After a few months of winter training Lightning and The Judge headed down to Victoria’s magical surf coast for a crack at the Surf Coast Century pairs relay. Here’s how it went…
Leg 1 – Lightning
Choosing the comforts of home over the back seat of a Mazda3 in the Anglesea carpark, the alarm clock chirped at 2.45am and I was on my way to Judge’s house. We were in Anglesea by 5am and strolled down to the startline for a 5.30am start. Similar to my first (and only other!) ultra, I wasn’t thinking about the distance at all, I was just pumped to be down on the beach, headlamp on, ready to roll. 3,2,1 and we were away. Around 1km in I stopped and turned around to see hundreds of headlamps bobbing up and down, an incredibly cool sight. Back through the startline to continue on to Torquay and was looking for the judge to pass on the headlamp. I’d warmed up from a quick start, so ditched the gloves, arm warmers and long sleeve shirt and took off, only to realise 10 steps later I still had the headlamp in my hand. Bugger.
The sun slowly begun to rise and as it did, it started – the best run ever.
The sun shimmering bright red on the wet sand, the most magnificent coastline rising well above us on the other side, I was in love. I didn’t want it to end. The kms we’re passing effortlessly, I was soaked from the waist down, my shoes were full of sand… Are we meant to be going this way? Clambering over the headlands at times felt like I should have had a rope tied around my waist. There were a few sections of very soft sand, particularly through Bells Beach, but even those sections couldn’t take the smile off my face. Rounding the last headland into Torquay backbeach, the sound of cowbells and cheering resulted in a surge in pace over the last km. One last soft sand crossing, up the stairs, into the DMZ to high five Jules. “Great work, here’s the car keys, there’s the car, see you back in Anglesea”. It may not have seemed like much but we were actually the second fastest team through that transition, an accomplishment not to be sneezed at. A feather in our caps for organisation, we’re still waiting for our trophy.
Easily the most beautiful and enjoyable 21km of my life. 5 stars, would dine again.
Leg 2 – Judge
Before getting into my first leg I should mention that seeing Lightning and the others runners off at the start was one of the highlights of the day. I think this is the first time I’ve been at the start of a race and not been heading off with the other runners which was a bit of an odd feeling. The view of the ultra peleton streaming down the beach into the darkness with an array of head torches guiding their way was a very cool and somewhat surreal sight. 15 minute later and the leaders came storming through after the 4km loop. I find it incredibly inspiring seeing the front runners in in these runs and this was no different – the pace they were setting was incredible. Brendan Davies came powering through shortly after the first team runner with a small posse hanging off his shoulders. It was really motivating stuff and I couldn’t wait to get stuck into my first leg. Luke came past shortly after – a quick torch drop-off and he headed off towards the big cliffs with the sun rise not far away.
Fast forward two hours and I was at the transition area waiting for Lightning to come in. Runners started coming through pretty regularly and before long I could see him at the far end of Torquay beach. He looked pretty comfortable and told me that he was feeling great so a successful first leg for Team Red Beard. A mandatory high 5 and I was off.
The first leg went like a dream. I felt really good the whole way and really enjoyed checking out some trails I hadn’t been on before. I took the first half at around 80% trying not to overcook it in case I regretted it later in the day. From there I started to lift the intensity. I was feeling good, loving the challenge and thought why the hell not. If it came back to bite me on the arse later so be it.
I ran with another bearded man called Dave (I think) for a while and it felt like we were pushing each other that little bit harder than we probably would have done running solo. I love that feeling of attacking single track while the body is feeling strong. The trails were perfect and it was the most enjoyable part of the day by far.
Nutrition-wise the plans were working well – a gel every 30 minutes, 1.5 litres of Gatorade over the leg and another 500ml of Perpetuem/Gatorade mix (which continues to remind of some sort of horrible medicine I had as a kid). My energy levels stayed steady and there was none of the sloshing in the belly and associated nausea that had troubled me in some recent runs.
At around the 25km mark Anglesea came into sight. It was downhill all the way from there so I picked up the pace. Lightning was reading to go and after a quick hello and goodbye he trotted off up the estuary. It was time to eat and put the feet up for a couple of hours.
Leg Distance: 28km (27.5km on the Garmin), Leg Time: 2h:29m
Leg 3 – Lightning
What does one do with 2hr and 29 mins up his sleeve in the middle of an ultra? Well, a change of clothes, a drive to Anglesea, a sports drink or two, some pasta, and you’re ready to go again. Turns out I was a bit early. I saw the leaders come through effortlessly and marveled at how chatty they were 50km in.
I was ready to go, just another 29km, feeling great. Read something along the lines of “undoubtably the most difficult leg” and shrugged it off. Here comes Jules, he looked great, a fast leg, and seemed very relieved, I think it was because of the killer carpark I got right near the finish line. Everything was working out for Red Beard Racing.
I took off and scrambled under the very low bridge on my stomach without hurting myself aka Judge circa 2012.
I pushed through the last bits of urbanized area and off onto the single track. And that’s when it began- the worst run ever.
