Ultra-Trail Australia 2017 

UTA50 race recap by Gem H

​​​​​​I thought doing the UTA22 in 2016 nearly killed me, so I figured why not do more than double the distance and take on the 50k in 2017?

It was a year ago I made the decision to become an ultramarathoner. Yeah that’s right – a scary goal – but I had plenty of time to train… so I thought.

Since before Christmas I’ve had a bad run of injuries – not any one thing career ending, but enough to stop me in my tracks and go weeks without running. So. Much. Physio.

I made it to the start line without nearly enough training. I’d never done more than 24k in a single run, never more than 28k in a day. Here I was, about to tackle 50 kilometres, with a dodgy hip and temperamental glutes.

While I never doubted my ability to finish, I braced myself for a long, tough day. I knew the course and had a game plan. Despite my inexperience over this distance, I was pretty sure I knew what it would take to get to the finish line.

I wasn’t scared of not finishing – I’m far too stubborn for that – but having come off 5k runs in recent weeks that left me unable to walk properly for days, I was terrified that I’d be running 50k in pain.

In the last two weeks before UTA I was on edge. The tiniest things would make me cry. I had to suck it up. There was nothing more I could do to prepare.

The day before my race I was ecstatic to watch the 2017 UTA22 and witness so many of my friends conquer what has to be one of the most difficult half marathons in the world.

Happy to see my friends finish the UTA22

I was a little envious of my friends doing the 22 – knowing I’d done that course in training much faster than I raced it a year ago, I know I could have got a PB. But that wasn’t a big enough challenge and I knew that no result in the 22 would give me the same satisfaction as completing the 50.

As Friday continued we knew the weather would have an impact on the 50 and 100k events the following day. In the afternoon it was confirmed: the last half of the 50 course was inaccessible. This meant the entire route changed, now following the first half of the 100 course – most of the trail I’d never seen before. My initial excitement about a fun adventure and fewer stairs turned to panic as I heard about the horror of ascending Nellies Glen. I cried again.

Then my start time got pushed back, meaning there would be four hours between my partner, Graham, starting the 100k and me starting the 50. The game plan changed once more as I knew it was wiser to stay in the hotel rather than stand in the cold – I wouldn’t get to see Graham start his race. That night I met elite runner Kellie Emmerson who was also doing the 50. She offered to drive me to the start line and I accepted.

In the morning we were almost at Scenic World when I realised I’d forgotten my gloves. I was having a freak out. Kellie was so calm. She gave me her gloves. Many hours later I found out that Kellie had gone on to win the 50 in a record time.

I made it to the start line and felt ok. I saw my friends and we took the traditional pre-race selfies. It was unusual for me, but I couldn’t stand to look at social media. I knew people were wishing me well but the thought of reading those messages was making me more nervous.

Pre-race photos with some of my friends, knowing I wouldn’t see them again for the rest of the day

Start group after start group set off, and my group of friends got smaller. Had I had a better lead up, I might have started in Group 4 or 5 but there were so many unknowns, I knew it was smarter to stay in Group 6. A little warm up with the last of the UP Coaching gang and I was lining up for the start. I was relieved to get the race underway.

Keen to get going but also wondering if I need to go to the toilet one more time before the start

Start group 6 was massive. From the get go it was crowded. We started on road and running was easy but I struggled to get through the crowd, which included many people who walked from the very beginning. I weaved in and out, not running fast but still trying to get into some clear space while we were on the road.

Easy road running at the start. Pic by Ben Berriman
Just before we headed down Furber. Pic by Kelly-ann Varey

Soon enough we hit the Furber Stairs. It was a relief to think how much easier it was going down the stairs at the beginning of the race instead of up them at the end. There was only one problem – it was slippery and with so many people we were slow to move. There was no opportunity to pass so we all walked one step at a time, all the way down 900-odd steps until we could finally put on a little jog when we hit the trail at the bottom of Scenic World.

Heading down Furber was quite a nice experience. I was still nice and clean at this stage
The view was spectacular (if you like fog)
About 50m of jogging between Furber and landslide

Even that jog was slow with few passing opportunities on the single track, and I was conscious of not going out too hard too early so I settled in to the pace of the group.

Within minutes we were stopped again. This time for at least 15 minutes with almost zero movement. It was the queue to start the section called the landslide – which looks just like it sounds: a messy pile of rocks at the side of the mountain. We scrambled over them but it was slow. There was still so far to go so I decided to be patient.

And if you see my reflection in the snow-covered hills
Will the landslide bring you down?
Slow going on the landslide. We all took turns to pose for the camera
So close to Scenic World – and I bet hardly any tourists come this way

Once the track opened up a bit I passed a few people before we hit the Golden Stairs. There was nothing golden about them. Actually in some parts they could hardly be described as stairs! It was steep, muddy and horrendously slippery. I soaked in the spectacular view (not) of inside a cloud. Going up stairs is probably my biggest weakness but I had deliberately dedicated some training sessions to trying to get better at them. It paid off and I managed to get all the way up, with my glutes doing their job and my hip feeling good. I only stopped when the crowd did, and soon enough we were at the top near Narrowneck – the only part of the course I had ever stepped foot on before.

