Surfcoast Century - Race Report

Well I did it. My first 100km trail ultra is done and dusted. In short, it was an amazing experience. This is how it unfolded.

I stayed down with my wife, kids and sister in a nice house a short distance from the race. A pretty chilled evening, some simple pasta and disappointing loss in the AFL prelim. In the middle was race registration and briefing. Signing in had me feeling nervous for the first time, but I soon relaxed after catching up with a few people. Though it played on my mind I couldn't check and recheck my drop bags after I handed them over, even though I'd already checked them at least ten times.


The sleep was a little disturbed, but that's no problem. I'd slept well during the rest of the week. Up early, liquid breakfast, coffee and a selection of stretches and movements had me feeling loose and ready. Soon enough I got my way down to the start. The weather was brilliant. Bright blue skies, plenty of sun and a light cool breeze. I couldn't ask for a better day. I felt relaxed. Another round of catching up with people I'd met over the years and then it was start time.


Leg 1: Coastline Crusade 0-21km

Off and running across the fairly hard packed sand. I felt good and the running was easy. Soon we left the beach and took the smooth trail up for a bit. I was surprised how hard some others were working at this point. This forced me to check my own effort level. It seemed about right. A short downhill allowed me to open my stride. I relaxed and pulled away from those who up to now were with me. I was going to use the descents today.


A bit before the 5km mark we came back past the start line on the beach. Then it was about 16km left of Leg 1, mainly all along the sand. The views along here were spectacular. Rolling waves to the right and cliffs rising 50-70m on the left. It was good running interspersed with technical fun over rocks. At one point we have a choice of running up over the point on trail or taking the rocks. I chose the rocks. That was by far the slow option. Those that came with me agreed to take the trail if there was a next time.

The soft sand of Bell's Beach had been talked up as pretty unpleasant for running. To be honest I didn't think it was too bad. I altered my technique to a higher cadence with much less drive off through the foot and accepted the pace would just have to be slower. This seemed to work. A little look at my footprints showed they were only half as deep as the others around me. I was thoroughly enjoying it so far.


Right on 2 hours brought the first 21km and Leg 1 to a close at CP 2, Point Danger, Torquay. The atmosphere here was great. Plenty of supporters, team mates of the relay runners and race volunteers were working hard to make sure we had whatever was needed. I changed out of my wet and socks into a clean fresh pair. Grabbed a new bottle of my fuel mix, topped up my hydration bladder with water and slapped on a hat. I made a point of approaching each of the three main check points as relaxed as possible. I didn't want to rush and miss anything. Just calmly do what was needed and then get moving.

Leg 2: Ironbark Basin 21-49km

Out of the checkpoint a quick hello with the family. I mentioned I may have gone out too quick in the first leg, but I'll see how things go. With that in mind I pulled back my effort a little to make sure. I was ahead of any schedule I worked through before the race, so taking it easier now was probably required.



The trail up above the beach here was easier running. Smooth, non-technical and undulating, it made for some relatively quick moving. I checked my dashboard: nutrition was good, calories were right in the sweet spot and sitting well, energy levels were good, legs were a little sore bit feeling good, effort felt okay, hydration was low. I was drinking a fair bit more water than I have in any run over the last few months, but the sun and the temperature was well above anything recent. I believed I had been a little light on the fluid intake.

The trail turned into a fantastic single track weaving its way through the hinterland. Here I found the rhythm and style I enjoy. There is just a good feeling running with the ebb and flow of this sort of trail. For most of this section I was by my lonesome. Only a couple of relay runners came past. While feeling good I would have to pick this section as when the pain in my legs first started. It was expected at some point but still pretty early for it I thought.

Leading into the small water point of CP 3 at the 32km mark we had a couple of short pinchy climbs that warranted walking up. They were runnable outside the context of a 100km event. It was in this part a few position changes occurred. I past a couple of runners but was also past by a couple others. A quick top up of water and right back into it.

Next came a variety of trail. Mud pits, narrow single track, smooth fire trail and some rougher, but wide 4WD trail. A few ups and downs. It was through here the race gradually got harder. The walks up the steeper pitches became more of a necessity rather than a choice. I still moved quickly downhill, but the landings were starting to hurt a fair bit. My nutrition was still going in, but not as easily anymore.

Approaching the near halfway point there was a great section of technical, twisting, but flowing downhill single track. I loved it and got absorbed in the descent. Then a small section past the camp ground, down some stairs, across the sand and river mouth. Back into Anglesea at CP 4. This second major checkpoint brought up 49km.

Leg 3: Currawong Falls 49-77km

I grabbed my drop bag. Had a shirt change, fresh bottle of fuel mix and a top up of water for the bladder. A bit of assistance from Mick made things smooth. I was definitely on the fast side of any time schedule I'd worked out, so was happy with this providing the concept of a buffer for a good finish time.

