Contributed by Mitch Crook, AURA member (WA)

1st Male 50mi

After winning the 50km race in 2021 and having a pretty solid day out for my first ultra, I was keen to sign up for another ultra. So, when I managed to get an entry to Feral again in 2022, I was keen to go one better than last year and do the 50 miler.

Despite the fact that 2022 has been very busy with work and life and living in 7 different cities throughout the year to this point, I was still keen to return to Perth and give Feral a go. I managed to get a week of leave and head back to Perth to run it.

I had limited training in the first half of the year, with some instances of almost six weeks between runs. Once I arrived in Townsville in early August, I finally had a chance to get back to consistent running and get some more regular kms in my legs. I was able to run roughly 60km weeks for the first couple of months, with the occasional hill session or little bit of speed (I’d only managed two interval sessions so far in 2022).

Most of my running was relatively easy, but with the weather in Townsville being very different to Perth, it makes running very different. For those who don’t know, it regularly gets up to 30/35 with 90% humidity; hence it’s pretty hard to run during daylight hours. There were plenty of long run attempts that were cut short due to dehydration or just the heat being too much, even at 8am, or the occasional dozen snakes in a single run.

With my enrolment on a work course that involved super difficult sessions including 20kg weighted running and long, heavy hikes, it became quite hard to continue my training without being destroyed for the next few days. So, coming into the event, it was fair to say I was severely undertrained and nowhere near my fitness from 2021.

I managed to fly into Perth a week before Feral and begin to acclimatise to Perth, despite almost running a parkrun in a jumper because it was so much colder than Townsville. I was able to head out for a reccy run with Michael Hooker, the 100-miler winner, to which we ran the first 30km of the race from Sullivan’s Rock to Brookton Hwy. It was really nice to catch up with Michael and get chatting about all the things we’d missed in the last 10 months and get chatting about the race. There may have been a small bet about whoever finishes first owing the other a ginger beer.

Despite this run being my longest run in 10 and a half months, it felt really good and just was awesome to be back out on the Bibbulmun and able to soak up the views. This gave me a glimmer of confidence for Feral the week later, despite it only being another 50+kms. The week leading up was filled with plenty of easy runs and lots of sleep.

Race morning came around with a 0230 wake up, and drove straight to check-in. It was nice to have a quick chat to some of the other runners who I hadn’t seen in almost a year and see how everyone was feeling before the race, a couple of runners aiming for roughly around the same time I was, around 10 hours. Once we got to the start line it was quite cold, which was actually nice because Feral can get very hot.

The race gun went off, and the 50 miler and 100km were both under away. The first few kms are fairly steep, up and down, with Sullivan’s rock, Mt Vincent and Mt Cuthbert all in the first 5km, which gave me a rough plan to power walk the hills, not to cook my legs in the first part of the race. The race was going smoothly and I was running a lot faster than expected, which I don’t mind too much if the legs are feeling good. I proceeded to feel pretty solid for the next few kms, running past the 100-mile runners and just cruising. At 15km, as I crossed the Scenic Dr bridge, I managed to find Heath Watkins, who was videoing with his drone, to which I began to powerwalk as it was a bit of an uphill, where we shared a laugh that he had to crop the video as to not include any evidence of me walking and ‘slacking off’. The next 15 or so km went fairly smoothly and fast, as I zoned out for most of it. But with my ability to hold an average of 6 min kms for the first 30km, I was pretty confident in my ability to do well, despite having a strong field behind me. As I ran into Brookton Hwy, I had a quick stop, where my crew changed my gear over, had a quick stretch and something to eat. But there were only two things I wanted to know, what the course record was, and of course, a Brooklyn Nets score (both of which they didn’t know). I was keen to head off straight away, so I managed 3 minutes in the aid station before heading off and sprinting across Brookton Hwy, onto Mt Dale.

This next section was all burnt due to recent burn-offs in the area, so it made all of it the same, meaning the best views from last year were no longer quite as beautiful, but it’s still a great trail to run. I managed to come across the 3rd and 2nd place runners for the 100 mile, to which I had a quick chat to see how they were going and a really quick catch-up. Heading into Mt Dale, it went fairly smoothly, holding a 6 min km average, with a slower pace with the power walking on the 150m climb to the aid station. At Mt Dale, I had a quick stop and a small snack, as I was keen to push on, as the crew did their best Guido (from ‘Cars’) impression with a really quick pitstop. Dad had the info I was looking for, that the course record was 8h 58m, run by Nathan Fawkes in 2021, roughly where I assumed it to be. He also told me that the Nets, won which was super surprising due to our less-than-abysmal start. He gave me a heads up that Shane (Johnstone) and Claire (O’Brien-Smith), were only four and a half minutes behind me out of Brookton Hwy, meaning I had a little bit of breathing room. I then decided to power on up the new detour around Mt Dale, which I really struggled with as its pretty difficult to run and adds 1.5km onto last year’s course, which I didn’t seem to understand the relevance of the detour, considering it brings you in almost a full loop. I got a message from Dad on the return, where he told me the two behind had just come in, eight and a half minutes behind, and they were likely to try and run me down.

