The race report follows, but I guess it makes sense to start at the beginning…
I warn you now – this gets long. Get a coffee (maybe a beer is more suitable?) and strap yourself in.
WEEK 16/16 (MON 3 NOV – SUN 9 NOV)
MON 3 NOV
AM | 37min / NIL VG / 7.5km / easy stroller run
Easy stroller run with Van. Just moving the legs.
TUE 4 NOV
AM | 1hr9min / 275m VG / 8km / group trail run
GCTR group trail run at Currumbin. Really cruisy pace this morning with plenty of breaks.
WED 5 NOV
THU 6 NOV
AM | 2hr38min / 200m VG / 13.6km / very easy long trail run
Not the ideal taper run...marking the course for the BTRS so it was slow, hot, dry and not particularly useful as a last run pre-Blackall. Did I mention I was out in the sun for 2.5hrs? Not ideal, but it could be worse...I could have been sitting at a desk!
FRI 7 NOV
SAT 8 NOV
AM | 5hr26min / 1540m VG / 50.8km / trail race
The Blackall 100 and my first DNF...see below for race report.
SUN 9 NOV
Spent recovery at the Brisbane Trail Running Series.
Running | 9hr51min / 2025m VG / 79.9km
Cross-training | NIL
Total time | 9hr51min
>> RACE REPORT <<
“My first DNF! Before you ask - I'm fine - but it will make a good blog read...the short version - physically I was doing really well, but my mind didn't want to run 100km today. Disappointed I didn't finish what I started, but I'm pretty comfortable with the decision at this point in time!”
Judd Adventures Facebook account, Nov 8 2:51PM (Race Day)
So that opinion has changed a little, but it still basically holds true.
I’m not going to go into the details of the run itself as you can find that information in other reports or online. Needless to say it’s a pretty course - there was a fair bit of bitumen which doesn’t inspire me much, but the trail sections were mostly quality singletrack.
What interests me most about this event though is how I was feeling, both physically and mentally, and what led me to jump in an air-conditioned car at 50.8km (about 52km according to course markings).
What was an air-conditioned car doing on course? We’ll get to that.
I sat myself in around 3rd/4th/5th place (along with eventual 1st female and 2nd overall Shona Stephenson, and Brad Bartsch who is a strong and seasoned ultra runner who also DNF), running at a decent but restrained pace for the first 22km. This section included two not huge, but big enough descents and ascents, on which both occasions I let the other two get away from me on the descent and made up the ground on the ascents. I Iearnt two lessons from The North Face 100 - save my quads on the downhills and hike quicker on the uphills – and I was executing perfectly. I was hiking on the ups and easily catching and then maintaining contact with my two new running buddies. This was perfect.
At CP2 (22km) – which was back at the start/finish area – I came through and saw my wife (who was crewing for me) and our 2 kids and quickly changed over my bottles for new ones. At this stage I was cruising and feeling excellent. Not sure what happened, but that soon changed…
Literally 1km out of the aid station, my head went down. Physically I was still just sitting in my zone. I’d run myself a little bit ahead of Brad and Shona (I’d see Brad a few more times before the next checkpoint, but I didn’t see Shona again) and was moving well, but for whatever reason I was off it. Sub-consciously I’m not sure if seeing my family got to me (that certainly wasn’t going through my head at the time), but in any case I started to look for excuses to stop. I should add too, this isn’t so easy to do when your body is feeling really good!
It’s hard to explain, but Forrest Gump gave it a good crack:
This would happen for the next (almost) 30kms until my escape clause showed up. We’ll get to that.
Skipping a lot of the details, there was a big long descent into CP3 (41km) on which it got really hot – not that this really bothered me as I don’t mind running in the heat – and my headspace didn’t improve. It’s worth pointing out that my MOOD was fine – I was chatting happily to the 50km runners that I was now catching up with – but I just couldn’t get the idea that I wanted to stop out of my head. It was a weird place to be in mentally – I’ve not been there before.
At CP3 I refilled bottles and quickly got out, ready to tackle the long ascent that started from there. It was the final time I saw Brad who was reaching into an ice-bucket when I saw him last – so I was now in 3rd.
The ascent was long and hot, mostly on big long switchbacks, but I was hiking comfortably. It was that grade (douche grade is the term often used!) where I probably could have run but was happy enough to power hike – again, the lesson learnt from TNF (where I gave up a lot of time hiking too slowly) was still sticking with me as I was easily passing 50km runners at this point with only the very occasional jog thrown into my stride.
Physically, I was still in cruise control.
By this stage however, as I was passing 50km runners, many of whom were acquaintances, I was telling everyone I went by that I was ready to pull the pin, almost willing someone to give me permission to do so. Needless to say, everyone did the opposite and encouraged me, but it didn’t stop me asking/suggesting/pleading. By this stage I was somewhere around 47/48km and was still someway off CP4 (60km), so even though I was looking for any reason to drop, I still had some hope that by CP4 I’d be out of my mental spot and ready to get on with the back half of the race in a positive frame of mind.
