Xi Qiao Shan International 24 Hour Ultra Marathon

Xi Qiao Shan International 24 Hour Ultra Marathon

A China Experience

I was given the opportunity to travel to China as an invited athlete for a 24 hour event. It was an experience I grabbed with both hands and I am so glad I did. I had met Race Director Tony Chu on a couple of occasions at International Events and he and his team did a magnificent job getting the support of Chinese officials to create a World Class Ultra Running event. I was one of several invited International Runners that included British athletes Dan Lawson and Ali Young, 24 hour World Champion Katalin Nagy and Hungarian athlete Anita Vajda, South African Johan van der Merwe, and fellow Soochow Champion Italian, Ivan Cudin.

We were accommodated at the National Arts Hotel in Foshan, Guangdong in Southern China which was an easy walk from the race precinct. The International team and other invited officials were treated to a tour of the local sights the day before the race.  It was hot and humid and gave a good idea of what to expect on race day.  Otherwise it was a great way to pass the morning and the sights and experience around Xiaqio Mountain were amazing.  Thankfully our tour bus was air conditioned.

Our tour incorporated three contrasting experiences. We started with a drive up the nearby Xiqiao Mountain where seated at the summit is a 61.9m Bronze statue of Guanyin “Goddess of Mercy”.  She sits imposingly 61.9m high atop the extinct volcano.  We stopped often on the climb up the stairs for photos and it was a good opportunity to get to know the other athletes.  Our next stop was the Wong Fei-hong Lion Dance and Martial Arts School.  Wong Fei-hong was on of the greatest Kungfu masters and we were treated to a kungfu display and lion dance before being shepherded to the cool of the buses for a quick stop at a long waterfall that cascaded into a lake at the base of the mountain.  This particular lake regularly hosts dragon boat regattas.

Our final destination was the Baiyun Cavern a blessed place for Confucianism, Buddihism and Taoism.  It turned out to be a cool sanctuary from the oppressive heat and humidity and was a labyrinth of waterfalls, celestial halls, ancient temples, springs, lakes, forest, pavilions and terraces.   Our cultural tour of the mountain complete we returned to the event hotel to rest up for the afternoon.

I collected my race pack and later attended the race briefing which was mostly in Chinese before heading to the welcome banquet.  After a number of short speeches, the first course of our banquet was brought out with much ceremony and presented to us.  It was a whole suckling (baby) pig presented on a platter with two red led lights where the eyes should be for great effect.  We enjoyed many different Cantonese style dishes before heading to bed ready for race day.

Race Morning.

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Jodie and fellow Aussie Larissa at the race precinct.

All invited athletes congregated in the hotel foyer and were guided across the road to the race precinct to prepare for the long day ahead.  The aim at this time was to stay cool.  The heat was oppressive even at 8am and I draped a wet towel around my neck in an attempt to keep as cool as possible.  I worried how all those crewing would fare throughout the day.

Before long we were called to the opening ceremony which included a spectacular lion dance.  The important officials were called to the stage one by one and introduced and then it was the invited athletes turn.  We all enjoyed a few moments of celebrity.  Then finally it was time to start.  We set off with most of us having no idea what to expect of the course.  It was a 1.15km loop that wound its way through a movie set.  The set was a purpose built permanent structure built purely for making movies, complete with a variety of quaint Chinese style shops and buildings.  There were a few tight turns but we were afforded some shade and shelter.  I quickly realised that I would need to adjust my pace and adopted a general run the sun, walk the shade strategy.  It was only 9:30am in the morning and it was already hot and getting hotter.  This event would be all about running to the conditions.  Sponges and water were provided at a couple of points on the course and were well used.  There was also a couple of volunteers who misted water over you as you passed and ice packs were offered throughout the day when available.  I set myself targets for 6 hours and then 12 hours.  Achieving my 6 hour goal easily but really struggling with the conditions after 12 hours.  Despite the sun having gone down the night did not offer any relief from the heat and the heat radiated off the buildings.  My entire running kit was soaking wet a combination of sweat and the water I had been throwing over myself in an effort to keep cool.  I decided to take a short break and it was a relief to sit for a short period.  I changed into dry clothes and attempted to take in food.  I had at the time been able to regularly take in adequate nutrition regularly through a mixture of gels, watermelon, coke, fruit juice and sports drink.   I felt well, just tired and the body was holding up.  I really had no excuse to stop at this point.  Yes the condition were tough but I had come a long way and had been through a lot this year and I appeared to be faring better than a lot of people.  So I wobbled off from the crew tent limping a little with the discomfort but feeling a little better in a dry outfit.  Before long I was running again and making up ground. I was over halfway now and it seemed like there was a long way to go, it was still hot but I am familiar with extreme conditions and adversity I was sure I could run this one out too.

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Xiaqiao Mountain National Park. A wishing tree.  I wish I had taken my wishes more seriously and asked for cooler race conditions.

 

So on and on I went around and around, running and walking and ticking of the laps.  A few hours later my stomach decided it wasn’t happy with the balance and I heaved up quite a bit of what I think looked like coke and the black jelly beans I had enjoyed earlier.  Again this was not something new for me and I have learnt that I feel better after a good chuck and if I take in a gel straight away I can continue without too much trouble.  I am slower to learn that too much coke does not work for me in these situations so I had another throwing up incident on the side of the road in one little street of a movie set.  At one point during the night race organisers brought out a heap of fresh towels and at least 15 runners could be seen lying down asleep on them on the paved area in front of the crew tents just off the course.  It was a bizarre sight and I envied those who could simply lie down and sleep like that.

As the night wore on it did cool down but only a few degrees below 30 to 27 degrees at around 4am.  I tried to make the most of the ‘cooler’ conditions to run more during this period but before long a new day dawned and the heat began to rise again.  The sleeping brigade had risen and many returned to the course to walk out the final few hours.  I had to maintain my run/walk strategy in an effort to maintain my 3rd place position.  My feet had taken a battering on the concrete and paving and were very painful.  I could feel the blisters that had formed but soldiered on.  I had managed to keep my feet reasonably dry after changing shoes .

