It was precisely three hours and twelve minutes into the race, bang on the 39km mark. The Christchurch day was clear and warm. The pace was on track, averaging 5 minute ks as planned. A lap earlier I’d taken the lead for the first time, although all three of us in the women’s race seemed well-matched, staying close and steady throughout. Nutrition was working. I’d thoroughly enjoyed running with Wayne Botha for a while as he completed his pre-Comrades tune-up.
It was a buzz to see the Christchurch Achilles athletes and guides frequently as we trundled around our 2.5k triangle towards the distant grail of 40 laps. I wanted to do a secret greeting gesture or code to indicate Achilles guide fellowship from faraway Hamilton but nobody’s taught it to me yet – I probably have to hang around another few years.
Go Achilles! I called out cheerfully each time, GO ACHILLES! And seconds later, as I turned the corner, my achilles went. (This coincidence amuses me slightly. It did not at the time.)
Previous achilles issues for me have been slow, nagging issues, that develop with time and often ease with the right stretches. This one hadn’t bothered me at all, training included, until it suddenly bit in with a vengeance, pulling me up short. Over the course of three stretches and 200 metres, the sinking feeling in my gut took root – that’s it. Race over.
As runners, we tend to know our bodies well. The race team were wonderfully buoyant and optimistic, offering massage, heel raises, and strong encouragement to continue. I hobble-walked another lap to clock a marathon and see if the pain would ease up enough to continue. It was all like:
(If you haven’t read the Oatmeal on running, I heartily recommend it).
And with that, I had my first DNF (did not finish). I was particularly disappointed to pull up just before Carl and Alba arrived – they’ve not yet seen me in action at a championship event and we’d made an effort to come down as a family. DNF can feel a bit anti-climactic, and…nothing, especially when your sights are set on surviving the next 60k. There’s all this thwarted unreleased energy swirling around.
Cue some deep breaths, a couple of self-pity tears, and then some re-focussing. These things happen sometimes. I’ve had a lot of great luck at races too. There’ll be more runs.
Stopping meant I got to sit around and eat a lot more of the delicious Sri Chinmoy food than usual – the roast kumara pieces were excellent dipped in leek and potato soup. It was cool to see Susan again, who I’d met at the 24 Hour, and hear perspective-giving stories of her challenging 10-day race in New York (woah). I got to see the 100k unfold from a spectator perspective and marvel from a different angle on just how challenging it is, the intricacies of individual experiences as you see people evolve each lap, and how strong you need to be to get through it. It was legitimately exciting too, wondering how it would pan out. If you haven’t watched a loop race like this happen before, and especially if you have a voyeuristic fascination with drawn-out human perseverance and suffering, I highly recommend it. Congratulations to Larissa, Wayne, Shannon, Dave, and all the other tough participants. Big thanks to everyone who helped me out or cheered or had a chat, Sundog Running for the programme, and to my club Hamilton City Hawks for the travel contribution
We loved seeing Angela, Steve and Thomas again – cheers for having us! Next day, Alba was lethargic and blah so our sightseeing became lying on the couch all day but at least we had a great place to hang out. Adrenaline kept the injury functional on Sunday but come Monday onwards, I couldn’t bear weight on it at all. Roll on the airport wheelchair!
Why the injury happened, I don’t know, other than that my calves were tight and the surface was hard – neither of which has got me at that race before. After my 24 Hour hip issues, I’d put more time into foam rolling, hot yoga and strengthening, so felt more prepared rather than less. It’ll be another thing to consider and add to the learning for next time.
Two points of interest. Chatting to Larissa, I learned that Australia have quite achievable A, B, and C qualifiers for the 100 Worlds, and it would be great to see NZ using that model too. Interestingly, it’s easier to qualify for 100k there, but tougher for the 24 Hour.
Second (unrelated) thing. I vaguely thought I needed to see my GP to do the ACC thing for a more painful injury and score some crutches etc, but I could actually have gone straight to Daws Osteo (they even have crutches). So bear that in mind if you’re unfortunate enough to be wondering, and save some $!
In summary: shooting for a big goal includes risk. Sucks to DNF a race, but it wasn’t all bad, and will make future highlights more special.