From this point, it was roughly 12km to Beraking, the next aid station with plenty of downhill from Mt Dale. This section again was mainly burnt, but it was good to seek plenty of hikers out on our beautiful track. I managed to have some more salt tablets and killer pythons, which I had been living on up to this point. There were a few uphill sections, which I again powerwalked, despite my legs feeling pretty tired, but I was keen to stay as far ahead as I could. I managed to get into Beraking at 55km, which was the longest I’ve run in one go, in a pretty solid time of 5:32. Again, I was keen to get going, so I filled up my water and had some watermelon and snakes before heading off.

However, once I left Beraking, it all went South, roughly 200m out of Beraking, I had to stop to vomit on the side of the trail as I couldn’t keep the watermelon down. This was supported by some pretty strong cramping, exactly what I needed with 28km left. Luckily the next few km were downhill, so I managed to cruise without putting too much stress on the legs. However, the cramping continued, and the pure desire not to eat was proving too strong. I managed to get some water down over the next few km to try and stay hydrated, but with the salt, I could feel in my eyelashes I knew it wasn’t looking good. With a few short inclines and power walks, I began to really struggle and reset my goals to just finish, hopefully still in first, but I knew Claire and another couple of 50-mile runners were behind me and could be right behind me, so I kept pushing on. But by this point, I was deep in the pain cave and had over a quarter of the race still to go. The pain was really gruelling, causing me to stop a few times on the side of the track and attempt to stretch it out. I had given up on the course record and just wanted to get into Allen Rd Aid station before reconsidering my race. I managed to limp it into Allen Rd with a few nice downhills leading into the aid station. I was feeling good heading into the aid with a full refill of my gear, managing to have some banana and a few chips to try and get some food and especially salt in as I had gone through my stores at this point. I managed to get in some coke, too, thanks to the awesome volunteers at Allen Rd, who became very creative with a makeshift ‘cup’.

But the Allen Rd to Disco leg was the one I always dread as there are some long uphills, it can become very technical, and I was in a lot of pain. But I knew if I could make it to the Allen Rd crossing with 5km to go, I could pull myself home from there, as it was only a parkrun left. I was able to keep pushing through and was being pushed by the knowledge that I was still ahead and was still winning. The next few kms were gruelling with my head down, small steps and a lot of walking. At around 9.5km, I turned to find Shane Johnstone (running the 100km), behind me and coming down the hill fast, which I thought must have meant that Claire was with him. However, after a quick chat on the way past, he said I was a long way in the lead and that he left Claire at 44km. This gave me some hope. After receiving some advice on my dreadful running form and how to fix it, it gave me a bit of life and the knowledge that there were only 9km to go. But I told him I was in trouble, and he offered me a spare gel, which was an awesome help; and I can’t thank him enough for it as it gave me a little bit of energy, and I was able to stomach it. He then took off and was looking strong. I then fought really hard for the next three or so km as it was fairly easy to run, and I could shuffle for most of the flats and downhill. I was then able to overtake Shane as he stopped for some water, and I felt strong and even had some hope I could beat him to Disco, however about 100m after I passed him, I was climbing a few rocks, and my entire body ceased up, I’d built up too much hope. I was about to fall over as my entire body cramped but managed to fall forward onto a rock and give it a big hug, I was able to try and stretch my leg during the hug, and as Shane ran past asked if I was ok, “Yeah I might just lay here for a bit”.

“There’s only six km left Mitch”, “Only five and a half, actually”. I knew I was in big trouble and in a lot of pain. But I was only 500m from the point I knew I could carry myself to the end. I managed to walk the next part, being careful to keep my legs straight and not cramp again. The next few kms were fairly runnable, with me putting my head down and just believing in myself. I knew I could win if I kept this up, despite it being hillier than I remembered from last year. I was shuffling and in pain, but I was still moving. I was able to run into Ball creek, taking the downhills pretty quick, knowing I could run down, just not up. The final hill out of Ball creek is just a long grind, despite only being 1.5km and 45m vert. Once I hit the powerlines, I knew I was home, I was only 900m from home, and even though I was over the course record, I was still in first. I sprinted the next 900m, which only managed to be 5:40/km, not a very fast sprint. But I was home. As I crossed the line, I let out a big cheer, which I had been thinking about for the last 50km, as I was so happy to finish and fight through all the soul-searching pain but also to win another year at Feral.

I was lucky enough to see my crew and a few of my friends who had come out to support and watch me cross the line. I was so thankful for that. But as soon as I finished, the cramping had gotten worse from all the sprinting in the last 900m, I couldn’t even walk.

I was just ecstatic to run as well as I did, despite my race not going completely to plan and having a few issues. I was able to fight through 28km of painful cramps and limited eating. I was just happy to finish and have another successful year at Feral, and in the end, I only missed the course record by 9 minutes. I was super happy with my run, despite my very limited training, but it was awesome to be back racing after a long absence and back out on the Bibbulmun. And to win a ginger beer off Michael Hooker.

A huge thanks to my crew and Dan, Tom and Georgia. Thanks to all the awesome volunteers at the aid stations for your awesome help throughout the day. Thanks to Shane Johnstone for the gel and the encouragement when I was really struggling, and finally to USWA and all the RDs for yet another awesome race and weekend out.

Bring on the 100km next year, hopefully, a 3-peat.