Finally were down to the finally 15 minutes and easy runner as handed a small tag with their number on it.  I finished another complete loop and decided to run on until I found some shade where I would stop.  As it happened I came across British athlete Dan Lawson who had held on to win after stepping off the course an hour earlier and collapsing and Italian athlete Ivan Cudin winner at Soochow 24 hour in Taiwan who had not handled the heat well but had come out with Dan to help him finish off the race.  I stopped with them in the shade and waited for the final hooter to sound less than a minute later.  We exchanged hugs and a few words enjoying the fact that we could stop before hobbling back to our crew area.

I had done enough to hold onto 3rd place.  I was pleased.  The winner was Shan Ying who finished 2nd to me at Soochow University.   She is a great athlete and the Chinese Champion.  I was pleased to see her again at this race and we exchanged a few words often throughout the day.  She ran a really strong race from the start and was well prepared.  She was a very worthy winner.  I hope we get to race again soon.  The 2nd place female was a Mongolian athlete.  I had been in touch with her most of the day.  Had I been better prepared I may have been able to run her down she was in touch with 2 hours to go but she was also still moving well and she was well aware of my position in the field.  I did not have the fight left in me on this day.  Full credit to British athlete Alison Young.  For a British athlete these conditions would have been seriously tough and she kept me honest.  I certainly fought for my 3rd place position.

British athlete Dan Lawson rallied from his ‘near death’ experience in the final hours of the event to get out on course and hold onto the win.  Dan is headed to Badwater in just a few weeks time.  I am sure this event will have him well prepared for Death Valley.  The 2nd placed male Wu Chung-fai is an up and coming athlete from Hong Kong.  I was delighted when he joined us at breakfast the next day.  This was his second 24 hour event.  When Dan stepped off the course in the final hours, finally succumbing to the oppressive conditions Chung-fai pushed hard continuing to run lap after lap in an effort to close the gap.  When Dan was resurrected with a few firm but encouraging words from Robert Boyce Chung-fai seemed to accept his 2nd place position.  It was an amazing race to experience.

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Breakfast the day after: Jarel, Larissa, Robert, Jodie, Chung-fai and Katalin.

It was a privilege to spend time with the current 24 hour World Champion Katalin Nagy. Katalin was one of several invited International athletes but succumbed to injury and had not been able to run in the six weeks leading up to the event.  The Race Director Tony Chu encouraged her to attend the event anyway and did not pressure her to run.  She was more than happy to travel to China and to support the event and participated in a number of media events. Katalin stepped in to crew for the British athletes who were unable to bring crew with them and despite having never crewed before.  She was there the entire time helping out others while the air conditioned hotel room must have been a tempting prospect.  I feel blessed to have been able to spend some time with her and to call her a friend.

The spectators, event volunteers and all participants were always encouraging and supportive. I did not understand much of the language but a smile is universal and everyone was eager to help where they could.  It is another experience I will treasure, the memories of the extreme conditions and difficulty of the event already pushed to one side by the simple pleasures or connections with like minded people from all over the world.

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The International Team, including Jodie Oborne (Australia), Johan van der Merwe (South Africa), Ivan Cudin (Italy), Katalin Nagy (USA/Hungary) and Mongolia.

When I received my Breast Cancer diagnosis earlier in the year I was hopeful that I could still participate in this event.  I boarded my flight to China on the 16th June pushing any doubt to the back of my mind.  My training in the month before my departure had been hampered not by my breast cancer and subsequent radiotherapy treatment but a hamstring/glute injury.  I had relied on my physiotherapist Paul at Body Leadership to get me through the last few months.  I am extremely grateful for his support.

Last but not least my coach Andy.  Having an athlete with aggressive Early Breast Cancer diagnosis is far from usual and we were both working things out as we went.  I was forced to schedule training to fit around Breast Conservation Surgery and recovery to remove the cancer and then later Radiotherapy.  I completed my Radiation Therapy just 10 days before I was due to race.  I continued to run through my treatment but succumbed to fatigue in the final weeks of my treatment.  I traveled to China as I do for any event pushing aside any self doubt and trusting in my training base, good health and with a lot of determination.  I was determined to do my best whatever that was.  I was determined that I would prove that a Breast Cancer diagnosis was not going to affect my running ability.  I was determined to make the most of this opportunity whatever the outcome.  I am confident I have done just that.

I look forward to my next China experience. Gobi 100km International (Trail) Race taking place on September 25th 2016.

Xièxiè

Just Another Speed Bump in my Race Through Life

Just Another Speed Bump in my Race Through Life

I have breast cancer.

It certainly hasn’t been easy to tell people this fact. I worry about people worrying about me and I am probably one of the last people you would expect it to happen to. I have no family history of Breast Cancer and the only real risk factor I have is being a woman. I have never questioned why me,  more why now? Why now when I believe I still have my best ultra running performances in me? Why now when I’ve just signed up and have been training hard for the 6 Foot Track Marathon in the Blue Mountain?  An event that has a limited field which fills within minutes of registrations opening.

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Fastest Women’s Team, 6 Foot Track Marathon, 2016 ‘UpCoaching’ L-R Kelly-Ann Varey, Caroline Gavin, Brendan Davies (Coach), Lou Clifton and Jodie Oborne.

This is something I have been managing since the 22nd January 2016 when I was officially diagnosed. I have experienced a range of emotions from fear, despair, anger and frustration. I have also found my predicament humorous at times because ultimately you have to make the most of a bad situation. I was envious of full breasted women when I was having my 5th mammogram for the year. It’s incredibly awkward having a mammogram when you have very little breast tissue to squeeze between two plates of cold glass. It also made breast preservation surgery to remove the cancerous tumour tricky but I am fortunate to have a great surgeon. Having nipples on a ribcage has its advantages of course, I doubt I would have found that small lump in a more generous bust and there’s certainly less bounce when it comes to running.

In the back of mind since my diagnosis was how would it affect my running. I have many big running plans. I was assured that being in such great physical shape would really help my recovery and then hopefully lessen the impact of any treatment. I joked initially that it would be great if I was prescribed performance enhancing drugs. I was devastated to discover via a quick check of the ASADA website that the hormone treatment I have been prescribed is in fact a prohibited substance. Just another hurdle which I have successfully negotiated. I will have a Therapeautic Use Exemption so will avoid an Anti Drug Ruling Violation if I am ever tested.

