When my family made a rough outline for our epic road trip through Australia, I scoured the internet for a trail race near our planned route and happily found a 64km point-to-point race smack dab in the middle of our trip, from the rainforest in Kuranda to the beach in Port Douglas. The race website mentioned that there was a chance to see cassowaries, an endangered bird of jurassic preportions, and I was hooked. I told my husband about the cassowaries and to my surprise, he was a little worried. I had to ask, “Wait, cassowaries are dangerous?”
Now I don’t want to perpetuate the stereotype that everything in Australia is trying to kill you, but after signing up I received a welcome email with a two page document about all the dangerous things we could encounter during the race. The list included cassowaries, venomous snakes, wild hogs, jungle leeches, ticks (one of which can cause paralysis), a stinging tree that causes excruciating pain that can last for months, and finally a spiked plant called lawyer vine, which I found out should not be underestimated. Reading through this list was strangely exhilarating and even now I’m not sure if I’m disappointed or relieved that my closest encounter was with the lamest item on the list, but we’ll get to that later!
As per usual, I went into this race gravely under-trained. In the two weeks before the race, my inlaws, my husband and my 3 and 4 year old boys had traveled over 1,000 miles in a motorhome. All of our adventuring left time for me to get in just one hour of running on the esplanade of beautiful Hervey Bay and only then because Matt and his dad were busy getting a taillight fixed. This race was going to hurt.
When race day arrived, my husband Matt drove me to the start and my inlaws stayed with the kids at the hotel. Stepping out of the camper, we realized I had forgotten my compact water filter. I didn’t think it was a big deal but Matt cares about me more than I care about me so he drove back to the hotel to get it while I got checked in. If you have ever run with me then you know how talkative I can be but I was strangely quiet and reserved. I don’t ever stretch before I run but I pretended to as I observed the people around me. I smiled as I listened to the pre-race banter and how familiar it all was: jokes about bad decisions and the pain to come, time goals and a short summary of how little they had trained, and self deprecating jokes about blisters, chafing, using the bathroom and other topics most non-runners wouldn’t bring up in a normal conversation. Even on the opposite side of the world, surrounded by people with cooler accents than me, I knew these were my people.
Listening to the bathroom jokes reminded me to use the “port-a-loo” and I got in line behind two other runners. In the time it took me to get through this tiny line, Matt had gotten back, packed my running vest, and the pre-race meeting started, which he also listened to for me. I only had time to give Matt a quick hug and kiss before jumping into the group of runners for the race start. Like most trail races, the race started with little ado and we were off! Running in the dark in the middle of a jungle doesn’t sound particularly inviting but the road was wide, there were plenty of people, and I knew the sun would be coming up shortly. I took a deep breath as I took in all of the unfamiliar bird calls and resolved to enjoy the day in this new place.
The first 28km/17miles traveled along Black Mountain Road, starting on pavement and eventually giving way to dirt road. I heard several people describe the course as ‘undulating’ which is not just a quirky Australian thing to say but in fact a perfect description of the constant rolling hills. Since there were no rocks or roots to jump hurdles over, I was able to get into a good rhythm and just run. After passing and getting passed by the same man multiple times, I made a joke about us playing leap frog and that it was now his turn to be “it”. The next time he passed me I learned that his name was Matt, same as my husband, and eventually we joined up. He had run the race the year before and knew he needed to take it slow in the beginning to save some energy for the trail portion. I wasn’t going particularly slow myself but it was a good pace and I enjoyed the company. He had two young children close to my kids’ age and like my husband, he was an officer of the law, so we had lots to talk about and the time passed quickly. At first he thought I was Canadian which was something I heard quite a bit while I was over there (and to be fair I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, not too far from the Canadian border). After finding out that I was American, he asked what I thought about Trump running for president, to which all I could say was, “Uggh!” We also talked about the Barkley Marathons, which I was much more excited to talk about.
We made good time, hitting the first checkpoint in about 3 hours. We were about to hit the Twin Bridges segment, a remote 20km/12mile section of trail with limited access. Once on the trail, Matt was energized to be feeling so much better than last year and seemed to run faster and faster while I struggled to keep up. I was starting to cramp up which is unusual for me and I was generally feeling tired. I told him to go on ahead but he wanted to stick with me until we got through the trail section. There is safety and sanity in numbers and he remembered being alone last year with only his thoughts and creepy jungle sounds to keep him company. I didn’t want to hold him back but I was also glad to have someone with me!
