Coast2Kosci 2016 part 1: Slow beginnings

Every edition of Coast2Kosci has a different meaning for every person. For some it’s redemption, for others it’s a target time, it’s a big end to a big year, or a way to put a line under the past.

Highly competitive Coast2Kosci runners don’t associate with each other pre-race

For me, this year’s race was a natural follow-through from UTMB — a way to forever marry one brutal and amazing running experience to another, just like the first time I ran Coast2Kosci as a way for Ron Schwebel and I to both round out an insanely epic 4 Deserts Grand Slam.

Every period of preparation for a massive experience like C2K can put strain on other time priorities, and sometimes they push back. The fortnight when I should have been hitting my highest weekly mileage was spent in America for time with friends in the beautiful mountains of Colorado and the meeting halls of Santa Barbara. Nothing to complain about really, but in the same timeframe leading up to UTMB I’d put in a 3-day block in Bright with about 120km for 8,000m. In the US, I averaged about 60km per week with too much hiking.

The literally breathtaking beauty of Colorado, which will hopefully survive the truly awful rain of President Joffrie and his council of fascist douchebags. Yes, look it up.

This isn’t a sook, it’s one side to a coin. It’s a counterpoint to the week leading up to Coast2Kosci when my workmates rallied around me and effectively banned me from one of our major conferences for the year, so that I could spend some time with family and get my head (and ass) together for the race to come. Something was probably going to give, and if the boys hadn’t taken a commercial bullet for me then I might well have buckled this time — so thank you Steady, Ian, Brent and HOKA ONE ONE Australia for the love when it was needed most. I probably couldn’t have asked for it so I’m glad you told me to just take it.

With an extra few days before the event, not being spread so thin and instead being able to face the incoming challenge, it was infinitely easier to process what had gone into previous editions and what might be to come.

Remember to pack a few crazies and some kickass race shirts.

2012 was about going insanely large and running the arse out of a year that any runner would almost die for.

2014 was about being as highly tuned and well prepped as I’d ever been.

2015 was about a giant end-of-year blowout after Tor Des Géants had been shut down by weather.

2016 was always going to be ugly but how soon and how ugly were questions I wasn’t rushing to answer.

The famous start, inside a brightly lit stadium with cable TV coverage and thousands of wildly screaming fans with those big foam hands that have just the index finger pointing skyward. Definitely what it’s all about. pic by Kieron Blackmore.

When we all lined up on that special beach in Eden I had everything I needed.

- a super crew, with my friends Gavin & Rebekah from Tailwind, David Clear who I’d either crewed alongside or been supported by at 3 previous C2Ks (including Jess’ course record and my PB) and of course Jess, the ringer, who would be arriving after work late on Friday.

- probably enough physical and mental experience of not being completely ready, to be completely ready

- the will to get it done

I’d had an hilarious conversation with my mate Shane the week before the race. I asked what his plan was, and it was more or less, “Yeah I’m not going to worry about the time, I’m just going to take it easy to start, not going to go out too hard, just try to look after myself and run it sensibly”. This is more or less what every ultrarunner plans/says/never does. But genuinely questioning how prepared I actually was for this one, I didn’t have any hesitation actually starting steady, even slow.

24km in, clearly bloodthirsty record-chasing at this point.

By the time we got to the first crew point at 24km in, running with Hailey (next year you will crush this, Hailey), Adam, and Jane we’d already covered most of the politically safe topics of conversation that we could — the weather, race regulation, Trump, retrospective abortion, poo, chafed nipples and the performance benefits of swearing. Didn’t leave much to talk about for the next 215km…. or did it?

Mick Thwaites, bloody legend. Seriously, if you’re not a fan of Team Shmick, you’re doing life wrong.