I’ve become accustomed to getting my breasts out to be examined, don’t be surprised if I whip my top off to show you my scares next time I see you. I love that at 44 that I am called ‘young’ and I have been told my breast look pretty good (coming from someone who looks at breasts as an occupation I will take that as a compliment.) My prognosis is very good. I have accepted that while at this time the cancer had been removed and the risk of it returning is very low I still in theory have breast cancer for now. It will be a while before I can call myself a Breast Cancer survivor.

I deliberately talk about managing rather than fighting breast cancer. All good managers surround themselves with the right people. For me that has been my extended family, and what I have come to call my ultra running sisterhood a close knit group of amazing women who I have come to know through running and I have been blessed with their unwavering support. Good managers also make informed decisions based on reliable information. I have had to assess the risks and make decisions in regards to my treatment that will impact not just me but my family and my running ambitions. I have consulted often and openly discussed things. I have learnt that a diagnosis of Breast Cancer is not the same from one person to the next and everyone has to make challenging decisions personal to them. Sometimes you do not have control and that is okay. I am prepared for the worst and hope for the best. Just like any ultra event there are times when things go a little awry and it just means accepting you have an issue, assessing it, managing it and moving on.

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Running in the heat and humidity of Brisbane, Jodie after diagnosis and training hard leading up to Breast Preservation Surgery.  Image courtesy Graham Whittaker.

Running has always been my ‘me’ time, an escape and something I do for fun. After my diagnosis it also became my therapy. I had entered a trail marathon event on the Australia Day weekend well before my diagnosis and ran it the day after I was diagnosed. I thought about a lot on that run. It was an amazing experience anyway, a run for the soul, a night race starting at the base of Mount Beerwah, there was a full moon and at the highest point on the course the Glasshouse Mountains were silhouetted in the night sky with the bright lights of the Sunshine Coast twinkling in the distance, to the South a lightning storm lit up the clouds in the distance. It had been hot and humid and I tripped over a rock in the soft sand but I am no stranger to managing some discomfort and I know I will manage this effectively too. I mingled with those I had come to know over time at the start and finish and it was great to cross path with heaps more out on the course that night. It really lifted my spirits.

There is not a wrong or right way to respond to this news. I am simply grateful for the kindness I have received over the last weeks. I have withdrawn a little because there were so many unknowns in the initial stages. Since having surgery on the 8th and 18th of February things have become clearer. There are still many unknowns as my treatment is ongoing.  We are all an experiment of one and the side affects vary.

I will continue to run, train hard and coach.  I get a great deal of satisfaction from my coaching.  A lot of the time I live vicariously through my athletes especially when they participate in events I have run and loved such as Ultra Trail Australia and the 6 Foot Track Marathon. It has been a welcome distraction for which I am also grateful.  I still believe I have my best performances in me.

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Start of the 2015 Blackall 100 with just a fraction of the Ultra Running Sisterhood L-R Deb Nichol, Mallani Maloney, Kerrie Williamson and me.

I will also continue to be inspired and inspire that amazing network of women as Ambassador for Running Mum’s Australia.  I have connected with just a fraction of you personally but love how that community has brought many together and created another level of support and connection.  I am sure there are many of you with a story similar to mine and totally get it.

I am off to Melbourne on the 7th April 2016 where I will join up just three of my amazing ultra running sisters Jo Brischetto, Nikki Wynd and Samantha Gash.  We will run 100km together as part of Team She Science at Oxfam Trailwalker Melbourne. I committed to the team well before my diagnosis and despite the uncertainty about my fitness I was determined to participate no matter what.  While the members of Team She Science are competitive runners there was never any doubt that I would be there whatever the outcome and I am again blessed to know such amazing women who think the same.  We would love your support for such a worthy organisation just $10 will get a ticket into a raffle for a LOT of amazing prizes.  Donate here.

The Finer Details.

I discovered my lump which was 13mm in diameter via self examination.  I then made an appointment at Breastscreen Queensland for a Mammogram and was referred to the Breastscreen Clinic where I saw a Doctor and had a Mammogram, Ultrasound and Fine Needle Aspiration (biopsy).  I had Breast Preservation Surgery and a Sentinel Node Biopsy and two lymph nodes were removed. I will now have Radiotherapy followed by Hormone Therapy and I plan to run and train through it all, adjusting my training when I need to.

I implore you if you are female to know your body and look for the signs and feel free to reach out if that is what you want to do.

Jodie is an Assistant Coach with Up Coaching and has represented Australia at the 100km World Championships in 2014 and 2015, and the 24 Hour World Championships in 2015 and automatically qualifies for the 24 Hour World Championships in Belfast, Northern Ireland on the 1st – 2nd July 2017.  She holds a number of Australian Ultra Running Age Records and is currently the fastest Australian Woman ever to run 100 miles (161km) with a time of 15 hours 33 minutes and 56 seconds.

 

 

 

 

Soochow 24 Hour Invitational Ultra-marathon

Soochow 24 Hour Invitational Ultra-marathon

When I ran the Comrades Marathon in 2012 I discovered it was pretty much an all day party in ultra running terms. It was my induction in a way to ultra running and where I discovered I had an ability to run long, really long. At the Soochow 24 Hour Ultra Marathon I got a 24-hour party. The venue a university campus is otherwise a quiet peaceful place of learning.

SoochowTrack_NormalMy first few days in Taiwan were humid.  There was a bit of a breeze at times but it was otherwise fairly warm and humid but not hot.  I enjoyed some down time and a trip to a shopping precinct via public transport (bus) with our student helpers was fun.

I enjoyed the opening ceremony and other formalities leading up to race day. I met many of the other International athletes from Germany, Italy, Russia, Malaysia, China, Japan and more.  It’s a little surreal to hear your name called out amongst the babble of a foreign language.

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Race day it was overcast but still a little warm, it had rained overnight. We were provided a timing chip and I weighed in.  I didn’t agree with this method of calculating the level of dehydration of athletes but as it was the same for everyone I complied.  I asked what would happen if I missed a weigh in which was to be every 4 hours when we changed direction.  I was assured that it wouldn’t matter that I could continue and I considered not participating in this part of the event.  It was a warm day I knew I would probably drop a lot of weight running through the heat of the day and I did.  I really didn’t think this system was fair for a small female.  I weighed in at 58.1kg and I was down to 55kg 4 hours later. This was to be expected as we started running at 9am and were weighed at 1pm after running through the heat of the day.  My crew were told I had to drink, I wasn’t thirsty and refused at first but took in 250ml a lap or two later.  Mr crew followed my nutrition and hydration plan which has worked for me in the past and I did ask for more water if I felt thirsty.

