After having a few random micro adventures in north eastern Tasmania, hanging out with echidnas, and wrestling leeches, it was time to get my act together, stop faffing about, and get ready to run. After all, the main reason I’d headed south in the first place was for the Tassie Trail Fest. All week I’d been saying I’d probably do the half marathon, so I didn’t kill myself out there doing the full. I was still a bit shaken from the 60km Tarawera Ultra where things had all gone horribly wrong, and I wasn’t sure I was in good enough shape to run the full marathon all that well. The last thing I wanted to do was run myself into the ground on what was supposed to be race number one of five for the weekend.
As is often the case though, ego and FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) got the better of me and at the 11th hour I decided I was in for the full marathon. “I’ll take it easy” I thought. “How bad can it be?” I thought. Ah yes, famous last words.
I turned up at the starting line with a long list of bad omens. I hadn’t eaten a decent meal the night before. (ie no pizza or pasta, my usual pre-run ritual. It was a small town and I had to scrounge what I could.) For the same reason, I hadn’t had a decent breakfast the morning of the run either – another important piece of the puzzle. What’s that old saying? “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” or something, right? Exactly. On top of that, I’d accidentally taken the wrong running shoes – bringing a pair with way too many miles, and way too many hole in them, instead of my comfy new pair. Hey, they’re the same model of shoe and they looked the same when I packed in the dark! An innocent, but stupid mistake. There were few other things as well, but really the biggest stuff up was yet to come. And at a time when you least need one – mid-race.
When the race started, I was still messing about taking photos of everyone so I literally started at the back of the pack. I’m cool with that, it’s not like it’s ever going to cost me a podium finish or anything, but it does create a real issue with one of my biggest hang ups – the etiquette of over taking. Especially in trail running, people have all sorts of strengths and weaknesses. Some are strong uphill, some downhill, some on the flats, some on the technical single trail, and some on the nice, open fire trails. So we all lose and make up time in different places.
Me, I’m pretty much crap at all of it, but in a field like this, there were a few people who I was ever so slightly faster than at the start. On a wide trail, it’s no problem. You just pop out to the right and plod past. Maybe they’ll catch you later, maybe not. Either way, it’s all good. It’s a different story on single trail though where you have to ask someone to edge over so you can overtake. It’s one of my worst nightmares asking people to move so I can go past, only to look like a bit of a flog a mile or so down the trail when they come shooting past. Maybe it’s a chip on my own shoulder and no one else cares, but I really struggle with it. I do enough stuff to look like a flog without accidentally adding to the already long list.
Needless to say, I did eventually pass a few people and settled into a nice position, probably about three quarters of the way back where I usually am. Hardly anyone overtook me in the first 20 or so KMs, and I sure as shit didn’t over take anyone else, so I guess I ended up in about the right place.
And for those 20 or 30kms I did OK and was about as happy as I can be running 44ish kms of trails. Then the wheels fell off in spectacular fashion. At the time, I didn’t know why, and I genuinely spent the last few hours of that race planning my retirement from running anything longer than about 200 meters. Even tough runs can still be a version of fun, but at about the 30km mark of this one I started to feel so ill, I couldn’t even break into a Cliff Young shuffle. I felt like I wanted to throw up and had zero energy.
To put this in context, it was pretty much exactly the same experience I’d has at the Yurrebilla 56km ultra six months earlier, and at the Tarawera 60km Ultra the month before. After six years of running and never experiencing gut problems of any sort, clearly the old body had given up the ghost and I was now one of those people, or so I thought at the time.
I now have a slightly different theory: I’m a bit of a dickhead. A theory that will come as no surprise to many of you, but let me explain why it’s relevant in this particular instance.
After Tarawera I ended up in the medical tent with extreme nausea. ie a pretty bad case of the chucks. And much like Tarawera, in Tassie I found myself unable to keep any food or drink inside my body for the back half of the race – or for about 24 hours after the finish for that matter. Not ideal when you’re pushing your body to go those sorts of distances. After Tarawera the medical staff asked me if I’d taken any ibuprofen. Now before I hear all you runners tsk tsk tsk-ing and waving your finger at me like a naughty boy, I should say I’ve taken all sorts of pain killers over the years when I’ve needed them and never had a problem. Ever. I know taking these sorts of things is frowned upon these days, but having never had a problem before I figured I was a bit above and beyond all that. But the medicos at Tarawera were convinced that was where my problems had come from, and thinking back, although I can’t recall for sure what, if anything, I took at Yurrebilla there’s a red hot chance I popped a few Nurofen there as well.
