This was my 5th Heysen event. I ran the 105k in 2015 (my first hundy!) and then again in 2016. I didn’t think there was a hope in hell of beating my 2016 time, so I figured I’d drop down to a shorter distance in 2017, doing the 35k (for a guaranteed PB!). A slight extension to the course caused by being too busy chatting, meant that I came in just over 4 hours, so I had to go back and do it again in 2018 to crack the 4 hour mark. In 2019 I was unable to run due to injury so I spent the day sitting in the rain at Mount Compass recording the runners coming in and out of that aid station. In 2020 I was nowhere near being able to do any of the distances (well, not to my standards anyway) so I gave it a miss.
It wasn’t on my radar for 2021 either – my one big run for 2021 was meant to be the Melbourne Marathon. This is an event I’ve been keen to run ever since I found out that it finishes on the hallowed turf of the MCG! (Turns out, not entering Melbourne was a good decision – I had no way of knowing that at the time!)
In February, long before I would have even started training for Melbourne, one of my good friends told me to save the date for her 60th birthday bash, which happened to be the Saturday before the Melbourne Marathon was originally scheduled. After some thinking, I decided that Melbourne would always be there another year, and my friend would kill me if I chose a running event over her party! So I put a line through Melbourne and tried to think of another event I could do, to give me some focus for the year. (In hindsight this would have been a great time to pencil in the Adelaide 6 hour event, giving me ample time to train for it!) I was thinking of something around the same time (October), and I think something popped up in my Facebook news feed about Heysen and possibly super early bird entries about to close? (This is spooky – I know Facebook listens in on conversations and tracks search history but I wasn’t aware it is also somehow managing to track my thoughts – I hadn’t discussed it with ANYONE at this point!)
Heysen was particularly appealing because
- Relatively close to home
- No border crossings required
- 10 year anniversary this year with the usual course being reversed and extended to finish at Victor Harbor with a big party!
Quickly I looked at the options. The 105 had morphed into 115 and I am pretty sure my physio would have killed me (or at least disowned me) if I’d entered that one. The other options were 11km, 28km, 37km, 50km and 70km. So many choices!
I was toying with the idea of 37km – after all I had done this distance before, albeit in the opposite direction, so it would be familiar terrain. 50km was appealing because it was the shortest ultramarathon distance. 28km was also an option. 70km was a bit long and 11km was way too short to be travelling such a distance (I totally get the irony of this statement – a couple of weeks after having driven 1300km+ round trip to do Port Lincoln parkrun). A quick chat to a few of my running buddies and I settled on the short ultra distance. It made sense, it was my one big run for the year and other than 2020 which was pretty much a write off, I have done at least a marathon every year since 2014.
After sneaking the Adelaide 6 hour into my programme, Heysen 2021 would now be my 20th ultramarathon – that had a nice ring to it!
I had lost a bit of love for trail ultras after my last one, Five Peaks in 2019. Nothing wrong with the event itself, I just found it a particularly hard slog and apparently at the time I said that was my last trail ultra. Give me loopy races any day! But as we all know, never never means never!
By committing back in February, I’d given myself plenty of time to train for the 50k. Lots of distance, hills, possibly back to back runs – I’d done all this before so I knew what was required.
Then the 6 hour got in the way, so long hill runs made way for flat loopy runs. So while distance wasn’t too much of an issue, I was definitely neglecting the other important piece of the puzzle – hills!
I hadn’t been running hills regularly since injury hit in September 2019. I gave myself a few weeks after the 6 hour and then at the beginning of August finally bit the bullet and resumed my Friday hill runs.
In terms of the long runs, my mission to complete all the parkruns in South Australia probably left me a bit short in this department – 3 long road trips with overnight stays to complete Port Augusta, Yeldulknie Weir Trail and Port Lincoln parkruns definitely robbed me of some long run time!
Following the 6 hour, here were my ‘long run’ distances: 14.5km, 22.4km (one of the Heysen training runs), 19.8km, 15.1km, 17.6km, 20.6km, 23.3km (another Heysen training run), Yurrebilla 28km, 16.5km and 14.6km. I was pretty consistent for the past few months but I don’t think the distances were anywhere near enough to prepare me for running 50km. I was meant to run the 33km ‘Park to Peak’ (the rebranded ‘Sea to Summit’) which would have been a decent hit-out but that was cancelled and I wussed out on doing the social run that was organised in its place, because the rest of the runners doing the social run were way too fast for me!
