Contributed by Amelia Griffith, AURA Member & 2nd Female at 100km Asia & Oceanic Championships

IAU 100km Asia and Oceania Championships (Aqaba, Jordan)
23 November, 2019

On 19 November 2019, the Australian team (consisting of three females and one male) arrived in Amman, Jordan. We had an overnight stop at the Dead Sea before heading down south to Aqaba city, where the race was to be held.

The day before the race was hard for everyone I think, as we were just waiting around. Team member Brendan Davies and I still went out for our easy morning run at 6.30am, as we had done the past few mornings, just to shake the legs out one more time and chat. We then met everyone for breakfast at 8am, and filled up on whatever carbs we could, pretty much thinking this was going to be the last ‘main supper’ before the race.

The chatter amongst the team was a bit quieter that day, and I was feeling a little apprehensive about how the race the next day was going to unfold. No one knew what the course was like as yet (we would only find out at the briefing later that afternoon), but the only certain thing was that it was going to be hot with no shade. 

Throughout the day we attended various race briefings and technical meetings, and then the opening ceremony started at 6pm. I could not believe I was standing on stage, next to Brendan, Barbara Fieberg and Corrina Black, holding the Australian Flag and wearing the Australian uniform! What a dream come true! We all then had a very light dinner and headed off to our rooms. I was in bed by 8.30pm, and ended up sleeping quite well that night, which I was thankful for.

Race Day

I was awake before my alarm went off at 4.15am, got dressed and took a moment to look at myself in the mirror – yep, green and gold and I was ready to run!

The team met down in the hotel lobby just before 5am, and then boarded the mini bus along with the Indian team to head to the start of the course. It was only a 20 minute bus trip, and when we got off we were hit by a cold wind blowing – it was freezing! The sun had not yet come up and we had nothing to keep us warm as we were totally unprepared for the wind. I started to get really nervous about how cold it was, and what the day was going to bring and if this wind would die down. The weather forecast had predicted 28 degrees and sunny with a 30km/hr wind.

At 6.25am we lined up at the start, got our watches ready and then I did something I never usually do – I moved to the very front of the start line. Typically I hang back about five people or rows from the line, as I know I am slower and like to let the fast people move off, but this time was different. I was here to race and give it everything I had, which meant going hard right from the start. There is a saying that ultra running is 80% mental and 20% physical, and mentally I was ready. My goal was to bring home a medal for Australia, and to do so, I had to be smart and in control. And run fast.

After a couple of false starts due to the starters’ gun not firing, we were finally off and racing, just as the sun was coming up over the mountains in the distance. It still felt cold (it was about 15 deg) and I was envious of the Indian team who had elected to run in their jackets. However, about 5kms into the race I had warmed up a bit and was sitting comfortably on about a 4:35 pace. The course was a 10km loop x10 laps with 78mt of elevation gain per lap, but the last 4kms of the course was all downhill back to the start/finish area where the main aid station was set up. 

I was wearing a race belt, so could carry a few gels as well as a bottle of Tailwind, and then had another spare bottle holder for water. There were three water stations out on course, handing out 360ml bottles which were a good size.  

It took me a while to ‘get into the race’ and work out my strategy.  The Japanese team had all gone out super quick, as had the British/Welsh runners, and Brendan was also up there in about 4th position.

The sun was well and truly up by the end of the first 10km lap, so I collected my sunglasses from the aid station as I passed through, breathed a sigh of relief and then headed on out. ‘I’ve got this,’ I said to myself and smiled. ‘Only 18 more parkruns to go.’ I was happy and feeling comfortable now that the temperature had started to warm up and I was ready to shift myself up another gear.

The course had green line markers on the road at every kilometre, so you could judge pacing and distances with other runners. At the third lap I was about 2kms behind the Japanese lady in front of me, and about 1.5kms ahead of the next female behind me. I wasn’t sure of my position, but assumed it was about 4th female. Barb and Corrina were still running together and looked really happy and relaxed. I had my first gel at 16kms as per my plan and all was going well. I started to acknowledge and encourage the other runners and just keep myself positive. 

Finishing my third lap it was time to refuel with more Tailwind and some Gu chews. I was feeling good, but started to acknowledge the heat and wind which were both increasing.

Next lap done, I got smothered in sunscreen by our amazing crew at the aid station, collected more Tailwind and Gu chews and headed back on course. The runners were really spreading out now and I started to notice the loneliness, with no music, no crowds of people and no one close by to run with. The course was essentially just a road around a vacant residential area (yet to be built) and had very few people around, no shelter or buildings and only a few sparse trees which offered no protection from the wind or sun.

At 50kms in 4:06, which was well ahead of my pacing schedule, I was feeling really good and also wanted to bank up as much time as I could, so I wouldn’t have to face the heat for too long. It was time for me to have a bit of caffeine and something to eat if possible. I had planned to have more gels during the event, but found my pallet was repelling the thought of anything sweet, and I was also drinking a lot more compared to what I was used to and I was feeling really full. The Indian lady (Anjali Saraogi) behind me had started to catch up, so I pushed on with my pace. I was concerned about the lack of calories I was taking in, but thankful to at least have brought ‘naked’ flavour Tailwind with me to keep me going.

