Friday, December 7, 2012

Running the Sunshine Coast Beaches - 80kms of Sand!

Writing up a one off ultramarathon challenge that's not a race has made me realise how much excitement and atmosphere an organised race generates.  The achievement is no less significant, in some ways it’s greater as you don’t have support crew, checkpoints or crowds of adoring fans!  It was an odd feeling at 9:30pm on a recent Friday night when Colin and I stood at the end of Noosa Spit, the northern end of the Sunshine Coast beaches, on what seemed like a normal training run, but this time we had a sleepless night and 80kms of running ahead of us.
We'd be making a few of these through the run

We had arranged one drop bag about 50kms along the route at a friend’s house, but other than that we’d have to carry everything.  This was good training for me with the Great North Walk 100 mile race only 2 weeks away, and event where I’d be carrying my full 3l hydration bladder and 2x600ml drink bottles. We'd also decided to make it an inaugural Local Ultra Challenge for our newly formed "Sunshine Coast Ultra and Trail Runners" (or SCUTRs) running group.

The going early was very heavy, with neither of us travelling particularly well.  On the bright side (in more ways than one) it was a clear sky with a near full moon, and for the time being the tide was out, we couldn’t ask for better conditions.  The conversation flowed freely, and the kilometers passed slowly. Our first stop was Coolum Beach Surf Club after about 30kms of running (all but a couple of kilometers on the sand). We topped up our water, and looked back towards Noosa and could see the lights on the horizon from where we had come. Turning south we could see other lights on the horizon, but that was Mooloolaba, Caloundra our end point was still out of sight.
Coolum to Noosa by day (obviously!)

Back on the beach, and we’re soon back into our rhythm.  Just plodding along on the wet sand where we could, thankful that the tide still had a few hours to go before we’d be forced up on to the steep soft dunes.  We’ve run all these long sections of beach in training before, but they seemed a whole lot longer tonight. 

It was around 1:30am and we still came across other people. We actually didn’t go more than an hour without passing someone for the entire run, but nobody else was running until after 6am.  We only had one potential bit of trouble when we passed a couple walking in the opposite direction.  We tried to exchange pleasantries but with no response, that was until we were about 5 metres past them and the guy shouted something threatening and aggressive, but neither of us could make out what he said. We were both looking over our shoulders for a couple of minutes, not all that confident that with tired legs we would be able to out run an aggressor! 

It did spark a conversation which lasted throughout the night where we invented an hilarious TV sitcom focused around the character that we had come into contact (watch this space for that one, coming to a TV station near you!).  You do meet some interesting characters when out running, and most are good natured and uplifting, and so was this fellow in a weird sort of way.

The end of this stretch of beach is marked by the Maroochy River. We were only about 200 metres from the next bit of sand, but a fast flowing channel lay in our way. Even in our slightly euphoric state the consideration of making a swim for it was never seriously considered. It did however spark more entertaining scenarios to keep spirits up and to pass the time.  This was a common feature of the run and one of the benefits of running with someone. I have the same sort of conversations in my head when running alone, but it’s not quite the same without someone to bounce the crazy ideas off!

We’d looked at Google maps to get an idea on our exit point which really was hopelessly inadequate, and showed how your expectations can effect your performance. I was expecting just a quick dash across the dunes to the car park and the road which would lead us around and over the river.  It turned out to be a long trudge through the soft sand until eventually we got off the beach. I was feeling pretty low at this point, and Colin needed to take a “comfort stop” so he encouraged me to keep going and he’d catch up.  This was actually the tonic I needed, as I put my head down and ran alone for about 20 minutes.  I got over the self pity and refocused on the job in hand.

The moon, which was close to full, was sinking on the brink of setting.  The recent bush fires and back burning had put plenty of particulates into the air to give the moon a surreal look.  A week before Halloween, and it had the appearance of an uncarved pumpkin with a light inside. Again we reflected on that experience being the sort of thing than millions of couch dwellers would never see.

