Race Report – Adelaide 6/12/24 Hour 2021 – The End of an Era!

I’d like to start by saying that this is my favourite running event of all that I have done. It’s hard to fathom for those that haven’t done it (even some seasoned ultra runners) but it is genuinely the best. Even when it can be the worst! I don’t think I can do it justice but I’ll give it a crack.

For me, the last 2 years since the last ‘proper’ Adelaide 6/12/24 even in 2019 has been a long and bumpy ride, but I don’t think I’d change any of it! It would have been rude not to be a part of the final running of this event in its current form…

As regular readers of this blog will know, I have a (relatively) long history with this event, having participated in the 6 hour in 2015 and 2016, the 12 hour in 2017 and 2018, and the big one, the 24 hour in 2019, which I later found out, pretty much broke me!

Due to COVID the event took on a slightly different form in 2020, with it being later in the year than the traditional wet, cold July, and with just the 6 and 12 hour events taking place. This time I was NOT involved, although I did put in a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ cameo appearance, courtesy of ‘dropping in’ for half a lap during my own training run for a half marathon. Given that I was focused on said half, and was nowhere near ‘match fit’ enough for a 6 hour, there was never any temptation to get involved. Plus, if it’s not raining, is it really even the same event?

2021 was an entirely different story. Since the 2020 event I had done 2 half marathons and a bunch of shorter (mostly trail) events. I didn’t really have the 6/12/24 in my sights this year, even though I knew it was going to be the last one in its current form. I just did not have enough training behind me to do it justice. And then…

On 27 April, (74 days before the event) ED Ben announced a special memento for all runners, in addition to the finisher bling, given that it was to be the last event (and the 10 year anniversary of the first 24 hour). That was all it took to pique my interest.

Could it be done? Normally (and especially given my recent history) I would want a solid 4-5 months to get my mileage up gradually. 10 weeks was less than ideal. (If I had more time, I would have seriously considered giving the 12 hour a crack, but the only realistic option at this point was 6 hours or nothing)

The cut off date to get the memento personalised (as well as the early bird cutoff) was the following Wednesday so there was only one thing to do. Get my arse down to the Uni Loop on the weekend and run some laps!

 I managed just over a half marathon distance in 2 hours and decided yes, I could definitely do this so quickly got my entry in, after checking with Ben that I could keep my name off the start list because I wasn’t quite ready for my physio to know about this yet! I sent fellow runner Kate a private message to let her know and that she absolutely could NOT tell Beck, and after very little arm-twisting, she decided to enter too! (Unfortunately it wasn’t to be for Kate, with an injury preventing her from lining up on the day)

This (assuming I would complete more than a marathon distance!) would be my 19th ultra,  2 years after my previous one. It would be my 11th track ultra, so you can see I like the loop format! And 12 of those 19 ultras will have been Ben’s events, so he must be doing something right!

In the coming weeks I upped the time by half an hour each week, each time estimating how many laps I would do and reversing the distance at about the halfway mark, and using a 28 min run/2 min walk strategy. This would be my first time adopting strategic run/walk in a 6 hour (I had previously successfully used it in 100k, 12 and 24 hour track events). During each walk break I would eat something – half a Clif bar, a couple of protein balls, a 1/4 sandwich or a brownie. I would have a few different options so I could keep it varied and avoid the dreaded flavour fatigue!

Distance wise I was not even contemplating the possibility of a PB – in fact I was pretty sure it would be a PW, with my previous 6 hour distances being 61.436km and 62.199km. I was pretty sure the magical 60km was a bit ambitious but it was still good to aim for. Just being there was all that mattered.

I kept my long runs private on Strava because there is only one reason I would be doing runs like that, and if anyone saw it, they’d know straight away what I was up to. However, Adelaide being Adelaide, and the Uni Loop being like Rundle Mall for runners (only Adelaide people will get that reference!), people were bound to see me and wonder what I was up to! If I saw a fellow runner once, they wouldn’t bat an eyelid, but if they saw me again, and again, and again, and then possibly going in the opposite direction, then they’d know!

I had planned to tell physio/running buddy Beck once I got up to 4 hours. One Tuesday, after having done a solid 3.5 hours on Sunday, I was having the traditional post-run coffee with Kate, Beck and Leanne, and Leanne, having seen me in passing on Sunday, asked me how many laps I had run. I casually responded ‘a few’ and then Beck asked me what I was up to – the jig was up! I still decided to keep my long runs private on Strava – some things should remain mysterious – but I didn’t need to worry anymore about Beck finding out from someone else!

