Driving the last few kilometres before arriving at the race start, the nausea began.
The last race I went to, my boyfriend drove and I was passenger. I get travel sick, and blamed the winding, country roads for my nausea. On Saturday April 1st, I was designated driver on the way to Mavora Lakes for 'Lap the Lake'.
Clearly this is not related to driving!
As with all the races I've recently taken part in, which is not many, the setting was spectacular . The first half of each lap followed a gravel road meandering down the centre of a wide, sweeping valley between lush, green mountains. After about 5km it turned right onto a foot path, passed a 'halfway' checkpoint and crossed the first swing bridge to the other side of the lake. From there, the trail became thin, undulating and pretty technical. The majority of the second half is inside the forest and pops out a couple of times into fields of waist-high grass. At the very end of the lap you cross another swing bridge before entering the main check point/start/finish area ready to go again!
At 10:00, very casually, everybody gathered at the start line. I guess there's no need to prepare for a speedy start off the blocks when you have six hours to suffer for. I lingered at the back of the pack after learning a hard lesson in Queenstown marathon about going off too quick!
This time I was prepared with my GPS watch, and more knowledge and experience behind me than before. I knew the pace and heart rate that I wanted to stay at, and there was no way I was getting carried away with the adrenalin and excitement.
I came to this race wondering if I could get a new women's record. With trail races, I think it's difficult to judge what is possible as you never know how technical the track will be. I knew it was 'ten point something' kilometres per lap and that was pretty much all the information I had. The current women's record was four laps and I felt relatively confident that if it wasn't too technical then I could do five laps. I'd also thought that if the lap distance was closer to 10km than 11km, then I would love to have a bash at getting six laps, which had never been done before. But, at the same time, I had never run for six hours non-stop, so it was all new to me and maybe I was aiming too high!!
Having given myself strict instructions, I began the first lap so slow I was almost walking. Others moved away from me but I stuck to my game plan. As I entered the forest on the far side of the lake my legs really wanted to up the pace. Thankfully, I found a small group of people to run with that kept a very smooth pace. I stayed with them for a while until I told a story of my bowel movements and, well, not surprisingly, they offered that I pass them. After passing, I got a little giddy and increased the pace to a trot.
I managed to complete the first lap in 1:03:36. I knew I'd deliberately gone slow so could definitely do a faster lap time. But over a long duration I didn't know how long I could sustain it for.
Lap two felt awesome. I stuck to a low heart rate and felt like a pixie skipping through the autumnal forest. The winding, undulating trails roll and flow like the tracks of a rollercoaster.
Lap three got windy. But windy in a good way, heading down the valley pushing behind me! Then as I turned and ran against the wind I was protected by the canopy of the forest.
Lap four I still felt strong and managed to creep the pace up to below an hour per lap. I managed to focus on staying slow and steady. I meticulously monitored my watch to ensure heart rate and pace weren't too high.
Lap five is where it all started to go wrong. As I passed through the checkpoint where Taff was being my support and passing me water etc I remember saying to him that my brain wasn't working. Before reaching the halfway checkpoint on my fifth lap my watch battery died.
I had been relying on this to control my exertion. Now I was running blind. I had no idea what time it was or how my pace was. As this was quite a small race there were no other competitors to gauge myself against.
Lap six. As I passed through the main checkpoint for the final time I had been running for 4:56:54, meaning I had more than an hour to complete the last lap.
As I headed down the gravel road I literally had no idea if I was moving fast or slow. With not even the time available to me and my body giving me no signals whatsoever I was clueless. I concentrated on the only signals I had which were my posture and breathing. I could sense I was pushing hard but felt in control still.
By the time I reached the halfway checkpoint I had completely lost control. I needed something but I didn't know what. At the checkpoint I deliriously grappled around for some form of energy drink but there was only water. The marshal there had a look on his face which to me said 'you look like you've gone insane, I should get medical help'. There were jelly beans on the table but I didn't register them as being energy. Perhaps I couldn't cope with the thought of chewing or choking on anything. I opted for throwing lots of water over my head and wobbling on.
As I entered the forest I felt like my legs became uncontrollable pendulums dangling of their own accord under my torso. My mental state was extreme. I went from feeling that I must have been moving fast, feeling really confident and thinking I could relax. Then the next minute panicking and giving up on even finishing. The whole time in the forest was a constant battle. A few kilometres from the end I lost all control of my body. I couldn't even tell myself to keep running, not even walking, I acquired a mantra of 'just move'. I was convinced I wasn't even running, just fumbling along.
Running through the grass area I want to cry but had no energy for tears. I thought I might pass out but somehow still managed to stay on my feet.
As I approached the last swing bridge for the final time I could see there were people stood on the bridge. I was praying they weren't blocking my way as I had no energy to spare asking them to move. It turned out they were people waiting for me. They shouted my name and cheered that I had seconds to get to the end,
I dont know how on earth this happened, but from somewhere a burst of energy entered my whole body. I picked myself up, held my body high and sprinted over the bridge. As I left the bridge and had about 20m to the finish line, I found even more energy and sprinted faster.
I crossed the line having exerted myself more than ever, and more than I thought was possible. I came to a standstill and managed to gather myself for a second. Surrounding me was a crowd of spectators but I couldn't focus on them at all. I was waiting for my body to react in someway but I didn't know how. I realised that as my watch had died I had no idea what time I'd come in. I turned my head to the left to see the clock. By this point, it said 6:00:10. Ten seconds over the cut off time. Incapable of moving and having no concern for what anyone may think of me, I flopped down there on the ground. Taff came up to me to ask if I needed anything, I replied 'yes', he asked what, I said 'something, I just need something'. I couldn't understand what my own body needed.
I was given a chair and food, and slowly I returned to the real world. I managed to complete the six laps in 6:00:06. This was a new women's record, and a new course record. Having no idea what other people had done I really thought that some men would have beaten me but it turned out I was the only person to complete six laps. I couldn't quite believe it.
I really did push myself harder than I ever have in my whole life. My mind has never reacted like that before. On that final lap I convinced myself that I would never run ever again. I had decided to drop out of future races that I'd paid for and never thought I would enjoy the experience of going out to train. Two weeks on and the love is still here! This was an amazing race that has something for everyone. I learned so much about myself and I'll definitely be back next year.