Duncans Run – 100km 2021 Report

  • Location: Tarra-Bulga National Park, Victoria, Australia
  • Time: 12:00:13
  • Date: 20/03/21
  • Overall Place: 1/27
  • Full Results

Another one, do I have too? Those were my thoughts going into this one, no disrespect to the event organisers and race directors, it wasn’t Duncans Run itself I wasn’t looking forward too. It was the idea of running another ultramarathon and having to travel to get there, I was burnt out. The thought of having to run for longer than 1 hour made me want to puke, let alone running another 10+ hours. In just under 3 months I’d participated in 5 ultramarathons, finished 4, had finished a swim equivalent marathon (10km), and to be honest was just exhausted, not just physically but mentally. It’s not just participating in the events that gets exhausting but it’s the logistics and travel required to make them a reality. The DNF at Run the Lighthouse from 3 weeks ago still weighed on my mind too, even though I’d finished the Lumberjack ultra along with the Multi-Day Madness at Warburton Trail Fest since. I was still having glute/hamstring/knee problems, I ran twice over two weeks before Duncans Run (a 10km and a 5km) and each run was uncomfortable which made me extremely anxious about running 100km, especially since I DNF’d only 3 weeks prior due to these issues. Nonetheless the Thursday and Friday prior to Duncans Run 100km I psyched myself up, tried to change my perspective on everything, and on the Friday night I arrived at Traralgon (closest town to Tarra-Bulga National Park (race location) with accommodation I could find) in a forced excitement. I convinced myself I was not going to worry about placing at all, I wasn’t going to worry about times or where I wanted to be at Saturday night after the race, I wasn’t going to force myself to continue running when I wanted to walk and I wasn’t going to get upset if I DNF’d, the DNF would just mean I’ve found my current mental and physical limit and theres no shame in that, it’d give me something to continue to work on.

I woke up early Saturday morning, 3:30am to be specific and starting getting everything ready. Race start was 6am and race registration/bib collection was at 5am. It was a 30 minute drive from my hotel in Traralgon to get to the starting line in Tarra-Bulga National Park, so the aim was to leave the hotel at 4:30am. Getting all my gear ready for an ultramarathon is like clockwork these days, quick look through and tick off of the mandatory gear checklist, fill up the water bladder and soft flasks with water and electrolytes, double check my food and put everything inside the pack in a specific order and in certain pockets. It’s taken me a long time to discover my own system but now I have one its quick and easy to get ready, not much thought is required. So at 4:30am, nearly on the dot I was packed and ready to go. The drive from Traralgon to Tarra-Bulga National Park was a tedious and windy one, especially in the dark. After a solid 30 minutes I arrived at the start line at Tarra-Bulga National Park for bib collection/race registration. It was still dark and would be until well past start time (6am), it was pretty cold too, by the time I’d registered and grabbed my race bib it was around 5:30am, only 15 minutes to the race briefing and 30 minutes before start time. So before I knew it I along with 26 other participants were lined up listening to Matt Veenstra (One of the race directors) give the race brief. 10 minutes later after a quick go-over the course markings, etc it was go time. 6am hit and we were off!