After Beck found out, I didn’t really need to stay anonymous on the start list, and I gradually let a few people know I was doing it. A few people questioned the wisdom of doing this event, and I decided, you know what, I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life. I wouldn’t do it if I thought I might end up in the same situation as a few years ago, it was a long time ago and I have rehabbed very well and been über sensible ever since, so yeah it was a risk but a calculated one. And I decided to leave myself as anonymous.

At the time of writing, I haven’t seen Beck but I’d be interested (after the fact) to hear what she REALLY thought when I told her I was doing it. I guess it was a win-win for her – either everything went well, or if it didn’t, I’d be throwing more business her way!

6 weeks out from the event I did a 4 hour run, which was so close to a marathon distance I had to do the extra little bit to make it up to the 42.2 (I was only 500m off the marathon after 4 hours, and I was coincidentally also 500m from my car!). Surprisingly, the next day, my legs did not feel the same as they have in the past after running a marathon – it was ‘just another long run’ and I am sure that the walk/run had a lot to do with that.

It’s not on Strava (well, not publicly anyway) but it did happen!

As had been the case in the past, my training runs would all be on the Uni Loop, with my car parked next to one of the distance markers on the War Memorial Drive side. There were several reasons for this. Firstly, so that it was easy to do a quick stop off at my car to grab a full water bottle or a snack, and not waste too much time. Secondly, because history shows that GPS is notoriously inaccurate on multi-loop runs, and ALWAYS gives you a longer distance than you actually run. This way, I was able to have an accurate measure of my distance (I could easily count laps – I have become pretty good at my 2.2 times table over the years – and then if there was a part-lap at the end I could work that out reasonably accurately.

A beautiful misty morning at the start of one of my training runs!

I had initially planned to do my longest run as 5 hours, then I decided that was unnecessary and that 4.5 hours would be plenty. Then, after having run a marathon distance in my 4 (ish) hour run, I realised that a marathon was the longest distance I’d ever run leading up to a 6 hour, so there was no need to go any further this time. (This was the first time I’d actually trained for a 6 hour event. The previous 2 times I had done it on the back of a marathon training programme).

Following on from the ‘marathon’, I backed it up with 3 hour runs for the next 2 Sundays.

Adding up the 7 training runs prior to taper, it added up to a total of 21 hours and 220km (exactly 100 laps!). It was a steeper curve than would have been ideal, but hopefully it would be enough!

On the Sunday before the event, after a few weeks’ break, I did a 2 hour reccy around the Loop, just to re-acquaint myself with every piece of gravel, blade of grass and minor undulation/mountain on that track (I ran with Cecile, doing her first 6 hour, so I could impart some of my ‘wisdom’ and as a thank you she treated me to a glass of sparkling wine after the run! I’ll run with you any time Cecile if it ends like that!)

Prior to the aforementioned 2 hour run, during the week my UTA 2016 buddy Anna talked me into teaming up with her for the Adelaide Trail Runners Winter Teams Challenge on Saturday afternoon, which meant I was running on tired legs on Sunday – back to back runs is something I’ve been steering clear of lately but as it turns out it was probably not a bad idea – presumably at some point in the 6 hour I would be running on tired legs!

With Anna during the Winter Teams Championships. Photo: Lachlan Miller Photography

After the Sunday run, I did an easy solo 45 minute run on Tuesday and that was my only run prior to Saturday.

On Wednesday prior to the event I got a massage – prior to the 24 hour I had a massage on the day before, but that was not ideal as my massage therapist (and fellow runner!) Amanda was not able to go as hard on my muscles as she would with a bit more time. So consequently she held nothing back! Glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves, they all got the treatment!

I also did a bit of a caffeine detox. For the 24 hour 2 years ago, I went off coffee for 1 week prior to the event, so that the caffeine I used during the event to keep me moving, would have more of an effect. Now I don’t drink as much coffee now as I was drinking back then (1 cup a day, occasionally 2) but I had a bit more time to wean off so unlike last time I did not have to go cold turkey. I started about 4 weeks out, dropping back to 3 cups a week, then 1, and then for the 11 days leading up to the event I existed on decaf (a.k.a ‘brown sadness water’). Which can be surprisingly not terrible!

I re-read my 6 hour race reports from 2015 and 2016, specifically to see what I ate the night before (see – if it’s not of interest to anyone else, at least it pays off for me later on down the line!). In 2016 I had been to my favourite stall in the Market Plaza Food Court at the Adelaide Central Market – Pure Vegetarian. And that was a 6 hour PB, so naturally I decided to replicate that this time!

It’s not exactly ‘Insta-worthy’ but damn it was good!

