I’ve never hurt so much. Pain and suffering is a right of passage when competing in an ultra marathon. It doesn’t matter whether you finish first or last, or second, at some stage, you’re going to be in a world of pain. Pain in the ultra-running world isn’t viewed with any negative connotation but rather it is embraced. I was gunning to win this year, in every quiet moment over the last 6 months, I thought about the race.


Last year after crossing the finish line.

 

A YEAR LONG GOAL

If you’ve ever been so fixated on a goal, you might be able to relate to this feeling. Last year I was the winner of the inaugural Bali-Hope Ultramarathon, completing 84km in 9 hours and 49 minutes. For someone at the time who entered the race and never run more than 30km, this entirely shattered many expectations that I previously held of myself and what I thought was possible. A lot of things change when you decide to run an ultramarathon, both in the lead-up and after the race. You change what you prioritise in the lead-up and you change what you believe is possible once you finish. Putting the race aside, The Bali-Hope Ultra was the best week of my year in 2018. It springboarded me into the second half of the year fuelled with ambition and with a sense of indestructibility. Shortly after the week, I signed myself up for 2019 and wrote down in every journal that I owned that I would return to defend my title. I also wrote down that I’d run under 9 hours because cutting 50 minutes off my time seemed like a reasonable thing to do?

 

 

THE BALI-HOPE IMPACT

A by-product of training for the Bali-Hope Ultra was consistency. In my sporting life, I can’t remember a time where I’ve put in consistent work week-in-week-out for so long. I suppose when you want something so bad, you do the work no matter how you feel. I found myself putting in long runs through polluted, bustling city streets and around soft-sand islands in the middle of the Pacific ocean. There was no excuse that would stop me from running, even after having small ankle surgery, I returned to running after 3 days instead of the prescribed 10. To the runners reading this, I’m sure you’ll understand the feeling and to the non-runners, just you wait… If you ever find yourself training for a big event, it’s only a matter of time till you’ll find yourself hooked, going to bed early on a Saturday night so you can get up to run 30km on a Sunday morning.

 

 

RACE INFORMATION

Race distance: 84km
Location: Bali, Indonesia.
Starting point: Lovina
Ending point: Old Man’s Canggu
Start time: 5:00pm, 7:30pm and 8:30pm. The race has a loose cut off time of 10 am the following morning. However, this is not strict like other ultramarathons. Both years everyone has finished in emphatic fashion.
Field size: 20 runners.
Course Elevation: Approximate 1700m
Entry cost: Single runner (shared room): US$3,500pp all inclusive. This is for the entire week-long experience, staying in 5* accommodation.
Crew Support: Yes, heavily supported race. Approximately every 5km in the first half of the race. Occasionally, more frequent on the second half.
Fundraising goal: US$5000pp. Fundraising is a major component of the Bali-Hope Ultra, so if you’re not willing to fundraise, this isn’t the event for you. At times fundraising is as challenging as the training required for the run, but it is equally as rewarding. If you want to know how I fundraised, you can read more about it here. I held an event called The Siargao Session where proceeds from participants entry went to Bali Children Foundation.

BALI-HOPE ULTRAMARATHON FROM THE HEART, MIND, AND EYES OF JOSH LYNOTT.

Tap, tap, tap. Three words I wrote on my arm as a cue to myself for when my legs started to hurt. I think it’s imperative that you find some kind of rhythm when running such a long distance, a metronomic beat to your stride. There are so many external factors to think about, so if you can at least make your footsteps tap away in an autonomous fashion, hopefully, the kilometres will pass by quicker. This year I had a lot of things to think about, more than last year it seemed. I believe this boiled down to a few things, in particular, a lack of naivety and newfound race expectations.

 

 

MINDSET ENTERING THE RACE

 

Naivety is a beautiful thing because it is usually partnered with no expectations and no comparisons. This year I didn’t approach the race with the same naivety I was blessed with last year. It was an entirely different story, instead, I ran with a mind full of expectations. (As I write this, I realise I put a lot of expectation on myself when in reality it was only my second ultra-marathon, a whole year from the first one I did.) Every race should ideally be approached with the self-belief knowing that you’ve done the work and with a race tactic to employ, but with no expectations. Expectations anchor you down to a place you don’t need be. In an ultra-marathon, your mental state is more important than your physical, so you want to be in the best frame of mind possible.

My mind churned over thoughts like,

“I should expect to hurt at this stage of the race”…

“I’ll receive my nutrition there and be feeling this then”.