My plan from the get go was to enjoy the race as much as possible, as I mentioned above I was tired and just exhausted from races. I also wanted to remember why I started ultramarathons, it wasn’t to win, it was to push my mind and body to its limits. So those were my goals for the race, enjoy myself for as long as possible before the inevitable bonk happens and I need to find those reserves I didn’t know existed to get to the finish line. I tried my absolute best to remove the competitor in me, trying to forget about placing or finishing at a certain time. But with that being said I couldn’t honesty say I eliminated that feeling completely, especially when I went out and found myself in a top 3 position from the get go. Luckily I found myself running the same pace as a friend of mine, Stef. Without any effort our paces were the same and we found ourselves having some good conversations for the first 5km. I was hoping we’d be able to stick together for the whole 100km, because I was enjoying his company. In our footsteps was a new face to me, Joel. Some brief introductions were made and Joel had been added to the list of familiar faces I’d be happy to bump into at these events (even though I couldn’t actually see his face because it was too dark!). The trail for the first 5km was mainly some wide grass trails with a few road crossings, after that it was mainly some dirt road running for a good 10km or so, along Old Yarram-Balook Rd and Bulga Park Rd. Before I move on from the first 5km I want to shout out Justin, a good mate of mine from Canberra. Justin was competing in the 50km but came down early to see off the 100km runners, it was great seeing his face and giving him a fist bump at the start. Anyway from 5km to around 15km we’d hit the road and unfortunately Stef and my paces had fallen out of synch, as a result I ended up running ahead by myself. After a couple km’s by myself I put my earphones in to help pass the time. It wasn’t long before I found someones head torch behind me, who’s this? Had Stef sped up? No, it wasn’t Stef it was Joel, he’d sped up and was next to me. We exchanged a few words before he took off but that competitor in me couldn’t let him get too far ahead, so I sped up the slightest bit. For the next 5km we pretty much ran side by side, however at around the 10-12km mark I was back in front running by myself. I held the lead running into the first aid station as we turned off the road and made our way onto the most interesting part of the whole course, someones private property? Coming off the road we ran into someones driveway and past their house, following the pink markers we then ran into what seemed to be their private property!? It was clearly farmland, open fields of dry grass with wired fences separating peoples land. The markers had us running along one of these wired fences as we left their house and made our way upwards. Eventually this led to some bush bashing for a couple minutes before we popped out onto some dirt road. From there we ran along the dirt road until we got onto some single track trail. I was in the lead still at this point but could hear someone behind me even with my earphones. I have a rule when racing to never look behind me to see if someone’s behind me, because if they see me turn around they now know Im worried abut them catching me, and I don’t want to give my competitors a glimpse of my own weaknesses. However eventually they caught me, but this was actually a great thing because it was Stef! He caught me just as we got off the 2-3km stretch of single track and were back onto dirt road, once he caught me I took my earphones out and we started to chat once again. We’d run around 22km at this point and my hamstring was sore but holding up and wasn’t deteriorating so that was good, but I was getting bored. I was so burnt out of running, luckily Stef was there, chatting to Stef was good fun. After a couple km’s of running with Stef Joel caught up, and the three of us started chatting away. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves off the road and back onto the trails. It was pretty overgrown, there was few river crossings and few steep little climbs which marked the first time I started walking. All three of us stuck together until we reached a big hill were Joel was too fast for Stef and I, and before long Joel was gone, leaving Stef and myself by ourselves. The hill lasted a while but I didn’t mind, it was nice talking to Stef as we hiked up it, bent-over, hands on knees. Once at the top Stef and I started shuffling together before our legs relaxed a little and we could actually start jogging again. From here to the end of the first loop Stef and I walked and ran together, hoping we could continue this until the finish line. The end of the first loop marked 34km.

This would be a good place to explain the course better, the 100km course is run over 4 loops, each one starting and ending at the same start/finish line. The first loop is around 32-35km, the second loop is around 15-20km, the third loop is around 30km and the fourth loop is the same loop as the second except in reverse so around 15-20km. The combined loops is slightly over 100km, my Garmin recorded 102km.

After the end of the first loop Stef and I stopped for a good 5 minutes at the start/finish aid station to refill our water and get some food. After that we head off together. This second loop took us up and down Mount Tassie, which sounds cooler than it is. It’s not much of a mountain and more like a little lump, with that being said I still enjoyed the course. Some nice single track with some fire trail trail, all runnable with some good views from time to time. Stef and I stuck together the whole loop, chatting and taking on the trails together. The weather was mostly cloudy and at times drizzly but we’d get some breaks of sun. All up though no complaints about the weather, it was perfect running temperature and the trails were quite dry for what can apparently be a a slippery mess. As we made our way down from Mount Tassie and onto some fire trails we started to get passed by some of the 20km runners. I love events were you come across numerous participants from different distances, seeing others always makes the race less isolated and more fun. As we started to get real close to the end of the second loop we ran into a whole heap of other runners; both from the 50km and the 20km, good times and so many familiar faces which brought a smile to my face. The only downside was Stef was starting to get a bad stomach and could no longer eat, he said it was a common thing for him and there was no real solution. I hoped he got better but it wasn’t looking good. We’d nearly run the second loop and were past the 50km mark, I would’ve been disappointed to lose him at this point.

After approximately 5 and a half hours we finally finished our second loop, Stef wasn’t doing good. Once again we stopped at the start/finish checkpoint, refilled our water and grabbed some more food. A banana and a bag of lollies were my go to aid station goodies, on top of these I packed 4 of my own peanut butter sandwiches with salt along with 8 gels and some cookies from the hotel I stayed at, so far I was able to eat all of them with no trouble. Stef on the other-hand….. not so much. We started the third loop together but after just 1-2km Stef starting throwing up, I waited a little bit before he told me to go on without him. It sucked but I had to remind myself it was a race, so begrudgingly I took off by myself. This is when my mind started to wonder and I just tried focusing on the terrain and the people I was running past (20km and 50km runners). The view was pretty good along the third loop, looking out across Gippsland and Tarra-Bulga National Park was quite beautiful and the sun came out, which was pretty nice too. To help me pass the time I focussed on trying to pass the 50km runners in front of me, they were running the same loop. I just wanted peoples company, I didn’t want to be alone, this encouraged me to push and catch the people in front of me. Even though we didn’t really chat and I ran past after a few seconds it was nice to have company. The climbs along loop 3 were constant and gradual, rolling hills would have to be the best way to describe them. The tracks themselves were open, extremely runnable and wide, at least for the first 10-12km. Those 11-12km felt like they went on forever and I started to run out of water, the last couples kms I started to get worried I’d start to bonk due to dehydration. As I past another one of the 50km we both joked we’d run out of water and hoped an aid station would be coming up soon, luckily our prayers were answered. At around the 69km mark, an aid station appeared and marked the end of the wide track and rolling hills. Coming out of the aid station there was a steep climb up some single track, it felt like a huge change in terrain, no longer runnable and open, instead I was re-introduced to the dense Forrest. Thats something I loved about the course, it was diverse, one moment you were running along open tracks with rolling hills and some great views and then you’d be in the dense, green forrest, slipping and sliding on slippery tracks and roots. The next 13-14km was pretty much like this, some flats, some descents and some climbs but nothing crazy. All mostly single track with the exception of a road crossing where another aid station was located at around the 75km mark. This is also the aid station were I was told I wasn’t too far off first place and got to see my parents!! What the hell! I thought I lost Joel for good ages ago, but apparently I was catching him. This stoked a little fire in me, I couldn’t shove the competitor in me down forever, I only had around 25-30km left too and was feeling pretty fresh. F**k it, go hard or go home, I went for it.