I managed to run 2 of the 3 official training runs that covered the 50km course. The 3rd one, covering the last section (part of which was new this year, hence I had never run before) fell on the night of my friend’s party, the very reason I was running Heysen in the first place! Given some prior planning and a willing running buddy, I would have tried to run it on another day but by the time I thought of it I had run out of time. (It was about 23km from memory – I wouldn’t have minded running it solo but logistically as a solo run I would have had to go out and back, doubling the distance – at least with a buddy we could have carpooled and had a car at each end!) I think the section I ran was more challenging than the one I hadn’t seen, and I was reasonably happy with how those training runs went, albeit with a lot more walking than I had anticipated!
Before I did my last ‘long’ run, one week out, I definitely had a few ‘WTF am I doing?’ moments. A nice Saturday afternoon run around Chambers Gully later, all of a sudden I’d shifted to ‘Yep – I got this!’
Lately I have been cutting my Tuesday and Thursday runs down from approx 1 hour, to 45 minutes, in the week leading up to an event. I did that on Tuesday and planned to do it on Thursday too, with that being my last run before the big day.
Then, just a few hours after my Tuesday morning run, disaster struck!
I like to go out for a walk at lunch time, it started when I was working in our call centre and I was stuck in the office all day and being around heaps of people. It was nice to get away from the desk and have some alone time in nature! Since returning to my usual job, which does involve getting out of the office, I’ve kept the lunchtime walks going.
About 5 minutes from the end of my walk, I probably wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing (listening to a very entertaining podcast) and somehow managed to find an uneven concrete paver and tripped on it, hitting it really hard with my left big toe. It caused me to almost fall (you know, where you break into a jog for a few steps, get back to your normal walking stride, then look around to make sure no-one saw, then carry on like nothing happened).
I got back to the office. Straight to the kitchen to find some ice. I’d pretty much jammed my 1st MTP joint (big toe joint) together. Put ice on it and elevated it under my desk. One of my colleagues said I had to report it as a work injury. My team leader told me to go see a GP and get an X-ray. I seriously thought I may have broken it. And then, obviously, no Heysen! Maybe this was the universe’s way of telling me I was kidding myself thinking I could do this?
I had an approximately 2 minute (if that long) consultation with the GP who assured me I didn’t need an X-ray, and even if it WAS broken, the treatment would be the same (rest!) I didn’t bother mentioning I had a 50k ultra on Saturday because at that point it seemed pretty unlikely that I would be running!
I went home and put my foot up with ice, and the next morning it was a lot better but bruising had come out. I was limping around when walking barefoot but when I put my running shoes on I could actually walk pretty OK!
I was still seriously considering pulling out. I emailed Shaun, the Race Director, on Wednesday morning to ask about it. The way I saw it, there were 3 possible outcomes (in order from ideal to unacceptable):
- Run it and finish it
- Don’t run it
- Run it and DNF
At the time I sent the email I gave myself a 20% chance of starting and I thought that was being optimistic. I had never DNFed and I did not intend to start now.
My plan was to go out and run Thursday at ultra pace (normally we run relatively quickly on a Thursday) and make the call after that. If it all went to crap it would be an easy decision to pull out of Heysen. And that was pretty much what I was anticipating, to be perfectly honest!
Thursday rolled around, I got out of bed and was still a bit limpy but once again once I got my shoes on I could walk OK! I taped my big toe to the second toe and put another strip of tape around the foot at the level of the MTP joint. It seemed to work OK!
The run went better than I could have hoped, and most definitely NOT at ultra pace. I could definitely feel it but it just felt bruised and when I was chatting I didn’t notice it! It looked like I was going to be able to run after all! (And as it turns out, I received a reply to my email to the Race Director to say I wouldn’t have been able to defer at this late stage)
It would have been quite devastating to be ruled out for something so stupid and seemingly innocuous!
