At the Sri Chinmoy event back in 2019, I remember Jamie Hawker cheerfully describing the folly of expecting a top result or PB every time you line up for an ultra. People think they can, he said, but it’s always going to be tick, tick, cross, tick, cross… Cheers, I said wryly. After two decent 24 hour races, that’s really encouraging to hear when I’m heading off to a World Championships for the first time.
He was right though. The 2019 World Champs in Albi was amazing to be at, but tough going, and ultimately ended up a big fat cross. (Recap: A few tricky factors coincided, for anyone interested (cue TMI). I accidentally glutened myself the night before and my period was due, neither of which helps structural integrity in the toilet stakes. And I was taking the Stacey Sims supplement cocktail to help PMT which can be good, but I think in retrospect that my stomach wasn’t loving the aspirin. Then there was lingering effects from a virus that they would certainly not have let me on the plane with if it was this year. (Remember international flights?) Anyway, I paced ok in the heat but struggled early with the stomach and keeping food down, eventually succumbing suddenly to a NOPE from the body and collapsing under a table some time at night. I remember Marcus’ brother Tristan asking tentatively at one point if I would be heading out to run again, and getting quite the withering glare from me for even suggesting such a horrifying thing. (Sorry. I did, but it took a few hours.) However, it was a true privilege to represent NZ again with the team and our super-crew, meet lovely people, chat with the best in the sport, and see them in repeated close-up action, like Camille Herron setting a world record. How many sports allow that?)
The reason I mention the Albi race is that I went in yearning to give the event my very best effort but ended up with my very worst result, which in retrospect had knocked my confidence more than I realised. Maybe that’s a sign I’m done on 24 hours, said the critical voice. You get perspective, you move on, but there’s something niggling.
Roll on 2020, and planned races cleared naturally off the calendar, including Ring of Fire, potentially competing in India, and Ultra 24. I still dithered on entering the 2020 Sri Chinmoy race in fear of crashing again. The way to get my head around it was to embrace it as a risk-free experiment. In Albi I wanted so much to do well that it got progressively more stressful when issues arose, which ultimately shut me down. This one is a ‘chill the heck out’ race I decided – take plenty of time to fix things, focus on a relaxed attitude, and have fun. Oh, and a PB would be nice, of course.
So come November 14th, there I was. As I got to the track, Marcus had a gazebo set up with everything in it you could want, inspired by the international experience in Albi. This is the life! Even at 8am though, heat was radiating oppressively off the track. I much prefer cool weather running, but after encountering high temps in Taipei and Albi, I thought I could get through it if I was careful.
It was great to have lots of Hamiltonians there alongside me, and to catch up with old and new friends on and off the track. Garry and Ants from my running club Hamilton Hawks were dipping their toe into the loop game. (I think they were a bit traumatised though. Sorry guys. Please come back next time.)
Running and chatting ensued. One of the fun side events was seeing whether you could get the cups in the bin after having a drink (no). I would also have failed on ice buff construction as a test, as it ended up throwing the cubes all over the track to trip people up. All the karmic blessings to Tracy for handing out iceblocks. (I asked Marcus about possibly tracking an ice block down if he went to town, and then got handed one randomly by Simon on the SAME LAP.)
I’d said cheerfully from about 2pm onwards, ‘Only another hour or so, and the heat should drop!’ Yet even at 6pm it was still hot. Optimism fail. I was managing ok, with regular water over the head, a crop top, a wet towel or buff, ice in the cap, and slowing down a bunch. My first 24 hour had a 100k split at 9 hours 30 and this one took about 11 hours.
‘Hey Marcus,’ I queried in the early evening. ‘Is it bad when my pee looks like Coca Cola?’ ‘It’s not great.’ he agreed. I’ve seen people affected by rhabdo and was nervous it might be that. But I was feeling ok otherwise, so sculled half a litre of Nuun and cautiously continued, pee monitoring closely. It gradually moved back to normality. (And then stayed freakishly clear for the remainder, despite periods of minimal hydration. Bodies are complex.)
