Written by Jenny Morris.
Competitor in the inaugural 2019 Brisbane Trail Ultra Miler
I am not a natural runner. In fact, I was overweight. I swam through school and recall being laughed at by a teacher when collecting a ribbon at a school assembly, with a comment “I’m surprised she didn’t sink!” My mum sent me to weight watchers in year 6. I learned about food and healthy eating coupled with exercise.
I only ran for fitness in my late teens and early adulthood. I entered my first ever event at the age of 42 in The Sydney City to Surf in 2012 in a priority start with 149 other Police officers for the 150th year in Policing. I enjoyed that, but not so much the crowds. I’ve never run it since. From there my first half Marathon in Canberra in 2013, which lead to my second half at GCAM in 2014 then my first full Marathon in Sydney that year at 43 years of age. Since then I have raced and completed 7 x Half Marathons, 10 x road Marathons and 14 x Ultra Marathons, including 3 x 100km events. I have 3 DNF’s including the most recent being UTA100 only in May this year.
I found Running Mums Australia (RMA) just before my third half marathon and truly believe the inclusiveness and feeling of being surrounded by other mums who ran, inspired me to be the runner I am now. My first running coach was through RMA and I still have a great friendship with Kate Heyward.
Fast forward to September 2016, after just completing my First 100km at Centennial Park Ultra (CPU), where I was first female in 10:40, my journey with my friend, my mentor and my coach, Gary MULLINS began. He took me under his wing and guided me to where I am now. Gary also provided me with an extra-curricular coaching job around May 2017, just after my first overseas race in the prestigious Boston Marathon, where I evolved as a Track Road Trail (TRT) running coach.
Gary coached me through my first UTA100 in 2017 (15:08) the amended course due to weather then my second UTA100 in 2018, missing the Silver buckle by 9 minutes, (14:09) saying I’d never be back but of course I was, however, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Shortly after UTA100 in 2018, Alan and I joined forces and after hearing all about his longer events, such as the GNW miler and Coast to Kosciuszko (C2K), a 240km road event from Eden to Mt Kosciuszko, the plan was set. I was going to run C2K on the weekend of my 50th birthday this December 2019. I just had to inform my coach, Gary.
Once I did let him know, we then had to decide which miler I was to run, as of course the qualification to run C2K was that you had to have completed a 100km race and a miler race in the lead up to be accepted. Unfortunately the 2018 C2K was cancelled, whether or not it’ll be back in 2019 is unknown but the idea to still complete a miler was still in my head and I wasn’t going to let it die. Gary asked if he could choose the Miler for me. That terrified me. I let him. Brisbane Trail Ultra (BTU) a new event was to be held in July 2019, perfect timing for C2K should it still go ahead, and Gary was very keen for this to be my A race of the year. It offered over 8,000m elevation with some huge steep ascents.
This year training for UTA100 was great. I was strong, smashing stairs, hills and loads of elevation, which abruptly came to a halt on the Easter weekend with a calf injury, 5 weeks out of UTA100. I rested, reduced my elevation. I made the start line. I wasn’t sure how it would hold out. Gary and I had a plan. I made it to CP3, 46km and knew going further would cause far too much damage. I wanted to run my miler. I wanted to focus on that. A week later I ran my long run of 30km, the week after 43km, adding loads of hiking in my long runs in preparation for the elevation that BTU was going to offer. BTU allowed pacers from CP4 at 87km. Alan was going to pace me. I was terrified and excited. I knew Alan could get me through if my head stayed in the game.
The weekend that was
Unfortunately, due to our hectic lives of work and kids, we couldn’t fly up to Brisbane until the day prior (6am flight) and our flight was booked back at 8:30pm Sunday.
So, we were up at 3:15am Friday morning. We arrived in Brisbane around 7:30am – hire car sorted. Get to Kangaroo Point for second breakfast. Then on to our accommodation a short stroll from the finish line in Brisbane CBD. Check in and drop bags delivered, then late lunch around 3pm with a beer and cider of course…Carb loading at its best!!!
Pizza for dinner with another fellow TRT runner, Hannah McRae (110km 3rd place getter) and off to bed around 9:30pm…. Alarm set for 3:15am
Arrive at the start around 4:50, weigh in done 57.9kg. Nicole BUNYON, RMA’s founder and Ana CROGER, RMA Ambassador from Brisbane made the effort to come out so early to see me start which was wonderful.
Good to catch up with Nikki BOURKE who was to be competing in the miler too.
