How the pandemic led to my first Ultra (or The OFB’s Blackall Experience)

2020 has been a challenging year to all of us thanks to the pandemic. Like others, my race plans were destroyed. I had planned 2 overseas marathons and many other events. Paris cancelled so registered for Canberra – cancelled. NYC cancelled so registered for Auckland – cancelled. Hamo Island Hilly Half, Brissie HM, Sunny Coast HM, some 10k trail in Malaysia, etc were all cancelled. After the news about Auckland, I was fed up and unmotivated with cancelled road races so my attention turned to trails. I was planning my first Ultra in 2021 so I brought that forward and registered for Blackall100 50k. So my Ultra journey had begun.

In early 2020, I was training for Paris – luckily in late March, I ran a marathon in a new PB on Kedron Brook with support of the Chermy crew. Then in mid-May, while training for the Brissie HM, I injured myself on a training run. Off to see Doug (Intraining physio). I could still walk but running was slow. Flat running with no speed/hills. At this stage, I started the rehab bus. Others from the Chermy crew joined my walks at training sessions or other locations so this was a great way to stay connected and get to know fellow members. I was just getting back into some longer runs when a tree root grabbed my foot during the Mt Mee 9k race – hamstring strain so more visits to Doug. I was able to walk (and walk and walk) and built up to doing 100k/week at a brisk pace including walking hilly trails. I did the GH100 30k with some other intraining trail runners using a run/walk strategy followed by a couple of reccé walks of the Blackall course (esp the hills) that resulted in calf niggles. More visits to Doug who had continued to develop a plan for me while appreciating my stubborn objective to do Blackall even if I had to walk it (there was a 23hr cut off time).

As race day approached, I knew my preparation was poor from a running perspective ‐ 4 months lurching from one injury to another – with less 4 weeks of light running (J2J and supporting others at River Run run/walk 10ks were my longest efforts), I decided on walk/run strategy. It was great to catch up with other intraining trail runners and supporters at the race briefing and before the start at 7 am. My race kit included some of my running passions – intraining Tee, parkrun World Tourist buff on my wrist and Achilles socks – as motivation. During the first 10k, I ran/walked with Grant Castner from the New Farm crew then on the descent to Gheerulla Creek, I joined a train led by Kathy Williams of the NF crew. I almost had a stack and face planted that resulted in a strained back of my left knee that made running uncomfortable. I then ran some time with Kathy (where the yummy custard tarts from the Mapleton bakery were discussed). Arrived at the first CP (at 19k) feeling fine then climbed the Gheerulla Bluff in a new PR (and enjoyed passing many younger runners!)

However the temperature was now close to 30C and the few km’s to the next water stations were hot, hilly and tough. I had not done this section in my training walks which was a mistake. Then some downhill and I tried to run at times until I face planted and further aggravated my left knee. I then stubbed my infected right toe on a rock – ouch! Made a decision to walk to the finish as tiredness was leading to more mistakes. I did another PR for the ascent up to Ubajee Walkers Camp. Coming into the final CP (9km to go), I got a big “Go intraining” yell from Jim Keegan. This CP had Zooper Doopers so I took 5 min to sit and consume one. (This was way better than any energy gel at this time!) More cheers for intraining and my name from some unknown spectators. Then a power walk to the finish with some failed running attempts. Upon entering QCCC, I found some inner strength and finished the last 200m strong. Ringing that bell was such a great feeling.

My result was 8:46:11 but the time didn’t matter – I was just proud and exhausted to have completed my first Ultra. This was the toughest physical activity I have ever done. I was even more elated to discover I had finished 2nd in the 60-69 men’s age group. Other intraining runners also made the podium – Ian Ridoutt was 1st in the 60-69 men’s age group for the 100k, Chris Jacobson came 2nd in the 100k and Helen Keegan was 2nd in 50-59 women’s age group in the 100k.

The event was well organised. The course was tough and challenging but a great mix for a trail terrains as well as being well marked. Weather was hot with some breeze at times. 850 runners in 3 races, vollies, crew, spectators made for an excellent experience. It was great to see other intraining people running or supporting. The words of support before the race from the Chermy crew and Runners School members were inspiring – makes you realise what a supportive club we belong to.

Will I do it again? You betcha!

Would I recommend it to others? Definitely!

Will I do a longer ultra? Hhhmmmm?

Robert Jamieson- intraining Club and Runners School Member