Surf Coast Century Race Report
By Kathy Thurlings
After originally deciding not to write a Surf Coast Century race report, I changed my mind, and here it is!
I figure that if I’m brave enough to have a go at this crazy long distance running stuff, then somebody out there thinking about it and reading this might just be game enough to have a go too.
It’s quite long, so make yourself comfy ………
Surf Coast Century – 15/16th September 2018
At race briefing the night before the run, the Race Director talked about the weather forecast for the next day. After a few details including cold temperatures, rain, hail and wind, he announced that it wouldn’t be “Armageddon”.
At 7:30 the next morning we all set off along the beach for a 4k out-and-back (with bonus slippery rock scramble), past the startline and the cheering crowd. Only a few hundred metres after that was the first thigh-deep wading through the cold water around a small headland. Running along the beach was AMAZING! The cliffs were so high, it was an incredible feeling being dwarfed by them with the waves crashing on the beach. Then the rocks started. A slow and careful effort over razor-sharp jagged rocks covered with slippery green seaweed. As careful as I was, I still managed to twist my foot on the rocks which hurt at the time, but I kept running. We came up off the beach at the 10k mark to the first checkpoint at Bells Beach. There were heaps of surfers out catching the waves, they looked like black spots in the distance. Then back down to the beach again for another 10k and much more rock scrambling, splashing and wading through to CP2 at Torquay.
After a change of shoes and socks, plus some refuelling and chat with Harry, Kerri and Matilda, I set off again in the rain. The weather was quite changeable all day. The wind would suddenly pick up and down would come the rain (or hail). Then the sun would come out and make things quite warm. I nearly got fooled a couple of times thinking I should take off my waterproof jacket, but lucky I didn’t because it was just a matter of time before the rain and wind came back for another go.
The next leg followed the cliff top smooth gravel path with amazing views of the ocean. At around 28k the course started to head away from the coast and into the bushland of the Great Otway National Park. The track wasn’t technical or difficult but I started to struggle mentally and by the time I reached CP3 at 32k I was feeling unhappy and emotional. After a chat with Harry and Ross Burburough (and meeting Ross’s two beautiful border collies), I choofed off again.
This part of the course was a lot of single track running and after a shower of rain there was quite a bit of of “puddle-straddling” so my feet didn’t get too wet in the water running down the centre of the track. My foot had now started to hurt from my tangle with the rocks on the beach. There was quite a bit of wide dirt road, luckily nothing too technical, and after what seemed like FOREVER, I made it to CP4 at Anglesea, the halfway point of the race.
CP4 was a bit disappointing. I was hoping for some shelter at this stop, but there wasn’t any. I was grateful for a chair to sit on though, and Harry looked after me very well. I did have some hot chicken soup and a bread roll which tasted great after eating “running food” from my pack for a few hours already. Another change of socks and I was off again to tackle the second half of the course. Luckily the predicted hands-and-knees squishy scramble under the bridge had been ruled out because of the high water level, so I crossed the road and off I went.
The next part of the course started off with single track running then onto a wide dirt road and a huge climb up “Heartbreak Hill”. I got a bit worried at this point because I hadn’t seen any course markings for quite a while and was thinking I may have missed a turn or gone the wrong way, especially when I couldn’t see anyone ahead or behind me. Once I got further up the hill I was relieved to see a few runners behind me in the distance. Down came the rain yet again and the next thing I see is a MASSIVE hill ahead. It was a mammoth downhill followed by a huge uphill the other side and so slippery, especially after the rain. My shoes were caked in wet clay, very heavy, and felt more like smooth-soled lead boots, rather than trail running shoes.
The next part of the course should have been really enjoyable as it was an undulating single track in beautiful natural bushland, but my foot had become quite painful and I hadn’t seen anyone else for ages, so I was feeling a bit lonely and sorry for myself.
I reached a turnoff which said “Distillery Creek Picnic Ground 3.5k”. I figured that must be the next CP as I had run nearly 70k. I suddenly realised that my watch had conked out. I tried to start it again with no luck, stupid thing! No, stupid me, for not charging it on the run as I had planned to. I was angry with myself for not being more attentive and felt like bursting into tears. Other matters like a sore foot becoming more painful all the time and multiple toilet stops were the issues draining my “sensible thought reserves”. I got my phone out and started recording on Strava, problem solved. It was getting dark too, so I pulled my headlamp out of my pack and turned that on.
I caught up to two guys, Sam and Laban. Laban was moving fairly slowly and awkwardly and said that he had a groin injury. He was obviously in a really bad way. I said that my foot was hurting so much that I wanted to pull out at the next checkpoint. I was surprised when Laban’s reaction was to make it quite clear that I definitely should NOT pull out…… keep going, just keep going. It was exactly what I needed to hear to silence the demons in my head. I had been busy thinking of how I was going to explain to my coach, family and friends the reasons why I quit with only 28k to go. How I had run the hardest part of the course already and couldn’t possibly go any further. Mentally I had been preparing myself for the disappointment of my first DNF.