Now on the South side of the river we knew that we would be at our only stopping point of the run.  We called ahead, getting Hugo out of what was apparently a very warm and comfortable bed!  15 minutes later we met with him at the front of the Alexandra Headland SLSC at 3:30am.  I’m still blown away by the generous and enthusiastic gesture of coming out to help us.  It came at a good time as both of us were low on fluid, and a change of energy in the group was called for.  
The one and only pit stop

We stopped for about 10-15 minutes, changed over drink bottles and snacked. As is typical with any ultra the clock seems to speed up when you’re at a checkpoint, but this was a good thing, as we wanted to keep moving and not stiffen up.  Refreshed and reinvigorated we headed out along the short stretch of Mooloolaba beach to the spit.  This section of beach is in a large gentle curve, the end point facing back North up to where we had come from.  The glow of Noosa was very, very dim over the horizon and I took pride in knowing that we were now well past halfway, and that in reality it wasn’t all that bad.

Again we had to take a diversion to avoid another river, a 7 km detour to cover the 100m from where we were to where the next bit of beach starts.  Soul destroying yes, but also great to know that when we had got back on that sand we were on the last homeward straight.

I took the every bit of sand a bit too seriously at this point, electing to run through a children’s play area on the side of the road!

We finally got back on the beach proper at Port Cartwright, and by now the sun was just peaking over the horizon.  We were on a pretty isolated section of beach just beneath the Light House, and the views were breath taking.  I did manage to get take a couple of photos, as did a professional photographer in the sand dunes taking what would have been impressive photos of a bride in the morning of her wedding. I say would have been impressive as we couldn’t resist the opportunity to “photo bomb” leaping and waving in the background! They were obviously in the spirit of the day as they waved back too.  
Colin powering on at Point Cartwright at dawn
In the same spirit there were personal trainers setting up their bootcamps on the beach, and we took the opportunity to show off our dazzling pace and nimble footwork slaloming through their courses. They may have been a little more impressed if they have known that we’d been running for about 8 hours at this point!

After the Lighthouse we were on the homestretch, and the motivation and physical lift this gave me was amazing.  I was comfortably running up the beach, chasing other early morning joggers, even catching and burning off a few too!  This was a beach that we hadn’t run on before, and once more it was a lot longer than we had anticipated. Well it just seemed longer; it was about 10-12kms long. The challenge now was that the tide was well on its way in, and wet feet which we had for the most part avoided were now inevitable.  Running on the soft sand was far heavier going, and the camber at the back of the beach was pretty severe.  My ankles were really feeling it at the end o the run.

Happily though the seemingly endless beach did come to an end, and we then just had to negotiate the cliffs around Caloundra and the short dash along Kings and Bullcock beaches.  We could hardly complain about a few hills at the end as the majority of the run had been pretty flat, the beauty of if was that it meant we’d be on a downhill run to our finishing point.  

It was almost 7:30am by now and it was amazing the number of people out and about, as we had to weave our way along the last two beaches.  The mini goal of 10 hours just slipped past as we reached the old SLSC at Caloundra, and the end of the Sunshine Coast Beaches.

No round of applause, no finishing tape, just an agreement between the two of us that we had done enough and shook hands.  Somewhat anticlimactic, as these fat ass event can be, but it was very satisfying to have put a line in the sand so to speak!  Maybe some other local runners would like to get out there and have a crack at it and notch up a better time, we may even have another go ourselves.

All done! Colin takes a recovery dip.
It is something we will definitely do again, but before that there are a number of other long trails that we’re going to take on. More on that soon on the SCUTRs page.

Thanks Colin for putting up with my nonsense for most of the night, and to Hugo and Benji for sacrificing a good night’s sleep to come out and cheer us on.

While organised races are a great experience you can take a lot of satisfaction from getting out in your own back yard and having a crack at something out of the ordinary.  All good fun.

Run Happy!

“Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put in to it” – Oprah Winfrey