As with any race the plan should be to get to halfway feeling fairly comfortable.  I take the same approach with a 24 hour race.  Get to 12 hours feeling pretty good, moving well and happy.  I ticked off small milestones along the way, 100 laps (40km), 3 hours, 6 hours, 100km (250 laps) and so on.  I had goals for each and I was pretty close to my target if not a little ahead.  I didn’t take much notice of my competitors. A lot can happen in 24 hours and even with 6 hours to go a lot can go wrong and the race won and lost.

Day turned to night and it rained after trying to rain all day.  I enjoyed the cooling effect of the rain and chased my first major goal a personal best and an Australian Age Record (Women 40-44) for 12 hours.  I needed to surpass 127.789km.  It was going to be close I pushed for a few laps picking up the pace a little and completed 320 laps (128km) in just under 12 hours getting halfway in 128.209km a new record.  I continued on confident I had paced the first half of my race well but very conscious that there was a long way to go and my struggle in 24 hour events to date has been getting through the night, battling the need to sleep.   It was only 9pm I kept on circling.  I partied a little and felt happy with myself and smiled a lot.

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My Taiwan Soochow ‘family’ Harvey, Eileen, Jodie (me), Leanne (Matthew’s Mum), Tim, Humphrey & Matthew

My next target was 100 miles or 160.934km or 403 laps (402.335 to be exact). I was able to maintain a fairly steady pace and pushed hard for this goal.  It was around 15 hours that I took my first caffeine tablet and really pushed for the 100 mile Australian Record which currently stands at 15 hours 38 minutes 18 seconds.  I had it I was excited.  The officials had marked the spot on the track and told me next lap.  My crew told me one more lap and I circled around.  I was excited I flashed passed the 3 officials and they said ‘right here’ as I passed.  I knew I had it.  Later I learned I had clocked up 100 miles in 15 hours 33 minutes and 56 seconds.  Amazing.   My next target was 200km but this is the toughest part of the race for me.  Getting through the small hours of the morning.  There was so much happening around the track that this wasn’t too much of a problem.

During the night there was a lot going on.  The music played continuously, this was supplemented with live music from the University Concert Band on the stage erected just across from the track.  There were also cheerleaders and other entertainment on the stage.  While I couldn’t observe it closely I caught glimpses of it throughout the night.  Then every 6 hours a 5 hour relay event started.  These athletes ran in lanes 3, 4 & 5 with the changeover area at one end of the track.  A large group assembled in that area and on a balcony there overlooking the track the whole 24 hours.  At most 24 hour events there is a quiet time in the small hours of the night.  This was not the case here.  Even the crew area was animated right throughout the night.  There was no shortage of encouragement from the entire crew gang that lined the fence on the edge of the track.  Even those supporting other athletes had come to know me as I circled around and called out encouragement continuously.  I received messages from friends back in Australia and around the World through Leanne (Matthew’s) Mum who had come to crew for Matthew.  Thank you for your support.

After 15 hours or so I noticed that I was running close to my main competitor #2422 CHEN Ying a Chinese competitor, she had been running consistently all day.  She was just 5 laps behind me and we appeared to be running a similar pace.  We played a game of cat and mouse for a few hours.  I pulled ahead managing a 7 lap lead, she rallied coming back to within 4 laps.  I had no choice but to keep running and pushing.  Almost every time I circled I would check her lap count and mine it hadn’t changed she was right there also ticking off the laps.  I pulled ahead a little she seemed to be slowing I had a 11 lap lead but I couldn’t let up.  Anything can happen in the last hours of a 24 hour race.  You just never know who might rally and who will die.  I was determined it would not be me.

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The final hour I savoured the experience waving the Aussie Flag proudly.

A new day dawned and having consumed 32 Gu Energy Gels I had had enough and refused the next one.  Having had something every 30 minutes for the last 21 hours I thought I  probably had enough on board to get me through the last few hours.  I passed through 220km (550 laps) in just under 23 hours achieving the International A standard, this was announced to the crowd and I celebrated.  By now I had about a 20 lap lead, I kept moving but my paced had slowed.  I wanted the running to be over.  I asked my crew to speed the clock up for me. They really wanted to make it so but kept encouraging me just like they had for the past 23 hours.

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22 hours 58 minutes 59 seconds and I had just completed 550 laps, 220km.  Image courtesy of Eileen Hsu

Finally the 24 hours was over.  I had finished near the grassy area on the far side of the track I put down my sandbag and moved onto the grass.  Russian athlete Tatyana Maslova and my room mate who had not been permitted to participate (that’s another story) came over to see me and congratulated me.  Shortly after I made my way back to the crew tent and I was immediately the centre of attention.  My lap scorers came over with my final lap total (568) for a photo and an autograph.  I thanked them they didn’t miss a lap.

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I had two lap counters who took turns working is shifts right throughout the 24 hours.  They did an amazing job and did not miss a lap.  Image courtesy of Eileen Hsu.

I was interviewed, I quickly changed and then discovered I was immediatly required for the press conference which was also streamed live.  I later learned my family had been able to watch it back in Australia and I wished I had thought to wish my daughter Kira, Happy Birthday.  It was the 2nd year in a row I had missed Kira’s birthday because I was away somewhere in the World running an ultra-marathon.

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Ivan Cudin, 1st Male 250.731km, Jodie Oborne, 1st Female 227.429km, fellow Aussie Matthew Eckford 210.573km

I then had about an hour before the closing ceremony and presentations.  This was just enough time to make my way slowly up several flights of stairs back to my dorm room accommodation, to shower, change and be back at the student common area.  I loved the floral wreath and medal Ivan and I were given as race winners. The athletes at these events are celebrated by the students and spectators and they all seemed to want a photo with me and an autograph.  Matthew received similar attention. That night even the staff who managed the Mexican food stall in the food hall on campus asked for our autograph and plied us with free hot chips.  I couldn’t finish them.

