Sometimes ordinary people do extraordinary things

 

10km Swim, 421.1km Cycle, 84.3km Run

24 hours 44 minutes 20 seconds

Ultraman Australia Female Champion

New Female Race Record Holder

7th Overall (Highest Ever Female)

Youngest UMOZ Champion

Fastest Female Day 1 Ever

Fastest Female Day 1&2 Ever

2nd Fastest Female Swim Ever

2nd Fastest Female Day 1 Bike Ever

2nd Fastest Female Day 2 Bike Ever

2nd Fastest Female Total Bike Ever

 

Coach: Nicole Ward (Ward Coaching),

Nutrition: Infinit Nutrition Australia https://www.infinitnutrition.com.au/

Kit: Catfish Designs https://catfishdesigns.com.au/

Crew Captain: Ben Thomson

Crew: Sophia Young, Kendall Dransfield, Phoebe Savage

Run Pacers: Alex Dunn, Sarah Dunn, Rach Cheshire

 

Originally established on the big island of Hawaii in 1983, Ultraman is a three-day endurance triathlon consisting of a 10km swim and 140km bike on the first day; 280km bike on day two; and a double marathon, 84.3km, run on day three. The event does not consist of any aid stations, instead invited competitors bring their own crew who is to follow athletes around for the entire duration of the race. 2019 is the 5th time Ultraman has taken place in Australia with the course starting in Noosa each day and heading towards the hinterland before returning to the surf club. The course is seen as one of the toughest on the circuit with an ocean swim, over 4000m of climbing on the bike and the worlds most competitive field.

My journey to this race really started 12 months ago. In May 2018 I found a 2.5cm sacral stress fracture 10 days prior to what was meant to be my UMOZ race start. To say I was devastated is a huge understatement. I left Noosa (after completing day 1 and 2 but unable to start day 3) gutted and feeling completely ripped off – I had worked as hard as any other athlete yet I was returning with nothing and they returned with their dreams fulfilled. If you asked me that weekend I was never coming back. The risk of something like that happening again was too much and the hurt was big.

Over the next few weeks, the UMOZ community sent me lots of positive messages and my mind started to change. In particular Carmen Atkinson, who herself overcame a DNF from the previous year, and Greg McDermott really inspired me to be brave, dream big and give it another crack. So after getting the approval from family, close friends, coach and physio I entered UMOZ 2019. Event Coordinator, Dayle Jordan, responded almost immediately “thank you for the best email I’ve received in weeks!! Yay!”. And so the journey to UMOZ2019 officially began.

The training journey was an unusual one as I wasn’t actually able to do ANY training at first due to the fracture. Then slowly, clearances came back – first I was able to swim, then start Pilates, then cycle on the trainer and eventually return back to walk/running. Training went as smooth as it can, never going to be ‘perfect’ but my coaching team kept me on track and I really trusted what they were doing. For the more number focused people, my average TSS for the 16 weeks leading into the race was over 1000 per week. I also never missed a long cycle. Due to starting a new job in Feb, we decided to strip back all racing to absolute minimum and only include one race within the build, Forster Ultimate in March where I took the overall Female win.

Race week came and I was very very nervous. I had stopped sleeping about 10 days out from the race, which is not uncommon for me. I could describe myself as being completely petrified of the race but extremely excited to be back. The crew started rolling in during the week and by check in on Thursday Kendall, Ben and Sophia were there to accompany me. We went through the maps with the event organisers but for me most importantly I saw my crew getting stuck into questions and having a complete commitment to what they were about to undertake. From that moment I never had a problem trusting them to be doing everything possible to give me the best race possible.

Friday came, which is briefing day for crews and athletes – a breakfast buffet followed by a few hours of listening and taking in the course, rules and meeting fellow athletes. Then the prep really starts with the crew sorting the car, prepping food and me basically sitting on the couch with my feet up. We spent most of the down time we had watching the US Office DVDs which worked as an awesome distraction from enormous task we had ahead of us. Sophia, an amazing chef, took over the kitchen every night and for Friday night we had some white fish and potato cooked to absolute perfection, followed by an early night. My paddler Phoebe rolled into Noosa after I had already gone to bed but my confidence in her is so strong we didn’t have to verbally go over any of the race planning for the next morning – I knew she would have it!

