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GOW Race Report-Outrunning your demons and learning to live with yourself

The lead up.

After sweeping the second half (about 45km) of the GOW 100km Trail Run for my mate Andy Hewat in 2016 and 2017, I decided 2018 was the year that I would run the whole thing and run my first 100km trail race in the process. So, in late March, I took a deep breath and pressed the entry button.

Now, I am a fairly prolific runner, but I rarely enter events preferring to spend my time volunteering, as I am not a competitive person and actually have an overwhelming anxiety of crowded spaces. Volunteering allows me to be a part of the trail running community, without (or with less of) the confronting anxieties.

The distance, I felt, wasn’t going to be an issue, but I decided early on in training that if I was going to do it, I would challenge myself to do it to the best of my ability and not to do it just so I could say that I’ve done it.

Sadly, life, and its many mysteries, got in the way and my world started to crumble.

I have battled depression and anxiety for most of my life. Its something I have learned to deal with within myself. I would usually isolate myself and disappear inside my own head for a while until I was able to cope with the outside world again. It has always been hard on my long-suffering wife, who would read the signs and do her best to shield me from myself and the kids (and life in general).

Unfortunately, this time I had a complete breakdown. I have no idea why it happened, but I guess rock bottom had to come eventually. Reality suddenly didn’t seem like such a nice place to be. I was confused and felt completely hopeless and alone. Suicide became a genuine answer to the questions that were constantly circulating through my mind.

I knew I had to make some very tough life decisions or I would not be able to find the strength to keep going. These included moving out to live on my own as that is the place I am most comfortable. It also included becoming a vegetarian and learning to live a healthier lifestyle.

Thankfully, my family has been so understanding and supportive even though those decisions hurt them so badly. This was the most important thing in my ability keep going and I will be eternally grateful for having them in my life.

Throughout this ordeal (which is by no means over) running has remained my happy place. The friends I have made within the running, and more specifically the trail running community, have been a constant source of strength and joy. It is this, more than anything else (apart from my family of course), why, while the rest of my life was falling apart, I was still able to continue to run.

I have also managed to stay injury free. Which, in itself, has been some kind of miracle, as those that know me could be excused for suggesting that I can be a little clumsy.

So, after a really solid training block that contained many hills and lots of long runs, I felt that I was as ready as I would ever be.

I drove down to Apollo Bay the day before the race. I took the day off work so I could relax and travel calmly and I decided it would be nice to drive along the Great Ocean Road. A decision I regretted as soon as I hit the first lot of road works! Check in and race briefing was on the Friday night and then I had a relaxing dinner with Friends.

The big day.

The day started with a 4.15am alarm. If there is one constant in my running life, it is that I always have 4 wheatbix and 2 coffees before a big day of running (the only change is that now I have almond milk on my cereal and in my coffee).

A quick check of my gear and it was off to the start line for a final sign in and a few hugs and best wishes from my friends. I would be sharing this race experience with some friends who where running in the relay. Teams of 2 combine to complete the 100km (the first runner does 55km and the second runner does 45km). Belle and Andy where running as one team and Celeste and Steve as another. Also my EMS (Endurance Medical Services) family were there to supply first aid for the race.

At 5.30am we were off and I quickly settled into my pace. Due to never having run this far I was most nervous about this. I was worried I would get a rush of blood and go out to fast and blow up at the end. I also knew that this race had some tough hills between 55 and 75 km so I wanted to save some energy. I settled into between 5.30 and 6.30 minute kms which felt comfortable. I soon found myself on my own which I was to remain for most of the race.

At the 10km mark I ran past a guy walking along the track in the dark which I thought was odd, only to realise it was Andy who had come out to cheer us on as he was running the second half.

I ran into Blanket Bay aid station (21km) still feeling really comfortable. Jared, Julie and Kirk were there for EMS and Olivia and George where volunteering. I was so excited to see everyone that I forgot to check in and get my bib punched and Olivia had to call me back. It was a great boost to see them. I didn’t stay there long as I was pumped to keep going.

