GOR Ultra - Steph Dunbar

Training for an ultra is tough (no duh). Training for any endurance event whether it be a marathon, half or full Ironman, training takes time, patience and commitment. It really can feel like having an additional part-time job only, you don’t get paid. Instead, you pay, upwards of $200 plus sweat and occasional tears.

However, the thing about endurance events, and this is one of my favourite things, is that they’re long enough for you to settle in, find your pace and enjoy yourself. Ok, I realise that sounds a tad ridiculous but it’s true. The key I find is to be ‘agile’ (I can hear everyone that works in corporate moan at that term). You have to break down the race into small digestible chunks, attack each as they come and if things change (like the weather) you have to ‘pivot’, quickly re-adjust your mental game plan and keep going.

That’s exactly what I did in my first Ultramarathon, the Great Ocean Road 60 Km Ultra, and here’s how.

Race Morning

I am not a morning person by any stretch. But, race morning, I am like a trained soldier. The alarm goes off two hours before start time, in this case, 6 am. Breakfast, a slice of white toast with homebrand strawberry jam (yes, every time) and a sip of water. Then, get dressed, I always lay out my clothes the night before, meticulously ticking off each item on my list. I also pack my post-race bag of clothing (tip- pack some fresh undies and socks, truust me you’ll love the commute home much more). Then off to the race area.

Next, coffee! Strong skim cappuccino, down the hatch and then (haha) off to the loo. I have done enough races to know that giving yourself a good 45 min window for bathroom time, which includes lining up and doing your business, is wise.

Finally, warm up which consists of a few stretches and glute exercises to fire up the tush. Kiss hubby goodbye and line up to start. While lining up my physio (and fellow ultra runner), spotted me in the crowd and gave me one of those big, warm, mum-like hugs and said, “Run well Steph, run well”. I got a little choked up. She helped me write my training plan and her hug was just the cherry on top.

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0 Km - 30 Km

At 8 am, well 8:05 am as we had to wait for a bus to get off the road (insert facepalm), the gun went off. I was so excited, I had been waiting for this for so long. Butterflies in my belly I headed off weaving in and out to find a good spot which was easier than usual as the crowd thinned out quite quickly. The first 30 Kms are undulating hills. I had done a few sessions at Studley Park, two laps is roughly 28 Km, so I felt confident with these first sets of hills.

The day before hubby and I drove the course and “practised” my run line… I’ll explain. The course is hilly and weaves in and out, like a swiggle. So, instead of following the outside curve, you pick the straightest and shortest line from point to point. This will ensure you run the quickest and shortest path. This kept my mind super focused as around every turn I would visualise a laser shooting out in front of me like a sniper, beep beep beep ding, found the next point, run. After a while, I noticed another ultra runner ahead doing the same thing. I nicknamed him ‘Marker’ in my head and followed his path for a while until I eventually caught up with him.

To my delight, my pace was much faster than expected - I was averaging 5 min/km - 5:10 min/km. Every time the watch beeped a kilometre I got a surge of happiness and power and just kept going. Nutrition wise I alternated between GU gel and bits of Cliff Bar every 40 mins and water from the aid stations.

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Mofo hill 1 (30 Km - 45 Km)

The undulating hills flattened out for about 3 Km before we approached the first big mofo hill. As the first 30 Km had gone so well I was actually feeling really excited for this. Also because I promised myself in my race plan to run/walk the mofo hills. I’d read race reports from other runners and all of them recommended this approach.

My intention was an 800m run / 200m walk, however, I quickly realised that was not going to happen so I did a ‘pivot’ and went to plan B. Walk 200m / run 300m, this way I would always finish a kilometre while running.

Running up these hills was epic. There was so much love and happiness from each runner as we high-fived, thumbed up and shouted “good job”, “not far now” and “it’s worth the downhill” to each other. A key thing I love about endurance sport is that it stops feeling like a race between each other and instead feels like a ‘together race’. It’s like we all realise how ridiculous what we’re doing is that it becomes almost funny and unites us. #WeAreTheCrazyPeople.

Mofo hill 2 (45 Km - 52 Km)

Mofo hill 1 was followed by another short segment of ‘flat’ road before mofo hill 2. Now, mofo hill 1 was long but the incline was 'runable'. Mofo hill 2 is short but, look you could try and run it but I don’t think it’s worth the energy. I timed my uphill ‘run’ vs walking and the difference was too little to justify running. So I walked, a big smile on my face high-fiving the runner already descending.

At the top of the hill were some campers (not official race volunteers) with their van who had kindly set up a table for us with a tank of water, oranges and a garbage bin. It was so random and so kind it felt like finding treasure. To those campers, whoever you are, thank you for being the perfect little surprise.

Nutrition wise for the mofo hill section I alternated between bits of cliff bar and the Endura drink provided by the race. My intention was to keep up the every 40 min timing but, honestly, I just felt really good and lost track a little along the way.

 

The last 8 KM (52 Km - 60 Km)

Ok, home stretch. I felt tired but again just so damn happy. I swear I released all of the endorphins in my body that day. I could comfortably hold a 5:45 min/km pace, occasionally dipping below that.

Buses and cars taking people back to Lorne started whizzing by, the drivers tooting and the passengers shouting their support out the windows. I also started to pass the slower marathon runners which gave me such a boost. Chugging along I heard my Mum’s voice shout out a car window as she drove past with my Dad - a complete surprise which gave me another boost. So I continued, one foot in front of the other.

Looking at my watch I realised I could sub the six-hour time and I started to push my little legs with the vision of a 5 hour 50 min time. I made a promise to myself that for the last 2 Kms it would be ‘nothing left’ mode and the last Km would be DFE (delete f&%^ing everything) mode. I reached the petrol station which was my cue for DFE and honestly it became like a tunnel with the finish line at the end closing in on me and I had to push through to get out the other side.

Crossing that finish line was amazing and finishing with a 5 hour 43 minute time was something I did not expect. I know I have said it 100 times in this report but I felt so happy and at peace throughout the race, and I can’t wait for the next one.

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