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Going Ultra

To this day I’m still not sure what inspires me to do long distance running. I never liked it as a kid and was never very good at it. And when I get asked, ‘why do you do it to yourself’ I don’t have an answer.

In 2015 I started with City2Surf and have since run in a half marathon and 3 marathons. I guess the natural progression is an ultra-marathon and while I decided not to enter a specific event as I wanted flexibility on the date I would complete the run, I did choose to set myself the challenge of running the whole way (65 km’s) without stopping.

Training for this distance requires more time than a marathon as 3 – 4 months is usually enough to prepare for 42km’s but an ultra requires 6 months, especially as I had let myself go since my last run in September 2018.

Last year I had some chronic back issues that took 6 weeks of physio and special exercises to recover. 2020 just wasn’t the year for this run even though it was the original plan. 2021 had just begun when I finalised my plan and over 6 months, I was going to transform my body and mind.

By the end of the training, I needed to be running 70+ km’s/week. But it isn’t all about running either, your legs will keep going but if your core strength isn’t where it needs to be, your form drops as the fatigue kicks in, and the chances of injury increase drastically. Something I had learnt from previous runs.

Fast forward to the day of the run and while there were some setbacks over the 6 months’ (sickness and injury), I was ready.

Final Preparation 

With the latest Covid restrictions, the final route had to be adjusted multiple times. To be honest, I was lucky this could even go ahead as I live in the Penrith LGA (Local Government Area), but not in one of the suburbs that have the strict lockdowns in place. With the route finalised it was time to plan the nutrition. Over this distance I was likely to burn between 6,000 and 7,000 calories so ensuring that you are fuelling yourself is critical. Another lesson I had learnt the hard way from a previous run which meant I barely made it to the end of the race. Carly (my wife) loves to write lists to stay organised so we both worked together to plan out what I needed throughout the run, so she knew where to meet me and drop off the supplies.

  • Running Gels 
  • Powerade
  • Peanut Butter and Jam Sandwiches
  • Pringles
  • Water (in case the 3 litres in my CamelBak ran out)
  • M&M’s
  • Red Bull
  • Sunscreen
  • 2 X Bose sports buds (the most important tool for mental endurance). 1 pair wouldn’t get me to the end, so I borrowed Carly’s 

We decided that 20km’s, 36km’s, 51km’s and 58km’s would be the drop off points and calculated how much I needed to carry so that I could consume between 200 – 300 calories an hour. This doesn’t add up to what I was going to burn but your body can only absorb this amount so there isn’t much point in eating/drinking anything more then required. Especially as it is difficult to digest solids when most of the blood in your body is focused on the muscles that allow you to run.
All things were set for the 6:30 am start and on the way there we got to see the most amazing sunrise which Lilly and Layla (aged 9 and 5) loved.  

Stage 1

I ran off with everything I needed to get through to the 20km mark. The first kilometer flew by in just over 5 minutes and straight away I realised I needed to take my foot off the accelerator as that pace would surely cut this run short. The nerves and adrenaline are to blame and something that needs to be controlled if you want to avoid falling short. I had spent a lot of time preparing the music as this is the biggest advantage when things get tough. I deliberately selected more relaxed tunes for the first half of the run, so I didn’t get carried away. 

I was running a 4 km stretch back and forth through Luddenham as this was the only way to stay within the unrestricted LGA. After 5 trips, I would reach the 20km mark and was delighted to see Carly, Lilly and Layla waiting there with supplies. Lilly was ready with 2 Powerade bottles and we had practiced running together like a relay to transfer the various items. Layla was further up with 2 running gels and a sandwich. Unfortunately, it didn’t go as planned as I took too long to get the Powerade bottles into my bag and although this was the point that I turned around, Layla didn’t realise and thought that she had missed me. On the way back I passed her, and she was really upset but I was still able to grab the fuel and keep going. I felt for her but had to keep running off as she stood there in tears. I knew she would be over it soon, so I refocused on the run and tried to relax as it was still early days. I reached 21km’s shortly after at a time of 2 hours and 20 seconds. A little disappointed that I didn’t break the 2-hour mark for the half marathon, but I was way ahead of time, so I didn’t let that thought linger for long. Negative thinking doesn’t mix with a challenge like this.  

Stage 2

After another 4 laps I would meet the team again. Carly and the girls drove past and beeped the horn getting my attention. I was about 3km’s from the next drop off point and on came one of my favourite tracks released this year Ben Böhmer – Beyond BeliefsNothing beats a good tune for taking your mind off the pain that is slowly creeping in.  

Over this section I thought of one of the quotes that inspired me during the preparationEliud Kipchoge who I had recently watched win gold in the Tokyo Olympics and become the greatest long-distance runner of all time, says that teamwork is more important than anything else. 

“Unless you are a genius, it is impossible to train on your own and achieve the same level of results,” Kipchoge said. 

“My best philosophy is that one percent of the whole team, is more crucial than 100% of myself, that’s teamwork. 

