Bruny Island Ultra Marathon 2016
The Bruny Island Ultra is a truly challenging event, but it is also uplifting and beautiful. Having run it before, I did kind of know how hard and painful it would be, but the brain sometimes does funny things- pushing aside and minimising our memories of the awful parts, whilst emphasising the best parts (how else do you explain them trying to bring back Hey Hey It’s Saturday). Even so, I knew it was a day for bravery so, accordingly, I started the day with an act of courage, making the bold fashion choice not to wear black running shorts.
Once I had got my heart rate back down from that piece of early excitement, I pottered around the house doing little things like eating, taping various parts of the body and ensuring all of my kit was ready. I was pretty nervous by this time. Having been sick for the last week, I felt I was far from ideally prepared (although regular readers may have noticed I seem to never think I am well-prepared), but I was also pretty excited. You don’t get the opportunity to test yourself like this all that often and struggling through it is part of the experience (I would regret these words later). This event was also another step I wanted to complete as part of my recovery from last year’s injury, so being able to finish in a similar time to when I ran in 2014 would be an indicator that I really might be back to full fitness.
The last time I ran this event I had my own dedicated support vehicle (as you are supposed to) driven by the amazing Cookie Monster. This time around I was piggy backing on the Solemates support vehicle, which would be looking after the Dalts, Ben, Lewinski and now myself. Crewing for four people is no easy feat, but with our support team of the Meme Machine and the Solemates First Lady herself, we knew we would be well looked after.
We drove down to the tranquil beauty of Denne’s Point- which is an amazing place to start from- arriving about sevenish. Everyone had a final nervous toilet stop (Lewinski might have had a few) and Ben started running early, while the rest of us took a couple of photos then checked in for registration to start with the 7:20 group. We did a short warm up jog and then endured some nervous minutes waiting to see if our GPS watches could get a signal (imagine running without a GPS watch- actually don’t, it’s too horrific to think about). Thankfully they did with only seconds to spare.
It is a pretty solid climb away from the start line and we set off at a steady pace, chatting as we went. After almost two kilometres of continuous uphill, we crested the hill and were soon looking down on the picturesque Bull Bay, which was being touched by the a few rays of early morning sunshine. The next few kilometres dipped up and down gently and we found we were making surprisingly good time. When I ran the Melbourne Marathon recently I finally accepted that by conserving a bit of extra strength in the first half I can come home stronger and run a faster time. I suggested this as a strategy to the guys I was running with, but it was rejected by President Dalts, who was in favour of going fairly hard from the start and struggling through the final 20km of hills. Even typing it now, that sounds like a bad plan to me, but I agreed to go along with them for the first 10km and see how I was feeling. After all you don’t argue with a president- that can get you killed or jailed in some countries (maybe even America from next year).
Our support crew were awesome from the start. I grabbed a Powerade from the Meme Machine at the eight kilometre mark without even having to break stride or deviate from my course. We hit the main road and the course flattened out nicely with the water of Great Bay just to our right. I continued to load up on food and drink from our wonderful support crew, although as much as anything I looked forward to seeing them for their smiling faces and encouragement. It wasn’t just First Lady and the Meme Machine who were cheering us on either. There were a few teams running at a similar pace to us in the first half of the race and we got plenty of encouragement from them as well, especially from our friends in Your Pace Or Mine and the extremely enthusiastic Lynch Mob who had a bit of a Halloween theme to their costumes.
I had to make a decision about speed during this section as well. I could have dropped back to the speed I had originally thought seemed a reasonable pace, or I could keep going with the other two and hope I didn’t suffer too much towards the end of the race. I knew that the other two guys had a fair bit more experience with distance running, but I was feeling pretty good and it would have felt a bit unnatural to slow down too much. More significantly, history has taught us that you don’t leave a Lewinski alone with the President, so I decided to keep going at the quicker pace of the other two.
Approaching the iconic section of the neck, the road goes from sealed to unsealed quicker than Hansard documents when Barnaby Joyce needs to alter them. I was really enjoying the run along the flat dirt road, only metres from the water, but I wasn’t letting myself get carried away. Much like the Australian economy with the Coalition in power for another three years, I had plenty of pain to come.
Lewinski and I were still feeling pretty good as we hit the half way point and made our way up the first of the big hills a few kilometres before Allonah. Unfortunately the President had dropped off a little, but he wasn’t that far behind. As I got into the town, I began to feel tightness stealthily creeping into my muscles, the way Susan Ley tries to surreptitiously slip it into her health policies. It wasn’t forcing me to slow, but it was enough of a warning sign for me to do so voluntarily. I said goodbye to Lewinski and watched as his skinny legs slowly began to disappear into the distance over the course of the next 5km.
