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  • Writer's pictureDion Finocchiaro

The Lockdown 50km Challenge

What is it?

Well, it was a race devised by a group of friends of mine that we chose to challenge ourselves throughout the peak of the Covid-19 restrictions during the depths of winter in metro Melbourne in 2020. We all wanted to be in shape to beat the Australian 50km record of 2 hours 53 minutes and 47 seconds, which was set back in 2008 at the Canberra Marathon Festival.

At the time, us Melbournians were only provided 1 hour of outdoor activity per day and all within a 5km radius of our homes. We were only able to leave our homes for 1 of 4 reasons… Seeking medical care, essential grocery shopping, exercise and essential work. Tough call to swallow at the time, but the right one for keeping Covid numbers down.

As difficult it was to commit to, I stuck to the time limits and did my best to get the most out of my 1 hour of bliss per day. This included a few hard sessions, my 1 hour long runs and of course a couple of my “hour-of-power” runs. The hour-of-power runs essentially involve me doing a 15-minute progressive run x 4 with no rest. I break this up into 3 x 5-minute intervals (15 minutes) and carry on for 60 minutes (or less if you want to have a taste of it).

My friends and other competitors for this race, Dane Verwey, John Dutton and Craig Appleby recorded all of our training and the battles of trying to organise the race (more on this shortly) throughout the 10 week training block on the “Run Culture” Podcast.

What made this experience special was that us boys all shared our training each week during a time where motivation was as valuable as gold. We were all really encouraging and knowing that we were sharing the grind of training under modified conditions made the process all the pleasurable to get out during the last of winter as we approached spring.

One thing that we also faced as challenge beyond the actual training, was to actually organise the entire race ourselves! None of us have ever organised an event before or knew where to begin. GREAT!

Even though it was blind leading the blind at times, being prolific racers in the Australian running scene and having some great domestic and national recourses with Australian Ultra Running Association (AURA), Athletics Victoria and Australia, Box Hill Athletics Club and other numerous people who volunteered their time, experience and networks, we managed to coordinate a race. The date was to be on Sunday November 29th at Box Hill Athletics Club.

As for the training, it actually went pretty well given the circumstances. After the 60 minutes of power for 6 weeks, I had 7 weeks to build my mileage up for the 50km and initially found it difficult running 30km, let alone the thought of 50km. However, as the weeks elapsed, my endurance built back up and for a while I was running 200km per week and also knocked out a solid 50km long run 3 weeks out. I felt well ready to give the 50km record a run for its money.

Race day…

Rain. Wind. Humid.

As we arrived, we had to set up the race precinct with a marquee, drinks stations, Covid sign in sheets, timing chip mats and everything else you can think of that goes with an official race with the help of some great people.

We had arranged some incredible pacing from Olympic marathoner, Liam Adams and also Jesse Dunsmore. Jess was to run 21km with us and Liam, 30km. We all did a short warm up to get race ready and at the stroke of 6:30am, we were off!

We had all amicably agreed to share the load of taking the lead behind the pacers and just find our own groove managing the gruesome wind and rain, hoping our speed is faster than 3:28/km which was the current record pace. The initial kms of the race go by really quickly and we hit our opening 10km in 34:10 (3:25/km). Being on the track allowed us ample opportunity to access our drink bottles and I’m quite proud of the technique I’ve used in many races over the years. I use pipe cleaners around the neck of a “Pop Top” bottle and loop it together so I can easily grab it if someone was to hand it to me or even grab it off a table with minimal risk of missing it. I learnt this from watching how the Japanese runners prepare for their races, they’re incredible if you’ve ever seen their bottles in a major road race. They dress up the bottles with all sort of colours, flags, ribbons and the like. Truly incredible.

