Surf Coast Century

‘I Can’t….’

I am almost ashamed that I uttered those words! But at that moment in time, I absolutely felt deep within that I could not continue. It struck me in and instant, as if someone had flicked a switch.

The weekend started well, as the car didn’t break down on the way to our accommodation! Michelle, a new found crazy friend of Sarah’s who was also taking on the 100k arrived and after a pasta dinner we headed off for the race briefing. Having thoroughly planned for the race the briefing was just a refresher on what lay ahead. After the briefing Michelle and I set about preparing all our gear for the 5.30am race start. Steve (running the first leg with me) arrived and we tried to settle the excitement and get some sleep. It was a restless sleep, only really sleeping for an hour at a time. I don’t recall feeling nervous, just excited and couldn’t settle into a deep sleep.

At 4 am the alarm sounded and so began the day. A light breakfast, last minute prep and down to the start line. It was a crisp morning with a cold breeze and as more people arrived I got to say G’day to Abe, who I had been introduced to by a mate. We wished each other luck and headed to the start line. I also got to say G’day to Adam, who after successfully completing the race last year, was support crew for Up There Bazzaley running a 2 Female Relay Team. It was great to get some encouragement from a successful Centurion!

Leg 1 – with Steve “Kid” Campbell – Absolutely Stunning!!

At the start!
At the start!

5, 4, 3, 2, 1…… and we are off! We immediately settle into an easy pace and just take it all in. It is still dark at this stage, with just a long line of headlamps stretching off in the distance. We head out to Pt Roadknight before running back over the cliffs past the start line on our way to Torquay. The atmosphere is electric. The amount of people out for the 5.30 start was amazing. A quick wave to Sarah and we head off into the Sunrise.

Steve, enjoying the Sunrise!

It was a stunning morning with a beautiful pink Sunrise. We made good time and then hit a nasty 5-600 meters of softer sand that really made running difficult, before heading up and over a rocky little headland and back onto some firmer sand to the half way mark of the first leg at Pt Addis. The running was at a really comfortable pace and we pretty much talked all the way to Southside which is where the more technical running started. Local knowledge was really helpful here. People were staying up high on the rocks and we headed out a bit wider to run on the reef as the tide was out and it made for much easier running. I really enjoyed this stretch as it required a bit of thought and made it easy to get focused on the job at hand. My wet feet were not bothering me and I knew it was only a few more k’s until I got to change shoes and socks anyway.

I talked Steve’s ear off showing him my favourite surf breaks and before long we rounded Bird Rock onto Jan Juc beach. Steve looked to be enjoying the run, and we only had a couple of k to go. Then as we rounded the last headland coming into Torquay, we become somewhat unsure of which way to go. Every way around the rocks looked deep! Stuff it, were wet anyway. In we got and luckily we didn’t get hit by any waves. It was knee deep for a bit, but then back onto the hard sand for the last 700 meters or so into the first Transition area. I noticed Abe up on the path, already on his way on Leg 2. He was looking good and it was to be the last time I saw him all day! As we approached the Transition we could see Sarah, Wally, Sooz and the girls up on the cliff tops cheering us along. 21k down, only 79 to go! We made really good time and arrived right in the middle of the time window I had outlined in my race plan. The day was off to an enjoyable and positive start.

Steve & Aaron end leg 1
Transition 1 – Great work Kid!

Steve I am so stoked that you decided to jump on board with this challenge for your first ever running event. To have never covered more than 14k before the day, you did a great job! I haven’t forgotten what you said about possibly coming back to do half of the 100k next year. I know Wally mentioned the same thing, so I am expecting a Kid/Wally 2 Man Relay next year!

Leg 2 – with David “Wally” Wall – Tougher than expected

Some photo’s with Steve, a change of shoes and socks and awesome support crew assistance from Sarah, who was all business as she got my new fuel mix sorted, more energy gels and an Anzac biscuit into my hands as I headed off out of the Transition. I was still feeling reasonable, and my plan was to walk most or all hills on this leg to save myself. Wally and I settled into the leg and talked about how good the surf was this morning and how that may have been a better way to spend our Saturday! But here we were, so I guess why not keep going. I know this area like the back of my hand, but no matter how many times I see it, on a stunning day like today, it is just an amazingly beautiful place. The perfect sky meeting a smooth ocean that is sending beautiful waves into the yellow cliffs. As we get up towards Bells Beach, it’s all laid out before us, a living, breathing postcard!