From here on out I pushed pretty hard, hard is subjective when you’ve already run 75km. Running as much of the course I could, and before I knew it I was at the start/finish checkpoint for the third time, third lap complete. I’d run around 80km, as I reached the aid station I saw Joel take off, holy s**t I really have caught him, I knew if I pushed I’d catch him. We were repeating loop 2 around Mount Tassie except in reverse, and I knew the first 5-10km was pretty runnable, and on some wide track. My mind went full race mode, I grabbed another banana from the aid station, refilled my water and took off. I put the foot on the accelerator, managing to get a few sub 5 minute km’s which felt like I was flying after running 80km. It hurt though, my glute/hamstring was super tight but after some tips from Kara (a friend who’s also a coach and movement specialist, shout out Kara!) I could move pretty well despite the soreness. At around the 87-90km mark I passed Joel, here’s the thing I love about ultramarathons, as we passed it wasn’t tense, we both cheered each other on, wishing each other the best, its a friendly rivalry because no matter what you place the real competitor is the distance and the course, just finishing is a huge achievement. That doesn’t mean I didn’t feel good as I passed him though, I’m competitive I’m not going to lie, it took every ounce of willpower to not look back for the rest of the race, a quick check to make sure he wasn’t on my heels. After a couple more km’s I found myself at the last aid station of the race that I can remember… It was awesome to see some familiar faces there, not only my parents but Corey and Sally, both of whom had already raced on the same day! Complete legends! I grabbed some jelly beans which I never ended up eating and made my out of the aid station and up the lump that is Mount Tassie. A quick selfie at the top (because I didn’t want to make Stef stop last time I was up Mount Tassie on the second lap) and I ran down, managing a 5 minute 30 second km. From the top of Mount Tassie to the finish line, its a mix of dirt road running but mostly single track trail running amongst the forrest, it was starting to get dark. I’d nearly been running for 11 hours but overall I was feeling pretty good. I looked at my watch, I’d hit 99km, the countdown began. I became obsessed with the watch, 100km, 100.5km, 100.8km, I had to be close. I remembered the trail and knew I was close but I wasn’t sure how close. 101km and I now knew exactly where I was, I was at the turn off junction which pretty much began the start of the second, third and fourth loop. I only had 1-2km left at the most, and Joel was nowhere to be seen, I was pretty certain I was going to win but still had that anxiety he’d catch me so I kept the foot on the pedal. 102km and I started feeling dizzy, and hungry, is this because the body knows its close and is starting to let go? I’ve heard stories of triathletes who collapsed as they saw the finish line of an Ironman, but I’d been eating pretty well all day so I was sure I’d be aright. I kept running, I was so, so close…..there it was! The finish line, I’d done it, another ultra and I’d somehow won too! I ran across the finish line, happy to see a group of familiar faces! Dylan, Cam, Mel, Stef (who I was disappointed to find out DNF’d due to his stomach issues), my parents and of course Nathan from Runner Chats who’s always great at making some awkward interviews! And the race organisers Matt and Megan!

Reading over this race report I’m well aware how my mindset changed from just trying to enjoy myself to being super competitive, it’s funny like that. Looking back it’s also a huge reminder that above pushing my limits I think my favourite thing abut these ultramarathons is the people I get to meet and talk too. It seems everyone that takes these races on are all positive and are seeking to improve themselves, it’s contagious. A huge thank you to all the volunteers, race directors and other staff. From the traffic marshals, aid station volunteers, registration volunteers, the boys from Runner Chats, photographers, race directors; Matt and Megan and all other volunteers and staff who I’ve either forgotten or worked behind the scenes so never got to see!

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