I am never running another 100km race ever again. These were my first words to friends and family when I finished the 2013 Canberra 100K.
After telling myself that I have ticked the ultra-marathon box, and that I don’t need to put myself through such physical and mental torment again, the thoughts of going back to Canberra for another go, to better my time and place started creeping in. Before I knew it, I had committed to a training program and signed myself up. I wanted to compete against the girls this year. I wanted to come in under 13 hours and most of all I wanted that podium finish.
But let’s start from the beginning. In May this year my husband (and amazing friends) surprised me for my 30th with an entry into the New York City Marathon which is to be staged in November. I was excited and started dreaming of how fast a time I could do. But then my mind turned to Canberra. Could I still do the 100 and then back up 5 weeks later for my first ever marathon? I had to weigh up priorities. To do well in New York or do well in Canberra? The temptation of smashing out a solid 100km time in Canberra took out the top spot. My goal for the year now was to give Canberra a good crack and just go out and have a good time in New York.
In much the same style as last year, I started my training about 10 weeks out. I enlisted the services of super coach Brendan Murray (BME Endurance Coaching – look him up, he’s a legend and gets results!) and the ‘fun’ began. We didn’t have a heap of time to build up to the mileage most ultra-runners get to for a race like this but rather we went in with high quality sessions. I was conditioned to deal with pushing through solid sessions on tired legs and a tired mind. Some days it felt like I was dragging myself out of the house kicking and screaming. It seemed like the weather was always cold (for the Gold Coast anyway), dark and windy and most sessions were done alone. I won’t lie, it was the pits. But I remained focused knowing that this sort of conditioning would be exactly what I needed when I am in the depths of the race and I needed to rely on my mental strength to get through.
I scoped out the start list and saw that there were some ladies with very strong ultra backgrounds. Third place from last year was also returning so I knew I had a big task ahead if I wanted to get a place. My thoughts were going from ‘just go out and have a good run’ to ‘get out there and give it everything’. I figured it would probably come down to Pam Muston and Sarah Fien to take out the two top positions so my game plan was to keep them in sight and see what happens.
Race morning came around and in true Canberra style it was nearly freezing conditions. When we took off, just a tad after 6.00am, the temperature was a cool one degree! The fog was blocking the sun so it took a while before I warmed up. Trying to make conversation with other runners when your face is frozen is quite difficult! Anyway, I settled into a rhythm early and after a couple of kilometers I was the lead female. The gap between me and the next girl gradually grew and it was at this point I thought to myself I have two options here. I can settle down and be sensible, remembering there is still a long way to go, or just go for it. Run without fear (thanks Stacey!) and hang on for dear life…for the next 90+km! I thought what the hell, I’ll just go for it!! For the rest of the leg I continued to stretch my lead out. I was going at a pretty easy pace and I was still being sensible when it came to hills but from here on I wasn’t really prepared to lose the lead I had. I came into check point 1 a couple of minutes ahead of the next girl (who I now know to be Kristy Lovegrove). As soon as I saw the other girls starting to come in, I was off again.
The next few km into the second leg I had company following closely behind me (Natalie Best). It didn’t worry me too much and I figured that if she did take the lead I would remain cool and just hang on to her. A few kilometers passed and I turned to notice I had lost her. This leg was hot, really hot! The sun was really beaming down and there wasn’t much shade on offer. Around the middle part of this leg I began to feel quite dehydrated and my calves were starting to cramp. At first it was only on the hills but after a while it was happening on the flats, causing me to stop and walk or stretch them out. It was really slowing me down. The few kilometers leading into the Arboretum I was starting to struggle. I was having a lot more walking breaks than I had hoped for and I was really longing for the check point so I could see family and get the boost that I needed. Just as I remembered last year, the climb up to the Arboretum was not very nice but with my dad running alongside me (in his cycling kit and cleats!!) I charged up the last few hundred metres and was cheered into the checkpoint. 55.5km in and still leading!
The next section was the shortest of all the legs (22km) but it took in Black Mountain which is a killer climb. I left the transition smiling and with a bit of a spring in my step commenting to my support crew that it was only 22km until I see them again – easy! I had kept a watchful eye on the runners coming up the hill to see how close the next female was. By the time I had left none of them had made it through. However, I was informed a little later that they came through a few minutes after I had gone. I knew I was in for a fight to keep the lead from this point.
