Should you run an ultra?
Why would you commit to running 100km? It’s a long way to run, it will take you the better part of a day and it will leave you sore, tired and possibly broken. To even consider such a feat you need to have a well established base, you should have run a few shorter events in preparation, you need to be standing on the start line fully committed to finishing. If you have any doubt, are thinking you preemptively need some sort of medication to get through and are not 100% healthy then you need to be seriously considering whether you should be starting.
The event that was the turning point in my running career such as it is, was the Comrades Marathon. The Worlds most competitive ultra marathon staged in South Africa between Durban and Pietermaritzberg it’s just under 90km of hilly road running. My running friends back then would spend the first half of their year preparing for this event. Every year they would go off to South Africa to run and come back with a raft of amazing stories from their experience. I knew many who had run it and I was intrigued. At that time I was running and racing regularly every other weekend a 10km or so event, a few marathons and half marathons a year, all local low-key events. My limited experience of ultra’s was the 6 Inch Trail marathon a challenging 46km trail event in Western Australia and the 6 Foot Track Marathon in the Blue Mountains. They were events that needed minimal gear that had aid stations that supplied practically everything you needed to finish.
It was an afternoon over a Gin and Tonic in 2011 with my friend Trish while our kids played in the pool after a morning of Little Athletics that we hatched a plan to run the Boston Marathon. At that time we planned to achieve a sub 3 hour 30 minute marathon and we had decided to run the Gold Coast Marathon to qualify. As is often the case our plans went awry when training to complete such a task took its toll and my running mates succumbed to injury. I successfully ran the Gold Coast achieving a break through finish for me in 3 hours 23 minutes but our Boston Marathon plan for 2012 was shelved at least temporarily and I had decided to attempt the Comrades Marathon instead.
So January 2012 training for the Comrades began. I enjoyed training most weekends with the ‘C’ Team in the Perth hills. In March my preparation included my first 50km the inaugural Lark Hill 50km on my husbands 40th birthday no less. I am eternally grateful for my husbands love and support of my running. It was a night run on a 3km loop and I ran with my mate Justin who was also celebrating his birthday. He ran with a sparkly Birthday headband right through the race which looked quite comical silhouetted in the dark. It was a fun and special night for me, it was the first time I had run 50km, the first time I had run a loop course, the first time I had run at night and the first race I had ever won.
The second event I ran as preparation was the iconic 40 Miler, held most years on Easter Weekend, a race run back and forth along a Heritage Rail Trail from the Mt Helena Tavern with a relay option. I completed the 64km was again first female in a small field my preparation for Comrades was going well.
My final event as preparation was the Bunbury Marathon. It made for a fun weekend away with friends many also running Comrades. I aimed to run a negative split and enjoyed the day but was also very excited to achieve a personal best by less then 30 seconds and 2nd place and my first ever prize money. Nothing significant but still a nice sweetener.
I treated the Comrades as an experience I did not have any overly ambitious goals. I aimed to finish and enjoy the event, soaking up the views and atmosphere it would be my first international event. While I was not traveling with family I was with my ‘running family’. My extended running family who I had spent much time chatting with on the run agreed that a sub 9 hour finish or the coveted Bill Rowan medal as well within my capability. I roughly knew the splits required and I knew I was within them on race day but I didn’t push things.
I certainly loved that run. Yes it was hard, my quads were taking a beating on the journey down Fields Hill, I ran/walked up Cowies and the steep incline onto the motorway for that final run through Tollgate to the finish in Kingsmead. I spent a lot of time waving to ALL the people on the side lines who on seeing me in my Western Australia singlet called out go Aussie, or Aussie Aussie Aussie, Go Sheila, Go lady from Australia. I was so excited to finally run into Kingsmead and to be well within the Bill Rowan cut off. So much so I literally danced across the line as you can see from this youtube clip.
It was the event that revealed my inherent capabilities as a ultra runner and which lead me to attempt to qualify for the Australian 100km team. I went on to represent Australia on numerous occasions. There are two ultra events that are up there as my favourite to date. The first would have to be the Comrades, the other Ultra Trail Australia or the Northface 100 as it was known at the time. Two vastly different events but both iconic in their own right. I finished both with results that far exceeded my expectations. I ran within my capabilities and felt no need to compare my performance with that of others. The joy of completing the event was not in the finishing time or place but the experiences and memories created on the journey there and in the retelling of the stores after.