Running round in circles

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Last week I told the story of my experience at the Gold Coast Marathon. This weekend could not have been more of a contrast. On Saturday I ran in the Yumigo! Adelaide 6/12/24 hour event.

For the uninitiated, this is an endurance event held at Adelaide’s Uni Loop, a 2.2km gravel running track around the North Adelaide parklands. There are 3 events – 6, 12 and 24 hours. The idea is to cover as much distance as possible in the allocated time, running lap after lap. After lap.

I had had previous experience with a 6 hour event back in March – a social, non-competitive fundraising event to raise money for running friend Emma to fund her trip to Italy for the World 24 Hour Championships. I took it relatively easy, initially planning to run 30km (just slightly more than my long run was scheduled to be that day), then 42.2, then 45, then eventually getting to 46.9 thanks to Denis pushing me for one final lap before time was up! I had plenty of rests and I knew I had plenty of room to improve. From that day on, I had the Yumigo! event firmly in my sights.

Fast-forward to July. Having just come off a marathon, I had opted for the 6 hour event as the ‘sensible’ option. I had entered on the Monday, having wanted to see how I recovered from Gold Coast before committing. I hadn’t seen the weather forecast which was a good thing. I later found out that the forecast was for a cold weekend with rain, hail and thunderstorms (and possible snow on Mt Lofty). I probably would have given it a miss had I known, but having entered, I had to go through with it!

The week was a combination of recovery and tapering. I did 2 runs during the week, and 2 walks with my running groups.

A few days beforehand, I studied the event manual, and on race eve I collected my race bibs and timing chip from the start line. It was also an opportunity to see where I had to go, to make sure I allowed enough time to get there in the morning. I also got a few last minute helpful pieces of advice from ultra veterans and fellow 6 hour entrants Kym and Graham. (As an aside, Graham was the first person to tell me about this event, a few years ago. I told him I thought it sounded incredibly boring. And yet here I was, about to run it!)

My pre-event dinner was a carb-laden risotto with a group of running friends. It was a shame I had to leave at 9:30 while they were all still going but I had to be up in 7 hours and I still wasn’t packed.

With rainy weather forecast, I needed plenty of clothes. I packed at least 2 of everything… shorts, socks, shoes, calf compression sleeves, 3 long sleeved tops and towels, as well as a hat (to keep the rain and hail out of my eyes), rain jacket and a tracksuit and sandals to put on afterwards.

Given the likely requirement for clothing changes, I had opted to pin my bibs (front and back) to a Spibelt instead of to my clothing – this would mean I didn’t have to re-pin my bib even if I had to change my top and/or shorts.

The morning of the run I got up at 4:30, ate my usual breakfast and finished getting ready. Food-wise I didn’t need much… the event supplied plenty of food and drinks… but I took a few bits and pieces that have served me well in the past. I had a chocolate spread sandwich, Gatorade, almonds and Lifesavers.

I arrived at the start at around 5:40. Already the street parking was filling up, and I had to park further away than I’d hoped… something I would regret later in the day when I had to walk back to the car! Still, I made it to the start line in plenty of time, dropping my bag off in one of the tents and deciding at the last minute to go without the gloves and rain jacket… something I would soon come to regret…

We started at 6am sharp. My first goal was 42.2km… that would mean 2 marathons inside a week… I wasn’t sure if and when I’d ever get the chance to do that again! That was very doable… so I set myself a second goal of 50km… which would be my first time reaching that distance. Then, I could call myself an ultramarathoner!

It was cold, and the rain soon started, and hail not long after that. Fortunately the hail was only short-lived… this was my first ever time running in hail, and I was very thankful for the hat!

I had opted not to do the portaloo stop before the start… my experience in marathons has been that I always go before I start, but still always feel like I need to go again just before the start of the event. In my 3 marathons and however many halves, so far I have never needed to stop. That suggests to me that it’s all mental, and/or that I don’t drink enough! However, on this occasion I still needed to go about half an hour in, having already received one soaking from above. Given that it was a 6 hour event, I knew I’d have to stop at least once so I thought now was the time.

