When running long distances, the slightest thing can mess with your head and divert your focus. If you are too busy thinking your top is riding up, your sock slipping, or if you're too hot or cold, your focus is gone and you struggle. We spoke to ioMerino Outsider, Sarah, about her experience running the infamous Ultra Trail Australia 50km and if her ioMerino held up against the long and cold conditions.
By ioMerino Outsider Sarah.
"Even now as I think back about it, and watch the videos, I get a lump in my throat! I can’t believe I actually did that!"
When running long distances, the slightest thing can mess with your head and divert your focus. So if you are too busy thinking your top is riding up, or your sock are slipping, or you are too hot/cold, your focus is gone from the run. And then you struggle.
Fun fact – there were 8,183 stairs in the 50km event. Apparently. Don’t know who the poor person was that had to count them all.
The Giant Staircase was insane, it was so steep in parts and there was someone on the step directly in front of you and directly behind you. We were like Lemmings. UTA call this the 'Train of Goodness'. There were many times after this I had to get on the 'Train of Goodness.' Once you are on the stairs, you have to keep going, you can’t overtake and you don’t want to lose your position because if you pulled over to the side for a break, 20 plus people would march straight past you before you could get back on the “train”.
A lot of the stairs were in the most beautiful settings. Some were up alongside of waterfalls or climbing up to go over a bridge over cascades and creeks. It made it all the more bearable.
Checkpoint 1 at the 17km mark was just water and potato chips. I had discovered one of my soft flasks had the most foul plastic taste, and was unusable, so a volunteer helped me to rinse it to get rid of the “new plastic” taste. As soon as I had refilled the water, I was on my way. I did not want to waste any time – although I was quite ahead of cut off. As I was setting off, I passed a runner munching on a massive hot dog and a coffee – apparently you could buy this at the BBQ there? Personally, I couldn’t think of anything worse than eating all that food in one hit whilst running. Absolutely no issue at all smashing a hot dog if I wasn’t running an Ultra.
My next task was to get to checkpoint 2 and get through the next lot of stairs.
There was a supporter (one man cheer squad) in a valley going bananas with his cowbell. It took me about 15 mins to reach him, and when I did, I wanted to shove that cow bell up his... so anyway, I was working on my positivity, so I smiled and high-fived him and listened to that f-ing cowbell all the way back up the hill and onto the next valley. How’s the serenity!
In all honesty, I was doing really well with keeping my mind on task and keeping the good vibes going. Even when I reached into my pack to grab a gel and my hand came out covered in gel and Nutella. Okay rookie error bringing Nutella in my pack when I hadn’t trained with it, but it was a good excuse to eat Nutella guilt free. Except it was now all on my hand, and on my face and up my arm from trying to consume the gel. So I was walking along trying to eat the gel and get out my rubbish bag and a tissue to clean up and I look up and there was the photographer – hell no – I was not getting my photo looking like this – and it was in a really cool spot with the waterfall behind me, so I quickly retreated back around the corner, cleaned myself up and then ran on toward them as if nothing had happened. (remember, I am not taking selfies, so I need the photographers to get good pics of me).
I got to checkpoint 2 in good time, had a quick bathroom break and got some watermelon. I even had a cup of coke which I don’t ever drink – or even like – unless I am trail running. I refilled my water and had another attempt to rinse the soft flask, but it still was nasty! I was at the 28km mark, and the next 8km were all downhill. I had been looking forward to this, this is where I would make up time before the final 8km uphill to the finish. Except my legs were so gassed from the stairs and my feet were really sore. I was doing some weird run shuffle thing. I certainly wasn’t making up time. My goal was to get to checkpoint 3 before it was dark. I didn’t want to have to get my pack off and get my headlamp and jumper until I got to that final checkpoint.
The run between checkpoint 2 & 3 was during a pretty magical time of day. The sun was going down and there was a beautiful orange glow on the faces of the cliffs behind me and behind those cliffs, the almost-full moon was rising. It was really something to watch the sun dip behind the Three Sisters and run in the warm glow of sunset.
I ran into checkpoint 3 just as they turned all their lights on. Here I put on a dry, fresh headband [Altitude Neck Tube], my long sleeve zip up [Ultra Zip] and headlamp.
It was all uphill from here – but the good thing was that I couldn’t see it. I could only see 5 to 10 meters ahead of me. I was still in a good mood, I was down to 8km to go. That’s less than 2 Parkruns – totally doable.
It was pretty hard from here on in. My feet were giving me grief and my kilometre times were blowing out, but I wasn’t stressed about cut off, even though I knew it would be close. I just kept plodding along and chatting to the 100km runners as they ran past. It was the day before full moon, so the moon was huge. At one point, I turned my headlamp off and just stood there looking out to the valley and the moonlight glistening on all the leaves of the trees. I could’ve been the only person on the planet at that moment in time, I felt so calm and in awe of everything around me, and then because my headlamp was still off, I scared the shit out of another runner as they ran past – and the moment was lost. No more distractions, just get to that freaking finish line.
I was starting to get a bit delusional. I found a stick to help take some of the load off my feet – and then I named the stick Sammy. And I spoke to her. Yup, totally losing it!
Finally, after 13 or so hours, I came to the bottom of the Furber Stairs. I had 1km to go. You could already hear the finish line cheers and the f-ing cowbells. So onward & upward. I passed a few people who were having to stop after each set of stairs, but by this point, I just wanted to finish, so I was not stopping and I don’t believe they are nearly as bad as people were making them out to be before the run. Compared to the stairs we had faced in the first half of the run, these were great – they had rails so you could pull (okay – more like drag) yourself up them and they were all uniform size.
Halfway up the stairs, I saw two of my crew waiting for me. I was bursting with happiness to see them. They had done the 22km race the day before, and had gone up these stairs during their run – and even though they were sore, they still came to find me and walk up the last half.
There were a few overly enthusiastic cheer squads near the top of the stairs – but again – channelled my positivity and didn’t smack them. But seriously, don’t yell at me to keep going. I have been going for 13 ½ hours and haven’t stopped yet – do you think I am really going to stop with 500 metres to go?
No – the answer is no.
Okay, back to positive Sarah again – give them a smile and a thumbs up. I had pretty much used up all my good vibes by this point and just wanted to finish.
That finish line chute! I will never forget it. It’s probably 50 metres long with people at least 3 deep, all screaming and cheering for you – and somehow – I managed to spot the rest of my crew. It really was a rockstar finish and the only time I had run in the last 5km.
And then it was done – 13 hours and 41 minutes. I had a mandatory gear check and got my finishers medal and buff and made my way out of the corrals to my crew. I got a gazillion pics with the medal at the finish line then returned Sammy the stick to her natural environment and headed home.
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It took every bit of our 140 years of experience in the wool industry to perfect our fabrics, but we think you’ll agree the end result was more than worth the effort.
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