The Soochow International Ultra-marathon is an invitational event.  Up to 18 International athletes of a certain standard are invited to attend. The premise of the event is to help upgrade ultra-marathon in Taiwan.  A further 27 Taiwanese runners whose personal bests meet the national standard may be invited and finally where openings are available the best runners from the 2015 Taipei Ultra-Marathon Festival are invited till the quota has been met.  The event recently achieved and International Association of Ultrarunners (IAU) Gold Label.  To achieve a Gold Label the event must primarily meet strict course measurement guidelines and haveat least 5 athletes (mixed men and women) performances at international level (220km for women and 240km for men).

My nutrition plan was fairly simple.  I take something in every 30 minutes with some water to wash it down.  This was primarily Gu Energy Gels, I rotated through several different flavours I had for variety, Vanilla Bean, Tri-Berry, Espresso Love, Chocolate Outrage and also included Gu Roctane Gels Sea-Salt Chocolate.  Every 3 hours I took something other than a gel, a banana, sports drink which I sourced locally, 250mls Berri and V8 fruit juice which I brought with me from Australia and at one stage threw my crew a test when I asked for something that wasn’t on the plan, some coke.  I was pretty sure that someone would have plenty and would be able to spare some and my crew delivered having 250ml available for me a few minutes later when I circled around again.  I was pretty happy to find that Starbucks Frappachino was a sponsor of the event and I enjoyed their Iced Coffee before and during the event. I also enjoyed this during my 100km race at the 100km World Championships in Doha.

My stay in Taipei was brief but I was made to feel very welcome by the staff and students at Soochow University.  I am extremely grateful for the assistance of Eileen Hsu and Harvey (Syu Chen) who were my crew, translators and guides while I was in Taiwan.  It was great to have the company on my travels of fellow Aussie, Matthew Eckford and his Mum, Leanne who was chief overseer of our crew during the event and played an invaluable role in my performance.

Finally I am indebted to my husband Tim who is my biggest supporter I have the freedom to travel the World in pursuit of yet another ultra-running experience while Tim mostly stays home to work and look after our fairly independent teenage children.  I’ve done some pretty cool things this year and feel really blessed to be able to do so.  I can’t wait to see what 2016 will bring.  BRING IT ON.

The following Australian and Australian Age Records are yet to be ratified.

Australian Record

100 miles – 15 hours 33 minutes 56 seconds

Australian Age Records Women 40-44

12 hours – 128.209km

100 miles – 15 hours 33 minutes 56 seconds

200km – 20 hours 25 minutes 17 seconds

Gobi Ultramarathon 50km

Gobi Ultramarathon 50km

On the 8th November 2015 over a hundred runners assembled on the edge of the Gobi Desert in China to run 50km. Runners had come from all around the world for this experience. For an inaugural event it was extremely well organized with all the runners needs catered for.

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Pre Race Entertainment Gobi Ultramarathon, China
My journey to the race in northern China began on the morning of Friday the 6th November and my travel plans and race preparation was immediately thrown into disarray by my flight’s delayed departure from Brisbane. I spent over 3 hours trapped inside the plane on the ground and had enough time to watch a movie and enjoy the inflight meal before we finally took off for the 8 hour flight to Guangzhou, China. This meant I missed my connection that night to Lanzhou and instead stayed the night in Guangzhou. A lovely Chinese woman an event volunteer had waited into the night for my arrival in Lanzhou. The race organisers soon worked out through the airline that I was booked on the next available flight the next morning.   I finally made it to Lanzhou in the middle of China and it was snowing. After a few warm humid days in Brisbane this was a nice change. Ada who had waited at the airport the night before was there to meet me the following morning. She was very pleased to locate me, this international athlete was not lost somewhere in the middle of China. We waited for a Japanese runner on a different flight and then the final leg of my journey was a 4 hour high speed train ride to in northern China. I had of course missed my earlier train and caught the last train of the day, which didn’t arrive at my final destination until 10:00pm. I arrived late at the hotel in downtown Jiuquan which doubled as the race headquarters and sadly missed the press conference, a tour, race briefing and an evening meal. I did have the essential information my race kit and my roommate USA athlete Meghan kindly updated me.

There were only a few mandatory items, 2 race bibs (1 front, 1 back), a timing chip and a whistle. We were strongly advised over and over and over again to wear running gear that covered our legs. One section of the course passed through thorn bushes and the event organisers did not want anyone to be badly scratched up. I had planned to wear my running skirt which has plenty of pockets to stash my nutrition and my whistle so I didn’t need to wear a race vest. So now I had to seriously reconsider my race outfit.

Race morning there was a minor delay as all athletes were taken by bus to the race precinct a 30 minute drive from downtown Jiuquan. Thankfully I was able to enjoy a light breakfast before we were on a bus heading to the race start. The morning was cold which I enjoyed and it was clear and sunny, great conditions for racing.

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Jodie with local Chinese women one of many many photos taken that day.
Athletes milled about inside the runners marquee going through their race preparation. I stepped out to take some photos of the race precinct and was soon asked to have my photo taken with locals. It seemed EVERYONE wanted a photo with us (the western athletes) we were certainly a novelty in regional China. I am pretty sure I did not have my photo taken that often on my wedding day. After watching a traditional Chinese drumming display we made our way to the start line only to be told that the race start had been delayed as they were still waiting for athletes to arrive via bus. I enjoyed the pre race entertainment found it was warmer if we stood up next to the white marquee in the full sunlight and chatted to the other international athletes. This also gave people opportunity to gesture at the uncovered skin on my legs and to urge me to cover it up otherwise I would be injured. In the end I told them I would collect some tights at the major checkpoint at about halfway.

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Runners on the start line of the Gobi 50km Ultra Marathon
Finally the race start was rescheduled one hour later for 10:00am. We huddled on the start line where 5 officials were poised with starter pistols. The countdown in Chinese started the starter pistols fired, not exactly simultaneously and we ran off  into the Gobi Desert while fire crackers and rockets were fired off in our wake which made for quite an electric atmosphere.

