Surfcoast Century 2013 - Race Report

I'll start by giving away the ending. This was definitely my best race ever. It goes beyond that initial caught up in the moment reaction, I dug deeper and got more out of myself than I thought was possible. The result was I smashed the race with a result I am absolutely stoked about. This report is how it unfolded. It isn't whole lot of number crunching, heart rate analysis and dry facts. That isn't how I raced. Here's my attempt to convey my best day of racing.

Grand plans and big goals initiated my training months ago. Having covered the 100km in 12:26:01 last year, I was thinking I could slash that down towards 11 hours. The training did not go as expected. No runs longer than 40km, and not much over 30km, plus quite a few gaps. I was genuinely worried about my ability to finish let alone be happy with my time. In the final two weeks I spoke about running sub-12 hours with the full size beer stein as incentive. Honestly, I didn't believe that was possible at all. Going faster than last year wasn't even on the cards is what I thought. Yet I still decided to start with optimism and aim for under 12 hours. I worked through the numbers, came up with a plan based on this and gave my a family expected times at the checkpoints based on this.

Was I nervous? Shit scared really. I was happy to have the experience to just accept that, plus a few other distractions to keep me occupied. I didn't sleep well on the night before, at least I'd made sure to get more sleep than usual during the rest of the week.

10, 9, 8, 7......

The start time was dependant on the tides to allow us to safely get between the surf and cliff in some sections. That meant we were on our on at 5:30am, about 45 minutes before dawn, or 16 minutes before first light. Just after a full moon and a lack of cloud gave some extra light and we could have gotten away without a headlamp, still I started with one. Nice to have some confidence about where you are stepping.

I started close-ish to the front, so as not to get caught up with the main pack, but allowed the fast guys and relay runners to stream off ahead. A little 4km loop along the beach then up and over the cliff top trail brings us back through the start line. Now with enough light I flipped my head torch to my sister (allowed here). Then it was 17km worth of mainly beach running up to Torquay. It was still cold, and I was happy I decided to wear a beanie, gloves and shell jacket.


Most of the sand was fairly hard packed, so the running was good. The constant camber may show up issues later. I felt smooth and comfortable. I checked my heart rate a couple of times, but decided that wasn't going to do me any favours and never looked at it again for the rest of the day. The sunrise cut multiple swathes of colour through the sky and it was just a perfect start for a run.

This year I took the high option through Red Rocks and it was definitely faster than the rock scrambling of last year. Soon enough it was up the stairs into Checkpoint 1, at Point Addis. I cruised up the steps, taking the opportunity to remove my jacket, gloves and beanie and get them in my jacket. On schedule and feeling just right increased the level of relaxation that I carried back onto the sand. A mixture of rock platforms and slippery seaweed challenged my footing at times, and brought me down on my backside at one point. All this fun delivered me onto Torquay Beach and the screaming cheers my kids from the cliff was an awesome way to enter Point Danger and Checkpoint 2. 21km knocked off. A quick change of drink bottle and top up of my water bladder meant no time was wasted here.


Leg 2 started two minutes ahead of schedule and I was feeling good. I reminded myself I didn't have to do anything special at this stage. Keep the running smooth and limit any excessive peaks of intensity. The beauty of the next few kilometres is you have plenty of lookout views back across the multiple beaches you have run over. Underfoot is a smooth, undulating gravel path that makes for some relatively quick moving. Back past Bell's Beach my legs were already reminding me about my lack of long runs and it was only about 26km in. Nothing I could do about that, I had my plan and I was going to see where that takes me.

The trail then becomes awesome. Flowing and twisting single track, a few hills and feeling a long way from the beach when tucked in the hinterland. Down and up the Jarosite Track was a lot shorter than I remembered. The family and supporters were very vocal at Check Point 3, 32km. From here to the next check point back in Anglesea was where I knew I had to push a bit. Hills, and sweet, sweet single track was all runnable, but also easy to drop my bundle. My legs felt smashed already, and I wondered how long it would be until I was in the death shuffle. At least everything else felt good. I fought the battle with my legs. They were very used to any longish run ending by now, and just didn't seem to be dealing with my hard headed approach. My mind won the battle and I was quite happy with the quality of running I put into this section.