It had already taken nearly an hour longer to cover that distance (about 8k) than I’d predicted, but knowing those stairs were out of the way gave me some comfort that perhaps it would get easier and I’d be able to get some momentum.

As the trail opened up I started running. I remembered how well I had run the last time I was there, and expected to be able to run at a decent pace for most of the wide fire trail. Suddenly there was a massive concrete hill – they didn’t put that in the brochure! I figured it was time to eat something so I pulled an amazing Pink Lady apple out of my pack and munched away at it while I took tiny little steps up that bloody steep concrete hill. Holy shit. It was worse than Sublime Point but at least it wasn’t too long. At the top, there it was: our first checkpoint – the proper start of the trail at Narrowneck.

I ate some watermelon, filled my soft flask with Fizz, took off my arm warmers and went to the toilet. I only stopped for a few minutes in total but it was all I needed to make sure I was set up for the next 20k.

I ran through the checkpoint gate and down the hill. Finally getting some decent pace. That’s when I realised my left foot was sore. Within a few hundred metres I was struggling to run on it, and that’s when I remembered that it had slid out from underneath me on the landslide, only stopping when the side of my foot hit a pointy rock. I hadn’t noticed the pain at all until I started really running. I tried to turn my foot a bit and land more on the ball of my foot, but that only made other parts of my foot hurt more. I walked.

Walking up a slight incline I could see a guy with his phone out – looking like he was taking a selfie. I ran up behind him and jumped up, pulling a silly face as I photobombed him. That’s when I heard him say “I love you so much” to the person on the other end of the line, and I felt so guilty for spoiling that special moment that I took off up the hill as fast as I could. I forgot about my foot for a little bit.

First time seeing Narrowneck in daylight

Walk run walk run. Run the downs. Walk the ups. Oh look – that’s where I stacked it on the night run back in November. Walk run walk run. My fucking foot. Now the right one is hurting. Downhills are more like a shuffle. Walk the ups. Shuffle the downs. Shit – I kicked a rock. My toe hurts.

On a long uphill stretch along the ridge I started to take some photos. It fascinated me that on one side of the cliff it was clear and sunny, and the other side was grey and cloudy. The trail split the weather. Soon the sun won out and I was sweating up a storm. Absolutely dripping. I actually considered taking off my shirt at one point. It was feral. Then I could see the end of Narrowneck and I ran to the end.

A few sneaky hills along Narrowneck – and by this stage it was hot
Photos don’t do justice to the amazing view

I turned the corner and stopped dead in my tracks. It was the queue for Tarros Ladders. The descent was technical and people needed to take their time. The further back in the race you were, the more traffic was banked up. I ate a Hammer bar on the way down, at one point holding the half eaten bar in my mouth as I held onto a rope to descend a few steep metres. And then we stopped again. Everyone was chatting like a group of old friends. Someone suggested a wave so we all jumped on board and I was lucky enough to film it. We might have been stuck and adding to our finishing time but there was no point complaining. I reckon I can say I’m one of only about 50 people who’ve ever participated in a Mexican Wave at Tarros Ladders.

Everybody checking their phones. It was like we were hanging at the station, waiting for a train

It took 57 minutes to get from the end of Narrowneck to the point where you could choose to go on the ladders or take the alternative track. I figured I’d waited this long, I may as well take the ladders. At this point, my sweat was drying and I started to stink. I apologised to those around me for not considering packing a can of Rexona in my gear. My newfound friends were understanding. We were all in the same boat. Stinking.

For me the ladders weren’t scary at all. I was really comfortable but again, my speed was dictated by the people ahead of me. By the time I got to the bottom of the ladders it had been well over an hour since I’d finished Narrowneck – only 1km earlier.

After waiting this long, I had to capture the view before descending the ladders

At the bottom it was slippery as hell. I watched a woman in front of me struggle to keep her footing on some steps. She offered to let me pass but as I could see how slippery it was I said I’d wait until she’d done that bit. We chatted as we slowly took the next 20 metres or so. She told me she was afraid of heights and had had a panic attack on the ladders, and that her heart rate still hadn’t gone down. What had made it worse for her was that some bloke above her on the ladder was yelling at her to go faster. I don’t know why people need to be dickheads on the trail. A bit of patience goes a long way.

When things flattened out I wished her well and started jogging through the single track. My feet didn’t seem to hurt too much with all the grass and leaf litter so I enjoyed that small section.

I scrambled up the rocks and ran where I could. I recognised the landscape from the UTA 100 promo video but had no idea what this part of the trail was called. It was beautiful and at that moment I was happy to be doing this course instead of the one I’d been expecting.

Back on to fire trail towards Dunphy’s Camp and it was a run walk effort all the way to the next checkpoint. It wasn’t overly steep but my feet were killing me. My toes were smashing the ends of my shoes with every step and the side of my left foot was aching. Heel strike, forefoot – it didn’t matter. I walked and shuffled down the hill until I saw the checkpoint. My body was holding up really well but my feet were letting the team down. I realised at this point I was more than half way and had already surpassed the longest run I’d ever done in my life. I acknowledged that my feet were sore and reminded myself that this was normal. I was running an ultramarathon – something was gonna hurt!

