30 Jan Running 100kms…well that turned out to be a long way.
It’s just before 6am on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin on this chilly morning. Its the 13th of September 2020, I am about to start the Sri Chinmoy Canberra 100. A 100km trail race, a truly beautiful loop that takes in most of the peaks within the ACT. Ignorance is bliss.
2020 has been a strange year for all, for me it has given me a push where I needed it and the blessing of time with my wife and two beautiful boys. It has also had me find running in a new way. While I took up the past-time again in early 2019 it wasn’t until March 2020 that I really found out what it meant to me. Running is equal parts movement and meditation, it is space for my brain to unpack or an opportunity to learn. Today I am running with no podcast, no music, just myself, a few friends checking in and a long path ahead.
We start off around the flat shores of the lake and head towards the commonwealth avenue bridge. I am full of enthusiasm, focussed on managing my pace and not taking off too quickly, aware that this is only the beginning. I have been running a lot since March and really enjoy the feeling, my body feels great, legs feel light, and my head is clear. The Running for Resilience mantra in my head, “Just. Keep. Moving”.
Over the bridge, up to Parliament House and along Melbourne Av, arriving at the bottom of Red Hill. We’re on trails now and I am looking forward to it. My plan from the beginning is simple, I don’t know much of what it will take but no running up hill, run the flats and jog downhill. Don’t get hurt. As we reached the bottom of the first hill I noticed my shoes were feeling tighter than usual (I had added an insole for some cushioning over the 100km) and my feet were starting to burn. I thought to myself that’s ok, it will pass and headed off up the hill.
After 15km I reached the second peak at the top of Isaacs ridge, feeling great the confidence was high. The view over Canberra was great and the weather couldn’t have been better, a light cloud cover making for very comfortable conditions. The first leg ends halfway down Mt Taylor. Arriving here I was a little ahead of my target time and feeling very good, I knew that energy was going to be everything at the end, so though not feeling hungry, I made sure I ate plenty and got some electrolytes back in, refilled my camelbak, quick shirt change and off I went. Leg 2. James, one of my mates, had come out to meet me here and I saw him and his kids as I ran down the hill, it was great to see them and the enthusiasm they showed helped build my own.
Working my way around the back of some of Canberra’s Western suburbs I encountered a few hills that I hadn’t anticipated to be so tough, all my focus pre race had been on the big ones, Black Mountain, Mt Stromlo and the two at the end, Majura and Ainslie. These “little” ones though were proving to be steep and a little tricky on the way down. Still though the body felt good and I was in a great headspace. I came to a few long flat stretches on the way to Stromlo, and I really started to notice my feet, they were hotter then I have felt before and the burn was making these long flat periods tougher than I anticipated. Working hard to keep moving at my goal pace and taking in lots of water. As I reached the bottom of Mt Stromlo this feeling faded, I had run here the week before for a bit of practice and was actually looking forward to heading up the hill.
42.2km down as I hit the peak of Stromlo, to this point I had never run a marathon (I had been in uncharted territory since 31km), while this may be a tough way to complete your first marathon I was stoked with my effort and charged down the hill.
At the bottom we returned to roads and footpaths around the back of one of Canberra’s recently built suburbs, the sun had come out, and the ground felt hard compared to the trails I had been enjoying. I knew round the other side of this was the end of the stage, this is the first point it really felt like hard work. Coming up the hill to finish the second stage my dad was there keen to chat and help me regain some energy before heading out again, it was great to see him and again I loaded up some food and electrolytes, filled the camelbak and got ready to head out again. Unlike the end of the first stage I had now gone beyond the point of feeling any pressure to rush.
Heading out, eating a blue dinosaur bar and starting with a walk as the gatorade settled in my stomach, I checked in on the time, just 10 minutes behind where I had wanted to be, what a great feeling.
Then reality dawned on me, if that’s 52km done, I’ve got to do it all again.
Feeling for the first time that I had a long way ahead of me I started out on this leg pretty slow, round the back of the Canberra Arboretum was tough. As I came over a rise to see Black Mountain tower seemingly just down the hill though, momentum surged and I ran on ahead, feeling the boost in energy I had started moving at target pace again. As I reached the main road separating me and Black Mountain a cruel twist had my path turn sharply left and away from where I wanted to be heading.
Turns out I had a few km of flat to cover before crossing the road.
After getting through the underpass we turned right again and started heading back along the flat, my mindset had changed and I was now desperate to just be going uphill.
64km down and my wish was granted. Up the hill we went, thoroughly hurting physically and mentally now I sent a message out to my support who had been patiently waiting for me to check in again. A few responses of positivity helped to lift my spirits and I pushed on up. It was a long slow slog getting to the top, the feeling of only having 2 peaks left though was pretty special.
As I headed down the other side the feet were thoroughly burning again and my legs were a lot tighter. I had expected this leg to be tough and as I came off the bottom of Black Mountain I had some long flat stretches ahead of me. Ditching the insoles to free up some space for my swollen feet and deciding my joints would just have to handle the rest gave temporary relief and I returned to a gentle run until coming back onto the footpath.
The next few kilometres that took me to the end of the third leg felt like a lifetime in a very lonely place, I had lost about an hour on my target now and was mentally drained.
Scott, one of my mates, was kindly volunteered by his wife to join me for the final leg, as I saw the tent and him waiting with my dad who was there with more supplies. I thought to myself, You’re so close now, just a short 23km trot with a mate and you’re home. Loading up on electrolytes and struggling to force some food in, dad filled the camelbak for me, and that was it, Scott and I set off with a jog.
300m down the track I hit the brakes, “let’s just walk it out for a bit, the body’s starting to feel it”, he happily obliged and we tried to keep a decent pace without breaking into a run. From this point on the best I could manage was a shuffle, Scott did an amazing job of chatting to a somewhat delirious version of myself and that was all I needed to just keep moving. Heading up the hills now felt great and it was the experience of coming down that was causing me my struggles.
Over the top of Mt Majura and down the ridge. From here if you head along the ridge to Ainslie it is not far (I had run it also the week before), but that’s not where we were headed, instead the track dropped steeply off the ridge and down the other side. Darkness started to settle in and without the support of all those involved on the day this may well have been the end for me.
Instead we managed to keep pushing along, and keeping the pace (whilst walking) steady. As we headed into the next water station I heard a familiar voice, Brendan who had intended on meeting me at the finish had decided to backtrack the course until he found me, more support had arrived and again I felt the mental boost. I knew I would get there now and together the three of us made our way up Mt Ainslie.
Reaching the top and the final peak was a great feeling Lisa and Lauren were there to meet their husbands and cheer me on. All we had left now was the steep descent down the other side and then less than 2km to the finish. The downhill hurt. I had many pauses but at this point I knew my dad and wife were eagerly awaiting me at the finish line.
I came round the final bend back on the shores of the lake, my dad was there waiting, a feeling of pride hit me, we ran the last few hundred metres together and then, that feeling of crossing the finish line to my wife.