Surf Coast Century 2015: Grant Hicks
On the 7th of April this year I posted some pics on my Facebook page of a brilliant 10kmish run that I had done on the cliff tops around Anglesea while there on family camp. Stunning views and a challenging variety of terrain. A friend commented on the photos and asked if I was up there scouting the trails for this thing called “Surf Coast Century”. I looked into it and decided I would love to have a go at my first ultramarathon and set my sights on this event. It’s amazing how a simple comment can inspire you and light a burning curiosity.
A week later I asked Parkrun mate Chris if he would be interested in splitting the 100km with me. I knew he was a keen runner, having followed him around at Parkrun every week for 12 months, and I would be able to pick his brain and learn a lot about training and nutrition. We had also been at Two Bays together earlier in the year. Within 2 days “Burning Sensation” was born, entered in Surf Coast Century and our accommodation was booked! The commitment was in writing.
I had made myself unavailable to work on the Friday and took my time getting to Anglesea from Mooroopna. Arriving at the caravan park mid-afternoon, I laid all of my race day gear out on the bed and did a double check that I had all the right gear and hadn’t forgotten anything. I knew that Chris and Norah wouldn’t be arriving until 8pm or so and took the chance to register, walk along the beach for a while and even have an hour of sleep.
Once the other guys had arrived it was like the calm before the storm. I had been a bundle of nervous energy earlier in the day, but now that the time had come and we were all here ready to race I was really content with the way we had prepared. Surprisingly, I managed a fairly solid 6 hours of sleep and woke up about 4:20am. Hooked into a few bits of toast and a cup of coffee, kitted up, plus a few layers, and started walking with Chris and Norah to the start line.
The start at sunrise was quite cool and I decided to run at least the first few kms with my arm warmers on. We settled into a nice pace for the first kilometer or so until the crowd converged on a long rock/cliff face crossing. I remember seeing one bloke turn an ankle and become an early DNF candidate and hoping the same didn’t happen to me or Chris. I was tempted to try and find my own way and go past a few people, but fought the urge. Usually I would have found this really frustrating, but it served as an effective way to take it easy early in the run.
Once we were clear of the rocks and the track opened up, I settled in to a pace of about 4:30 and ditched the arm warmers as we crossed back through the crowd at the start finish line. Absolutely stunning sunrise, those amazing red cliffs, the sound of the crashing waves and the most amazing adventure lay ahead. The only time in that first 21km that I felt slow and tentative was when we had to negotiate the rock pools and lower cliff faces. I really didn’t want to be that bloke who couldn’t complete their leg. So a few of the more technical and experienced trail runners would pass me in those sections and I would pick them up again on the flat sand.
Check point 1: Point Addis, 10km
I was in a nice groove by this point and up and over Point Addis quite quickly. The sand changed consistency and became quite course and deep along Bells Beach, but I was still feeling quite fresh and strong. Even managed to run up the stairs at the Bells Beach exit, skipping my first planned walk. Although the glare coming up off the water from the rising sun was tough to deal with at times, the rocks scared me a bit and there were some unexpected knee deep water crossings, this was a really enjoyable first 21km.
Check point 2: Point Danger Torquay, 21km
Still feeling fresh and moving well, I didn’t want to linger at the check point for too long. I re stocked my gels, filled the water supply and kept running. The plan was to change my socks and get the feet dried off, but I didn’t feel like sitting down, and given that there was no more water crossing to do, my feet would dry out quickly while I was running.
The next 6km section was quite fun and had me thinking of hitting these trails on the MTB with my brother Adrian and bro in-law Daz. Obviously a mountain bike track, the corners were burmed and there were jumps, puddles and log crossing to negotiate. I had a fall and commando roll in this section and came up unscathed. The extra adrenaline immediately afterwards was a welcome boost. It was during this time that I ran with a bloke by the name of Michael who was doing the 100km. We ran at a good pace and chatted every now and then, but I think we both just really appreciated having someone there to run with. Michael ended the day as the 3rd placed male for the 100km!