I saw some more friendly faces as I passed the Bruny Hotel, which faces out onto another beautiful beach. The Easier Said Than Run team had caught up to me in Andrew’s Fun Bus. Mick passed me an ice-cold bottle of water that was as well-received as clean energy in developed countries outside of Australia (and soon Trump’s America). It was great timing to see these guys, as with the solo runners starting to spread out, our poor support crew had a tough time trying to look after all of us at once. Don’t get me wrong they were doing a fantastic job but they were just having to work really hard. Kind of like a teacher in an overcrowded classroom, they just couldn’t always be there at the second you wanted help (take note Jeremy Rockliff).
I had set the marathon point as a key checkpoint I was looking forward to. But if I knew that it was at the end of nearly a kilometre of unrelenting uphill, maybe I’d have looked forward to it less. I battled my way to the top and even though I had been running conservatively, I actually completed the marathon part of the race in a time that was only about four minutes slower than my time for The Ross Marathon a few months ago.
I didn’t hit exactly hit the wall. The wall hit me. It was shortly after Lunawanna and I was back onto dirt road as I crept towards the 50km mark. All of a sudden my legs lost power and my pace began edging up to around the six minute kilometre mark that I had been hoping to stay under. Oh yeah- and the pain started. My feet hurt. My quads hurt. So did my knees and my calves. Even my arms were hurting.
Soon after, I was running along an amazing section of the course with thick greenery rising to my right and the expansive Cloudy Bay Lagoon serene and still on my left. There was barely a zephyr of wind. I had to deliberately remind myself to look up from the ground and take it all in, because it was a little hard to appreciate.
There is a big old nasty hill at around 53km. Any thought of staying under six minute kilometres was left at its base. I could see Trent, who was running his first ultra, further up the hill and I slowly made up the distance to where he was battling along with his support driver, Hayley, who had parked ahead and run down to him. Neither of us had much to say at this point, nor could either of us really change pace to run together, but it was nice to see a friend and to know that he was still going with little more than 10km to go. Not long after I went past them, Hayley dashed off back to the car, passing me like I was standing still.
The First Lady was waiting at the 54 or 56km mark (it gets a little blurry). Looking at my pained and despairing expression she could tell I was either really hurting or I had just been reading the Nauru files. “What do you need?” she asked with some concern.
Most of the way up a savage hill, I was pretty spent. I couldn’t actually work out what I wanted at this point. Neither food nor drink really seemed appealing. I didn’t even have the energy to say, “A competent government with integrity.”
Getting to the top of that hill was not the end of the hard work either. The next seven kilometres were mostly hilly, with a couple more real tough ones. I didn't have my ipod, but I kept the adapted words of the my running song playing in my head. I came upon another of my friends, the incredible Caro, who was looking great as she ran towards the top of a hill that a lot of people were walking on. I was quickly regretting my decision not to take a drink at the last station. Luckily the wonderful Hayley appeared repeatedly at the next few stops and I grabbed a couple of drinks from her.
Seeing the lighthouse with 3km to go is fantastic for your spirits. It also coincides with a mostly downhill and flat section before the final climb. I saw a few friends hanging around at the base of the hill, having already finished their events. Chris jumped alongside me with some words of encouragement and then led me up the steep track to the lighthouse, ensuring I didn’t crash into anyone walking back down.
I cried again when I finished. I knew I would and I’m not embarrassed about it. This event is personal to me precisely because it is so physically and emotionally challenging. Part of why I put myself through the ordeal is about those I have lost, especially two of my greatest friends, James and Matthew. I don’t do it to honour them or remember them as such- I do that every day anyway. But when I am pushed to such a raw emotional state, the mental compartments and caveats I have put around my grief collapse and I feel the purest emotions and memories of those I have lost.
I cried myself out in a couple of minutes and then I was able to enjoy the enormity of the day. I had run a lot faster than I had expected, smashing my previous time, even though I had slowed as expected in the final third. Flushed with success and happiness, I was able to now appreciate the full magnificence of the views from the lighthouse. In every direction there were spectacular cliffs, curving bays or the blue of the sea. I took a few photos of everything but the actual lighthouse (unlike everyone else who seemed to be taking photos of the lighthouse, so maybe I missed a memo). A lot of my friends were up there already, including most of the teams I had seen earlier in the run, and the shared feeling of euphoria and community was amazing to be part of. I got to see a number of other friends finish individually and in teams and then got to vicariously re-experience the overwhelming sense of accomplishment at finishing all over again.
After about an hour we headed back to the Bruny Hotel, where the official presentations were to be held (I'll put a link up to the results as soon as they are finalised). We lazed on the lawns comparing blisters and injuries as people began to ‘rehydrate’ with their drink of choice. There seemed to be an endless supply of amazing pumpkin soup which was a particular highlight after hours of eating energy lollies and the like. Along with my happiness I felt a great sense of gratitude to all those who helped me along through the day or who helped to put the event on. For all the pain I felt in the final 90 minutes of the race, if I had my time again I would do it without hesitation.
Will I be back in 2017? I sure hope so.