Thursday, September 26, 2013

Toughing it out at the Surf Coast Century

“Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it's less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you've lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that's good.” 
― Elizabeth Edwards

As the quote alludes to, this race was pretty much the contrasting opposite of my last 100k race, back in May at TNF100. It was probably a very timely reminder for me to never to take this ultra running caper for granted, and there definitely can be such thing as 'too much of a good thing!' My own high expectations make me reflect back on this race, not so much as me racing it, rather me finishing it. Completing and not competing would probably be more fitting. It was a day however, that I probably gained more from than a day when it all comes together nicely.

Turn back the clock a bit...

I was offered the trip down to Surf Coast Century after TNF100 from the event organisers, Rapid Ascent. Since I heard about the race last year, and having experienced the similar GOW100 last year, I was keen to get back down again to this lovely part of the world and run this spectacular looking race. I accepted the offer and plans and bookings were made. I was very keen to knock out a great time and all things pointed this way. The course has only a relatively small amount of climbing (1800m), there are lots of fast, runnable sections which suits my strengths and there was a cracking field assembled which would ensure we had to bring our 'A' game. Then I got the invitation from Inov-8, my main supporters, to Japan to race the Hakuba 50k; and suddenly I was in a predicament! Only 6 days after Hakuba was SCC!

How much Hakuba took out of me? Well I'm not going to venture there. I'm glad I did things the way I did and wouldn't, even with hindsight, change a thing. It's given me a hard test, probably knocked me back into reality and retaught me how hard ultras should and can be.

Leg 1: The 'faking it' leg
The stunning first leg!
The race started half an hour before sunrise, to coincide with low tide, consisting of 21km of hard sand running along the beaches of the Surf Coast, such as Point Addis and Jan Juc, all the way along to Torquay. I call this the 'faking it' leg as I was doing just that. The legs were ticking over pretty well and weren't complaining too much. Without any real testing sections it was always going to be fast and furious and I had a great time running under giant sandstone cliffs, over rock ledges and reef platforms, avoiding rock pools and through channels and inlets. Andy Lee and I ran most of this first leg together at a pretty descent clip. I can't describe to you how beautiful and unique this leg is! Running along beaches, the rolling hypnotic waves of the ocean on the right and the giant cliffs on the left. We admired the surfers doing their thing on the curling lefh hand breaks at Bells Beach and I thought to myself that this is definitely the Australian flavour of trail running. Europe have their giant mountains but we have our majestic coastline! It wasn't all rosy though! I did have one moment early on when a small channel turned out to be quite a deep gully and I went over in the salty, sandy water. Serves me right for not starting with a headlamp!

Leg 2: The 'reality bites' leg
After leaving the well stocked and encouraging support at the aid station at Torquay Beach, Andy and I set off on the second leg which started off on gravel footpaths which ran adjacent to the beach - the 'Surf Coast Walk'. This has its lumps and bumps but at very best could be described as gently undulating. However, from my perspective, as soon as we hit the first few little rises I knew that it was going to be a tough day at the office. My legs had no drive and purpose and the lactic acid was hanging around way too long after each extra effort. Each little climb and Andy would pull ahead. I was just managing to hold on; the flats were keeping me in it but I knew pretty much then that this was going to be a battle.

Pushing through the Ironbarks section
Not long after the Bells Beach car park, Rowan Walker eased by and took Andy with him. I was kind of glad, I could fake it no longer and I settled into a much more circumspect rhythm. At around the 29km mark the course heads inland and through some beautiful Ironbark forests along twisty, windy single track. This is stuff I would usually love, but my legs were aching and the downhills were testing the already complaining quads and hamstrings. I was at best nursing myself down the downhills and crawling the ups. Andy, who had come back to me after losing Rowen, again pulled away on the ups but each time there was enough flat for me to bring him back. At around 35km Ben Duffus bounded past in his Hokas looking fresh as a daisy and he wasn't unexpected either. This is a young guy with loads of potential (7th in TNF100). He offered me some encouragement but I remember saying something about pulling the pin on the race soon. I wished him well for the rest of the race and off he went in the distance to chase down Rowan.

I limped in to the next checkpoint tired and frustrated. I was unable to capitalise on any of the fast sections of that leg. The support from all the Rapid Ascent crew at the checkpoint was amazing, offering me all the assistance I needed, but they didn't have what I really needed...a new pair of legs! All the thoughts of pulling out here were dashed; with all these lovely people encouraging me there was no way I could end it...well not there anyway!

Leg 3: The 'let the battles begin' leg
The next leg is the toughest leg of the race and took us out through the stunning Otway Ranges hinterland, through Eucalypt forests blanketed in wildflowers, past waterfalls and by some cool lookouts. It is the hilliest of all the legs and I knew that if I was to finish this race I had to somehow get through this leg come hell or highwater! There were so many sections of this leg when I wanted to end it but in my mind that was never going to be an option. I had decided that whatever it took to finish I would do it, even if it I had to stumble and bumble my way to the finish I would. On this leg I had somehow managed to creep ahead of Andy and so was still in 3rd spot. Not that position mattered, I was now simply surviving this race.

The beautiful bushland gave me plenty of stimulus to divert the negative thoughts, and I used lots and lots of mindfulness techniques to do anything but think about pain and fatigue I was feeling. While my heart was always in the race to finish, my mind needed some coaxing, and I'd already given up on my legs coming good! I began really focusing on the small but really uplifting things; the bird calls, the refreshing breeze against my body and the beautiful flora around me - grass trees and fern fronds were very abundant. Half way up the long slow grind at the 60k mark I was joined by a relay runner and we ran together all the way to the checkpoint at 77km. While we didn't talk each other's ears off, we offered each other the company that sometimes is what you need to keep plugging away. He was struggling a bit with some stomach issues, and like two wounded soldiers we encouraged each other all the way to the checkpoint. Thanks mate!