 

Day One

 

Race morning, I woke up around 3am, alarm was set for 4 but when you are staring down an Ultraman, sleep is a luxury I didn’t get. The team was already up and working before I came out of my room which is one of the best feelings – honestly all I had to do was the race, I never had to think of anything else the entire time. A 10min drive into Noosa and we were ready to roll. Standing around waiting for the start is probably the worst part of the whole race, buzzing with energy but before you knew it, wetsuit was on, hug from the team and it was time to swim to the start line.

I picked a spot in the middle of the group at the front, which turned out to be a good one when Carl Read, defending male champion and phenomenal swimmer decided to start right next to me. We couldn’t see the first buoy and there was some discussion amongst the athletes as to where it was and which line was best to take but I had decided the best line would be on Carl’s feet and had full confidence Phoebe would find me in no time and take me the most direct route. We could hear the count down from the beach to the start time, but comically when it reached “Three…. Two… One...” we were waiting for some sort of gun or hooter which didn’t happen so there was a pause where we looked at each other asking if we were meant to start or what? Eventually after what seemed like an eternity, but realistically probably just a few seconds, one swimmer started and then the rest of us followed.

The group was broken up within a few hundred metres. I could see one swimmer had launched of the front and I was sitting at the back of the first chase group consisting of 3-4 athletes. I originally thought I had gone out a bit fast as I was not expecting to make this group but decided to go with it anyway. I saw Phoebe find my pack and settle in within the first few minutes which again is a great feeling just knowing she is there; a familiar face as we tackle this huge task.

I was very aware of the race rules stating the swim was a non-draft event and thus worked hard in the first section of the race to swim to the side of other swimmers, which was at times a challenge with a few of us very close together. The fear of being penalized was staying on my brain so I moved to the front of the group and took the lead towards the first can. Phoebe and I stuck exactly to the race plan and stopped quite frequently to take on water and Infinit (I took 6 scoops of a concentrated Grape flavoured mix for the swim). I settled into my work and tried to keep the pace as high as possible without my breathing straining. I spent a lot of time counting my strokes, assuming every 50 strokes I counted was approx. 50m so counting to 50 and then restarting and counting again. In total I think I would have counted more than 3000 strokes, not only keeping my occupied as time passed but also helps to keep my stroke rate up.

As we approached half way Phoebe gave me an update of how we were going time wise, and to be honest we were a little bit behind what my dream day consisted off and my aim to break the female record was slipping away. I also was struggling with a really bad headache which would continue for almost the entire day (I put it down to dehydration and wearing two swim caps) but we ploughed on anyway.

We overtook another swimmer at about the 6.5km mark, which is always a positive, and then went past the finish and through to start the last 3km loop. Phoebe warned me that this part was going to be really tough as the current had strengthened and we were swimming directly against it. It felt like forever before we reached the last turning point and as we came around I was feeling really fatigued. I made an extra stop, “Phoebe my cap is falling off”, nope it looks fine Emily keep swimming. “Phoebe my goggles have water in them”, nope you’re fine keep swimming. “Phoebe how far is it to go”, Emily keep swimming 500m.

As we were heading back, most of the other swimmers were coming in the opposite direction, just starting their last loop meaning the course was quite busy. Due to being the first few swimmers – the rest of the field seemed to part ways for us to come through, something again that lifts the spirits and makes you feel pretty awesome. One last drink stop and we were storming home, overtaking another swimmer in the last few hundred, we rounded the last buoy into the beach. “Thank you Phoebe” I yelled out as we approached and then concentrated on upping the kicking and getting some blood back into my legs preparing for transition. I could see the rest of the crew prepping on the beach and the finish arch and headed straight towards it. Ben was waiting at the water, updated me on the time, I had just missed the record by a minute, and encouraged me to walk up the sand (there was a lot of potholes and the previous swimmers had spectacularly stacked it in their attempts to run).

There were lots of people on the sand clapping and calling out my name but I was just concentrating on the task at hand and didn’t identify anything apart from the instructions Ben was giving and Steve’s (the Ultraman commentator) Canadian accent announced I was the third swimmer out of the water and first female. Phew that’s pretty good.