With the crisis averted, and 2 days to go until the event, it was time to start getting prepared. I had all the mandatory gear from previous ultras, all I had to do was find it. I thought I had probably better do that before Saturday morning. Nutrition-wise I could not be arsed thinking of anything or doing any preparation, so while in general I avoid pre-packaged food wherever possible, on this particular occasion I went with 4 Clif bars and 12 salted caramel Snackaballs – I wasn’t going to use all of that but it would be enough to get me through and there was enough variety in flavours. That was based on having something to eat every 30 mins or so, either half a bar or 1-2 balls – and estimating 7-8 hours finishing time (hoping for sub 7).
Initially we were required to carry 1.5 litres of fluid but that was downgraded to 1 litre because of mild weather. That meant I could get away with just 2 bottles and not need to take a bladder. I decided to have 2 bottles of Gatorade and put 500mL of water in the bladder because sometimes water is what I feel like drinking. There were 4 aid stations on the 50k (not including the finish line) – I calculated based on a 50km distance that they would be 11km in, 21km in, 30km in and 38.2km in. Therefore the longest gap between drinks would be 11km and they got closer together the closer we got to the end. Perfect! I’d take my 2 bottles of premixed Gatorade and then 3 additional portions of Gatorade powder so if needed I could mix up an additional bottle at the drink stations. And I’d carry all the food I thought I’d need, so I wouldn’t need to rely on the food at the aid stations. (I would take Coke if they had it – I took a collapsible cup for that purpose so I didn’t end up with Gatorade-flavoured Coke or Coke-flavoured Gatorade.) I also took a couple of ‘fun size’ packets of potato chips in case I felt like something crunchy and salty!
It was probably the most half-arsed nutrition I’d ever prepared for an ultra. I keep threatening to consult with a dietitian before an event and plan proper nutrition but somehow it never seems to happen – I’d outdone myself with laziness this time! (I WILL do it… eventually!)
I had to get to Victor Harbor to get bussed back to the start line. Check-in closed at 10:35 so I aimed to be there by about 10:15 – leaving home about 8:45. That was a nice late start for a race day! 12:00 was a late time to be starting (the start times of the various distances were staggered to try to get runners finishing closer together) but it did mean a bit of a sleep-in in the morning!
My pre-race dinner was a bit different from my ‘normal’ pre-ultra meal – I decided to go with pizza and cider (typical pre road marathon meal) because a friend happened to be having a pizza night that night! Breakfast was normally a smoothie about 2 hours before the event, but 10:00 was a bit late to be eating breakfast so I ended up having it just before I left home. For an ultra it doesn’t matter so much if I eat breakfast too early because I planned to be eating every half hour or so during the race.
It was nice to not have to get up at arse o’clock for once! Even though I was sure I would be awake in plenty of time, I still set my standard 3 alarms!
I was a bit unsure about taping my feet again like I had on Thursday – it’s always a bit of a gamble because it could lead to the 2 toes being squished together and cause more problems than the problem it was designed to fix! In the end I decided to go with it because who knows, that may have been the reason why Thursday’s run went so well!
I got to Victor in plenty of time for gear check and bib collection, after which I returned to my car to pack my race vest ready to get on the bus. I had managed to get a rock star park just outside the Hotel Victor. For some inexplicable reason I put my car key (removed from the keyring so it was literally just the one key – I planned to carry it in my pocket and I didn’t want any jingling) into the ignition. Maybe I was planning on cranking some ‘music to pack ultra mandatory gear by’? Who knows? Anyway, long story short, I’d packed all my gear, had it all ready to go on the roof of my car, locked all the doors and then ‘Where’s my key?’. Still in the ignition, where I left it. GREAT!!!!
THANKFULLY I had everything I needed for the run. Getting back into my car after the race – that was Future Jane’s problem!
ED Shaun gave a race briefing on the bus before we left to head to the start line at Myponga. He had us all recite an oath which was a pretty cool touch – I don’t remember all the details of it but there was something about ‘wiggly sticks’ and the last line was (something along the lines of) ‘if I die it’s my own fault’ – I thought that was very clever – I mean I’m sure we signed some kind of waiver when we signed up but it was a good way to reinforce this!
The bus got to the start line just after 1130 – less than 30 mins to start time – which was good because it gave me little time to think, but in hindsight I probably could have used another 5 mins to get ready – I still needed a portaloo stop, sunscreen and an energy drink.
RD Michelle with her boundless energy and enthusiasm gave a memorable briefing and we were away on the dot of midday!
