If you followed the ultra world closely last weekend, you’ll know that Queensland ultra runner, Mick Thwaites ran a mindboggling 412kms in 48hours to not only win the CBR 48hr, but in the process run the longest distance in the world at that event for the last five years. In fact, he’s now third on the all-time Aussie 48hr list behind Martin Fryer (433kms) and Yiannis Kouros (473kms!!!! – choking on my coffee here!)
Mick has very carefully crafted a race report, which we think given his run, deserves much limelight and credit. Take it away Mick…
Well, 7 days or 168hrs(I like to count in hours now!) has passed since my body and mind went on an extraordinary journey around the AIS athletics track in Canberra. I have gone through a few mental and physical transformations in this past week, but the Easter Bunny has brought some normality back into my life.
When I heard about the possibility of a 48hr race being held in Canberra and also being organised by the impeccable Billy Pearce and co-workers including Martin Fryer, I knew that I had to program this into my calendar. After a few 24hr races, it just seemed like a natural progression to step up to attempt a 48hr and see what the body could do over a couple of days. Coming off a couple of good road/track races in the first half of 2015, I had planned to take a few months of steady training and get back on the trails for some fun and variety for the rest of last year.
My life unravelled a bit in the last few months of 2015 and a lot of self induced selfishness, pain and suffering was borne by many around me. I can only go on to repay faith and understanding in the future, and will always do this to the best of my ability. I suffered a pretty nasty stress fracture in my heel in late October and the prognosis from the sports doctor was that I would not be able to race properly again until April/May this year. If anything was going to inspire me and motivate me, it was getting to the start line of the CBR48 in March.
One lesson I took out of my rehab/recovery and would pass on to others is that if you have a serious injury or diagnosis that takes a certain amount of weeks/months, take one more than the prescribed period. We are a long time in this sport, 7 more days can be the difference between two months off or two years off. Once I hit the ground running again in the New Year, I had my ups and downs during training but was confident I had done enough to prepare my body for the task at hand.
Preparing your body and legs physically is one thing, but preparing your mind is another. You have to take in account for all the physical effort that will test your perception of pain and suffering and also the state of mind throughout all the highs and lows of the weekend. Throw in the weather, eating, drinking and pacing strategies and it sounds overwhelming. Everybody is different and approaches these events from all angles. Having never ran for this long before my approach to the race was to run more from the heart than from the head. In my final preparation I read and re read this article from Ultra168 in where my friend, coach and inspiring mentor details the art of surrendering to the task at hand.
It gives you an insight into what your mind and body can achieve when it’s in the state of awareness.
With the race also being in the nation’s capital, I decided to immerse myself in the history and draw on inspiration that was all around us. I flew to Canberra a day before the race and paid a visit to the National War Memorial. There is no a place on this planet that is steeped with more tales of courage, bravery and respect asides the battlefields that these men and women fought on. I paid my respects and drew on the enormous belief that these people had sacrificed themselves to give us the ability to live as we do today in this fine country and world. I merely had to run around a track for 48hrs, doing what I love best. Running.
I was ready, it was time to run. My family joined me Thursday night, Jenny and Hana ready to crew for the weekend and we met up with Liz Bennett for a small team briefing over dinner. Our final team Shmickster, Shaun Mulholland jetted in early Friday morning to complete the puzzle. I am truly indebted to these guys. As much as my little legs did lap after lap, this is truly a team event. We are fortunate to have supported each other over the past few years so we have a great understanding of what is needed. This no doubt, really helped me relax into the race.
The pre race detail and correspondence was second to none, and for an inaugural event it was reassuring that the weekend would go smoothly. We certainly weren’t disappointed, there was even a historic cyclonic weather event ordered for the first day☺The facilities and set up were world class, and we settled in to our position along the crewing straight. It was a great carnival like atmosphere and everyone was buying into it. The rain and the wind made for a pretty quick build up as runners and crews battened down the hatches and went through their final preparation. It was great to catch up with fellow competitors and friends and the vibe from trackside was that it would be a monster weekend. As well as the 48hr race, there were also
24,12 and 6hr races that would start at different times across the days. This is a great dynamic and makes for superb interaction between runners and crews.
