Ever wondered what it's like to run a 200km ultra-marathon race?
CurraNZ ambassador Andrew Heyden raced the 240km Coast to Kosci Ultramarathon in NSW, Australia, last month, in a time of 32 hours 29 minutes.
The annual event starts at sea level at Twofold Bay near Eden and takes runners to the summit of Australia's highest mountain, Mt Kosciuszko, 2228m above sea level – and needless to say, is not for the faint-hearted.
“I enjoyed the event so much last year but was disappointed that we couldn’t summit due to inclement weather, so I had some unfinished business with this race. To say I was excited to receive the invite again this year is an understatement!
My running year hadn’t been great due to broken ribs in April, quickly followed by a dose of Covid in June. But I put in a decent ten-week block of training from September and arrived on the beach start line confident I could finish again.
The sunrise and welcome to country were inspiring and I set off in strong spirits for the first 24km unsupported leg. I eased slowly into the race and enjoyed a few friendly chats with other runners. I went through 24km in 15th and moved up to 11th by 52km, whilst taking it very easy and being wary given the sunny day.
I met with my crew car every 5km/30 mins for my nutrition and every four hrs reapplied suncream and lube in the vital areas and redosed on CurraNZ to aid performance and recovery mid race.
'The new section up Cow Bail Trail was tough, but the scenery was awesome'
The first major challenge was a new section up Cow Bail Trail, which was introduced because of a landslide that had closed Big Jack Road, so we swapped sealed road for climb with a trail. It was steeper and sketchy, particularly for a rookie trail runner. Risk-adverse as ever, I took it slowly and was soon caught by a few other runners, despite some power walk coaching from Harry (pacers were allowed on this section to carry food and drinks). While the trail was tough, the scenery coming down the other side through a pine forest was awesome.
We went through the 70km mark and I was glad to be back on the road. Nutrition was going well, my awesome crew topped me up with bananas or protein balls and Tailwind every 30 mins, plus a vegemite sandwich. On we went - and it became noticeable that the long day in the sun was wearing the runners down.
'I had moved to tenth place but, as night fell, the temperature was dropping'
I headed past the famous Dead Tree at 100km and had a nice chat with Queensland ultra-runner Sarah Foster through that section. 12 hours into the race, I had moved from 15th to 10th. As the sun set over the wind turbines, pacers were allowed to join their runners and I was joined by Martin for the push to Dalgety. Time for some noodles as the temperature dropped down towards 11 degrees.
All was going well, my stomach and legs felt good but soon I felt a hotspot on my left heel and stopped. Chris peeled back my sock, applied a blister plaster and soon I was back running, luckily the pain disappeared – we had caught it in time.
We pushed on toward Jindy and caught up with a few more runners, slowly reeling in the red lights ahead. My nutrition now comprised of a gel every 30 minutes with water and the odd handful of peanuts or Pringles.
'At 4.15am I'd done 185km and moved from 15th to seventh place'
My legs were still good and I found I was running more at this stage last year. I ran into Jindy around 4:15am - 185km done and I was now in seventh place.
We started the long climb up Kosciuszko Rd, with almost 40km more to the race’s conclusion at Charlotte’s Pass and a big ascent ahead.
Sunrise was amazing but soon the heat was building. I was comfortable walking at this stage but when I tried to run, an evening of gels had left my stomach unhappy so I stuck to walking. I decided to discontinue the gels I and switched to some flat Coke, chocolate and lollies. My stomach still would not settle so I stuck to the power walk.
I was through ‘Perisher’ in 27 hours and approaching Charlotte’s Pass. The sun was out and we were on for a summit and I was holding sixth place.
'We reached the snowy sections of the summit path and caution kicked in'
Joined by Chris, Harry and Martin, we headed out on the 9km summit path Banter and spirits were good. We reached the snowy sections and caution took over again. Easy does it.
Just short of the summit and suddenly another runner powers through and ahead and spot the next runner isn’t far behind either.
The boys convince me to fire up and get running. We spot the runner around 300m ahead and start the chase.
Slowly my legs start turning over and the pace picks up (helped by gravity). My mind is just telling me not to trip.
Once through the snow the path becomes very even and my confidence and pace build. 6km to go. I start looking at the watch, my kilometre splits go from 9 mins to 8, to 7 and then a 6:20.
'The chase was on and I felt like a marathon runner again'
I’m closing back in on sixth place. Suddenly I feel like a marathon runner again and push for the finish, doing the next kilometre in 4:37 and I pass the runner and hold a 4:41km back to the car park at Charlotte’s Pass.
Race completed in 32 hrs 29 mins and a summit finish, faster than last year and sixth overall. Tears, hugs, photos are followed by shivers, so we go quickly into recovery mode and into the car.
Despite covering a huge 242km, I was walking okay the following day and had very little muscle soreness, very much helped by the anthocyanins in the magic CurraNZ blackcurrants!