I don’t want to venture into ‘too much information’ territory but suffice to say cold numb hands and soaking wet Skins shorts does not make for a quick pit stop! I think it took me a minute just to lock the door and probably about 5 minutes altogether! I definitely should have put the gloves on before the start, but it was too late now. I pushed on…

The 6 and 12 hour runners started together, so we spent our full 6 hours running with the 12 hour runners. We had bibs front and back, mostly with names on them, which was a great touch as it meant we could give encouragement as we ran with/past others on the course. It was great to chat with fellow runners, discussing previous experiences in similar events, what our goals were for the day, etc etc! It was especially great to get encouragement from race ambassador Wayne Calvert who was running the 12 hour. He ended up finishing second in that event, so he was obviously going at quite a pace, but he still found time to encourage those around him which was awesome!

Regular running buddy Sarah came and ran with me briefly. She asked me if I had a ‘run/walk’ strategy. I replied “Yes… I’m going to keep running until I can’t run anymore. Then I’ll walk”.

I did walk at times. Mostly when I was eating. My nutrition consisted of sandwiches (my own chocolate spread one, and peanut butter ones supplied at the food tent – never before has peanut butter on white bread tasted so good!) and delicious brownies made by the legendary Maurice. Oh and a packet of chips early on, that I couldn’t open myself because my hands were so cold! Hydration-wise I didn’t drink a lot of water but I did finish my 1.5L bottle of Gatorade before leaving the course.

The turning point for me undoubtedly came when James arrived with a piping hot long black for me. He had offered the previous day to come down with a coffee for me, but given the weather conditions I would not have blamed him for not coming. But he did, probably around the halfway mark, and boy was I glad to see him! (OK maybe it was the coffee I was glad to see more so than James. Sorry James!)

He and fellow running buddy Dean walked with me around the track as I sipped that beautiful, beautiful hot beverage. Not only did the caffeine give me a huge boost but the hot cup helped warm up my cold hands. By the time I’d finished it, my energy level had skyrocketed and I quickly slipped back into my running rhythm again. From then on I felt amazing! I swore he must have spiked it with something!

Despite my bag full of clothing, I really could have used more. I changed tops just before the halfway point, with just one long-sleeved top left (to put on at the end). Not 10 minutes later, the heavens opened again, so I was stuck in wet clothing for the duration.

A lot of people I spoke to including Kathleen and Clodia had the goal of running a marathon in the 6 hours. It is a really great way for someone to run a first marathon… very safe, well supported, facilities every 2.2km, and a guaranteed medal even if you don’t complete the full distance. It was great to see both of them achieve their goals!

I’m not sure exactly when I reached the marathon distance but according to Strava it was a touch over 4 hours. From then I knew the 50km was definitely on. Given the weather, I planned to stop and walk after that, or possibly even stop altogether if it was really raining heavily. In fact I could have walked from that point and still made 50km. But I was running strongly… still hanging around the 5:55 minutes per km mark, so kept going.

In my previous marathons I have had left hip soreness around the halfway point. I did feel that again during the 6 hour (probably about 2 hours in) but had forgotten to pack the Voltaren, and I didn’t want to try any different drugs, and it wasn’t impeding me too much, so I pressed on, and eventually it went away!

That was the only real ‘injury’ concern I had, although one of my toenails had become a bit inflamed during Gold Coast, and I really started to notice it in the last few hours. I was dreading taking my shoes and socks off, because I was fully expecting to see either blood or detached toenails, but was pleased to see neither!

50km came just before 5 hours. My pace hadn’t dropped, so at that point the goalposts shifted and I was going for 60km!

I really enjoyed the last few hours. The 24 hour super crazies started when we had 2 hours to go, so I got to see regular running friends Karen, Tory, Jonathan, Emma, Barry, Michael and Marc start their event, and also met a lot of new people including Sean who was over from Tasmania, and Tracey who had recently done 20 laps of the Snakepit! (The Snakepit is a torture chamber of sorts near the beach in Adelaide’s west – a 500m sand track including some nasty little hills. I’d managed 11 laps that day… 20 was unthinkable!)

I managed to hold my pace in the final hour and crack the 60km mark. My Garmin showed 62km but my official distance was just over 60. Still, I wasn’t complaining… it was WELL beyond what I expected! I went like a maniac in the last 15 minutes… my Garmin showed a couple of sub-5 minute kms right near the end!

