We come cruising up the dark tree-lined roads of the Gold Coast hinterland with light rain falling and the front of the car loaded with cheap black coffee. It’s 2.30 am, and the only people on the streets in town are those still making their way home from their adventures the night before. Meanwhile, I’m sitting in the back of the car wondering if I’m still full from last night’s dinner and if I should be engaging in conversation to keep the driver awake? I put my hand against the window to soften the thuds of my head as we wind our way up through the climbing roads of Springbrook.
. . .
I like training, early mornings, feeling fit and pushing my body to be better. I do this week in week out to discipline myself, bring routine to my day and connect. Most days, I run with a small group of guys from a local coffee shop. We run 16km, watch the sunrise, shivering in the cold shower and then warm ourselves up with a medium-decaf-oat-latte (any more than four specifications is too many, I’ve been told). I couldn’t ask for a better way to start my mornings. It’s generally quite difficult to have a bad day after starting a day like that.
A-grade, Joey, Eddie – a few of the men I run with decided to enter the Wild Earth Coastal High 50km (WECH50). I’d heard stories from the race last year and how gruelling it was, especially the later stages. One of my friends even claimed to see “god” out there. A week out from the race, with entries still being open, I thought I might join the team and test myself out there too. It’s been a while since I’ve raced and even longer since I’ve raced in an ultra-marathon distance. Over the last four months, I’ve primarily been training for ‘road running’. I wanted to race a half-marathon on the Gold Coast; however, it, unfortunately, got cancelled. I was a little down about this momentarily, but I decided to use the training block and shift my focus to running something longer. I wanted to run an ultra again, and I’ve had races in mind, but uncertainty with travel makes it challenging.
. . .
After the car ride, all runners were required to bus to the start line. I put Ben Howard on, a balaclava and a head-band over my eyes as a makeshift eye-mask. I managed to get some extra ‘sleep’ here and stepped off the bus with minimal motion sickness, unlike the murmurs I heard from other runners. It’s the little wins. Fourth in line for the porta-loo, that’s also a little win. They all add up. I kept my tracksuit on as long as possible and managed to get down a protein bar, all the while still slowly sipping on an electrolyte mix. The five of us were ready to go, and it was a joy to be on the start line with the guys I start my mornings with most days of the week. It really felt like a team effort to get there, and now it was time to go.
Ando Moquiti and I at the start line. @SOKIMAGES
“THE RACE STARTS AT 35km”
Going into the race, my mind kept replaying, “the race starts at 35km”; listening to podcasts and chatting with people who had run the WECH50 before me, I knew it was important to pace myself well. The countdown finished, and the first wave of runners took to the road, and to my surprise, no one took the pace. I wasn’t expecting a sprint start like a 5km track race, but I thought it would be faster. I took the lead and decided that the WECH50 was going to be on my terms. In past races, I’ve sat back and conserved my energy but left my run too late and not catch up with the leaders. Feeling good, I put a gap on the pack behind within the first 3km. By the time I hit the single trails, I quickly lost sight of anyone behind and tunnelled in on my own running.
Twenties kilometres went by seamlessly. Rain pushed its way through the tropical canopy, making for optimal running conditions, so I thought anyway. Leaves covered in water were cooling as I brushed past them, and the air was pure to breathe. Smiling from ear to ear, I opened up my stride on the downhills. I wanted to run hard, real hard, but I knew a decision like that might potentially come back to haunt me later. Once again, I was found myself entertaining the climbs that other runners talked about late in the race; they must be talked about for a reason…
The course continued to climb and then quickly drop. Sometimes the downhills were steep, the kind of downhill that scares you slightly if you let your legs have their way. Over the last few years, I’ve really come to enjoy downhill running, but the same rain that put a smile on my face earlier now made the downhills very slippery. I didn’t trust my shoes, which made me not trust my legs or my ability to run hard down them. “Races are won on the downhills” became the next quote to bounce around my mind—a quote which was spoken confidently from numerous Skyrunners in Europe, circa 2019. I wasn’t winning on the downhills today, yet I worked my way down them as fast as I could, knowing that my quads would soon be relieved by lactic inducing climbs.
Photo credit/IG: @connor.hancock
An aid station! What a delight. I restocked my nutrition, thanked the volunteers and returned to the switchbacking single trails. The national parks were beautiful, I did my best to take in the scenery, but I resigned that I’d have to come back and hike the course slowly to take in the surroundings truly. After a few hours of running, I closed in on the thirties and then the 35km mark. “This isn’t so bad,” I said to myself as if I was expecting a small mountain to be dropped on the course in front of me suddenly. “Where is this climb they speak of?”…
Sure enough, the climbing began. It started conservatively, which was appreciated – especially 36km in. A quick note, I tried crampfix for the first time to wane off any potential onset of cramps. WOW. I dry-reached; it was like a mouthful of salt and vinegar chips, multiplied 1000x. Thinking it would be like a gel, I went to slurp it down like a melted zooper-dooper on a summers day. I was wrong, and it sent me into mild shock. Sure enough, the early feelings of cramp in my hamstrings disappeared. The product is great but consume cautiously!
