How bad do you want it?
Austrailia Runner / Kiwi Trail Runner
As a runner have you ever noticed the amount of pain we are willing to put ourselves through to earn shiny trinkets? The finisher’s medal, the belt buckle and let’s not mention the kudos of winning an engraved mug! We invest our lives into gear, training, and entry fees so we can feel the cool-touch glory of that finishing bling snugged tightly in our hand. A possession that is ultimately worthless beyond the boundaries of our running dreams. The outside world looks on with a contorted mix of pity, compassion and nervousness, wanting to understand ‘why’ but never quite achieving it.
I always have that secret giggle inside when I tell a non-runner that I race 240km non-stop for the hope of being given a hat pin. Strangely often their first reaction is to take a step further away from me.
Coast 2 Kosci is a 240km race from Eden on the NSW south coast, to the summit of Australia’s highest peak; Mt Kosciuszko. It is an uphill course along dirt and sealed roads and passes through forest, countryside and the alpine region of Mt Kosciusko National Park in the heart of Australia’s ski fields. Each year, 50 ultra-runners with a proven record of racing, are invited to participate and have 46 hours to cross the finish line. It’s an honour to be asked as this race is the jewel in the crown of Australian ultra-racing. Well technically it’s a hat pin in the said crown because that’s what every finisher receives, a little triangle of metal that cannot be purchased, it can only be earned.
Breaking down the ‘Never Ever’ Defenses
The finish line of Coast 2 Kosci is one of the most precious places on Earth. Upon crossing that fine line an athlete experiences the breath-taking, transcendent moment of when their ‘impossible’ dream becomes a reality. I have stood at that finish line six times. On three of those occasions I was crew and a volunteer, on the other three it was me crossing the line as an athlete, as a dream chaser and as a person whose fundamental understanding of what is possible had moved up to the next level in the game of life.
When I first witnessed the Coast 2 Kosci I could not fathom how anyone could run that far. I had just completed my third 100km race and it had taken everything I had within me. Not in a million years could’ve you convinced me it was possible for me to run 240km. To be honest the thought of doing so made me feel more than a little bit ill. But 12 months later when I again found myself at that finish line something had ever so slightly shifted inside. Curiosity has managed to peek its tiny nose through the crack that had appeared in my ‘never ever’ defense barrier. That crack turned into a conversation, which in turn became a 2-year plan.
Making the extraordinary, ordinary
A large part of that plan was to normalize the distance, to make it familiar, to own it. The physical training for doing six marathons back-to-back is relatively simple. Getting your mind around the challenge so you have the confidence to deal with whatever the race throws at you, is a completely different story. Over the next two years I took on monumental challenges to push me out of my comfort zone and to get ‘hours in the legs’. What was it going to feel like to be moving for up to 46 hours? There was only one way to find out. I also picked the brains of every experienced runner I could find. I volunteered and crewed at Coast 2 Kosci so I could see how the race leaders managed the tough times. In 2013, after two years of living outside my comfort zone, training my mind and body to achieve the impossible, I became the proud owner of one of those hat pins.
The road didn’t let me have my victory easily. Less than one marathon into the race I felt the pang of my ITB stabbing into the side of my knee. Tears welled; how after all the work and dreaming could this happen so soon? As I laid on the ground, with crew working on my legs, I gathered my thoughts and emotions and regained focus. I needed to be clear about how much I wanted that hatpin and in that moment I wanted it with every cell in my body. My race plan was thrown out the window and my crew and I focused on putting one kilometre together at a time. Like a set piece battle, every two hours I was getting more work done on my legs until I could move again and slowly the distance clicked by. Perseverance conquered adversity.
A nice story isn’t it? I could quite easily finish right here. Dream achieved, the impossible became possible. What more could there be? You know the answer to that because you’re a runner and you know how this game is played. When a new level of understanding opens up, just like the discovery of a new trail, it calls out to you to be explored.
The runner within
Through the adversity of the 2013 race I had discovered that perhaps I was a more capable runner than I gave myself credit for. I seem to have a skill for working through problems and persevering. For some time, an idea had been brewing in my mind to run 500 miles to engage communities in preventing violence against women. What I discovered out on the road during the race gave me the confidence to pursue that idea with full steam. It would be achieved by focusing on one kilometre at a time. In 2014 I became one of a handful of Australian women to run more than 500 miles, completing my solo 860km White Ribbon Ultramarathon during 12 days of the hottest November in 57 years, with most days reaching temperatures in excess of 40 degrees.
By the time I sat on the summit for my second Coast 2 Kosci in 2015 I was a different runner. My confidence, the way I viewed the world, my gratefulness for the opportunity, had undergone a seismic shift. My second hat pin was a celebration and acknowledgement of that.
Exploring the next level
Calling out to me was the idea of effortless running. What if running a very long distance could be free of any significant suffering and pain? What if running 240km could feel as good as 10km jog along your favourite trail? How would it change your approach, your goals and your understanding of what’s possible?
I approached my third Coast 2 Kosci race with this idea in mind. I did very little running in preparation, one 100km race in the preceding 12 months and my longest training run was around 50km. While I worked on my fitness in other ways, I also flexed my mental muscle to build a new discipline that instead of thinking how ‘tough’ a training session was or how brutal the race would be, I instead sought out the fun in every moment, the gratefulness and excitement that an epic adventure brings.
I arrived at that finish line to earn my third hatpin with a 1hr 44min personal best time. Most importantly I had a very big grin on my face, it had been the most perfect 38 hours of racing I could have hoped for. Not in a million years would I have thought it possible to run that far and then stand around at the finish line chatting with friends as if we were at a backyard BBQ.
My collection of three hat pins are now dazzling in their beauty. Well they are to me anyway.