Surf Coast Century 2017

So how much sand running is there in the first half of the Surf Coast Century?
Oh, about a half marathon’s worth…
Oh shit.

I was idly reading Facebook posts about the race 2 weeks before the big day, when that little nugget of information made itself known to me.
The weather had been horrendous recently; constant rain, single digit temperatures, even snow in Lorne, so I had been using up all my Taper Anxiety worrying about mud and cold and hadn’t even thought to double check the course description.
I was pretty confident about the notoriously difficult second half of the course, funnily enough, and had run large sections of it in training, but at some point in the proceedings I had got it fixed in my mind that the first 50km took a similar route to the Surf Coast Trail Marathon and was therefore ‘easy’.

See? Simple.
Somehow I had completely skipped over the fact that the first 21 km involved running along beaches and picking your way over ‘reef platforms and rock pools’. Which is just about as problematic as it sounds.
I panicked for about 24 hours and then decided that the only choice I had was either accept it or DNS. And I wasn’t going to back out after all my training!
So, cue new race strategy.
Start out slow. Really slow.
As it turned out, this was an excellent idea.

The start of the Surf Coast Century was transcendent.
It was 5am and pitch black, but the atmosphere was noisy and vibrant, with at least as many spectators as there were participants all cheering us on, and music blaring down on the beach.

I felt like I was floating as I ran through the start arch, following a sea of bobbing headtorches down the beach towards Point Roadknight.
The sand was packed and hard (although the actual rocks were a bit of a bitch). Nice and easy to run on.
The water wasn’t too cold, something I found out almost immediately, and the scenery was sublime.
Watching the sunrise over the ocean, with the Anglesea cliffs behind me, was one of the highlights of my race.

I even squeezed in some rock climbing, so as to avoid getting wet up to the waist in a very deep section at Bird Rock.
Note: this is not me. Also, this poor woman is about 3 steps away from finding the ‘secret’ ditch that will dump her in up to her waist. 

The rest of the time we hopped over rocky outcrops, unsuccessfully dodged the incoming tide (I believe I got soaked up to the hips 3 times) and marveled at the soft peachy tones of the sun rising over Bass Strait.
The looped nature of the first part of the course meant I could hand my head torch and jacket back to the boyfriend at the 10k mark (who coped magnificently with his first crewing experience) , lightening my load quickly.

It was 8am by the time I got into the 21k aid station. Full daylight, and a beautiful day at that.

This was my quickest aid station transition, a speedy 5 minutes to down a gel, change my very wet shoes and socks and top up my water bottles just in case. Then I headed off into the part of the course I knew best.
As expected, there were no surprises here for me.
I continued my ‘run for 15 minutes, walk for a couple’ plan, adding in walks for hills as this section was quite undulating. I felt I was travelling quite easy. Exactly what I wanted.

Make no mistake, the race was taking it out of me though. I was starving by the 32k Aid station. So while I tipped rocks, sand and other debris out of my shoes, I scoffed bananas, lollies and a SIS bar.

I look like I’m really concentrating but I actually have a massive mouthful of banana.

About 2 hours later I reached the halfway point at Anglesea with plenty left in the tank and feeling way better than I had any right to.
I was still spot on time for my crew meeting points (this was definitely about to change) and yet to develop any hot spots on my feet or anywhere else, which was excellent considering how much time I’d spent with soaking wet shoes.
I downed an orange Gatorade and a hot and tasty sausage roll – to the envy of the bloke next to me. “What a great idea!” he said. Thanks mum!
At the same time I changed my shoes and socks AGAIN then headed out. All up I was there for almost 15 minutes but I think it was worth it to dry my feet properly and get some much needed calories into me without risk of them coming straight back up again.

Up til now 50k was the longest I had ever run so from here on I was in uncharted territory. I traveled quite well for the next 15km or so but once I hit the 70km mark things began to get more and more difficult.
First were the feet problems. I felt like there was a tiny bug in my shoe. Wriggling and wrapped around my right baby toe. It tickled and pulled, and pinched. It felt disgusting.
But it wasn’t a bug, it was a massive blister that was pulling all the skin away from the epidermis underneath. I was later to find a sheath of toe skin inside my sock. Yummo.
Luckily I didn’t know what was happening at the time or I may have lost my perfectly-digested sausage roll.
I stupidly decided the foot care could wait til the 77k mark (spoiler: it couldn’t) because I had more immediate problems at hand. Running downhill had suddenly become impossible, as happens when your quads decide they’d like a rest now please.
So I began a long, slow descent into the Moggs Creek aid station, taking nearly an hour to complete 5k.

