Amy’s decision to sign up for an ultramarathon, the Ultra Trail Australia 50km, shocked most of those close to her. She hated running. However, she set herself 3 “simple” goals.
# 1 Enjoy it
# 2 Don’t get injured
# 3 Finish
Amy achieved about 2 ¾ of them. Here is her story.
The Big Decision
I was always active, always outdoors, anything but running. Growing up I was a swimmer; in my early twenties I played water polo, volleyball, represented Australia for Dragon Boating and enjoyed a regular Yoga practice. A few years ago after some time without a sporting challenge I felt the need for a challenge, so I completed the 20km Rottnest Island Channel Swim in Perth. For anyone who hasn’t yet ocean swum for 8.5 hours, I highly recommend it. Something about the raw beauty of being immersed in the powerful ocean is really magical, and the mental and emotional journey that day changed me forever.
That swim clearly quenched my thirst for physically challenging adventure as I’d been without a real desire for something quite like it since then. But last year I was in a serious rut: mother to a little one, returned to full time sedentary desk work, the challenges of balancing family, career and life all got a bit much and when balance was unable to maintained the first thing to be abandoned was my fitness, and health.
In the depths of my stress-induced pneumonia, in the middle of a harsh Canberra winter, I decided enough was enough, something had to change and I needed to prioritise myself more. I needed to be outside not stifled in a toxic sedentary office. So I decided to challenge my biases and myself and dedicate myself to moving my animosity of running to be more positive. I needed positivity and I needed to work for it and earn it for myself. I had done a half marathon on the road before and didn’t feel like that was enough. Trail running excited me a lot more than road running and the idea of doing 50km on foot was the challenge I decided I was looking for.
Time To Get Race Ready
Being a fervently stoic non-runner I had a steep learning curve, cultural initiations and a lot of hard work ahead of me to pull it off.
I joined all the Facebook groups, followed all the people and companies on Instagram, consulted seasoned friends, went to all the shops, and hashed out a plan with my husband, Rowan who has been racing endurance sport as long as I have known him.
In order to achieve non-runner to ultramarathon trail runner in 6 months I had to avoid injury. Before I even considered running, Rowan got me in the gym to build some whole body strength and fitness. I did 2 months of whole body, high intensity cardio, core and weights at F45. I started building up the running, and my confidence progressively over the next few months. I was exhausted with the training load but coping, and eventually was confident in my ability to complete the 50km.
Coping With Injury
At 4 weeks to race day disaster struck as I tweaked my Achilles when doing an interval run. It felt pretty bad, and after getting a diagnosis of bursitis I couldn’t run at all. My goal of being an ultramarathon runner was over. My lovely friend agreed to take my entry and run it herself. I did nothing but eat ice cream and drink wine for 4 weeks. Devastated. Then with a week to go she had to pull out too, so I decided to try and run again. An easy 5km on trails at home felt good, and still did the day later.
After talking to my physio about how to manage it, I decided to give it a crack, at peace with the strong possibility that I would pull out somewhere along the way.
Race week came the nerves were building. Race check in, the AirBnB share house with a bunch of new friends, the expo, the anticipation and excitement of 6,000 runners had me and the whole region buzzing with energy.
Race morning I was pumped! Today was the day and I felt great! The Blue Mountains are so picturesque I was running slow enough to appreciate it, stopping for selfies at beautiful lookouts like The Three Sisters and Wentworth falls. 15km in and I was feeling ok but starting to get a bit sore. My husband and daughter were there cheering me on, he has since told me when he saw me at this point he didn’t expect I’d go much further. Well after a little pit stop at 17km, my unrelenting stubbornness and tenacity kicked in and I enjoyed the next 11km the most out of the whole day.
I was feeling good and running well. The checkpoint at 28km was the decision point on whether I’d continue, as the course dropped into the valley here and the only real way out was to finish. I was tired and sore but it was a beautiful day, inspiring people surrounded me and I was not a quitter!! Bring it on!
The dirt road that winds down into and then up the valley from the 28km mark to about 45km was really tough, it was not what I expected and it seemed to go forever. I enjoyed watching the kilometres tick past on my watch, keeping morale up, I knew every step I took was one step closer to the finish line, I didn’t need to go fast, I just needed to put one foot in front of the other. The tracking on my watch was my evidence that yes, I was actually moving, yes I had actually covered that distance on my own 2 feet, and if I just keep it going 1 step at a time I would get there!
At 40km in, my watch battery died, I then put some music in to keep me going, you know that song by TKay Maidza “Stomp your feet like a Brontosaurus” well, that’s exactly what I did. Until my phone died at 45km.
At this point it had just gotten dark, and cold, and windy. I was by myself on single track through the forest with an inadequate head torch with no music or a watch (those steps aren’t even counting!!). By this stage I was hurting, emotionally I was in a hole, all by myself. But, only 5km to go, 1 foot in front of the other, left right left right that is all it’s going to take, don’t stop, just relentless forward motion, doesn’t matter if it’s slow, just keep moving. This was my mantra.
The race finishes with 951 steps up the Furber stairs…sadistic race organisers. By this point my legs were jelly and everything hurt. It took me half an hour to get up those damn stairs, dodging other people’s vomit, pulling myself up using the handrail and safety fences.
It is about 200m from the top of the Furber stairs to the finish line, when I got to the top some lovely lady told me “You’ve done it, well done, you are going to finish!” I was overcome with emotion, I was crying so hard I couldn’t breathe I had to brace myself on a rock and calm down before I could finish the race. Every step of that last 200m I remember. I was so proud, so tired, so happy, so overwhelmed by the crowd, so pained from pushing through injury and so fulfilled that I was about to achieve my goal.
My daughter and husband gave me a big hug as I crossed the finish line; I burst into tears again. It was over. I did it.
Reflecting now, the rollercoaster ride to my first ultramarathon was an emotional and physical challenge. I grew as an athlete, although mental strength got me across the line, the months of hard work I did beforehand meant I was conditioned enough to make it possible.
I grew as a mother, finally taking the time for myself after breastfeeding and demonstrating to my daughter how to strive towards a goal and be fit and healthy. I grew as a person, listening to my body, actually working out the difference between discomfort and pain, asking for help, dedicating myself to a pretty big goal and seeing it through. I am so grateful for the journey and for everyone and everything that helped me.
See you in the Blue Mountains for my next ultramarathon, the UTA50 in 2019!
- Shoes: Altra Superior 2
- Bra: Lululemon Enlite Bra
- Nutrition: Infinit custom electrolyte blend
- Pack: Ultimate Direction PB Adventure Vest
- Body Glide
- Ice Cream
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