The alarm was set to go off at 4:10 (and 4:15 and 4:20, just in case) with a view to getting to the Loop at 5am for the 6am start. The only reason for getting there so early was to get a good parking spot, as I was planning to use my car as my base, like I did in 2016. I was fortunate enough to snag a rock star park right outside the (one and only) aid station and also close to the start/finish line. That was good because the aid station would be attended throughout the event, so my car could safely be left unlocked, and also because the aid station was easy to spot so I could be prepared to grab and go as I went past!

It was amazingly not as cold as I expected (I was prepared with layers as well as a change of clothing in the unlikely event of rain) so I was able to start in a thin long sleeved top over a T-shirt, and a skirt. I also had fleece gloves on just for the start (because I needed my hands to work in order to get snacks!) and a fluoro pink headband, as the event had a ‘retro’ theme. I had my hat and sunnies ready to go on the back seat of the car, as well as my rain jacket.

On the front seat I had my snacks – 3 Clif bars, a bag of salted caramel balls, a couple of PB sandwiches and some brownies. There was also an esky with a bunch of bottles of Gatorade and also a few of water in case I felt like a change. (As it turned out, somewhere between 3 and 4 hours I got sick of Gatorade and switched to water for most of the rest of the event – I normally have to force myself to drink water but on this occasion it tasted like liquid heaven!) There were also 3 shots of cold brew ready to go – I downed one of those about 15 minutes before the start, the others I would have at 2 and 4 hours or thereabouts.

It was an amazingly foggy morning! Normally you expect to see fog in the hills, not on the flat. It was foggy for my whole drive and it stayed foggy for quite a few hours during the run. It made for a really cool atmosphere!

I started with super speedy Jenny and Sandy for the first couple of laps, it was way too fast and I knew it, but I also knew that at 28 minutes I would be walking and then probably wouldn’t see them again (until eventual winner Sandy lapped me BEFORE the halfway turnaround!). It was nice to have a chat and run while getting warmed up (it didn’t take long to warm up – the gloves came off pretty early, but I was glad to have had them!)

Not long after I dropped Jenny and Sandy (OK OK OK, they dropped me), other ‘randoms’ (I use the term to refer to people who were running on the Uni Loop but were not part of the event) started to come out for their Saturday morning runs. I ran with one such group for a (very) short time, they are a fast bunch but to be fair were only warming up, and as luck would have it one of the awesome volunteers Brenton happened to come by with his camera at the right time to capture me ‘leading the pack’!

It’s a bit hard to see in the fog, and because we’re so fast we’re a blur, but that’s me on the right in the pink! Thanks Brenton for this photo!

I could probably sum up my run in a couple of sentences. I managed to keep up the 28 minute run/2 minute walk for 5 1/2 hours, and then ran the last 30 minutes (because, who needs a walk break with 2 minutes to go?). Everything went according to plan. Most importantly, I DID NOT BREAK!

Just a few little milestones because I like numbers! Based on my electronically recorded lap times, I reached the half marathon distance in a little under 1:59:24. I hit the marathon distance just under 4 hours (I completed 19 laps in 3:54:53 and the marathon distance was 400m past that.) 50km was a little under 4:49. I’d like to compare those times to when I last ran the 6 hour but unfortunately that level of data is not available – Event Strategies only started timing this event in 2017. All in all, I was happy with those numbers!

To be fair, really I was happy just to be there! I actually enjoyed every minute. I had a mini slump between 4 hours and 5 hours (because after 4 hours there’s still 2 hours to go, and that seems like an eternity!) but the introduction of the 24 hour runners was a welcome distraction! David and Colin were the only two to have run every 24 hour run since Ben’s been putting them on, and there were a bunch of other familiar faces from previous years. I was NOT sorry not to be among them on this occasion. (I do, however, reserve the right to have another crack at a 24 hour one day!)

In the zone, definitely did not see the photographer here! Photo credit: Ian Lilburn

The field was pretty big (helped by the fact it was our last chance to run this event, but hindered by COVID-related border closures) – with 58 starters in the 6 hour, 14 in the 12 hour (traditionally the smallest of the 3 events, but definitely my favourite!) and an impressive 40 in the 24 hour. Yep – 40 people who were insane enough to want to run for 24 hours. 4 of whom (Katie, Jac, Stewart and Tamas) had also been insane enough to run a 200 mile trail race a little while back. Insane is probably not strong enough a word – but in all seriousness, much respect!)