Grabbing a quick water from my crew I got my walk on up the hill, thus ending the social part of the day. This wasn’t a conscious decision, it was a matter of practise. Earlier in the year at Canberra 48-hour, I’d been in awe of Mick Thwaites’ performance and a very visible part of the work he put in was his fast walking. Running over in Perth with Shaun Kaesler, I’d also been regaled with stories of Mick’s insane walking speed. One thing that my coach Andy Dubois always emphasizes is that training should be as race-appropriate as possible. Having done Coast2Kosci enough times to know that there is a bunch of walking, whether you like it or not, I’d contacted Mick to ask about the technique he used. He’d been super helpful, sending me some tips of his own as well as a basic video of race-walking instruction.

I’d probably walked more in my training than I was really happy with but as the day shaped up, and especially the second day, this was going to be a really useful tool.

In the front half of the course, though, the fast walking was really just a way to stay focused on staying focused. It was almost a novelty, and probably not anything that I was going to be putting total faith in — at least that’s what I was thinking while I was still feeling good.

With time to think, there’s also always some kind of realization about how this race works, or running generally. For me this year, there was the epiphany that the race is about remaining calm. Do your miles calmly, eat calmly, drink calmly. Otherwise you get stuck in your head and even though you might feel like you’ve done 13 hours well, you’ve simply set yourself up to fail for the next 20 or 30. Trouble is, you won’t realise that you’re not being calm while you’re not being calm, it will only be a retrospective realisation once you start paying for your misjudgment.

Part 1 and a bit. Would like it to be otherwise but guessing that quick bit around 100km is when the Garmin went in the car to charge.

Ticking the miles over we were through 50km in an average pace of about 8km/h. This was ideal and not totally deliberate. This was roughly the pace we’d moved at since the start and walking at around 6–7km/h it meant the run was smooth and not too taxing. When we got to the bottom of Big Jack — actually, a quick aside first.

If you’re reading this because you’re thinking of doing Coast2Kosci or you’re already signed up for the race, Big Jack is not that big. Big Jack is a noticeable climb because

1. You’ve already got 60km in your legs

2. It’s a tricky bastard with a bunch of false peaks, so if you’re new to it you will keep getting sucked in. Well guess what, no, we’re not there yet.

Big Jack with Dave in 2014.
Big Jack with Dave in 2016 (pic Rebekah Markey)

Dave Clear and I have made a habit of going up Big Jack together. David’s a strong runner with solid finishes at C2K and GNW miler to his name, and simply because his running has been a bit patchy in the last couple of years, he and I love to share this climb because it’s always a hike. The views are awesome, the company’s great, the conversation turns from body, to race strategy, to life in general, and back to race gear, and then we’re at the top and it wasn’t that big a deal. Turns out we’d done the 7km in 70 minutes which doesn’t sound that fast but was totally better than the 90 minutes to 2 hours we’d expected.

Top of Big Jack is a good spot for switching foot weapons. 80km Mafate Speed 2, 160km Clifton 3 this year.

Soup break with Bek n Gav, anti-fatigue caps (Hammer’s best product), wind jacket (because it was a gusting gale on top of the range), switch from my trail-loving Mafate Speed 2 to the plush baby-Bondi-like Clifton 3, quick chat with Milov (an absolute champion behind the scenes and a frickin lovely dude), bonus hug with RDs Paul and Diane and back into the fray.

(This video of Pete Kostelnick’s Trans-American Record is what happens in my head every time I put on my Clifton 3s to run long. Seriously)

Race directors Paul & Diane with the shy and retiring Sarah-Jane Marshall :)

I was well and truly on Vitamin M by now, so with Brazilian death metal crunching away from my iPod I was enjoying everything. I’d had some tight niggles since early in the day but they seemed to be softening and spreading themselves more evenly throughout. Roland Hassall was running along with me at about the same pace so we HOKA’d him up with a wind jacket too. Hey Roland, shame it didn’t match your shoes bro :) Next year buddy!

Dave had crewed Roland the year before, and we’d actually run together at about this same spot the year before, except that I remembered Roland throwing up 3 or 4 times and pushing on, even if neither of us was thinking about this right now. It’s not the kind of thing you need to think about on a really long run because if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen anyway.

