Princess Park Urban Trail Run – 12 hour 2021 Report

  • Location: Princess Park, Victoria, Australia
  • Distance: 120.6km
  • Date: 04/07/21
  • Overall Place:
    • 4/12
  • Full Results

No hydration vest? No mandatory snake bandage? Do you even ultra? The Princess Park Urban Trail Run was to be my first 12 hour race. Run around a 2.5km loop in the city of Melbourne with no mountains, rocks to jump over or tree stumps to look out for….. Sounds pretty boring, the epitome of monotony! However after my last couple ultramarathons requiring me to carry a s**t-load of gear, and having to be alert I was looking forward to a race where I could turn the brain off, and just run freely with no gear holding me down. The 2.5km loop meant I wouldn’t need to worry about water or food supplies, making things even better I wouldn’t need to worry about bathroom stops either, there was numerous toilets located around the 2.5km loop. Another positive was it was run amongst the public, after numerous hours of running isolated in the mountains from other ultramarathons this year I was looking forward to the comfort of running in the company of other people. Making things even better was there was other races being run throughout the day; a 2.5km, 5km, 10km, 21km, 42km, 50km, 100km and a 6 hour, this meant I’d be surrounded by other runners most of the day. So in short although I wasn’t running amongst the mountains or along the trails (my usual happy place) I was looking forward to a change of scenery and being able to just turn the brain off and run. Making things even better I would have the opportunity to run with and talk to a lot of friends and familiar faces. So with all that being said, in my eyes the race was less of a race and more of an opportunity to run with some friends, enjoy their company and to see how far I could actually run in 12 hours, no hills or technical trails would mean I could see how far/fast I could run in 12 hour period. I’d lost some pace over the year due to a constant racing schedule that had me recovering half the time so going in I had no real expectations, I was hoping I’d at least be able to run 100km and I’d be absolutely stoked if I ran 110km but I wasn’t really bothered as long as I ran 100km.

Race start was 7am Sunday morning, I’d stayed at a good mates house (Stavros) who lived less than 1km from Princess Park. Both of us were competing in the 12 hour. It was a cold winters morning with a not so pleasant wind chill. Being winter in Australia by the time we got ready and made our way to Princess park at around 6:15am it was still dark, and would still be when we started running. If we were on the trails we’d be starting with head torches however since we were running around Princess Park there was plenty of street lights to keep the path lit. Stavros (Stav) and myself were both excited and anxious to get started, in Stav’s words “When their is a 12 hour ultra run at the local stomping ground place only 800m from where you live it would be rude not to participate”. We were keen but not naive about how painful and monotonous this race would be.

When we rocked up there was only a few other runners, the start/finish line set-up was quite small, largely due to Park permit restrictions. Other than the finish/start line itself there was just a couple marquees and tables set up. All to be used for the aid station, the first aid crew and the athletes to put their gear under. I liked it, it gave the event a low key feeling which was nice, I’d competed in a lot of bigger and smaller events this year and I liked to mix it up. There was only 14 of us starting at 7am, 2x 100km runners and and 12x 12 hour runners and I knew quite a few of them, it was nice to catch up! Although I was anxious about the pain and mental battle I was certain I’d experience during the race I was actually quite relaxed. Being a race run by Trailsplus and Brett Saxon, in combination of being surrounded by familiar faces I felt at home.

7am hit and the 14 of us were off; dark, breezy and cold, forgetting my own words “be bold and start cold” I started the lap with a long sleeve and gloves. The plan was stick to a pace that felt “easy” whatever that pace was, as the race continued I was sure “easy” would get slower but that was ok. My theory with any ultramarathon is do what feels right at the time, and take each moment as it comes, and whatever my pace is, it is. If I need to push at the end to make a certain time or to place then that’s what I’ll try do. I feel trying to hit a certain pace is mentally draining an sometimes the body just won’t perform and that brings negativity, not what you want for a long day out…. And on the flip side sometimes the body is feeling good and will run faster than the target pace which can lead to better than expected results. So in summary my theory is do your best and whatever happens, happens. Anyway I ended up running the first couple loops with my mate Stav, the hope was we’d end up running majority of the run together however from the get go he was having stomach issues. As a result he had to keep stopping at the bathroom and after only 3-4 laps we were separated, this was disappointing I was really looking forward to sharing the suffering with Stav but thats the way of ultramarathons. 1000 problems will get thrown your way and its all about adapting and keeping a cool head, despite how uncomfortable things get.