The race got underway and everyone quickly settled into their groove and pacing. I had planned as always to stick to a run/walk schedule with an extended walk break thrown in at intervals. As the smiles beamed from the runners and a few early catch up conversations were manifesting around the track, the inner field and crew areas were a totally different scene. Apparently wind gusts of 100km/hr plus were recorded on the Friday afternoon as a normally sheltered area of Canberra turned into the Bass Straight. Every spare body was clinging to the legs of gazebos or removing the shade covers to prevent the shelters ending up in a nearby suburb. Runners were catching flying tents and equipment as they battled their way down the home straight into the wind. I recollect stopping a couple of time to help a crew member recover their shelter and also took a hit on the legs from a flying plastic box lid. Whilst all this was occurring the race team and officials had to keep all the sophisticated timing equipment and screens safe from wind and water. It is a testament to Billy and the volunteers on how they coped during this period. If there were any signs of panic or stress, it certainly did not translate out onto the track for the runners.
As night fell and the rain dissipated, the wind still remained but had subsided to a managble level. The temperature had also dropped quite a bit and there were many layers of clothes being tested around the track. My race plan was going really well and I was slightly ahead of schedule. I was running well within myself and felt very comfortable. Ahead of me was my good mate and Fryer Ultra stablemate Matt Eckford, who also was running well and looked set into his routine. Along with Matt and many others, we all shared words of encouragement as we passed each other at various intervals. This shows the camaraderie in our sport, and it is always present no matter what the suffering. Everyone is, and has a character out on the track, I feel that it is important to feed off the energy of others whilst also giving of yours what you can. At times it felt like the smile on my face was painted on, but I was thoroughly enjoying the occasion. There were races within races going on, both in the men’s and the ladies. Runners had targets and records in their sights, there was still a long way to go but you could sense the determination all around.
As day broke on the Saturday, you could sense it would be a different day. The clouds had rolled away and the sun broke through. This coupled with the arrival of the 24hr athletes, made it feel like a new beginning. Fortunately I was still feeling strong and had got through the night without the need for any sleep or caffeine. This had me in a good position to consolidate on the days running. Unfortunately though the track had started to take its toll on a few runners, but after 20hrs of running you would have to expect this. It was great to exchange welcomes and banter with the arriving crews and runners. Whilst it was an immediate distraction to the task at hand it also fuelled the desire to run well and be present in the moment. The 24hr race kicked off at 9am, 3hrs before we were due to go through our own 24hrs.
I had one of my most satisfying moments at the halfway point of the race, to go through 235km in the shape and frame of mind I was in made me feel aware and surrendered into the race. I can only attribute this to the mental preparation and targeted focus that I had. There was still a long way to go and I needed to stay smart and happy though☺Funnily enough, the next 6 hours or so were a bit of a blur and Saturday afternoon came and went. Maybe it was the introduction of the 12 hr and 6hr race that sped things up? Also in the mix was a 100km option where a few guys were aiming to post a time to qualify for the Australian 100km team. To see all these athletes take to the track and push the pace faster than we could think helped the hours tick by.
As we trundled through dusk into the second night, the atmosphere had elevated and the friendly banter and encouragement elevated to a new level. The crews were relentless in their support for not only their own runner but holding out a helping hand to others. I lost count of how many times that I got offered some kind of nutritional delicacy that definitely tempted the resolve. I must say though that the endless supply of icy poles on the Saturday afternoon can attribute to some great results. I hope they are not on the WADA banned list😉 The 24hr runners were powering through and it was great to see fellow 24hr teammate Baz Loveday back in action and on target for a big total. Also hot on his heels was Jess Baker on debut for 24hr racing looking so smooth and controlled.
