Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The Hurt Locker

I find that writing the "race" report blogs to be the most enjoyable and the easiest. I've had 2 weeks off from the blog and many things have happened, including a heap of gun triathletes racing a couple of weekends ago at Mooloolaba and Ironman Melbourne. There are many outstanding results including Scott Lawton's 3.23 Marathon off the back of a near elite bike time. Congrats to "Lawto” he is off to the big island of Kona in October for the Ironman World Champs – I have money on him having a faster marathon split than Lance Armstrong. Hard work pays off – Lawto is the best example of that.  

Let’s get to the most important part of what has happened since I last blogged - happy anniversary to my beautiful wife Bel. It must suck sometimes to be married to me. I am painfully focussed on this running journey, whilst she has no idea about the races or why I would want to spend 18 hours in the bush running 100km she never says no, never complains about me being missing on a Saturday mornings and never puts barriers up for my training and racing. As I said in my wedding speech 7 years ago, you are my rock and I am so very lucky destiny brought us together.

The race report for the Nerang 50km Ultra really starts with the road trip to the Gold Coast with Ben and Rodney. We had a pretty enjoyable trip down, a heap of laughs, 300 toilet stops due to all of us hydrating for the race and about 60 minutes lost waiting at road works. But when you are with friends the time doesn’t matter.

The funniest part of the whole trip is when the GPS delivers us to our motel at the Gold Coast. When I book race accommodation, it is usually really cheap and dodgy – we arrive at this palace of a motel on the Gold Coast with valet parking, the works. All of the cars out the front are Mercedes, Lexus' and BMW's – Benny’s green Magna looked a little of place. Rodney and I both asked were we in the right spot! The look on Ben’s face was priceless! Sure enough we were at the right place, Wotif had provided us with a bargain! The room didn’t disappoint, and the bed was the softest I have ever slept in! A good omen for the next day.

Nerang is a 50km Ultra Marathon run over 2x25km loops with a total elevation gain and loss of 1600 meters. There is a checkpoint and aid station at the 12.5/37.5km point. It looked bloody tough on the elevation profile, lots of undulating ups and downs; there was a hill on the course called “Heart Break Hill” it didn’t disappoint.

Race morning, we are up early getting sorted having a bit of a laugh. As we arrive at race, it is quiet, we meet up with Gav and Raelene, my sister has arrived to crew us and Luke is there ready for his first Ultra.

We grab some shots of H.U.R.T in our awesome jerseys, we look like the real deal today. Luke looks focussed, ready to really rip up his first Ultra. Benny, Gav and Raelene were the most relaxed, experience at this level shows. We all wish Raelene a happy birthday, then in a rather relaxed fashion the race director yells out “GO” and we are off!

The trail is quite steep for the first couple of k’s. Rodney is GONE, like a rocket – I sure hope he can hold that pace, Luke runs with Benny and I for the first k then puts his foot down also. Then he is GONE. Ben and I settle into a comfortable easy pace. My goal is to run the first 25km in 2.50 then run the second in 3.10 finishing in 6hours. It is a hotter than what I expected but we drink and keep on top of nutrition. Having a good time.

At about 6km we join a small group of runners all training for the Kokoda challenge, there are 4 of them so we end up forming a small pack all running together. We pass through the creek crossings, and the really tough climbs out of them. Heartbreak Hill is just that, a tough slow slog out of a creek crossing. I am feeling pretty good, not getting too carried away. I am drinking heaps and everything is going to plan.

As we hit the 11km mark and descend into the checkpoint, Luke is leading Rodney on the way back. WOW – the boys were really ripping it up. Smashing the course. By our count it puts them in 7th and 8th (I think). Luke is “doing a Rodney” dominating his first Ultra, just tearing the legs off it.

Ben and I hit the turn around and fill our bladders. I am starting to feel really good, today might be my day I think. As we trudge back up the hill to rejoin the trail I am staying on top of my hydration, getting stuck into it – I am thinking “yep I’m on track here”.

We rejoin the trail and our pace picks up a bit, I feel awesome we start picking up a few runners. We pass them easily, I am running really strong on the down hills, using a combination of oversized strides and fast feet to pick up speed. The second part of the loop is more downhill than up, Ben and I just keep reeling people in.

At no stage did I feel like we are going too quickly. We kept walking parts of the uphills, but on the downs we were just floating. Next minute we see Gav on the trail up ahead. We catch him after about 10 minutes. It is weird for me to be running side by side with Gav and Ben, both of who I respect enormously. Gav is taking it easier on the downhills; I decide to put the hammer down a bit more. We really start to pick the pace up. We are well on track to crack 2.50 at the turn around. Wow. Today is going to be my day.

The last 2km coming into the 25km aid station are some of the best running I have ever experienced, I felt so super fit and strong, we see Rodney on his way back up the trail. He is the 6th male – SHIT he is looking awesome. Luke is nowhere to be seen, we get to the aid station and Monica helps me fill my bladder quickly – I look over and Luke is still at the aid station he looks really sick. I try to block it out - I am feeling on top of the world and quickly get through the aid station and start walking back up the trail.

Today is going to be my day. I feel really in control. The day that everyone talks about, the moment when my efforts pay off in a race. My heart is racing a bit, from pushing for the past 12k and it is hotter than I expected, but I drink and sip half a cup of coke. I am walking when I could be running; I am on top of everything. Nutrition, hydration everything is going to plan.