I was feeling pretty good, I was averaging a 5:15-5:45/km pace and it felt effortless, like I could do it forever. I also didn’t mind the loops, the repetitiveness of the 2.5km loop never got to me. I was enjoying turning the brain off, and each completed lap gave me a brief surge of accomplishment. It was also nice to run with no hydration pack, and to not worry were I was pacing my feet, the only thing I had to worry about was running! A nice change! Making things even better after 5-6 laps I started running with a new friend with whom I only met a couple weeks prior at Unbreakable – Inspired By the Barkley Marathons, Ben! Ben and I had just run for 28 hours together at Unbreakable and it was great to see him again, making things even better was he was attempting a new 100km PB, to sub 10 hours. This was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss, it’d be great to help pace Ben to his new PB. Not only would I get the chance to spend another 9 hours with this legend but focusing on a goal that wasn’t related to myself would help take the mind off my own pain. And if I blew up after 100km then so be it, I’d be happy with 100km in 12 hours. So with that being said Ben and I started running together, pretty much picking up our conversation from only two weeks ago, same s**t different location. This is really when the magic happened, time just flew by! Loop after loop, only stopping to grab some food and water from the aid station at the start/finish. If one of us stopped the other would just walk until the other caught up, it was a good system we had going on. Talking and joking around whilst also trying to help him reach his target time put me in a good headspace, where everything was effortless. Every-time the anxiety of how far we had left popped up or other all consuming negative thoughts popped up I was able to stop thinking, grab some food and 15 minutes later I’d be back into the desired flow state, where time flies effortlessly. For the first 50km/ 4 hours 44 minutes/20 laps I was having an absolute blast! Joking around being an idiot, chatting to Ben and some other awesome runners (Duc Do, Wayne, Jules, Nikki, Kay & Fleur) to name a few and just enjoying being out amongst the public, not being completely isolated. It was also good to see the legend Stav looking better, he’d battled through his stomach issues, continued pushing and was now looking strong, this made me feel a lot better too. Making it even better was the weather was actually quite nice, blue skies much of the time, I’d taken off my long sleeve and gloves pretty early on. (I need to mention how appreciative I was of Stav’s other half, Mayumi! She was there cheering and supporting us. giving us electrolytes and food nearly all day, from the start the finish, even though she’d run in the 10km event herself!)

50km turned to 52.5km which turned to 60km which turned to 75km, time just flew by! At around the 60-70km mark Ben and I had stopped talking, for the first time in the race there was a decent stretch of time where we didn’t speak. The first half of the race I was constantly joking, talking and smiling however almost suddenly my mood dropped and I think Ben’s did too. It wasn’t all bad though, although our moods had dropped we weren’t hating life, instead of joking around a high level of determination had taken hold, complete focus. Time still flew by even though both of us where feeling worse and where no longer wanting to talk. I mentioned it to Ben, “I’ve reached the I don’t give a f**k stage”, he looked back at me and said “yeah, me too” or something along those lines. For the next 5-10km the only time we spoke was when we asked if the other was stopping at the aid station to refill our water or grab some food. We did eventually start talking again, I couldn’t believe how much food was impacting my state of mind and mood. The body had become so sensitive to what it needed! I knew when I needed water and/or food because my mood would drop and I’d feel a heightened sense of anxiety and fatigue. Soon as I had food and/or water (whatever the body needed) I’d nearly instantly feel better, it was amazing how in tune we can become with the body.

80km, 90km, 95km Ben was getting close to finishing the 100km race, he was in first place and by the time we finished our 38th loop which marked 95km we’d been running for 9 hours and 8 minutes, not only was Ben going to sub 10 hours for the 100km but he was going to smash it! Somehow we’d managed to maintain a very consistent pace throughout the race. To give you an idea my first lap took me 13 minutes 47 seconds, our 38th lap took us 14 minutes 41 seconds and the lap prior, 13 minutes 59 seconds. So after running for 9+ hours we were maintaining our pace per lap within the minute! I was stoked for this, with 2 laps to go Ben started pushing hard to reach his new goal, sub 9 hours 38 minutes. After completing the 39th lap with him it was clear to me that I was now just holding him back as he pushed to the finish. Ben though was too kind to leave me behind so as he was about to complete his last lap I told him to go on without me and finish strong, I still had 3 hours left and although I was willing push, I wasn’t willing to push that hard right now and make the last couple hours of the 12 hour race the dreaded death march. So off he went, Ben and I had pretty much been running together for 9 and a half hours at this point which without a doubt enhanced the race tenfold! Ben ended up finishing the 100km in 9 hours 34 minutes and 34 seconds, a very impressive result and one I feel privileged of being part of.

Ben & Myself nearly 1/3 though the 12 hours race
Photo Credit: Trailplus

I’d be lying to say it wasn’t a little disappointing to lose my running partner, I’d have to run out the last 2 and half hours solo. The other thing was I became satisfied once I’d reached 100km in under 9 hours and 40 minutes, I’d lost the hunger to push. Still though I was feeling ok, mentally anyway. My feet, the sole of my right foot especially was killing me and my hip flexors had became pretty achy along with both my knees. The repetitiveness of running on the hard gravel path was taking its toll and once Ben finished I started to let these issues slow me down. I was gong to run to the end though and set myself a goal which still seems ridiculous to me, reach 120km…. I needed a new goal and with the easy terrain there was no reason why I could’t run another 20km in 2 hours and 30 minutes. It was tempting to just walk the rest of the race though, I had no chance of catching the 3 guys ahead of me and I was happy with walking out another 10km and getting 110km, I’d be happy with that result, so I told myself. Deep down I knew I couldn’t let a potential 120km in 12 hours slip through my fingers though, all I had to do was put up with a little bit of pain for another 2 hours, I could do that. So onwards I pushed, I got out my earphones and started playing some music from my current favourite playlist featuring artists such as J. Cole, Eminem, Pop Smoke, Logic, Ja Rule, Drake, Lil Wayne, Joyner Lucas and Akon. Beginning lap 102.5km was like starting a new race, it felt a little like I’d completed the 100km race and was now starting a new!

