Brisbane Trail Ultra 110km
I went into this race wanting (needing) to trust my body. After 8 months of feeling somewhat disconnected with the flow to which my body moved, I thought I would be ready to see where I was at or more to the point, to see how far I had come since suffering the effects of an Achilles tendon issue late 2018.
Stronger after Injury
I often read athletes stories, posts and experiences about coming back from an injury and being stronger, faster and in a better place than before their injury happened. I wanted (needed) to write this story for myself BUT it seems I’m not ready to write that story just yet.
My body is almost recovered from the Achilles strain but it is not yet healed and I am still searching for flow – or maybe something else that I am yet to realise.
I had entered the Brisbane Trail Ultra 110km in March because I wanted to run at least one race of this distance in 2019 and in all honestly, I thought given my Achilles started playing up in October 2018, July 2019 I would be well and truly over the injury and able to tackle this race with all my determination, skill and vigour that I have had in previous years of racing. I was wrong, well except for determination, I needed this skill to get me through this race.
Entering into the Unknown
Being the inaugural race, I didn’t know what to expect. I had the numbers for elevation, a profile map and detailed description notes but what I didn’t have was first hand knowledge of just how undulating, brutal and relentless this course was. Ignorance was not bliss; it turned out to be my hell.
A year ago, I may have looked at this course very differently but as of the 6thJuly 2019, I wasn’t physically prepared for the hurt this course offered me.
The Hurt Locker
I started hurting very early on into the race; it wasn’t so much a physical hurt although it did take me around 15km to feel somewhat comfortable with how my Achilles was feeling but even then, I wasn’t sure if there was actual pain or if it was my mind reverting back to the pain I feel I have become very accepting and to a certain degree very comfortable with. The pain at this stage seemed more mental than physical and this started to concern me.
I had anticipated getting to CP1 (15.6km) in around 90mins however I was already 20mins behind schedule and from here my timings blew out considerably. I either accepted where I was at or continue to fight making the whole experience of this run a mental battle resulting in a physical handicap. In the end, I settled for half way between the two.
I adopted my counting meditation practice, count from 1 to 10 in a block of 10 trying to get to a count of 1000 – I think I made it to 500. Counting allowed me to focus on the numbers alone; 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 not focus on the descents or ascents that kept presenting themselves. Towards the end of this race I yearned (yelled) for a flat runnable section, I craved flow, I craved confidence in my ability to plan and execute a goal, I craved the knowledge that I knew how to run and run with pace. I craved something I just wasn’t able to have.
I frustratingly let my guard down around 85km into this race as I was racing towards CP7 (93.7km) knowing I had to be at this checkpoint before 8pm. This is the point of the race where I started to fall apart. According to my original timings, I was meant to be at this checkpoint around 5:30/6pm. The time on my watch was now 7:48pm when I ran into the checkpoint.
Letting my guard down
The strength I work so hard on was wavering, I couldn’t quieten down the mind, I couldn’t stop the storm brewing in my heart and mind, I had failed myself, I could no longer be calm and composted. The language resinating from my mouth shocked me, I hadn’t been so brutally honestly with my weakness for a very long time – I needed to take a moment, I needed to work on my strength and as distasteful as it sounds (and sounded to me) I needed to ‘be as hard as fuck.’
For a short time on the trails I felt like I had failed, I was at war with nature and she was not giving me kindness because at this time, I wasn’t giving her any either. But then I reminded myself, I had finished Oscars100 in February in worse shape than this so I could finish this too. I started to look at the sweeping trails I was running with beauty and the respect it deserved, I asked kindly for a sign, a sign I was near to where I needed to be and then I saw it, I saw the light (thankfully a street light).
The final stretch
I could have easily hitched a ride at 100km for I was happy to get to this distance and be done with it. But this is not how I roll. I had prepared my thumb for a lift but retracted it as I believed I could get the job done. I actually enjoyed the last 10km, the change of scenery, of pace was welcomed. I was running urban trails, hard concreate and my feet appreciated it.
Unfortunately, I was feeling a pain in the front of my left ankle which I have never felt before but I kept telling myself ‘your legs are not broken, you can run’. And that I did. A welcomed call from my coach, Kellie telling me I was doing good, I had this but I might just need to get my maps out in order to find the finish line without taking unnecessary diversions due to markers being down might be needed. For the first time in a long time, I felt I had clarity, I felt I knew where I was going, I knew I was going to finish.
The strange this about this race despite the hardship experienced I always knew I was going to finish. There was no point where I questioned my ability to grind it out, I had working legs and a determined mind and despite both feeling a little weak, I was able and this is all I needed to tell myself. You can do this. You can fucking do this.
Motivation to finish
I couldn’t help but think of the book I had just finished reading the day before this race, Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins. The word that stuck with me for this race was ‘callous’. Every moment of this race I was developing a new strength, I was developing a callous for the mind, a layer that helps propels me up a level in this endurance world.
This is what 2019 has been about, it’s been about hurt but it’s also been about developing a strength that I could not obtain any other way than in endurance races that test me both mentally and physically.
Focus on the positives
This race has left a mark on me, I went to war with myself but in a way came out the other side albeit a little broken. During the course of the race I felt peace, flow, frustration, anxiety, anger, way too much adrenaline, relief and numbness. Days later I still feel numb, I am trying not to feel disappointed but unlike the 85km mark I will be kind to myself and focus on the positives:
- After 8 months of fractured training I was able to complete the 110km distance
- I felt somewhat confident descending the knarly climbs
- Despite feeling weak, I felt I could hike the shit out of the mountains
- I didn’t fall once not even when descending all the verticals
- My newly developed navigation skills paid off, I didn’t get lost once
- Fuelling strategy worked
- No blisters (although a small amount of chaffing but nothing compared to in the past)
- Managed to smile throughout the race, well 95% of the time
- Support team were nothing short of amazing
- I have 100% track record to date for finishing an endurance race
I choose to do these distances; some people thrive in a marathon distance but for me 100km+ is where I find my comfort and uncomfortable zone. I enjoy the challenge most of the time but what I enjoy the most is the growth. With each race I grow not only physically but mentally and this is what I am most proud of. It’s this growth that is helping me develop as a human being, it’s making me feel human. I am more connected. Connected with nature and me.
I hurt in this race but I wouldn’t change anything about the experience. The Brisbane Trail Ultra team created more than a race, they created an experience and as the saying goes ‘the evening knows what the morning doesn’t’.
Be more informed
To read more about the Brisbane Trail Ultra, click here.