Emotions can be close to the surface in this type of event. I kept welling up a little bit at small things, like pride in how well the whole women’s field were rocking it.
A bonus of a slower start was running consistently and fairly happily through the night. 2 or 3am is always hard. Music is something to look forward to and the shuffle delivered well.
With all that fatigue and emotion swirling, a good Heart chorus can be akin to a religious experience. Even Alba’s faves were hitting the mark – who knew Anna from Frozen II was an ultramarathon guru?
Can there be a day beyond this night?
I won’t look too far ahead
It’s too much for me to take
But break it down to this next breath, this next step
This next choice is one that I can make
(Sidenote: Elsa gets the catchier numbers but that one’s surely the emotional heart of the film?)
I’d had this thing in my mind that part of my experiment would be to fix the stomach rather than get to vomiting stage. It was a great plan, for 18-19 hours. I’d slow down, take time, feel better, and run again. In many ways it was the best my stomach has ever been in a 24. But then I couldn’t fix it, and got stuck in a bit of a rut trying. Nausea is insidious. Even if your legs are ok, your body doesn’t want to do anything. It can be harder to push through than soreness.
Remember the ‘chill the heck out’ approach though? You could say everything went according to plan, because I basically did what I set out to do and maintained equilibrium. It was, overall, a really happy race. Except, no PB, and a sense I left something on the track. (Not as much as I left over the Albi fences though, hoho!). Which is where the mindset thing gets interesting – I guess it’s a trade-off, and needed to be part of the plan that at X point in time, you ditch the calm and patience, moving from self-preservation to self-obliteration. If it even feels like an option.
Bevan Docherty on my accommodation’s wall knew that pain now beats regret later. Fiona Hayvice knows too, and was relaying an encouraging message to this effect by social media. I agreed entirely – and still couldn’t make myself care enough to get through the queasiness. Something to work on. Tips welcome!
Running fast in the last part is bittersweet, I find – a sign I should have gone further! But it was great to have Andrew challenging me near the end to exceed his 191k PB, offering something fun to focus on. On Talk Ultra recently, Camille Herron mentioned that her husband Conor had done the same with Scott Jurek’s PB to inspire her to a record in Albi, so, pretty much same diff? Sidenote: I left my hair out because I like it that way, and figured I could channel some Herron speed via the hair. But I think she might use product.
Maite and Keith were a particular inspiration in the end, running strongly to great totals. I loved seeing Jaime and Mgcini get their milers. Finally the end came, and the bliss of stopping. 196km. Hugs, prizegiving, family, and a congratulatory song.
The next day I could still walk. It felt wrong. Shoulda run harder! But I’d also had time to offset the mild regret with the positives. I ran a solid total, and came third overall, in a good field. Got the NZ women’s title. Avenged the Albi bogey, mainly. If there is an opportunity to go to another championship for NZ, I have a strong qualifier for consideration. And best of all, I had fun. I was happy and relaxed a lot of the time, and really appreciated the cool conversations and connections. If I start naming names I think it’d be the whole field. There’s this quite lovely mutual admiration society amongst participants where you’ve been through a Thing together, and thus shortcut the usual social processes and go straight to kind of loving everyone (platonically). (NB, I hear that getting drunk is an easier way to do this, with fewer blisters.)
Plus, it was genuinely interesting to try out some different things in a no-pressure home environment. I’ve always thought I wouldn’t consider multi-day runs due to being a wreck after one day, but if taking it a bit easier changes that aspect, it’s on the table. Or at least tottering on the edge..
Big thanks to Marcus from Daws Osteopathy for giving up so much time and effort to help me and other masochists run in circles. Thanks too to Trek’n’Travel, who kindly sponsored me with some Roam, Tailwind, and clothing. I feel very fortunate to have such great support! And thanks to the Sri Chinmoy team who always put on special events. Especially the kind people who made me food on request in the middle of the night.
Postscript: I figured that flat urban training would segue nicely into the hilly miler at Tarawera Ultra 2021, so that’s next. Wish me luck.
Cool video by Remove the Need