Every now and then I’d look up and soak in the scenery – it was forever changing, and I knew it would soon be dark

At the checkpoint a volunteer handed me a size 3XL safety vest which now became part of my mandatory gear for the rest of the race. I threw all my stuff on the ground and tried to think about something other than how much running I’d be doing in the dark.

I turned my phone on so I could see how Graham was going in the 100. He seemed to be going really well based on his checkpoint times. I called Kelly-ann who was crewing for him and found out he was sick. I called Graham to help put his problems in perspective, and promptly cried about how my aid station had run out of Coke. We wished each other well and bet that each other would finish first.

Heartbreaking: all these empty Coke bottles and none left for me

I refilled my Fizz and my entire water bladder. I didn’t know the course and thought Nellies Glen was coming up and I needed to be prepared. I tried to eat a donut but it was too doughy so I shoved some watermelon in my mouth to make it easier to swallow. Cinnamon donut and watermelon didn’t taste nearly as disgusting as you’d think. It was 4pm and already getting cold and dark so I put my arm warmers back on, repacked my gear so I could retrieve my safety vest and head lamp without taking my pack off, took a deep breath and ventured back onto the trail.

Running down the steep farm driveway wasn’t as fun or as fast as I would have liked with every step sending shockwaves through the sore spots on my feet. I simply hoped I looked like I was running as I passed the photographer! A few steps later and I was walking. Walking didn’t hurt my feet. So I walked faster. I tried to keep under 9 min/km pace and popped a Panadol to see if it would help with the pain.

Weeeee! Downhill is my favourite!
And quickly realising my feet were killing: ouch, ouch, ouch
I only ran from the farm gate until I passed the photographer
Smiling and running – just for the photo!

Suddenly, more steep hills. Once again, this was as steep as Sublime Point! Oh well, I told myself, if you can do Sublime, you can do these hills. Small steps. Stay upright. Tuck in the butt. Focus on form. “Butt butt butt butt” I chanted as I walked up the hills, reminding myself to ensure my glutes pulled their weight. I was proud of them. Woohoo – go glutes!

My little steps weren’t fast but I was consistent. At the top of the hills I was passing the people who had passed me at the bottom. I resolved to walk the rest of the race. Yeah – great idea. Walking is easy. Walking is fun. Keep walking. Oh look, downhill – must run. Hang on… the side of my left foot has stopped hurting – it’s a miracle! Now I could run some flat bits too.

I snapped a photo as the last of the daylight disappeared over the hill. While still walking I put on my safety vest and went to get out my headlamp. Somehow my headlamp got caught in the elastic of my pack. I yanked on it and it came flying out. It somersaulted through the air and crashed onto the road a few metres in front of me. Fuck – please be ok, please be ok. Thankfully my headlamp survived unscathed.

Bye bye sun!

Once my headlamp was on I suddenly got a second wind. I don’t mind running at night and it occurred to me that it wasn’t going to be as much of a problem as I’d feared. Soon I was in a paddock. I observed the humongous cow pats on the ground and thought about taking a photo so I could caption it “this is shit”. But the truth was that my race wasn’t shit. I was actually feeling pretty good.

In the distance we could hear a strange sound. Another runner and I agreed that it must be some kind of strange Blue Mountains night bird. We carried on.

The sound got louder. And it got clearer. We realised it was a human being making that sound, cheering on runners as they came into the next checkpoint! 35k: done.

Oh hang on. Where was Nellies Glen? I guess it wasn’t between here and the previous checkpoint. My bladders were full – both the one in my pack and my internal one. I didn’t need to refill my drinks but I decided it was wise to make use of the portaloo. After that I figured some Oriental cup noodles would be my dinner so I scoffed those and drank the soup. It was unbelievably good. I called Kelly-ann to check in on Graham and she said he was still going. So I moved on. Only 15 kilometres to go – I was determined not just to finish but to finish strong.

Cannot emphasise enough how amazing these cup noodles were

Run walk run walk run walk. Sometimes I could run for a longer stretch, other times I’d only run for about 20 metres, just to give me enough speed to “powerhike the shit out of it”.

I downed a fruit pouch. Holy moly – it was amazing. Possibly the greatest thing I’d ever eaten in my life. So. Happy. Right. Now.

I promised myself to stay in that positive head space. I knew my finishing time wouldn’t look great but there was nothing I could do to make up for all the delays in the first 20k.

I was mostly walking with a bit of running thrown in and I started getting calf twitches. It’s the strangest sensation but I knew that cramps could be on their way. I lengthened my stride and purposely struck the ground with my heels until the twitches went away.

The forest started closing in and I figured I’d be hitting the dreaded Nellies Glen in a few km. I was told it was two kilometres of hell and worse than Furber, so I was going to allow myself an hour to get to the top if needed. I started on another amazing apple and focused on how good it tasted. Walking and munching. I’m good. This is good. I’m ready. I made it to the sign for Nellies Glen and took a photo. I considered ditching the other half of my apple but it was too good to waste so I hung out next to the sign and casually kept eating, watching about a dozen people pass me, into the gates of hell.

That sign.

Apple finished and I pegged the core as hard as I could down the creek and into the darkness. “Stuff you Nellie” I said out loud – and off I went.

I didn’t bother with stepping stones – I just walked through the water. It numbed my poor toes. It was heaven. Up up up.