Photo credit/IG: @connor.hancock
Hello 40km, it’s nice to see you again. I hope you’ve been well… Maybe if I thought kindly of the next 10km, they would be kind to me.
The 41km mark threw the kitchen sink at me, and I found 220m of climbing and many stairs in that sink. I knew the WECH50 was going to hurt. I didn’t know when. Coming off months of road-running, this was the terrain I was least prepared for. Short steps, tall steps, steps on corners, steps without hand-railing and steps with nothing to grab onto. Lactic acid was making me feel dizzy, and my legs were running out of charge. Sipping on electrolytes, gels, and my nutrition mix wasn’t doing anything – not with any immediacy anyway. “Think light, move lightly” was the next quote to enter my head. Like a Koala on an Australian highway, I slowly got myself out the way and said goodbye to the stairs. As the stairs faded away, Purlingbrook falls entered the arena. Sightseeing Purlingbrook falls with 46km, and 2000m of climbing in your legs is a completely different experience. I can’t even remember if there was water flowing from the top – everything was hurting at this stage. The same gradient I ran effortlessly at the start of the race, I now had to break up with bouts of walking. At this stage, I was pushing out thoughts such as “Don’t lose the lead 46km in.” I knew I was slowing down, but I had no intel on the competitors behind me. They had to be catching me, surely.
The climbing stopped with 500m to go, and the seemingly elusive finish line was within reach. My friend Jye was screaming at me for 200m to go, but my legs weren’t ‘kicking down’ liked I hoped they would. As fast as I could, I crossed the finish line, in first place—what a sweet feeling. 4 hours 51 minutes.
Photo credit/IG: @connor.hancock
. . .
My legs collapsed, and I laid on the ground. I didn’t have any more to give the WECH50. “HIS LEGS ARE GONE” the commentator shouted out.
Only seconds after hitting the grass… “And here we have, ladies and gentleman, second place was chasing down all the way to the finish… EDDIE KEOGH… Less than one minute between first and second today.”
“Keep the round of applause going. We have another finisher coming in.”
1st place: Josh Lynott
2nd place: Eddie Keogh
3rd place: Jake Davis.
“We’ve never had a finish so close.” As I suspected, the guys behind me were closing in hard and fast. Fortunately, I held them off long enough.
Eddie Keogh and I embracing at the end of the race. 44 seconds apart!
Leading into the race, I gave myself a 10-day taper period. I’ve trialled this a few times and have found that it usually allows me to feel good on race day. Tapering and timing are tricky things, but it usually pays off if you can respect the process. There is a lot more to consider than just ‘taking it easy for 10 days. Sleep is a big priority for me, making sure I’m at least getting 8 hours a night in the lead-up. Ideally, I’d like more, but it’s a work in progress. Hydration and diet are key too. My focus leading into the race was to make sure I was getting enough protein in every meal. I’m not going to go much into my diet as that’s an element of performance that is different to every individual. My best advice is to talk to a nutritionist, naturopath or doctor for your own personalised guidance and plan. That’s the fundamentals/basics covered; my goal has been to ‘do the basics well’. Simple in theory, sometimes hard to execute.
FLOATS AND SAUNA
Leading into race week, I visited the infrared sauna at Freedom Float on The Gold Coast frequently. 45 minutes in an infrared sauna is similar to a light cardiovascular workout. However, it has numerous other benefits like reducing inflammation, increased muscle recovery and increasing growth hormone. I was also doing race visualisations in the sauna, particularly when it was hardest in the last 10 minutes of the sauna sessions. As always, these are the things that I did that felt good and worked for me. I’m a big advocate for the sauna and how it makes me feel in the hours and days to follow. It benefits my body and my mind, which is equally important on race week.
Following on from the sauna sessions, I did two Float Therapy sessions. For those that have never done a ‘float’ or haven’t heard about Float Therapy; Floating helps you enter a state of deep relaxation. This is achieved by allowing your body the freedom to float weightlessly in a concentrated salt solution in a specially designed lightproof and soundproof pod. The pod is filled with half-a-tonne of Epsom salts making the solution extremely buoyant. High levels of magnesium sulphate in the solution make for easy absorption through the skin, which eases muscular pain, alleviates stress and promotes relaxation. In the loud and fast-paced world that we live in, it’s a beautiful thing to spend 60-90 minutes in silence with no external distraction, tech or noise. In the pod, I can let my body deeply relax, and my mind wanders.
lululemon Surge Short 6″ Lined
lululemon Metal Vent Tech Sleeveless 2.0
lululemon Fast and Free Men’s Run Hat Elite
Injinji Run Original Weight Mini-Crew (Trail)
2019 Salomon S-Lab Ultra 2
Salmon S-Lab Sense Ultra 8 Set
Garmin Fenix 6 – preloaded with the racecourse. Trail run setting.
Salomon 500ml soft flask.
250ml soft flask for gels. (This was my play of the day.)
The rest of my pack was mandatory gear: bandages, lightweight rain jacket.
SIS Energy Gels
FIXX Fuel X Pro – Liquid Energy For Running
Fixx Nutrition – Crampfix
Koda Caffeine Gel (Didn’t use.) – Had ready to go.