As midnight came and went it became apparent that I was in control of my race and was fortunate to be out the front. Unfortunately Matt had succumbed to serious leg pains and had decided to rest up. Hot on my heels though was the ever present and distance champion Nikki Wynd, Barry McBride, Trevor Allen and International superstar Torill Fonn. This being my first foray into the world of 48hr running I had no idea how the next 12hrs would pan out for both my body and mind. I was still cruising quite well and my predicted distance at this rate would have put me in the mid 400’s. I was not naive enough to think that I could just cruise to this total and it would take a gut-busting effort in the last 6 hours to get anywhere close. I discussed with my great mate Shaun the options and potential outcomes that could result. I’m sure in a previous life that we may have been in the trenches somewhere together. Deep down I knew 400km was achievable without pushing myself to the red line and beyond. With one eye on another major race this year and the recovery process needed, we decided to back off slightly with 10hrs to go. For all I knew, my body may have packed up with 4hrs to go and I would have been snoring loudly with a lot of km’s left out on the track. Thankfully it didn’t and with some self-management and on the ball crewing we got through to sunrise still on track to break the 400km barrier.
The 24hr race ended at 9am and yet again, those few hours around it were a blur. It was awesome to watch the runners striving to the finish and having a final push to end their own mammoth efforts. The encouragement given from all on track had not diminished the entire weekend. While the congratulations and attention was duly diverted to these finishers, we in the 48hr race pushed on for the final few hours to put closure on our own epic journeys. Every single person in the race achieved something this weekend, whether it was a PB, national record or soul changing experience. Some may not have reached or achieved their goal, but it wasn’t for the lack of trying or effort. There is a fine line in this sport that we tread on all the time, sometimes we fall on the wrong side of it. It’s what we learn from it and apply in the future which makes us what we are.
Our strategy of pulling back had paid off and I had managed to click over the 400km barrier with a couple of hours to spare. I found myself in such a fortunate position, I actually became pretty overwhelmed with it all. After a change of clothes and a kick up the arse from my crew I got back out there on the track and dragged my tired and aching body through the final minutes to finish with a total of 413km plus change. I had done it! Not in my wildest dreams did I envisage this accomplishment without the need of ACDC or Metallica ringing in my ears, but I had ran from the soul and let the mind run free. Don’t get me wrong, there were times of darkness, pain and suffering during the race but the inspiration of others and my preparation seemed to carry me through and above it.
As always I owe a massive debt of gratitude, not only to my crew and family but to their family’s too. The sacrifices that are undertaken to help us mad hatters run for an entire weekend are borne by many, and not just our own immediate family. I am also privileged to have a small network behind me that helped me both compete and recover from my injury to get back on track ready for the start line. A massive thanks to SimpleHydration and Shotz Sports Nutrition for fuelling the motor over the weekend and also Body Leadership Physio for the fine tuning to get me to the start line ready to race. Coach and mentor Martin Fryer, for the belief and guidance.
The support from all around the track on the weekend was infectious, and there was many familiar faces and new friends to draw from. I felt grateful to be in the company and presence of so many achievers it made for a no lose situation. As I have mentioned previously this was an outstanding event organised by extraordinary people. With the focus on the Kilted to kick Cancer supporting the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia, Billy and the crew ensured the message got across time and time again. As a few may know, I lost my father to Leukaemia a few years ago and his fight lives inside me to this day. These diseases are a menace to our society and we must make sure we address the issues and make people aware before it is too late. With a little tear in my eye I can hold my head high for a minute and say ‘ Mate I did it! I won a race and am now considered a national champion’.
This though is actually superficial and I would sacrifice that medal and any accolades for the opportunity for Poppy to watch one of Hana’s tennis groups on a Saturday morning. I have come learn from a lot of faults of my own, what life is about. I will keep on learning and apply myself as best as I can to the challenges ahead. I have a few aspirations and goals that I would like to achieve, but if it is to the detriment of my family it will not happen. Both Jenny and Hana sacrifice many things along my pathway to these races and I truly would not be in this position now without their unwavering love and support.
Congratulations to all involved over the weekend, it made for a massive event that exceeded expectations. There were many outstanding performances in all the events which will be translated across all the boards. Finally again, I would like to thank my crew of Shmicksters that just continue to exceed. We have manifested a special bond that I hope will live on for years to come.