The combination of crazy nervous energy and the aforementioned energy drink caused me to (as usual) go out too fast. The 50km started with a bit of uphill road and then straight into Yulte, the first of 2 big climbs within the first 15 or so kilometres. My breathing was all over the place, by the time I got to the 5km mark I thought “I’ve made a huge mistake – I’m only 10% of the way there and I’m cooked already!”
Quickly I got my head together and in the next few kilometres regrouped and set my sights on the first drink station – I wasn’t planning on stopping there because I was well equipped to get through at least the first half of the race, but it was a good way to break the run up into manageable chunks. According to my calculations this would be the longest section between drinks – 11km. As it turned out my calculations were based on incorrect information – we’ll get to that later!
In the early stages I ran short bursts with 2 runners I’d met through parkrun – Michael and Matty. Michael was going for sub 6 hours and Matty said he was hoping for sub 5. I thought that was super ambitious (as it turned out, sub 5 would have guaranteed a podium finish) and suggested as much, saying that while it’s great to have a goal, he might want to set a ‘B’ goal in case things didn’t go according to plan. He then made his B goal sub 6 hours which was a lot more realistic (and he made it!)
Somewhere along the way I picked up a stick to use like a hiking pole. I think it was after Yulte (in hindsight I probably should have tried to find one in Yulte – would have come in very handy there!). It was a bit too long and cumbersome so I broke it in half – perfect!
Approaching 25km was thinking about belting out a little Bon Jovi (‘we’re halfway there’)– at the time there was no-one around me so was going to start singing ‘Here I Go Again’ because I didn’t want to go too early with the Bon Jovi! (Good thing I didn’t too, because as it turned out, 25km was not actually halfway!)
Around this time I took a wrong turn – my first and only one for the day! I crossed over a stile into a field, got distracted by a large pack of huge bounding kangaroos and went the wrong way along the fence line. I was looking at my map on my phone as I was unsure which way to go, and it looked like I was on the course. I came to a dead end so quickly realised my mistake – I was following the Heysen but in the wrong direction! I turned around and went back up the hill (yes, I’d unnecessarily added extra vert as well as distance – I think the distance was only about 750m so not disastrous but somewhat annoying as I’d been doing so well up to that point!) On the way back up to where I’d made the wrong turn, I faced a huuuge kangaroo bounding towards me which was super cool – so maybe the wrong turn was meant to be! (Thanks by the way to Sputnik who tried to message me to let me know my mistake, and also to ED Shaun who tried to ring me around the same time. Of course I wasn’t looking at my phone and didn’t see the messages until after I’d finished, and possibly being on Optus I didn’t have reception at the time anyway, but I certainly appreciate the effort!)
After a small dummy spit I quickly got back on track and told myself I was well ahead of where I would have expected to be, 25km in 3 hours, with the hardest part of the course behind me, and sub 7 was looking pretty comfortable!
A bit further along, in the pine forest, walking up the hill, I was following David, who I knew vaguely but had never really run with before. David is very tall and looked like he was cruising, and I had to practically race walk to catch him! We ended up run/walking together on and off for a bit. David was the one who broke it to me that 50km was actually 52km (and with my detour I would be making it close to 53km). The distance came up in conversation because I mentioned that I couldn’t work out why the drink stations weren’t where I was expecting them to be. It hadn’t really been an issue as I hadn’t needed to stop at either of the first two, but the second one (Inman Valley, Checkpoint 1 on the old course) was about 2km later than I had expected. That was because I’d calculated the distances based on 50km being 50km and not 52km.
At about the 32km mark we reached the 3rd of 4 drink stations on the 52km course. This time I would stop. I had drunk all my Gatorade so I took my pack off to get out 2 portions of Gatorade powder to put in my bottles and then top up with water. I also produced my collapsible cup and requested my first Coke for the day – SO GOOD! I hung onto the cup because I planned to get some at the last drink station too. While I had my pack off I got another pack of balls out and another Clif bar – thinking that should be enough to get me through to the finish. I think I stopped at this drink station for about 3-4 minutes, I was trying to be as efficient as possible! In the process of stopping I’d put my stick down and it wasn’t until a few kilometres up the road that I realised I’d left it behind! I certainly wasn’t going back, and I was pretty sure I could get through the rest of the course without it.