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Fireworks at the Start Line of the Gobi Ultra Marathon 50km
The course was well marked and easy to follow, the course markings consisted of two pegs hammered into the ground marking the shortest course through the desert. From time to time large flags were on the rises. The course did not follow a road or trail for the most part we simply picked our way through the low scrubby bushes, over the sand dunes and through the fine powdery sand of the desert. Timing mats were placed at strategic turns which meant it was impossible to cut the course short. In fact it was often faster to run longer and to skirt around the short steep sand dunes and this was well within the rules.   I soon adjusted my expectations when I found the running particularly over the first section of the course quite challenging.

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View of the Gobi Desert from the Race Course
The desert was vast, desolate but beautiful. Small hills could be seen in the distance. We passed some ancient ruins just visible between some dunes, a stone marker I had no idea of its significance but it was quite distinctive and seemingly in the middle of no where. We came across a lake surrounded by some trees and tall reed like plants and some buildings but it was otherwise fairly sparse and rocky. Near the lake we passed through two round concrete pillars at the top of a small rise and enjoyed running on a paved road for a short period before crossing another timing mat and heading again off through the desert following the posts.

I finally came across what I thought was the section with the dreaded thorny bushes. Instead of being waist height as I imagined they were remarkably similar to vegetation we had encountered earlier and it was easier and possibly faster to take the gravel road around it rather than run the shortest route between the wooden pegs. I am glad I didn’t decide to change my race outfit. The vegetation soon thinned out again and imagine my dilemma when I needed a comfort break and there was nowhere to hide. There was about 5km to go and I was sure I wasn’t going to make it to the finish. Fortunately I came across a small mound of dirt that hid me from oncoming runners. My modesty was intact. I crossed the final timing mat on the course and headed for the finish which I could clearly see in the distance 2km away. Often on the course a white marquee set up for aid stations could be spotted in the distance and often it was several kilometres away.

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Dusty feet, the fine Gobi Desert penetrated my shoes and socks to leave a fine layer of dust on my feet.
I crossed the line in 4th position. A volunteer immediately offered me a bag of ice and a towel and I was handed my medal. My volunteer escorted me to the runner’s recovery tent keeping an arm on me to ensure I did not fall over. While this was not necessary I expect she had been instructed to do so. She stayed with me as I made my way to the runners marquee to collect my drop bag. Again security was great as only runners were allowed in here and while I had simply left my bag on a chair in the runner’s marquee someone checked that the bag I was collecting which had my race number securely fastened to it made sure the number matched my race bibs.   The recovery tent was well equipped with massage tables and therapists, mats and foam rollers, chairs and more bags of ice and the runners tent had a table full of recovery snack food and bottles of water. Chinese race recovery food at this event included small bread rolls, packs of savoury crackers, tins of soup that were served at room temperature, which a British athlete said was ‘extremely unappealing’ and long skinny sealed sticks of processed chicken meat. I settled for the bread roll which was slightly sweet and the crackers and plenty of water.

The Chinese definitely have a strong running community, there was also a large contingent of Japanese runners as well as the other ‘invited’ runners from right around the World that included this athlete all the way from Australia.  The Gobi Ultramarathon 50km is sure to be run again in 2016 the race organisers are keen to improve on this years experience and hope to see me again.  Absolutely.

Link to my Strava file here.

Race nutrition: Gu Energy Gels Vanilla Bean, Roctane Sea Salt Chocolate and half a banana.  Bottles water collected at aid stations along the way.

You’ve Signed up for UTA, Now What?

You’ve Signed up for UTA, Now What?

UTAlogoSo you just signed up for an ultra. Congratulations if this is your 1st you are about to experience something really amazing especially if you are one of those lucky people signing up for Ultra Trail Australia one of many iconic trail events in Australia.

That was the easy part now begins a journey of self discovery. If you signed up for the Ultra Trail Australia 50km or 100km you have 6 months to prepare and the sooner you start the better.   So where do you start?

  1. Build your base. In an ideal world you will ease into training in January and February, have 8 weeks of uninterrupted training in March and April leaving you to enjoy the sharpening period in May as we cut back on the workload. BUT we don’t live in an ideal world and it’s quite possible that you will get sick, you will have work or family commitments and you might miss some critical training sessions. This isn’t going to matter too much if you have a solid base to draw on. So start now, maintain your habit of running or if it’s a bit haphazard sort out a training routine that fits around your life.
  2. Address any niggles, injuries or weaknesses you might be carrying. To make the most of your experience aim to train consistently right up to your event. As soon as your training load increases these weaknesses will be revealed and could result in injury and the last thing you want to do is blow your investment and it is a significant investment. While you might be able to trade your race entry you won’t get back the time you have invested in training, mandatory gear and other training and racing kit.
  3. Start thinking about your training routes. Not every training run needs to on the course and while it would be nice it’s not a reality for many of us. Your training routes do need to replicate the course as best as they can. Which for UTA means it will be trail, it will include some stairs, it will be technical, it may include some road and it will include some stairs, did I say stairs, yes I will say it again you will do a lot of stairs up and down so find some on a trail if you can and include them in your training routes. I ran this event in 2014 and I hadn’t run the course beforehand but I did find training routes that replicated what I would experience on race day and I was adequately prepared and thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience.
  4. Start accumulating the mandatory gear. If you haven’t checked already you should now have an idea of what you will need. There is quite a lot of mandatory gear that you are required to carry and for good reason. The course takes you through some remote and isolated areas and conditions can change quickly so you could get into a situation where survival could be critical. You have just forked out a lot for race entry but you can pick up some bargains on the equipment you need and the last thing you want to do race week is stress about having the right equipment, having to buy it at a premium and then whether it will, in fact fit in your pack.  Morning run cartoon
  5. Don’t be scared. Yes it is scary but that’s what makes it great. There will be times when you will want to quit, when another early morning start or a long hilly run is just not what you feel like today, you will ask yourself why you do this to yourself. Trust me when you cross that finish line at Scenic World in May it will all be worth it.
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Connie Beattie finishing the 2015 The Northface 100 Australia 50km in 7:56:49. She certainly doesn’t look like she has been on her feet for 8 hours. Image retrieved from http://www.ultratrailaustralia.com.au/

The journey has begun and every run you do now gets you closer to achieving your goal at UTA. Sure have a few days off from running over Christmas and/or the New Year but don’t let two or three days become two or three weeks.