Regardless of whether or not they were right or not, I decided that moving forward I wouldn’t risk it and I’d play it safe and stick to plain old Panadol/Paracetamol if I ever needed anything mid-race in the future. So let me tell you what I thought happened on the day, and then what actually did happen on the day.
About half way through when my back hurt I reached into my pack, grabbed a couple of panadol, ran for a little while longer, then started feeling sick. I hadn’t taken Ibuprofen so clearly those medicos knew jack shit and I had some other illness, possibly Ebola or some other rare tropical disease that only affected me after about the 25km mark of a race. I walked most of the last 15kms, getting over taken by pretty much everyone who’d been behind me, including a few stronger runners who’d taken a wrong turn and run an extra 10kms. I threw up a few times in the last 5kms of the course, threw up at the finish line, threw up as I was crossing the road, and threw up in the bin in my hotel room. Several times. (Hey, cut me some slack. I know that’s gross, but I was in a room with a shared bathroom and couldn’t make it there so the bin was the best I could do.) And I continued to throw up well into the night, still unable to eat. Even the blue Gatorade I managed to find at the pub down the road when I chanced leaving my room for a bit later in the evening, made it’s way into that bin via my intestinal tract.
And the whole time, all I did was ponder my retirement from running and think about what I might take up instead. For the record, ten pin bowling was fairly high up the list. I also considered becoming a professional hurler, but that had nothing to do with actually considering it as a sport, and everything to do with the fact I’d spent the last 12 hours practicing a different kind of hurling. And if hurling into a hotel room bin had been an Olympic sport, let me tell ya I would have taken home gold for Australia.
But all that’s what I thought happened. Because the next day, after pondering all this, I had a half memory flash back that was then confirmed by the other people in the story. And this is where, a bit like directionally challenged trail runners, my version of events and the actual version of events go in slightly different directions.
You see, as I rolled into the 30km check point, one of my fellow runners asked if anyone had an ibuprofen. At first I didn’t answer cause I was feeling a bit shit and couldn’t quite get myself co-ordinated enough to reach into my pack and grab the panadol. Plus, they were pandadol and she wanted nurofen so I shut up hoping someone else would come to the rescue. When that didn’t happen, I fessed up that I had Panadol, but specifically mentioned I didn’t have Ibuprofen, but she was welcome to grab a couple from my pack. It’s what happened next that qualifies me as Dickhead of the Year. As she pulled out the slide of Panadol, she said, “oh wait, these aren’t Panadol, they’re Nurofen!” I didn’t really pay much attention at the time cause I was feeling shit and just wanted to crawl the last 15kms to the finish line. But doing a post mortem of my race the next day, her words came back to haunt me. “These aren’t Panadol. They’re Nurofen.” (Insert ominous echo.) Nurofen? What the fuck? I’d taken extra special care to make sure I only packed Panadol, and surely I hadn’t made a mistake. Just like surely I’d packed my new shoes and not my old ones. Doh! A quick inspection of the tablets in my pack revealed two things. They were definitely Nurofen. And I was definitely a dickhead.
Now, whether or not it was the Nurofen that caused this problem three races in a row I can’t say for sure. But you’d have to say the odds are they were. If there’s a silver lining to all this, it’s that I may not have that rare form of Running Ebola after all, and just a bad case of the dickheads, which can be pretty easily cured by, well, not being a dickhead. Suffice to say, for all future races I won’t be taking anything stronger than some jelly beans and with any luck, I’ll be right as rain. Back from the dead. Elite ultra running career in tact. And hey, if all else fails there’s still ten pin bowling. Or more hurling.
Oh, and at the risk of rushing through the rest of the story of the Tassie Trail Fest, I didn’t run again for the rest of the weekend, but did manage to get out and about a bit on the various trails, taking photos of the runners who were all not as dickheady as I was. And even though I was disappointed to not be running, I still had a pretty awesome time cheering everyone on, and blinding them with my flash and headlight during the night run. Sorry about that guys.
(You can check out a few pics from the other races below or a full gallery in the story I wrote for the guys at ioMerino.)
With the Trail Fest done and dusted, I had a few days up my sleeve to get my adventure on and go check out a few other things, but that’s a story for another time.