The team worked over time to get the wetsuit off and jersey on (which they had already packed with nutrition), sunscreen, shoes and socks and get out of there as soon as possible. Just as I was getting my helmet on I saw the next swimmer exit the water, Carl Read. Wow. It really was a good swim day for me. What I didn’t know at the time was my transition was so quick I had overtaken the swimmer in front and was sitting in second overall – something very rare for a female athlete! I pushed the bike out past the mount line, jumped on and spun it down the ramp.

The first km’s out of town are slow – there was lots of traffic and I was still trying to find my cycle legs. Race plan was to wait until the Tewantin round-about (about 5km in) before I officially start “racing”. I thought it would be around there that I would first see the crew car catch me so I spun along Noosa river and started mentally preparing for 5 hours on the bike. The round-about came and still the crew hadn’t caught up – I wasn’t worried yet but was wondering what the hell was holding them up (according to them I was going “too bloody fast” hence the delay in catching). Up and over Noosa hill and finally I saw them, well actually I heard them coming with the cow bells out the window! Not only a big morale booster but an energy lift too. There is something really special about having the crew there and following. It is a really lonely road, particularly on day one when the swim works to spread the field so much but the crew kept me company.

I knew Carl would be catching pretty quick in bridging the gap between us, and was surprised to make it around 15-20km before he made the catch. I had a brief thought to try and stick with him for a few km’s but as he sped past I quickly realised I didn’t have the legs to go with him and I watched him ride away on a downhill. And Emily was on her own again. I was prepping myself mentally to have a day of being overtaken, particularly from the male field but for the moment I was concentrating on working hard and keeping the pace high. My aim was if another female was to overtake me today, they were going to have to earn it. I wasn’t going to be giving away the lead easily.

I felt really hungry early on the bike, was still dealing with a bad headache and had really really sore eyes (too much salt water). I started to get as much food and Infinit in as my body would allow. I was also drinking a lot of water to ensure the carbs would be absorbed, I would be needing all this in the back end of todays cycle if I was to hold my position (this was really important as day two start position was seeded from day one results and I wanted to be out of trouble and as close to the action at the front as possible). This plan really back fired not long after as my tummy was feeling sick and nausea kicked in. I was a bit stuck on what to do so I instructed the crew I wanted to switch to Coke – renowned for being able to settle stomachs while also containing enough carbs to keep you going.

Communicating with the crew was really difficult. Basically you only get a few seconds as the car passed to try, with the crew cheering and passing off their own messages leaving almost no opportunity for me to let them know how I am going. They did cop a bit of a spray as emotionally I was cracking a bit and I felt like they needed to simplify everything and slow it down – realistically they had no way of knowing how I was feeling and were out there doing a phenomenal job! At one stage I considered telling another crew to ring them and tell them to stop offering me other foods – but I thought that might not go down so well… Frustratingly it took another 50-60kms or so for me to finally let them know how I was going but as soon as I did, things immediately improved.

We then moved into the hilliest section of the day. Initially it was planned for the crew to get out of the car on the biggest climb to help mentally, the climb is so steep there is a sign that warns trucks and cars they might not be able to make it over! But when we arrived at the longest hill of the day (a different climb about 4km before the big one) the crew was out and cheering me up. I had to inform them they were at the wrong one. Really something so small in the scheme of things but it meant they couldn’t be at the next hill before me, which at a time I was not feeling great was probably the darkest part of the ride. It was a real downer.

Shortly after I saw the lead biker heading back the other way – Carl. He had gapped the field already. But, on a positive, I also knew I must not be that far off the turning point and still no other athlete had made the catch yet. Woo. Before I knew it I was at the school signifying the turn around, quick water bottle swap and Ben calling out “Just stop and...” No Ben I’m not stopping. And I was through and heading back to town. Back up and over the hills (not quite as bad on the way back) but the best part was seeing the rest of the field still heading in the other direction - a real mental booster.

Next focus was the dog leg where there was a 180 degree turn – anyone who has seen me ride a bike knows turning is not my strength but we arrived and I made the turn without unclipping (woo – little mental win!!). It was also here I saw Louis was right behind me. I didn’t know it but he was the athlete who had swum faster than me, I overtook in transition and then it took him over 100km to catch up on the bike. His crew were amazing, cheering and talking to me, really encouraging me. I started to feel quite a bit better after this point and after talking to my crew and reminding them to slow things down and talk to me a bit more we were on a roll. Smooth sailing back into town, over the hills and before I knew it the crew were taking orders for what I would like at the finish! Woo hoo Noosa here we go!

