I’m wondering when the older and wiser part of life begins, as clearly it’s still a long way off for me. I mean, I feel older but I still make stupid decisions, and starting the Tail Runner’s Backyard Blister was in hindsight one of those stupid decisions.
In January I decided to sign up for the Backyard Blister Last One Standing, as a challenge to myself and also to mark possibly the last race in my 30s. At the time many events were still being cancelled and borders still closed in some states, so it was appealing due to its small size and NSW location. I had not run an event of this type before but I had been following similar races and been inspired by the countless strong women who seemed to excel at this format. If you don’t know what a ‘Last One Standing’ event is, just google Bigs Backyard (or Backyard Ultra) and read about the race idea concocted by the legend himself, Gary Cantrell (aka Lazarus Lake).
I started to think about what gear, shoes and how much food I would need for the race. This race had no set finish time or distance, so how the hell was I supposed to know how much food/water to take?! As an avid planner, I started to pack and organise all my gear and nutrition about a week out from the race. I pumped all the vitamins and rested a little more than usual, but unfortunately my throat got sore and a small cough ensued (don’t worry, it wasn’t Covid). Why me?! Getting sick before a big race has happened to me a handful times now and it’s really quite frustrating. I know there are worse things that can happen in life, but after spending 12+ months recovering from a partially torn plantar fascia, then also recovering from a caesarean birth, I felt it was high time that karma paid some back.
This was no such time. To race or not to race, that was the question.
I spent a few sleepless nights wrestling with my mind as it went through every possible scenario and the consequences. As a mum it’s so hard to find time to run and I didn’t want the months of training and time away from my family to all be for nothing. On the other hand, to compete at a race of this nature would require me to be in the best possible condition. Although, a lap race meant that I could pull out at any time as I would not be out in the middle of nowhere like most trail races. I discussed this with my coach and my husband, decided to get a good night’s sleep and make a decision race morning.
The original plan was for our family to camp at the race in our Campervan so hubby and our daughter could cheer me on, however Joan got sick too (bloody Daycare, lol) and that meant I would be travelling to the race solo.
Two days before the race I packed the van and headed north staying at the Karuah Gardens Motel. I had a lovely chat with the owner about kids and life, then I unpacked and got my gear ready for the next day. I spoke to Kate, my lovely friend who I had convinced to crew me for the race (along with her hubby Darren), and we discussed my race plan which was to basically run until I could not run anymore. I then had a delicious pasta dinner, hand delivered from the local club, and I got to bed early sleeping better than expected.
The alarm went off and I woke feeling better than the day before, although still not 100%. I decided I would start the race and see what happens….
I arrived early to The Branch (near Stroud) so that I would have plenty of time to setup my marquee and gear and still have some time to rest. My friend Stephen who was also running the event had given me the tip to arrive early, because we would need the tractor to carry all our gear to the race hub and I didn’t want to have to queue for hours (which ended up happening for others who arrived later). You see, the week prior to the race had been testing for the race organisers as flooding had damaged the property and many areas were not accessible by car as they were all water logged (even the campsite area had to be moved). As I waited for the tractor I met a friendly lady called Robyn who was from the central coast and training for another 100km race later in the year. We chatted and walked down behind the tractor as it carried our gear.
Once setup and organised we got to sit and chat, taking our time getting clothes and shoes and drinks ready for the race in a few hours time. They actually moved the start time of the race back 1 hour because many runners were still waiting for the tractor to carry their gear at the original start time. Kate and Darren arrived and we chatted about food and drink strategy, and I scoffed down a sandwich that Kate made me (yummo). I rested in the chair chatting to Kate, Darren, Robyn, Pete (a mate from Sydney) and some other nearby runners who were also part of the event (I’m so bad with remembering all the names, sorry!)
Kate had crewed before so was a gun at helping people out, and she loved my setup and organisation of food/belongings. She may have even sent the below photo to some run friends telling them next time they need to step up their game! ha
While Robyn and I sat quietly chatting before the race, we were approached by a man with a camera wanting to film us and ask us a few questions about the race. So we sat together and nervously talked about…… ummmm, who knows what I said?!?!. I was so nervous that I have no idea what I said. I probably sounded like a knob, cameras have always stumped me and I really don’t like being the ‘attention’ as I’d rather hide in the back unnoticed. Hopefully they won’t use the footage for their final cut!!
Then it was go time…. the 3 minute whistle went, then the 2 minute, then the 1 minute, and then we were off. It was probably one of the slowest start lines you will ever see in a race, but this type of race required a steady pace.
The first lap was most enjoyable as I chatted with Pete and Robyn and a few other runners around me and we set a nice easy pace. The plan was to aim for 50 minutes per lap, which gave me 10 minutes rest/break each lap, and I finished this one in 48:55. Getting to see the course/lap for the first time was exciting, and muddy, very, very muddy! Check out my shoes after just one lap, and it was only going to get worse the more we ran on it, lol
There wasn’t much to report for the first 5 loops, as I felt great and maintained a pretty consistent speed. I ate banana bread, drank ginger beer, stuffed in gels, and chatted to as many people as I could. It felt so good to be back running an event again and it was such a lovely group of runners.
Here are some stats and photos:
Lap 1- 48:55
Lap 2 – 48:58
Lap 3 – 49:25
I ran few times with another made from Sydney called Stephen, he was a very experienced ultra runner (like Pete too) and I knew he would do well at this event. He had been keeping track of the time it took to get to certain parts on the trail, like the 15 minute tree and the 40 minute shed. And each loop I started checking my watch for these markers too, it was very helpful.
This reminds me, Stephens wife was crewing for him and was carrying a few containers with his race goods, one which was labelled “Hot Stuff”, so inevitably this became his new nickname for the race.