Over the exit timing mat and a quick chat with the family. My wife gave the insightful encouragement to keep going "but not too fast." I was feeling beat up already, but was still moving well.

We had to cross underneath a bridge to get to the other side of the Great Ocean Road. It was a fairly tight crawl space and I found myself alternating between hands and knees with crab walking as each position caused something different to cramp. I was happy to stand upright and start running again. A short flat road/path section and then the trail left the built up area to start gaining a bit of altitude and head into the fun of the Otway National Park.

Here the climbing started. A wide red dirt/clay path went up steeply, then got steeper. No running here. The other side went down nearly as steeply, but it didn't have the same fun early descents had. I now had to really concentrate to run well. The legs were threatening to misbehave and I was feeling behind on my water intake.

Another steep climb and the trail was now some awesome single track. Undulating but gradually working down the valley to Currawong Falls amongst the tall forest contrasting against the sand and hinterland that the majority of the race had been. I felt hot, I needed to take in more water, but as I attempted this I got nothing from the bladder hose. I was out of water. That wasn't good. Was I drinking that much more, or did I stuff up filling the bladder? I don't know. What I did know was I was on the toughest part of the course with the longest distance between checkpoints without any water and I was already feeling dehydrated. Still to arrive at the upcoming 6km climb it was then a further 3km to reach the water at checkpoint 5 at 70km. I guessed that would be 90 minutes away. Not a great situation.

Damage control. There was a good chance I could get myself in real trouble here. My race falling apart was likely if I didn't manage this well. So backing right off was now a necessity. This meant walking any uphill (especially the 6km climb), walking the flats and just very easy running on the downhill. The only liquid I had with me was my fuel mix, but it was made to quite a high osmolarity that it wouldn't help my hydration. This highlighted another problem. Getting in any calories was going to have to be absolutely minimal. My fuels required water to be properly absorbed. Already having run over 55km and dehydrated, my gastrointestinal system was going to have problems. I slowed down and just made sure I was still moving. My headspace was a constant battle with the negatives. Eventually I reached the start of the 6km climb. The ascent wasn't overly steep, just long. Struggling to focus I think I almost stepped off the edge a couple of times. At some point on the climb I noticed I was no longer sweating. After what felt like forever I reached the trig point. Just before and just after the top some solo and relay runners all came together.

I convinced myself the remaining 3-4km to water was all downhill and started running again. Each step on my right foot brought increasing pain to the right of my abdomen that soon had me doubling over. That eased the pain, but it reoccurred when I started running again. Some more runners caught up during these episodes. One woman was descending very well and I took her lead and followed. The pace was relatively quick, the abdo pain returned and I tried to just push through it. As it turned out that was a good move as the pain gradually subsided while I kept up the running. The single track then widened and we ran side by side and reached the 70km checkpoint.


Water, water and a little more water. There ended up being 6 of us who had run out of water during those last 21km. I sat down for 10 minutes to give my GI tract a chance to start working. Downed a Red Bull and then back on the trail walking for another 10 minutes where it felt like my digestion had kicked in. No longer feeling hot, and  felt kind of refreshed. I eased back into a run and took in some more water, calories and sodium. I couldn't stomach my fuel mix, so took in a gel instead. My pace built back up over the 7km to the last main checkpoint. My legs were struggling to lift, but my head was working again and my energy levels were somewhat back up.

Leg 4: Lookouts and Lighthouses 77-100km

The major checkpoint felt like it was buried deep in the bush, as if nowhere near the coast. While far from the number of people back at the end of Leg 1, the atmosphere here was pumping. I picked up my drop bag and took a seat. I was leaving this point with extra mandatory gear, so I had to get things right.   The ambos who had finished their part of the relay assisted me a lot here, along with a race volunteer. All I had to was tell them what I wanted and it was done, while I ran through the gear check with the race official who made sure I had my first aid kit, thermal blanket, windproof jacket and the extra for the late stages of reflective vest and headlamp. Back on my feet and over the exit timing mat. Strangely I struggled for a few seconds to find the clearly marked trail out through the small car park.

Back into single track that was mainly gaining altitude. A mixture of running and walking depending on the gradient and I was feeling pretty good. It was only a collection of kilometres  ago that I couldn't run this type of terrain, so I was back in it. The single track then gives way to wider unsealed roads and 4WD tracks, that has a lot more climbing that I appreciated from the maps. Getting the calories in was now very unpleasant. My usual fuel mix was intolerable and the gels and carbohydrate tablets were going in with protest. The espresso gel, which I normally love, was now one of the most vile tasting things I'd eaten. I felt as on top of my hydration as I could be. The only real problem was the distance of the race was now showing its head. The strength in my legs was clearly being sapped. Various muscles functioned strangely and sporadically. I could see keep up with a the run/walk mixture, it was just a lot harder.