Back onto the sand, a few wet steps across the river mouth and I was into the so-called half way mark back in Anglesea, Checkpoint 4, 49km. I grabbed my next round of nutrition and ensured I fully refilled my bladder. I wasn't going to run out of water this time. High fives with the kids and a few words with the family as I headed back on to the course a good 12 minutes in front of my plans and 15 minutes faster than last year.

Leg 3 is described as the crux of the course in the race information, and I'd have to agree. Starting with a crossing of the Great Ocean Road. The trick is we go underneath the road, with just enough space for crawling. I was forced into a crab-walk as my hamstrings wouldn't handle a normal crawl. Then we head into the fun.

My legs felt like they had run a hard marathon, every step was felt deep in my muscles and seemed to accumulate every few metres. The negative thoughts kept flicking through my mind and my usual techniques of positive reinforcement and thought stopping just wasn't working. I was being broken down and I could tell that at the start of the first climb as I made those false run strides that really don't take you forward. I had to accept where I was and come up with a solution. Relentless forward progress flicked in the periphery of my thoughts, but that concept certainly wasn't enough. Just moving at a slow pace was going to drive me out of the race. I searched through my bag of tricks, I worked through my dashboard:

  • Nutrition: pretty good, I'm getting in the carbohydrate/calories at the right rate without any real problem despite having to alter what I'm taking in. Don't freeze Vitargo S2, it doesn't thaw well.
  • Hydration: intake seems to match my expectations, no dry mouth, no sloshing in the guts and urine output is okay.
  • Injury: nothing standing out despite all the pain.
  • Headspace: struggling and negative
  • Technique: breaking down
  • Legs: some of the deepest, most intense pain I have experienced. Muscles not always doing what I expect, loss of overall power, but if I am concentrating hard enough I can make them do what I want.
The foundation of my current problems was essentially my legs and the related mindset I was now in. For an ultramarathon, everything else was tracking well. Change was necessary. I needed acceptance accompanied by productivity. I remembered what my all my best runs before today so good. It wasn't how fast or far they were. It wasn't necessarily where they were. It was how I felt about them and a big part of that was my mind. It is a state I have termed moving meditation. Luckily I was able to find that state again.

Moving meditation is not an absence of thought. Instead I let each and every thought move through without trying any technique to stop or counteract them. They are what they are, and I refrain from judging them, and more importantly I do not dwell on any of them. Now I was open to just do what I could to make the most of my physical state. It is a freedom, that allows me to be absorbed in the moment. I am still aware of what is ahead of me, but it no longer so daunting. That was my acceptance.

The hills became bigger, longer and as a result just what I needed. As things got steeper I moved into a power hike, similar to the Nordic style until the gradient became excessive and it was a forward lean and hands on thigh work. The intensity was up, but it gave my legs a reprieve from the pounding and allowed me to maintain running as the ground flattened out. "That's some good strong walking," was a compliment I received as I matched a climb with some relay runners. A rare occasion where being complimented on my walking actually exists let alone could be good for my ego. On the downhill I relaxed and let gravity do it's thing. I was in form here and made up some ground on those around me. On the flats I was running, but it was slower than the first half of the day, but I was making the right sort of progress. This was my productivity.



Back into the single track and this is where things fell apart last year. Not this time. I was hydrated and still had enough water. My headspace remained okay, yes my legs were doing more than I have asked of them before but I was moving. Into Currawong Falls and I found myself running through the key points I really wanted to. It was a good boost and brought me to the start of the 6km climb to the highest point on the course. I walked this last year, but this time I defied my body and ran most of the way up to the Trig Point. A few walking steps were thrown in to keep me running the rest. At the top I was spent and just wanted to lie down. Instead I remembered my race notes for the next 3km descent, suck it up and fly.

This downhill is probably my favourite section on the course. The trail is narrow, it twists and turns and the footing is challenged by rocks and tree roots. I was in the zone, my technique was spot on and it just worked. It was only at the bottom I was reminded how much my body was trying to break down. Not worry, I was now at Checkpoint 5, 70km. The family were all there, my wife was surprised with my choice of a Red Bull, but I am a coffee drinker and I'd been travelling for a very long time without caffeine. It hit the spot.


Seven kilometres of steepness made for a slow section that brought me to end of Leg 3 and into Checkpoint 6, 77km. A restock on nutrition and fluid and a happy realisation I didn't have to take my head torch with me. I finished the leg about spot on for my prerace hopes, and given the time I'd already banked earlier I was ahead of schedule overall. Sub 12 hours was a definite possibility.