“I value teamwork more than anything else,”  

Eliud Kipchoge’s 

This time Layla was first with the fuel and things panned out much better. Although I did drop the running gels so had to pick them up on the way back. At least it was smiles all around. Carly finished by giving me sunscreen which was important as the sun was already starting to kick in.  

Stage 3

Now it was time to complete the final 2 laps up and down Luddenham before I could head up the Northern Road towards Penrith. This was a great milestone to reach mentally as I had been going back and forth the same stretch since 6:30am and it was just after 10am now so I was really looking forward to some new scenery. It was also the section that I would reach 42km’s which meant that everything beyond that point was unknown territory. I had never run further than this, but I was still feeling good, and my pace was still consistently under 6 minutes and 30 seconds per kilometre.  

As I passed the 42km mark, Arty and Matt Zo’s – Rebound came on. Another track that I knew would lift me mentally and it did the job. But it wasn’t much longer before things started to get tough. 

I was coming up to the hardest section of the runBradley St leads into Glenmore Park and is a very long and steep hill. Before reaching it, I felt a blister pop on my left pinkie toe and from the pain shooting up my foot, I knew it was a bad one. I needed to regather my form as this was making me run with a limp which will only lead to injury. I managed to regain control by the time I hit Bradley St and now the focus shifted to the hill.  I had eaten my second sandwich around 20 minutes earlier as I knew this hill would sap the energy out of me. Eating food while running was something I had practiced in the longer runs throughout training. Not a very enjoyable experience but you can’t survive on running gels and Powerade’s alone over this distance.  

I made it to the 51km mark, and this time Carly restocked me as the girls played at a parkPeanut M&M’s seem like a strange thing to eat during a run, however, during my research I had seen this come up a number of times.  They are loaded with carbs, protein, fat, and caffeine so are supposably really good. I wouldn’t know though as I couldn’t stomach them, and I am glad I didn’t as they may never had tasted the same.  

Stage 4

“2 more hills” was the thought in my mind as I started the next stage. My legs were gone now, and I knew my form was dropping. The pain in my shoulders, neck and back was really intense. Just as I finished the second hill another blister, this time, on my right pinkie toe, popped and sent me into a dark place. I was also getting sharp shooting pains down my left hip which was something I had experienced during my training but never had I experienced so many different pains hitting all at once. This is when mind over matter really counts. I knew none of these pains were from serious injuries and that my body could push on, even though my mind was screaming out otherwise.

I refocused on the music playing and tried taking slow deep breaths to keep my heart rate as low as possible. As I reached the end of Glenmore Park, I knew I still needed to get through Factory Rd. A long straight from Regentville down to Nepean River that had been brutal during my training runs. Because the road isn’t very wide, every time a car passes, I needed to run on the grass which was not at all flat and wreaks havoc on the knees and ankles. I could see smoke coming from the Mountains from the back burning that was planned over the weekend. It was a surreal moment where my eyes were playing tricks on me, and things didn’t quite look normal. It is hard to describe but almost as though everything was happening in slow motion. Another track came on (Sean Tyas – Banshee) which took my mind away and allowed me a small moment of relief. I had finally reached the Nepean River 

The Final Leg

As I ran past the restaurants by the River, I thought about the original plan to enjoy a meal and some drinks with friends and family. Of course, this was no longer an option with the lockdowns but the thoughts of friends and family and all the people who had shown support in many ways really helped. I ran up to the final checkpoint and Lilly and Layla were standing there together with smiles on their faces. Carly started running beside me and handed over some Panadol, sunscreen, and a can of Red Bull. A moment of emotion took hold, but I didn’t let it show as I didn’t want Lilly or Layla to be concerned

I washed down 2 Panadol with the Red Bull. I hadn’t drunk Red Bull in years; however, it was surprisingly refreshing and helped to relieve the nauseous feeling in my stomach. One lap of the river was remaining (just over 6 km’s) and it was time for the final challenge to kick in. The heat from the sun was intense and I hadn’t been able to train at this temperature, so I wasn’t used to it. To top it off, the smoke from the back burning had settled and there was very little shade or wind to provide any kind of relief. I was getting a few strange looks from people who walked by, they were probably wondering why I was still running when the pain was obviously consuming me. I didn’t care though as I knew it would soon be over.  

3km’s left and my pace had dropped to around 9 minutes/km. So less then half an hour before I could finally stop and rest. It was all coming to an end. 6 months of discipline and dedication had led me to this point, and I took this time to think about our beloved black Labrador (Borris). Animals bring so much joy to our lives, and I am so grateful to be able to raise money for RSPCA Australia 

Along with the support shown by friends and family, I am truly lucky to work at a company (Exigo Tech) that sponsored me, and it filled me with motivation knowing that everyone of my workmates was cheering me on.  

Going Ultra is a mindset that can be applied to anything in life, whether it is work or personal, and I hope this story inspires people to push themselves beyond what they feel is possible.  

Thanks again to all who contributed and helped raise over $2,100 for all creatures great and small. 

 

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