Every 83 seconds, Liam would put his right arm out indicating what the record pace per lap is. Meaning if we were ahead of the start/finish line when he signalled his arm, we were ahead of record pace, and behind if we hadn’t completed a lap within that time. This was a really wonderful positive reinforcement for us and we reached 20km in 1:08:28 (1 minute 3 seconds ahead). We are still a pack of 4 racers when Jesse pulls aside at 22km (thanks mate) and everything until 24km was great for us all. That is, until John tells us he needs to go to the toilet. We told him to just go to the back of the pack and pee in his pants, the rain would wash it away. I mean, that’s what I would do if a national record was on the line. Anyway, he speeds up and breaks away from us to make a buffer as he went behind the high jump shed before re-entering the course where he left it. By the stage John catches back up to us, we’re 28km in and he shortly falls behind just after we reach 30km in 1:42:31 (1 minute 45 seconds ahead).

32km’s in, Liam finalises his duties pacing (legend) and the race is officially on with only us competitors left to battle. Craig soon falls right off the pace, a mighty effort to that point off a tiny race prep due to a prior injury. John is steadily holding a good pace and Dane is not far behind me. Unknowingly, I had increased my pace and am feeling great to this point. My 30-40km 10km split was a solid 33:46, the fastest of the race and taking me to 40km in 2:16:17 (2 minutes 45 seconds ahead). I had been taking on my fuelling from my drink handlers David Overend and David Wilson. Experienced ultra-runners themselves, they nail their duties in the occasionally rainy and sunny morning. My fuel for this race was my go to, Nocciola gels from Hammer Nutrition. Almost every 5km, I consumed one of these. Besides 30km where I take a “espresso” flavoured gel and flat coke just after 40km.

The last 10km I knew I was in the prime position to break the record. I could feel it was mine today if I can just hold off Dane who is still only 40 seconds behind me at 40km. I can still lose this if I slip up and get complacent. I’ve seen this happen many times before and didn’t want to be part of history for letting it slip out of my grasp. Having such wonderful spectators coming out to watch in the rain, all our friends cheering and the electric atmosphere set by our MC’s Peter James and Nathan Fenton from the “Runners Chats” Podcast. After reaching the marathon split in 2:23:46, I get to 45km and start to feel a stitch, great! If I push any harder than 3:30/km, I feel like I could vomit. So I run at that pace for a couple of km’s and get to 48km before finally picking the pace up again to finish the last 10km in 34:29, my slowest 10km split but closing the 50km journey in 2:50:49. Well ahead of the current Australian record. I’m stoked.

I got to share this special moment with my partner, Jacquie and so many wonderful people who supported on the day. Watching Dane and John come in behind me in 2:52:20 and 2:54:29 respectively, I’m so happy to know they had brilliant races, too. Unfortunately, Craig pulled the pin after a very impressive 2:34 marathon. We all had a cheers to celebrate with a “Zero +” sports beer in the drizzling rain. We did it, together, we got the 50km Australian record. Our Lockdown 50km Challenge is complete.

You can catch up on the race recap with final podcast of the series here.

View my run on Strava.

There are so many people to thank. Sorry to those I missed. Box Hill aths track for hosting us. Our pacers Jess Dunsmore and Olympian Liam Adams. Zero + sports beer for hydrating the ground and supporting our event. Runner Chats (Nate and Pete) AV officials - what lovely volunteers Tomato Timing (Peter Villani/ Damien Hancox) The groups awesome drinks team (David Overend and David Wilson) Our lap scorers (Jacquie, Bec Black, Jeanette Reyes, Sean Verwey, Pete Dutton, Emma Hutchinson, Simone Brick and others) Karen Mickle (Victorian AURA rep) Scotty Orchard our GM helping set up race day Des Waldron helping set up and scoring. Simon Forer, Clint Perrett, Mark Berry, Ash Bennet and Dozer amongst so many others for phenomenal cheering and support. Tim Bowman for the official photos All our partners for giving up special time for us to record the podcast and being with us on race day.

My sponsors Hoka ONE ONE, Hammer Nutrition, Zero + Sports Beer, Bayside Sports Medicine Group and Sungod

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