UP Coaching will again be involved in the coaching and training of athletes who have one of the Ultra-Trail Australia races as a goal in 2016. From those attempting a race for the first time, to those wanting to improve on a previous performance, through to individuals who hope to crack a top 10 spot we have excellent coaching support available.

Here is a link to a video capturing my experience from 2014 the photos are either official race photos I have purchased or amateur photos taken by my family who were my support crew on the day.

What was I thinking?

What was I thinking?

I am often asked what I think about when I run for so long.  What I think about during a race such as the 100km World Championships and what I think about on a training run differ.  For a bit of fun prompted by my cousin Jakki Dodds and an image she posted and tagged me in I thought I would document some of what I thought about while I ran on this occasion. A link to my activity on Garmin Connect can be found here.  See if you can work out where I was for each thought.

  1. What’s the time, 7:30am, I’m just going to miss the ferry to cross the river.
  2. Yep there it is, is it leaving? Damn the deckhand is pulling up that gangplank thingy, yep too late. Oh well, I’ll just run down the road and back the next one will only be about 10 minutes.
  3. Actually I always run down the road and back maybe today I will run around the block.
  4. Look house for sale, it’s sold I wonder how much that one sold for. I like that Queenslander it looks like a big one compared to the others.
  5. I wonder if the next ferry will be there when I get back.
  6. Yep there it is. Cool I can walk straight on.
  7. C’mon ferry driver lets go already, okay good we’re moving.
  8. Across the river now hmmm looks like there’s rain coming, good that will cool things down a bit.
  9. Got a wolf whistle woohoo, I’m pretty sure that wasn’t meant for that cyclist.
  10. C’mon that’s not rain I want a proper shower damn it.
  11. Oh well at least my socks aren’t soggy and it’s still kind of cool.
  12. I need to go to the toilet shall I use the one on the New Farm park ring road or the ferry terminal one.
  13. Ferry terminal one, that one’s nicer
  14. Look at that sign it reads “Thanks for noticing this notice, your noticing has been noted”
  15. I wonder how many people have noticed that sign I might post that later, shame I haven’t got my phone to take a photo.
  16. I must take a photo of that sometime.
  17. Damn I’ve been running for 45 minutes and I am only supposed to be running for 60 minutes today and I just want to keep running and it’s going to take me way longer than that to run home.
  18. What’s that guy doing he has a clipboard and it looked like he checked me off.  I wonder if he is surveying how many people use the Riverwalk.
  19. I wonder how many people do use the Riverwalk, there’s hardly anyone on here right now.  I wonder if it was busier earlier.
  20. Maybe I should catch the ferry from Riverside.
  21. No I would rather run I don’t want to wait for the ferry and then sit on the ferry all sweaty for that long and then I will have to run or walk home from Hawthorne.
  22. Shall I run over the Goodwill Bridge that will make this run really long, but I could catch the ferry at Southbank, nah.
  23. I will just run over the Story Bridge but that hill is so steep.
  24. This hill isn’t that bad, I wonder how much this slow jog up the hill will affect my overall pace.
  25. Is the western side path on the Story Bridge open?
  26. Nope that sign says it’s closed until early November, noted.
  27. I wonder if I should catch the ferry from Mowbray Park.
  28. There’s no sign of the ferry I am going to be well over my 60 minutes now I may as well just run the last few kilometres home.
  29. Wow the traffic is still pretty bad on Wynnum Rd. I must tell Tim if he is home in case he is thinking of driving into the city.
  30. Woohoo a red light I am going to overtake that truck stopped at the lights,
  31. Damn lights changed before I could get in front of it so he could see me.
  32. Last hill this isn’t so bad I feel good I could just keep running but I will be glad to get to the top of the hill.
  33. How far have I gone, crikey almost 18 kilometres whoops this run should have been about 12km.
  34. There’s Kira’s school I wonder what class she has right now.
  35. Should I get a coffee at the Hawthorne Garage, I’m not sure if I really feel like a coffee, yeah why not.
  36. I hope the line for coffee isn’t too long.
  37. Is that car going to stop at the crosswalk for me? Nope but that one did phew.
  38. I will stop the Garmin now and walk to the Hawthorne Garage for a coffee it doesn’t look like there is much of a line for coffee 18.5km is a nice number to finish on. https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/927232477

Feature image courtesy of The Oatmeal. http://theoatmeal.com/comics/running6

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Cartoon courtesy of The Oatmeal. I obviously have a more optimistic thought process. While my demons occasionally torment me it’s a rare occurrence. http://theoatmeal.com/comics/running6

Australian Ultra Runners at the 28th IAU 100km World Championships

Australian Ultra Runners at the 28th IAU 100km World Championships

Race day was overcast and cool, ideal conditions for a 100km run.  I had been running for about 7 1/2 hours and really noticed that the running hard for an extended time on such a flat course was taking its toll on my quads and I had about an hour of running yet to do. Meanwhile behind me at that time in the field there was a bull, charging through the field.  Kirstin Bull (KB) the pocket sized trail runner from Victoria was clipping along.  She came across fellow Victorian David Overend on track for a personal best and urged him to join her for the final few kilometres.  David commented he had nothing left and KB powered on.  Then KB came up behind me offered some encouragement and charged past.  There was about 2 kilometres to go for that lap (Kirstin’s last).  I glanced at my watch and noted the time and as the AURA Records and Rankings officer I was well aware of the current Australian Women’s Record for 100km, 7 hours 40 minutes and 58 seconds.  I was excited as I quickly worked out that Kirstin was certain to get that record.  This lifted me and I ran with a little more determination as KB ran ahead charging through the field.

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Kirstin receiving nutrition/hydration during the race from crew Julie

Kirstin had not long ago moved from 10th into 9th place overtaking British athlete Susan Harrison and then had the 8th placed Russian athlete Irina Antropova who had run/walked the last lap in her sights.  Irina and I had exchanged places several times during that 10km lap, Kirstin ran past the Russian into 8th place not looking back not giving away anything as she charged towards the finish line.  Then KB had the finish line in sight and Aussie team mate Sonia McDermott was there at her side.  Sonia had struggled earlier and had considered withdrawing from the race and had 20km to go but she fell into step with Kirstin over the closing stages of Kirstin’s race and they sprinted to the finish line together.  Amazingly on just her 2nd attempt at running 100km Kirstin achieved a new Australian Record 7:39:28.  I ran through the finish line for my final lap completing 90km in 7:40:39, 1 minute and 11 seconds after KB has finished and spotted Kirstin finished leaning on the railing.  I ran on to break the exciting news to those around the corner at the aid table for the last time to collect my nutrition and hydration.  Of course they already knew because Sonia who had run through the finish with Kirstin had already passed through.