I was really trying my best to limit the walking breaks but I was completely zapped of all energy. The sun was still so hot and no matter how much I drank I just couldn’t seem to quench my thirst. It was around this time that I was starting to feel really ill. Coming into Dickson around the 75km mark was where I hit a wall. I knew the next check point wasn’t very far away but it seemed like I was taking forever to reach it. I was dehydrated, sunburnt, sore, exhausted and over it! And I was expecting the next female runner to overtake me any minute. My spirits were dropping rapidly. I needed to get to the next check point without completely losing it (and losing my lead!).
I shuffled into checkpoint 3 where I was met first by my dad. He asked me how I was feeling - horrible at best. I felt quite emotional, almost like I couldn’t hold it together for much longer. I told my support crew that I don’t think it’ll be long before the next female comes through. Well sure enough, within minutes, Pam Muston made her way through the transition. It was almost like it was in slow motion as I watched her support crew run alongside her, handing her food and supplies and off she went on her way for the fourth and final leg. I had lost my lead! I have to say though, there was still some satisfaction with the fact I had led for 77km! But the race wasn’t over yet. I had to re-gather and get on my way before the next female got me too!
Off I went for the final 24km with my sister, Sarah-Jane, alongside me for this leg. SJ remarked that it was only 5 parkruns to go. That was possibly the worst breakdown ever and I thought let’s just get to the top of Majura and then deal with the rest. I could see Pam only a couple of hundred meters ahead. We kept her in sight right up until the top of Mt Majura but after that she found another gear and was gone. If I wasn’t hurting enough before this point, I was certainly hurting now. My breathing was really labored, I was in agony and I was really nauseous (apparently also looking very pale). On our way down Majura we saw third place, Georgia Bamber, making her way up. Sarah-Jane was doing her best to keep my mind distracted by talking to me but the best response she could get out of me was either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or a grunt. It was at this point that I knew I couldn’t catch Pam. I had absolutely nothing left and it just became a fight to get to the finish in second place. It was somewhere between Mt Majura & Mt Ainslie that I made a promise to myself that I would never do this again! I asked myself to remember the amount of pain I was in at that moment the next time I even thought about entering another ultra-marathon. The kilometers were slowly ticking over and I continually looked over my shoulder to check for Georgia. Luckily she wasn’t in sight. I was hanging for the climb up Ainslie because it meant there was only ONE parkrun to go from there!
It wasn’t long before we commenced our way up the steep trail of Mt Ainslie. I didn’t remember it being so hard last year. My legs were in so much pain! After an agonizing climb it was an amazing feeling to hear a booming voice yell ‘Go Kathryn’ from above! Gary & Denise Clarke were waiting for us at the top of Mt Ainslie to cheer us on. What legends! Gary asked how I was feeling and all I could manage was a head shake. Not good, Gary. But we were so close now. I wasn’t letting anything stop me from here. Next was the harsh descent down the mountain and I just needed to make sure I didn’t trip on anything. My legs were so tired and I had to make a conscious effort to pick my feet up. Mum and Dad and the Clarke’s were waiting for us at the base of the mountain for a final cheer before the finish. I was in a bad way and just wanted to get there. Again, on the brink of tears we made our way down Anzac Parade which was a refreshing slight downhill on the pavement. We were catching other runners on the way too. I can’t even remember if there was conversation happening here. We made it onto the path along Lake Burley Griffin and I caught a glimpse of Regatta Point. It was so close. I had to ask Sarah-Jane if that was in fact the finish because I couldn’t believe we were that close. I was overwhelmed with emotion as I realised that I had done exactly what I set out to do. I think I commented to SJ words to the effect of ‘I did it’! We picked the pace up as we neared closer. Then we had to slow down to let mum and dad get to the finish before us – had to get that finish photo!! And then it was upon us – the final hill up to the finish line. I wanted my sister to cross the line with me because without her I wouldn’t have been able to hold it together in those final stages. She pushed me at the right times and got me to the end, just like I had asked her to. What a feeling it was to cross that line!
In 2013, I ran this race in 13hours 55mins in 5th place. This year I ran it in 12hours 26mins in 2nd place. I know it was a slightly different course, not taking in Mt Stromlo, but it was longer so I am definitely claiming it as a PB. A big one at that too! When I crossed the line I barked at my Dad ‘If I ever talk about doing this again, make sure you stop me!’. My Dad calmly replied ‘I will ask you again on Wednesday’. He knew.
Maybe I’ll come out of retirement for a sub12 in 2015, or maybe I’ll retire satisfied with my efforts in 2014 – we will see what happens!
My goal for Canberra has been accomplished. Now to go out and have a great time in New York!