One of the short but tough climbs in leg 3
Reaching the checkpoint marked the end of the toughest leg and while my spirits had lifted somewhat, I was feeling very fatigued. In the rush of my trip down the night before, I had missed the opportunity to hand in my drop bag and so had to rely on the sustenance supplied by the event. But to my mind, that had been searching for excuses to give up all day, this was it! With an excuse ready made for me, I was just about to sit down and take a rest when I heard "Brendan...over here mate, we have all you need"! It was Shane and Belinda Simpson and Veronica Lee, three of the loveliest people you could ever meet, willing me over to have some of the supplies that they had on hand (they were crewing for Andy Lee). Deep down I though...damn have to keep going now, but also this generosity of spirit that they were showing uplifted me enough to shuffle off again. And so I did.

Leg 4: The 'reward for perseverance' leg
Not long after the 'douch grade' climb out of the checkpoint I reached Ocean Views Ridge, a breathtaking view of the coastline down to Lorne and scattered ocean rock monuments. It was here we finally headed back towards the coast and in an Easterly direction back to the finish line at Anglesea. At Fairhaven, around the 81km mark I was joined by George and Dion who were out doing a bit of a jog as a warm up before their sweeping and demarking the course duties they had to do later that night. Dion dropped back after a quick chat and George joined me for a leisurely (for him) couple of kms. He was great company as he told me about his exploits in the ultra running world and goals he's ticked off this year. At round 83km, James Roberts cruised past and finally I felt more relieved than anything that I was out of the top 3. With nothing, from a racing perspective, left to fight for, I could now enjoy some walking and relaxing, and pretty much succumb to my bodies every demands to the finish line!

But less than a km later I could see a figure walking ahead and it was Rowan Walker, who sadly, was struggling with a hamstring injury. From all accounts Rowan was looking really good for all of the race out in front and it was this injury that brought him undone. Ultra running can be a cruel beast! Finding myself back in 3rd, I was resolute now to hold this position and even, if there was a chance, try and get back into 2nd. After getting up to the lighthouse and over the pinchy headland at Aireys Inlet, we hit the cliff top track - just a supremely gorgeous trail, which winds its way over headlands and past rocky pinnacles such as Urquhart Bluff. I was running pretty well, at a consistent rhythm and was actually looking forward to the flat beach run coming up where I may have a shot at gathering in James.

With scenery like this, who wouldn't be smiling?
Down onto Urquhart Beach and 4km of sand running had me snaking around the watermark, chasing the hardest part of the sand on each wave of the incoming tide. I could see James ahead (I couldn't miss his flouro green shirt!) and knew it was a good couple of minutes and too great a distance to gather in. I really enjoyed the beach run, the salty air and sea spray, together with a tail wind was energising me to the finish. Off the beach and up and over Point Roadknight and down back onto Angleasea Beach; I was almost home. A bit of a run through the crowd of supporters and I had finished; broken but satisfied, tired but reminded of what ultra running is all about.

Congratulations must go to Ben Duffus and James Roberts, who both came to the dance ready to rumba and ran superbly well executed races. Commiserations to the reigning champ Rowan Walker, who was only stopped by a failing body. Both Ben and James are two young guys who are no doubt destined for much bigger things in the years to come. A big shout out too to my old sparring partner Andy Lee who dug deep and gutsed it out for a well deserved top 4th spot. He's been killing the shorter style races this year so it's great to see him finish strong in a longer one. But it was a day for the young pups. It was really great to see the 'new blood' dominate the placings, which can only be great for the sport in general. In the ladies event, less than 10 minutes separated the top 3, with Kiwi Whitney Dagg taking the win, only minutes ahead of 17 year old!!! Lucy Bartholomew. If this is an indication of the new breed of ultra runner in Australasia than the sport is in a healthy state.

I really enjoyed coming down and being part of the Surf Coast Century. It's great to see a race director take the local terrain, walking tracks and conditions and incorporate them into a uniquely Australian trail race. While this race has neither huge elevation gain nor overly technical sections, it makes up for it in its wide variety of truly Australian landscapes and environments that take each competitor on a journey of the Surf Coast's best features.

Champ Ben (centre), James 2nd (right)
In my post race interview after crossing the finishing line with the always smiling Adele from Rapid Ascent, I said that I had to dig deeper than I've ever had to dig before to finish a race. It was one of those days that never went to plan, but it was a day I'll remember forever as one of the biggest battles I've been in. But the battle wasn't against other competitors, nor the course, the battle was entirely with myself. And I won it and I''m really proud of that!

Inov-8 X -Talon 190s (great on the beach sections!)
Injinji 2.0 Original Weight Performance Socks
Inov-8 Debrigaitors
Inov-8 branded compression shorts
Hammer branded RaceReady Running Tank Top
Injinji Branded Headsweat Visor

Suunto Ambit 2

UltrAspire Surge Pack (great for the amount of mandatory gear required)

Ate and Drank...
Hammer Gels; Tropical
Hammer Perpetuem (solids and liquid form)
Hammer Enduralytes
Red Bull at 87km

Recovered with...
Hammer Recoverite
Chips and Beer
Good friends, new friends and randoms at the Anglesea Pub!
A 14.2 Trail Run on Sunday morning all for the love of a 'Concrete Shoe'!!
I worked hard for this Concrete Shoe!
All photos courtesy of