Marathons are often one of the pinnacles in distance running. A mighty challenge both mentally and physically. Time management is key to getting enough training and even then, you’re not guaranteed to even make it to the start line. Let alone finish one. A true test of one’s physical ability, motivation, grit and of course keeping away from the toilet throughout the event.
Throw in some life challenges like work, kids, injuries, motivation etc. then the marathon really challenges you with a marathon of life just to start the journey of 42.195km.
However, for me that’s just not enough. I want to race it as hard as I can and leave nothing left for tomorrow. I don’t even know how many marathon events I’ve completed. I need a new challenge. One that can kick my ass if I’m not mentally and physically ready, plus need a lot of luck. 100km. On the roads. It’s the kind of event someone stupid would have their bucket list. Given it’s a once off and the challenge is the distance, you’d probably choose a beautiful location with trails, beaches, mountains or the like. Where you can walk and take in the scenery and experience a life in a day.
Yet for me, I want a flat surface where I can attack the distance as fast as I can. It’s a distance I’ve attempted many times. Through places like the hills in the Mt Dandenong ranges and even Hong Kong. I’ve attempted the 100km 13 times where I had my ass kicked 3 of those times and not finished. A couple more have involved blowing up and slowing down a lot. You can’t hide in these events and I have experienced silly mistakes, bad luck and just being inexperienced.
I recently attempted a 100km race on an athletics track. This was to push my limits and aim to break the Australian record of 6:29:26. That’s 3:54/km pace for a long time. Or a 19:28 for 5km 20 times back to back.
Well, it didn’t go well and I started suffering early on. Starting at noon in the heat didn’t help. 25km into that run I felt unwell in the guts but persisted for a while. I got to 55km before slowing, I had a sports beer at 59km. Then ran another 20km around 4:00/km to stop after 80km. My average pace was 4:14/km overall which included a 59km split of 20mins. Physically I was very disappointed but mentally I took a lot out of it and had a lot of confidence from the headspace I was in between 60-80km.
Then 2 weeks later was the 100km Australian championships. This was my goal race and I had a number of goals. One - to win. The other - try break the long standing 100km Australian record.
Having not finished my previous two 100km races, I had an extreme fear of failure to complete the distance. I was fitter than ever before, but my goals were challenging me to the core to run that fast over the distance. It’s stupid to think that people choose to do these events for fun, yet I’m one of those people. I wanted to feel a great sense of accomplishment and the thrill of completing something I thought was almost impossible.
Even getting to this event in Sydney was a marathon in itself. The course had been changed twice close to the race date and shifted to a completely different location, throwing in 120 u-turns, speed humps, rain plus the normal level uncertainty an event like this would present regardless.
My goals the night before was to just bank a finish and hopefully get a result that I was happy with. I already had a qualifying time for the 100km world championships which are to be held in Berlin in August 2022. Anything other than another DNF would be a success based on my headspace.
Well that changed when we started the race when another teammate (Clay Dawson) for the WC headed out at 3:50/km. I respected how brave he was. He beat me in my last 100km that I completed in 2019 so knew he would be a mighty challenge to run down. I anticipated running 4:10/km and just see how I felt when the sun rose (we started at 5:45am). I, too, with Barry Keem, were both running around 3:55/km and I just felt good. 10kms down in 38:40 and Clay was still ahead of me. Today was looking like a fast one, even with all of the u-turns (we had 4 per 3.3km). That is, if we didn’t blow a gasket and struggle to finish in the second half. 20km down and my pace was still the same (38:20 for my next 10km split). The only difference was I was now out front, solo. Passing some of the other 15 competitors on course. The camaraderie on the course was next level. For a small but intimate field, everyone turned on the positive attitudes for one another.
Now 42.2km done in 2:41.42 (according to my Garmin), I still felt comfortable and kept my pace at 3:49/km. I was now scared of succeeding more than I was to fail. How did I now find myself in such a different headspace? I don’t know but I want to bottle that feeling forever. 50km down in 3:12.40 I was still on Aus record pace. But an even split is unheard of in an event of this size. I had my work cut out for me but was excited to keep trying my best, leaving nothing in the tank for tomorrow.
60km down, 70km down, my pace was flawlessly the same. I had my first 250ml bottle of flat coke at 65km and kept chipping away. My race nutrition had been the best I’ve ever had. Every 2 laps I would take my Hammer Nutrition sports drink mixed with water. Nothing else.
80km down and my pace was still on target but it was definitely much more effort. I went through 50miles in 5:12.xx and breaking the Aus record in the process by 6 mins. By 86km I started to fade, my pace dropping to the mid 4min pace. I walked for a minute or so around 90km, the longest I had ever gone without walking by 6km. Then 6 hours in which was 92km or so, eclipsing the 85km Aus record as well. By 95km I realised I was likely going to miss out on the 100km Aus record but only by a whisker. I tried to keep motivated and pick up my pace from 4:20/km and got back down to sub 4:00/km. My last km was actually my fastest, running 3:31 for my 101st km.
The energy on course was electrifying. The volunteers, staff and competitors had a vibe and investment in my run I had never felt before. They had all inspired me, out there for much longer for me but still happy to see me finishing hours before them. A reason I love ultra running, the people are kind and generous beyond words.
I clocked a finish time of 6:30.43 and the last 300m on the athletics track was a celebratory lap with cheers to a huge 33min PB over the distance. Missing the 100km Aus record by just over a minute. In winning the event, I also became the 2022 100km Australian champion.
You can find the splits to my run here on Strava https://www.strava.com/activities/7025415785/overview
Needless to say I have an itch to try go a bit faster in the future.
I’d like to thank the event organisers Gary Mullins and the TRT running group and AURA for adapting to forever evolving conditions in our current world. It wasn’t perfect but it also was perfect at the same time.
My sports dietitian Chris Rauch who had a plan and was a great sounding board after my precious attempt. He works in private practice - feel free to ask me for his details. You can also find his details out on our website https://www.evolverunclub.com.au/what-we-offer
My sponsors Hoka, Hammer Nutrition, Sports Beer and all of the Evolve Run Club family for all of the support to such a magical memory.
If you’ve read this far, thank you. I better stop rambling now.
Peace out and happy running to you all!
Dion, a happy (but sore) 100km finisher.