Weathered smooth by rain
Blasted brittle by the wind
Spring time for ultra
The air horn sounds and we howl and clap, after months of training we can finally begin.
Against a hard grey sky, the fierce sea and the relentless wind and rain, the crowd that lines the start chute makes it feel like the sun is shining.
Run along the sand, towards the Lifeguard station, I try not to think of the enormity of what lies ahead.
Up and over Point Roadkinght, 400 odd runners crammed onto a path not wide enough for even two abreast.
We quick-march, army style, waiting for the clear air and some space to stretch our legs.
Itching to break free of the crowd I remind myself I am out here all day — patience is necessary.
Running back past the start, the crowd inspires speed — patience is necessary.
The field thins.
Between cliff and sea, I forge forward alone — the damp slap of trainer on the hard wet sand, the echo of the crashing waves reverberating against the tall cliffs.
I want to remember this moment, the steady whoosh crash of the sea, runners all single file racing the waves up and down the beach as we try to stay on the hard wet sand and keep our feet dry.
At Bells Beach, Half Moon Bay and Bird Rock Lookout, trail runners mix with surfers as we clamber over rocks and wade through the surf.
The sun come out around 18Ks, a beautiful rainbow is crashing into the sea about half a kilometre off-shore.
Around Rocky Point the tide is up and we step through rock pools, the water up to our waists.
We wonder if it would be quicker to swim.
At Torquay Beach we leave the surf behind for 60Ks of track, trail and hill — Checkpoint 2, new socks, new shoes, feeling fine.
From Torquay to Bells Beach, a punishing headwind torments me along cliff tops whilst I try to convert 21Ks on flat wet sand into hills of Leg 2.
I press on, concerned I am feeling it this early on, hoping it’s just a trough in my energy level sine-wave.
The course turns left and the wind drops away, pace returns and my energy and mood tick up a notch — again I am reminded of the need for patience.
With no wind comes strong warm sun, a new challenge.
The rain comes hard a kilometre out of Checkpoint 3, but it is brief and refreshing after running in the mid-morning sun.
At 34Ks I enter The Great Otway National Park, gnarled tracks, tight switchbacks and long slow climbs stand between me and Anglesea.
A difficult section with many trip hazards, I just need to get through here without a fall.
Just short of my first marathon I fall victim to the trail prankster spirit — focusing on form for an event photographer, I take my eyes off the trail and do not see the knotted tree root in the path.
Blooded left knee and a worrying niggle in my right foot, I curse my clumsiness and after a few minutes manage to soldier on.
Hurting and hobbling along, my mood descends as quickly as the needle on my digital barometer.
Another runner tells me a story about her own injury.
“I was on the rocky bit back there and I was so focussed on the floor I did not see the tree.
Head butted the branch. Smack.”
Escaping without concussion, I feel ok laughing at her own course challenges, and thank her. I needed to laugh and she made it happen.
Thick, fat rain batters me as I move slowly along and my feet begin to slip as the red clay road gets slick in the rain.
Despite stories of equally embarrassing accidents I am feeling dark again and the rain is perfectly reflecting my mood.
“Maybe I am a rain god” I say out loud.
“Ok. But I am angry too — especially with this rain — so I need you to thunder too.”
No thunder. I am not a rain god, but on the plus side — no thunder!
I have 10 kilometres to get out of this funk.
The rain lifts, and so does my mood — a bit.
A new challenge.
Waves of despair and euphoria engulf me simultaneously and I am overcome, for mere moments, with the urge to laugh manically or sob uncontrollably.
I am not sure how to cope with this. I need a hug.
This is not how I imagined things would be going.
Slipping along quagmire tracks, 8 kilometres to a cuddle.
Pushing along single trails, stumbling on small roots, 6 kilometres to a cuddle.
Approaching 6 hours on the watch and not where I want to be on course, 4 kilometres to a cuddle.
Running around the edge of the caravan park, mere minutes away.
I will hit 50K in 6 hours.
A cuddle from my girlfriend, hot food, change of clothes — less than a K to a cuddle and everything will be alright.