27 to 30km seemed to take an eternity, and I was surprised to feel so ordinary this early in the run. After all, I had run 30km plus half a dozen times in training for this event. But the sand, rock hopping, climbing and stairs had made this 30km much tougher than any of those runs. I started to get some minor cramping in one of my quads and was thinking things like “Have a walk at 30km” and “Shit. If I feel this bad now, I’m in for a long painful day”. I reckon I walked about 500 meters just before the 30km mark and roughly the same just after, and I started to feel much better and ran much more freely after the rest.
Check point 3: Ironbark Basin Picnic area, 32km
Through the check point I grabbed a banana and what turned out to be an inadequate amount of water. I was running more comfortably now, albeit at a slower pace, and resigned to walking on any really steep uphill sections, which was a keeping the cramps to a minimum for the time being. That banana served me well for about 7km too. Devouring it just a small mouthful at a time while running and sipping my water to help wash it down.
Around 42km to 45km the cramps in my quads were becoming more frequent and were in both legs now. Not so bad that I had to stop, but certainly slowed to a brisk, painful walk at times. For some reason I was banking on there being some water available along this stretch and the Camelback was bone dry at the 42km mark. A real blunder in my planning and a lesson learned for next time. I was feeling like I could keep going, and buoyed by the fact that I was now running further than I ever had before, but hoping the cramps and the thirst didn’t get any stronger.
Just before I reached the Eumeralla Scout Camp at the 47km mark, a marshal on a mountain bike was riding towards me and asked if I was ok. He rode with me for a short time and I told him I was out of water and copping some cramps. I’d read the rule book pre-race and understood that I was not to receive any “Outside assistance”, but when he offered me some of his water I jumped at the chance to hydrate a little. Those few big mouthfuls of water got me going again and I didn’t cramp at all after that. I love that little Mountain Bike Angel.
With my GPS telling me that I was still nearly 3km from check point four and the end of my run, I was relieved to come out of the bush and recognise the track along the back of the caravan park. I had run along here a few times previously and had been visualising that moment at times in training. I reckon I even said out loud “You didn’t see yourself walking here”. And I didn’t walk. I ran. The gentle downhill for that km or so certainly helped.
Check point 4: Anglesea Riverbank Start/finish, 49km
Running into the transition and seeing Chris’ fresh, smiling face, knowing that I had pushed my body beyond anything I’d done before was unbelievably satisfying. The team aspect of this event had been a real driving force during training and that extra little incentive to push a little harder during the run itself. After 49km and four and a half hours, I was done! So, with a high ten, a quick hug and a slap on the bum, Chris was on his way and Burning Sensation passed the half-way point.
It was great to have Norah there to lean on and a super redshirt volunteer there making sure I was eating and drinking instead of falling in a heap. I’m sure I was in a bit of a daze for 15 minutes or so. ROSEMARY AND GARLIC CHAT POTATOES! I remember walking through the transition area at about 6am, before the run, and thinking “As if I’m gonna feel like eating that later on”. But a half a dozen of those beautiful little roast spuds didn’t stand a chance. About a litre of water and little tin of Red Bull went down easy to. I didn’t feel as though I wanted to completely stop moving just yet, so Norah and I walked to a BBQ area about 500m up stream and sat there. I rugged up and we just sat quietly for a bit, soaking up what I had just done and what was still going on around me.
Over to Chris…
Thanks mate, great report and a bloody brilliant effort! Seeing Grant come in and being able to live track him around the course was amazing and had me chomping at the bit to get out there. I was wary of burning that adrenaline too early as i’d suffered the pain of the body shutting down a couple of times this year at Two Bays and Gold Coast Marathon. I’d always wanted to have a go at a trail ultra but had kept on putting it off for one reason or another, when Grant asked me if I’d be interested I jumped at the chance as it was the can’t back out type of commitment I needed to make to actually getting it done. Preparation hadn’t been ideal really in a sense that i’d really only averaged between 45-60kms a week over the previous 8-10 weeks but was hoping the experience from previous road marathons would help get through any tough times, the biggest motivator though and what really helped on the day was knowing Grant had pushed himself to the limit out there and gave his all and there was absolutely no way I was letting one of my best mates down when he had given so much.