It the steps were narrow or rocky or slippery I was bear crawling. I was covered in mud but didn’t care. This was fast (for me) and it was easy and I didn’t have to worry about tripping or slipping. On all fours I passed so many people. My butt was in the air. I just didn’t care. From time to time the steps would get bigger so I’d stand up, focus on my form and push way up the next set. People were sitting on the stairs. One bloke was throwing up. Keep going. Crawl crawl crawl. Butt butt butt.  Ooh water – numb feet – go again. I kept passing people but it left me with nobody to follow and at times I’d find myself staring at a pile of rocks wondering where the trail had gone, only to discover it had veered off to the side, out of the circle of light provided by my headlamp. It was an adventure!

I was waiting for it to get really hard. That’s when I heard a lady a few metres ahead shout “oh my god!”. I thought “here it is” and I braced myself for the worst. I rounded the corner and there was a volunteer.

“Congratulations,” he said. “You’ve made it to the top of Nellies Glen.”

“You’re my favourite person today,” I told him.

“You’re MY favourite person today,” he told me.

How fortunate that the universe had brought us together at that point.

There were still more stairs and trail to go but my energy levels were high. I was running and it was good. I kept passing people. Just as I was wondering if I was the only person mad enough to be running at this stage of the race – and amazed at my body’s ability to actually do it – I realised I couldn’t see any more pink ribbons. Out of the corner of my eye I spied something white. I shone my headlamp onto it. It was a dreaded wrong way sign which had fallen down. I turned around to look behind me and saw the woman behind me (who was only about five metres away) turn left. I called “have I gone the wrong way?” and THEN she said yes. I just loved how she watched me go the wrong way and didn’t say anything but was clearly close enough to me to answer when I asked. Would she have just let me keep running down the wrong trail? I backtracked those few metres and she was in front of me. I was angry and needed to pass. Thankfully it happened soon enough.

I could hear people cheering and I had reached the road. They stopped me to make sure my gigantic safety vest was on properly (it was falling off my shoulders so I’d tried to tuck it under my pack). Whether they were local residents or official volunteers, the cheer squad through this section was awesome. I could see the lights of the last checkpoint, the Aquatic Centre, up ahead. I was running. My feet were smashed but I was running. I called Kelly to tell her I had survived Nellies and was on my way to the checkpoint. She said she thought Graham was only a few km away as well. Perhaps we would finish at the same time. I kept running and imagined how incredible a scenario that would be, no matter how unlikely.

I ran through the Aquatic Centre checkpoint and kept on running. There were a few hills that I walked up but I was still passing people. I made it to the pedestrian crossing near the park but I arrived just as the bus came along and the volunteer made me stop.

Then something awesome happened: the bus driver sounded his horn “beep beep beep beep!”.  He had stopped to give way to me. I went to wave and it came out super-enthusiastically and I had both hands in the air and was jumping up and down with excitement about getting to cross the road – and the whole bus started cheering. It was hilarious and gave me a huge boost of energy. The noise woke up the spectators in the park across the road and they cheered loudly as I passed them.

I went down the steps towards Furber. It was so dark but I knew I was close to the end. I could hear it. I wondered where this path would lead. Why were there more steps? My watch signalled 50k but I still couldn’t see the finish line. I joked to some volunteers that I’d done my 50k, so why couldn’t they bring the medal to me?

I wondered where Graham was up to. I asked a volunteer if they’d seen him (as if they’d know!). I hit the boardwalk. This was it.

I made a mental list of the things I needed to do before I finished: 1) make sure my safety vest was not obscuring my race number so as not to spoil my finishing photo; 2) turn off my headlamp when I got to the finishing chute; 3) run the boardwalk.

I started with number 3. It was hard to get momentum at first but once I got started my legs moved the fastest they had all day. Someone shouted to take my safety vest off completely for a better photo – and so I did. I stopped after the steps and miraculously I turned off my headlamp first go (normally I cycle through at least two rounds of various light intensities and flashing combinations). I started running. I felt fast. I was fast (ok maybe I just felt fast). People were cheering. The announcer called my name. My arms were in the air. I was celebrating. My feet were over the line. I had done it! I have NEVER crossed a finish line with so much energy and absolute joy. I was an ultramarathoner!

Last corner before the finish line. Pic by Jennie Wills
This felt like the fastest I have ever run in my life
Woohoo! What a feeling – crossing that finish line

I was so glad my friend Christy was able to give me my medal. It was such a special moment.

Had to go back for a photo with Christy – my medal-giver-outerer
Medal and finisher’s buff – my favourite bling
After no Coke at the aid stations, I hastily downed three cups of sparkling brown wine in the recovery area

More hugs from friends, then I got my gear checked, took a selfie and then it was time to anxiously wait for Graham to finish. He’s got his own story about his epic and incredible 100k – and I’ll leave that to him to tell – but watching him cross that  finish line with a huge smile on his face was even more emotional than when I’d finished my own race. I was absolutely in awe and bursting with pride for him.

It was a long and tough day. But we did it. We finished ultramarathons with smiles on our faces. Outside of our phenomenal group of running friends, there aren’t too many people in the world who can say they’ve done that.

To Graham, Jo, Brendan, Kelly-ann, Kellie and Darryl: your words of wisdom calmed me when I was freaking out. Every little bit of advice you gave me ran through my head at some point during the race and I am grateful that you took the time to encourage little old me.