At the end of the 5th lap I stopped at our aid station to get a gel and some lollies, which wasn’t what I wanted, but I couldn’t face eating anything solid. Given the state of the race and where I was at, I resorted to ‘Plan B’ and told our crew to get me some coke for when I come around on my next lap. I never usually drink coke until the very last stages of an ultra, but having it was also a back-up plan to help with stomach issues.  My pace had slowed to 5:00min/km, the temperature was now just below 30 degrees and the wind was blowing stronger, which was really starting to annoy me. I had to keep my fluid intake up, but was also using the left over water at the water stations to pour on my hands and arms which is something I do to feel a bit fresher and cool down. I sucked down a gel that almost made me vomit, but I needed some calories.

Coming around to the aid station at the end of the 6th lap was a relief – sunscreen and coke! I gulped a few mouthfuls and asked to have more ready for when I came around again on the next lap. I headed off feeling happier and after about two minutes I burped the most glorious burp and felt instant relief in my stomach.  All that fluid bouncing around had gone down and I didn’t feel so full.

However, fatigue was starting to set in and the heat was bouncing off the black road and felt like it was burning my face. I still didn’t know if I was in 3rd or 4th position, but this lap was starting to take a toll on a number of runners, as I saw a few men walking due to cramps, the Indian lady behind me had slowed to a gap of over 2kms, and the Japanese lady ahead of me had stopped to vomit on the side of the road.

The 8th lap was done, less than 20kms to go, and so I grabbed a food bar and another mouthful of coke at our aid station and ‘yahooed’ as I went back out on course for the 9th lap! 

‘Four parkruns to go, I’ve got this!’ My stomach issues had gone, I was able to eat something (that wasn’t sweet), Anjali Saraogi behind me had slowed to create more than a 2km gap, and mentally I was in a great place. Brendan had lapped me by this stage and was looking really good, although I’m sure he always looks good when he runs, just so comfortable. Going up the hills against the wind was really slowing me down, and my legs were feeling fatigued, but thanks to the heavy training schedule I had kept up to prepare for this event, having fatigued legs felt normal!

Coming around for my final lap felt like I was at the start of the race, and I was ready to explode. I had another mouthful of coke from our crew and headed back out on course. Just as I was doing so, Rob Boyce, who was standing on the side of the road called out to me and said ‘I think you are in 3rd place and the Japanese lady ahead of you has only just left the aid station. This is your time now to dig deep and give it everything you’ve got. Go and catch her.’

I had seen the Japanese lady coming as I was going into the aid station/start-finish area and figured she was about 800-metres ahead of me (turned out she was three minutes ahead). I was now unstoppable and fatigue was no longer a consideration – I was going to catch her. 

About 1km down the road I saw her in the distance and started to believe a silver medal was achievable. I didn’t even notice the hills on that last lap, and ended up running it five minutes quicker than my previous one! I saw up ahead at the first water station (3.2km) that Konoka Azumi, the Japanese lady, had stopped to walk and drink. As I passed by the water station I grabbed a bottle and kept running, shoving it in my belt for if I needed it later. Just before the 5km mark, Konoka turned and watched as I overtook her, and she then tried to pick up her pace. I’m not sure what she said as I passed, but it didn’t matter. I was now 2nd Female and I was going to fight for this position. 

I flew past the next water station and rounded the u-turn corner and saw she was still running. It was now less than a parkrun to go, this is it, just one more hill and then it’s all downhill to the finish. With just under 4kms to go I turned my head to look behind me, but not for long enough so I couldn’t tell where Konoka was.  I told myself to just run, just don’t look back and run like you’ve never run before. With 2kms to go I thought it was never going to end. I felt like crying and screaming but I had to hold myself together as I needed all of the remaining energy I had to just hold on. I rounded the final corner and with less than 600-metres to go I focused on that finish line (and not tripping over on my tired legs!). Coming around to the aid station and finish line I was handed the Australian flag and I held it above my head as I pushed myself over the line! 

And that was it. Second Female and 11th overall in a time of 8:57:02. 

A PB by 15-minutes and I felt like I had run the race of my life. 

Konoka finished 3rd Female just over five minutes after me, which shows that ultras are so much more of a mental battle.

IAU president Nadeem Khan, Robert and Brendan all hugged me at the finish line, and all I could manage to say was ‘thank you.’  I held up the Australian flag for photographs and stood there in sheer disbelief at what I had just achieved. I was now standing at the finish line of a 100km international race in the middle of Jordan, wearing the Australian uniform, holding the Australian flag and was going to get a silver medal. 

Brendan had also had an amazing race and finished 2nd Male in a time of 7:49:16, and the rest of the female team finished in 6th and 7th (gender) positions, giving the Australian female team the Gold medal placing as well!

Pictured: Amelia Griffith with the Australian flag after placing 2nd Female at the 2019 IAU 100km Asia and Oceanic Championships. Photograph – Supplied.