Friday, 13 January 2012

The Best Race of My Life

Its probably easier to start at the end. The moment where I was sitting in the shower of our dodgy motel vomiting black stuff. I say “stuff” because it could not have been food as I hadn’t had anything for the past 5hrs. Wave after wave of black junk came out – I wondered where it had come from and was this rock bottom?

After the vomiting had finished – I was feeling much better. Again Ben was right. He said I probably needed to vomit again before I could eat anything. Ben had been Nostradamus all morning, quietly reassuring me that my stomach cramps were “normal” and just to try and keep sipping water to keep hydrated.

Starting a race in complete darkness with about 60 other runners, all with headlamps was an awesome experience. If you have ever run with a head lamp, you will know they never really provide enough light. As we started running the field spread out and little packs formed – Ben and Rodney and I were in a pack with about 6 or so others. 10 headlamps really light up the trail! It was awesome to run along and see the stream of lamps ahead all snaking their way in front of us.

Rodney looked really fresh and after a couple of easy km’s he put the hammer down. For his first hit out at a race longer than a half marathon, he really looked ready to kill it.

I settled into a much easier pace and Ben and I chatted about a lot of things, mainly running and family stuff. It was a nice day out. Early on we ran for 40 minutes or so with a 65 year old guy who is training for Comrades Ultra Marathon in South Africa. I had just been telling Ben I was keen to run it, so I immediately took this as a sign that I should set my sights on it for 2013!

About half way through the first lap I met Ben’s friend Mat, an Ultra runner from Bundy and author of the great blog - Mat was running his first Ultra in his sandals. Ben and Mat had a few good laughs about their shoes, Ben wears Hoka “moon boots” Mat in his sandals. Ultra runners are a friendly bunch, we chatted, laughed and even had time to grab a quick photo with Mat along the trail and next thing you know it, we were at the half way point! 

The first 27km was some of the best running I have ever experienced, wide stable trails, spectacular views of Mt Beerwah, loving life and the trails.   

After hitting the aid station at 27km – my crew Monica and Roger got us hydrated, fuelled up, sunscreen and change of shirts. Then we were off. I was feeling very pleased with myself. My sister is a real champion, she drove me around all weekend, got up at 2.30am to take us to the start and baked cup cakes for the other runners.

What transpired over the next 4hrs wasn’t pretty. No need to write a page on my downward spiral but essentially my stomach shut down. In hindsight I hadn’t drank enough water in the early stages of the race, pretty sure I didn’t even get through my bladder which had 800ml in it. I had been having perpetuem, but no water to dilute it. My stomach couldn’t cope and by 3 hrs 30 mins I was starting to feel very sick. Over the next hour we were able to run/walk then due to no fuel it turned into walk/shuffle.

So here I am walking up this hill, back to the spot where we had the photo with Mat. Ben is walking in front of me. I am really feeling sorry for myself, more than ever I feel sorry for judging Ben on his previous DNF’s. Unless you have your stomach shut down on you, you have no idea how bad it is. You simply have no energy. I’ve thought a lot about how I have judged Ben on his stomach issues in the past, I always thought it would be an easy fix. I could never understand how he has “retired” from Ultra’s twice. I understood today, as if the Ultra Gods were teaching me a very important lesson in humility.  

“Just force yourself to vomit” – another pearl of advice from Ben. He didn’t need to ask again, I stuck my fingers in my throat and it was instantly better. We trudged on. It felt like a death march as the heat sapped the last of my energy…

I think a lot while I am running, I use it to self reflect, set goals and generally switch off from the outside world. Without sounding too clichéd I really found what I was looking for on Sunday. A world of self imposed hurt, a chance to suffer and look deep within myself to see if I had enough of the “right stuff” to go on. I do have the right stuff. I suffered and carried on. Two great lessons learnt, one about hydration, the other about embracing the suffering. If it was meant to be easy, everyone would be doing it.

By the time Roger found us with about 5km to go I had stopped talking, I was simply trying to use all of my frustration and suffering as motivation to keep moving forward. Relentless. Forward. Progress. Roger was great bringing some coke for me and being his ever motivating self. I am lucky to know such a great runner and selfless man.

Then all of a sudden we were finished, the trail cleared and Ben, Monica, Roger and I ran the last 400m of road up to the Woodford Pool where the finish is located. 54km and 7 hours 29 minutes after we started.

Its official I am an Ultra Marathoner. The problem with being so sick is that you can’t enjoy the moment. I sat with a bag of ice on my neck and one on my head, just sort of “out of it”. The next thing I remember is Ben presenting me with a gift, a Glasshouse Mountains Ultra Marathon Finishers Mug. It is Ben’s mug from his first Ultra finish – very special to receive such a great gift from a true friend. Friends like Ben are rare I am very lucky to have him as a running mentor.

Sitting in the shower vomiting black stuff, this was my defining moment. I had just run “the best race of my life”.

On a side note – my training buddy for the last couple of months an HRE 5km champion Rodney had an awesome run, finishing in the top 10. It is a massive accomplishment, great to see him get the rewards for the hard work he put in. 


  1. Loved the read, Sean. Very honest and lessons others can learn from. The best teacher in life is experience!

  2. Excellent post mate. Some tough lessons learnt - but that is what it is all about, finding yourself. Thanks for the kind words too, I was pretty amped and ready to race! I did a lot of learning too, pushed myself further then I have before and came out better for it.

  3. Great race report Sean. As I said on my blog you showed great strength and courage to keeping pushing on when your body was trying to tell you to stop. It meant a lot to me to share the experience with you and I am proud to call you my friend, and an ULTRA-MARATHON FINISHER. Bring on The North Face 100.

  4. So very proud and inspired to have shared in this massive achievement. It was a privilege to crew for you and also Ben. "those who will only risk going too far can possibly discover how far they can go".