Contributed by Simone Hayes, AURA Treasurer

Coast to Kosciuszko, 4-6 December 2020, Eden NSW

This race has been four years in the making for me. I got my first taste in 2016 when I crewed Pete Colagiuri. I had never crewed a race before and absolutely loved it. He had a challenging day and it was a joy to get him over the line in 42 hours. After experiencing most of the pacing duties I had seen a lot of the course and said whilst I loved crewing, I had no desire to ever run the race as there was too much road – I’m a trail runner!

But in 2017, I followed the race with much interest and remembered just how special it was and all the good memories of the event were coming back to me.

Come 2018 I just happened to have a good year and had gained the qualifiers needed, so after GNW in September (my longest race ever) I decided to throw my name in the hat and see what happened. After a very nervous wait (I was now totally invested and wanted in!) I finally got that email from Paul and Dianne to say I’d been accepted.

So training kicked back in with only nine weeks until race day.

Two weeks out from race day and we all know what happened – the race was cancelled and I, along with many, were devastated. I even cried! I was telling myself to pull it together, it was ‘just a race’ but it was more than that. Even I was surprised at how gutted I was. Along with a few other disappointed runners we decided to do a replacement run on the same day (Maroubra Beach to Barrenjoey Lighthouse and back to Manly, 10 miles) which was heaps of fun and at least scratched a bit of an itch. But it wasn’t the same. I did get lucky and befriend the wonderful Jane Trumper along the way though.

Fast forward to December2020 and here we are! The race has come and gone and I am still in a state of euphoria at having completed it! I had such an amazing crew with my long suffering non-runner husband Marc, my trusty massage therapist and serial crew member Faye Lehane, pacer and friend Michel Haenggi, who dislikes road running immensely but thankfully came along for the journey as he was GOLD. We were then joined at Jindy by Pete Colagiuri for some fresh jokes and input to help the tired brains in our crew.

The Race

The start was amazing, so calm and still at Boydtown Beach with everyone as the sun was coming up, we all had a nervous but excited energy as you do on the start line of a big race, but this was still extra special.

Once we started, I took it super easy to Towamba at 24km until I saw my crew, chatting along with anyone I came across as we all settled into our pace and warmed up. My plan was to go REALLY slow all day and save something for the night section. It was much hotter than expected (apparently got to around 39 degrees in the afternoon) and the crew were telling me to slow down even more and conserve and I’m glad I listened for a change.

Their main job was to keep me cool and not let me overdrink. My stomach is always my worst enemy but it was fairly happy through here, only one spew required but that was after the Big Dead Tree at 102km so not too bad for me!

The kms rolled on through the day and I was in a dead set focused and happy place, just ticking along, not thinking of anything much other than how I felt, did I need food, sugar, fluids, how was my pace etc. For me it felt like it was going pretty quickly and smoothly, just focus on each checkpoint and getting through those milestones.

Shoo away the flies, jump over the god damn live brown snakes (three of them!) and skirt away from the dead ones just in case! We even just missed one in the dark as it was still warming itself on the road. Fark! At least the flies died down in the dark and you couldn’t see the road kill, just smell it. Not as much wildlife as I expected though, just a few wallabies and lots of sheep and cattle. And a long, unprotected winding road for as far as you can see, beautiful countryside though.

Once the pacers joined at 8.30pm I took out the music that had been keeping me company and we enjoyed the cooler temps and the stars in the sky. Michel and I turned our lights off to have a better look. Still feeling good here although I was unable to eat anything that required chewing so was sticking to rice puddings and mash potato, Spring Energy Gels and Wolf Packs and fluids. Wolf packs are the best! Michel and I were having a good old chat along here. For a bloke he was great at keeping the idle banter and chat going! If I went quiet, he’d wait a bit and then pull out a line to distract me and keep focused. Gosh we had a lot of laughs though! But what goes on tour stays on tour!

Around 140km I stopped to stretch my glutes and must have irritated something because after that I couldn’t run a step for about an hour. So painful. Shit! This is me done I was thinking. I can walk it in from here but that wasn’t my plan! We called the crew on the walkie talkie and got Faye (AKA Finger’s) and got her to work on it. I popped some drugs (not ideal but you do what you have to do) and then tried to get going again. It was still a really sharp pain that I couldn’t run through, especially downhill when I wanted to, so we pushed a bit further into Dalgety where Faye worked on it again for a lot longer while I ate some food. Couple more pills to be safe and then we headed off and boom – all was good! I never mentioned my bum again! Fingers, you are a miracle worker!

Not long after I needed spew number 2 – realised that if I got it out I felt better immediately and could eat again 30mins later so was quite proud of myself – fingers down the throat and problem solved! I fact, there was so much problem solving in this race, it was a really good learning curve and I think I managed my body the best I ever have in a race. I’m going to write plenty of notes so I remember!

Beloka – the steep 3km climb, I switched pacers and Faye got to whip out the playlist the Energy Fitness guys had put together for me. We chatted and sang loudly up here and drove poor Jochen and his pacer mad with the choice of music which I did point out wasn’t mine! They proceeded to sing in German to drown us out!

Then we looked forward to the ‘easy leg’ into Jindy and realised I was going to make my goal of getting to Jindy roundabout in 24hours – we arrived at 5.29am!

I thought after slowing with the heat and then my butt issue that I would have missed that goal by 2 hours! Happy days! The legs were feeling it coming into the next checkpoint along the path, so when I go to the crew I had a shorts change, sorted some chafing out and had bit of a breather before heading up the hill to face the last 60km. Here we go.

