An Epic Rematch

Ambassador Rhiannon just completed her longest race since getting injured. Her perseverance is inspiring… this is how it went.
Up the Buff last year was my longest uninjured race to date and it didn’t go very well so I was interested to see how this year would go. A lot has changed since last year – I have a running coach and nutritionist, I have an official training plan and I am training to run my first successful 100km in 2 months.
When I met with my coach last week, he said to me the plan for today was to race hard. This was going to be my last opportunity to push hard in a race before UTA100 (as my next race next month will just be a training run) so he wanted me to go hard. However, the days leading into it weren’t the best lead up with enforced rest due to inflammation in my shins. Not to mention, the first 4km of Up the Buff (and the last 4km too!) were road. In trail shoes. Which I hate. I set myself 3 goals – Goal C: finish; Goal B: finish sub 3.5hrs; Goal A: finish sub 3hrs.

Last night I had been laying in bed when my left calf muscle just locked up and started hurting, I was freaking out trying to roll or massage it out, and ended up sleeping in my compression sleeves to try and ease it. Not the greatest start lol This morning started out like any other – rise at stupid o’clock, finish packing all my gear and nutrition, having an early breaky and then I was on my way to get there early so I could set up the gazebo for our mates who were coming down to support.

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I decided that I would try and do a warm up run beforehand, to try and warm up my shins. They’re usually only sore for the first 5km or so, so I figured a 2km warm up would have to help.  I was wrong lol. My shins were aching badly after the 2km, and then ironically they were sore for the first 6km of the race instead, so all I succeeded in was tiring out my legs just a little bit more. Bummer!

I had read somewhere recently that a good way to approach this race was to break it up into 4km chunks – the first 4km is road, second 4km is trail to the first turnaround point, next 4km is backtracking the same route, next 4km tackles Strawberry Hill and along to the next turnaround point, next 4km is backtracking that part, and then finally the last 4km is back on the road to the finish. I found that to be really helpful advice.

I have trained many times on this track and know most of the hills and turns. I had picked out the hills that I would run up and the ones I would hike. As I hit the trail for the first time, I saw some friends at the first checkpoint with their pumping music and positive attitudes which spurred me on a bit as my shins were pretty sore by then.

Part of racing hard was trying not to back the pedal off when I was hiking up hills and when running, running harder then I normally would. I am usually happy to just cruise in my training runs and knew this would hurt, but that’s the point right?

Around 8km at the first turnaround point, I felt a strange sensation of pins and needles in my legs which was a bit weird. I had been sticking to my nutrition plan and knew that I was taking in enough fluids, so I decided to just monitor the feeling and see how I go. I was really enjoying myself on this part of the track as I feel like it’s my home track. I was setting myself goals of trying to pass the next person in front of me, then the next one, and then the next one.  I caught up with one of my more faster friends which I was surprised about, but she wasn’t familiar with this course and wasn’t too sure how to pace herself. I felt bad about breaking the bad news that the worst was yet to come in Strawberry Hill lol It was around this point that I realised pretty quickly that Goal A wasn’t going to happen, so I set about making sure I achieved Goal B confidently.

12km and I passed my friends at the checkpoint again and started the slow climb up through the paddock and the grassy side of Strawberry Hill. I had been hiking a lot more than I originally planned and was getting a bit cranky at myself, but the heat out there in the exposed sections was brutal and I knew better than to push myself to the point of exhaustion out there. I passed a mate who was standing at the top of Strawberry Hill cheering people on, and cursed my coach’s name lol

My stomach seemed to be feeling off for most of the run which was frustrating. Not nauseous, but felt like it was threatening to. I ended up changing up the order of what I was eating as I just couldn’t stomach anything more than Shot Bloks for most of the run.

Before I knew it, I was on the roller coaster down the other side of Strawberry Hill when the winner of the race came passed me. I have no concept of ever running that fast, but it is impressive to watch. Once I was down the bottom, I was excited to run some relatively flat and shady trails for a few kilometres before the final turnaround. So you can imagine my surprise and horror when I hit another hill. Where the fuck did these hills come from?!? I do NOT remember these hills from last year!!!! And they just kept bloody coming, WTF!!! Seems when I have trained this track, I have obviously turned around too early and I paid dearly for it as I was well and truly unprepared.

About 1km from the turnaround point, the first woman ran passed me which gave me a bit of a confidence boost as I thought I can’t be doing too badly to be only a few kilometres behind. I had a fleeting moment where I thought I might be able to manage to come in the top 10 of women finishers, but that ended pretty quickly as I counted more than 9 ladies go past me. Oh well, just keep focusing on racing hard and finishing strong.