To my friends who offered their best wishes and support and reminded me that what I accomplished wasn’t nothing: thank you from the bottom of my heart. The medal is cool, but the friends I have made thanks to running over the last few years mean more to me than I will ever be able to express in words.

To UTA50: see you next year.

Gem H xx

My precious

 

Sydney Morning Herald Half Marathon 2017

Race recap by Gem M

You might want to get a cup of tea/coffee and a packet of Tim Tams for this read. This is my first blog so bear with me! It’s 9.30am and I’m sitting here eating my third breakfast for the morning trying not to let tears fall into my six Weetbix and what seems like half a bottle of milk. I am in pain. My quads hurt, my glutes hurt, and I’m pretty sure my butt crack is chafed so I’m rocking the granny panties. Most of all my mind hurts. All I can think about is not getting sub 2 hours for yesterday’s SMH Half Marathon. Don’t get me wrong, it was a tough course winding through the city with beautiful views of our iconic harbour. But my official time of 2:04:24 doesn’t feel good enough for me. I know I shouldn’t be comparing this to my first half at Western Sydney in October where I ran 1:57:39, but I can’t help it. I sat down with my husband last night and we went through the stats. You can’t even compare these two courses. Yesterday’s run was four times the elevation with a nice climb at the end just to punish your legs that extra bit. Western Sydney is almost dead flat.

I didn’t train consistently leading up to SMH and I had a lot of mental barriers that were tough to break through over the last seven months. In February a dear friend of mine gifted me her entry and I thought “This is what I need to get focused on my training again”. Triathlon was well and truly over for me as we were already over halfway through the 2017/18 season and I’d raced twice. I decided not to do any more tris until the new season starts in September and focus on getting fit and healthy again. Maybe I’d even do a few running races over winter. I had been neglecting and self sabotaging my body for a while now and it’s a long, slow battle that I am working through day by day. My mantra was “Trust the process”. Well that only works if you’re consistent. I wonder whether the amount of training I didn’t do because of my excuses cost me that sub 2 hour time I was hoping for: too tired, bad day at work, didn’t eat enough, ate too much, I simply don’t want to train, my mind is exhausted. It all adds up. Through my 12 week training block I did have some really good sessions but I also had some pretty poor efforts as well. Getting back into training after a break is crazy hard. I expected to bounce back to where I was before my septoplasty in November and that didn’t happen. I was getting the times but it was three times the effort and messing with my head. I forced myself to put on weight since January to get back to a number where my body wasn’t shutting down on me and those extra kilos were literally weighing me down. I am getting side tracked, this is a story for another day.

As race day was getting closer I was ready for it to be over so I could get back into my normal training again. I was feeling good but the self doubt started to creep in a few days before. Am I being too hard on myself? What have I got to prove? I’ve ran a half before, what’s the problem? I’ve done the training, just go out and run. Of course you’ll be able to run a sub 2 hour! My expectations weren’t unrealistic… or maybe they were. I just wanted to get to that start line and run for two hours and have it over and done with.

Race day

The weather was perfect! I ate three pikelets for breakfast and half a bottle of water. At 5.30am Hyde Park and St Mary’s Cathedral were lit up and the other runners were starting to gather. I met with the other Running Mums Australia girls for a quick chat and a photo and did my stretches and warm up. Making my way over to the start line the nerves were starting to set in.

Me with my husband Shane, nervously awaiting the start

There were thousands of people; close to 12,000. As I’m getting older (I’m only 32!) my uneasiness around crowds is getting worse. My stomach flipped and I knew I still had around 45 minutes until my group start. I joined my start group and pushed my way almost to the front and settled to the side next to the barrier. Thank goodness my husband, Shane, was there for support because I probably would have said “Fxxx this I’m out of here!”. I was in the 4th start group but probably could have been in the 3rd. My mouth tasted gross from my chewy, I felt like I was going to throw up and I didn’t have any water. Some jelly beans would have to do. My race belt was loaded – GU stroop wafels, Clif Blocks and jelly beans for that instant sugar hit if I needed it. Need it I did. Yum! Apple flavoured jelly bean to remove the taste of nerves. It tasted good but it didn’t calm my nerves. I started to cry. It was all becoming too overwhelming. I wasn’t even nervous for the race ahead at this point, just nervous of the crowd.

Finally the start gun was going off and the groups were progressing to the start line. The wait felt like forever and then some. I knew that as soon as it was my turn to go I’d be fine. As our group were waiting to start I got chatting to a guy named Garry on the sideline from Can Too. Next to him was a giant panda which gave me a much needed giggle – hahaha! He asked me about the buff I was wearing and later in the conversation I found out that he was co-coordinating the virtual run I am doing in August with 40 other runners in my area (including Lisa who’s currently living in Suva, Fiji!!). This was the first time I’d worn it and run for this cause which I was proud to be wearing and raising awareness. I was running against Domestic Violence. I gave him the short version of how it was close to home for myself and a number of my friends. I want to raise awareness for not only the women, but also the men who suffer. Most of the time suffering in silence. I was grateful for the chat and the encouragement. It was then time for the gun the start my wave. We were off and running.

