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April 29, 2016

Disappointment can come in many ways, and usually arrives when you least expect it. The build up to what you look forward to often spurs you onto greatness, yet by the end of the event you are left broken both physically and mentally. Regrettably this is an experience I felt as I started, but did not finish, my first attempt at an Ultra Marathon.

It all started so promisingly on race week. The final 40 minute training session was brisk and hit all the targets I had wanted to achieve. The plans were all in place for what I had wanted to do on race day and on the Saturday before. Heck it was the most relaxed I had felt in some time as I slept on the flight from Brisbane to Canberra, then stayed calm as I checked in again to the University of Canberra’s on-campus accommodation, and purchased supplies for the weekend.

Perhaps I may have gotten a little excited on the Saturday before the run. Sure the physical activities were restricted to walking to the nearby Belconnen Westfield centre to purchase sunglasses and a few other things, but perhaps the fuelling went a little OTT. Perhaps the Hungry Jack’s burgers before the whole Crust Pizza for lunch and the early lasagne were to blame (the pre-packaged mashed potato tasted about as appealing as snot on toast and was discarded accordingly after 2 bites). Still I felt good as I managed to retire about 10:30 AM and slept until the 3:00 AM alarm the next morning.

Maybe it was the taxi driver not being as useful as he should have been that had an affect. After all, I’m usually anxious waiting for other vehicular transportation to events such as this. It’s why for events like the City2Surf or the Melbourne Marathon I try to book in a location where walking to the start zone is a viable option. I was dropped off a reasonable walking distance from the start area, but if the cabbie was smart enough to drive via the city as opposed to via the freeway system (half of which was closed off as it was part of the route for the race). Still I managed to get to the start area with enough time to not have to be in a total panic unlike at Wynnum in 2014 so it was still so far so good.

With the time available and the other routines needing to be followed (bag drop and toilet stop amongst others), a proper warm up couldn’t really be done as it would have been had I entered the “normal” marathon. Even chilling out to tunes wasn’t an option for I discovered I had left the earphones in the taxi and a hasty post ultra purchase had to be made. However I consoled myself that the energy not spent on the usual dynamic style warm-up would actually help me later on. As the first signs of light were appearing over Captial Hill, it was time to join about 170 others to start what I anticipated to be a 5 hour slog.

Everything was going perfectly in the first 20km. I was moving  at the pace that I had set myself to run, checking the timepiece after a couple of kilometres at first then every 5km or so to ensure I was maintaining what I was looking for. I was content to once again seek out every second drink station as I have almost always done at such races, even though the training had me drinking a lot earlier than anticipated due to the excessively warm conditions. It may have been a lonely slog, but eventually by the time I hit the freeways I was keeping up with a number of others, even passing them on the way.

The slight uphill section towards the turning point at the Northern most point of the course saw me slow to walking pace for the first time, but even through this I was still on track through the 30km marker to achieve the goal. Sadly it wouldn’t be more than 5km later when the worst sign of trouble hit, and hit suddenly. Even though I had troubles with knees leading up to the Twilight Run a few weeks earlier, I contented myself that the injury was a contact injury and that it wouldn’t prevent me running freely when it counted. Indeed for the first 34km there were no signs of any type of injury. But knee problems surfaced very quickly and caused my movement to slow from decent running pace to a limp. I found it was a struggle to effectively put the necessary weight on the knee to continue running.

Foolishly I passed a medical tent at the drinks station signifying 35km, and limped on for another 3km to the next station, which in the ultimate ironical insulting sign was the same place where I had stopped for 10 minutes about 364 days earlier. Last year stopping there was little short of relief, this year stopping there was nothing short of a kick to the balls. All I could do was sit in a chair and await was was known as the “Sad Wagon”, my race officially over, the first DNF of my time as a runner confirmed.

Pride could well have dictated me to walk onwards towards home, although it would have been a struggle for another 2.5 hours and the threat of not making the time cut off to finish would have been real. Of course there was also the future to worry about, where unlike Melbourne when I only had one other event for the year to fulfil, there is too much at stake for future events this year to take the big risk of damaging the knee to an extent where I would require a level of medical assistance that would have meant long periods away from physical activity. Plus there is the fact that my age means that there are plenty of other opportunities in future years to have another crack at the distance. It just may be that doing this in a city where I am not seemingly cursed may be where this happens (nothing against Canberra, it’s just that I haven’t had any luck over the year from running there).

So without a medal to reward me for persistence and with the proverbial tail placed between the legs, I had to somehow limp to a bus stop to catch a bus into town, then collect a cab back to base. The knee took a number of days to recover fully, and I feel no pain in that area today. Unfortunately I was convinced to play a game of footy the next weekend against my better judgement, and rolled an ankle thanks to the strapping not being secure enough. Whilst it hasn’t affected my ability to run, and the Gold Coast campaign has officially started, I still have to manage the pain upon commencing running, a bit like waiting for an engine to warm up. There are just over 9 weeks to go until Gold Coast dawns upon us, and with training already started, redemption for this failure is well and truly the motivation I need to succeed on the big stage.

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