Head down I really worked for every second coming back along Noosa river, slight pause to wait for an old couple at the crossing (come on come on come on – I’m in a race...), and full power until the finish line. Bam Bam day one done – no further athletes overtook. Good day. I crossed the line to hear I was 4th overall, first female, and new day one record. Holy Moly – better day then I thought! Crew was waiting there – as awesome as ever. Passed through medical, straight to massage (no line – we had finished so far up the field there was NO LINE!! WHAT?!?!), even had Carl say hi (that’s pretty cool he knows my name now). Protein shake, hot chips and we were out of there.

Swim 10km – 2:38:25

Bike Day 1 140km – 4:52:30

Total Day 1 – 7:30:55

As we sat at dinner (another special one from Sophia – home made burgers, so good) I thanked the team and said let’s soak this up, we might never in our lives be sitting with a number one next to us on the leader board. Wow what a day. Quick call from the coach, couple more episodes of the Office, the crew working to pack for tomorrow (Ben even had to make an extra trip to the pharmacy for eye drops as they were still irritated from the swim), alarms set and the day was done.

 

Day Two

 

I again woke well before the alarm – still buzzing from the day yesterday. I really wanted to make sure yesterday wasn’t a fluke. I didn’t want to have a really good day one and be blown out of the top 5 on day two so worked mentally to focus on the new day and new opportunity ahead of me. Day two doesn’t have as much standing around as day one, but is the first time all the athletes see each other since the swim start. I decided to wear headphones (even though I didn’t have any music playing) to discourage others from talking to me, and the crew worked hard to keep me tucked in with them too meaning I could just focus on me. A few friends did come over to congratulate me on day one – I got the feeling that my performance the previous day was not expected by most and thus I was not expected to perform spectacularly on day two. Perfect. I love being underestimated.

I was seeded eighth for day two, meaning I was in the fourth row (Eighth!! Wow! This is pretty cool) and could actually see Carl at the front. I was next to Dave, who is a really tall, ripped, beast of an athlete. Me and my little 48cm road bike did look a little out of place but I was quietly confident knowing these seeded places were earned yesterday and I belonged there as much as anyone else. Before long the crew was instructed to leave – for me the worst part of the day – I love having them there, almost like a security blanket and when they leave I feel really exposed.

Before long the countdown had started and we were off. The first few km’s are a neutral zone so I got a good chat to Dave, turns out we have lots of mutual friends in Canberra! The race really starts at the round-about at Tewantin which is the first place people are allowed to attack. We were barely a metre from here when the attacks started. My plan was to wait in the pack, watch for splits and sit in doing as little work as possible until we get out of the non-crew zone (which is the first 50km of the day) BUT I didn’t want to lose touch with any of the other girls early in the race.

There was a lot of movement early – people coming through from everywhere trying to make moves, I didn’t really want to but had to make a few myself to stay out of trouble. There was two group splits I shut down myself, but my smartest moves came letting some things go and being patient enough to know the moves others were making would not stick. I found an athlete which I knew had raced previously at this event and thought they would be best to follow as they know how long this day was.

Frustratingly it was really hard to sit consistently as other athletes were blatantly disregarding the drafting rules, making no attempt to have any gap between each other and pulling in front of me forcing me to sit up all the time. The UM official cars were coming through and trying to clean it up, I did have a chat to Tim Franklin (race commentator) about the ‘draft fest’ happening just ahead and they ensured me they were on it! It seemed like forever before this zone ended but it was worth it as we came through the crew zone for the first time after about 2 hours with cheering, bells, blow up dinosaurs, car horns and just general screaming for about one kilometre. This was my highlight of the entire weekend. The most notable thing for me here was that people seemed to have learnt my name overnight – secretly very pleasing.

My crew was at the end of the crew zone, “Em get a drink just ahead” and then this random white costumed person reaches out of the crowd with my drink bottle. What the? Why is the crew telling other people to hand out my drink bottles, that’s weird… Finally we reached Noosa hill, I knew the group was still too big and had decided that I was going to attack up the hill and attempt to blow the group up and see how many would hold. Bam, up the hill and straight to the front, crew came past, (ohhh Ben is in a unicorn costume no wonder I didn’t recognise him!) Got to the top of the hill, turned around to see the damage and I was completely alone. Well I guess I have the next 220k solo then. At this stage I wasn’t sure if this was going to be a mistake I paid for later, but in that moment I made a decision in that I was going to fully commit and go for it.