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Getting back up the dirt side of Strawberry Hill hurt a lot. It was very slow going, and I actually had to stop a number of times in order to keep stretching out my back. But each time, I kept moving and eventually got to the top. I started getting the pins and needles feeling again, and also got goosebumps all over my body. Weird. I started the descent down the grass side of the hill and started feeling an ache on the inside of my left ankle and what felt like the beginning of an ache on the inside of my right knee (not the same spot as my previous knee injury). I decided to monitor it and if it felt worse by the time I got back to the road, I would back right off as at the end of the day, my big goal is UTA and it wouldn’t be worth throwing it away now.

I turned the corner at the last checkpoint ready to hit the 4km road run back. Just as I turned the corner, I ran out of Trail Brew in my hydration bladder, and had already emptied one 500ml flask of water and probably had about 250ml left in my other one. I was a bit surprised by that as it didn’t feel like I had been drinking much more than my race a fortnight ago when I finished with almost half my fluids. But it was insanely hot, and I do find that I drink more when I hike then when I run, and there was way more hiking involved then I originally planned.

Around 23km, I felt my quad muscles starting to cramp and cursed myself for not remembering to restock my salt tabs. Thankfully there wasn’t too much uphill on the last few kilometres, as the cramping was worse when I was hiking. I realised I had one more piece of sweet potato left that had salt on it, so I started nibbling on that to try and get the salt in me without throwing it up. It was this moment that I realised I also need to work on my kegel muscles, as lets just say when the cramps hit, other muscles were also affected L

With 1km to go, the cramps started to get worse and tears welled up in my eyes. A friend of mine passed me and spurred me on to keep going, telling me that we were almost there. I gritted my teeth and dug as deep as I could to keep moving, and moving fast. As I turned the last corner, and saw the finish arch and my friends standing on the side lines, the cramps started to get worse and threatened to stop me in my tracks. I bit my lip, tears starting to spill and sprinted as hard as my cramping legs would carry me. As I crossed the finish line, my legs gave out and I collapsed, screaming in agony as the cramps took over and panic started to rise (however, I did remember to pause my watch!) From no where, people came rushing over to help me, offering me water and racing around to try and find whatever they could that would help, as well as massaging my legs and helping me to calm down and start taking deeper breaths so I could stop hyperventilating. It’s moments like this that make me feel so blessed to be involved in such a wonderful community as the Gold Coast trail running community.

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One of my besties got me over to the first aid tent, and the wonderful medic started massaging the worst leg to work the cramps out. She had also filled up one of my bottles with Tailwind, bless her. After awhile, things started to feel better so I managed to hobble back over to our tent. I desperately wanted to get out of my dirty wet smelly clothes, so I grabbed some fresh clothes and hobbled over to the portaloos to get changed. However, my leg started to cramp when I lifted it up to get inside, so had to hobble bck out. Thankfully someone kindly offered to hold a towel around me so I could get unchanged.

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I proceeded to lie down on the blanket, with a piece of chocolate in one hand and a bag of plain salted chips in the other. Happy days, refuelling at it’s finest. Until out of nowhere, both legs started cramping from my hips to my toes and I was in absolute agony. I felt kind of like I was in childbirth – horrendous pain, nothing was working to ease it and I felt myself freaking out and starting to panic. I was howling from pain and fear and I had no idea how or when it was going to stop. Once again, my beautiful besties came to the rescue, massaging me, getting the medic (again!) as well as one of the physios. Quote of the day goes to Lou “I will even rub your bikini line but I just can’t do feet”. I will hold you to that Lou! Lol It felt like a good 10 minutes before the pain had settled down enough for everyone to lift me back up to my feet. I spent the rest of the time pacing back and forth so I wouldn’t stop moving and start cramping again, whilst shovelling salted chips into my mouth like it was my last supper. I then realised that I had to get home as my husband was getting picked up at midday and I had mummy duties with a movie date with Ruby. Shit!!! Thankfully, I was able to leave all my stuff there and managed to get home without anymore cramping episodes, and after a shower I also finally got my 2XU compression tights on and these bad boys aint coming off until tomorrow!!!!
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I ended up finishing in 3hrs 10 minutes, knocking a whole hour off last year’s time, and finished 17th female and 79th overall (out of 158 people). I gave everything I had out there and raced as hard as I have ever done. I may never win any races but today, in spite of the horrendous cramping, I felt like a true champion. I stuck mostly to my game plan (as much as I could) and whilst I have a few little things to work through, for the most part I am very happy with today’s efforts.

Thank you to the event organisers for yet another tough day at the office; for all the volunteers out on course, the amazing medic and physios, and for all the spectators and supporters. You guys rock!

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