The sun was now getting pretty close to setting as I ventured closer back to the coast. I put on my reflective vest and headlamp (switched off) ahead of time, just while I was thinking about it. Another bridge crossing under the Great Ocean Road. This one had a lot more space, but the angle of the slope and the fact this was roughly 80km or so into the race made it a very difficult task. I shuffled into CP7 at 86km. A minor checkpoint in terms of just having a bit of fluid and very small selection of food to stock up on. Major from the point of view it is the last checkpoint before the finish. My family were here and pointed out that I was definitely going to finish. As happens in long races, I then got a little emotional. Made sure I had enough nutrition and water to get me to the end and continued on.



Past the Aireys Inlet Lighthouse and for a short time it became easier mentally. A burden was lifted knowing, I wasn't far from the finish. However close those last 14km are, they became a very long 14km. Along the cliff tops day quickly faded into darkness and I ran the smooth single track by headlamp. The concentration of keeping on track and picking any steps or trip hazards filled my enough to keep me from thinking about anything else. Down for a short beach run, then up and along the shoulder of the Great Ocean Road. I knew this was only 1.7km, but after what felt like at least 2km, I started becoming paranoid I'd miss the turn off. Surely I had run too far. Turns out I hadn't, I was just moving very slowly. Then down for a long stretch of sand running. Just a little softer than the first section, but in the dark you can't see the end. There aren't the reference points the narrow trail had provided to gauge your speed. Here it felt like I was hardly moving, despite working hard. The sand seemed to suck more out of every step and my mind tried hard to convince me to stop.

After what felt like I lifetime I was very happy to reach the stairs and head back up. Some more winding trail above the the sand, and again I could get completely absorb in just the act of running (and walking and anything that half looked like a speed bump). A dip back onto the beach and it took me a while to realise this really was the last section.

I made my way across the sand, gradually a line of glow sticks came into view. Once I worked out they were leading around the corner into the finish shoot a huge wave of relief hit me. The pain and fatigue vanished for those last few hundred metres, but I don't think I got any faster. Bright lights soon glared back at me and I could make out the finish arch. I crossed under, immediately greeted by my kids, followed by my wife and sister. I was absolutely stoked. My first 100km was an amazing experience. The time didn't really matter, those concerns are to be thought about with some time and space away from the day. I had finished and I managed to impress myself with how I handled the day. For reference, my finish time was 12:26:01, 9th in my category M20-39.


Of course the race wasn't purely a solo effort. So a massive thanks goes to Kristy for helping make the training happen and putting up with my early starts and talking on and on about running. Thanks to all who offered support, advise or encouragement along the way, whether through my blog, Facebook, coolrunning, in person, in the lead up and during the race itself. Rapid Ascent and all involved, especially the volunteers put together a perfect event. It definitely sets the standard.

Comments

  1. A brilliant effort. The event lived up to the spectacular pictures of the course. The photos of you on route were not quite as dramatic as the publicity shots, but conveyed a very enticing image. You account was vivid – especially the description of the waterless 9Km in leg 3

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    1. Thanks canute1... I will have to say being out on the course lived up to the publicity shots. A beautiful place to run.

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  2. Well done Jason. Enjoyed reading that. Great descriptions of the running conditions and scenery. Not that I'll make use of any of your tips though - there's no way I'll ever attempt a 100k race! No doubt you would have finished in a faster time if not for the dehydration problem. You managed it well though. Perhaps there's a Western States 100 in your future?

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    1. Thanks again Ewen. I agree there was a probably a faster finish time without the dehydration problems, but it does come down to how I managed myself, equipment, hydration and nutrition for the event. I made the mistakes, so my time is what I got for how I attacked the event. Same as for stuffing up pacing in a race.

      Only attempt a 100km if you want to do one. Everyone finds what they enjoy the most. I'll have to say I am keen to tackle this and other similar events again. So something like the WS100 would be awesome. Of course there are a number of good offerings within Australia too.

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  3. WOW! What an effort. managing to come back from dehydration? Incredible.

    And fantastic pictures too.

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  4. Thanks Tea. Yeah, I was pretty happy with what I managed to do (or get away with).

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  5. Do you mostly compose only for your blog or maybe for any other online or offline networks?

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    1. At the moment, mostly for my own blog. I have dabbled in some other stuff a long time ago, but am always open for new ideas or opportunities. Did you have something in mind InfinityOfIdeas.

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  6. Good on you Jason. A great reference for those of us tackling the 2nd year of this amazing run.

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