Trench foot at Moggs Creek
If you’ve just eaten, don’t look too closely at the bottom of this photo

As sometimes also happens though, my quads came back from the dead just as I entered the picnic area, to find my dad and BF looking quite worried. They’d been waiting for an hour and a half. But I didn’t have time to muck around. I was starting to think that if I stopped I’d never start again. I wanted to be quick but my feet needed serious attention, so I patched them up as best I could, ate some snake lollies, and was out of there about 8 minutes later.

The section between the 77k and 86k checkpoints was, on paper, quite flat and not obviously technical. I didn’t know the trail, but I knew the area and thought I knew what was in store. I didn’t realise it was more like swamp land after all the rain we’d had, and I was not in the mood to be slowed down by mud and puddles on what should have been one of the easiest parts of the course.
I certainly didn’t expect to get wet feet AGAIN.

There were dry patches, but on the whole I was muddy, wet and grumpy from tripping over hidden roots and spending precious time and energy navigating sludge and stagnant water.
Eventually though, I emerged from the quagmire to some nice flat, dry track and stumbled into Airey’s Inlet and the 86k mark.
Only 14k to go. It really didn’t seem like much at that point, maybe 2 hours of slogging. Only problem was that I’d finally pushed my iron gut too far. It didn’t want to eat another bite. Yet by now I was pretty much running on empty. So I forced down more Gatorade and a fun sized Snickers  bar while my mum pushed a Vegemite sandwich at me. I choked down half, in between gulps of Gatorade, then headed out again for the final stretch. About two minutes later a dejected looking woman joined me, begging me to take her Vegemite sandwich.
“I don’t want it. They made me take it. I can’t eat anything.” She was nearly crying.
I didn’t have much energy left to speak, and I certainly wasn’t going to take it off her hands, but in between trying not to dry retch I declined her offer and suggested she chuck it in the nearest bin.
At some point in the next 4k I lost her, and was on my own as I hit the 90k mark.
This was, without a doubt, the toughest part of the race for me.
Running low on both energy and joie de vivre, I was unimpressed to find they’d offered us the scenic route of the 91st Kilometre. We were directed down down down to the shoreline for a sea view that covered no more than 100 bloody metres. Delightful. Then it was time to go straight back up steep concrete stairs with mismatched risers designed to trip you up and a rusty handrail designed to tear the skin off your hands.
Grumbling about this injustice kept me distracted til about the 95k mark, when I hit the last of the sand running and the last of the race.
I had nothing left in the tank, and walking was as painful as running so I compromised.
Run for 200 steps, walk for 100, run for 200 steps, walk for 100. Repeat.
Even the beautiful full moon rising over Bass Strait was doing little to distract me by this point but eventually I saw a parade of orange witches hats that steered me up to the entrance of the Anglesea reserve and the finishers chute.

I spent the next 24 hours doing this:

And thinking about everything I learned. A couple of things stood out:

  • Start out slow. Really slow. No, slower than that.
  • Eat. Slow down and EAT.
  • Don’t get caught up in the idea that you ‘must’ complete certain sections within a certain time – this can turn from a motivational tool to a self-defeating and destructive mindset very very quickly.
  • Changing shoes and taking care of your feet is NOT a waste of time.
  • Your crew are invaluable – do as they tell you then reward them with donuts and love

I couldn’t have done it without my partner Steve, and my parents, who crewed for me on the day.
Steve in particular was on the go for as long as I was – up at 4:30am, waiting at every checkpoint, making me drink my Berocca so I didn’t cramp (I hate Berocca but it works!) and never ever letting on that he thought I was going to pike at the 70k mark!

It may have taken me two months to finish getting this all down on paper, but it was an experience I’ll never forget, and one I’m pretty keen to repeat as soon as my body will let me. 

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