Looking at the photos, I’m smiling in ALL of them. And they are not fake smiles like the ones in some of my marathon photos. I was genuinely enjoying myself! And that is another point of contrast (along with the weather) between this event and Gold Coast. Despite it being a fantastic event in perfect weather conditions, and despite getting a PB, my run at Gold Coast was the least enjoyable of my 3 marathons. At the 6 hour, despite the weather and the potential monotony of running the same 2.2km loop 27 TIMES, I had a ball from start to finish!

Regular running buddy Gary, who had covered about 1km more than me despite being troubled by leg cramps late in the event, told me I might be in contention for a podium finish! I was shocked… I never would have expected that! After a tense wait while the final distances were added up, I ended up finishing 2nd female out of 30, and 12th overall out of 55 starters. I was particularly happy to find that along with a sweet trophy to go with my finisher medal, I got a magnum of shiraz thanks to the sponsor Fox Creek Wines! The first place finisher, Marlize, was a few km ahead of me, and I couldn’t see where I could have found any extra kms to knock her out of first place, so I was over the moon with my runner-up finish.

After the presentation I was lucky enough to be treated to a guest pass at a city health club, from Shannon, who had also completed her first 6 hour. Shannon had told me, when I had told her I was aiming for 50km, that I would get closer to 56km! Little did I know that she was right! Along with a few other fellow 6 hour finishers we enjoyed a lovely hot spa and not-so-lovely cold plunge pool… such a relief after the 6 hour slog in the cold and rain!

After dinner in town with Gary and other running friends (curry… my new go-to post-event meal after recovering so well from Gold Coast), we headed back to the Uni Loop to watch the 24 hour runners for a while. We didn’t last long… it was cold, wet and windy. Mega respect to those runners. And the volunteers/pit crews. I’m convinced that their jobs are WAY harder than running!

After a decent night’s sleep (despite the disappointment of Australia’s capitulation in the first Ashes Test) I headed back to the Uni Loop to see the 24 hour runners finish. It was still cold and wet… I was again VERY happy to have ‘only’ run the 6 hour! At the presentation, some of the runners were struggling to walk the 10 or so metres to receive their medals, and some had the medals delivered to them. Again… what a huge effort from those people in such difficult conditions!

I think maybe I might like to do the 24 hour one day. Just once, to say I’ve done it. I won’t be looking to set any records like the remarkable Lee Piantadosi who covered over 200km to take out first female (and first place overall). I’d like to do it in a team, I can’t imagine doing it on my own! And I think I’d need to sleep, at least for a few hours, unlike many of the higher placed finishers.

Thanks to Ben Hockings for putting on this fabulous event… I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to set themselves a challenge! I will definitely be back next year… the only question is, which distance?

“Ultramarathon? Me? No, never. Well, maybe one day…”

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2 years ago, if you mentioned the word ‘ultramarathon’ to me, I would have been picturing the old Melbourne to Sydney races from the ’80s, with the likes of Yiannis Kouros and Cliffy Young. I can safely say even now that I would NEVER  attempt something like that… that’s just plain MAD!

Of course, I know now that there are many different types of ultras which vary greatly in terms of both distance and terrain. Basically anything over the standard 42.2km marathon distance is considered an ultra.

Which brings me neatly to Yurrebilla.

Yurrebilla Ultra Marathon (YUM for short) is a 56km run from Belair Railway Station to Ambers Gully at Athelstone, taking in some stunning trails along the way. Being in the middle of Adelaide suburbia it’s easily accessible and very well supported, so it’s not necessary to carry a lot of gear. It started in 2007 when a small group of runners decided to see if it would be possible to run the entire Yurrebilla Trail (an existing trail). And YUM was born! YUM is actually an apt acronym because Yurrebilla is known as ‘The Gourmet Ultra’ due to the amazing spread at the checkpoints and at the finish. I will freely admit that when I first decided I was going to run YUM, it was the food that got me! In what other run would you get to eat PIZZA along the way?