Although I wasn’t running with Ben anymore I was far from being alone, there was still 13 of us out on the course. I loved getting the chance to have a few brief chats with many of these legends, Duc Do, Nikki, Jules, Kay, Wayne, and of course Stav! Stav’s mates had also come out to cheer him on and it was great getting to meet them. Stav’s hip flexors had gone to s**t so I’m sure he was extremely grateful for their company. It was impressive watching Stav soldier on, it was inspiring to watch such a gutsy effort. Each time I passed him there he was, head down, one foot in front of the other. Mayumi was now walking with him too, in true ultra running spirit! It was disappointing we didn’t get to run long together like we planned but thats ultra-running, something will always go to s**t and it’s how you adapt to those s**ty situations, and Stav was adapting with pure grit and heart. Anyway I entered the “I don’t give a f**k” headspace again for a good couple hours, complete focus and determination. 105km, 107.5km, 115km, the body really started to feel it now and making the 120km mark was looking to be close. As mental and physical fatigue started to take hold I started walking more. At 115km I bumped into Duc Do and Jules who where also were also walking, it was so tempting to call it a day and just walk the rest of race with these two, I enjoyed their company and trying to start running again felt like a huge effort. However if I walked with these two for the rest of the race I’d fall short of 120km by one lap, so I had to make the decision once again. Choose the comfort of walking and chatting away with these two legends or push for another 10-20 minutes and get that 48th lap done and reach 120km. Whilst I type away writing this race report in the comfort of my chair and home it seems like a no brainer, don’t be a b***h and just push for another 10-20 minutes, 10-20 minutes is nothing. However at the time it was dark, getting cold, I was tired and fatigued, my legs ached, I just wanted to be back in my comfort zone.

Luckily somehow I was able to find the extra mental fortitude and physical capability to give it one last push. I stopped walking with Duc Doa and Jules and began a jog which lasted around 1km before my legs just got too sore, I walked for another 10-20 seconds and tried running again. This time I made it 500m or so before I started walking again, I kept repeating this stop and start pattern all the way until I crossed that start/finish line for the 47th time. 117.5km done with 28 minutes to spare, I was pretty certain I’d hit that 120km mark now, I gained back significant amounts of time forcing myself to run as much as I could on the previous lap. Still though if I walked the whole last lap I’d still be too slow (my walking pace is very slow) I had to keep pushing for at least half of this last lap, and thats exactly what I did. In the darkness I began that last lap by myself, I was pretty stoked with what I was about to achieve, 120km in 12 hours seemed a distance impossible for someone like me, I felt extremely contempt and appreciative and made sure to enjoy this last lap and soak in what I was about to do. At the very end I caught up to Jules and Duc Do, in addition to Stav who were all walking, this is when I decided I’d walk permanently, 120km was now in the bag and I couldn’t think of a better way to end the race than with these legends. After 11 hours 53 minutes 50 seconds of running I crossed the finish/start line for the 48th and last time, however I still ad 6 minutes and 10 seconds left, it was tempting to just stay at the finish/start line but in my mind I couldn’t say I ran for 12 hours if I sopped after 11 hours 53 minutes and 50 seconds, I had to at least walk out the 6 minutes and 10 seconds remaining. Brett had also put out 100m markers along the 2.5km course so we could get in some extra meters, this gave me some extra incentive to keep going. In addition to getting in some extra meters, I could be useful and collect the markers for Brett one the 12 hours was over. So reluctantly I went out on my 49th lap with no intention of making it the whole way obviously. I’ll be honest I walked the whole 600m I made on this last lap, it made me realise how cold it was. There I was as the 12 hours hit, with my singlet on in the dark by myself on a cold winters night with a “nice” breeze cooling me down. The race was done, 120.6km in 12 hours, I was absolutely stoked however I still had another 1.9km of walking and marker collecting to do whilst freezing my a** off……

At the end of every race report I make sure to thank every single volunteer, staff member and of course the race director for putting on these events. The volunteers are the heart and soles of these races and Princess Park was no different, with their smiling faces making sure we ate enough at the aid station, cheering us on and helping make the race possible. So thank you every single one of you! And of course thank you Brett and the whole Trails+ crew, the brain trust of the event. The event was run well and I had a blast, it was low key but I wouldn’t of had it any other way!

Lastly huge thank you to Stav and Mayumi for letting me stay at your home the night prior, two absolute legends. It’s an absolute privilege to be a part of Stav’s ultra-running journey, after all his issues and all his struggles he was still able to clock 90km.

PS congratulations Ben for the 100km PB, and thank you for letting tag along, had a great time!

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