“Ok. You’ve done 28K’s and you have another 1/3 of the race to go”, said the guy at the aid station. Not entirely sure what I said back. I cannot even remember what I ate and drank. All I know is that I am fucked, my Garmin has fucked me too – it got all confused in the hills thinks I am 5K’s further along than I actually am.
Three and a half hours into this beast and I have begun to accept that the 4:20 estimated finish time is not going to happen. If I am luck, maybe I will do it in 5 hours.
Advice For Noobs
“You need a strategy for the second hill”, said one other runner about 15 kilometres earlier. It’s quite funny actually, on the starting line I found myself standing in the shadows of some fairly badass looking trail runners. Their presence made me feel like it was my first day at school. However, out on the course – these same runners assumed I was a seasoned trail marathon runner, or at least a seasoned marathon runner anyway. Who does this as their first? Not many it seems, well a handful of us.
“I don’t want to say ‘welcome to hell but…..’ were the reassuring words of our race director when us Marysville newbies announced with a show of hands that this was our first assault of the Yarra Ranges course.
I always like a challenge and I am a bit of a masochist and it felt like Marysville would be tweaking my nipples from the word go.
I jogged away from the aid station and towards the second loop, the Keppel Lookout/Steavenson loop. This felt like a good time to eat something, but the thought of chewing on the sweet, dried, mango I was carrying made me feel nauseous, so I opted for a handful of almonds instead. The problem is, my brain was up for the task of eating. My body not so much. Like some deranged hamster, I chugged along for a good K or so with this chewed up mess of almond in my cheeks which began to draw, what remaining natural moisture I had in my mouth, out of it. I contemplated trying to spit it out but was not overly confident in my ability to miss myself, and thusly mess myself – or my race number with half chewed nuts. So I drank the stuff down instead.
Back To Strategy
I have a strategy for this loop. It’s a big hill and there is a banana which literally has my name on it at the top of the hill, at the 34K marker – it is in one of the aid station drop boxes that we had access to at registration. A banana and some water/gatorade mix with my name and race number written on both with black sharpie. My strategy? Eat the banana!
Goat Track Switchbacks
The route from the aid station gradually sinks from pleasant to hellish. I run from gravel carpark to tarmac to wide forest trail, to narrower but steep forest trail, to goat track switchbacks. The sun is high in the sky and I am climbing on the sunny side of the mountain. As my accent gets slower and slower, my Garmin gets faster and faster, it is way off, but the time is still accurate so I keep it ticking over. Due to a lack of people, my Garmin becomes my nemesis; ‘Beep’ 2.33K “fuck you” I say, ‘beep’, 4:00K. “Liar”! I proclaim.
People talk about breaking races down into distances. At the start of this marathon I had nice big chunks, 10K, 5K, 9K, 4K, 4K, etc etc. After what feels like hours of climbing, my mini goals have been reduced to even minier goals, to goals like:
‘That big ol’ burnt tree that marks the point of the next switchback.’
Even that became hard to complete. At one particularly stunning break in the view I am able to look down into the distant valley below and see the oval where the finish line is. I had passed an aid box (at what my watch said was the 34K mark) some time ago, It was un-personed and the dropbox was empty. I felt cheated, where is my banana I cried with despair and rage (all internally of course), on the outside I just had this sad, beaten look on my face. Looking at this view, listening to my heart pounding in my chest, my stomach rumbling, I think about turning around, I think about rolling back down the hill, lodging a DNF. But I have come this far, that aid station was NOT Keppel Lookout and god dammit I want my banana. I’ve worked hard for that banana and I’m hungry now. So I push on.
Then, You Eat The Banana
The ascent takes me about an hour, covering 6K over 450 meters of steep, goat track-ish up. Even facing the prospect of a 6:30 marathon time (one person even took a 8 hours), Marysville still feels good, this is mostly down to the volunteers at the aid stations keeping the runners spirits high. About 30 meters from Keppel Lookout it sounded like a party was going on, the volunteers had their car up there and it was in party-bus mode. Shade, views, icy-poles, water melon, water, sports drink, and general, fully committed, elation and applause when weary runners emerged from the goat track and dragged themselves to the end of the lookout. I decided to take a 15 minute break here, enjoying the music, the view, the conversation. It is not a policy of mine to take extended breaks in races, but THIS. WAS. NEEDED!
And of course, my banana was waiting for me. What is a little sad about this story though is that I could only stomach half my banana and then had to walk for the best part of 4K because I felt too full to run.
My official finishing time is 6:24, although if you only include actual moving (I would say running but there was a lot of walking on the ups) is about 6:10. The volunteers were extraordinary and if it weren’t for their cheery spirit, food and drink I think I would have spent a lot more time in the darker recesses of my mind. I only sustained one injury, a fall on the switchbacks near Steavenson Falls, a tumble brought on by cramp in my left calf (while I was running) which caused my left foot to point straight down and snag a rock. The landing was fairly standard and, apart from momentary fear of a broken leg, I was able to pick myself up quickly and continue on. I did not even realise I was bleeding until a curious little girl at the next aid station became transfixed with my left leg.
“It’s okay”, said the mother “She is just checking you are not bleeding anywhere else”.
“Bleeding!?” It was at this point that I looked down and saw the newly formed gash on the bottom of my left knee. It’s not really a trail run if one hasn’t sustained some sort of bash, bruise, cut or graze.
Now that I have had a number of days to recover and reflect, would I go back? Hell yeah! Next year, if I can! The course is stunning and has a nice mix of long run sections and technically challenging ascents and descents. Plus I now have a time to beat. I reckon with better hill training I can get my time down to around 5 hours.
Would I run a marathon again? Yes! I need to find a nice flat one soonish just to log a quickish (for me) time. I think I would like to do a few next year (including Marysville and the Great Ocean Road). I fear this may be the beginning of a genuine slippery slope into Ultras.