I’ve talked about Yurrebilla 56km ultramarathon before but for the uninitiated I’ll bring you up to speed. It is a 56km course through Adelaide’s hills, from Belair to Athelstone, where you’re never more than 12km from the Adelaide CBD. (There are places on the course where you can be running through beautiful bushland, feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere, then look to the side and see the buildings of the CBD… a stark contrast!) Each year more and more people take up the challenge, with over 400 people lining up this year. It is a wave start, with waves starting at 6am, 7am, 8am and 8:30am (the last group is the ‘racing’ group – only people who enter this group can be considered for a placing). All groups have a 5:30pm cut-off, the idea being that the people who expect to take longer to complete the course will start earlier, to give them the most time.
I decided to enter this year’s event after volunteering last year and having just the BEST time! Despite having a fairly busy programme of events this year, Yurrebilla was always at the forefront, being the one event that I knew 12 months ago that I would be running this year.
I did all 3 of the training runs which covered the entire course. I did a number of other trail runs too including a new event at Belair National Park (where I was lucky enough to win a random prize draw for a pair of trail shoes!), several night runs, several 24k Cleland loops, plus 2 of the training runs for the Heysen 105k later in the year. So despite most of my training runs being on roads, I felt like I had enough time out on the trails to be ready for Yurrebilla Ultra Marathon (YUM for short – legendary for the fantastic food provided at the aid stations – its motto could well be ‘come for the food, stay for the run!’
I had paid for my entry 6 months earlier, having won a silent auction as part of a fundraiser for fellow runner Emma. I didn’t actually enter until much later but once I had forked out the cash I was pretty much committed! I decided to enter the 7am wave – 6am was way too early for me, given I would need to get up 2 hours earlier than that to eat breakfast and get myself to Athelstone to be on a 6am bus – plus there was the small matter of a very poorly scheduled but unmissable Sebastian Bach gig on the Saturday night… ’twas going to be a late night followed by an early morning! 8am was doable (and tempting) but I thought I might get caught up running with the faster runners and burn myself out early. Plus if everything was to fall apart, I would regret not giving myself the extra hour to finish. (Later in the week I was offered a lift to the start at Belair by regular trail and road running buddy Beck which I had no hesitation in accepting – I would still need to get up to eat at 5 but at least I would have time to be sure I had everything ready, rather than having to rush around too much!)
Having run City-Bay the previous weekend (a greater contrast you could not imagine), I planned a relatively easy training week in the lead-up to YUM. Tuesday was my fast run for the week – it was a bit of a struggle after pushing myself to the limit at City-Bay! I also felt a bit of left hamstring soreness during the run but nothing that I thought would impair me at YUM. Thursday was an easier paced run and Friday I opted for a brisk walk rather than a run. Saturday morning parkrun was a light ‘jogette’ with Beck and her daughter with more focus on socialising. By Saturday the hamstring soreness was gone and I was feeling fresh and ready and raring to go!
The most important decision was what to wear! The forecast was for a maximum of 24 degrees. Normally in an event, I’m done by the time the maximum temperature hits. On this occasion I would be out there until mid afternoon so most likely would be running in 24 degrees. That’s not hot, but it’s warmer than I’ve been used to.
I had most of my outfit worked out weeks ago. On the bottom half it would be the black lululemon skirt (black as opposed to my otherwise identical white one, because dirt!) with one zip pocket plus 2 side pockets for snacks. Under that, Skins compression shorts, which I wear for all long runs and would also be good for my hamstring. On the legs, blue Compressport calf sleeves to match my blue Salomon Speedcross 3 trail shoes – shoes nicely broken in with over 100km of trail running. The socks were black Nike – black again because DIRT! I also planned to tape my arches for blister prevention – I did feel the beginnings of a blister there during City-Bay.
On the top I was tossing up between 2 tops (both lulu, naturally!). One was blue and one was cream – both coordinated nicely with the rest of the outfit and both had been tested on longish trail runs with the trusty Ultimate Direction Jenny backpack. In the end I decided to go with both – wear one and carry the other in case I needed a wardrobe change midway. To top it all off I had my rainbow striped arm socks and light running gloves ready in anticipation of a chilly start. I also had my white 2XU white hat… white not the most practical colour for a trail run but that particular hat had seen me run a marathon PB and good runs at City2Surf and City-Bay, so of course superstitious me had to go with it!
