About a year ago in an attempt to make some connections in Melbourne, I joined the Crosbie Crew, a horde of enthusiastic runners led by a guy named Tim Crosbie. A bunch of them had just finished an epic trail run and for the first couple of weeks, that was all they talked about. The Two Bays. I felt like I had missed out on the run of the century. It also seemed kind of crazy, to do a long trail run like that in the middle of the hot Australian summer.
So naturally, one day, riding an endorphin high from a training run for the Queenstown Marathon, I went online and signed up for the 28km run. It turns out you have to qualify, by running a half marathon or marathon in a certain time. I got lucky and the gnarly, muddy trail half marathon I did back in the winter counted. “The Judge” decided I could handle the trails.
Queenstown came and went. I had survived! I kept running but the long runs weren’t as long. Once when Marc was out of town I drove down to Bushrangers Bay and did about 18km on part of the course with a big group. I felt great! Another weekend I went into the sticks for a 19km Crosbie Crew trail run and managed not to get totally dropped and/or lost. I would be able to do this, I figured, as long as there weren’t any snakes.
In case you didn’t know, one of Australia’s claims to fame are its venomous snakes. As in, you get bit and you die. Other runners told me a snake bite kit was mandatory on this run. Turns out it isn’t, but I got one anyway. And it’s not a kit, it’s a just a bandage.
*** Public service announcement: If you get bitten by a snake in Australia, the most important thing is to NOT MOVE because the venom travels through the lymph, not the blood. Then you get someone to wrap the limb to help prevent the lymph from moving. Then that person calls emergency. You? You start praying. Without moving. ***
Every now and then someone would post a photo of a deadly snake they saw while doing a training run on part of the course. Other Aussies on Facebook posted pictures of snakes coming up through their toilets and air conditioning units. What were we thinking, moving here? What was I doing, putting myself in their territory in the middle of summer?
Both our boys came to Melbourne for Christmas. Ice cream was eaten, wine was drunk. The date was creeping up on me. I ran 19 kms the Sunday before the race, and it felt really long. How would I manage 28, potentially in the heat? I started to hatch escape plans for myself.
If it’s forecast over 30, I won’t do it. Fire danger!
The forecast was 28 degrees, with a cool morning. There went that option.
After we took Brendan to the airport Saturday night, I assembled all the gear and set my alarm for 4:30. I wanted to get there early, to get a parking spot and a cup of coffee.
All goes according to plan until I hear my pack straps banging against the outside of the car and when I pull off the freeway to bring them in, I realize that I don’t have my watch on. I’d left it on the bedside table. Back home I go. No way am I going to do this run without my watch to tell me how many kilometers I’d run and how many were left. Sad, really, I used to run without a watch but now I’m addicted.
So now I’m leaving home at 5:30 instead of 5:00. I listen to the velvety words of Michelle Obama as I drive down the empty freeway to Dromana.
The crowd of runners is colorful and excited. People have strands of plastic flowers adorning their caps, fake grass skirts, hawaiian shirts. If you wear that kind of gear you get to go the front of the pack. I only see one person I know, Victoria, a young gazelle I gave a lift to the time I ran from Bushrangers Bay. I know I won’t see her again once the race starts.
We all head out on the dot of 7:00, up the fabled Arthur’s Seat. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. We walk, mostly, up the hill. I push myself. I see a woman wearing a Crosbie Crew singlet and think maybe I could keep up with her. I feel strong. I’ve got this! The anticlimax of Arthur’s Seat is followed by a lovely section of trail, winding around the hills with views our over the bay, and I surge on. In retrospect, it was probably a mistake to have hammered up the hill so fast. Live and learn.
There follows a punishing descent, on a gravelly road. Mincing steps, anxious about sliding out, I try to find a path on the grassy edge. My legs take a real beating on this terrain. We have a bit of a reprieve on some pavement, where a crowd of cheering spectators lift our spirits, and then a long, slow ascent. It’s deceptively hard. My body is tiring, and the water in my pack is running out.
We get to an aid station where a bunch of lovely volunteers (they call them “vollies” here in Oz) is lording over a vast array of fuel options. “We’ve even got gluten free chocalate chip cookies,” she exclaims. There are gels, cookies, orange slices, candies, homemade goodies galore. I pick a gluten free protein ball and a handful of candy snakes, top up my water with some “sports drink”, and carry on, munching.
Pretty soon we’re at Greens Bush, and I am familiar with the section of trail after this. I’m tiring. I don’t feel anywhere near as good as I did the day I did the training run here. There’s a woman ahead of me with a light green shirt, and I attach myself to her. She has a reassuring, steady pace. We pass someone who has done a face plant, but she’s surrounded by other caring people and so I don’t stop.