The only known predator to the Red Beard, the Sun, popped out and started to cook me as I pushed up the hill towards the coal mine. The stark difference to the first leg was that I was on my own, nobody to talk to, just me, the sun and the hill. The next 15km blurred into one long nightmare. The pasta revisited numerous times as I silently spewed in the bushes, embarrassed in front of the other runners. My strategy of ‘walking the steep hills’ was re-assessed to ‘walk all slopes’. The upset gut meant no more energy gels or bars, just water and hydralite. A text message to Judge may have read something along the lines of “tell my wife I love her…Red Beard down”. I hobjogged around a bend and saw two runners looking out over the valley towards the lighthouse. Awesome, an excuse to stop for a chat. One of the runners was Chuck. A 100km runner from Ballarat. He was doing really well but wanted someone to run with. Agreeing to walk all hills we took off. Chuck saved me. 7kms passed talking crap, it was brilliant. We approached the 70km aid station and his support crew was there, wife and kids. He said seeing them made him a bit emotional, man, I was ready to burst into tears and hug them all too. Feeling good, I grabbed a Nutella sandwich and we set off. We hit a very slight incline and Chuck disappeared into the distance, I think he was still talking to me for kms ahead.
Moggs Creek picnic area was less than 7km away, I then felt that euphoric feeling, I’m going to make it!
A few more nasty hills were in my way though as I strived for the finish, striking conversations with everyone, looking for a new Chuck.
With less than a few kms left I found a final reserve of energy. I rounded a bend and heard the awesome sound of a crowd, I was off, sprinting to a triumphant finish! The course then looped around a bit and up a hill… Damn it, this isn’t the finish… I made it up the hill and then down, reset the sprint and bounded* (*to the untrained eye, this may have looked like a painful hobble) through the finish line, hi-fiving anything that protruded in my direction, liberally applying a coating of sweat to anyone game enough. The cheer was pretty huge as I came in, I think they could read from my face that I’d had a very tough day at the office, I loved it. Judge was waiting and clapping me in, he’d had time to go to a few cafés, get a haircut and visit some friends- I was really disappointed to have dropped our position but relieved to have finished.
Jules was off and it was time for me to lie down.
A huge battle of mind vs. body vs. hills – I can’t say I enjoyed this leg, but I was thrilled it didn’t completely pants me. I left nothing out there except some pasta which was promptly replaced by some lovely risotto at the 77km checkpoint and my finish line.
Leg 4 – Judge
I don’t think Lightning would mind me saying that he was looking slightly below average on his arrival into the transition area. He had sent me a couple of texts earlier warning me that he had run into difficulties so it was great to see him tough it out and get to end. I had run the 3rd leg last year and knew it was a tough one with some nasty hills that seemed far worse than the profile had indicated. I felt a bit bad leaving him but Lightning assured me that he would be OK so I headed off.
The break had been quite enjoyable – after smashing some sports drink, cake and a ham sandwich i had headed to the picnic ground early to see some of the front runners. I saw Rohan Walker come though looking far from comfortable as well as the lead women including young gun Lucy Bartholomew sporting some pretty impressive leg wounds presumably from a fall (saw a few of those throughout the day!). I also had a good chat to Dion Milne – co-founder of the Surf Coast Trial Runners FB, who was crewing for Matt Hosking (the other co-founder) who was running the full distance. Matt looked to be working through the course superbly. I later noticed in the results that he finished in 10h33m – a phenomenal effort.
The final leg was fairly uneventful. I felt good for the first 5km then the legs gradually got heavier and heavier. Around the halfway mark I was really hurting and dreaming of Coopers Pale and pizza at the finish line. I was continuing to find the 100km competitors inspiring – they all seemed far more positive than I was feeling. I really had nothing to whinge about after running only half as far.
I perked up a bit running past the lighthouse but then hit another low shortly after that. A 2-3km section of overgrown single track. Trying to run while avoiding branches at head height and tree roots at toe height was tough and to put it bluntly was really giving me the shits. Soon after I was out on the 3km stretch of beach and the final few mental games began. I got through the beach section in 15-20mins and 10 minutes after that that the glorious view of Anglesea and the finish line came into view. Coming over the line is a little hazy but I recall it involved a high 5 to Lightning and a pretty damn satisfying feeling. Soon after that the earlier visions of beer and pizza at the finish line became a reality and we kicked back and enjoyed the post-race atmosphere.
Leg distance: 23km (21.9km on the Garmin) Leg time: 2h:13m
Total distance: 100km (97.9km on the watches)
Total time: 10h:42m:56s
Lightning – The first leg was awesome, by far the most beautiful run I have ever done in my life. The mental barrier really got me in the 3rd leg, as well as a few niggling injuries. Good training run for my declared assault on a particular favourite Mornington Peninsula run in early 2014.
Judge – What an absolute gem of an event. It’s these sort of runs that remind me how much I love this sport. I plan to be back again…and again…and again! A stunning course, friendly down-to-earth competitors, well-organised and great post-race atmosphere – what isn’t there to like! The full 100km beckons but not sure when…
Lessons for the day:
– While we are yet to prove it with a double-blind, randomized trial it seems clear that the longer you run, the friendlier you are! The ultra and trail running community would have to be one of the friendliest, supportive and most down-to-earth going round.
– While the tide waits for no one we hope low tide will be a little later next year. The Bearders aren’t massive fans of 2am alarms!
– A mobile pizza cart at the finish line is sheer genius. Please come back next year.
– No matter what you think your body is telling you, a Nippy’s Chocolate Milk is not a good idea after running 50km, two Coopers Pale Ales and a Pizza. At all other times in life, Nippy’s is the best idea.
Red Beard Rating:
A stunning course and quality event – deserves nothing less!
Todays words brought to you by: Lightning and The Judge