When I reached the Distillery Creek Picnic Ground, Harry was there waiting for me. Thanks to Laban’s encouragement, I prepared myself to continue on, no matter how hard it was going to be, I just wanted to finish. Laban and Sam came in just behind me and Laban was quite emotional as his crew helped him to prepare for the next part of the run. I realised at that moment that every single runner still trudging along out there in the dark was probably suffering just as much (or more) than I was.
Harry gave me his watch and I set off again in the dark, knowing that I only had 7k to go to the next checkpoint at Moggs Creek. I was really looking forward to some hot food and maybe a cup of tea. I suddenly remembered my instructions from Coach Mick to ring him at any time of the day or night if I felt like pulling out. After a much-needed pep talk I did feel encouraged and continued on. Not long after talking to Mick I caught up to another runner. I remembered seeing her earlier (before it got dark) running ahead of me chatting to Laban at one stage. Her name was Meagan. She was struggling with an injury (can’t remember exactly what it was, hip or knee I think) and had been having intensive physio treatment for it leading up to Surf Coast. The injury had got progressively worse as her race went on and she was now in a bad way. We got to the checkpoint at Moggs Creek together and her husband John was waiting there for her.
The hot food I had been looking forward to was cold, stodgy risotto. I had half a mouthful and just couldn’t do it. Next best thing was a dry and unappetising vegemite and cheese sandwich. I ended up eating less than half of it, but ate the cheese. There were no hot drinks. Very disappointing considering that this checkpoint had been talked up as having a “full Race Kitchen”. As well as Harry, my mate from Roller Coaster, Dennis and his wife Mara were there and they were very helpful and encouraging. Meagan received assistance from hubby John and we set off together for the final 23k.
Surf Coast was Meagan’s first attempt at 100k. She had run 75k in the Buffalo Stampede in April 2018 (a very challenging “skyrunning” event) which had to be cancelled because the weather had become too extreme to continue. I had heard stories about this year’s ill-fated Buffalo Stampede and I felt huge admiration for Meagan for completing 75k of it in horrendous conditions. She was obviously a pretty tough runner.
As we trudged on in the darkness, we talked about all sorts of stuff…..running, family etc. Meagan apologised numerous times for slowing me down and told me to go on ahead and not to sacrifice my race for her sake. I didn’t feel like I was sacrificing anything. I was struggling too and I figured that we would both have a better chance of finishing the race if we stuck together. My foot wasn’t hurting quite as much as it had been (must have been the distraction of someone else’s bigger dramas) but Meagan was really suffering and got slower and slower.
We were just coming towards Aireys Inlet when we saw two people ahead of us, waiting on the other side of a gateway. It was Harry and Adam. Adam had finished his race in 11 ½ hours and came out to see how I was going. It was hugs all round. I was so happy for him, he had achieved his goal finish time of sub-12 hours, what a champion!
After an awkward sideways crab-crawl under the bridge we got to the last checkpoint on the other side of the road. A quick chat with Harry, Adam and John and we set off again for the last 14 ks. About 5 ks later we passed the Split Point lighthouse and I had heard that tradition dictates that you have to touch the lighthouse as you run past. I touched it with both hands, a bit of an embrace really. A short while later we had to head down some stairs onto the beach. Meagan went on ahead while I had yet another toilet stop and I surprised myself by running about 500m along the beach to catch up to her in the dark.
It was an amazing feeling to be going along the beach with only our headlamps lighting our way, with the noise of the waves crashing onto the beach on our right hand side. After 5k on the beach we came up some stairs and could see the glow of a huge light over the hill in the distance and we were hoping it was the finish line. Not far to go now. Meagan’s walking had got slower and slower. She was still moving, but only just. It was soooo cold! I was really thankful that I had been smart enough to put on my fleecy jumper a couple of hours earlier, otherwise I definitely wouldn’t have survived the cold.
We could see the bright light clearly now, but suddenly found ourselves in a carpark with no course markings to be seen. There were no marshals on course to guide us in the right direction at that hour of the night and we had no idea where the track had gone. I dreaded the thought of having to backtrack as Meagan was really struggling and said she didn’t think she could go any further. I felt a bit of panic, to have got this far and not finish would have been a real tragedy. I rang Harry and he and Adam drove out and met us on the road. We were only about 300 metres from the finish line, but couldn’t see where to get back on the course. Meagan could barely move. We were both so cold, my teeth were chattering. In our cold, tired state we had missed a turnoff only about 500 metres from the finish line. Adam guided us back onto the course and we finally crossed the finish line together just after 2:00 am
We did it! We both struggled, but we persevered and got it done. I was hoping to finish in under 19 hours and my finish time was 18:34:52. I was really happy to see that Sam and Laban had also finished, 20 minutes after us.
Now that I know what to expect, I’m really looking forward to having another go at it in 2019.
Kathy Thurlings is coached online.
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