Anyway, I digress. We head across the sand at Bells and into a little climb at Southside before heading alongside the road for a bit and then a left into the Ironbark basin. A nice steady descent and then up a pretty steep little climb. I think this was the first time since entering the event that I started to think about how hard this was going to be. Obviously I had prepared myself for a long difficult day, but I was only about 30k into the race and I was just starting the get the first niggles of cramp. I felt that I was hydrating properly, but since taking on the Anzac biscuit, it felt like my body was not digesting very well. I was feeling the water that I was taking on start to accumulate in my stomach and I knew I was in a bit of trouble. As was the plan we just took it easy on the hills and kept moving forward. What else can you do!?!

We headed through the next check point with a quick drink and kept on moving. Before long we were in some great Single track. My memory of this section is actually a little sketchy. I know there was lots of single track and a fair few people headed past us, but I certainly can’t recall too much detail. I think I was concentrating a lot on foot placement and avoiding cramps. They were kicking in with certain types of movements so I was working hard on avoiding those movements.

It was a nice feeling to tick past the first Marathon of the day in just under 5 and a half hours. I was pretty pleased with the pace so far and it seemed that my digestion was starting to get a little better as the cramps were not as often. There were now only a few more short sharp hills before we had a mainly downhill last few k’s into the 49k Transition area. As we headed down past the caravan park, Wally sent the team a text to let them know we were only 10 mins or so away and I was getting pretty excited that almost half of the race was behind me.

We needed to head down onto the beach to get across to the transition area and the tide was now very high. We had to put in a 20m sprint to try and avoid waist deep waves and half way across my hamstring cramped good and proper. I really didn’t want to get swamped, so basically hoped across the gap and just made it before the next wave came through. It was awesome to arrive in Transition with a warm welcome. Sarah, Sunny, Nate, Mum, Josh, Sooz, Mila, Georgia and Mark all on hand to see us into the half-way point. I asked Sarah if a leg rub would be beneficial for the cramps and she set about giving me a sunscreen leg rub in the transition area, while Mark readied himself for his 28k leg. Again we were in my race plan window and I had aloud generous time for leg 3, as I knew it was going to be tuff.

Wally, I know this wasn’t an ideal lead up to your big surf trip and that injury was always at the front of your mind. Thanks once again for joining me. I was probably right about you witnessing the wheels starting to fall off, but I think we had an enjoyable leg and I look forward to seeing how you and Kid go doing Half and Half next year! Also, I don’t plan on tackling Everest anytime soon, so your safe there!

Wally handing over to Mark!
Wally handing over to Mark!

Leg 3 – with Mark “Marky” Altheim – Mixed Bag

As we set out I remembered that we had a nasty little section early on to deal with. We had to go under a bridge and it was tight! I was so fearful of cramping under here, but with some but shuffling, I got through without a dreaded cramp. Sarah’s massage had done the trick!

With trekking poles in hand, we set off again. I find the poles help me with my tempo as I get tired. It also takes that tiny bit of weight off the joints. It is sometimes awkward to get into a jog, but who am I kidding, by this stage, there was not going to be a lot of jogging going on. We headed out around the back of Anglesea and into some nasty hills. I was mentally prepared for these from training in the area, but that was on fresh legs. I know had more than 50k in my legs and we were heading into the great unknown. My longest run/walk was 53k! The first of the Hills was NASTY. It was long and steep and got steeper at the top. My legs just got heavier and heavier until I had to rest just 100m or so from the top. The stop was probably less than a minute, but it was long enough to get a bit of strength back for the last little bit. We headed over the top and actually got to run for a couple of k along the top of the ridge and then down a long hill, before once again settling into a walk up the other side.

This is where we bumped into ‘Shuffling Man’ for the first time. I was using poles for my tempo, Shuffling man was using his arms. He would be walking, then to get his walk a bit faster he would start swinging his arms and then after a couple of hundred meters or so, he lent forward and got into a shuffling run. I was so inspired! Here was this guy, telling me he was going to be in by 8 o’clock, and I am thinking ‘your dreaming’! He was deadly serious and his determination and will to push on was inspirational. I was starting to witness different techniques for finishing this thing. There was another guy we kept going past who was obviously really suffering going downhill, but as soon as he reached the flats and the ups went by us with ease.

I was getting an understanding that everyone has their own way of obtaining their goals. It is the most inspiring thing I have seen. Sheer Will and Determination to reach the end, for whatever personal reason!

We headed off into the most beautiful section of Single Track down into the valley before the longest climb of the day. 6k of Single track, nothing steep, just a long hard slog. Shuffling man had fallen behind, as we were walking up at a reasonable pace and after about 1k, Mr Uphill came running by for the last time, only to be seen again at the next transition!

This was a nice peaceful part of the day. We went about setting a steady walking pace up the hill and then came along a Solo guy with a  couple of Relay crew trying to help him through. He said he had a ‘seniors moment’ with some head spins and was just taking it easy trying to get to the next CP at 70k. They were getting it done, and as we crested the top of the climb we went by them and descended into the 70k CP. I got a little emotional here. As we came to the end of the descent, we were passed by a 60+ year old couple. Both completing the 100k. Seriously, what an inspiration! It really hit home what people are capable of when they want to achieve something.

