I didn’t sleep. I had an early start and I was worried I’d sleep in. I was too hot under the medium thickness spring/autumn doona and kept stealing sweaty glances at the clock.
I got up before my alarm and turned the coffee machine on. It clicked and hissed as the boiler got to temperature. While I waited for Wash to emerge from the spare room I put on my running gear. Shorts that I knew wouldn’t chafe, thick socks, a Tough Guy Book Club singlet and newish runners I had been carefully wearing in.
I checked my supplies for the 20th time. I had enough energy gel and my copy of Murakami’s “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”. These would be with me on my way up the mountain. The Jalapeño and Cheddar chips, Cascade Larger cans, t-shirt and thongs would be taking the bus, waiting for me at the finish line.
Wash came out of the bathroom and we said a quick g’day. I got the porridge bubbling on the stove along with some stewed apple I had frozen from Autumn. I made tea for Alex and we had a quiet breakfast, contemplating the task ahead of us.
The nerves started to kick in (and so had the coffee) so I headed to the loo again. One last shit before the gun goes off and I couldn’t stop to poo.
My sister in law arrived and we all discussed tactics. Having run segments of the course during months of training we knew what pace would get us to the top, where to use gels and where the drink stations would be. We knew where it got steep and where we were going to struggle.
We had trained through rain, snow, ice, wind, sunrises and sunsets. Race day came with warnings about the heat and lack of shade on the course. At the muster area for the start it was already 27 degrees at 7am. We had not trained for that.
The nerves and excitement as we all huddled together at the start line reached an oppressive crescendo. I knew this was going to hurt and I wanted to get started. I wasn’t aiming to break records. I just wanted to get there without walking. I hoped my knees held out. I hoped my back held out. I hoped my calves and shins and quads didn’t cramp. I hoped the stitch passed quickly. I hoped I didn’t literally shit myself.
I glanced at Wash and Mils with a wry smile and we shuffled across the line and into open space. We started along the flat at a decent pace, trying to find gaps between the other runners without speeding up or slowing down too much. Before too long the incline began and the pack thinned out. We found our stride and the pace was good.
After about 5Km my pace was too fast. I had sat at just over 6 minute Kms and I knew if I wanted to reach the top I had to be at 8 minutes per Kilometre. Lucy had found a way to get higher up the course so she could cheer us on again. The surprise and joy of her excitement invigorated me.
I didn’t eat my gel at Strickland Avenue like I’d planned. It was hot and there wasn’t any shade. I drank at every station but I got thirsty pretty quickly. Heading in to Fern Tree the tall gums and altitude offered a little shade and some relief from the heat. A couple on bagpipes spurred me on around the steep turn on to Pinnacle road and the climb up the final 12Km.
Fern Tree Tavern to the Springs was my favourite leg during training. It had a decent incline and was a good warm up leading to the super steep Springs to Chalet leg. But on race day I blew up. Going off piste with pace, hydration and nutrition really fucked me.
I was nauseous. Salty mouth, verge of gagging nauseous. My legs were heavy and my breath was laboured. I was half way to the Springs and I stopped running. I told myself I’d run again in a bit. I told myself I’d run again when I could see the Springs. I told myself I’d run again after a drink at the Springs. I lurched into a slow shuffle. Cramp. I stopped running.
The rest of the race was a heartbreakingly slow and hot walk to the top. I had trained for 4 months to avoid this exact situation. I wanted to make it without walking but ended up walking 7km. I was gutted and annoyed and contemplated taking the Fingerpost Track home. Fuck this shit. But Wash and Amelia were at the top waiting for me. So I pushed on.
With a K to go I heard cheering and music. I started shuffling again and this time I wasn’t going to stop. People I didn’t know were shouting encouragement. A Mobart Mo Bro complimented my moustache. I smiled through my grimace as Mils and Wash met me with 100 metres to go and ran with me across the finish line. Other people I knew cheered for me.
Mils handed me a bottled water and I limped to get my participation medallion. I sat on a rock out of the way and held back tears of frustration and disappointment.
Wash said, “You did it mate, you did it!”
And I guess I did.
Sam Stops (Hobart Chapter)