In the bag I had a compression bandage in case of snake bite, a few band-aids, baby wipes and ziploc bags I was really hoping not to need, and a small handheld torch for Echo Tunnel… that tunnel scares the crap out of me!
Given the buffet on offer at the aid stations I didn’t plan to carry much food. I had 2 nut bars cut in thirds, some Lifesavers and almonds, and a packet of plain potato chips. In addition I had a small bottle of Gatorade and one of water, which I planned to top up at the drink stops.
Most importantly of all I had left a nice bottle of Jansz sparkling wine and an icy cold can of Coke with MC extraordinaire Karen, to have there for me at the finish. I was sure that as I ran the tricky last few kilometres, that sweet nectar would be at the forefront of my mind…
I painted my toenails. I’m not sure why I did that. I never paint my toenails. I have runner’s toenails. I guess I was anticipating that there wouldn’t be much left to paint after YUM, so I thought I’d do it while I still could!
Despite saying all along that I just wanted to finish and enjoy the day, I did have a goal of finishing in under 7.5 hours (people had said ‘double marathon time’ was a good guide – which for me was 7.25 – 7.5 hours. I wrote down the estimated times I expected to be at each drink stop. My parents wanted to come see me at the 3rd drink stop near their place so I needed to give them a rough estimate of when I’d be there. Missing the cut-off time was not a concern.
Race day came and along with it the 5am alarm. My ears were still ringing andy voice a little hoarse from the EXTREMELY loud and EXTREMELY awesome concert the previous night. I mixed up and downed my breakfast shake (Weet-bix, muesli, rice milk and a little cacao powder) and got dressed. It felt weird putting sunscreen on at 5:30am but at least that would get me through the first few hours of the race. I got to the start at Belair Railway Station in plenty of time to enjoy the atmosphere and have a quick toilet stop. (The bus, as it turned out, was a bit late and got there not long before the 7am start!) There was a guy playing some kind of unidentified string instrument… nice and laid back for a Sunday morning!
It was a tad on the cool side so I had my arm socks on but not cold enough to need gloves. I had my XS Energy drink – normally I have that before a race when I want to run fast, on this occasion it was purely to counteract the sleep deprivation!
After a briefing from Event Director Barry McBride, at 7am we were off! I had planned to run with Beck, Kate and Alison but at the start Kate and Alison were a bit behind us (having arrived on the bus) so Beck and I did our own thing, expecting that the other two would catch up.
Knowing that there was 56km to go, we tried not to set out too quickly but it was hard! The first few kms were just over 6 minutes… that was hardly sustainable over 56km but the terrain was downhill and maybe just a little uphill. The plan was that we would run the downhills, flats and gentle uphills, and walk the steep uphills.
The first hurdle was Echo Tunnel… I had my torch in hand and managed to get through unscathed… the organisers had even lit it with little candles (I think battery operated) which was a nice touch! Still, it was a relief to be out of there… weirdly that is my least favourite part of the whole course!
Before we knew it we were at the first drink stop at Sheoak Rd. I had safely tucked my predicted times into my backpack and didn’t look at them again, but looking back at it now, at 7 hour pace we were predicted to be there at 7:37 – we were 3 minutes ahead of this. It was a quick stop as we really didn’t need anything by this stage. The volunteers were all in onesies… I imagine by the time the last runners came through that stop they would have been getting a bit warm! (I had already removed my sleeves by this stage.)
Next came my FAVOURITE part of the course – the switchbacks at the top of Brownhill Creek Road! It’s so much fun flying down there, with aeroplane arms, and it’s early in the course so people are still relatively fresh! I later heard that there are often snakes there, and it was perfect snake weather yesterday. VERY glad I didn’t know that at the time.
Running down Brownhill Creek Road it got a bit chilly – it always seems a good few degrees cooler here. It’s a great place to go for a run on a hot day! I almost contemplated putting the sleeves back on but I knew it would warm up soon enough…
Drink station 2 was at McElligott’s Quarry, around the 10km mark, around 7 minutes ahead of 7 hour pace. I was aware of the risk of dehydration especially since I knew I hadn’t drunk nearly enough the day before. I wasn’t thirsty but had a cup of the event sports drink – Nippy’s True Grit (lemon-lime flavour). I’d only tried it once before and quite liked it.
