off ahead then walks, so I catch up and overtake. We both pull into the last aid station of the run at the 77km mark; I half fill my bottle with coke and water. I don’t fill it up, I don’t need the weight. Three lollies are now being slowly masticated in my mouth. It hurts to chew the sweets; I discard the others I picked up. It will take more energy than I will gain to eat them in the last 5 km.
Redshirt is ahead of me again the path is firm and uphill. I gain on him as he walks again and I pass in silence. Sand! That bloody sand! I can’t get around it. The sun is high in the sky and it is hot now, the sharp rocks are increasing the pain in my ankles as they twist uncontrollably. The duel is still on! It is great racing! I truly love every bit. I hit THE HILL sure that the finish line is just over it and around a corner. I am SO WRONG! It is still another 3 Everest’s away. The last hill and here Redshirt pulls away again. I haven’t got the necessary answer and he has me. I watch him turn the corner. What a great race! Redshirt beats me by 2 minutes after 82km. He thanks me after the race for pushing him to the limit.
82km 9 hours 9 minutes 9th Place overall 7th Male. Food: 500ml Gatorade, 1 litre Endura, 12 Gel Accelerade packs, ¼ sandwich, 5 jubes, 4 litres water, 1 tea spoon table salt. Burnt 6000 Kcals. Av speed 9km/h. Temp -1oC to 26 oC. Ascent and Decent 1500metres.
Enveloped in fatigue, permeating with success; I’m exhausted but happy.