Race Start Chris – 50km to 70km check point Distillery Creek Picnic Ground
50kms to go…
Almost to the second that Grant had aimed for, he arrived at 11am into the check point to tag me in, because of his great work I was able to get all my nutrition and nervous toilet visits timing down perfect and I couldn’t wait to get started, my biggest fear going in was that if I had to run alone I would take a wrong turn and get lost, but fortunately I was in contact or view of runners almost from the start. Within the first km came my first challenge… crawling on hands and knees on concrete under a foot bridge as we weren’t allowed to cross the road with traffic on it, once that was done it was off into the bush and time to tackle some hills… real hills… here is the elevation map to see for yourself…
After the first 5km I was fortunate to meet Tim Kacprzak who was running the 100km and ended up in 4th place, he’d previously finished top 5 the week before in the spartan beast marathon and had already competed in various ultra marathons and endurance events during the year, he was amazing to talk to and helped keep my mind away distracted from what lay ahead, we kept a relaxed tempo, able to chat but work together and make sure we stayed on course. Tim saved me from making 2 wrong turns during this time while I was off with the pixies taking in the view and chatting away.
The hills over the first 20km were challenging, they weren’t as steep as two bays, just long and grinding, it was important that I didn’t burn too much energy early on amd thankfully Tim helped pace me here as I had an urge to push a bit harder, I was having a great time out there on course and enjoying the challenge. 20kms in and I was feeling really good. We got to the checkpoint and I remember seeing about 20 people, some lollies, drinks and sandwiches and all I could think of was… how good does that food look, how much of it should I take…. and then the brain checked out, I grabbed a cup of water and tipped it on my head and was off again with Tim… I was in shock I had just passed up all that glorious sugar but it was only 7kms more to the next checkpoint where they had a pop up kitchen and more drinks.
70km to 77kms Checkpoint 6 Moggs Creek Picnic Area
30kms to go…..
We had settled back into a good rhythm and still feeling reasonable, I was concentrating hard on the terrain as there were a lot of twists and turns as well as little tree roots and rocks that meant you couldn’t really run straight lines and be careless, it was careful steps and eyes zipping back and forth between the track that lay ahead and beneath the feet. A runner had come up behind us with about 4kms left to the check point and I did the right thing by moving over to allow him to pass, as he went past I turned to say “great running mate” that couple of seconds was enough for me to trip on a tree root and smack my knee onto the top corner of a rock and nearly crashed into the back of Tim… thankfully there was no major damage, I didn’t skittle anyone, and was able to continue on, my knee went numb after about 5 minutes so didn’t have to put up with the pain for long at all. As the checkpoint drew closer we had put a bit of a game plan for the last 23kms. We came into the checkpoint and my brain checked out again……
77kms to 86kms Checkpoint 7 Aireys Inlet Skate Park
23kms to go
At the checkpoint the plan was to refill our camel backs, I was going to grab some jelly snakes and needed to empty my bladder… I filled my camelback, looked for Tim, I couldn’t see him and walked around like a lost child at the toy store looking for his mum, somehow we had gone to different aid stations to fill our drinks and with all the people around we were a bit disorientated and lost each other… i grabbed a couple of lollies, had a quick toilet stop and back out to tackle the final 23km.
I made the decision to run very conservatively, If i was running solo I needed my brain in gear to stop me from taking any wrong turns or falling again, the course was well marked but i’d already shown that I was capable of stuffing up – conservation mode it was. The views on course were stunning, Surf Coast was one of the few races i’ve really been able to appreciate and be blown away by the beauty of the views, it’s worth the trip just to run here and get a look, it really is stunning. The hills were still coming, not as steep as earlier but I was at the stage where I needed to jog/walk the inclines. I wasn’t really able to run with anyone over this part but was overtaken by a handful of other athletes who were in different categories of event. I was really looking forward to getting to the next checkpoint as I thought it had more drinks and sugar, before that though I had another crawl under a bridge and kept plodding along. I was starting to tire and my pace on the flat had dropped away to just over 6:00 per km, my legs felt like concrete and feet were really sore…. but yeah they don’t hand out finishers medals for quitters and there was no chance in hell I was letting Grant down.