Stop 3 was Kavel’s Lookout where I was expecting to see my parents. I’d told them to expect me between 8:56 and 9:12. We got there at 8:52 – luckily they were a bit early! Here I had my first food since breakfast – a delicious vegan brownie! I also reapplied my sunscreen with some help from Mum to get the tricky bits on the back of the shoulders. (One advantage of wearing a backpack is that it covers that part of your back that’s really difficult to reach to apply sunscreen!) Beck left me at that point while I chatted to Mum and Dad a bit more, I told her I’d catch up.
I left Kavel’s and sprinted (well, relatively speaking) up Mt Barker Road to catch Beck. It’s a relatively easy (by easy I mean runnable!) climb but quite tedious and long. I could see Beck’s pink top from a mile away and slowly but surely caught up with her. We shared the path with Sunday cyclists who were all very courteous. Some of them looked like they were doing it pretty tough… I was definitely glad to be on foot and not on 2 wheels!
Pretty early on after the start I thought I needed another toilet stop… I thought it was just psychological and tried to put it out of my mind. I did NOT want to have to resort to a bush wee! (We did see one girl emerging from the bushes early on). I knew there were actual proper toilets at Cleland and we were nearly there, and I also knew there was coffee there, and PIZZA! So we carried on up the road and into Cleland, and before too long we reached the aid station. First stop though was the toilet – there was no queue and we did not want to be wasting time standing in a queue at this point! That taken care of, it was time to hit the buffet!
Now in hindsight I could say we lingered way too long here. At the time I was all about enjoying the experience, and I don’t regret anything, but if time was an issue, this stop was the killer! After being ahead of 7 hour pace for the first 3 stops, we left Cleland at 9:48, 15 minutes behind 7 hour pace, and 4 minutes behind 7.5 hour pace. But having said that, if we’d rushed through that stop, who knows if I would have had the energy to do what I did from there on?
So at Cleland there was a coffee van. Beck and I both went for a short black – I didn’t want to linger over a long black, plus it was getting warm so I didn’t really feel like a hot drink. It was pretty good too! There was also freshly made pizza – I couldn’t bring myself to have any of that but it looked and smelled amazing. What I did have though was some boiled potatoes dipped in salt… OMG so good, who knew? I also had some vegan fruit cake which was also delicious! I can’t remember what else was there but there were plenty of options, definitely something for everyone! It was a bit overwhelming actually… like a Vegas buffet! Like at all the stations there were familiar faces volunteering here including Sally and Victoria. Sally had run her first marathon earlier this year and people had been trying to talk her into running Yurrebilla (exactly like what happened to me last year!) I encouraged her to volunteer if she didn’t want to be talked into running, and I was glad to see her out there. I have a feeling she’ll be running it next year…
Eventually we left Cleland, and for the first time since the start we saw Kate and Alison. They were behind us and we were walking up a hill… I think they were suggesting we were a bit soft for walking! All in good fun though… we ran together for a short time. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, both of them like me were ultra virgins. Also around this point we ran with local running identity Chris (aka Chicken – of The Running Company – best running store EVER) and his wife Megan.
Somewhere between the Pillbox and Coach Road stops we were passed by a guy with a white bib, an 8:30 starter. I looked at my watch, it was 10:26 so we were nearly 3.5 hours in and he had started 2 hours ago. That turned out to be race ambassador and eventual winner David Byrne (in a new race record time – 4 hours 20-something minutes for 56km – bloody amazing!)
As we got close to 28km I wished I’d brought my old iPhone with me… given 28km was the halfway mark I thought it would have been appropriate to play Bon Jovi’s ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ at that point. (I almost always mentally sing the chorus at the halfway point of a race). What to do… the only thing I could do was sing it! 28km also happily was the location of a drink station, at Coach Road. Here we met up with a large contingent from the 6am start group, including fellow virgins Ali and Libby (and many more). So I burst into song… “Oh – we’re halfway there…” and a few people joined in. I did struggle to hit the high notes!