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Currently Australia’s fastest women over 100km – Sonia McDermott, Jodie Oborne, Marita Eisler, Kirstin Bull, Nikki Wynd

It was an exciting day but we had all that ahead of us as we settled into the athletes village.  Being one of the nations with the furthest to travel we were among the 1st to arrive.  The Canadians, a few Americans and the Japanese were the other nations checking into the residences early. The accommodation for most of the team was self contained 2 bedroom bungalows which slept up to 6 people although we typically had 3-4 people in each.

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Jodie outside the Aussie girls bungalow shared with Kirstin, Sonia and Marita. Brazil moved in next door and the Aussie guys weren’ t far away.

An easy routine was established and the Aussie spirit was evident. We met punctually at an agreed time for meals.  When as out group we could no longer all squeeze around one table we were the only team to rearrange the table and chairs to make a table big enough to accommodate us all.  Other teams simply split their group between two tables, not the Aussies.

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Breakfast Time in the village, a sports hall doubled as a dining hall. the Japanese team had very bright track suits. L-R Robert Boyce, Andrew Heyden, Brendan Davies, David Overend, Jodie Oborne, Kirstin Bull, Pistamai Boyce, Gary Mullins, Barry Keem, Sonia McDermott

We enjoyed our last few training runs, easy runs around the local area.  A team bonding walk into the local town centre for coffee and then the obligatory supermarket forage was interesting.  Brendan introduced us to Dutch Licorice Coins (hard and a little salty) and Kirstin discovered the Stroop waffle which proved to be great for carb loading.

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Team Bonding Walk into the local shopping district of Stadskanaal.

The Australian 100km team members had chatted often via email and social media leading up to the championships but many of us had not met until we arrived in The Netherlands.  Despite this an easy rapport was immediately evident and there was a strong sense of Australian team pride.  This was the largest 100km Australian Team to date and also one of the strongest.  As a team we savoured the experience of the opening ceremony a parade through the Town Centre of Winschoten with much pomp and ceremony which ended at a sports hall near the start finish precinct.  The 28th IAU 100km World Championships were declared open and a mini stampede ensured as athletes sprinted to get to the front of the queue for the pasta meal supplied by the local organisers.  The Aussies had strategically chosen a table at the back of the room close to the food but were out sprinted on the night.

Finally race morning was here and the mood in the Aussie girls bungalow was definitely up beat.  We were excited that this day was finally here.  Individually we went through race morning routines and were soon on one of the last buses ferrying athletes to the race precinct.

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Jodie, Brendan, Nikki and an Italian athlete waiting at the Australian crew table not long to the race starts now.

Finally we are herded into the race corral and the a day of running has started.  The race start is a little congested but 100km is a long way and no one appears to be too concerned yet about getting a clear run.  The course is 10 x 10km laps around Winschoten.  Local residents are very supportive of the event and are there all day lining the course enjoying the sights and cheering on the athletes.  The Australian athletes seem to get a lot more support and I almost feel sorry for the athletes running around me.  It is some time before I am lapped by any of my Aussie team mates.  Brendan cruised past offering words of encouragement, closely followed by Barry.  I tell Barry is not far ahead and Barry tells me that he and Brendan had run pretty much together for the 1st 50km.  Next to come loping past is Andy.  I had expected Gary and I wondered how much longer it would be before I saw him too.  It was later than we both expected.

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Barry Keem closely followed by Brendan Davies passing the crew table.

I had followed Nikki for a while, she ran out of sight before I caught up again on one of my favourite sections of the course, a straight stretch of bike path and then a left turn onto a road that followed a canal for a while.  When I came through aid station 2 at that time where Robert Boyce and Greg Smith were stationed at the 6km point on the course expecting athletes in a certain order they seemed surprised to see me and not Nikki.  I reassured them she was right behind me but starting to feel fatigue creep in.  Later I found David Eadie, competing as a Masters Athlete here ‘just taking a rest’ was his response when I asked him what he was doing sitting down.

I wondered how the team mates I had not seen during the race were faring.  David and Marita were ahead of me and Sonia behind and then boom Kirstin blasted past.  I caught Sonia on my last lap cruising along, we chatted briefly about what I have no idea.  It was one of many exchanges over an amazing week.

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David Overend proudly represented Australia achieved a personal best on the day.
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Jodie mid race focused on the job ahead.

Finally back at the athletes village later that night despite the long day the Aussie girls all chatted avidly tired but happy.

The results speak for themselves. Every member of the Aussie team gave it their best on the day.  Four team members (Barry, Gary, David and Sonia) were representing Australia for the 1st time. Two new Australian Age Records (M30 & M35) and an Australian Record were achieved and five team members achieved a personal best.

Kirstin and Jodie celebration afterwards in Amsterdam.
Kirstin and Jodie celebrating afterwards in Amsterdam.

It was an amazing experience, an honour to be given the opportunity to represent Australia yet again and a real privilige to share it with my team mates Sonia, Nikki, Marita, Kirstin, David, Gary, Andy, Barry and Brendan.  The crew as always played an integral part behind the scenes and I know the whole team are extremely grateful, a massive thank you must go to Team Manager Robert Boyce  it’s an almost impossible task organising runners especially at this level and his wife Pistamai who is now a very experienced helper at these events, Sonia’s partner Andrew and girls, Daniel Wynd, Julie and Gary.  How lucky were we to witness first hand Kirstin’s achievement.

Jodie’s Race on Strava.

You can follow Jodie on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Jodie’s favourite race nutrition Gu Energy Gels (Vanilla Bean, Chocolate Peanut Butter, Salted Caramel and Roctane Salted Chocolate).

Champion System Australia make the Australian uniform and I am sure the other teams were envious we look pretty good even though we don’t have matching luggage.