Hmmm…could it be that when things actually go to plan there’s not all that much to say about them, even when they represent an enormously significant personal achievement? Perhaps.
My last note about the GNW100 miler was two years ago, when I had far more to say about not completing the full distance and instead opting to record a finish in the 100km event. I declared that a part of me was still out there on the trail somewhere, and indeed it felt that way until this weekend just gone, when I returned to finish the job.
But in some ways there’s not that much to say (and don’t worry, as a result I won’t say too much) because to a big degree I felt that the outcome last weekend was inevitable. This wasn’t because I was confident my body wouldn’t fail me; on the contrary, I went in fairly confident that I was going to be managing a couple of key issues right from the start, which is what transpired.
The outcome was inevitable simply because I knew I was not going to give up – because I knew mentally I did have the will power. That determination was partly driven by the feeling I was left with from my previous attempt. In the two years’ since that failure, my perspective of it has changed dramatically. At the time, I was disappointed but not overly surprised, as I went into the race ‘injured’ and pulled out injured. As such, I blamed the injury.
But long afterwards I was haunted by the look of complete incomprehension on the face of Roger Hanney, a fellow runner who was volunteering there, when I told him I had pulled out and why. Without going too much into it, Roger is someone who in any given race probably has a million better reasons to pull out than me, or at least one really good reason, but he Just. Doesn’t. Give. Up. – including in some races that are WAY tougher than anything I’ve ever done. Since then I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on his reaction and the circumstances, and reached the conclusion that it was a mental failure; that I let myself down.
And since then I’ve had two years’ more experience running some pretty tough races, often despite experiencing physical issues that were equally as bad: Cradle Mountain Run, Bogong2Hotham, UTA100 – I wanted to retire during all of them, for various reasons. For instance, that knee ‘injury’ that brought me unstuck at GNW two years ago is one I’ve carried ever since, just learning to manage it and also to deal with the pain.
I have learned how much further my body can be pushed, and how much harder my mind needed to become to be able to go there. By the time I toed the line at GNW this weekend, failure was honestly not an option. I was saying to my eldest daughter a couple of days before I left about how many hours it might take me to complete the race, and she commented “Unless you pull out again”, to which I told her I would at least have to lose a foot, and even then I doubted I would stop.
Such was my focus that I didn’t quite experience the level of highs and lows I had been expecting in such an epic journey. I had some great highs along the way (and on that final stretch of beach), true, but the energy lows or lack of focus I expected to be up against whilst alone in the bush through the night never eventuated, because I never stopped thinking about pushing on as hard as I could. My focus never strayed from the finish line. I barely used any of my caffeine or the special energy shots I had in reserve. There was no crutch.
- I ran when the course was runnable (which unfortunately is not a huge percentage of the course – even when the elevation profile suggests good running, it’s often too technical for anything but fresh legs), not once glancing at my pace, just going as steadily as I could without feeling I was exerting much effort. On reflection, I probably went slightly too hard for the first 100km, where I came in ahead of the woman who finished second in the 100km race – for me that was a bit rich;
- When it wasn’t runnable I hiked, or at least kept moving – later, even though my running was still strong, my walking speed was probably slower than desirable, perhaps due to that slightly rich first 100km;
- I did what I needed to do at the checkpoints and didn’t let myself fall apart, although looking at the splits I could have had a much better finish time had I been more efficient – with a support crew I could have saved at least an hour, I reckon;
- I focused on my form and fine-tuned my gait/posture/breathing in response to pain or stitches;
- I had a gel every hour and ate at least something more substantial at each checkpoint, which was the plan. I drank to thirst and carried more fluid on the longer sections;
- I didn’t once question the pain in my knee, calves, ankle and hips, or consider any other outcomes than running along Patonga Beach to the finish.
So I finished. I succeeded. But I feel like I succeeded before I had begun.
Here’s to hardening up!