Training for an Ultra: the good, the bad, and the ugly.

4 November 2018

It’s not even daybreak and my alarm is going off.

You. Are. Kidding.

Not even a pillow over my head can save me from that sound. I grope around in the dark with the intention of silencing that sucker. I reckon I can snooze for at least another three minutes. Maybe even four.

I fumble, trying to swipe the screen. Swipe, swipe, nothing. Stupid touch screen. Swipe.

Bugger it.

I’m awake now.

I swing my legs out of bed and when my feet hit the floor my body reminds me of the kilometres I ran yesterday. My quads complain almost as loudly as my brain.

Signing up for an ultra marathon seemed like a grand idea at the time. The North Face 50? Sure, why not, I said. Sounds fun, I said.

Bloody genius.

What they don’t tell you is that the ‘ultra’ actually stands for ‘ultra early’, ‘ultra exhausted’, and ‘ultra hard’.

Eyes puffed with a lack of sleep and a mass of crazy hair look back at me from the mirror. I feel a pang of pity for my running buddies. Thank goodness we run side-by-side. A running cap should fix it. Maybe an extra splash of deodorant for good measure.

I creep past the kids’ rooms and their gentle snores and I wonder what kind of mother does this kind of crazy. I choke down some cereal, wishing I had left time for coffee.

Shoes on. Into the car.

Only tradies and cyclists are out at this hour.

The sun is cresting as I pull up at the meeting place. One by one they arrive, in various stages of sleepiness. The Magpies have beaten us there. They are hopping merrily around the trees, and I’m pretty sure, are laughing at us.

‘Your shirt’s inside out, man. Did you get dressed in the dark?’

I retie my laces for the second time and grin as the banter begins.

My new hydration pack weighs a ton and I’m still fixing the straps as our motley crew of runners begins its migration into the hills. I feel the buzz of excitement, which I predict will last about ninety seconds.

The rabble quiets but for the sound of breathing as we all find our groove. And that first hill up the bitumen road is a real shocker.

I fall into stride with a long-term running friend. The familiar footfalls bring me calm and the 30k ahead of me seem somehow less daunting. Chatting mingles with puffing as our group serpents up the incline, running up the middle of the road like a human juggernaut.

I swing between moments of joy and regret. Belief and doubt. This is so awesome. This sucks. I can make this easily. I’m never going to make it. I want to run this again. I’m never running again.

My friends think I’m weird. Their daughters ask me why I’m always wearing shorts and why I have scars on my knees. My mother thinks I’m going to injure myself. Again. My grandmother says ‘let her be. She enjoys it’.

Thoughts that maybe they are right and I am bordering on insanity slip in and out. As I’m walking up that steep incline with hands on knees, unable to run another step, I am convinced of the truth of it. Tomorrow, I take up some kind of indoor craft. I might attempt to bring back 70s style macramé pot-plant hangers.

Then we get to the top of the highest peak of the day. I’m the last one. Hydration tube hanging out of my mouth as I suck in water. They’re all standing around quietly, soaking up the views of our city and the mass of forest that we’ve put in between it and us.

It’s silent except for the occasional gust of wind through the nearest trees, and the music of the birds, which I had lost track of in my tunnel of pain.

And I just breathe.

For that second, there is nothing else. There are no soggy shorts or beginnings of chafe where the pack rubs on a shoulder. There’s just the beauty. And the peace. And a vague feeling of being tested by the forest and found to be enough.

Someone flicks sweat at someone else.

‘Ugh, you’re disgusting.’

I remember that I should be trying to get some food in. I fumble around in my pocket for jelly beans. Crikey, they’re off again. I shoot a quick look at the view before I fall into the line of runners heading back into the trees.

There’s a blister forming on my big toe, and I’ve got a gash on my neck from a rogue tree branch.

I can’t help but grin.

This is living.


By Trina Denner

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