I was overtaken by Dave at almost the identical position to where Carl overtook the previous day and from there we were on our own. Ticking off the km’s, making sure I was eating enough, getting entertained by the crew who were much better at slowing up when they were passing so we could chat more and generally just trying to stay in a positive headspace. Although they did inform me that the bakery I had sent them to for breakfast was shut – hhmmm I am going to have to pick up the speed a little as they are going to be hangggrrrryyyy later in the day.

I knew the commentating team would be at 100km so was really looking forward to passing through as it would update for people following along at home and would also give me a bit of a lift. We cruised through, made it to the turn around point (“Hey guys did you see Stephen Forster taking photos of me! Wow!! That’s so cool” – apparently they are not as up to date with their triathlon history and didn’t know the significance of Stephen…) and on the way back got a quick view of the other athletes coming through. I really tried hard not to take notice of any other athletes here, was very focussed on doing my own thing.

Next km’s really nothing interesting happened. The road surface deteriorated quite a bit and the head wind intensified, the day really just got tougher. The crew really had to step up here, I asked a lot of questions about weather conditions; how long it would be a head wind for, how many km’s till the next turn, what is the wind going to do in a few hours etc etc. We made it through to the left turn to head back to the commentators. I still felt quite good here but the crew reminded me I was still wearing a vest and it was getting hot – we prepared for one of the quickest F1 stops, swapping out bottles and dropping the vest. Full credit to the team – we executed this to perfection.

The next two hours (hour 6 and 7) were the hardest. The wind was tough, the road was lonely (we went the next few hours without seeing another racer), and the surface of the road was slow. Again the crew was so good, this was the only time on the course where I lost a little bit of time despite working really really hard. I had decided pre race I didn’t want total time or total distance on my garmin screen so pretty much never actually knew how far I had come, how much to go, what speed I was going, or how far I was ahead. For me I was racing the best I could and the rest didn’t matter.

Before we knew it we were approaching Kennelworth hill, the biggest climb on day 2, and I was greeted by Greg waiting on his bike to ride up with me. This was a HUGE lift. Not only does this hill signify that you have started to head home, having Greg there was the best. For the first time, based on Greg’s confidence, I believed I would be the first female home today. The hill passed quickly, got to the top, swapped out bottles and descended down. I tried to keep everything smooth the next hours, sitting up a fair bit more than ideal (thank goodness for the road bike aye!) but pumped it through.

The closer we got to the finish, the more the wind turned in my favour and eventually we were running a tail wind. Yew yew yew. I tried to work it as much as I could – quick wave to Rach and Jase (owners of Infinit) who were tucking into burgers at the Café and were cheering and homeward bound we went! I saw the crew for the last time on David Low way, legs were already going a bit shaky so let them know they might have to help me off my bike so I don’t fall over at the finish and put in the order for finish line goodies – Mars Bars, hot chips and protein! The last 5-10km I really put my head down, sat aero and fought for every second; I didn’t know what tomorrow would bring but I did know I wanted as much time as possible AND that I was really close to breaking 9 hours.

Crossing the finish was awesome. I had finished 6th overall for the day (holy moly – beat my seeding from this morning!), first female AND broke 9 hours (second female in history under 9). I was also informed I had demolished the previous day 1 + 2 combined total record. Emotionally a lot to take in. Before I could get off the bike, race director informed Win News wanted an interview. A little shaky, and emotionally trying to hold it together delivered an interview with a camera shoved in my face, passed through medical, freezed in the ice bath (were Stephen Forster actually came over for a chat – that’s cool, he knows my name now too!!), and off to massage.

Tim Franklin requested a second interview while I was on the massage table – his most interesting question about my nutrition for the day. What did I eat for the day? I ate some fairy bread, red frogs, A LOT of Infinit and some coke; all this mentioned while I was tucking into some hot chips. When the mic was turned off Tim reminded me what a diabetes diet that was. Well it worked!

Whilst the second interview was in progress, Tracy Morrison, second place female finished and times were calculated. We would have a 33min lead tonight going into tomorrow. I asked the masseuse to finish my massage early; I was so tender I didn’t think it was a good idea for her to continue plus I wanted to get the hell out of there and back to the house to recover. Again the crew were all over it and homeward bound the mood was good. We would have a number one next to us for another night, oh and still in 6th overall. Not bad.