I felt really good mentally and physically now that I was on the move. I saw Shane just on the other side of the start line and gave him a smile and a peace sign. Thank you buildings and horrible GPS signal for giving me false information on my watch. I knew I went out a bit faster than I had planned but I was running by feel and I felt good. I stopped looking at my watch every time it beeped which felt like every 10 seconds. It killed me not knowing what my average pace was and I didn’t trust the pace updates every km. Watches were going off everywhere and the other runners were just as confused as I was but it didn’t look like it was affecting them as much as it was affecting me. I just tried to keep my cool and focused on my breathing and my form. I saw Shane at around 5km. It was so nice to see his handsome face (gush!). He ran alongside me for a couple of hundred metres, checking in and reassuring me that I was looking good and I came through the 5km quickly. I knew that I’d see him again at 13km which kept my spirits up. There were people stopping to go to the port-a-loo at 7km? We are 1/3 of the way into a 21.1km run – why didn’t you go before we started?! Not my problem, just keep running. I saw the relay changeover area and the kids that were running for the Premature Babies running group. They were awesome! Just as awesome as the vision impaired athletes from the Achilles Running Club. I find I’m always cheering on a walker, those with a stitch or having cramps/shin splints, fellow RMAs and the kids. I did lots of cheering even when I was ready to give up. Anything to keep the vibe positive.

Coming up to 8/9km I asked someone what pace we were running at and they said 5:44.Time to get those legs moving if I wanted to get sub 2 hr. Even though I had run parts of the course on two separate training runs, the inclines still got me. I was fuelling as per my plan but it seemed like every turn I took there was a surprise incline waiting for me. When the course doubled up and I was running down hill, I knew there’d be an uphill on the way back. I pushed through. The hydration tables were chaos. Apparently people can commit to running long distance but don’t know how to run through a water station. I was annoyed. I knew I had to keep my fluids up and the tables were four people deep as if everyone was dying of thirst and it was the last drink they’d ever have. I skipped the first couple of tables at the stations and went to the end ones diving in grabbing two cups, trying not to punch anyone in the guts with my flying arms. Don’t even get me started on the last minute sippers that cut you off and don’t apologise. Where is the etiquette? In my head I was screaming “Oh sorry, you couldn’t hear me swearing at you because you have your headphones on and are not aware of your surroundings! There are some of us trying to actually get a PB and not just finish the race.” RANT OVER. At approx 10km some thoughtful kids had big bowls of lollies. YES! I know you shouldn’t take lollies from strangers but these looked so good at the time. I grabbed a handful, ate a couple of snakes but then my hands got sticky so I chucked them in the air and screamed “Woooooooooo!!” at the Nova stand where they had a sign saying “Chase the Chafe”. No chafing here baby, I had my tri glide loaded up and my thighs were slipping and sliding the whole race. Yeaaaaah. It is only now that I realise my butt is chafed and it hurts. It hurts to sit and I have no relief.

Shane made an appearance again around 13km in. I was still feeling good. Starting to feel the heat but knew I was over halfway and only 8km until I could have Red Bull and some kiwi fruit. At this point there was no energy to fight the aid stations for the best cup so I admit that I did walk a few steps so I could get a good amount of fluids in. I knew I’d need it for the last part of the race. I was starting to fatigue and my mind quit a couple of times. The tears didn’t fall but they wanted to. I reminded myself of why I was running, the reasons I was running and how good it feels to run. Even when you’re starting to fall apart the pain is a reminder of what you feel deep inside and no matter how lost you are out there in the race, it’s going to end soon enough. I have felt pain worse than what I did during the race. I was going to survive and not give up. Coming over the Cahill Expressway the view is worth it – the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. You can’t help but smile hard and be grateful for everything. I was on my way home and I was going to see Shane again in a few km for an update. I think he knew at this point that I wasn’t going to make it under 2 hrs but he didn’t say that. Nothing but words of encouragement.

On the road up to Hyde Park was around 17.5/18km. I was done. My hip flexors were sore. My glutes were burning. I was actually thinking of eating after the race which I never do. I knew that I only had to go down to Mrs Macquarie’s Chair and come back up. The crowd was loud. They were cheering for everyone and anyone! The views were still beautiful through my tired eyes and I just needed to go down the hill then come back up. As I turned into the last section of the course there was carnage on the side of the road. Stretchers were full of casualties and there were a few runners looking dazed and confused. It was quite confronting and I quietly said to myself “This is not going to be you”. I ate a jellybean, got down to water table and drowned my sorrows. At this point I was unclear if I had water, sweat or pee running down my legs. I believe it was a combination of all three. I didn’t care. Keep the legs moving and the body temperature down. I saw the cathedral and knew the finish line was just around the corner. The legs were dead, the tears were welling up. I couldn’t cry because I already couldn’t see properly because I was so tired. I turned the corner to the finish line and tried to find Shane. There he was, smile on his face, cheering me on, his sausage wallet, his lover, his second time half marathon wifey. I couldn’t see the Red Bull but I knew he’d have it there ready for me. I crossed the line, stopped the watch and felt my legs buckle. Official time of 2:04:24. I was home. If it wasn’t for a guy walking next to me I would’ve been on the pavement. Said my apologies and staggered along towards the medal table. I must have looked like a crazy woman “Where’s my Red Bull? I need my Red Bull” I got my Red Bull. I mumbled something and saw another RMA and we bonded for a moment over wetting ourselves and had a laugh about it.