After we left that stop Beck and I did a few more songs to the amusement of those around us (OK it was mostly me) – ‘Eye Of The Tiger’ and ‘Total Eclipse Of The Heart’ were belted out with great gusto!
The next challenging section was the climb out of Horsnell Gully. I decided (to the probable horror of those around me) to ‘treat’ everyone to a rendition of Miley Cyrus’ ‘The Climb’. Running up a hill, while singing, is a bit tricky, I discovered! Once again the high notes were a bit beyond me. The distraction was good though because the next time I looked at my watch we’d passed the 30km barrier!
At some point before the next stop at Woods Hill, Beck spotted a koala in a nearby tree… well she HEARD it, and eventually saw it! It was really close to the road and quite low down, I’d already passed it but turned around and ran back to see it. It really seemed to be cheering us on!
The next (and as far as I know only other) proper toilet stop on the course was at Norton Summit, however as we approached, both Beck and I decided we didn’t need to go and could make it to the finish. That was possibly an indicator that we weren’t hydrated enough – I didn’t end up going again until the post-race dinner!
At the aid station at Morialta Cottage, around 37km, we were greeted by James and his family driving by with supplies for us! James is a regular running buddy and had earlier messaged Beck to see if she (and I) needed anything. I had requested a lemonade ice block. I have not had one of those in YEARS but wow, it was sooo good! (James was also the one who had brought me hot coffee during the 6 hour event a few months back – once again he had brought me EXACTLY what I needed!)
Beck and I walked for a bit and ate our ice blocks. Not long after this (I think it was 38km – 18km from the finish) Beck said she needed to walk for a bit as her heart was racing a bit. After making sure she was definitely OK and had a phone in case she got into trouble, and promising to wait for her at the finish before cracking open the bubbly, I left her and went off on my own.
It was a bit weird running on my own after running with Beck for so long, but I quickly settled into my rhythm. 40km came and went without an issue – I NEVER felt that fresh at 40km in a marathon! Of course I was running a lot slower here, and stopping regularly, and eating. I was glad to have my snacks on board as there were times in between stations where I needed a little sustenance. I don’t do gels. Never have and don’t ever plan to. In road races I stick with sports drinks and in trail runs it’s actual real food.
The only really tough section for me was between the 42.2km and 45km marks. There was a small station at Deepview (42.2km) with our lovely cocktail waitresses in fishnets and sexy cocktail frocks, serving drinks on silver platters. We had Sally, Sonja, Deb and Harry. Yes, Harry is a man and yes he was wearing a rather fetching strapless number. (And enjoying it way too much I might add!) In hindsight I should really have had a Coke here. I don’t often drink Coke and I didn’t want to start drinking it too early – so I resisted. But that sugar hit may have made the next section a little easier.
I don’t know why but the next 3 or so km seemed like an eternity. I was on my own for most of it, and I didn’t see any trail markers for what seemed like ages, so I was worried that I may have missed a turn somewhere! I knew there was a drink stop soon so I finished my bottle of sports drink, planning to top up at the next stop, at Moores Track. My spirits lifted when I saw the CFS truck and the fireys at the drink station! I clearly hadn’t studied the competitor’s manual enough though because the 45km stop only had water and Coke! Again in hindsight I definitely should have had a Coke here because the next stop was not for another 5km, at Quarry Track, at the bottom of Black Hill.
Luckily my Lifesavers saved me and got me through to the last drink stop. There I was ably assisted by Diane and got my bottles topped up, and had a quick bite to eat. I also saw husband and wife Brian and Shannon who had been planning to do Yurrebilla together before Shannon rolled her ankle a few weeks ago. Brian ran it on his own instead with Shannon supporting him, but sadly he too rolled his ankle around Cleland and had to pull out. This couple clearly does everything together! I said it was the universe telling them that they were MEANT to do Yurrebilla together – next year guys!
I was happy with my time at that point. With 6km to go I was at 6 hours 19 minutes. Still 70 minutes inside my goal time of 7 hours 30. If I couldn’t do the last 6km (even including the brutal climb up Black Hill) in 70 minutes something was seriously wrong! I thought 7:15 looked like a better goal.
