Situated in the always beautiful Flinders Ranges, roughly a five hour drive north of the city of Adelaide, is where the Hubert 100 is held. Put on by Ultra Runners South Australia, you had the choice of tackling 100 miles, 100 kilometres, 50 kilometres, or a trail marathon. All events would traverse over the sandy red outback floor, along undulating 4WD tracks, over rocky ridge lines and through single track of some surprising foliage. Eyes were kept peeled for snakes, sun cream was applied liberally, almighty falls were had a plenty, and the knowing smile of the accomplishment of finishing something great was abundant.
I always knew to tackle my first 100km I had to be passionate about it. I’d tried the distance before, but DNF’d at 57km, which is one of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made. This time would be different. I knew it and I felt it. I wanted to finish this race on home turf, surrounded by my running family who have supported and encouraged me along the way. I wanted to run through terrain I knew I enjoyed. Big, barren, empty spaces with terrain that made me feel small. I wanted to spend a majority of the day alone. After enlisting the help of a coach, I felt more and more confident in my ability. We worked out what had to be done and I was ready to do it. With this, I slept like a baby in my swag the night before the race.
I split off from the main group early, not wanting to run too fast, yet not wanting to run too slow. A course recon prior to race day meant I knew what was coming. After a flat 8km we began to climb before reaching Tanderra Saddle. Here, the hikers would continue on to the summit of St Mary Peak, the highest point in the Flinders Ranges. For us though, we were to descend down the saddle, a mixture of rock scrambling, butt sliding and prickly bush dodging. I was excited for this section and it really felt like the race was underway.
I had my wonderful support crew at each checkpoint – my mum and dad! This was not their first rodeo on crewing duties, they were experts at this by now. A quick ditch of the long sleeve, I gobbled down some boiled potatoes at 8:30am and then I was off again. Funnily, my legs were flat. Dead flat. My hamstrings had already tightened and I just couldn’t find my rhythm, so I was preparing myself to settle in for a long day. But after sucking down a caffeinated Shotz gel, I felt alive. The hit was apparent leading into the second checkpoint, talking away to three men I had caught up with. I left the checkpoint alone, and from here it was to be a lone run for the rest of the day.
The middle of the race stayed pretty uneventful. I was running comfortable, breathing in the fresh outback air and admiring the big red rocks constantly to my left. With no one around, it felt like one long training run. I never wanted to push in fear of early burnout. This was my one rule leading in to this event – ‘do not push, just run comfortably and finish happy. Enjoy it.’ So that’s what I focused on. My only down point came at the half way point in the race, leading in to checkpoint 3. It was a long, flat, exposed road section and my legs were starting to seize. I watched two emus bound gracefully across my path and wished my two legs were able to move like that. Eventually, finally and desperately I waddled into the checkpoint at 53km. I remember feeling a little brain dead at this point. I’d been running for 6 hours and it was the heat of the day. Super crew kicked in, along with the incredible volunteers at ‘temptation station’, and I shoveled in more boiled potatoes washed down with a heap of coke and soaked my buff to help cool down.
My feet kept ticking over and my rhythm was still hanging around. I was trying to avoid looking at my pace because I felt good. I didn’t want my watch to tell me something demoralising. This section was more undulating 4WD track where I could just lock in and get it over with as quick as possible. For the first time in a race, I put some music on. I cop a lot of flack for my music choice, but there is nothing I enjoy running to more than some Country Pop music. Don’t knock it till you try it. I kept turning the feet over, singing along to my favourite tune on repeat and had a quick squiz at my watch. I was baffled. I ticked off a 6:40km. Surely not! I was 74km in and still running happily, not sore and relatively quickly. I let myself get a little excited and then went back to not looking at my watch. I still had over a half marathon to go.
I saw my parents at the 77km mark, the last section a crew member could get in to. The inner thigh chaff was just starting to rear its head so I made a quick change to more appropriate shorts, stuffed my IoMerino Mongrel thermal into my pack and loaded up on gels, jelly beans and electrolytes. Finishing the race was never in doubt. I knew I’d tackled tougher terrain, more extreme weather and I’d finished races on far less training than this one. Yet, this was the first time I’d thought of the finish line. I felt giddy and excited and potentially got a little ahead of myself, assuming the final kilometres would be more run-able terrain and I would keep pace. Wrong. I left 77km in 10hrs and told myself to keep it up and I’d have a sub-13hr finish. I almost couldn’t believe it. Less than half an hour later I was laughing at myself as I slid down some loose scree sections to then scramble my way up the hill on the other side. My goals quickly changed. My mind was screaming at me ‘get to the 85km checkpoint before dark.’ I willed myself on, up the changing hills and varying terrain, through the slow, torturous creek bed and along a sudden single-track, traversing through a heap of trees. The difference between mindless flat running and then concentrated running is phenomenal. I quickly tired once I was focusing on foot falls and trying to follow the trail signs. I started to close in on the final checkpoint as the sun went down.
I crossed the finish line in a time of 13 hours and 54 minutes. I crossed the finish line ecstatic, to a large cheer from my family and friends. I finished happy and I enjoyed nearly the entire day. I was the first, and only, female to finish the entire course. I was third overall with a total of only 6 finishers. The shoes came off first and the pasta went down second. The cold came in almost as quickly as the stiff muscles but I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face.
This is the first time I’ve finished a race without having another race planned. It’s strange, not having a new goal and nothing to train for. I reveled in the specific training, the road sessions, the long runs and the cross-training. It’s easy to let it control your week, so for this I am excited to have a little period off. Running aimlessly and freely again. I don’t know how long that feeling will last, but I’ll take what I can get. Ultra marathons are a special sport. We all do it for different reasons, in different training ways with different finishing goals, and as individual as it seems, we’re all in this together.