Narrabeen Ultra – by Michael Craig

image-9[1]image-5[1]You will have noticed that on my list there is the challenge of running 100k in one go and by good fortune(??) I had last November entered the Narrabeen Ultra which is a 12 hour overnight race from 2nd to 3rd January not far from our home in Mona Vale on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

I knew that the trail at Narrabeen Lagoon was flat and wide and felt that this was too good an opportunity to miss to try and tick off one of the boxes.

In the week or so before the race I felt that I was in good shape physically and mentally and as the guys who run ultras know as much has to do with how you’re head is feeling as well as your legs.A few times I’ve gone into ultras not feeling right or hoping it’ll be fine on the day and it hasn’t gone well.

In the last month or so training was fine and I was mentally in the right frame of mind to race.However race day itself presented a bit of an issue in that I had developed a seriously dodgy stomach. I,at least in hope, put this down to pre-race anxiety and just hoped it would pass.

Janet and Holly agreed to come to the race with me and support me for a while so we headed over just after 7pm and got our spot set up. There was a cracking atmosphere with support crews and familes setting up tents and gazebos and a full on disco repertoire being belted out from the PA system. Again those familiar with ultras will be familiar with the party atmosphere that develops particularly with support crews having a good old time.

 

There were to be three races on the go simultaneously. The trail race through a flat 5k forest route out and back, a road race which had a 1k loop (no thanks) and from midnight a trail marathon using a combination of road a trail. So at 8.30pm the trail and road participants toed the line and with a short countdown and blast of a horn set off on our merry way.

My strategy was simple – to run 100k so based on a 6min per k average and with food stops I thought I could achieve my goal with a bit of spare time capacity for any unexpected problems. I also knew that in previous races I had gone out to fast but with a training pace of below 5 mins per k and a marathon race pace of just around 4 mins per k it is very tricky to slow down. Also I had a clear intent of never sitting down as I again knew from experience that this is usually fatal. Once you sit down you rarely get back up again.

For the first 6 laps Janet and Holly were there for me but eventually they headed home for bed and promised to come back around 6am to support me through the final few hours. At this point my pace was a bit fast at just over 5 mins per k but my stomach was giving me serious issues. Twice I had to make emergency toilet stops when I had developed a dose of the runs. Onwards I pushed hoping it would clear but by 65k (13 laps) it was chronic and I felt awful. I had to sit down and try and eat but simply couldn’t. I sent Janet a wattsapp message and she responded saying I was in second place (there was live tracking) and that she couldn’t sleep anyway. On FB I saw that my brother Gerry and some ultra running pals from the UK were following me so and already giving me a hard time at the prospect of stopping????

Janet then sent me a note saying herself and Holly would get up at 4am and come support me by 5am and to try and keep going. Surely I asked myself I could push on and at some point it would get better? Plus I felt a bid bad letting them both down after all the sleep they had been giving up to support my nutty quest.

Up I got and walked a bit and to get the legs going started running again but within about 100 metres was ready to be sick. James Stewart as I recalled had a similar issue at The Glenmore 24 race but once he was sick felt fine and went on to win setting a course record. In the distant past during the Copenhagen Marathon in 1999 I did the same and went on to a marathon PB. I therefore just let it happen and let things take their course and about 20 seconds later out it all came! I threw my guts up three or four times but once that was all over and done I felt like a brand new man.It was literally a miracle cure.

Immediately running again and felt the best I had all day I began to settle back into my race. The old legs were feeling Ok and my stomach finally wasn’t grumbling or making me queasy either. Result.However there was now the one major concern on my mind of having nothing in my system to get me through the next 5 hours or so. That’s a long time with no calories coming in and plenty being used up.

When I got to the turn point at 2.5k a short while later one of the support marshalls (Milov) who had been encouraging me asked where I’d been on the last lap and I told him what had gone wrong. He explained he was a seasoned ultra runner and that if I just took it easy for a hour, dropped my heart rate, drank some liquids and let my stomach recover I’d be fine. He clearly knew his stuff and talked sense so as I came through every turn point I’d grab some coke and a cup of water,walk a bit and drink each slowly then head off.

This actually worked fine and by the time I got to 80k I was in reasonable shape and Janet and Holly were back which was a welcome sight. Every 5k Janet would walk a few 100m with me and I’d drink some coke and water while chatting to her before starting to run again. By this time it was daylight and it was such a relief to get the headtorch off as it was really getting to me. I had however enjoyed running in the dark as you get in your own zone and can’t see beyond your torchlight.

Wildlife wise I was a bit concerned beforehand as this trail is known for pythons but all I got to see were two possums, a baby snake (but jet black so best avoided) and some wild turkeys.

Runners by now were mainly shuffling along, dropping out or resting from time to time so it was difficult to figure how everyone was doing but Janet checked the live feed at the start point and confirmed that I was in second place overall but with the guy in 3rd very close. To be honest at this point I just wanted my 100k so that was my focus. As I approached this Holly agreed to run a lap with me to “celebrate” my 100k which was really nice.

 

I still though had time left and felt not too bad so thought I’d try and hit 110k if Janet fancied one 5k walking lap. So at 105k we walked together but by 108k I felt totally fine and ready to run so with Janet’s permission headed off again.image-6[1]

Due to race rules only half or full laps counted so when I hit 110k with 53 minutes left I knew 120 was out, 115 was easy and 117.5 was although reasonable not in my mind worth the effort as I’d have a long miserable walk back to the finish line so I set my target and 115k and off I went. My race finished with that total of 115k at 11 hours and 33 minutes on the clock and I felt very very pleased. The guy who was just behind me elected to go for the half lap and I knew he would do it but was cool with that. I had exceeded my own goals and wasn’t there to try and podium (although I was happy to do so).

Once the final hooter went the results were all cross checked and I was confirmed as 3rd overall although there was a bit of confusion were a guy with 110k was put in first place but he generously pointed out they had made an error. Seems there had been a bit of timing mat issues but honesty prevailed.

So I had a great result. Broke my target, came third overall and by 3rd January had ticked off one of the biggest challenges of my 50th year. I managed roughly half the race on cola and had great support throughout. I am so glad I kept going and that is another bit of ultra running experience to draw on. If all is looking bleak throw up and keep going????

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