On the 23rd of last month (February) I took part in the Taupo Length of lake race. When I say took part thats what I mean, I wasn't there to race, to beat any personal best or to try for a top 10 or top 5 position. The reason is because I was very, very unprepared and under trained for this race. I have never dreaded a race so much however it was on my list of goals for this year and I knew I was going to have to give it my best shot (to finish)!
The race started at 7am and even though it was Summer it felt like a winter morning, having not been to New Zealand in over two years I was very much used to my warm and humid Queensland weather. I was itching to get going as soon as possible just so I could warm up.
The first couple of kilometers consisted of some steep hills but they didn't last long and weren't as bad as I thought they were going to be.
I had Nicola Corbett as my support crew, Nicola was also part of my support crew at my very first Ultramarathon in 2009 also in Taupo. She would stop at most of the checkpoints and wait for me to arrive and give me food or refill my bottles.
The longest training run I had was just over 40 km and that was also a struggle to complete! The bad weather in Brisbane (Storms and flooding) over the last few weeks really threw me off balance and the times when we had decent weather I wasn't feeling too well. Every training run was a real downer for me as I couldn't get back in the swing of things since the January race.
I knew the first 35km was going to be fine, it was the second half that I was worried about. As I approached the 40 km mark I was surprised that I felt better than expected and thought that if I kept feeling that way I was going to have an OK result however after a few more kilometers I really felt the pain starting to creep in. My quads were unusually very sore, especially for a road race with not that many hills. I also had some bad stomach cramps and had to stop at one point to try and throw up but all I could do was dry wretch which didn't feel to nice.
There was one extremely big hill that I had run back in the 2009 race, I knew there was no way I would be able to run up the whole thing so I would jog 100m then walk 100m until I got to the top. It worked out well but at this point I was completely worn out. The stomach cramps were getting worse and my legs were in agony, I had to walk a lot until reaching the final checkpoint.
After having one final small snack and refilling up my water I started walking off to finish the final 7 km of the race, I noticed a girl who was about to overtake me and also looked in a bit of pain. I knew I had to team up with her so I could make it to the end so I let her catch up and started jogging and talking with her. Her name was Grace Miller and was only 17 years old and it was her first ultramarathon. We talked for a while and she explained to me that she was running to raise money for her friend with cancer. I noticed that we started picking up the pace a bit more and I was starting to feel better than I previously was. Grace was amazing for those last few kilometers, it was easy to tell that she was going through a lot of pain but she kept on going!
After running through the town and seeing the race flags and cones on the road I knew there wasn't far to go, I remembered that there was a small but steep hill approaching (I used to live and train in Taupo) and as soon as Grace saw it she said out loud, 'come on, we can do it', I loved her determination and it got me even more excited to see the finish line, not for myself but to see her finish it. After getting over that final hill I pointed out the finish line on my right. In the last couple of hundred meters as we were on the grass and approaching the finish I looked at Grace and said "welcome to Ultramarathon running"! Grace could only get out two words - thank you. Back when I was finishing my first ultra in 2009 in that very same spot approaching the end an accomplished ultra runner named Carol O'Hare who I ran with raised my hand up over the finish line. I decided to do the same for Grace as we finished the grueling run together.
Grace collapsed onto the grass with a big smile on her face and soon after we all got photos together. As hard as it was, those final few kilometers watching Grace get through and finish her first Ultra (also coming in 2nd in the women's division) made the whole thing worth it. In a way I'm glad I was under trained, otherwise I probably wouldn't have witnessed the amazing strength and determination that I saw that day.