Black Hill is nasty but didn’t scare me. I started to feel the niggle in my left hip that normally comes much earlier in long runs. I had Voltaren on board but that would have required me to take off my backpack to get it, and I didn’t want to do that. Besides, anti-inflammatories + dehydration + heat is a bad combination! So I pressed on and it soon went away.
Looking at my Strava times for the 3km of the Black Hill ascent I averaged about 10 minutes per km which was not too bad… I even managed one more little bit of singing, this time a version of ‘Running Up That Hill’ – I’d changed the lyrics to ‘Walking Up Black Hill’! I did walk pretty much all of it – it’s hardly runnable at the best of times, let alone after 50km!
Once I had completed that climb there was about 3.5km to go and it was just after 1:45 (6 hours 45 after I started). 7:15 was a no-brainer – I could almost get close to 7 hours! (Without the extended Cleland stop it could definitely have been sub-7!)
I LOVED that last section. All downhill, a few tricky sections especially right near the end but just so enjoyable. I managed to pass a few people along this section too! 55km showed on my watch when I passed the awesome bell-ringers – they told me 1.5km to go, so obviously my watch was a little out, but still… 1.5km was nothing!
I remembered what race ambassador Tymeka Warburton had said at a ‘newbies’ dinner earlier in the year. Enjoy the finish. Don’t run, walk. Soak it all in. I was flying for the last km until a guy told me ‘200m to go’. Once I heard the crowd and saw the finish line I slowed down. I didn’t walk but I jogged. I heard MC Karen call me over the line, stopped my watch, got ‘badgered’, got my sweet sweet bling and hugged a few people (sorry I can’t remember who – it was a bit overwhelming!) I was pleasantly surprised to see Mum there – I hadn’t expected her to be at the finish! Luckily she was early because I was well ahead of where I had thought I’d be – my time was 7:06:48. I was STOKED.
It was just after 2:00. The next few hours were so enjoyable, watching people finish and catching up with friends everywhere I turned – runners, volunteers and spectators. It was such a perfect day to be out in the sunshine with friends. Beck finished under 8 hours as she’d hoped, and as soon as I saw her I cracked open the bubbles and poured us both a glass. Then I had a celebratory drink with Mum before wandering around with the bottle and a couple of glasses, offering it to anyone that would take it! (I wasn’t driving, but even though it was Jansz I didn’t particularly want to drink the rest of the bottle myself!)
Later after Mum left I had a few more drinks with Mandy, Sue, Leanne, Lorraine et al who had several more bottles in their esky!
I had an AMAZING vegan pie floater from ‘Give Peas A Chance’. I had never had a pie floater before in my life! Soooo good.
I stayed till after the 5:30pm cutoff – tradition states that Yurrebilla is not over until the last person finishes. The last person across the line, with 2 minutes to spare, was MC Karen’s husband Daryl. I think there were 440 registered, and exactly 400 finishers. All 6 of the Yurrebilla Legends (those who have done all 9 events) finished.
Then it was on to the dinner – me still in my race gear (sans shoes and socks – I had changed into sandals earlier and was happy to see I still had all my toenails!) and wearing my medal. I put on my race singlet – superstition states that it is bad luck to wear an event singlet before finishing said event. I could legitimately wear it now.
I wolfed down 2 serves of vegetarian pasta and a couple of rolls. The tiredness was really sinking in by then. Once the presentations to the placegetters and the speeches were over, I eventually got home and showered, and spent the rest of the night catching up with Facebook posts from friends. It was nearly midnight before I got to bed – still wearing my medal!
A few people told me I had potential to do even better. Graham told me I should consider getting some 1:1 coaching and I might really scare myself how fast I could go! Justin told me at dinner “OK you’ve had your fun now… time to stop just running and start RACING!” By that he meant no lingering at drink stops, no singing, definitely no selfies! We’ll see… let’s see what hext year brings!
It was just the BEST day. And a perfect weekend – my Hawks winning their way into another AFL Grand Final, and finally seeing Sebastian Bach live (AND getting a retweet from him on Twitter – gobsmacked!)
Thankyou SO VERY much to everyone that made it possible!
Now I just have to wait 52 weeks for my chance to do it all again!
If you’re thinking about it – stop thinking and put it in your calendar for 2016 RIGHT NOW!