Pushing myself to new limits, and exploring the vibrant trail running scene, with my attempt at the ‘feel good ultra’ – the Anglesea Surf Coast Century 50km trail run.
I’ve been spending a fair part of this first year of retirement from pro cycling, trying to find new challenges and push myself in different ways. The rush, the commitment, the highs and lows of pro cycling have been an overwhelmingly major part of my life for so long, and once it was gone – it left a space that I really needed to fill. I think this is something common to a lot of ex-athletes, once your goals have been reached and you hang up your boots, how do you find challenge and fulfillment beyond your professional career?
For me, I’ve been exploring the idea of different ‘pelotons’ for a while now. I’ve loved delving into all different aspects of the cycling world and discovering new and thriving communities that I barely knew existed. But it’s not just cycling, it extends to other sports, and since retiring, I have discovered a love of running. It was something I had been exploring a little bit in the final couple of years of my career, where I was running for enjoyment and incorporating a bit of it into my training, especially in the off-season – but it was purely training. It was only in the last year of my career when I had a bit more time, that I started running just for enjoyment and checking out some of the incredible trails around Girona and Andorra, and I even entered a couple of trail runs over there, where trail running is phenomenally popular.
Those experiences showed me how cool and inclusive the community was, and I loved that it was just slightly different to cycling. Even though it is physically similar, there’s more interaction with the participants, because when you’re running, you’re going that much slower, and sometimes stopping to climb over things, so you just have the chance to chat a bit more. It’s so inclusive and friendly yet still competitive – but in a different way to cycling. In running, you’re really just competing against yourself, trying to beat your own pb’s and setting your own challenges.
Fast forward to retirement, and now I’m a bit short on time, and live out in the country, so running has become a real go-to for me, because of the bang for your buck compared to cycling. I don’t always have time for long rides, but I can get a quick and good workout, and still get the runners high that people talk about. On top of this, I’ve discovered that I really enjoy it. I haven’t done much competing in running events since being back in Australia, so me being me, I decided to venture into the world of trail running with a 50km challenge. And the best place I could think of to tackle a challenge of this magnitude is the Anglesea Surf Coast Century – where at least I would have the benefit of spectacular scenery to the inevitable pain and suffering.
I was lucky to have the support of Bogong equipment in the event – they got me down there, and I just went in as a novice without expectation. I set myself the realistic goal of getting through it without walking. So I just chipped away and stayed focused, picking off people slowly as I went as my own pace. I chatted to a few people, and got stuck behind others on some narrower trails, but that worked in my favour and just gave me a moment to slow down and take a breather. I had to adapt to some different things – fuelling was different, I had to carry all of my own water, and food – some things that are well known to trail runners out there.
They call it the ‘feel good ultra’, and it was easy to see why. As I neared the halfway point of the race, I started to feel the pinch and wonder what I was doing out there. And just at that moment, I popped out on the coast just outside of Anglesea, and I saw the beautiful sight of the sun rising over the water, the waves crashing in along the Great Ocean Road, and it gave me such a boost that I managed to run the trails all the way back to Anglesea, and realise my goal of running the whole thing.
Even though it was incredibly challenging, it was also exciting – I’ve done virtually all there is to do in road cycling, so getting out there and challenging myself to new things is the best way to stay motivated. And this challenge really set the bar high. It might sound easy as an ex-pro to run that kind of distance – but 50km is 50km no matter who you are, and I really felt every bit of it after the finish. I couldn’t walk one step more after sitting down at the finish line, and 48 hours later I was still hobbling around. I realised the extent of the damage I had done to my body, with more black toenails than not in the days after the event, and I kept asking myself WHY? But the answer to that is an easy one now that the dust has settled – it’s all about finding a new challenge, and getting to experience the outcome – and after finishing my first 50km trail run in 4hrs33mins, I was happy.