Iwas never really a good runner. When I was in my late teens/early 20’s i started doing triathlon. I remember so vividly entering a 5km race in Perth, Western Australia. I was around 20 years old and in the last km this 12 year old girl and her dad overtook me. I tried my best to catch them but there was no way. I finished in 23 minutes 12 seconds and thought man I am so bad I got beaten by a 12 year old.

If you just put one foot in front of the other, no matter how slowly, you’ll eventually get there.

Fast foward 10 years and here I am, as a 31 year old trying to get back into a running. I started running half seriously around 2 and a half years ago when I started a new job in the north of WA. There was a big hill at the back of the mining camp and the only way to get there before the sunset was to run, so that was that, I started running. There was no reason to lose weight or get fit, it was purely to get up to see the sunset. The terrain was tough, no trail and spikey spinifex to keep you on your toes. Spinifex is a weed like bush and if you even brush past you get little splinter things in your skin. You can either pick them out or wait a few weeks and they come out by themselves, either way they hurt and its not a pleasant experience.

 

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After a year or so of running in the spinifex fields I saw a race in my hometown. It was a beach run of 50kms, from one town to the next and back. I signed up and my good friend from school, Balinga joined me. He was a star back then, representing Australia at the age group triathlon and a 16 minute 5k runner. He still runs in the low 17 minutes for 5kms without hardly any training so he was a good person to join me.
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We completed the race and were the 4th team overall. I started to think after running 25kms then maybe the marathon or ultra isn’t out of reach.
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I dreamed of doing the Mount Rinjani mountain race in Lombok, Indonesia. 36km return from town to the summit and back. As it turned out there was a huge earthquake that destroyed many villages and also the trail to the summit. The race was abandoned for a year until the trail could be fixed and the mountain open once again.
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So I found another race, the GPUM ultra. There are 2 volcanoes south of Jakarta called Gunung Pangrango and Gunung Gede. The race would go over both and then back up and over Gede, making it over 4000m of elevation gain for the entire race. The race has been going on for 2 years so I thought that I would give it a try. I waited until the very last day until I could sign up and paid my fees.
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The training was very basic. I would train one long run every Friday and just run or do hill repeats 3 or 4 days a week on the other days. My longest run was 30kms and longest training week was 60kms. You can find all my training here on strava. https://www.strava.com/athletes/28988106
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What I didn’t realise was how incredibly tough and hard this race would be. The reason I love trail running is because half the time you don’t actually run at all. Its like a fast (or slow) walk up the hill. This race was pretty much a walking race and the terrain was some of the harshest I’ve experienced in Indonesia.
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The race started at the head quarters in Gede Pangrango National Park. At midnight we all set off up the hill. 30 people in the 40km category and 15 people in the 60km category.
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The race started with a mix of running and trying to get to the front so you weren’t held up on the trail by the slower people. The path at the beginning was stones and around 3 meters wide and very very unfriendly on the feet. I thought to my self that it was going to be hell going down that thing on the way back. The first checkpoint was at 7km and I reached it in 1 hour 50 minutes. Everyone was kind of following each other so we went up the hill. 30 minutes after the checkpoint I checked my GPS and discovered we had gone the wrong way! We had to go up the other volcano first. So we backtracked and as it turned out there was a tent put up right on the path blocking the view of where we were meant to go. So I lost 40 minutes going up and back to the same place. The path was typical of Indonesian volcanoes with the way being more like a tree root river than a trail.
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The path to the summit of Pangrango was very difficult. It was very steep and there were a lot of fallen trees that had to be navigated over. I finally topped out on the summit and went down to the small field where the checkpoint was. Here everyone got a wrist band to prove they had been there and then it was back down and up the other way, where I had originally gone.
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After around 6 hours I started feeling very bad. I couldn’t eat because I wasn’t feeling well (maybe from the altitude 3000m) and it was that hitting the wall feeling. I felt so horrible that all sorts of crazy things were going on in my head. I made up in my mind that when I got to the bottom I was quitting the race.
I summited Gede as the sun rose and it was amazing. The sulphur was coming out, cloud was gathering and the whole place looked so magical.
Just as the cloud began to clear I saw 3 people up ahead and I thought man, I feel so absolutely shit but I’m catching people so I’ll see how I feel at the bottom and maybe carry on.
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I followed a Japanese guy named Manabu all the way from the summit of Gede, 8kms to the bottom of the hill. We both arrived at 8am. I was so hungry I ate a heap of bananas, had 4 coconut waters and 2 electrolyte drinks. Manabu still had his shoes off and I thought the longer I wait the longer it’s gonna take me so I’ll get going. I felt really good at this stage and was off. When we were descending we passed 2 people going up in the 40k and 2 in the 60k which meant we were coming 3rd and 4th. I thought I just gotta keep going and beat Manabu.
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Ultra running is so insane that anything can happen. As I was going up a Russian guy over took me and stayed 20m in front. Never pulling away and me never gaining. We were both at the limit. There were also hundreds if not thousands of Indonesians out hiking the mountain. The Russian guy must have given no expression because when I passed the Indonesians, I was smiling and everyone was saying hello mister and saying Semangat or Spirit! It was such an amazing experience to be cheered on by literally hundreds of Indonesian hikers.
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We made it back to the check point just below Gunung Gede and the Russian guy was off down to Sukabumi for the 60k and I went over the summit and down to the national park entry. I looked behind and never saw Manabu, so I just kept going.
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The descent was long! 10kms down and the path was terrible. Big rocks that are awkward on the ankles. There was also a hot spring river that we had to cross. I’ve never seen anything like it in my life it was quite amazing. Hot water flowing down the mountain and then a makeshift rope rail that you had to hold onto while jumping over rocks.
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I carried on and looked back every so often but there was no sign on Manabu.
I got to the national park headquarters and stopped to get a photo at the finish line. As I stopped, Manabu grabbed me and said man I just missed catching you. He had seen me just as I had gone to the finish line. He was maybe 30 metres behind me and his official time was just 2 seconds behind me.
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I had finished my first ever marathon and the extra distance I had gone meant that I had gone 43kms and 4000m of elevation gain. It was the hardest race I’ve ever experienced but the feeling of actually finishing, especially after making up my mind at only 15kms that I was going to quit was the best thing to come out of the whole experience. I went through the lowest low to then finish in 3rd place, even after losing 40 minutes from going the wrong way, made me realise that you should never ever quit, you just never know what will end up happening.
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Originally published on Medium.