As for Darren……
Lap 4 – 51:17
Not much to report, getting warm and feeling pretty good. Note the ground still flooded behind us!!
Lap 5 – 55:09
As you can see I slowed down a little on lap 5 when I started to feel it in the legs, but my secret weapon was caffeine. I had given up coffee about 2 weeks before the race, so as I took a swig of Coke my spirits lifted and my lap times got back on track….
Lap 6 – 50:07
Lap 6 was our last ‘trail’ loop before we switched to the road/driveway for the night section. And we were all looking forward to a little less mud and what we were promised would be less elevation. Although my memory of the driveway when we had driven to the property was that it was not any flatter at all, far from it. Time would tell.
Lap 7: 49:23
I had been right. We went from 95m elevation on the trail course, to 165m of elevation on the road course. It doesn’t sound like much, and I’ve done a load of trails with tonnes more elevation than this, but there was a very noticeable difference and it was definitely going to test us all as there where no flat sections at all.
Lap 8 – 49:41
… and that’s when it all started to go downhill fast. Lap 8 was still on pace with my target, however I stopped to vomit twice on this lap (not pretty). Pete was great and helped encourage me along, and I thought I should try slowing myself down (a little) for the next lap so that I could hopefully get my guts in order.
Lap 9 – 57:41
It got worse, but I wasn’t alone. Pete was great and encouraged me along, but I didn’t want to hold him up and he went ahead to stick to the plan. I got to the turnaround and checked my watch… okay, if I could maintain the same pace I would still get back within the hour. Let’s do this!
And then another runner and I started to play a game that would later be called ‘vomit frog’. We took turns stopping to hunch over and admire the gravel, sometimes painting it with new colours. Then we would stand up and walk past the other runner, encouraging each other along. There were not many other runners in sight now. Would we make it back within the hour? I hoped so.
After scraping in on loop 9 I wasn’t sure I should go back out on loop 10, but I thought “why not”. I would keep going until I was either timed out or broken laying on the trail. So I got up, hugged the wonderful Kate who had been crewing me so effortlessly and without fail, and tried to get my butt moving again.
Pete and I got off to a flying start again, he was having some gut issues too. It was something I’ve never experienced before in an ultra or any race for that matter, which is probably more luck than anything. I’ve always been able to manage food and drink well, keeping it securely in my stomach. So today was a whole new challenge for me and I hoped it would get better as I kept trying to move through the course.
This lap wasn’t pretty, but it got done. It was slow and I was the last runner. I kept moving and runners cheered me along when they ran past me as it was an out and back section. I remember some neighbours being at their gate about halfway up the road, and they cheered me on even though I was only walking slowly up the hill.
When I got to the turn around point I looked at my watch and it had just ticked over to 30 minutes, so I had to get my butt moving. As I ran slowly on one of the downhill sections I was scared by a cow. I swear it waited until i was right next to it then let out a loud “moooo” that made me jump a mile and definitely brought my heart rate up. It’s quite funny when I think about it now. I don’t know why it scared me so much, we had been running next to cows and horses on the property all day.
There were a lot of crouched over ‘pit stops’ during this lap, and I honestly did not think I would get back within the hour, but I kept trying and pushing myself to walk and run when possible.
Lap 10 – 57:33
I scraped in from loop 10, but had to run the last 2km faster than my body wanted, which only made my guts feel worse. As I sat in the chair after this loop, my body was beaten and ready to stop. Sitting felt so good…. and I tried to get some fluids in, but I was shaking and it wasn’t from the cold night air.
Seconds before the start whistle for loop 11, I said “Fuck it” (sorry mum) and got up to start the next loop. Unfortunately my efforts did not last long and after about 800m (and 3 vomits) I turned around to head back to the start/finish. I was done.
As I slowly commenced down the finish chute in my ‘walk of shame’ my heart rate slowed and people were chatting about the headlamp of the returning runner. I was sad to be finished, but I had not been the first to drop from the race and that was one goal I had achieved. Although it had not been my day, I felt that I had done the best with what had been thrown at me in the week prior and on race day. I had a really enjoyable time and met some amazing people who I would no doubt see on the trails again one day soon.
I sat for a while and tried to settle my stomach, while Kate tried to remove my shoes. She was game, definitely a keeper. My shoes had become like concrete, as the mud had dried hard and the laces were frozen in place. Eventually we got them off, I changed and I tried to get some noodles in before getting a little sleep.
I listened and quietly cheered as the runners kept going out each loop during the night, as I didn’t end up getting any sleep. These runners were amazing, so ballsy and incredible. I would have to come back and give it another crack…
Massive thanks to the Tail Runner Team for being able to get this event up and running, not only because of the difficulties of Covid, but also with the challenge of a flooded property just one week out from race day. I honestly don’t know how you did it, but we were all very grateful.
My wonderful coach Andy (Mile 27), who always manages to keep me on track and in the best shape for my crazy adventures, despite my chaotic life schedule (which has gotten crazier now that we have a toddler).
To my crew extraordinaire Kate, you always had my back and knew exactly what I needed (and where to find it) even when I couldn’t speak or move. I honestly could not have gotten as far as I did without you. And don’t forget Daz, you cheered well (ha ha).
And last but definitely not least, I must mention my wonderful husband Roger, who is my rock and my world. He is my biggest fan and gives everything without expecting anything in return. You’ve made me a better person and a more confident runner, without you I wouldn’t dream as big. Let’s keep dreaming big together!
Thanks for reading and I wish you all happy running 🙂
Photo Credit: Myself and Kate Day
I wish I had a photo of us together Kate (sorry) – you were the best!