I am trying to figure out how many kilometers until Boneo Road. I tell myself I will take a break there, because I am really, seriously getting tired. Running out of gas. I walk up all the little inclines. The woman in green edges away, I can’t keep up with her. Every now and then I start to hyperventilate. I have to focus hard, keep myself calm. Deep breaths. I can get to Boneo Road. I can do this.
And then, there are the spectators and their cowbells. “It’s only 100 meters to Boneo Road!” they cheer. Thank god.
I get there and the vollies and spectators (speccies?) are out in force. There’s a coffee truck. A vollie asks me if I want an ice cold sponge on my neck and I say yes and then ice cold water is pouring down my back and into my shorts. I grab a few jelly snakes (how appropriate!) and a chocolate fudge gel. As I exit the aid station someone is handing out sugary ice pop sleeves — I grab a green one and it is pure heaven, sucking that thing dry. I pack the plastic in my shorts and head up the sandy track, hoping the sugar and the gel will kick in and I will feel better.
This is really a lovely section of the trail, if potentially snake-infested, and I wish I could enjoy it more. You can see the ocean in the distance. But I am lagging. A big wallaby bashes out of the undergrowth right in front of me, and the two women behind me scream. It pumps my adrenaline which oddly makes me feel a little better. Maybe if I saw a snake I’d be back in business!
We get past the turnoff to Bushrangers Bay. People are passing me. A couple of them are talking about stairs. Sure enough there’s a gnarly set of stairs climbing up out of a creek gully. A race sign at the bottom says “The 99 steps out of Burrabong Creek.” Seriously? 99 steps? A woman passes me, muttering about the sign. Later I understand, there aren’t actually 99 steps. It just feels as if there are.
And then my left hamstring/groin cramps. This is the first time I’ve ever had a cramp while running. It’s horrible. I can’t use that leg to push myself up the steps. It’s useless. I keep going, using my right leg to push up, and then that one cramps, too. I have to stop. I stand there, drinking the last of my sports drink, hoping something in there will stop the cramping. A couple people ask me if I’m okay as they pass. I tell them it’s just a cramp, and they go on. After a few minutes, the cramp passes and I walk carefully up the rest of the steps.
A world of pain.
Those are the words running through my head. It’s less than three kilometers to go. I tell myself I can always walk it in. But I dig deep and wherever the trail isn’t climbing, I manage to jog. I wouldn’t call it running, but I launch my body into motion and jog, thinking that at least this way it will be over sooner.
And there it is – the finish line! Cheering spectators! I haul my sorry ass over the line and then just stand there, gasping. They’re handing out Cokes and Sprites but even in this state I won’t drink that stuff. I have some pre-frozen electrolyte drink waiting for me in my bag in the bag drop. There are some chairs, and one of them is empty and I gratefully sink down into it. I just have to sit for a minute.
I get my bag, drink my icy electrolytes sitting on a bench next to a nice guy who tells me he’s completely knackered. What a great word. Knackered. Me too, I say.
In the bus back to the starting point I sit next to a lovely guy who had lived in Vancouver for a few months and we talk about Kitsilano. His family has a place in Red Hill. He’s only just started running, and he did this thing in 2:50. I’m in awe. He tells me he ran the whole course the weekend before, and was trashed. But it was good to know what to expect. I have to agree, I wish I’d been better prepared for that terrible downhill near the start, and the terrible steps near the end.
I get to my car and move it closer to the beach, deciding I will take a dip in the bay before attempting the drive back in. My upper back and shoulders are killing me. I don’t know if it’s from the unfamiliar pack carried so long, or what, but it’s painful. I put on my swimsuit and head into the water — bliss. I wash off that trail dirt. It feels SO good. I just wish there was someone else here to share it with me. A little lonely on my own. I didn’t see any Crosbie Crewers at the finish line, or anywhere around. They’re all probably long gone, finished and cleaned up and drinking beer somewhere air-conditioned. This is the kind of situation in which you want to decompress amidst fellow runners.
That’s the race, folks. Will I do it again next year? Yes. I want to have a better time of it than I did on this day. I’ll train better, scouting out the entire route beforehand. I’ll take salt tabs. I’ll figure out the fueling. I’ll do a few more training runs with the crew, so I know some people and have better moral support. I’ll take it much, much easier at the start. I’ll maybe drop a few kilos so I have less to haul around. I have no idea how people run this thing twice (there is a 56 km option) but I hold them in highest esteem. They’re superheroes.
Now, two days later, my legs are sore. No, correct that, my whole body is sore. I am grateful that the Australian Open is on and I can lie on my living room floor and watch other people suffer under the blazing Australian sun. I think I’ll wait a couple days, till this heat wave breaks, before going out for a run.
Oh, and next year I’ll put GYDLE on my race bib!