Not far on from here I caught view of the runner who I knew to be in 2nd place. I closed the gap quickly – again, always hiking – and was content to sit behind him for the time being. He looked spent, so I was confident I could take off from him whenever the urge struck (hint: it didn’t). Around this time I was also toying with the idea of ducking off trail to go to the bathroom, but for now I kept on running, leaving a small gap between me and 2nd place ahead.
Now. Remember the air-conditioned car?
So at 50.8km on my watch (which I estimate to be around 52km on the course markings), I jogged out onto an un-manned and un-announced water station at a road crossing. I wasn’t expecting to see this, as I didn’t think there was anything between CP3 (41km) and CP4 (60km). 2nd place was there, filling up his bottles and I jumped in line to fill up mine.
I was STILL feeling physically really good.
And then I saw a good friend of mine who was running in the 50km, one shoe off I think, getting himself into a silver SUV. Some back and forth revealed that he’d torn his calf on the way down into CP3 (41km), and had hiked himself out to this point to be collected by his wife. In their silver SUV. With air-conditioning.
Now if we were to replay this incident 100 times over, this situation wouldn’t happen again. It just wouldn’t. His calf wouldn’t have torn, he’d have been well gone by the time I hit the road crossing, and there would certainly not have been a silver SUV (a FRIEND’S SUV…with air-conditioning) sitting idle at the roadside just at the moment when I was looking for an excuse – a sign even – to pull the pin. So, as you have probably guessed, I made the decision to press stop on my Suunto Ambit and hop in the back seat of their car (with air-conditioning) and hitch a ride to CP4 where my wife was waiting with the kids for me to come running through. To be fair to myself, I did have a fleeting moment of “do I or don’t I” before I pressed stop on my watch and on my day, but it was only fleeting. By the time we got back to CP4 I was positively jubilant – I drove into the checkpoint like a king in a chariot, and then quickly took my shoes off, lounging on a rug and enjoying being outdoors (the irony of which is not lost on me).
I am in NO WAY placing blame on anyone else for my getting in that car. I was looking for an out that day – for 30km I might add – and the universe finally gave me one. Who says you can’t manifest stuff if you focus on something hard enough!
On reflection, there are obviously things I would do over if I could.
Am I disappointed I didn't finish what I set out to? For sure. Have I looked back and questioned “what if”, especially given how good I was feeling physically? Absolutely. But all the would, could and should in the world can’t change my decision now.
The thing that sits least comfortably with me though is how easily I let my mind override what was a willing body. And in that lies my greatest lesson.
In every endurance event I have run, I have always gone into them *saying* to myself that “things will get tough, and that’s why you are doing it”. I CHOOSE to run ultras primarily from a desire to push my body (and mind) to its limits and to force a response. I get a kick out of seeing what I can get out of my body. I think perhaps though, for me, it’s always been more about the physical response as that’s what is most obvious (my quads hurt, my feet hurt, I’m overheating, my gut doesn’t feel right,…), but when it got tough mentally I was ill-prepared, which was so apparent when an easy out was literally driven in front of me (with air-conditioning).
The biggest lesson going forward will be to accept that things will get tough in some way – physically and/or mentally – and I have *control* over both situations. I relish the opportunity to run another long ultra and to fall into that same mental headspace: I can tell you now that The Blackall 100 of 2014 will be the last time I ever DNF an ultra race because my head has given up. I may DNF with a rolled ankle, distressed gut, possum attack, drop bears etc, but I will never again pull the pin because my head is out of the game.
So – where to from here?
It would be easy at this point to sign up for another 100km race in the near future in an attempt to “atone” for my “failure” (not that I really view it as such). But I already have a pretty solid list of to-dos for the first half of 2015 so I’m holding off for the minute. That list includes the difficult Shotover Moonlight Mountain Marathon (on hilly trail), a 50-100km adventure run for mid-April (more details on that in the next week or so) and sweeping at The North Face 100.
I also have a couple more requirements that my long ultras need to tick in the future:
- Do events that excite me. And I mean really excite me. This is in no way to disrespect the B100, but I didn't prepare with the same enthusiasm for this run as I did for TNF100 in May. This was perhaps a consequence of having run TNF100 earlier in the year – I think if Blackall 100 was my main goal race (as TNF100 was), the DNF wouldn’t have happened. The B100 is a good race, and I will be back.
- I'm picking epic runs in epic places - whatever the distance may be. This relates back to the previous point.
- It must fit with the rest of my life. With Those Guys Events we’ve had our own events most weekends in October and November (including one on the Sunday morning – with 3am start – the day after Blackall!), so it’s made for long days fitting in work and training. If I had my time over, I wouldn’t be in heavy training with the same heavy workload. Did I also mention I have a 3 year old and a 4 month old?
And perhaps most importantly:
- I will make a pact before the race begins that (barring injury) I will finish, no excuses. I will make my crew, and anyone else I know who will be there, well aware that they are not to assist me in dropping unless my health requires it. Seems simple, but I just hadn’t made that covenant with myself for this race.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, similar experiences.
If you’ve got to the end of this you deserve another coffee (or beer). I can’t give that to you, so here’s a kid that HATES sandcastles.
See you out there – Juddy