The title says it all really – an adventure run. When people speak about trail running in Australia generally they are referring to semi-groomed trails that are well trodden, with fairly stable ground underfoot for the majority of it. Gone Nuts very wisely refrained from calling itself a ‘trail run’ and having completed the 50km like a stunned mullet, an adventure run is probably more suitable. Or if they choose to go down the path of calling it a trail run, an asterix after it is probably necessary for the everyday ‘Australian trail runner’.
Let’s be honest here now, I had spent the 6 weeks leading up to Gone Nuts running on a treadmill 6 days a week to avoid the 45+ degrees that had made itself at home in Birdsville. While my lungs and heart were getting a work out, all those tiny muscles that keep you upright on a trail were pretty much just chilling. Needless to say they were roused from their slumber by a gigantic slap in the face on February 25th.
While I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, the general murmur that made its way around at the race briefing when the phrase ‘this is an adventure run’ was heard, gave me a little indication that all was not as it seemed (and that I wasn’t the only one curious as to what lay ahead).
So what then did lay ahead? As per usual, I hadn’t thought too much about actually reading the race notes, nor did I take the time to look closely at the elevation profile. In hindsight the elevation wouldn’t have told me a quarter of the story anyway, so I didn’t reprimand myself too much for that oversight. The race notes on the other hand may have helped to paint a blurry picture of what I was about to embark on.
I should point out here that the course is absolutely freaking beautiful. You’d be hard pressed to find a more scenic course anywhere, and thank god it was as beautiful as it was, otherwise the poor race directors might have got a few more choice words from those crossing the line at the end.
At the beginning all was as it seemed. We headed off from the Rocky Creek tavern and found ourselves on a pot-hole free road, which was a bonus given I was too lazy to bother about a head torch in the early dawn. In hindsight I probably should of bothered given a twisted ankle would not bode well for training, but all was still intact by the time the sun came up. After a few kilometres the trail headed up over rocky cape and pretty much everything from there on is a bit of blur. We had some loose rocky trail, some breakneck downhills, sandy beaches, rocky beaches, rocky beaches and more rocky beaches. There were tussock filled, cow trodden paddocks, bitumen road, some more rocky beaches, a sandy beach, a few march flies, some cursing, and some questionable course marking.
Somewhere along the way a lady passed me and asked “how you doing”? In my mind I thought she was the devil for asking such a ludicrous question, but out of my mouth came ‘great!’. I’m pretty sure it was through clenched teeth that the word escaped, but that small moment of what felt like absolute hilarity saw me through the next few kilometres.
By the time I’d got to the lighthouse and the final checkpoint of the day, I had mentally rehearsed my query when the volunteers at said checkpoint inevitably told me that it was ‘all downhill from here’, thinking that such a statement would help.
To this commonly heard phrase I asked ‘is that actually true?’
To which they responded, ‘oh well there’s a few uphills but nothing like you’ve already had’.
To which I thought (and didn’t say because I still had some wits about me left) – so no, the correct phrase would be ‘it is not all downhill from here’, and if you’re legs had just done the previous 40km you’d know that any uphill is considered a feat worthy of a chest-banging, King Kong style celebration.
From here I pretty much just cursed the race organisers for 11km’s, unless of course it was a downhill section where I simply switched my brain off and pretty much hoped to stay upright. Mission accomplished. There was also that wedding that had a few hundred guests run past in smelly lycra which took my attention away from the race organisers for a few moments.
It would of course not be a true test of mental toughness without the quirky ‘you can see the finish line over there, but we’re just gonna take you over this way for a laugh’. Whilst travelling along the riverbank slowly crawling away from said finish line, I found myself in a deep pit of despair. I know I joke a lot about what a run was like after the event, but the truth is that sometimes I find myself in a place where I just can’t open the curtains no matter how hard I try. For 2 of the final 4 kilometers I was in that place.
It’s not somewhere that I necessarily question my ability to finish, but it was dark and I questioned every other aspect of my running ability. To be honest I actually scared myself. I felt like this insignificant little speck that wasn’t good enough to think she could run from Tasmania to Cape York. With just three kilometres to go we were diverted away from the finish line onto a 2km loop and it was here that I crouched into a little ball, had a few sobs and then like a chicken hatching from an egg gradually dragged myself upright. All those tiny muscles that had been chilling out until that morning were enraged by my audacity to put them through such terrain. They were tired after the first 5km on unstable terrain and by 48km they were dead. My legs screamed at me to just sit but I couldn’t let them put one over me this time.
As I rounded the loop I passed a friend going around the other way (did I mention the markers weren’t great) – she was a ball of smiles and as I high fived her I thought ‘NO!, there is no way I am letting her beat me home’. So for the last kilometre or two I cut off the pain receptors in my legs and ran (probably as fast I had all day) until I crossed the finish line that I’d been just a mere river crossing from a little earlier.
I was so unbelievably stoked to finish Gone Nuts. It took me to a place where I actually questioned my entitlement to stand at the South East Cape in February next year. The ironic thing about trail running is that it is absolutely nothing like road running (or so I’m told). They are obviously very gruelling (just ask any of the 600 odd runners in Gone Nuts), but they are gruelling in a way that is very different to what I can expect to face while Running for Bums. Even though I did, it actually isn’t logical to compare the two, so whilst I still held a little fear inside me for a few hours afterwards, I did as I always do, and came back to the conclusion that we humans are capable of anything we put our minds to, and no rock infested, sand crunching, soul crushing, hilly, march fly biting, paddock filled, twisting, sadistic course can change that.
Oh and yes, I do think you should add Gone Nuts to your list of races for 2018. It will make most other trail races in Australia actually feel like a walk in the park. It’s also really, really beautiful – and brutal; but also stunning. Oh and I’d spend your days training for it by standing barefoot, on lego, on a wobble board.