It’s a runner’s paradise as long as you’re feeling good.

The wind was hitting us from the left pretty hard now. Good thing we were going to hit the road soon….and turn left. As gnarly as the wind felt at times on Friday, making running headfirst into it sometimes feel completely not worth the effort, the weather conditions were awesome. If you had to pick 3 conditions to run in, wind plus flies plus 16 degrees all day would really be the best ultra combination the course would ever offer. It certainly beat rain plus wind plus cold and 40 degrees plus dust plus suffer, both combinations being significantly more typical of different sections of the race, even on the same weekend.

Passing through Cathcart, Gavin and David were in front the famous little shop where cold drinks and pies could be bought before disappearing back off the grid. Dave was offering me a Coke Zero which I’d completely forgotten asking for. Waving it away, I realised we’d entered The Shithead Zone, where the runner will ask for something and within 2km completely change their mind or forget they’d even wanted it in the first place. Sorry guys, gonna be a long weekend for you hey?

Coming through this section last year, the wheels had started to fall off. Testing blood from my fingers I’d read a high blood sugar and given insulin which turned out to be unnecessary as my meter had been contaminated by carbohydrate from mine or someone else’s fingers. I’d then got into the passenger side of the car and smashed heaps of food before getting back out on to the road feeling like crap, from a mix of fast eating, cortisol in response to hypo, messy energy levels and aching hips and quads way too soon in the game. It was a nice contrast this year to leave the crew in my wake and motor on past Roland as he smashed a pie. Things were working out so far.

Blood glucose levels using the Freestyle Libre show the usual start-of-race spike because of the action of insulin being blocked by adrenalin, then simply race-perfect sugars until about 11pm when slowing legs led to rising sugars. The average for the Friday of the race was 7.5, next day would be 13.7 but by then it was kind of like sunscreen — ‘bugger this, let’s just get there, set controls for the heart of the sun!’

One of the key tools for any diabetic athlete is a new handheld device that scans the sugar from a sensor inserted into the arm. There is no blood, there is no sting, there is no need to protect anything from spilt sugars or sweat, and there is no 5-second delay. It also shows a graph of all that is going on over time, rather than single measures in isolation from each other. My sugars so far, about 9 hours in, were ridiculous. They looked like the fantasy graph that every type 1 would like but that nobody ever achieves in real life. This was great for peace of mind, physical performance and feel generally, as well as a sharp contrast to the year before.

As we headed back into the rolling hills and dirt roads, I was aware of my tightnesses and limitations but pretty happy to be holding together at a steady groove.

My friend Graham is an excellent bodyworker. He’s very experienced working with runners on and off the course and also knows me well. Seeing him just a few days out before the race he’d done the usual check-in, asked how I was feeling, what I was expecting from the run, and then gave me some really useful advice that I played with from start to finish. To paraphrase badly, after checking how my mind was and getting his own sense of how my body was doing, he suggested that they work together for a change, rather than in conflict or competition with one another.

The Dead Tree, 102km. A classic marker in Aussie ultrarunning. Fortunately we didn’t notice the wet patch Trevor Allen had left several hours before.

Running for 40 hours, there’s plenty of opportunity to experiment with such radical tactics. Dropping tensions as they arose and feeling like I could just let my hips and legs work away at the distance to be covered, rather than arguing with them over how they were doing things, definitely made for smoother progression toward the 100km mark. The Dead Tree came around later than it should have, thanks to an unplanned soup and Le Snak stop. Even with a fairly even second 50km, there were signs already that the night might not be the smooth ride it was intended to be. Key hinge muscles felt a bit compacted, the stomach felt a bit ordinary, and even with a good stretch of blacktop to come — how nice it was to hit the road again before sunset — it didn’t feel like any kind of acceleration was going to happen easily.

And when the hell are you ever in a race with 100km in your legs and thinking “sweet, only 140km to go!”??