86kms to 100kms – Finish Line at Anglesea
14kms to go
There were 2 big surprises at the 86km checkpoint, the first sucked and that was there was no visible aid station… there may have been one but I couldn’t see it and i wasn’t hanging around to find it (turns out there wasn’t one there, just timing mats and a cafe, I had no cash so stopping wasn’t an option) the second one was Grant and Norah had come along and were shouting encouragement and dishing out hi 5s, this was better than anything I could of gotten at an aid station and gave me a huge boost, thanks guys – it really meant a lot to me, especially Grant who was exhausted!
I knew the course was relatively flat and felt i could stick it out at a respectable pace, most of the last 10kms was on sand along the beach with the only climbing needed was that of stairs. Yes it was flat, but this ended up being the biggest challenge for me both physically and mentally. the tide was on the way in and as it washed in, what looked like hard sand was in fact soft, soggy sand that was like running in wet cement, there was quite a few people enjoying the beach and I got a few weird looks as I had a few verbal outbursts as my quads and hamstrings began to protest at the abuse. I walked far more than I wanted to during this phase but had no choice, my legs couldn’t keep ticking over so regular walk breaks were necessary. Looking ahead I had no idea how far we had to go before we climbed stairs onto the firm trails again, all I could see was beach. After about 45 minutes of sand running and wave dodging, stairs presented themselves and boy oh boy did that bring a smile! Back on the firm stuff and magically the protesting from my muscles stopped, the smile returned and it was onto the final 3kms. The beach had given plenty of time for reflection…. I was proud and stoked for Grant, he ran one hell of a 50kms, kept a constant pace and toughed it out when it got hard, I still had work to do but was confident i’d finish and do it in a respectable time.
As I came down the stairs and back onto the beach for the final km, Grant joined me and it was fantastic to see him, his words of encouragement were brilliant and he ran most of the last part with me. The finish line was in sight and while I was relieved to finally finish, I was stoked with what we had achieved – we had both run our first ultra marathon together and as a team, we made a commitment, worked hard and achieved something that currently goes down as one of my favorite moments in running.
Once I finished I sat down and got my shoes off as my feet were bloody sore, Grant got me a can of coke which I made disappear in about 12 seconds, I ate some cold risotto and saw Tim on the massage table, i thanked him for his help during our run and had a bit of a stretch. Time for a happy snap which this is my favorite pic of the weekend.
Once we had got our bearings we had a look at our results online and realised we had finished 2nd overall in the two man relay. We were over the moon at this, neither of us really cared where we had finished, but to finish on the podium was the icing on an ultra marathon sized cake. Off to celebrate with at The Captain of Aireys – Woodfired Pizza – now I realise I was a tad delerious and would of eaten anything BUT if you have the chance, go and eat at The Captain of Aireys – Woodfired Pizza, it is the best pizza i’ve eaten by a long way, fresh, crispy base, the right balance of topping and wish I wasn’t living 300+kms from there otherwise i’d eat there as often as possible.
It took a while for the adrenaline to wear off and take stock of the days events, most of it seemed like a blur at the time. It was great listening to Grant talk about his experiences of the day, It made me really happy to hear how well he had done and how he had enjoyed the day and get a sense of how proud he was of himself and our efforts, pretty sure neither of us slept much that night due to the stinging in our legs but it was an early night all the same.
Next morning we headed back down to the finish line for the presentations and a stroll on the beach. Team “Burning Sensation” did indeed finish up 2nd in our category so was a bit of a thrill to jump on a podium and collect our prize!
It was a nice finish to an amazing weekend, and the talk has already begun for having another go next year!