The trail was wide and not very technical so I felt like I could watch for snakes and other creatures pretty easily. I saw a cool lizard and at one point, Matt saw a snake slither off the trail just in front of us, I only wished I had seen it too! All was going decently well until my head was suddenly yanked back, kept in place by a hidden strand of lawyer vine now firmly attached to my hair. I understand now why it is also called “wait-a-while” vine, but the only thing that came out of my mouth was “Aaaagh!” I nearly gave Matt a heart attack but he was relieved to see that I was only being attacked by a plant and he trotted over to help pull it out of my hair. I was so tired at this point that I was secretly glad for the one minute break. Thanks, lawyer vine.
“PASSING ON YOUR RIGHT!” A woman yelled behind us. She had headphones in and didn’t realize she was being so loud. I’m easily startled so I shrieked and poor Matt whipped around yet again, wondering why there were now two women yelling behind him.
We came up on a few hills and we both agreed to take a little walk break. On one such walk break we heard something rustling loudly in the woods and Matt said, “We’ll be running now!” We guessed that it was likely a wild pig and we were glad not to have seen it!
There were no water stops during this long trail section and Matt eventually ran out of water. I donated a small amount from one of my bottles and he suffered through for probably twenty minutes or so until we finally got to the end of the Twin Bridges Section, where there was a nearly empty water cooler sitting on top of the gate. I was glad to get some water but worried for the people behind us. Thankfully there was an official aid station not too far from the gate.
We turned back onto the Black Mountain Road for just a little longer before hitting the Bump Track. The Bump Track is a historic road, so steep in sections that passengers in horse drawn carriages would have to get out and walk. Before hitting the notoriously steep sections, we caught up to the race director and another woman and talked with them for a bit before pushing onward. My ability to decipher the Aussie accent had diminished to nearly none and I was having a hard time participating in any meaningful conversation. Feeling confident in my ability to finish but not as speedily as Matt, I urged him to go on ahead and told him to say hello to my family at the finish. He reluctantly agreed and we thanked each other for the company as we parted ways.
Now on my own, I reached the peak of the Bump Track and headed down the mountain, enjoying the views, the slate rock formations, and some cool looking termite mounds. The elevation drops more than 300meters/900ft in less than one kilometer and there were times where the grade was so steep that I had to zig zag as I ran down. I saw some tortured souls making their way up the bump track and decided I didn’t have anything to complain about!
After exiting the Bump Track and following the signs across a paved road, two blonde police officers drove by and asked with a concerned smile, “Need a lift, mate?”
Me: “I’d love one! But I’m in a race..”
Officer: “How far ya goin’?”
Me: “64 kilometers total, I’m about 55km in and I’m headed to the Surf Club.”
Officer: “55 kilometers in?! Looking great considerin‘! Best of luck to ya!”
This interaction put a smile on my face for the next painful miles. The course continued on, now alongside various paved roads and gravel paths. I caught up to one runner and we chatted briefly, mostly just to relate how tired we were and how excited we were to be done. We reached the final checkpoint where I grabbed some coca-cola, thanked the awesomely dressed volunteer, and slowly but surely worked up the energy to pass that same runner again. I had to continuously negotiate with myself because I really didn’t feel like running anymore. I would say to myself, if you run for three minutes straight then you can walk for thirty seconds.
I finally hit Four Mile Beach, and was told by a volunteer at a water stop that I only had 4 kilometers left to go. I was both relieved and exhausted by the thought of having to go 4 more kilometers. The beach itself was beautiful and there were lots of interesting things to take my mind off the pain – windsurfers getting lots of air, bubble formations in the sand, and people everywhere. Lots of kind words were exchanged on the beach from total strangers. One lady asked if there was a marathon going on and she wasn’t convinced she heard me correctly. “Did you say 64 kilometers?” I nodded. Her eyes widened, “64 kilometers?! That is INCREDIBLE!” A little further down the beach I asked a woman if I was getting close to the surf club and she laughed, looking distantly at a cruise ship in the harbor, “I should hope so, otherwise I’ve missed my boat!”
Soon enough I could make out a building in the distance, then some flagging and then, hallelujah, the finish line! My family is normally pretty easy to pick out but this time they weren’t the loudest of the bunch and I ran through the finish still looking for them! Luckily, my husband saw the whole thing and called out to me but he was having a hard time convincing the kids to come over (they were having too much fun in the sand). My in-laws got back just a moment too late, having left to get some sunscreen and chairs. Not wanting to waste their efforts, I slumped down and enjoyed the break! We decided to celebrate with some ice cream and to make my day even sweeter, a volunteer ran over and told me that I placed 3rd female!
I’m so glad I had the opportunity to run this race! Thank you to my family for encouraging me to sign up, taking care of my children, and supporting me in this crazy hobby!