“Go up the hill conservatively, and hammer the flats.”

“Keep your heart rate under 160 beats per minute”

“You’re more conditioned than last year..”

 

             
Here’s a vlog from the first half of the race.

Having completed the Bali-Hope Ultra in 2018, I thought I knew what to expect but the truth is, I didn’t. My mind remembered parts of the course and what a previous version of myself felt like, but in reality, I am a whole new person this year. A whole new machine so to speak, which goes faster and pushes harder. Early into the race, I figured out that you can’t expect things to unfold how you want them too, it’s foolish.

I know you’re not here to read about when my legs felt good, or when things were going well but I’ll give you a quick recap about that section of the race anyway.

THE RACE BEGINS

 

The Bali-Hope Ultra starts with a huge hill. I’m not sure when a hill becomes a mountain, but this has to go close. In the first 20km, you cover the entirety of the race elevation, climbing approximately 1700m. The steepest parts ranging from 10-17% incline per kilometre. Pre-race I weighed in at 66kg, I’m a relatively light frame so the hill is not extremely daunting for me but it certainly isn’t easy either. I’m a moderate climber but my strength lays in running fast on the flat. Coming into the race, I adopted a training model similar to that of a 5 or 10km track runner. I averaged between 85 – 100km a week in the 6 months leading into the race, with a 25-30km long run on Sunday. Traveling a lot in the lead-up, I ran where I found myself for work. Sometimes there were hills, other times not. Being comfortable up hills is definitely a necessity for the Bali-Hope Ultra.

My tactic for the hill was to conserve energy and properly attack the race once the flat and downhill sections presented. Alas, I went out at a conservative 5:15min/km pace for the first 4km before the hill arrived. I quickly found myself at the very back of the race, and this was the case for the first 10km. The majority of the athletes started in wave one or two, so they were well ahead but even the other athletes in my wave had gone out hard. Over 84km there is a lot that can happen. I mean A LOT. I wasn’t too bothered. I had a plan, and I was going to stick to it and execute accordingly. Power-hiking kilometre by kilometre, I slowly overtook a few other competitors. Some of these I wouldn’t see for the rest of the race, others I would.

 

Benny and Sean.

 

It was at the top of the hill that I set off from Benny and Sam, who I marched the steep inclines with, to go and start putting in work on the flats. At this stage, my legs were feeling fresh. I’d climbed the hill a lot quicker than last year, and was feeling confident. Although making some ground, I was still between 10-20 minutes behind the leaders. This is where the ‘fun’ begins. I use the word ‘fun’ in a jovial tone because, in reality, I was about to put myself in the hurt locker for the next 6 hours.

The frontrunners broke open the race and I was forced to try and close a gap that would ultimately demand everything from me. “Rip in” I started to tell myself. Two words that my friend said to me before I boarded the plane to Bali. If confronted with the choice to hold back or to rip in, I always chose to ‘rip in’. Simply, this meant to never drop my effort and to endure more discomfort. After completing the hills, I upped my pace considerably, dropping a 3:51 kilometre at the 24km mark. I laugh at this now, because there is no doubt I paid for that later in the race. By 27km my legs were feeling heavier than expected, my foot had developed an ache and I was trying to change my stride to alleviate the pain. It wasn’t ideal to be hurting that early and I knew it was going to be a grind for the next 57km. I continued to push out reasonably quick splits.

{Kilometre 34} Any expectations I had for the race had now been shot to pieces. I was hurting physically, I was hurting because I was behind and I was hurting because the race was not unraveling how I expected. This is a difficult feeling to overcome, yet I had no choice than to overcome it quickly.

I pushed on past half-way and ramped it up another gear. How many of these ‘gears’ do I have? Who knows, but I was about to find out. Approaching the 50km, I put in my fastest 5km split of the race. I was determined to reel in the leaders and I was going for it. I was running at a threshold pace, my heart rate pushing 180bpm. Shortly into the fifties, I caught up to 2nd place. It was a relief but once again I had a paid a big price in getting there. I overtook Arianne but could not sustain the pace which I was just running at to catch her. I dropped back and decided to run with her for a little while. Running with people seems to distract me from the pain but also heightens my inner competitiveness. I don’t want to be dropped. Arianne and I ran together, pushing each other through the discomfort till I could pull together another bout of energy to make my next move.

