It’s 8:30am on a chilly Tasmanian late summer morning. I’m standing among approximately 300 people on spectacular Boat Harbour beach, tucked in behind imposing Table Cape on the North West Coast – and when we hear the countdown from 10 and all yell “Gone Nuts” our 25km race will have begun.
Flashback to two and a half hours earlier, and I get up to a dark morning and wander to the kitchen to make breakfast. I’m so excited to run this inaugural adventure run that I’m awake and nervous already before my 6am alarm. Breakfast is my daily smoothie – a light but energy and electrolyte packed meal in a shaker that Gabby and I have daily, religiously. I don’t usually eat before long runs, and I break the cardinal rule of not trying anything new on race day, but I figure getting it down 2 hours before race start should be plenty of time (oh god I hope so!).
Of course, I’m representing team Runphoria in our singlet and trucker cap and have on my trusty Salomon Speedcross trail shoes, hoping that they are suitable for the terrain, which is pretty much an unknown. This race is unique in that much of it is on tracks and properties that are private so exactly what to expect is a mystery.
We are an hour from the start line so the morning is a rush of strapping on Rocktape (securing the ankles and supporting my dodgy hamstring) and gathering up all of the compulsory items on the gear list (and there’s a lot! I feel like my Camelbak looks like this…)
As we drive down into the tiny but perfectly gorgeous locality of Boat Harbour, it is buzzing at this early hour – there are a lot of people here. 300 is an incredible number for a first event. It really goes to show just how popular these kind of races are becoming.
As I mentioned, the air at the start line is really cold and after an hour long warm car trip, I’m shivering as soon as I hop out. There’s a quick moment of doubt about what I’ve chosen to wear for the race. The sky is a little gloomy and it’s freezing standing in the breeze that I consider for a moment adding a long sleeved top. Then I look east towards the grassy hills that rise sharply from the coast – that I know we are headed for – and I decide against it. I’ll be hot within minutes of running and really won’t want to stop and undress 5 mins in, so instead I pop on my rain jacket (courtesy of the compulsory gear list) for a bit of wind protection to try to avoid my body’s classic hypothermic reaction to anything below 10 degrees (how do I survive living in Tasmania?!) in the half hour before the race starts.
Registration was taken care of the night before at a very comprehensive briefing in Wynyard. It was definitely clear at the briefing that safety was paramount, but more importantly, as the race directors spoke, you could sense their passion for this run, for the course and location – and my excitement to get out there grew even more-so.
At the start line, we stand around chatting, seeing many familiar faces among the competitors – all equally hunched over and shivering somewhat – and before long, it was time to cross the timing mats and head to the beach for a start.
This run is unlike anything I’ve ever done before, in that the course is largely on private land – mostly farms. These farms sit right on the coastline around what is a spectacular part of the state, and standing on the beach I’m so grateful to be able to participate in what is a sneak peek at a different view of things.
…3, 2, 1….”Gone Nuts!” – and we are off
The sandy section of the beach is short and before long we rock hopping. I’m at a very steady pace off the start and enjoying feeling fresh and strong. Rocks quickly turn to large pebbles, then smaller ones – so within 300m of the start, it’s like your feet are in those ball pits at kids parks. You step, land and sink – and repeat. It’s tiring, but I’m staying upright. My eyes have started to water due to the cool air and, I think, because I’m not blinking – worried that if I do, I’ll lose my footing and do an ankle.
Surprisingly, I haven’t seen any girls surge past me so as we leave the beach, I’m leading the females and about 8th from the race leader.
We hit the farm paddocks straight off the beach – and they pretty much go straight up.
The farmers have mowed tracks in the long grass in their paddocks and to save us heading up a near-vertical incline, they’ve kindly zig-zagged the track. Still doesn’t make it any easier, though. To say the course is undulating is a massive understatement. My Strava elevation profile kind of says it all – we climb, then descend numerous times. Just when we think we’re up and headed towards the Table Cape Plateau, the track heads right back down to sea level, sometimes onto the beach (and more rocks) and then back up the next field. The first 6-8 kms are arduous. I walk most of the steep hills to conserve energy, using the technique of hands on knees pumping those legs. My calves burn from the effort, but recover on each of the downhills enough to make it up the next incline.
I’ve put thought into my fuel and take my first caffeine Shotz gel at 5kms in. The buzz from the caffeine makes me chatty and when I reach the top of one of the grassy hills and realise how incredible the view is – looking steeply down to an expanse of steely grey water in the overcast morning light, with a backdrop of the beach we’ve come from and, behind that, the peaks of Rocky Cape National Park where the 50 and 101km competitors will be traversing before taking our same path to complete their events – I let out a ‘woohoo’ with my hands in the air – it feels so good!
On the way to the half way point of our run – a food and drink station at the iconic Table Cape lighthouse, the run covers almost every conceivable type of run surface – there’s long, dry grass, cropped farm paddocks, gravel driveways, beach rocks and pebbles, bitumen public road, bush tracks on cliff edges with logs to jump and rocks to dodge, and a very loose dirt forest floor – where I think I almost filled my Salomons with dust. We get to climb over electric fences on purpose-placed stiles, race energetic cows along fencelines and generally feel that sense of adventure.
Table Cape is dotted with houses and we are greeted by spectators as we pass. People calling out from their driveways and front porches is so heartwarming and to hear their congratulations on being first female, I can’t help but grin from ear to ear. I’m out doing what I absolutely love – running trails and tricky terrain – on a mild summers day with incredible views to boot!
As I bend down to high-five three tiny hands attached to three cheeky little smiles on the top of Table Cape, what’s not to grin about?