Day 2 Bike 280km – 8:58:34

Total Bike 421km – 13:51:04

Day 1 + 2 Total – 16:29:29

 

Day Three

 

I barely slept Sunday night. I would have been lucky to get 3-4 hours total. I, for the first time, started to allow myself to believe I might have a shot at winning. I had been really good staying off social media until this point, but I was getting so many messages flooding in and I stayed awake reading them (sorry coach!). At one point in the night I opened my laptop and had a look at race records. I would need to run 9 hrs 5 to break the overall record. Mmm tough but do-able. I also had a look at the run record, 7hr 40. Surely Tracy can’t run that; I knew she was a super runner but that was the benchmark. If I could go sub 9 surely that would be enough? I had previously run 7 marathons, 6 of them off the bike and my pb was 4hr12.

I had never run more than a marathon and knew running two of them back to back today was going to be really tough – I didn’t know how I was going to react to it and I didn’t know what sort of performance I would deliver. Anyone looking at the stats and my history would not have put any money on me, but I didn’t mind; and to be completely honest I was happy with second anyway. My head was just buzzing so much I decided to sleep on the couch watching the Office to get my focus on anything but the 84km run ahead of me that day.

Again I awoke before the alarm. This morning though I woke up really really sore. Sore everywhere! My feet, my back, arms, legs (especially quads!), ribs, core and my neck. Even my eyes were red and sore – probably a bit from lack of sleep and still suffering from the salt on day one. I tried to trick myself into thinking I wasn’t sore at all and from as early as possible tried to be moving and jumping around. I also decided I didn’t want to tell the crew I was that sore – besides, I was practically the youngest in the field, if I was sore everyone else was way worse right?

This morning was much similar to the others. The crew was awake early, except this time we had Alex and Sarah who had joined from the Gold Coast and Mum had flown up, but Phoebe had headed back to Sydney. The extra people added some new energy and excitement. I could feel how keen everyone was to start to rip in. Race plan was to eat as much solid food as possible for as long as possible, utilising the 9min run/1min walk technique I had been using for the last 12 months. Then we would switch to Infinit for as long as possible (grape of course) and lastly we resort to coke to bring it home. Everything needed to be washed down with water constantly. We also knew Tracy would run off early – she had to, it’s a race and she is 30min behind; the plan was to let her go. We would walk more if necessary in the back half but most importantly the plan was to arrive at the finish line completely spent.

On the start line I stood with Sarah Dare, who I had met pre race after initially seeing each other as competitors on Instagram. We had pretty quickly become friends and that comfort I really sought out as I was so nervous pre run. Sarah was very composed, and at one point actually asked what pace I was planning on running for the first few km’s. Pace? I hadn’t even thought of pace? Sorry Sarah, I’ve got no idea but I am going all in. I also spotted Tracy on the start line and went over to wish her well and gave her a hug – we might be competitors but at the end of the day we are both women striving to achieve this enormous goal and I genuinely hoped she would bring her best.

The race starts with a slight downhill out of the surf club carpark – boy did that kick start the quads. The pack of runners very quickly split apart and I settled into a pace I felt was reasonable. Tracy had already taken off ahead, at one stage I saw her look down at her watch and I secretly was hoping it would tell her she needed to slow down but unfortunately her body language suggested she was running right on schedule and she comfortably skipped on up the road. Stopping after 9 minutes for my first walk effort was one of the hardest things I could do as no other athlete was stopping that early and I watched them run off ahead – but I knew I needed to stick to my plan and so far it had done me well for the swim and bike. One of the other runners asked if I was okay, “Yep, just sticking to the plan” and he replied good, just stick to your plan. Greg also happened to drive past during this minute and gave a beep beep from his car – further recognition I was making the right move.

The first 3km we had planned for me to run on my own; I would meet my first pacer Sophia at the lake and I would be paced from there all the way through to the finish. I was moving well through my run sections and tried to powerwalk the other bits. I met Sophia after no time and we settled into a good pace. Having a pacer there was again a huge blessing for me – it really struck me how these other humans were willing to take time of work and money out of their own pocket to come and support me chase my dreams; you can never really repay anyone for that but I knew I could somewhat repay them with a good performance. The team wouldn’t have really cared if I came last, or third or second; actually I don’t think they would have really bothered if I didn’t finish, they weren’t there for that. We hadn’t spoken about results beforehand and I think that’s why everything was so special. They were simply there to help and honestly I am so so thankful for every single one of them.