I ran into David again who said he’d hit a bit of a wall at that drink station. We ran/walked together again for a bit and then I went on ahead. I met up with a guy (unfortunately I didn’t get his name or bib number so I can’t even check if he finished) who had entered on a whim 3 weeks earlier, having never run an ultra or even a marathon, and had gone out and run a marathon straight after he entered, to make sure he could! He also said he’d hit a bit of a wall at that same drink station, so I’m not sure what happened there! It certainly had the opposite effect on me – I was re-energised!
While running with the guy whose name I don’t know, chatting away, I heard a voice from behind, we’d missed a turnoff! Thanks to Tess, Shaun and Chris for calling out – luckily we hadn’t got too far down the road! Eventually I caught up with them and ran/walked with them for a bit – we were back off the road and running through nice open fields. (Apparently quite a few people missed this turn – at least I wouldn’t have been the only one! Thing is, missing this turn would have CUT OFF a bit of distance. My Heysen misnavigations always seem to go the other way…)
At approximately 41km on my watch, we arrived at the final drink station at Newland Hill. This was a very familiar place to me, being the old start of Heysen, and the 4 times I’d run it before, we’d started there. I wasn’t used to approaching it from the other direction! I got myself 2 cups of Coke here (the volunteers were doing their best to ‘flatten’ the Coke by shaking it up, and one of them ended up wearing quite a bit of it!) and saw RD Michelle. I was very much looking forward to this last section, as it was all new to me (well I had run part of it on a social run, but not for quite a few years). At this drink station I saw Sonja, who I assumed was leading the women’s race in the 115km, and also Michael, who had been aiming for a sub 6 but was now struggling and it was going to take some kind of miracle to get sub 6 from here – I think we were at about 5 hours at this point, with about 11km to go.
Heading back onto the trail, the trail was quite narrow and seemed to go along the fence for a long while. There wasn’t a lot of marking here or even official Heysen markers, but I figured I was probably on the right track – a lot of Heysen is following fences or roads, and there was a well worn track, so I just followed that. I was hoping no-one (especially Sonja) would need to pass me on this section because there was nowhere for me to go to get out of the way! After what seemed like an eternity running along the fence line, the grass started to get quite long and I started to wonder if I’d missed a turn, and also started thinking about ‘wiggly sticks’ and just decided to get the hell out of there as quickly as possible! Eventually the track moved away from the fence and I started to see Heysen signs again, and then we were back onto the road.
With I think about 10km to go, back on the road, the ocean came into view and I was reminded of the cliffs at Elliston, on Eyre Peninsula, where I had been only a few weeks earlier. I could see the Bluff and Granite Island – it seemed unbelievable that we were still 10+km away and yet it seemed so close! I caught up with a guy in front of me who was also in the 50km and we started chatting. Sam was visiting from Port Lincoln – not too far from Elliston, and I told him what I’d been literally just thinking about the cliffs! We got to chatting and the next 10km practically flew by! He was going to have to drive back to Port Lincoln (a long drive – 7+ hours if you don’t stop) the next day – he did have his wife to share the drive but she was volunteering from 10pm to 2am so he didn’t think she’d be doing the first driving stint! I thought that was pretty hardcore – I only needed to drive 1 hour 15 back home the next day and that was quite long enough!
The last section was just glorious. We even ran on the beach for a bit (thankfully not too far – didn’t really need soft sand at that stage of the run!). I could see Sonja and another girl behind us, I knew they’d eventually catch us because they would have been going faster than us, but I was motivated to try to go as far as possible before being overtaken!
We came into Victor Harbor – there were still quite a few kilometres to go but the end was in sight! I hadn’t registered up until that point that we were going to be running on the parkrun course – I commented to Sam that this section seemed very familiar and there in front of us was the parkrun turnaround marker! So it was 2.5km till the start/finish of parkrun and then a few more kilometres after that. I jokingly said to Sam that I would need to avoid going into autopilot when we approached the start/finish line and running off the path onto the grass where parkrun finishes!
50km came up on my watch before we hit 6 hours. I checked with Sam what distance he was showing, he was 750m behind me which is how I worked out how much my detour had cost me. Even so, when Sam hit 50km on his watch, we were still just under 6 hours. If you’d told me before the start that I would have run 50km in under 6 hours I would have told you you were dreaming!
