Surf Coast Century 2018 – The big DNF

Not finishing a race sucks. Failing sucks. But they’re not always the same thing.

The Surf Coast Century 2018 was either one or the other (or both) for me, depending on your viewpoint.
I’ll admit, going into race week I was very unhappy with the change to the start time.
I wasn’t keen on getting up at 4am for a 5:30 start, sure, and on paper the change to a 7:30am start was a much better idea. But to me it meant I would be spending more of the tail end of the course running in the dark. I’d be tired, possibly (probably) cold, and there were some very tricky sections I would have preferred to run in daylight.
‘They’ always say to worry about the things you can control, so I put it out of my mind as best I could and tried to enjoy the novelty of turning up to the start line of an ultra with more than 5 hours sleep under my belt.

I was kinda freezing already here – the day had a high of 10 degrees, if you were dry that is.

Race day dawned wet and cold, and proceeded to get wetter and colder.

I was prepared for the wet, and the low temps, but I was not prepared for the speed at which the tide came in, nor the unpredictable wave surges.
Last year I was rock hopping along perhaps the last few hundred metres, and another handful of sections previous. This year I spent more time clambering over cliffs than running.
When I could run I was feeling great! I could tell I was stronger than last year and prepared for a full day out. My legs felt so good.

Even on this silt-like surface I was running consistently and feeling fine.

Unfortunately the shoes I had chosen were not so good for rock climbing.
I am pretty sure there are no shoes that could have helped me out much, but the nubs on my Salomon Fell Raisers really didn’t help. It was like trying to walk on stilettos across a slimy slate floor.
I fell once, twice, again. Another near miss or two. Then I determined to concentrate and stop wasting my precious energy on slipping. I slowed right down, resigned myself to an even longer day and tried again. It worked. For a while. Then, somewhere around the 15km mark a king tide wave came upon me.

‘They’ also say “Never turn your back on the ocean”. Well I’m afraid I did. That wave hit me hard from behind as I traversed a pair of low, V shaped rocks and knocked both legs out from under me, dunking me in freezing water up to my shoulders. Too startled to think of anything other than getting out of the water and making sure my phone hadn’t fallen out of my pack, I forgot to check for anything else.
Luckily everything I used that day was waterproof, or close to it. My phone included. But as I limped along, warmth returning to my limbs, and feeling to my fingers and toes, I didn’t realise two things.
One, I had badly bashed my left hip, shoulder and the outside of my knee when I fell, and it was going to start hurting a lot, soon. Two, my waterproof jacket that I had stuffed into my pack had been pulled out by the wave and sucked out to sea. I was going to be very wet and very cold and very sore, very soon.

Still, I struggled on. I have been through low periods during races before and it’s amazing how sometimes a very bad low can turn into a very big high with the right support, mindset and perhaps a well-timed hot drink or extra snack. I always like to give myself time to make sure things are as bad as they seem.

What? I’m FINE

20km later, I’m afraid they were.
I made it through the 30k checkpoint and my wonderful crew encouraged me to keep going, which I did. Unfortunately I soon discovered the waterproof jacket problem, and on top of that, started to get very cold. I tried to run, to warm myself up, but the pain in my hip and knee was putting my form right off. I was pretty sure running like that for another 65km would do some major damage I wasn’t prepared to endure.

I hit the 35km mark, found a nice sheltered spot in a carpark near the main road and called my partner.
Two minutes later my phone died.
If there was anything lucky about this race day I guess that was it!

The picturesque 35km mark

Two hours later, warm, fed and with a glass of wine in hand and staring at a roaring fire I pondered my DNF.
It was hard to feel like quitting had been a bad idea though – it was pissing down outside and continued to do so until well into the next day.
Both my sister and my partner repeatedly told me how glad they were I had pulled out. Neither of them were interested in standing around in 5 degrees and rain at midnight, funnily enough. So that helped.

Personally I am not at all upset I missed out on this section

And now that some time has passed I am sure I made the right decision – but damn it was a difficult one to make.
My Bad Day Out taught me a few very important lessons.
I learned that making the call to pull out of a race can sometimes be harder than struggling to the finish.
More importantly I learned how to deal with the feelings of failure that come with that decision.
I reached out to friends and family, and my ultrarunner family. I told them how I was feeling, that I was disappointed, and frustrated, and they gave me some great advice:
Trying and failing is not the same as giving up
You can’t control everything
If you do fail, make sure you get up and start again

So I did, with the silver lining to all this being that because I hadn’t run the entire race I could recover in time to run the Marysville 50k – a race I’d had my eye on for three years! Check out my next post for that race recap.

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