On arrival into the CP at 70k, we had some water and kept moving. Mark sent the team a text and told them we were about 1.5 hours from the Transition and this is when I looked at my watch. 10hours 8 mins! Etched into my brain forever! The realisation I still had approx.. 6 hours to go. I protest to Mark that I don’t want to do this for another 6 hours, but we keep moving anyway.

I know there is just one more long steep hill before the descent into the Transition area. We get there and get to work on it. We keep moving, it’s hard work, but we are getting it done. We turn another corner and more hill. I am starting to get pretty pissed off about these hills now and I am yelling at them. I know there’s not much more hill to go and we get on with it. We crest the hill and it’s all down to the Transition. We make good time and I am feeling pretty happy that I now only have 23k to go. The last leg! I tell Mark how appreciative I am that he joined me and how much it means to have his support. We shake hands and head into the Transition area.

Once again we have arrived in my race plan window and part of my race plan was to enjoy the atmosphere here as I had heard it was great. Lots of support from spectators and they were right. A well stocked race kitchen and heaps of people about. Mr uphill is here with his support crew trying to ready himself for the run home. I sit down. Sarah offers me a Savoy and I oblige. I slowly nibble at the little biscuit that is about to put a stop to all forward progress!

Mark, thank you for everything! Positive reinforcement all the way. Telling me in the first couple of k of the leg that we just had to hold a steady pace and not do anything stupid was solid advice. It was great to have a voice of reason and it is probably that reasoning that got me so far!

Getting our Hollywood Blockbuster walk on!
Azz Mark hand shake
Job well done mate!

Disaster at 77k

I feel an instantaneous energy release through my body. I feel it go from my head down to my feet and into the ground. I look at Sarah who is standing directly in front of me and say “I can’t….”. She looks at me very concerned “What?”. “I can’t….” and with that I walk out of the Transition to the edge of the bush and lay down. “I don’t want to do this anymore, I’m done”. Josh comes over and says something along the lines of “Mate, I am not going to let you stop, just remember why you are doing this”. I know why I am here, but I feel I have nothing left to give.

I have covered 77k and I have done a good job. I have always promised myself that I will not give up under any circumstances, but here I was, prepared to break that promise to myself and all the people who believe in me.

Mum covers me with jackets and towels to keep me warm and Josh rubs my legs. As I lay there a man with a black dog comes over and gives me a good talking to. “Mate, you have to get up, you just have to keep going. You guys are all such an inspiration!” He leaves and Josh gives me 1 more minute before he says he is physically going to pick me up. Josh doesn’t f… around, I know he is serious.

Nate suggesting I "Suck it up and get in with it"
Nate suggesting I “Suck it up and get in with it”

Time’s up! I negotiate to sit up against a tree for another couple more minutes. A rapid ascent guy, Bruce, comes over and has a quick chat and offers me anything. I say I am good and I try and get some noodle and bean soup into me. I still feel horrible, but with Josh’s threat to carry me, I tell him I am going to get up and to get everything ready so that I can just start walking.

I get up, they throw my pack on me and Sarah and I walk out of Transition. I make it about 50m and just into the bush were I proceed to bring up the 3 mouthfuls of soup. As quickly as the energy left my body, I feel that I am back! I feel a instantly better. I had heard about people saying this in long races. It’s like a reset button. I just wish that I had of been able to vomit immediately as opposed to going through 45 minutes of thinking I was going to DNF.

Leg 4 – with Sarah “Red” Anstis – The Run (walk) Home

Mentally I was back, I now know that I am going to finish. I have also come to the realisation that I am not going to crack the 16 hours that I had set myself. I am disappointed by this, but it is what it is!

I now get to enjoy this experience with my wonderfully supportive wife. She must be over joining me when I am struggling. During the M2M I hit the wall during her leg and here we are again, me struggling and you trying to get me through it. She will have to do the first leg on the next one! I can’t express how much I love having her alongside me for these challenges. It just seems right.

One at their best, the other looking a bit worse for wear!
One at their best, the other looking a bit worse for wear!

We get up to the 80k point that brings us back to the coast and as I hoped we get there with enough light to take it in. It does not disappoint. I have no words to describe it. Simply Stunning! The Surf Coast has certainly put a show on for us today!