One of many great things about this event is there are no DNFs – if you start, you get a medal. There is no ‘finish line’ as such, the finish line is wherever you choose for it to be! And that is what makes this event so special. For some people it might be running a marathon (often a first marathon) or maybe cracking 50km for the first time. For some it’s just about getting out there and socialising (I’m looking at you Kym Williams, one of two runners to have participated in every event since the first 6 hour way back in 2009 – Colin being the other. A third, Graham, was missing for the first time this year, being interstate, potential snap border closures made it too risky to make the trip)

Border closures nearly robbed Tash of her chance to be part of this event but as luck would have it she got let out of home quarantine just in the nick of time!

With Tash, fresh from home quarantine! Photo: Lachlan Miller Photography

For me, it was a bit of trying to test myself to see where I’m at compared with pre-injury, but mostly just wanting to be a part of it one more time. It’s always been about more than running! Really, a fun, social day out with a bit of running thrown in!

Thanks to Brenton for this photo from when the fog had somewhat cleared. Behind me is his wife Karen who would have to have been one of the best dressed, really getting into the ‘retro’ spirit of the event!

The field, owing to the aforementioned border issues, was a lot more ‘local’ than usual. This event has always been held in high regard and attracted a large field from interstate, many elites. That in itself is pretty cool, getting to share the track with some pretty big names, but I am more interested in the ‘ordinary’ people like myself. With the exception of a couple of Victorian entrants who had been regulars over the years, it was mostly a SA-based affair.

Thinking of wine perhaps? Photo: Lachlan Miller Photography

The supporters were fantastic. I think the excellent weather helped, it encouraged a lot more people to come out and support particular runners or just everyone! One guy, Stuart, who everyone probably knows by now, was the guy doing the one-man Mexican wave pretty much from the start! I very much looked forward to seeing what he would come up with each time, and I definitely noted his absence when I missed him for a few laps when he went to get a coffee (how dare he!)

There was another group of ‘Mexican wavers’ on the other side of the track, where there are generally less spectators, so it was nice to see them and to have some distraction on the ‘dark side’ for a few laps!

Getting back to some of the other runners, Cecile, who I had done my last training run with, had a goal in mind and didn’t quite make it but she was having some major hip issues and somehow managed to push through to the end! There was also Marc, who had been told by his physio that he should be running no more than 10km but still managed to crack 50km! (Apparently the physio knew he was doing it, so I haven’t just outed him!)

I love my music, it’s a big part of my life  and it is a non-negotiable on my solo runs, but I use it intermittently during these events (I only ever use music in track events, not road or trail, for safety reasons). This time I grabbed my iPod just before the halfway turnaround. The first song was ‘Life In The Fast Lane’ by the Eagles, closely followed by the obligatory ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ to signify that ‘we’re halfway there’ (I tried not to sing too loud in case some of the runners around me were in the 12 hour and were most definitely NOT halfway there). I don’t have a specifically curated playlist, just a list of about 1000 songs because I never really know what I will feel like listening to! Some of the slower songs that I would skip when running, might be just perfect to listen to while walking. I would just run with one earbud in when going past other runners so I could still chat and hear what was going on around me. It was a nice mix! One of the songs that was ‘just right’ for me this time was ‘Karma Chameleon’ – so much so that I had to play it twice back to back, and yes, there may or may not have been some singing! Another great one was ‘(Don’t Fear) The Reaper’ by Blue Öyster Cult – perfect running tempo! Conversely, I regrettably had to skip one of my all-time faves, ‘Wasted Time’ by The Eagles because it’s just too slow for running, and Pink Floyd’s ‘Comfortably Numb’ because that would have resulted in some serious air drumming, and I don’t think air drumming while running is the best idea! The last song I heard before I ditched the tunes with about half an hour to go, was ‘Everlong’ – I think we can all agree that is a pretty perfect song – for running or otherwise!

Approaching the end, getting a bit silly… Photo: Lachlan Miller Photography

Getting back to numbers again (sorry I’m a bit all over the place, it’s a while since I’ve done one of these!), once I got to 50km under 5 hours the 60km was looking pretty comfortable so all of a sudden the possibility of a PB was on the table! (my previous PB being 62.199, almost exactly one lap over 60km). Dare I even contemplate the fairytale ending? Whatever happened, it was as good as I could have hoped for!

As it turned out, I managed to complete 28 laps for a total distance of 61.677km (just over 500m short of a PB, but I could not have cared less at this point!). I had grabbed my sandbag with about 15 minutes to go, not sure if I’d make it around one more time before the 6 hours was up. As it turned out I just made it back past the start/finish and as luck would have it the air horns went off just as I got to Cecile’s car, and right near where a few of our supporters, Ryan, Naomi, Heather, Peter and Christine had been enjoying a wine while cheering us on over the last little while. The bottle was empty by the time I got there but happily Cecile had some in her car and we had a celebratory glass while we waited for the final measurements to be done.