I run through the food station at the lighthouse, knowing I have plenty of fuel on board (cue the image of the oversize backpack) and hit the walking track that takes me to the other side of Table Cape – where you look eastwards along the coast, and down onto the town of Wynyard – where our finish line is. This view is breathtaking – or the incline is up to that point – and as I look at my Suunto, I see I’m edging close to 14kms and it’s time for caffeine gel no. 2. I wait for a small downhill on the road we are now on so that I can make sure I have the breath to get enough fluid through my Camelbak straw to get that gel down. Seriously, I’ve had it in my hands for 10mins to warm it up, but it’s never easy – gels get in your mouth and just want to sit there. It takes effort to swallow it down. But I’m glad I do. The caffeine once again gives me a boost and I feel ready to tackle the last 10km.
It’s a welcome sight to see a marker arrow heading back off the bitumen into a paddock as it’s so much more fun off-road.
I’m in another series of grassy fields with more of those hectic undulations, but generally sloping towards Wynyard, but this one is different underfoot. The mown grass is in tufts and between, there are a good couple of inches to dirt. It’s really uneven and after we finally climb a stile and get out of that paddock, my feet are burning in my shoes and feel like jelly. That feeling goes as we’re now running among a thick pine plantation.
The amazing thing about this run is it’s entirely new, I have no idea what’s coming, how the course goes or what to expect. With no expectation, my mind is constantly occupied by what’s “around the corner” – there’s no boredom – no staring down a stretch of road.
It really epitomises the words “adventure run”.
The pine forest is quiet, sheltered and the trees are blocking out the majority of the light – and it’s a bit eerie on my own. Underfoot there are only pine needles and tree roots and the running is easier. I take that moment to tell myself out loud that I’m doing a great job and with 7km to go, I’ve got this. My body is feeling okay – my hip flexors are the thing that become fatigued on longer trails – I guess lifting my feet up so I don’t trip over, and getting up and over those hills(!) does take its toll – and I start to notice them at this point.
I’ve not checked pace all day. It isn’t a factor for me. The terrain is the challenge – not the speed. But my Suunto has been invaluable for knowing just how far I am through and how much time has elapsed. There aren’t any km markers on the 25km course, and along the way I am asked by quite a few people how far we are through. Those that look a bit tired, I round up to the nearest km – those who look fresh get the truth.
By the time I’m down the last descent from the Fossil Bluff lookout, I’m almost at 20.5k – there should be about 4.5km to go (just under a parkrun). My toes have copped the brunt of the descents and I’ve felt them slam repeatedly into the end of my shoes. (I forgot to cut my toenails, dammit!) I just know at the very least there will be black toenails – at the most no toenails….it’s wait and see.
It’s at this point that the tiredness comes out of nowhere and hits me.
I can feel a wall of sorts looming, so I take action. The last time I ran a 25km trail race (it was 28km – see our story Doing Time at Convicts & Wenches) – I hit the wall in a huge way. I lost 4 places to finish 6th in that race in the last 3 kms! I really didn’t want that to happen today. My Camelbak contains water with a weak Shotz electrolyte solution – so I take a big drink, and have a little chat with myself.
There are many things I learn from Gabby – and one of the most valuable is her mental strength while running. I know she talks herself through tough runs and I’m gradually learning to do the same. I think of her recent recaps of fantastic PBs and utilise her tactic to stave off that wall. Thinking about the distance I still have to cover, I tell myself to imagine I’ve just done an epic speed workout and this is my warm down. It’s not about getting it done quickly, it’s about getting it done. I think I’m a fair way ahead of the next girl as I haven’t seen her behind me at any stage, but I don’t know whether she’s going to push hard those last few kms and catch me. The self-talk works, and I keep things as steady as I can and push for home.
Thankfully, we are turned towards the park (and finish line) a little sooner than I expect and I realise this race distance is going to come up short. I’m at 22km and as I cross a bridge, the volunteer Marshall tells me “It’s not far now. Hear the music? Just follow that and you’re there.” I’m so grateful as I can hear the music from the finish line filtering through the trees, and as I round a couple of bends, I’m jogging into the park towards a small crowd gathered at the flags.
It is a fantastic feeling to be greeted by crowd cheers and to cross the line as the first girl in the inaugural running of the event. I estimated 3 hours to finish, so to finish just shy of 2 and a half felt fantastic – except that I don’t know whether Stu has made it in time to see me finish. It’s not until I hear the words “well done babe”, determine that no one else calls me babe, I turn to give him a huge hug!
The race director comes over for a chat and I get to tell him what an awesome course it was. I even get interviewed by a local news crew (with a camera!) in my post-race glory – all Crust Crustofferson with general sweatiness and misjudged snot rockets (hopefully they smeared the lens with Vaseline to remove those bits) but it was a hoot anyway.
The race organisers did an incredible job with this race. There was little doubt of where to go – the markings were plenty and located perfectly (for us daylight runners). The post-race environment was one of celebration with plenty for all ages and oodles of food (and great coffee). We sat on the grass for quite some time and enjoyed the atmosphere. I finish 10th overall, and quickly find out that Gene, one of the Sole Mates (Gabby’s local run crew in Hobart) has won the race – a tidy 20 minutes quicker than me!
Look out 2018 – this event is definitely worth a revisit! While the course will no longer have that ‘unknown’ aspect to it, perhaps that human nature of forgetting traumatic things will mean it will all feel fresh again anyway!
Maybe I’ll shoot for completing 50km at the next one – but definitely with Gabby this time. I had some great company on the way during this race, but I did miss the giggles and chats she and I get to enjoy on the trails together.