Wait. I will hit 50K in 6 hours. I have covered 50 kilometres in 6 hours despite a fall, a blooded knee, a potentially twisted ankle.
And in less than a kilometre I can have a cuddle and some personal time with my girlfriend — this is frickin’ awesome.
Euphoria. Get a grip James. I’ve got this.
It is raining again, I must be close to the checkpoint.
I sit on the ground in Checkpoint 4.
Food is handed to me.
Tea is handed to me.
“Are you cold.”
“Would you like a jacket”
“Yes. In a minute.”
Jacket is put over my shoulders and back for me.
“Would you like some noodles.”
“Here I will get them for you.”
Support crews are awesome. While all I can think about is the next 50 kilometres, my girlfriend is making sure I do all the things I need to do to remain human.
Fuelled with food and reassurance I leave Anglesea a new runner.
New territory is underfoot, every kilometre run is the farthest I have ever run.
Trudging along a slippery clay track, desperately looking for grip as my trainers become caked in the thick mud I celebrate as I enter the final marathon.
I have covered 58 kilometres.
Around 60Ks an overwhelming sense of euphoria fills me — but different from before.
I feel light, invigorated, my legs don’t hurt and I find myself eager to bounce along the single track in front of me.
On the single track I pass some runners ahead of me.
“I’ve found my second wind!” I crow with delight. “and I feel like I need to run with it for a little while.”
Checking off 7:20mins/K —ordinarily this would be a slow plod for someone who, three weeks earlier ran 4.50/K for 15 kilometres — but it feels fast, feels good.
I hope it lasts.
For a 13 kilometres, I surf on a wind of previously untapped energy and take the rain, thunder and gnarled tracks in my stride.
At Distillery Creek I hit 70 kilometres in 10 hours and I feel awesome, amazing, unstoppable.
Vegemite sandwiches. Awesome.
But my feet are starting to hurt and I can feel blisters forming and my niggle of a strain is beginning to complain after 40 kilometres of relentless pounding.
A long slow plod to Moggs.
The cold wet night sets in.
Apply the thermals, have some soup.
I am thankful for the fire.
I hope my head torch lasts the distance.
I tear myself away from the fire and plunge into the night 22K to go.
The long wet climb up to Coast View Track suddenly flattens and dries and I am flying.
I’ve run 50 miles and I am flying along dark single tracks through the night.
The sound of the surf in the distance.
I am finally returning to the sea. I am on the last leg.
The tufted long grass that edges the track has little silver beads of water all along the pencil thin leaves and they strobe in my torchlight as I run past.
Natures disco, grooving off of my buzz.
Back onto wide dirt roads, the relentless pounding sends jolts of pain through my right foot and the distinct squish of blisters forming.
Trudging into Aires Inlet I watch time running away from me.
15 kilometres in 2.15 to get in under 16 hours.
Any other day this would be a walk in the park.
Tonight it may just be a walk.
On the tops of the cliffs I watch torchlights bounce into the distance and embrace the stiff ocean breeze, fall in love with the crashing of the waves against the cliffs.
Three ParkRuns to go.
On Urquhart Beach I do the maths, if I can run I can do this.
But I cannot run. I have to hike the last 10Ks as quickly as I can — patience.
At 16 hours I have travelled 97.5 kilometres. I am in Anglesea now — back in civilisation.
The end is very near.
Hood up, looking at my feet I push forward.
Through the deep sand below the lifeguard station.
Only 1.5Ks to go.
With the finish shoot in sight, I can hear the announcer talking.
I should walk this in but I want to run this in.
Start strong. Finish stronger.
I spin up to a fumbling jog for the final 100 metres.
“Is that James?” asks the announcer in the distance.
“Yes!” I shout with delight but the cold eats my words.
“If that is you James, wave your hands. Let us know it is you.”
I wave my hands emphatically and shout “It is me! It is me!”
Just after midnight I cross the finish line, there are 48 runners still out there.
Relief that I can stop, eat, drink beer. Joy that I have completed the distance and sadness that I have finished.
The course chewed me up and spat me out. But I finished.
I have grown and I want more.
I cannot wait to come back.