I was relieved I completed the race but I also had a heavy heart. I knew that I didn’t get the time I wanted. I felt like I gave it my all but didn’t at the same time. There were so many smiles everywhere and here I was disappointed. I found Shane and we went to the RMA tent. Had a chat the other mums who just finished also then got my back and legs had rubbed down. It was two minutes of relief and then it was time to go. I wanted to check my stats and go over every little detail. Back at the hotel I had a scorching hot shower and thought about the race. It was tough. Tougher than I expected and a realisation that even though I thought I had trained enough, I hadn’t. I am never satisfied with my races – whether it’s running or triathlon. Will I ever be happy with a race or will I always find something to pick at? I don’t know. Only time will tell.

Mmmm… ramen! Best post-race meal ever

We went and had some lunch – ramen noodles. As if that wasn’t the best post-race meal! I checked my stats. What. The. Hell. Strava told me I got 26 trophies and a new 5k, 10k, 15k, 20k PB. It also told me that I ran 22.6km. It was too good to be true! And that it was. Zooming in on the map of the course the GPS shit itself a few times. Which I already knew but I was secretly hoping that I magically ran an extra 1.5km and I would be under 2 hours. Nope. Official finish time doesn’t lie. But Strava is Strava and that’s where all my stats are so even if my PBs aren’t accurate, I’ve got an idea of what I have to aim for at next year’s SMH race.

So what’s next for me? Well this afternoon I’ll have a recovery swim and then lather my butt with some moisturiser for some relief. I’ll rock the granny panties for a few days and maybe buy an inflatable donut and some actual donuts to scoff down while I’m at it. I then have to sit down to plan my next training block. It’ll consist of more speed work and strength. Next up I’ve got the GCAM half in July which I hear is a scenic, flat course. I am looking forward to a four-day weekend away and the exciting times that lay ahead. Thanks for reading my first blog. It was actually longer than I thought it would be but I hope you felt the emotions and much as I did while reliving them.

Peace out.

Gem M xx

 

One day a Gemma met another Gemma

It was a sunny Saturday in May 2015 when a Gemma met the Other Gemma after our weekly parkrun. Drawn together by mutual friends, a love of running, and by having the same first name, little did we know that within two years, we’d have grown to become such dear friends – backing each other through the ups and downs of life, and laughing so hard at our own shenanigans that we nearly wet our pants (and maybe sometimes actually have).

About Gem H

Gem H

Despite playing a lot of soccer and broomball in her younger years, Gem H dedicated her butt to the lounge and Cadbury’s for a good four year stint, until she reached a point where walking 200m to her daughter’s school left her out of breath and needing a recovery nap. By November 2014, something had to change. After seeing a few friends participate in parkrun, Gem H set a goal to do her first one in under 40 minutes. She did it in 39:38 and nearly vomited at the finish line, but it was the beginning of a new life. Life took a few twists and turns and before she knew it, running had become Gem H’s thing. From struggling to run 200m, Gem H has become a proud “mid-packer” and has found a passion for trail running. Gem H is now a Run Director and regular volunteer at Nepean River parkrun, an ambassador for RunFaster, and is usually chief photographer on any group run. Gem H still eats a lot of chocolate.

About Gem M

Gem M

Growing up Gem M was the kid that would choose a book over sport. The sports she did get involved in consisted of very little running – softball and being the goalie for school soccer. In 2011 Gem M became a derby girl and rocked the fishnets and booty shorts. She also rocked the late night takeaway binges and piled on the kilos. February 2013 was a turning point when she realised how much weight she’d put on. Gem M hit the gym and changed her eating habits before she started running in late 2014 to lose a few more kilos. Gem M remembers showing up to her first parkrun with her husband, feeling out of place. Little did she know that this was just the start of her love/hate relationship running and the start of many amazing friendships. Gem M completed her first triathlon in March 2015 and couldn’t believe she didn’t drown in the 200m swim as she had a massive fear of the water since nearly drowning when she was 11. Gem M learnt how to swim again at the age of 30 (two years ago). Despite her fears and self doubt, she’s since gone on to complete two Nepean triathlons and several sprint distance races. She ran her first half marathon in October 2016. Just like the Other Gemma, Gem M still loves chocolate. So much that when she gets in the zone, a full packet of mint slice biscuits has no chance.

What else is there to know about The Other Gemmas?

We Gemmas have busy lives. We both have jobs and kids – so days start early and most nights we go to bed at Nana-O’clock. We manage to squeeze in our training between our parenting responsibilities and work but while we both have plenty of stories to tell about our personal lives, we’ll be keeping them pretty private.  This blog and our related social media accounts will focus on topics related to our running adventures.

 

Look out world, The Other Gemmas are here! 

Two mother runners: one is a triathlete while the other likes to stack it on the trails. Same name. Different Gemmas. Through adventures and crazy ideas, join us on this journey of honest self-discovery as we accept and embrace our imperfections and celebrate what makes us unique. Laugh with us. Laugh at us. Whatever. We don’t care. We’re just busy being Gemmas.

