Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Centennial Park Ultra 100km 2012

I have never done a proper road ultra before, however after watching the performances of Ewan Horsburgh over the last 12 months and Brendan Davies’ performance in Italy earlier this year and Allison Lilley’s performance in Poland a few weeks ago, I was inspired to sign up for a road/track ultra. The one that stood out for me was the Centennial Park Ultra 100km. It’s in Sydney, at Centennial Park (a place that I had never been to before), flat and seemingly long enough and a busy enough location to minimise boredom and monotony of a lap event the event.

As the event got closer I set myself some loose goals.
1.       To see if I could do a sub 9hr for the 100km. This would give me a qualifier for the 100km road world championships. I had to aim for something and this was a good enough target, or so I thought.
2.       Could I run 100km nonstop? I know I can do the distance on the trails, but can I really run the distance.
3.       At the very least I’d treat this as a tempo training run for my next trail race.

Also in the lead up to the event Brian produced a split calculator. Something he does for all my events. He’d be crewing for me at this event so would be able to give me feedback as the race progressed.
Come race day I was up at 4am to get to the start line at 5:30am. It was a beautiful morning at Centennial Park. The early morning mist was sitting low over the parklands and the suns rays were slowly starting to peel back the dark predawn sky. As I was getting my race kit on it was just starting to sink in how under done I was for this event. I’m not a road runner. Not at all. I have no speed and I feel sluggish on the flats. Those that know my 10km road PB know what I’m talking about. You’d laugh if you knew as on the trail this doesn’t matter and I’m frequently running with people on the trails with road PB’s far superior to mine. I’d done next to no road running leading up the Centennial Park, except for short distances on road to link up with trails, but that was my choice, I knew I had the fitness to do 100km so whatever I ran on this track would be more a reflection on natural ability than a goal I really worked towards or perhaps deserved.

After a short prerace briefing by RD April Palmerlee we were off and running. I settled down to an easy pace in about 7th or 8th spot behind the lead guys then held on for my very first lap ever of Centennial Park. The first of 28 laps to be precise. I enjoyed these first few laps watching the park slowly come to life. The birds started to get restless, the mist finally got burnt away by the warming sun and people started entering and using the park. My splits for these first few laps were spot on for the 9hr target. I even managed to get 2min under for a few laps. I held this until about lap 6 when I made my first toilet stop. When I re-entered the course I was right on my splits. I stayed like this for another few laps until my second toilet stop. This put me 2min over my target splits which I never regained.
Pre-race briefing with mist on the oval.
The first 100km runner I started to regularly lap was Ben Phillips aka "blind Ben", along with is guide. I made sure each time I passed to say “hello” and give him some words of encouragement. To his credit he didn't make the full 100km but he was out there for the entire allocated 12hrs to clock up 70km's. That in itself is very impressive.  

The 50km competitors entered the fray after an hour of running. It was great witnessing the speed that Alex Mathews and Brendan Davies exhibited. Both class athletes strutting their stuff. It was always exciting to see who would come around first the next time they lapped me. Alex ended up taking the win but Brendan made sure he fought for it the whole way. Watching these guys run and then finish made me wish I had entered the 50km instead of the 100km. But I still had plenty of other runners still out on the course doing both the 50km and 100km to keep me company a little while longer.
Nearing the half way mark
By about the fifty km mark I started to feel a little queasy in the stomach. Something that I’m not unaccustomed to but I thought with an event like this, where I’m drinking and eating regularly this wouldn’t be a problem. I probably made the mistake at this time to skip a few opportunities to eat something. Even though I wasn’t up to eating I should have forced something down.

Somewhere around the 60km mark I started to get some blisters on the top of my toes. These must have been the first blisters of 2012. I got them under the nails of my 2nd and 3rd toe of my left foot. My feet were all fine then all of a sudden these blisters just flared up. Admittedly I had only got the shoes I was running in the Monday before the event and had only done a few km’s in them around the house, but I’d been fine doing similar things before. I was kindly attended to by a member from the Achilles Running Club who taped my toes up and off I went again. This is when I really fell of the split bandwagon. I was a total of 7min off my target splits. Brian mentioned this to Brendan and apparently his response was,” that’s no good, she’s stuffed”. Thanks Brendan. Next time I see you racing I’ll think of something inspirational to say to you too. He was right though, I was.
I continued around the course and everyone I passed looked like they were in the same hurt locker. I had gone this far in the run, there was nothing to it other than continue on. Every now and again I was cheered on by Brian or Mum as they walked around Centennial Park with my dog Jack. It was always a nice surprise as I wouldn’t know where I would see them next. For the last few laps my support crew was joined by fellow Berowra Bushrunner Jeff Hodder who dropped by to check the event out. I don’t know if he left inspired our not but it was great to see him nonetheless.

Jack waiting patiently for me to run past again.
I was finding this event difficult to get my head around. I’m used to A to B races where you know your position in the race is relative to where you are running in the field. Being a lap race, the person in front of you could be either the person 1 position in front or 1 position behind. I think this was also one of the reasons my splits started to drop off in the later stages of the run. Its not the same as running scared knowing that the person behind you really is someone that wants to beat you.
On my second last lap my stomach finally got the better of me. I knew what was coming, or more precisely what was coming up. I quickly purged the system right in front of a horse and other people, it was a bit embarrassing but what can you do. I quickly continued on hoping no one noticed. In the process I received a compliment by a fellow runner who had seen me quickly stop then continue on like nothing had happened. It is not like a practice these things, but a compliment is always nice to receive at this late stage of the run. Without seeing the splits this second last and last laps were my slowest laps and saw me come over the line in 9hr 22min. Not quite my target but a finish and a benchmark to aim for next time, maybe.
Only a handfull of laps to go.
I did learn a lot from this event however. I learnt:
a.       I can run 100km non-stop more or less.
b.      9hr for 100km is potentially achievable with some specific training, on road not trails.
c.       I love trails and felt homesick racing an ultra on a flat track.
d.      I still have work to do when it comes to my race nutrition.
e.      Centennial Park is a nice place, and in particular Centennial Park Ultra is a great event.

Thank you April for such a well organised and enjoyable event.

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