Contributed by Maree Connor, AURA member (NSW)

1st Female

It was still dark on the morning of 2 December 2022 because it was only 5am when we walked out on to the soft sand of the beach in Boydtown, just south of Eden. It squelched under my shoes and I could feel the excitement building inside my body as I listened silently to the welcome to country and then prepared to start the race thinking to myself, “I am grateful, and I am hopeful for safe passage along this path today.” I felt an eerie calm inside, having stood in this very spot for the last 2 years. Today would be a good day to run 240km. It was almost time.

And it was a good day. I had a plan to kickstart the morning relaxed and easy, running only to feel and letting the body dictate the pace so I turned my watch face off. I felt so strong following a good lengthy taper. The weather would be warm out and I knew that I was looking forward to getting in under the trees around the 50km mark. I took each step one after the other, smiling and happy, focusing only on the km I was in and soaking it all up. A new section was added this year, a trail section at about 56km due to road closure – which was exciting for me as a lover of offroad trails. I knew it would slow me down on my quest to reach the 3rd checkpoint timely but I did not let that phase me, I just plodded along carefully and felt grateful and thankful to be fit and healthy to be racing at all. Popping out of the forest an on to the road sections after checkpoint 3 (Cathcart), the 70-105km stretch to CP 4 is an enjoyable segment.

I love the rolling dirt roads and endless plains with views for miles on both sides and it’s practically perfect running on a warm summers’ day. It was mid-afternoon and by now the sun was beating down though I was well covered up and not too hot. I breathed in all the fresh air and felt comfortable and strong, all the while being followed and supported by my crew (my little sister Di and my best mate Alexa). These girls were having a party of their own in our crew car, dancing and singing and yahooing out the window to me and every other runner they passed, at every possibility. I think this is why they have the reputation of being the most dynamic crew on course!

From check point 4 (104.8km) just after 5pm it was time to settle in. This section takes us up and over the range past the iconic wind turbines. It was still bright, sunny and pretty warm and we knew we would get to the end of our daylight before the next check point. I love the sounds of the wind turbines as you peacefully traverse this amazing land with stunning views out in every direction forever.

It was this section I finally got to run with some other runners (I mean I spent 30min with Nick and Tom in the first 20km of the race but we didn’t chat or sing for long before separating and each running our own races). I spent an hour or so with Rob M and then with Tim K as well (these two would eventually go on to be 1st and 3rd place overall). This was a wonderful time chatting and running together as the daylight started to fade and darkness approached. I dropped off the back of this group around dark as I started getting tummy issues, stopping every 20-30min or so to… you know… (toilet stop). 

Unfortunately, this funny tummy thing would last the rest of the race for me (nearly 130km), and stopping every 20-30min for a few minutes would eventually be my undoing for a sub 30hr race plan.

From Dalgety 148km and in the darkness by torchlight with 92km to go, I set off 30min behind my race plan with my pacer Paul. At this checkpoint (5), we gained 2 members of the crew. My Dad came in to help drive to give my sister rest then time to care for me over night, and my pacer Paul came out on road. He would do the next 90km with me (as an ultrarunner himself, this slow-paced all-nighter was not a scary proposition). Together we ran for the next 36km leg up and over the Beloka Range and down into Jindabyne (check point 6).

The level of the lake at Jindy is up and so we ran around the top path to the next checkpoint in the pitch black with the sound of water lapping closely. It was around 3am as we scooted in and through that checkpoint and onward towards the mountains and national park. With continuous stops for my tummy, we moved forward as best I could to get as far as possible overnight.

This section was tricky as I started feeling overwhelmingly frustrated with the frequent stops and interruption. It was taking over my calm mental state and I noticed a decline in my focus. This patch took a long time to recover from. I did my best to push it aside and try to concentrate on the task at hand but it was difficult and many hours passed before I felt mentally better.

As night turned to day, and the ticking clock rolled over 24hrs into the race, it was 0530 and we were steadily pushing on in our pursuit for Perisher at 212kms. From Perisher (CP 7) it was only 28km to go. 10km up to Charlotte Pass (CP 8) and then the 18km summit loop to the top of Mt Kosciuszko and return to Charlotte Pass to finish.

Dawn was cool and calm and so much nicer than both the previous years I had been on this course (2020 was 50-80km wind gusts blowing me off the road while the other was 2021 in torrential rain and freezing sleet). I relished in the serenity of the perfect temp, beautiful blue skies and alpine birds chirping around me although I was feeling pretty weary and the 30min toilet stops had still not subsided – only now it was in broad daylight and a tad embarrassing!

With Perisher to Charlotte pass done, we started the final climb to the summit. It was stunning and remarkable and we dawdled to take in the views of snow-capped mountains and beautiful stream. At Seamans Hut, we had to traverse the first snow drift. It was getting pretty mushy from the warmth of the sun so I was sliding around a bit. The second snow drift was a lot longer, steeper and was like a highway, busy with 100s of people. We had to navigate our way around the crowds to make it over the second snow drift in some sort of reasonable time.

Once passed with a 1mile hike up to the cairn at the top we stood and smiled and took in the view before turning to descend to the finish line. The hard work had been done. Then I felt it, a sporadic surge of oomph and energy and I ran the entire way back down to the finish. Having not been able to find any sort of running pace for hours, this was bliss to me to use gravity and head down and over the finish line.

I was the first female across the line. I placed 5th overall by 2min…if only I’d realised 4th place was just there 2min in front of me, maybe I would have pushed a little harder, or dug a little deeper… who knows now.

Running ultras and long distances is all about learning who you are and what you’re made of. I always learn a lot and I always know there’s so much more to learn, but I definitely know what I’m made of. I’m made of grit, determination and spunk! With only seriously starting to run after spinal fusion surgery in late 2018 and racing my first ever ultra in 2019, I still have so much to learn and room for growth. Having raced only 3 events this year and winning all 3 (as first female, not overall), I’m pretty proud of myself and the example I set for my girls that determination, courage, commitment and hard work can pay off.

I congratulate all the other runners and crew for getting safely to the end. I am grateful to the traditional custodians of the lands upon which we raced; they watched over my safe journey to the finish line from the beach to the high country. I am thankful to the race directors Greg and Mickey and the rest of the race officials for bringing this wonderful event together each year. And most of all, I am grateful to my crew who selflessly dedicate their time and effort to allow me to race. What an adventure.

Feature Image: Nathan Damcevski.
Photographs – Supplied.