From there to Cape Otway (32km) I didn’t see another soul. My head started to play tricks on me. I was positive I was on the right trail but then that element of doubt creeps in. This is not a heavily marked race. The GOW Trail is marked well enough that most decision points are covered but that means there are long sections of no marking.

The Cape Otway Light House is not an official aid station but there were many spectators there including Deb Sharp (EMS Boss Lady). Great to see her for the positive vibes but there was no stopping me now.

The next section sticks in my mind mostly for the soft sand and the little flying bugs that constantly flew up my nose and into my mouth.

I was still moving well and feeling comfortable and holding my pace and as I ran into the next aid station at Aire River (42km) it was with a happy mind and shoes full of sand! A quick stop here to chat to Ali and Jamie Moxham, empty my shoes and say happy birthday to Julie and I was off again.

I had now reached the part of the trail that I was familiar with having run it with Celeste a couple of months ago, but, its funny how you never seem to remember the hills. This section had a long gradual hill that finally had had me reduced to a walk. I also knew that this section had a 2 km stretch of beach with a river crossing right in the middle of it. By this time, it was also starting to get a little warm. Needless to say, there was not a lot of running being done on the beach.

The best part about the beach section was that the end of it meant another aid station. Johanna Beach aid station (55km) is where the relay runners swap over and I was hoping that Andy and Steve might be there waiting for Belle and Celeste to come in. Unfortunately, as I was tracking about 1 hour ahead of my expected time, they were not there yet but Kirk was there to help me change my shoes and socks (which were full of wet sand) and send me on my way.

This is the point from which I normally start sweeping so my knowledge of the rest of the trail was quite good. It also meant that I knew what I was in for. The next 10km was where the hills really start and I was really starting to feel the pinch. This section is mostly a long uphill on dirt roads followed by a very steep downhill to the beach.

Once you come up off the beach you are into the hills proper. They are not very long but they are steep with lots of stairs (both wooden and stone). The best way to describe my progress through here would be steady but slow. My legs were beginning to protest in earnest and all I could think about was that I forgot to have a coke at the last aid station and started to count down the k’s to the next aid station and coke!

The Gables aid station (80km) is the last aid station and the one that sticks in my mind the most. I ran into it amongst a whole lot of hooting and hollering. Michelle (Andy’s wife), Celeste and Belle were all there waiting as was another friend Sim who had made the long trip to support me. They were so helpful and supportive that they sent me out of there with a skip in my step.

That didn’t last long, however, as my legs made their presence known once again. At this point I was reduced to walking the ups and running the flats and downs as best as I could.

With about 8 km to go Andy caught up to me. I tried to stay with him for as long as I could but that only lasted for about 1km before I had to let him go. It was nice to chat though as it felt like I had spent the entire race on my own.

I caught my first glimpse of the finish line and the 12 Apostles with about 4 kms to go. Frustratingly, every time I came over the next hill it didn’t seem to get any closer. I had wanted to finish in daylight and I realised I would get it done.

When I finally got to the 12 Apostles car park (finish line) I was feeling great and totally psyched to get to line. When I saw the finish line, my friends were screaming and I felt on top of the world. I finished in a time of 13 hours and 25 minutes. Well inside of my goal of 14 hours and in 21st place.

Steve came in a couple of minutes after me. So, while we all had vastly different races, we all finished within 10 minutes of each other.

The Wash Up

My body held up quite well. My legs were sore but not too bad. I had one blister on the side of my foot that didn’t bother me during the race but has flared up in the days since.

I don’t know what’s next, but I do know that whatever I do there is no substitute for being prepared. Both physically and emotionally.

The biggest thing I’ve learnt in this whole process is that no matter how alone I feel (and make no mistake, a depressed person feels very alone) I do have many people who love and support and care for me.

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