The night before the Surf Coast Century, I felt relatively prepared, though a bit uneasy with all of the uncertainty ahead. There was a lot I didn’t know about the course. I didn’t know, for instance, how cold it would be for the race. The weather report said 65 degrees Fahrenheit and a 10 percent chance of rain, but there was no telling what each leg of the race would feel like. In just a long-sleeved running shirt and light jacket, I was worried I’d freeze at the 5:30 a.m. start.
The timing of the start presented another uncertainty. It would be dark for the first three miles and I didn’t have a headlamp. I hoped I’d be able to see using the light of others’ lamps. But maybe I’d be stuck out there in the dark blindly stumbling over a lumpy beach. By 9:30 p.m., I decided that sleep would do more for me than reviewing my race preparations yet again, so I set my alarm and headed to bed
I awoke to my alarm tone at 4:45 a.m., knowing I had just a few minutes to throw on my clothes, eat some bread, and set off for the start line. I purposely left myself too little time for pre-race anxiety. I had to focus on getting to the start on the beach, where I lined up with 270 other runners. The countdown started and soon we were off running.
Headlamps bobbed all around me, shooting beams of light across the beach. For the most part, I could see just fine without a headlamp of my own. Then the sun started to rise and the sky lit up with vibrant pink and orange. As the headlamps disappeared, it grew warm enough that I shed a layer of clothing, an extra pair of pants, and a hoodie that I’d thrown on at the last minute. Six miles in, everything seemed to be going perfectly. It was turning into a beautiful day, and I could not stop staring at the sunrise.
The first 13 miles were on the beach, but the hard-packed sand made it feel like soft concrete. Combined with the backdrop of stunning red rock cliffs, the course was so heavenly that I forgot that it was supposed to be tough. I took it easy, relaxed, and lost myself in the scenery. When I arrived at the first checkpoint, I grabbed a banana and kept running.
The next seven miles were along a scenic, winding path next to the beach, The only problem—besides the two or three stream crossings that left everyone with wet feet—was that my ankle was starting to feel off. It wasn’t painful; it just felt weak. But weakness can quickly escalate into an injury in an ultra. It got into my head, so I started fearing that my ankle would give out and I’d be unable to finish the race, after all the training and travel to get there.
I knew that this sort of thinking could hold me back and could even cause injury by making me change my stride to favor my ankle, so I tried to snap out of it. Knowing I was willing to accept an injury if it were to come, I decided to ignore the pain, take some Aleve at the next checkpoint, pray for strength, and push onward until something physically stopped me. I’m not sure what did the trick, but something about the intervention helped and my ankle issues just sort of faded into the background.
I reached the 30-mile mark with plenty of energy to spare. I’d placed an extra pair of shoes in my support bag, so my feet were soon happy and dry. The only trouble was that almost six thousand feet of hills were packed into the second half of the course. It wouldn’t be tough compared to the Brazil 135 or the Mountain Man, but it wouldn’t be easy either. To mentally prepare, I considered that the hills would give me an advantage, as I’d tackled far worse while most Australians rarely encounter large hills on their training runs. I told myself that the course could throw anything it wanted at me and it couldn’t possibly be so tough that I’d have any real trouble with it. With that mindset, I just took each hill step by step, but still running.
As I neared each crest and the hill flattened out, I’d tell myself, “This is flat. You did it.” Then, as I started each decent, I’d say, “Okay, now you’re recovering.” This let me run the hills maintaining a descent pace, while most others walked them. I passed runner after runner. When a woman named Marlene passed me on an uphill, I passed her on the way down and then tried to maintain my lead on the way back up again. We were neck and neck for a good two miles, but I pulled ahead.
Then I passed a woman who was dropping out of the race and she let me know that I was about sixth place among women. I normally don’t “compete” with others in ultras, as there are enough stressors in just getting through the race. In the Surf Coast Century, though, I didn’t let up when I otherwise might have relaxed or slowed a bit. When my legs started to feel heavy, I pushed harder. When I ran out of water, I trusted that the next checkpoint would come eventually and ran faster. Before I knew it, I was refilling my water bottle at the 43-mile mark.
The next stretch was a winding trail through the woods with lots of steep rolling hills. With only 19 miles to go, I kept reminding myself that there was nothing the course could throw at me that I couldn’t handle. Instead of letting the hills get to me, I enjoyed the beauty of the course and used the downhills to gain speed. After the hard push to the 43-mile mark, the distance to next checkpoint at 52 miles went by in a flash. I ate and drank a bit too much and ended up feeling ill until I threw up. I could tell then that my strength was fragile, so I dialed the pace back.
The last stretch of the course was a short ten miles, but it felt much longer. I thought it would flatten out, but the hills kept coming. If not for my policy of refusing to let hills get to me, this might have been a real challenge. I knew that the last four miles were along the beach, so when I hit a set of stairs, I thought I’d made it. It was a trick, though. We ran a few paces on the beach before heading up another set of stairs. I refused to be frustrated and just kept running.
At last, I reached the real set of stairs down to the final four miles. I’d been worried the sand would be soft, but it was as hard-packed as it had been that morning. I looked behind to see if I needed to worry about keeping my place, but the beach was empty. I could see the crowds grow thicker as I drew near the turnoff, rounded the corner, leaving the beach behind, and saw the blue arch of the finish.
I crossed the finish line 10 hours and 21 minutes after I started. This put me at 3rd in my age division, 5th among females, and 15th out of 131 runners. More important though, I was only one continent away from completing my goal of running a 50-mile ultramarathon on every continent! Now I’d just have to find a way of running a race in Antarctica to complete my mission.