I was there to win, and I was going to throw my body on the line at all costs. I charged past support crews and was running off the most minimal amount of nutrition possible. Running with little minimal nutrition is an aggressive race tactic as it doesn’t leave much room for error. The sixties loomed and what was to come was beyond anything I expected.

 

HITTING ‘THE WALL’

 

Entering the mid-sixties was a dark place. After 6 hours of running, my average heart rate was sitting at 170bpm. I didn’t plan to break down at this stage of the race but upon reflection, it was inevitable. After pushing up a testing hill at the start of the race, I followed on by running my quickest ever 50 kilometres (Thanks to Strava for the fun fact). There was still 17km to go. My heart rate was way too high, my right foot felt like it’d been hit with a baseball bat and my hips were destroyed. Without properly thinking, I’d ran past the support car. I thought I still had ample nutrition to get me to the next point of supplies but I quickly found out this was not the case. The next support car was nowhere to be seen and 17 kilometres felt like infinity.

I keep telling myself to ‘rip in harder’ and ‘you can overcome this’ but my legs wouldn’t budge. Stumbling from side to side on an empty road between two rice fields was a lonely place. I had run the last 30 kilometres way too hard and I was paying the price, yet again. In my mind, there was no other choice but to have run those last 30kms hard.  I was out there to win, and to do that meant when I would eventually cross the finish line there would be nothing more to give.

I’d never felt pain like this. I shuffled, attempted to run, stumbled, shuffled and so on. I was without my nutrition and had hit the breaking point. I’d pushed past my limits and my body wasn’t responding. I was in a dark place. I had finally found out what it meant to ‘hit the wall’. Mentally, I was telling myself to just keep moving but that wasn’t easy. My legs felt like they had to be individually picked up by my hands, one at a time if they were going to move forward. My crew car was stuck on a way road and I really wasn’t sure how I was going to get out of this.

 

It’s an interesting place to find yourself, I’ll tell you that. To see what we are truly capable of is a place we rarely go to. I can understand why we don’t go there. It’s not pretty. No-one wants to find themselves alone feeling broken and battered. It’s a place beyond vulnerability. By entering the race I made myself vulnerable, but to go one step further requires something more. I can’t objectively describe what was required to get to that place, other than a burning desire to demand the most of yourself. When the support crew found me, I started crying. I was crying because I gave it my all. Yet in my mind, I felt like I had fallen short. The work I had put in to catch first place was slipping away rapidly and that was killing me.

Samantha told me to shove undissolved hydration tablets in my mouth. It was an attempt to promptly get some electrolytes back in my system, and fortunately, my body soon responded.

The pain hadn’t left but my legs started to move again. In the meanwhile, Ben Seymour had caught up the ground and overtook me. We ran together on the hill and but I hadn’t seen him for over 50kms. He passed me whilst I was bent over trying to consume the electrolyte tablets. He passed me with pace, just to knock me down in ‘the hole’ ever further. Pushed back into third place, every muscle in my legs was screaming.

I had to latch back on to Benny, I couldn’t afford to get dropped this late in the race. It was the next 500m of the race that I’ll never forget. My sister jumped out of the support crew, with a gel and water in hand. I consumed the gel and sipped on the water but it was too heavy to carry. She said to me, “We’re going to catch Benny! You’re going to get back up with him.”

 

 

 

 

Maddi picked up the pace, I don’t know how, but we were running under 5min/km pace.  Soon enough I was back with Benny and staring at his feet. ‘Tap tap tap’. That’s all I was thinking. Without knowing, we were both trying to pull each other through. Benny was hurting just as much as I was. After a few kilometres, he fell back again as if he’d been shot by a sniper in the legs. His body shutting down. I’d continue to run the last 6 kilometres of the race solo, reeling in everyone but Sean.

People asked both Benny and I why we both pushed ourselves beyond the point of breaking? As Samantha Gash said to us pre-race, it’s not a case of ‘why not’ but instead ‘what if’. What if we left something out there? How would we feel if we didn’t give it our all?

It’s not easy to get to this place, but I think once in a while it’s necessary to see what we are truly capable of. It’s powerful to see what we can do after we have been broken and what happens when we dig in to a deeper reserve than once before.

I’m proud of what we left out on that road and grateful for the support that helped pull us out of the dark holes. I do not regret one bit how I chose to attack the race. My full congratulations go to Sean, he simply outran me on the night. An extraordinary performance.

I finished the race in second in a time of 8 hours 31 minutes. An entire 1 hour and 18 minutes quicker than last year. Crossing the finish line was my final breaking point. I had nothing more to give both physically and mentally.