We head down to Moggs Creek and then up into the hills again. It’s long, but not too steep and we talk about lots of stuff as we walk into the night! I know we have a couple of k of short sharp hills before we head back into Aireys Inlet and into the last 14k. As we near the last real hill of the day, another Solo competitor comes past. He’s looking good, and I can see he will get his Stein (for finishing under 16 hours). It pains me again to think about not getting there in under 16 hours and without telling Sarah I pick up the walking pace a little in the hope that when we hit 90k we might be in striking distance of the Stein.

As we head into the 86k and last CP of the day, we are greeted with a solid “Great work Aaron and Support Crew” I look around for people we know, but it’s some people from the last CP that are cheering us on. Everyone is behind us and we are getting into it. This support is just so amazing. I can’t tell you how much it helps.

azz face
Lighting things up a little!

We head up to the Lighthouse and take a few photo’s before moving on. It’s now absolute darkness and we can only see what our headlamps light up in front of us, but we are going ok. As we get close to Sunnymead beach, Sarah mentions that our pace has been good for the last few k’s and maybe we should start making plans for running sections to try for the 16k. All this time we have both secretly been thinking the same thing. I look at my watch and make the calulations. We would need to cover the 10k in 1.5 hours. I know the terrain for the next couple of k. It’s rough single track and I just don’t have the legs! I make the call and I dismiss the sub 16 hours finish.

We head off into the bush for a few k of Single track before coming out at Urquhart’s Bluff and onto the beach stretch that signifies the effective ‘Home Straight’. We get to witness the most amazing Orange Moon Rise. It was unbelievable. Here I was, on the home straight with my wife, walking along a deserted beach under this amazing moon. It was like a scene out some romance movie, except for the romance. It was all business! We were both just desperate to get to the finish. Sarah was suffering from Blisters and I was well and truly over it by now.

We headed off the beach and walked into the back streets of Anglesea towards Pt Roadknight where Wally greeted us and cheered us on. We now only had about 1.5k to cover before getting to the finish. 1 more hill to get over.

Very Appropriate!
Very Appropriate!

A fitting photo at a ‘Slow’ sign and then down past the Surf club onto the sand for the last 400m or so. Holy Crap, we are going to finish this thing! We round the corner to see the finish line. We stop and have a hug and then I muster up the courage for a 50m ‘run’ across the finish line. Hugs with Sarah, Josh, Em, Ash, Wally, Matt and anyone else that wants one. I get presented with my certificate to say I finished. We hang around for a while to cheer the next few finishers across the line while we wait for Michelle and ‘Bruce’ to finish. They come across the line about an hour later, an amazing effort. It’s a 10 hour PB for Michelle over the 100k. Her and Bruce have had to battle blisters, but they did and they too are now Surf Coast Centurions!

Azz certificate
It’s no Stein, but it will do!

Special Mentions to Abe, a bloke I only met for the first time the morning of the race after a few emails about the race. He went under 14 hours! I find that absolutely amazing and I take my hat off to you! And to the girls from Up There Bazzaley who took out 3rd place in the 2 Female Teams. Congratulations ladies, that is a superb effort!

Again, I can’t thank my Support Crew enough. Sarah, you are bloody amazing! You made all of the Transitions happen perfectly to plan and made sure everyone was where they needed to be. Then you back it up and go for a 23k walk into the night with me, a distance you have never even come close to completing before. Bloody Amazing.

To Steve, Wally and Mark. Boy’s, seriously, Thank You so much. I have heard stories of people who have completed this race by themselves and the mental strain seems to be a huge hurdle. Having you guys stick it out with me for all those kilometres means the world to me. It must be difficult to move at someone else’s pace and I appreciate it more than you will ever know. Each of the relay team smashed there furthest ever distance covered by a long way. That is something to be proud of.

To Mum, who, against every fibre in her body told me to keep going at 77k. Thank You. It must have been a very difficult thing for you to do.

Josh, mate, you have a gift. Your ability to get people off the floor is amazing. You did it for me and I know you did it for Emma the following day. Thank You.

To Emma, Matt, Sooz, Mila and Georgia and all the strangers out there that supported not just me, but lots of people throughout the day/night, Thank You. You make us feel great. You give us energy with every clap and cheer! Also, thanks to all the people who sent messages via Facebook and through Sarah. I got them all and they all helped.

On reflection I am a little disappointed by not achieving my sub 16 hour goal, but, as a wiser man than me stated after I finished “Mate, by the time you started, the stein was almost irrelevant. The finish is the real prize. You are a Surf Coast Centurion! A hard won achievement that you should be incredibly proud of”. Thanks Adam, that message certainly makes it easier to deal with.

And, on that note Sarah, I am sorry, but I am announcing now that I will be going again! I have unfinished business here. My goal was to see how far I could push myself and I think that I did that. I think I pushed pretty close to the limit! A limit that was set by my training. I will be back, lighter, fitter and better prepared next year. That stein will be mine!!


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