A little after the parkrun, Sonja and her buddy runner Becky caught up with us. They said they’d been working hard to catch us for some time, so we must have been going alright!
Coming around to the Hotel Victor where my car (still) was, I started getting a bit excited because I thought I might get sub 6:10, so I took off. Turned out there was a bit longer to go than I thought, I’d started my finish line sprint a bit early but once committed, I had to keep going! I was trying to let Sonja take the glory and finish ahead of me but she told me to go for it – I guess she’s human after all – 115km must really take it out of you!
Running along the foreshore I could see the finishing arch and asked someone how we got there and they said I had to go around the park (I may have sworn, sorry kids!). I heard my name called and went into a final sprint across the line.
Official (provisional) time was 6:12:18 – just managed to sneak in under 7 hours! So it’s safe to say I was pretty stoked with that! I was so grateful to have finished well inside daylight because the section leading up to the finish could have been quite confusing to navigate in the dark!
There wasn’t much time to soak in the atmosphere – I had to contact the RAA to break into my car! Not long after I finished it started spitting with rain – I was glad I had my waterproof jacket in my pack because I was starting to get cold and all my warm gear was taunting me from the backseat of my car – at least the jacket kept a bit of the chill off! I waited for nearly an hour for the RAA guy to come and rescue me – then I was straight to running buddy Simon’s place where I was going to crash for the night. He had told me he had Thai red curry – I was STARVING, but also desperate for a shower and the whole time I waited for the RAA guy I was tossing up whether to shower first or eat! (The shower won out in the end. I was GROSS and I didn’t want to soil his dining chair with my grossness!) I took off as much of my outer clothing as I could and laid it out in my car to hopefully minimise the smell and be less gross going into his house! (Driving home the next day I did need to wind down the windows – sweaty running gear left overnight in a car does not make for a nice-smelling car!)
So it seems a few Heysen themes have re-emerged from previous years:
- Car key mishap (after losing my car key in 2015, never to be seen again!)
- Taking a wrong turn in a field (after THAT incident in 2015 which led to a plaque with my name on it being put on the Heysen marker)
- Missing a turn because I was too busy chatting (previously done on the 35km in 2017)
The shower was amazing and the curry was delicious (I inhaled it) – then I headed back to the finish line to soak up the atmosphere and cheer on the incoming finishers.
I ran into parkrun buddies Ryan, Jeff and Jo who had all done the 70km (crazy people!) and went to the Hotel Victor with them – when we collected our bibs in the morning we had all been given a voucher for a free drink at the pub. It was nice to finish a very satisfying day out with a (free) drink at the pub – you couldn’t do that with the old finish line in Kuitpo Forest!
I thought it was a superbly well organised event and it was hard to fault any part of it. My only real suggestion would be to put names on bibs, it does help make it a lot more personal.
I absolutely loved the new finish and I would love to see this become the permanent finish line. It is so much easier for people to get to, there’s plenty of accommodation and parking nearby, and several pubs in the vicinity! I hadn’t planned to do it again next year but now I am seriously thinking that I might. And I would highly recommend it as a first ultra – Yurrebilla is also great but Heysen 50ish is just a little bit shorter and not quite as tough. Also the toughest part of the course is early when your legs are still fresh, whereas YUM has the hardest bit towards the end.
My foot didn’t end up causing me too much trouble – I just had to be careful on the rocky sections, quickly learning not to step on a rock on the wrong angle otherwise I was certainly reminded of it!
So many people to thank – firstly ED Shaun and RD Michelle (where do you guys get your stamina?) for putting on a stellar event. To the weather gods for putting on perfect weather (for the time that I was running, anyway!) – it was a truly glorious day! To all of the volunteers – I can’t thank all of you individually but special thanks to Cherie, Queen of the Village, who looked after the finish line village from start to finish (I’m hoping she managed to sneak a few z’s at some point!) and was never without a smile on her face and a friendly word. Also personally I must thank Simon for his hospitality – so good to have a hot shower and home cooked meal after a big day, and not to have to drive home to Adelaide until the next morning. And to all the runners I shared the course with especially David and Sam who I spent the most time with.
Of course, huge congratulations must go to all the runners in all the distances especially the 115km – you are all AWESOME, the atmosphere out on course was incredible and it was just the best day!
So who’s joining me next year?