I had first heard of this event 2 years ago when my friend Denis was running it (after having completed his first 2 marathons in the 2 months prior. I thought he was mad!). I had good intentions of going to watch him but celebrated Hawthorn’s Grand Final win a little bit too hard the previous day, so unfortunately I didn’t quite get there…

Fast forward to 2014. Early in the year, I was training for my first marathon. I happened to meet a few crazy chicks (I’m talking to you, Hoa and Rula!) who tried to convince me to enter YUM that year. I was adamant that I wasn’t ready for an ultra despite their best efforts to convince me otherwise. Apart from not feeling prepared for such a daunting challenge, I was also trying to maintain my soccer ‘career’ at the same time as my marathon training. I realised very early in the soccer season that running 30k in the morning then dashing off to play soccer was not sustainable and in fact pretty risky… I was lucky not to have any injuries. Often we would only have the bare 11 players so there was no option of sitting on the bench, and as a midfielder there wasn’t a whole lot of down time. I therefore made the decision not to play until after my marathon. As the soccer season ended 2 weeks before YUM, if I were to commit to the second half of the season I wouldn’t get to do the required training for YUM. To avoid getting talked into it, I quickly put my hand up to volunteer at YUM.

So the marathon came and went, the soccer season ended and it was YUM time! As it again fell the day after the AFL Grand Final, (and as it turned out the mighty Hawks featured again) I had requested an afternoon job at YUM. I was allocated to the finish line. As per YUM tradition I decided to dress up. I went with the Snow White costume I’d recently worn to a Disney-themed 21st. That night had been bitterly cold. This day couldn’t have been a greater contrast. Unusually hot for September, and windy as, I was glad I’d stuck to my guns and not been talked into running!
From the time I arrived earlier than planned at 10am, to the time the first finishers started to come through (the first in a gobsmacking 4 1/2 hours!), most of our efforts were concentrated on stopping marquees, flags and cups from blowing away! (I was so glad I had worn my Skins shorts under my verging-on-indecent length dress… otherwise modesty would have been out the window! Thanks to fellow dresser-upper and MC extraordinaire Karen for the wardrobe tip!)

I spent most of the day on Coke duty… if I had a dollar for every runner that said, when I offered them Coke, “I never drink Coke… but YES PLEASE!!!”… well let’s just say I would have had a nice little pay packet that day!  I had to be the bad guy on several occasions and tell people they couldn’t get any Coke for their kids… that was for runners only, and even so, we still ran out for a while… you should have seen the disappointment on the runners’ faces when that happened! There was also LOADS of food which I did enjoy (there was WAY too much and we ended up having to throw a lot away) and, fortunately, given the weather conditions, no shortage of water.

I got to see a lot of my friends finish, and for some it was their very first ultra. I couldn’t get over how happy Tania and David were to join the ultra club… for months afterwards, you couldn’t mention Yurrebilla to Tania without a massive smile lighting up her face!

I stayed until the end – YUM is not over until the last person finishes – and then helped pack up before going to the traditional post-YUM buffet dinner.

It was such a fantastic experience and I knew right then that I just HAD to run YUM in 2015.

This year I’m taking every opportunity and taking in all the advice I can get, to ensure my best Yurrebilla experience. When it comes to trail and ultra running, I am a sponge! I am lucky to have a lot of very experienced trail and ultra runners around me who are more than happy to offer words of wisdom… it’s a fantastic community! I went to a dinner recently with a small group of YUM virgins (and some not so virginal!) with race ambassador Tymeka Warburton who gave some really helpful advice including a lot about nutrition (probably one of my weakest areas). What really stuck in my mind was what she said about slowing down in the finishing chute and just taking it all in, and actually remembering it! For someone who has a tendency to break into a full sprint when the finish line comes into sight, that will be a big change for me, but I know I will do it! I get chills just thinking about that moment!

I’ve recently also completed the first of 3 big training runs, which combined, make up the entire course. Once I’ve done all 3, there will be no surprises on the day! (I’m yet to decide if that is a good or bad thing!) Beck, Grace and I (plus a whole lot of faster runners we didn’t see much after the start), set off just before 6am to complete the ‘back and out’ of just under 36km. It was such a great morning, the weather was perfect, great company and the surroundings were stunning! I can’t wait for the next run… it will be hard to resist doing another ‘back and out’!

And now for the unsolicited plug. If you’re thinking about running YUM and don’t feel you’re ready to tackle it this year, I strongly recommend that you either go support someone you know who is running it (I’m happy to accept any support I can get!) or put your hand up to volunteer. It’s an amazing experience and trust me, if you’ve got any inclination to run it, after experiencing the atmosphere, you will be hanging out for next year’s event!