 

 

 

 

 

Post race questions via Instagram @joshlynott:

 

Was giving up an option at any point?
Despite how much I was hurting, giving up was never an option. I would have to be dragged off the course before giving up.

Would I do it again?
Yes, I’ll be running more ultramarathons in the future!

Would you find it hard running the entire race sub-maximally?
From a competitive point of view, yes. However, I think I would have recovered a lot better if I ran the race submaximally.

 Why did you not stay with the two ahead of you early on?
I wanted to stick to my race plan, and I genuinely thought I’d be able to catch them on the flat.

Were you feeling confident going up the hill or worried the frontrunners were too far ahead?
I felt an array of emotions going up the hill. I thought some of them went out too hard, and I really did think I would catch them. I wouldn’t say 100% confident, but I was ready to give it everything once I hit the flat.

What’s your 5-year goal in terms of running, level, competitions your in etc. ?
I’d like to be making elite start lines for races around the world. I’m not sure what distance or what kind of racing that will be yet. I enjoy both track racing and ultra running. I’m also about to dive into the sky running tour in Europe, so we’ll see what that’s all about too. Above all, running allows me to be fit and strong for adventures. The long term goal is to embark on a large expedition, and I have no doubt that my running foundation will play an integral part in this.

What feelings did you feel that you weren’t expecting? Physically and mentally?
The feeling of expectations not aligning. I suppose this feels like an unpleasant surprise which weighs you down. Physically I wasn’t expecting to hit a wall. As I said above, that was a result of hard running. It was also challenging ‘chasing’ for so long. It’s a tough battle being behind for so long and not knowing if all the hard work is even going to be worth it.

 How do you stay so mentally strong? How did you keep your mind from quitting?
I think it is important to have a WHY? For me, my “WHY” was to honour myself and all the hard work I had put in over the last year. Everyone will have a different WHY. Being mentally strong develops through training and consistency. I also visualised as much of the race as possible beforehand.

 How did you make the transition from being a regular runner to an ultra runner?
The week to week structure I follow is very similar to that of someone training for a 10km. However, I put a larger emphasis on long runs. They are the most important run of the week. Strength training is imperative. Finally, it comes down to just entering a race. Once you’ve entered a race and completed an ultra, no-one can deny you from being an ultra runner.

 How did you not burn out when you’re training for something so massive like that? 
I had a training program whereby I would slowly increase my weekly mileage. Running is a slow game. You have to train smart and be patient. Listen to your body too, that’s key.

Hardest at the beginning or did it only keep on getting harder?
It exponentially got harder.

Do you believe running ultra’s at too young of an age is bad for your body long term?
I don’t know the science behind it, but yes. I think we can only push our body to the limits so often. It takes a long time to recover fully from something like this. Too many would definitely have impacts later on. I’m aware of this and will be selecting the races (long distance) I push myself to the limits carefully from now on.

 Looking back at it, would you have changed your prep, if yes, how so?
Yes, I would have included more hills and strength training. However, I truly believe I did everything I could considering the places I found myself over the last 6 months. I still had life to live.

 Did you feel a come down afterwards? Now what?
Not really, to be honest it was a relief. It had taken up so much of my mental space for so long, it was refreshing to have completed the race. Quite the opposite. Now my focus is on returning my body to how it was and making it even stronger. I’m looking to compete over in Europe in the upcoming months.

Would you ever do a longer distance like 100km?
In due time, yes. I want to run a quick half-marathon and marathon first. You only have speed in your legs for so long. Running quick marathons first, will only help my ultra running career later on.

Did you find it was easier or more difficult knowing the track vs last year not knowing?
It wasn’t more difficult. A benefit if anything. However, if you run hard, it hurts no matter what.

 

 

Key gear and nutrition list:

 

  • Shoes: Hoka One One Clifton
  • Socks: Injinji Trail – They go around each individual toe, to help prevent blisters.
  • Vest: Salomon 12L Pack
  • Salomon 500ml soft flasks.
  • Legs: Wear tights*
  • Body glide and Sweet Cheeks Butt Butter – You don’t want chafing. Trust me, you want to put this stuff in all the places the sun don’t shine.

 

Nutrition:

  • Maurten 320 drink mix.
  • Maureen gels.
  • Tailwind.
  • Blocks chews.
  • Salt tabs.
  • Shots tablets.

 

If you made it this far,

Thank you for reading.

I hope you leave it all out there next time you race.

Big Love,

JL

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