Pics taken. Kiss from Alan and gun time. Off we went into the unknown. Not a section of the race had I run at all. It was unknown territory. Any distance past 100km or time past 15 hours 8 minutes was going to be new to me. This was a test of everything, my strength, fitness, mental attitude, resilience and of course mine and Alan’s relationship. 😊
Start to CP1 15.6kms – 737m Ascent – I was to start with 46km of fuel. CP1 at 15km was water only. The start was under torchlight at 5am, and as soon as I started running, I could feel the humidity. Then the rain started and pretty much never stopped. Yes, it did ease at times and yes it did pour too!! In to CP1 with a friendly Volunteer guiding me, Alan, who somehow ended up assisting for over an hour guiding runners as course markers were very inefficient. This was the start of a long day and night of terrible course markers that impacted my race by over an hour I would estimate. I’m hearing many others complained of the same thing. Straight out of CP1 with a quick water refill then on for the longest section before CP2 at 46km. I hit CP1 ahead of Race Plan. My new AfterShokz bone conductor headphone allowing me to tune out to my music helped.
CP1 to CP2 30.8kms – 1600m Ascent – This section started to introduce some of the big ascents that never ended during the rest of the race. My race plan was to hike all the hills and that is what I did. The hills came and came I let runners pass me as I hiked. I caught some on the descents but didn’t let this phase me as I knew it was going to be a long day and night. Around 25km there was Alan”Ultra Stalker”, again, finding a good place to view us on course. This lifted me so much.
I shared some of the trails with friends, Nikki Bourke also doing the Miler and Steve Bowers running the 110km. We chatted and talked about many different topics. Nikki had fallen near 30km and was struggling with her knee, which was unlike her. I was sad for her. I passed Nikki and continued onwards, hiking the hills, running the runnables. Here is where my phone decided to pocket dial my sister Barb, and Alan and others. I do apologize for this. I was fine!!! I know my sister was worried, after seeing her messages on my phone later.
We came to our first point where we were to clip our bibs (this was introduced to prove you had reached a certain section that was not manned by volunteers) I clipped my bib which was shortly after an out and back section of 6km. (I was later to learn the first placed female winner missed this section altogether. More on this later) At the completion of this section we had a short loop in a park section around 40km and there was Alan again, looking jolly at Jolly’s Lookout, although there wasn’t much that was jolly about the misty view on this morning. What a nice face to see at that point. I was feeling strong and still happy; in fact, this was the strongest I felt in the race. Only 6km to CP2. I would see him again. YAY!!
CP2 to Cp3 19.8kms – 1225m Ascent – CP2 came after a huge climb just before I arrived. I was hungry and needed a shirt change. I choked back a few tears here. I could stop briefly. Alan got some warm tea into me. I ate a sandwich. The promised cooked potatoes did not exist, I was so looking forward to those. I was weighed, I had dropped 1.6kg, no big deal. I refilled water, refilled gels, took a sandwich with me and with poles on board off I went happy in a new shirt, arm warmers feeling like a new person. I was ready to tackle the next section. 20km to CP3 I was still on target as our race plan predicted.
This section is where it came undone. The hills were endless. The rain pelted down. My poles were out and never went away. The scenery was stunning, beautiful rainforest, the palms were gorgeous. Lots of intermittent downpours of rain making a very misty and eerie appearance. I maintained my fueling. Patting myself on the back every time I swigged back my highly concentrated Tailwind or took on another gel. Yay, Go Me!! I reached 50km on my watch at 6:37. I was happy with that. The excitement of coming into CP3 was huge. I wanted to change my shirt again, eat, refuel and not only was I seeing Alan I knew Sophie Geraghty and hubby Matt were also coming out to see me which was great knowing I had extra support. They were both running the marathon at GCAM the following morning so this was huge that they made the effort to come out to cheer me on. Sophie met me running into the CP and jogged about 100m into the aid station, chatting to me. That was helpful. I quickly used the toilet, got myself sorted, ate some noodles and soup (Yum) A quick calf massage from Sophie as they were starting to hurt and was sent back on my way. Thermal on, raincoat finally on (which incidentally stayed on until the last 10km of the race) and off I went. This was the 66km point. I was at 67km on my watch. (My new Suunto Baro 9) I totally underestimated the hills in that section, expected to arrive about 1:45pm. I think I got there around 2:40pm.
CP3 – CP4 21.3kms – 1055m Ascent – Onto the last section solo before Alan was to begin pacing me at CP4 – 87km. This section was endless. Coming out of CP3, running with my new running friend Craig we were stopped suddenly on the trail with a Danger sign. To me that meant Stop/Don’t go there. After a few minutes faffing about, Greg explained he knew this section having run it on a training day. This was to tell you there was danger ahead. A tree the council had not allowed to be removed. Totally annoyed by the poor use of signage I made my way, shimmied across the massive tree and let Craig overtake me. My left calf, damn calf, had started to annoy me about here.
