A night at Lark Hill – Part 1

It all started on a road trip out to Cunderdin. My then new running friend Karen had invited me to tag along to participate in an event over the Christmas break and it was then during the car ride that we had got on to talking about our running goals.

I had explained that I was determined that 2013 was going to be the year of the Ultra for me, and that I was training to hopefully complete my first trail ultra, something I had wanted in 2012 but simply lacked the experience to achieve. Karen with fresh confidence in me said “that’s good, that means you could pace me for my Lark Hill event in March then.”

Agghh… what? I was confused, I knew little about what my running program would entail for the new year or about pacing or what ‘Lark Hill’ was?! To me it sounded like some made up place out of a Tim Burton movie where people might go to visit a haunted house.

Karen explained that Lark Hill was a dusk till dawn run, that went for 100km around a 3km trail loop. She said she was entered into the 100km event and that a lot of the runners bring along a ‘pacer’ with them to basically keep them company over the last half of the run to ensure that the runner remains on target with their race nutrition, hydration, pacing, and just general organisation and to help with anything they may need. This would mean I would need to be prepared to sacrifice a Saturday night to be at the event from about midnight till about 7am on March the 2nd.

Heck, with no pressure on me at all, she made it sound easy (I should’ve known better coming from a crazy ultra runner!) and that 50km at her pace really would be a piece of cake for me… so perhaps with a slight naivety I agreed. If anything I thought it would be a great way to learn more about preparing for an ultra.

Little did I know……..

And herein lies the story my first forray into pacing, and also my first real insight into 50km-100km events and my first real go at running 50km.

I had spent all morning on the day of the event preparing and organising. My OCD kicked in as I checked over things twice, three times even. Hydration packs, gels, perpetuem, bananas and sandwiches, check. Body glide, Tape and scissors for blister care, check. Spare water, protein, first aid kit and space blanket check. Headlamp, spare batteries and ipod check. Extra of all the above for Karen, check. Right, next… sleep.

I looked outside and sighed. It was 2:30pm and a sunny clear sky and here I was resigned to try to sleep until 8pm so I may feel fresh to run through the night. This should be interesting, I thought as I drew my blinds feeling a bit like a toddler in need of an afternoon time out, but I squashed my ear plugs in and lay down for what I thought would be a sleepless few hours.

My phone buzzing then woke me with a jump and I hurried to check what the time was. 6pm and a message from a friend. I decided to try my luck and lay there for a bit longer…7pm came and went…but it was no good, I was awake now and no matter how many sleeping positions I tried none felt relaxing enough to drop off again… 8pm ticked by and I decided to get up.

Not too long after, Bernadette, one of the support crew for Karen had texted me and asked me to bring along caffeine tablets, explaining that Karen was feeling a bit tired and that she had none with her. So now in a bit of a mad rush to get down there to help in any way I could, I loaded up my car, grabbed a brand new pack of No Doz and rushed out the door ‘breakfast’ in hand.

The hill top aid station in daylight.

The hill top aid station in daylight.

It was about an hours and a half drive down to ‘Lark Hill’ in Rockingham and being amped up on carbs playing drum and bass music the whole way really did me no good at all. I was itching to go, typically trying to eat breakfast from a container on my lap, driving, sipping on berocca/water and trying to read a map all at the same time. Eventually I found the parking close to the trail and it was quiet and dark.

I switched on my headlamp, gathered all my gear and started on the little walk down to the trail in the direction of the aid station, where as far as I knew I would meet the rest of the support crew but before I got there I heard a familiar voice yelling down the trail. “Don’t worry about it, Fitmidget will be here soon to help you out and I think she’s bringing caffeine for you! Just make sure you keep getting your fuel in, and stick to the plan!” It was a short shadowy figure with a million items in hand re-assuring Karen as she ran by. By the sound of the voice, controlled demeanour and impressive juggling skills, I knew it was Bernadette. She saw me and explained everything about where Karen was at, mentally and physically and pointed me immediately in the right direction to the aid station and sent me on my way. “Keep me updated!” she yelled back as she shuffled off into the darkness with her trillion belongings.

The aid station was brightly lit and with support crew looking out over the hill for their runners I felt a bit odd climbing up the small hill to reach it with people cheering runners in and a few mistaking me for a runner as I strode on by. Nevertheless I found our table, met the other support crew and dumped my gear and waited for Karen to come round.

Karen took a little while to come in and I knew from feedback from others she wasn’t finding it easy. She was still to reach 50km which meant I couldn’t yet pace her and so she still had a couple of laps on her own to go. She came jogging in and sat herself down and even though she’d said her stomach felt bloated she’d had a hard time getting her gels in, I admired the way she forced herself to down a banana. And by the look on her face after eating it, I was hit with the realisation of what this Ultra running business is all about.

Regardless of all the happy marathon running faces you see crossing finish lines, medals around people’s necks and glorified stories about those who have battled some serious injury, disability or illness to complete a running event.. this here was what it really was about for most of us. The forcing of food down even though your body rejects it, the mental battle against self-doubt when it creeps up in your weakest hour, the frustration of battling so many variables and yet still somewhere finding the grit and determination to continue on against all odds was unbelievable. For some, those things are enough to put anybody off, but for me witnessing it first hand, it was empowering.

It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t sexy and it sure as hell didn’t look in the least bit easy, but now more than ever I wanted to throw myself into it. I yearned to dig within myself and find out what I was really made of.

To be continued………