We've been a while getting back to the blog, too much going on. But where better to pick back up than from Aaron Steward's account of his experience at The Clint Eastwood LOSER last month.
Aaron is legally blind so to undertake an event of this nature is no small step. He and his guide runner, Tony, had a contingency plan in the event that he was the last one standing (he couldn't run the final lap alone and with a guide), who knows if we'll see it put into action but we may find out as Aaron, along with another visually impaired runner, is registered for next year's event.
One More - by Aaron Steward
Running and in particular, long-distance running, can sometimes be a solitary and lonely activity. Often, it is undertaken alone with training runs before the sun comes up or long after it has gone down.
As a legally blind runner with only about 6% vision, this solitary activity takes on a somewhat different tune where I use a guide and running becomes a team effort. At the New York Marathon in 2016, a team of 3 volunteer runners guided me through the throng of 50,000 other competitors. They did an amazing job guiding me through the 5 boroughs and at one point, even saved me from bowling over 2 staunch NYPD officers who were standing guard as I went for a high five from one of the spectators.
Achilles is a charity set up to assist people with disabilities to achieve fitness goals which could include guided running, swimming or piloting a tandem bike. It is through Achilles that I met my guide and friend Tony. After many months of preparation, overcoming injuries and setbacks, Tony and I found ourselves alongside 70 other people at 1am on a chilly Friday morning awaiting the start of the Last One Standing (LOS) in its debut year in Brisbane at the Oxley Creek Common.
I prefer running in the dark as there are less shadows to throw me off, so the LOS start time of 1am was particularly appealing. I am usually confined to running on smooth surfaces to reduce the chance of a busted ankle from a misstep. Unlike most 'trail' races that are technical, the course for LOS is a nice sandy surface which was great.
I settled in behind Tony, whose figure was illuminated by my headlamp and as the first few laps went by, Tony and I debated about whether we should round up the lap distance from 6.706km to 7 km in our minds. I argued that it was at least a 130m walk from the finish line to our camp and decided I was calling it 7km.
By the time we hit the half marathon distance I was feeling tired which was a problem considering it was only 4am. We did another lap and I lay down for 10 minutes. I’m not sure I got any sleep as I lay there with my eyes closed but my ears open waiting for Alun to blow the dreaded 3-minute whistle.
It was cold that morning and as much as I wished for it, the moon didn’t seem to be getting any lower in the Western sky as we’d come back from Pelican Island on every lap. We were averaging about 42 minutes every lap which gave us 15 minutes rest time to go to the toilet, sit down, put a jumper on, eat and apply a ridiculous amount of chafing cream.
Soon enough, we hit the marathon mark as the sun came up and brought with it some much needed warmth. I ditched the headlamp, long sleeve shirt and gloves and had to start applying sunscreen every lap along with the chafing cream.
**Note for vision impaired runners – Make sure the chafing cream is in a different shaped vessel to save you applying chafing cream to your face and sunscreen to your genitals.
It became surprisingly hot during the day, so we ended up chasing the shade around the course as well as under our gazebo at the end of every lap. In the early afternoon, at the Secret Forest, Alun was there with an esky full of ice blocks. Tony and I grabbed one each but soon discovered that it’s hard to run and eat an ice block at the same time, so we enjoyed our ice blocks while we walked.
By 1pm and 12 laps in, Tony was undoubtedly getting frustrated that he was still reminding me to stick left of the rutted section on the way to Pelican Island and to watch out for the slightly raised concrete slab on the left after the turn around point. I changed my socks but kept everything else the same. I wasn’t chafing anywhere, and my feet felt ok so I thought I would leave everything else as it was.
By 3pm and 14 laps in, the shuffle was well and truly in effect and every time we hit the tiny hill after the bridge on the way back, I’d lurch forward almost horizontal from the waist up. I’ve heard time and again that in an Ultra, you can get a 2nd and even a 3rd and 4th wind, so I swallowed another gel and hoped this would come.
One advantage to being vision impaired is that I can’t see any sort of watch. There is no need to worry myself with what my heart rate is doing, what pace I’m going, how far I’ve gone or how far to go. I can only rely on how I’m feeling and by this point, I wasn’t feeling so great with the first few steps of every lap sending bolts of pain up both of my legs.
At the end of lap 15, Tony came to me while I was enjoying a frozen coke and eating a mars bar and said he wasn’t feeling “right”. A cardiac issue had plagued Tony for months and he didn’t know just how much further he could go. We discussed what we should do and if I would be able to push on without him guiding me. While considering this (and applying more chafing cream), Tony came back and said, “one more”.
We started lap 16 with about 40 other runners and our great support crew gathered near the start and cheered us out. As we headed out to Pelican Island for the 16th time, Tony reminded me to keep left of the rutted section. As we rounded the turnaround point, we took our usual walk and I told Tony that we started as a team so we should finish as a team. Tony stayed quiet, but for the first time in 15 laps, we walked a bit further than we had previously.
We walked again at the Secret Forest and let a few runners overtake us and as we turned right out of Pelican Island for the last time and headed for the finish line, 2 runners who were drinking beers passed us and offered some words of encouragement. Tony asked me if we should run it in to complete the lap on time, but I sat down and told him that we may as well time out and get the high 5’s from the runners starting their next lap.
We walked into our camp to applause from our amazing support crew. I took a seat and was handed a beer which was a welcome change from tailwind and water. I enjoyed my second beer after I got home and my wife helped me up the stairs and into a bath.
We went back to the course for a look at 9am on Saturday and the champions were still at it. Cam, Kevin and Shane who must have got a 15th or 16th wind were showing incredible endurance and had now been going for over 30 hours. While I’d spent 15 hours sleeping, eating and scrubbing the chafing cream off me, these guys were still clocking off lap after lap and incredibly Kevin Muller would go on to take the win late Saturday afternoon.
The LOS was a great event. You often hear stories about the Ultra community being a great and supportive group. This was evident every lap where a runner was finishing as the rest gathered in the corral, everyone would cheer them in and then encourage them to do “one more”. There was a runner set up near our camp and it seemed like she was doing it tough. Every lap she would flop into her chair exhausted, and on one occasion she started crying, however she didn’t quit. With a little bit of help from our support crew to fill her hydration vest, she set off for what would actually be many more 'one more'.
Tony and I completed 16 laps which, by my counting, is 112km but by Tony and Alun’s counting is 107.2km. We have signed up for the 2020 event for some redemption with a goal of at least 2 sunrises and just 'one more'.