I was at about 70km. I could still make progress but I knew things were going to get worse and I was going to need to make some changes in the way I was running if I had any chance of finishing. Not finishing was not an option at this point. My mind was strong, so was my body. My calf was annoying me. I called Alan and explained what was happening. I didn’t know what to think yet but wasn’t even sure if I was continuing past CP4 where he was meant to join me. By running with my left foot turned sideways I could move less painfully. At about 80km (11:28) on my watch I called Alan and said I was good to go. I asked him to find some scissors and I would re-tape my leg, which I had taped from the start as it was anyway. Hills continued with some of the biggest just prior to coming into CP4. This section never ended. I was way past my predicted race time of 4.30pm. I think I arrived closer to 6pm and I was showing 89km on my watch. I was gaining kms gradually.
At CP4 I re-taped my calf, used the toilet, ate some noodles, downed some coke, packed some in our pockets, I changed all my clothes. New skirt, new thermal, TRT shirt dried and back on, raincoat back on, full fingered gloves were needed now as it was dark and cold. Poles still out. Alan with me, and off we went. I felt happy, pissed off with my calf. Alan knew it was not going to be fast. I explained what gradient I could run and that is how we continued. Hiking the ups, run/walking the flats. Any descents we would run / albeit slowly. The race plan went out the window, but we were still making progress.
CP4 – CP5 24.3kms – 1324 Ascent – This section was to be long. CP5 was advertised as water only at 111km and the CP6 was meant to be at 122km. We went through periods of fatigue, I was hallucinating, I was wide awake then immediately tired, able to eat, not able to take on anything. We sampled anything we had to try to find something that appealed to me. In the early stage of this section we missed a turn. Alan was so upset he allowed this to happen. It cost us more than 1km. ( by my calculation I was now 3km over the race distance) This also introduced Alan to the crazy hills of mud and slate that he just could not believe. I had already experienced these, having slid down a mud slide earlier in the previous section. This video is just one of the many hills of terror! Anyone without poles, and there were some, seriously struggled on these.
We hit the 100km Mark at 15:39. Not fast but still within a time to allow us to finish under cut off. Just before reaching CP5 we had one of the hardest descents in the race. It went on forever. It took about 30 minutes to move about 800m. Alan took a slide and nearly took me with him. We shared this section with Sam McNULTY whom I had chatted to during the race in passing briefly. Here we continued cat and moussing for the next 2 hours I would guess. Only to lose her and her female pacer some time before we hit CP6 around 3am (4hours passed my race plan predicted time) Sam didn’t make CP6 she was swept up beforehand, which really is disappointing as she was a great competitor making 138km, in total)
CP5 was at Creek Rd our name was checked, and off we went. (My watch was reading about 115km from memory, not the 111km as advertised)
CP5 – CP6 10.3kms – 537m Ascent – More of the same hills- The relationship suffered a bit here. Fatigue and exhaustion allowing the mouth to say whatever it wanted not really thinking…. Anyway, what’s said on the trails stays on the trails, right!! I do still love you babe xxx Alan knew I was hurting. He kept reminding me it was tough, and he was feeling it too. He was telling me how proud he was and what a good job I was doing too… 😊 He couldn’t believe how many times I needed to pee though …. hahahaha. We had head torch issues, needing to recharge on the go. Lucky, I had a power pack with me. My trusty handheld bike torch saved us during this section.
We were coming into CP6. We knew we didn’t want to waste time here. The sweepers were getting ready and were leaving at 4am – it was just prior to 3am at this point. We had some lukewarm pumpkin soup minus the bread roll that would have hit the spot. We both ate a banana and orange slices (delicious, something different to gels and sweet) we both took bananas with us as well. We got moving out of there quickly and ran into the next section where there were still a number of ascents, to our surprise, each time believing it really just had to be the last. I think about here is where Alan fell asleep on his feet for a section…. I really think my years of shiftwork helped me through the night.
CP6 – CP7 20.7kms – 997m Ascent This section should have been 20km to take us to 142.8km. We ran into the sunrise. We could ditch our head torches. More bib clipping. We were trying to just move the best we could against fatigue and sheer painfulness in each step I took. The climbs here weren’t too bad but still hurt. We were slow going and I really wanted it to be over…badly. We reached 142km on my watch about 6:30am – the race distance was just over 135km. I was becoming quite annoyed at the extra distance as the race continued. I expressed this quite often, which Alan kept telling me to just keep going, not much we could do about it. We reached CP7 about 7:25am. We were surprised to see nothing available and were told the CP cutoff time was 7am. David, the race director allowed us, and another male runner not far behind us to continue. We knew we could finish. They packed us off with bananas and snacks. Here my watch clicked over to 150km – this was 7km over the race distance for this CP. More annoyance.