Australian Running Festival 2017

Canberra Half Marathon race recap by Gem H

It’s been a tough start to the year for me and my running. Since before Christmas, I’ve had dozens of physio visits, been taped back together, eaten painkillers for breakfast and occasionally found time to do a plethora of strange exercises designed to make my muscles behave. Sometimes it feels like for every step forward, there is a step back.

While my right calf, left hip, left glute and lower back argue over which one will cause me the most discomfort on any particular day (or occasionally surprise me by cooperating!), my brain has also been tormenting me­ – I haven’t broken a PB in months; I’m not getting faster; I’m not running further. This lack of statistical improvement sometimes has me questioning why I keep going.

Injury sucks but there has been a silver lining. I’ve had to slow down to heal and strengthen by body, which has led me to reframe my thinking. I no longer feel compelled to try for a PB every time I put on my running shoes. Training is training, not a race. In fact, even races aren’t always races. Racing has become about running smart and having realistic expectations.

This brings me to the 2017 Australian Running Festival half marathon in Canberra. When I signed up for this event, I thought I’d be fully recovered and that it would be my opportunity to strive for a half marathon PB. As the weeks turned into months, and I hadn’t run more than 14k without stopping all year, it became apparent that it would take a miracle to get a sub-2 hour time in Canberra. So I moved the goal posts.

Instead of focusing on getting a PB, I had these goals in mind: 1) run to at least 15k, making it my longest continuous run of 2017 so far; and 2) be kind to myself and enjoy the experience.

I set off behind the 2 hour pacers but within the first kilometre I had overtaken them. I was running easy but as the course was downhill at that stage it made sense for me to make the most of the free energy. At 8k I was running so well I was on track for a 10k PB but I slowed down to have a gel at 9k so I’d be able to wash it down at the 10k drink station.

Oh how I loved running in the rain! My music was going and I was now more than a few hundred metres ahead of the 2 hour pacers.

I kept my pace going up the hill coming into 11k, but looked at my watch and realised I was behind pace to get a sub-2 hour half. The pacers were still behind me but I suppose they were aiming for even or negative splits whereas I knew I’d be much slower in the second half of the race.

By 14k I was fatigued. People had started passing me. I’d passed the point of my longest continuous run for the year and just wanted to hang on until 15k, which I did.

This point coincided with the onset of stomach cramps. I gave myself permission to walk. The 2 hour pacers ran past me. I think I walked more than I ran until the 18k mark, and then I knew with only three and a bit more ks to go, I could run it home. I knew it wouldn’t be a PB but I wasn’t worried.

“Run home strong,” I told myself as I ran over the last bridge. I started counting down the rest of the race in minutes left to run rather than the distance still to cover. Sadly at 20k those stomach cramps got the best of me and I had to walk a few hundred metres again. When I rounded the corner and could see the finish line, I knew I had to keep running, even if it was slow. The rain was teeming down and I was soaked to the bone. I crossed the finish line and stopped my watch. It was the second fastest half marathon I’d ever run officially, but even better was that I’d finished the race still smiling. I’d achieved everything I’d set out to achieve that day (and even set a sneaky personal record for 15k).

The Australian Running Festival half marathon was a great course – a few reasonably gentle hills but nothing too scary, and a good way to see Canberra. The atmosphere was amazing, despite the weather, and I’m already planning to go back and give it another go next year.

 

 

Even though another race passed by without breaking that sub-2 hour goal I still felt like I ran the best race I could that day. A personal best can be about more than just the finishing time, and this year I intend to be more open minded with my definition of success.

Gem H xx

This race recap originally appeared on the RunFaster blog. Gem H is an ambassador for RunFaster. Enter code GH10 at checkout for 10% discount.

Bling Bling! What’s the medal tally?

Let’s face it – The Other Gemmas LOVE sweet, sweet bling. Thought we’d keep a tally of what we’ve scored so far this year, and keep updating it each time a new medal comes home.

Gem H

January 2017
Race: Cadbury Running Festival
Distance: Half marathon (road)
Location: Hobart, Tasmania
Bling score: Nice medal of the map of Tassie. Also scored a string backpack and heaps of Cadbury chocolate

 

 

 

 

March 2017
Race: Greater Volcanic Mountain Challenge
Distance: 14k (trail)
Location: Orange, NSW
Bling score: Cute medal for an inexpensive local race. Watermelon at the finish line (on top of the third mountain) was excellent

 

 

 

April 2017
Race: Australian Running Festival
Distance: Half marathon (road)
Location: Canberra, ACT
Bling score: Nice medal, nice running in the rain. Read Gem H’s race recap here

 

 

 

May 2017
Race: Ultra-Trail Australia
Distance: 50K Ultra (trail)
Location: Blue Mountains, NSW
Bling score: Gorgeous medal. Also received a finisher’s buff (can’t buy that in stores!) and a race t-shirt. Rates as one of the BEST events for atmosphere – consistently amazing. Read Gem H’s race recap here

 

June 2017
Race: NT City 2 Surf
Distance: 12k, well technically 12.7k (road)
Location: Darwin, NT
Bling score: Lovely medal and the cold wet towel at the finish line was exactly what was needed during the NT dry season heat (approx. 30 degrees in early June)

 

Gem M

Bling to come…