I am talking to Ben, he is asking how I am going – I said really good. As we start to run a flat section I get a massive cramp in my left calf. No drama, I take some more electrolytes and drink some more water. We walk a bit more and Gav catches up to us again. Ben is doing a double check on me; Have I drunk enough? How am I feeling? Have some nutrition etc.

My cramps come on worse on the flats than on the down or up hills, it was weird. I start to get quiet, like I always do when things aren’t going well. Benny says “speak to me” – I say I am worried about the cramps and just feel out of energy. All of a sudden I’m feeling cooked.

It is hard to explain but over 30 minutes the wheels just fell off. I went from feeling like an elite to having the life sucked right out of me. I kept drinking and having fuel – but my lethargy kept getting worse. I keep drinking, which is good sign, better than where I was at Hares and Hounds. A heap of runners came past me, I knew then that I must of slowed really significantly.

We hit the 37.5km aid station. I was simply in survival mode. I don’t think I even thanked the volunteers, the door was opening to the Hurt Locker. The long slog back up the hill and by 38km I started to vomit.

Now I am not trying to glorify in anyway how sick I was. Ultra running for me was about finding my limits, here I was again – sick it was an all too familiar suffocatating feeling. This was going to be a long slow slog out of the bush. I am no hero. I don’t want to be sick. I want to be like all of the other normal people who go through these races with a smile on their face, not vomiting uncontrollably.

Then it gets worse. I vomit the most when we run small parts of the down hill. I have blanked most of it out, but I can still remember looking at my watch at 43km thinking “wow that’s another marathon done”.

Benny at this stage is being super up-beat, having him with me is like a security blanket. It’s like I can forget about looking after myself because he is there to make sure I don’t die. It’s stupid I know, but I really had a lot of comfort knowing he was there to look out for me. As a friend he is doing such an amazing job of babysitting me through the pain.

The suffering continues, its getting hotter. 12 noon passes by. It is a death march. I don’t know why but I want to quit so badly, yet want to finish even more than ever.

At the second last climb before I am off the mountain I quit Ultra Running. I hate Ultras. I am on my knees vomiting uncontrollably – maybe 10 times in a row. Ben comes over to check for blood in my vomit – there isnt any there so it’s all good. 2 mountain bike riders pass us on the trail – I wish I was riding my Big Red instead of running.

As we descend into the last km or so, Raelene passes us. She is looking fresh as shit, like she hasn’t raised her heart rate....could be a lesson there for me. Monica joins us on the trail and I am overcome with emotion. She is a legend, 8 hours on a Sunday waiting for me to finish a race no one could have a better sister.

I am in the Hurt Locker with the door shut. Suffering. How will I ever be able to run 100km at The North Face? Ben says quietly that we may need to talk on Monday about it. I think he thinks that I might need to bail. I am having second thoughts of my own. 7 hours 27minutes after we started we are finished.

The end of the race is a blur, I sit next to Rodney sobbing like a baby for 5 minutes. He has smashed it, 5th placed male and only just missed Ben's time from last year. Luke didn't finish. He was sick also and took the sensible decision to call it a day. Ralene and Gav look like they could do another lap. Experience shows.

Rather comically the showers are closed so we wash ourselves with a cold tap. I sort of go into shock, shivering uncontrollably. The next real thing I remember is starting to feel good about 6 hours and 500km later at Gin Gin. I must of slept/passed out whilst Ben and Rodney drove home.

Although it makes compelling reading I hate being in this situation where I am writing another race "failure" blog. For myself it probably is the hardest part of the journey. As you read this no doubt most of you will have the same questions:
What is wrong with your nutrition? What went wrong in your race? Will you be able to do The North Face? Are you scared of failing? Do you hate being the guy who trains awesome and races like shit?

Yes I have been thinking of this too. A lot. Like I said I quit Ultra running at km 48 the other day.

On Monday morning I wake up, I am at home with Bel and the boys. I am alive I look in the mirror and see a stripped down version of myself. The problem with trying to find your limits is sometimes you find them, I found mine Sunday.

In answering your questions in brief, I think I "raced" too hard and just cooked myself. Whilst being super fit and strong, I thought I could just put the hammer down. Well hammer down ended up with me being in a world of hurt. Lesson for The North Face - slow down! Take more walk breaks, grab some more photos, keep the heart rate down. Respect the distance. I am even more confident now of finishing The North Face. Suffering really has made me stronger.

I've been bouncing emails with Luke today, he too is doing his own soul searching. I hope we can stick with Ben at TNF, if we do - we will enjoy the adventure and finish with a buckle. If we don't, and we get carried away again we will end up in the Hurt Locker.


P.S Happy Birthday to Jason on Thursday - sorry the fun police wont let me buy you that Specialized Aero Helmet!

1 comment:

  1. Hey Sean - good read. Congrats on finishing, even though you didn't get the time, you got the distance and achieved it through a big pain barrier. thats tough going and mentally the game is harder than physically sometimes.Great to hear your honesty about where you're at, and good on you for puzzling out where you undid things and for being focussed for the north face. I havent talked to Eddy yet - bummed to hear he DNF'd as he was so pumped to finish strong also. I'm behind you guys in all your hard efforts.