CP7 to Finish 17.2kms – 597m Ascent. We were exhausted. I was snapping at Alan. Race plan said we had 17.2km to go, which I knew was going to be way over 160km. By the time we left we had 3 hours 15 minutes to make cut off. Piece of cake???… Another bib clipping at a viewing deck. Great photo opportunity, then lots of switch backs and as the morning sun came out, we started heating up. We stripped off out jackets and thermals. Gloves came off. We finally hit the streets of Brisbane. It was getting warmer. We were getting cranky. I needed to do the last 10km all under 10min kms. This may sound easy. I can walk under that pace normally. I was injured. I was tired. I’d been awake 28 hours and on my feet for that time. Every time I could run I would. I hiked. I pushed. I soldiered. We came into the flat streets in Brisbane and somehow made our way to the wrong area that looked like the finish area of the Maritime Museum. It was the Sunday Market apparently. Alan googled only to see we were still about 3km away. It was like a punch in the guts. We were moving at about 7-8 mins per km- not fast. But enough to get us home. Alan was pushing me and encouraging me. He wasn’t going to not let me make cut off.
The finish was in sight. Alan got his phone out. He pushed me into the finishing chute. I was choking back tears. I ran as limp free as I could muster as I wanted to look strong and happy. The smile spread across my face easily. I was stoked, elated, so very happy I could stop. Jodie OBOURNE, who I know from RMA was calling me across the finish. I high fived her and got to break the finish tape, which I’ve never got to do before. That was fun. I was done. I made cutoff. My finish time was 29 hours 50minues and 10 seconds. I was second female. Only two females finished. A total of 18 finished from 28 that started.
That’s how you get your money’s worth!!! My watch read 168.5km. I had certainly run a miler…. I was in the MILER CLUB……
Shona STEPHENSON presented me with some lovely prizes. Brisbane Trail Ultra you were brutal. You were a beast. Brisbane Trail Ultra I persevered, I overcame, I conquered you. I’m a miler!!!!!
We had to be on a flight home at 8:30pm and return the hire car to the airport by 6pm. There really wasn’t much time in between the finish to get clean and rest and pack. Somehow Alan and I did all that. Alan even had to get the Hire car from CP4, some 45 minutes away. Brad Phillips, a lovely friend from TRT and Sanfilippo Childrens Foundation was so helpful driving Alan to the car. The drive back for Alan was nearly fatal as he drove away almost falling asleep at the wheel. Finally after getting to the airport we shared some relaxing time with Nicole BUNYON over a celebratory drink and a snack, then we made it home, safely
I’m a complete physical and emotional mess. Mt calf is likely torn, both feet are like sausages swollen/red. Many toes are damaged. I’ve got blisters and chaffing. Every time I read a message of support (there were so many, thankyou everyone), I turn into a complete blubbering mess. Watching the finish line video, I cry. But the best thing out of all of this is that Alan and I survived. We made it. I do like, just a little bit, that he is sore and tired too. What a great run, clocking 79km and almost 14hours with me, a huge training run for UTMB he will conquer at the end of August where I will be on official cheese and wine tasting duties. For now, I rest and recover till then.
Thanks for reading. I hope I have inspired just one of you xx
In the past few days I’ve been friended by Lisa HURRING, the first female place getter. She acknowledged the missed section and was immediately given a 55 min penalty which at the time was her finish time pace averaged over the missed distance. She was given the option to run the section but chose the time penalty. Her time has since been amended to reflect a 2-hour time penalty. Still well in front of my second place time so a well-deserved win, given the error was unintentional and caused by the poor course markings which occurred many many times throughout the course, in my opinion the poor course markers or lack thereof cost me over an hour , and an extra full km where Alan and I missed a turn.
The event gave me an opportunity to run 100 miles and for that I am grateful. Shona, David and Cora were amazing in executing such an event and I can’t fathom the planning in its execution. Whilst there will always be issues post-race that will follow, anything said can only be constructive and improve what follows next year. Thankyou again Brisbane, you were awesome.
Suunto Baro 9
2XU calf guards, arm sleeves and race belt
Black Diamond Distance Carbon FLZ poles
Petzl Reactik headtorch