Leg 4 started with a steady climb. For me was a mixture of power hiking and something that resembled running. My mind was still good and was forcing my legs to do what I could, but my body was definitely trying to shut down. There was not longer any air time in my stride, even downhill. I was also playing the fine line of balance with getting in enough nutrition to keep going, but not taking in too much to cause my stomach to stop doing its work. That window had narrowed to single calories instead of being a range.

Up and down without much grace. My arms and shoulders were hurting, my back seemed to have lost strength and I wasn't handling the impact of down hill running. Each time my left foot hit the ground my big toe jammed, my shin felt like muscles were being torn off the bone, plus my right leg wasn't much better. After hitting a very steep descent on a short bitumen road I realised I had tears streaming down my face. Then things flattened out and my running was failing. I tried to hold some form of reasonable posture, but it was carnage.

Another crossing of the Great Ocean Road. Again underneath, but this time there was standing room, just along a narrow ledge and steep rock wall. I felt broken as I stepped back up onto the path beside the road. It seemed real that my 12 hour goal was slipping away. Little did I realise at this point I was only a few hundred metres from Checkpoint 7 despite it being in view in front of me. Another minute passed before it dawned on me.

My family were here. The kids were going ballistic and I was reminded this the final checkpoint before the finish. 86km done, 14km remaining. I tried to work out my times, but I didn't trust my maths. I got the family to give me the numbers. Turns out I was still on ahead of the plan and just needed to cover the bit in 2 hours to earn the full size beer stein. I had covered it in 1:56 last year. They pointed out I only needed to keep going at my current pace (which wasn't all that good) to meet my goal. They were right and it was exactly what I needed.

Up past the Airey's Inlet Lighthouse, through the undulating cliff top trails and I managed to run more that I really should have been able to. The outside of my left calf started cramping on all the downhills, but not bad enough to stop. Eventually I landed on Urqharts Beach. 3.5km of running on sand. Last year it was in the dark, this year with daylight at least I could the end of it. The sand wasn't too soft, but it was slow going. I found my calf kept cramping and I was forced into a walk/run routine to keep going. As it turned out the running had to be faster than I could maintain, any slower I cramped, but I needed walking breaks otherwise the rest of my legs failed.

Thanks to Julie for the photo below. The little black dot on the beach on the right is me. She positioned herself on the stairs leading off the beach. These were steep and a perfect spot to watch the suffering.


Once off those stairs it was a short stint across the cliff top trail and then back down onto the sand. These closing stages was a continuation of the run/walk, but once I hit the sand I made sure I held onto running. It looked like a fast burst to the finish, but in reality it was the only way I could move through the soft sand. Toes down, digging in, leg lift and higher cadence. The markers turned me around the corner and there was the finish chute. Off the sand, a bit of concrete path and the grassed finish. The pain of my whole body flooded over me, but it didn't matter, it was worth it. My time.... 11:46:07.



Comments

  1. Such a brilliant effort. A well executed plan. Well Done and Congratulations. I have read a lot of your posts from last years race and about your preparation. It must be extremely satisfying to prepare and plan and be successful. Once again, Well Done!

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  2. Thanks heaps Aaron. It certainly is very satisfying, I am still on a high from the race.

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  3. Fantastic achievement Jason. You had to dig deep into the bag of tricks to find a combination that worked. Great time for 100 over difficult terrain too. I know a bloke who had a very tough day out at the Centenary 100k - when things go wrong they go badly wrong over that distance.

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    Replies
    1. Sorry for the delay in reply Ewen, I missed your comment for some reason. Thanks yet again. The day was tough, but for me, nothing really went wrong. As you put it, I just had to dig deep into the bag of tricks.

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  4. Sorry I was late to catch up with this. Congratulations. A great run and a great description. Interesting evidence that lots of long training runs are not essential, though it is likely that a few more long runs might have reduced the musculoskeletal distress during the event. But as you demonstrated mental techniques can deal with the musculoskeletal distress – provided overt injury does not intervene.

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  5. Canute1, I think you are right. The long runs aren't as essential as most of us tend to think, but I'm sure more kilometres would of had me feeling better for longer. I think extra distance in training also give more margin for error. This time I pretty much had to get everything right on the day. I managed to do that and ended with an awesome result.

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