Heading into the night stage (obviously a stage measured by light that started in different places for everyone – if, for example, you’re Andrew Tuckey, the night stage might not start until you’re back at your hotel reflecting on a new course record and the quantum anomalies you created folding space on Biloka Range) I had planned to be feeling good enough to maintain rhythm at the very least, and hopefully reinforce it with some good running in the cool of darkness.
Did. Not. Even. Get. Close.
A couple of things happened, mainly the nausea-vomit-cold-slow cascade effect. With a stomach wanting me to carry on without it, I slowed my nutrition intake drastically. This also meant I wasn’t taking in caffeine, so with low carbs and very little zest, I slowed down almost exponentially. This meant I also got cooler, and had even less energy going into resolving whatever happened with my stomach. In the middle of nowhere, in perfect running conditions, on a downhill in the dark, Adam Connor sailed past me.
“Hell yeah. Adam’s race must be going to plan nicely,” part of me thought quickly.
“Fuck.” I replied to myself, possibly audibly.
And then I got passed by the world’s most ultra grandma. Thanks Jane – and where’s your race report, huh? Huh???.
I really enjoyed my friends’ company for almost the whole 5 minutes that I was able to keep up. But I was moving like a 3-legged horse in a truck race. At the very least, I knew I didn’t belong.
So their lights and the accompanying chatter moved off into the middle distance then faded from sight and hearing. Maybe in that order, maybe not. Either way, I was focused on what was going to happen next.
From the shimmering of the oil atop the clear liquid on the ground I knew that the beam of my torch had found the culprit.
“Yep, Gav, it was the soup.” I heaved again. More liquid, no alien babies, situation normal.
Having followed the back of the very comfy looking Tailwind van for long enough I now motioned for the vehicle to stop. Jumping in the back and climbing into a very comfortable arrangement of mattress, blankets, and being horizontal, the 15-minutes-only announcement was made and I zoned out totally.
This was only the first of 3 or maybe even 4 breaks to lie in the back of the van during the night. Woefully, I was totally ignoring the bastardised Beastie Boys line on the team shirt: No Sleep ‘Til Broken. Cold, vomiting, and tired may be unpleasant but it is NOT broken. Feeling slightly better after totally emptying my guts made me feel somewhat less shite, despite the steady stream of runners passing the bus window while I tuned out. It reminded me the lesson I learn every time I chuck in an ultra – just get it done, because if you can’t turn around a cranky gut in under an hour you should have just thrown up to start with. It’s way better than slowing down steadily and crazily for nearly four hours, only to poorly imitate Bon Scott’s death anyway.
At this point, super-positive crew was crucial. They didn’t say, “hurry up dude, this is some total bullshit right here,” and I didn’t say, “by my calculation, if I continue to slow at this rate we should make it to Charlotte’s Pass by New Years”. It was more a matter of, “Dalgety. Fuck. Dalgety.” repeat.
We finally got there, the hallowed hall at about 145km. Jess had arrived after working her day job in Sydney and heading out to mark the Jindabyne leg through the caravan park. She was her usual bouncy unreasonably optimistic 3am at an ultra in 3 degrees with a shit-splattered-looking runner to scrape off the sidewalk kind of self. In return, I sat there with shoes off and feet up under a heater inwardly thinking I must look like shit thawed out but outwardly looking like shit cooled down.
Tentatively putting in some spaghetti, then wolfing down apple pie with custard and tea, I excused myself to go lube industrially. Remember, my running friends – food, then lube.
Maybe a half hour or more after arrival, we headed back out on to the part of the course most likely to cause a breakdown. If you’re going to combust climbing out of Jindy then you’re simply ill-informed. Bilk is the place to do, because if you die after putting Biloka behind you, then you’re the kind of person who would probably sleep with Donald Trump for his personality and not his cash. On our way to the first really cruel climb of the race a few things happened.
I emphasised to Jess that I’d be walking the food from Dalgety in for the next 10km or so to let the body reset after a very ordinary night.
The sun came up.
Unicorns wearing saddlebags packed full of my second wind and revitalised running juju did not show up. Pricks.
I jumped on to the back of the van and requested scissors. The crew may well have thought I was going to cut my feet off, but instead I just cut around the bottom of my compression socks, pulling their feet off and getting down to the Injinji liners I wore underneath, but leaving the calf compression still intact. Probably not the best way to do things but no blood was shed and as my feet gradually expanded I’d been picturing this outcome for the last 4 hours.
And then our unicorn arrived. In her delightful Canadian lilt, Kathryn Mackinnon leaned out the window of her slowly driven car as she pulled alongside us.
“Don’t worry, there’s still two guys behind you,” she melodied.
Abrupt reality check and shake of the head to gain elevated state of consciousness, “What the f___? We’re f___ing third last?” I inquired.
“Yeah, I think so,” she Canadian’d back without missing a beat.
“F___ that,” I assured her.
And this was when the theme from Rocky played. In my head.
Sun up, spaghetti metabolised, challenge accepted. This was the start of The Walk. After seeing Mick Thwaites destroy the 48-hour in Canberra in March, 2016, I’d written to ask him for some tips about speed walking, and he’d kindly sent all the basic info I needed. Only really practising the technique about 4 times in training, it had been enough to get a sense of how to move. But only on course at Coast2Kosci did I make sense of the real biomechanics at play.
Body tall, lock elbow at right angles, fist as pendulum driving elbow back until fist back next to sacrum, driving hip forward to lengthen stride while sending other hip back to increase propulsion, ultimately increasing pace by 40 to 100% without significantly altering cadence. Basically.
On the inside though, I was wearing a ripped grey cotton tracksuit and vomiting raw egg on myself.
Gav and Bek brought me my poles for the start of Biloka Range. If you’re going to feel your soul sucked out of your body through your backside, this is where it’s going to happen. Fortunately the cheap adrenaline shot from Kathryn’s loserboard update was still flowing and we got this done smooth but ugly. Passing someone here was also fuel for the fire, but delirium must have been still contributing somewhat as I thought it was Kurt Topper but he wasn’t actually racing in the 2016 field. Smoooooth. Uuuugly.
Soon we were most of the way to Jindabyne but before turning off Alpine Way we encountered… how shall I say this? ….. A guy who had probably never managed to underwhelm himself? A man who would always be comfortable with less? A guy more comfortable with low expectations than no expectations? The sort of dude who could only come from inbreeding unless heavy amounts of foetal alcohol were applied? The type of guy that banjo songs were written for, but not about?
Anyway, without being too harsh, a poorly sequenced stack of deoxyribonucleic acid and bad facial hair pointed his Hilux into us because we’d only left him 1.8 lanes free to drive in. He might have thought my raised arms were an imitation of the crucifix and therefore an invitation to u-turn and come back to discuss his lord and saviour, or maybe he wanted some pointers on the finer aspects of ultramarathon training, OR maybe after recently killing his three-handed grandmother and putting her in a shallow grave under a rusty upturned bathtub he’d just been missing out on the fuzzy warmth and feelgood wave of truck-cabin body odour that can only come from an exchange of barely contained hostility between strangers.
At any rate, he wasn’t convinced by the logic of running toward oncoming traffic rather than with it, but I really hope everything goes ok for him next time he jogs off some fermented squirrel and high-methanol moonshine next to a busy truck lane.
By this point I’d also had my nipples separately taped by Gav and Billy but the rush of conflict drowned out reflection on such highlights for the next little while as we ground out more mileage, lurching toward Jindy.
(ok, it’s March and we’re nearly there. Last 70km definitely finished by Easter. Promise.)