Rehydrating with Naomi!

The weather was perfect, the early morning mist really added to the vibe and the sun came out just in time for us to collapse in a heap and rehydrate while watching the 12 and 24 hour runners continue on their merry way! And not having to get my raincoat out, well that was just a bonus!

After the presentations I went home to get a few things done. Remember my detox and subsequent race-day caffeination strategy? Well, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that it WORKED. I’m not sure exactly how much it helped my run, but when I got home I powered through the unpacking, bottle washing and laundry and a really solid drum practice session, then couldn’t get to sleep and as a result got up to watch Ash Barty win Wimbledon! I had rather ambitiously told Ben I could volunteer from 5am for the end of the 24 hour – I’ve had such a great time over the years running this event, it was my last chance to see ‘the other side’ of the event! Finish running at 12, home by 2, in bed by 9, up at 4 – too easy, right? Turns out 3 x 50ml shots of cold brew, 2 caffeinated Clif bars and some caffeinated brownies is not a good recipe for a restful night’s sleep!

I got back down to the Uni Loop at about 5 after a sneaky bakery stop for donuts and coffee, and had the rather easy job of sitting at the aid station, eating potato chips and occasionally making a coffee or washing a cup. (I made myself a couple of PB and chip sandwiches – so good! It should be noted that I did make sure there was enough food left for the runners) It was great to see the runners in action, some rarely stopping, some stopping on almost if not every lap. Thankfully there hadn’t been any rain and it wasn’t even all that cold – perfect overnight running weather! I was there with Adam and his son who had also been there for the duration of the 6 hour but I hadn’t actually made a stop at the aid station during my event (which was why I figured it was OK to be eating the food now!) Also there was Ian who had been there for the duration of the event, maybe slept an hour or two, and took a bunch of photos throughout.

AND most excitingly I got to see my name engraved on the perpetual 24 hour trophy from 2 years ago – now THAT was a fairytale (closely followed by a nightmare!)

See! My name! It’s official, it really happened!

Many of the 24 hour runners were still out there – some were resting, others had already gone, things having not gone to plan. Sonja was leading the women’s race by a long way, but the men’s race was an exciting battle that went down to the wire! When I arrived, Travis was leading, but within the last hour or so he was overtaken by David, one of the originals, and David managed to hang on but only by a bit over 100 metres – I don’t believe I’ve ever seen such a close finish in a 24 hour race! And how fitting that after being one of only two runners to complete every 24 hour race over the 10 year history of this particular event, he would win for the first time at the final event! Now THERE’S the fairytale ending! He’s a sneaky one, he doesn’t look like he’s going hard but lap by lap he just wears you down and keeps going like the Energizer bunny! (I know this because he did just that to me in 2019!)

Two of the four 200 mile crazies (Jac and Tamas) incredibly managed to finish top 3, and Stewart still managed to rack up 100 miles. Tamas was incredible because he seemed to be smiling and just loving every single minute – his enthusiasm was infectious! Katie had pulled the pin early (a sensible decision by the sound of it!) but still managed a not too shabby 50km before doing so!

Another honourable mention must go to Hoang, who managed both her first 100km and first 100 mile – I don’t think in the history of the event any woman has completed 100 miles and not been in the top 3!

After the presentations Jenny came back down and with Ian and Ben we managed to get the gear all packed and loaded before a few light drops of rain began to fall – it was like Ben had made a deal with the universe to keep the rain away for this one last time, and the universe held up its end of the bargain – so very fitting!

So this event as we know it is now over, but maybe someone might decide to take the challenge of putting it on in future. I hope so, as I said at the start it is my favourite (the 12 hour is my favourite favourite, the 24 hour definitely has some great memories for me, but I am not sure I’d want to run another 6!) If not, I can definitely see myself, once border closures are a thing of the past, going on the occasional ‘runcation’ to do a similar event interstate. But there’s really nothing like running an event like this in your home town!

To the runners that I have shared the track with, encouraging others as you work towards your own goals, this year and in previous years, you are my kind of people, you just GET IT. I don’t have to explain to you why I love this event.

To all the volunteers that have put in countless hours to make all these events happen, well you know we wouldn’t be here without you.

And last but definitely not least, to Ben for putting this event on for all these years with your ever growing family commitments not to mention everything else, I still have no idea how you do it, but I am so grateful that you do! It has been a privilege to run so many of your events over the years, thanks for everything!

SO many fantastic memories – 5000 words doesn’t even scratch the surface!

And if you’ve lasted to the end – well done, it’s been quite a ride!