Unlike last year when I tackled the full ultra, this year I was both very relieved and massively excited to be part of a relay team of four at the Bondi to Manly ultramarathon. For the relayers, this 80km behemoth is broken into four far more manageable legs of roughly 20km each. My team and I had been aiming for this for the best part of the year, and we had practiced every single leg of the course all together. 'The Slowciables' intended to have a social, fun, steady and slow day on the course with an emphasis on enjoying the beauty, challenging ourselves with new accomplishments, and making happy memories.
The morning got off to a drizzly start, but we consoled ourselves that light rain was still a better deal than the gruelling heat we experienced at Sydney Marathon. Marie had been delegated to leg one, but I wanted to be part of the starting line vibe so I accompanied her and another friend Sally who was heading up 'Team Deja Vu,' so named because they weren't able to participate last year when two members of the team became ill and they deferred their entry.
It was a thrill as always to see the elites take off along the slick pavements, and we waited our turn under the cover of the Bondi Pavilion. Thankfully the coffee shops were open this year! The caffeine and the cover gave us amble opportunity to meet other runners and reassure one another nervously as the start time approached.
And then we were off! I ran the first 5km or so, taking a few sneaky shortcuts (and startling the volunteers) so that I could try to grab photos of Marie and Sally with the vista of Bondi and Dover Heights behind them. Then I took a beeline across the peninsula to meet them at Rose Bay. I arrived just as the elites were streaming in and it was a thrill to cheer for last year's winner Emma Grey as she cruised past looking comfortable and composed and totally in control. The absolute opposite of me in every possible metric.
I had enough time at this aid station to see my North Shore Run Club mates Adam and Che come in too, both tackling the full ultra, before overseeing the handover between Marie and our Leg Two Slowly Gillian. And when I say overseeing, I mean mostly dancing around like a buffoon with an iphone videoing in one hand and the other one waving gleefully at all the action.
Once both the Slowciables and the Deja Vu teams had leg two comfortably in hand, I grabbed the world's most expensive egg and bacon roll and a much needed coffee, and we jumped in the car to leapfrog to leg 3. Where I once again repeated the silly dance moves and entrenched myself as the world's dorkiest team captain as we awaited Gillian's return so that Bronwyn could take over.
Both Marie and Gillian had totally blitzed their legs, so by now we were almost a full hour ahead of our race schedule. Bronwyn was perhaps the most experienced Slowly on our team, but she will also cheerfully admit to being the slowest, and we knew she was taking on the toughest leg. We reiterated our strategy to take it slow and steady, enjoy the day and not worry about the cut offs. Then Bron and Gillian exchanged an excited hug and Bron disappeared steadfastly in the direction of Clontarf.
So once again we jumped in the car, leapfrogged to Aid Station 3 and set up camp. It was a joy to see my husband Wayne (leg 3 runner for Team Déjà vu) coming in strong after totally wasting himself on the course. He’s competitive, talented and fast (just like me. Hah!) and so of course he redlined in the name of team spirit and arrived completely wasted and cramping, but we managed to put him back together again with electrolytes, salty chips and kisses. Once they were more or less recovered, Déjà vu jumped in the car to get ready for their finish line glory and I found myself alone in the spring sunshine with only the gulls for company.
The aid station vibe was electric, but it gradually faded as everyone left for the finish line. The field of runners began to thin, their supporters packed up their cars and even the day-trippers at the beach started to head for home. Eventually it was just me and a lone pesky gull who nagged me for my toastie. But to their immense credit the vollies didn’t miss a beat. They made a fuss of very runner who arrived, they cleared litter and played music and continued their stream of banter and encouragement. Eventually Bron appeared on the horizon, trotting in with her trademark grin and we exchanged hugs and high fives before it was my turn to hit the trail and I headed for Manly knowing we were officially bringing up the rear of the relay field, which is just the way we like it.
To be honest I had the time of my life. If I compare the experience on leg four to the one I had last year when I was running the ultra-it’s like chalk and cheese. Last year I was exhausted, teary, limp and depleted, this year I was surrounded by friends and full of energy and basking in the solitude of Sydney’s natural splendour. I sailed my way through all my favourite landmarks, Forty Baskets, Dobroyd Head and Little Manly, drinking in the wildflowers and the birdsong and the long afternoon shadows. I chatted to most of the ultra-runners that I passed, but otherwise was able to keep a fairly steady pace. Highlights were seeing my ‘crew’ of the whole Déjà vu team, already sporting their medals, and friends Lexy and Laura who were waiting at Manly Ferry, as well as getting cheers from the strangers who were sipping beers and tucking into burgers at all the wharf-side restaurants. Then up to North Head to admire the spectacular skyline and down the gnarly technical bit just before Shelley Beach (thankfully this year I had the sense to duck when going through the wall and my scalp remained intact) before picking up my ‘girls’ and streaming over the finish line together.
When I look back I feel like I’m remembering one of the best days of life. Perfect weather, friendship, endless snacks, music, vistas and encouragement. And the bliss of a gin and tonic in a pub that was perfectly positioned at the finish line. Hopefully I’ve already expressed the right levels of gratitude to everyone who made the day so special, and there were many, because its going to live in my heart for a very long time. This one wasn’t really about the run. I mean, that was just the platform on which the music, the people, the weather, the experience and the confidence knitted together to remind me that I’m capable, that I’m loved, and that I can do hard things. And if you’ve read this far, you’re one of the people who gave me the time of my life, and that has made all the difference.