The food kept going in and the pacers made sure I didn’t argue with them now, they cut deals about when and how much food I had to have, (in 10 mins you will have half a Wolfpack etc) I may have been a little less compliant at this stage but they persevered thankfully. Lots of gagging and little spews happened until the finish but I forced it in as I promised myself I would before I started. Eat and run, that’s all you have to do.

Those who know me know that I have a bladder the size of a pea, so going to the loo up here was frequent and very public so apologies to anyone that spotted my ass multiple times along here! Especially my crew that probably can’t unsee some things I did! Care factor ZERO on my half though!

That was the least of my concerns. Was probably overhydrating a bit here so they pulled that back too.

We ticked off Sponars, Smiggins and then finally got into Perisher. Here the wind had really picked up and my feet were literally being picked up and pushed to the side, if I’d had an umbrella I would have taken off like Mary Poppins I reckon. The crew told me there’d be a lull at the top – Hah! Liars! But was good to not know what was ahead at the Summit, even though we were one of the lucky ones. It was tough for us so must have been horrendous for those that got stuck up there later. This race does seriously throw it all at you. Marc got to have a couple of walks with me here and took me up to Charlotte Pass while the other went ahead to get the mandatory gear checked off which was nice.

The 4 hour return felt like about 90mins – it seemed to go pretty quickly (or I am still delirious). The climb against the wind to the Summit was probably my lowest point of the race as the wind was knocking the poles out of the ground before I could plant them and the rocks just seemed really awkward to get any footing and momentum. Add tender feet to that and it was a pretty uncomfortable slog but we pushed on as hard as we could, I think I did have one little tanty for a second with the wind where I stamped my poles a few times but got over it fast! It kind of felt like you weren’t gaining any distance even though of course we were.

We saw lots of runners making their descent back which was really cool to cheer them on. It spurred me on knowing that I was going to finish this thing. Finally were a km from the top and there were so many ‘one last corner’ calls that I thought we’d never see that monument! But there it was, surrounded by heaps of tourists so the crew ran ahead and cleared the space so I could scramble up and get that photo I’ve been waiting for. I think Fingers loved yelling “runner coming through” oh the power!

The climb up on top wasn’t pretty but I got there and they literally had to hang onto me so I didn’t blow off! Photo taken and then down I got, hobbled over the rocks and back to the path and it was game on. One of my goals was to run the last 9km (or something that resembled running!) and somehow we ran strongly the whole way down, only stopping for a pee (sorry to the tourists) and a quick breather but otherwise I was gobsmacked that we were actually running a pretty tidy pace to the finish. I didn’t talk, just focused on not tripping over and letting the crew guide me.

They were AMAZING! About 3km from the finish friends Kizza and Ian appeared so after a quick hug we set off again and headed for the finish line. Its all very surreal now I think about it, but it felt like it took no time at all to get down from the Summit. Even though it was probably an hour it felt like about 20mins.

And there it was, the C2K banner. I’d frigging done it. I was getting that hat! I was emotional to say the least but absolutely stoked and so happy. It was just a relief but also mind boggling to think how far we had come and I was still intact and feeling relatively fine! I finished in 33hours and 11mins, 13th overall and 5th female. And I was going to get that Akubra!

I had a few boxes to tick when I went into this and they started off with the basics and then got more adventurous if things went to plan:

  • FINISH! Get that hat!
  • Enjoy the experience and not have a day so bad that I hate it. Keep smiling!
  • Pull up better than I did at World Champs and be able to celebrate in Jindy and not be super sick!
  • Keep my stomach happy, keep my energy up and keep moving forward. Minimise the stops.
  • Finish under 35 hours
  • Be able to run the finish from the Summit
  • Finish with a ‘dream time’ of 32-33 hours
  • Aim for a top 5 female finish

So I am very happy to say I ticked every box which as we know is hard to do in a race this length as anything can happen. I learned heaps and I feel like I had a good day and a half. I’m happy.

The biggest heartfelt thanks to my crew, wow, what a selfless act that is, putting your life on hold to help a stinky runner. I just hope that you enjoyed the experience too and I wasn’t too awful to deal with! I’d have you all back in a blink! Crewing is much harder than running and I appreciate you all so much. Love ya guts Super Crew!

To my old friends and my new friends down there – this experience is what it is because of you guys. It’s the running community that keeps us doing this stuff! Was so good to share that experience with so many of you. You are all absolute legends!

To the volunteers – a seamless race, thanks you for all that you do behind the scenes.

To Gregory Wallace, Mickey Campbell, Julie and family for getting this back on the race calendar again – you did a brilliant job and every runner is extremely grateful for all of the hard work you have done. No easy feat.

To all of my friends, family and EF clients that sent thousands of messages of support – I read them all and was overwhelmed, every word of encouragement before, during and after means a lot and helped so much

To my husband Marc and kids Riley and Ciara – I know I am a punish to live when I have what you call my ‘race head’ on – as much as I think I’m all good and cool as a cucumber I know I’m focused and distracted and drop a lot of balls at home. Thank you all for letting me indulge in what is sometimes a very selfish sport but one you know I love so you give me the freedom and your blessings to pursue. I know the race is only one part of it and the training and lead up goes on all year. I love you all dearly for letting me do this over and over and always supporting me.

And thank you to coach Andy DuBois for believing in me and keeping me sane during my taper tantrums! You are a good friend and brilliant coach.

So that’s a wrap! I’m sure I’ve forgotten someone or something but you’ve probably stopped reading by now anyway so I’ll call it a day. This was more for me to keep a note of what was an epic journey, so if you hung in to the end, you should be an ultra runner!

Pictured: Simone Hayes in the 2020 Coast to Kosci. Photograph – Supplied/Facebook.