The pacers swapped themselves over every few kilometres. Sometimes we ran in silence, sometimes they talked (occasionally I would talk back), told me stories, encouraged me, focused me but most importantly we just ran for 9 minutes and then walked a minute to the beeps of my watch. We could actually see Tracy and her team just ahead for the majourity which was pleasing to me but the team remained focused, and never let me think too much about her. We had a quick toilet stop at Peregian beach and a shirt change; I wasn’t worried about losing time here but as luck would have it, Tracy stopped at almost the same time to do the same thing so neither of us lost or gained anything at all.

Unfortunately, my Garmin lost satellites at 18km (actually didn’t regain them until about the 50km marker) so I no longer had an indication of pace or distance. By this point, I wasn’t really using full sentences anymore and had all but stopped talking to the crew and pacers – I was focussed on running until the watch beeped and then I’d walk for a minute, wait for the beep and continue running. We moved through the 21km point, under 1hr 55 (woo Emily that’s pretty good), commentators managed to talk me into smile for the video – which was probably the second last smile of the run actually, everything was business from there and so the classic Crowie inspired terminator look was implemented. Things didn’t feel so easy after that. I knew I had started to fatigue but I was really working to hold my cadence together. If I could keep my legs ticking over everything else would fall into place./p

The hardest part of the course comes at Coolum not long after the 21k marker, with the path heading up and over the hill through a no crew zone. The hill lasts about 1-2km, with the steepest sections at a 20% gradient. Yep, bit of a quad killer. I decided to walk the entire hill – I just didn’t have the legs to run it. Alex was pacing with me and we walked as fast as possible up and over, and ran the downhill and the flats. I had lost sight of Tracy here but knew once you get through, it is completely flat until the turn around at 42km mark. Woo we are really doing this!

Not long after we switched over to be solely taking in Infinit and were just ticking the km’s over. There were other crews around but not too many other athletes in sight, but since I always had a pacer with me, I wasn’t bothered. We hit some really straight roads as we headed closer to Twin Waters and actually could see that Tracy still hadn’t made any large inroads. I was expecting to have given up 15-20mins by this point but I had held on. We hit the turn around in 3hr 46min – Boom. New marathon PB (by 24mins!!!), and over the mic heard I was 5min behind Tracy. Two thoughts came into my mind: we can win this thing; and aaahhhhh maybe I went out a little bit too hard…

As I still didn’t have satellites and had literally no idea about pace I just kept running and tried to make some inroads. At one point I could see Tracy was going through a bad patch and really wanted to bridge the gap, I told Sarah my plan and she was on board but every time I lifted, Tracy seemed to find another gear and kicked away again. The way back really started to hurt. Not just my feet and leg muscles, but mentally everything was starting to get really hard. It never occurred to me that I should tell the crew my watch wasn’t working, I guess my brain by that stage was so far out of it anyway, but I went through a stage where it felt like I wasn’t moving anymore and the kilometres stopped ticking by. It was in this stage where I was running with Sophia, must have been between 50-55km in where I was really flat, we hit the walk section and I asked for my Infinit and she didn’t have it.

To say I lost my shit here is a bit of an understatement. Sophia copped an almighty tantrum; I told her I was refusing to run anymore and that I was dying for carbs and I couldn’t understand why they were giving me hydralyte instead – did they know I needed carbs? To her credit Sophia completely kept her head, talked calmly and countered all of my complaints with solutions. She reminded me that literally nothing had changed since the last 9 min run and I needed to hold it together. She also offered me some pineapple instead… to which I exploded back that I couldn’t have anymore pineapple as my mouth had been cut up and was hurting from all the pineapple I had previously eaten. Again she stayed calm, almost ran off to the wrong car at one stage she was so desperate to fix the problem, but she moved us through.

After this tantrum we never caught sight of Tracy again (nor did the crew offer me anymore pineapple – I guess message was received), we were on our own. Sophia you are an absolute gem – I apologise completely for whatever abuse I hurled at you, particularly because it wasn’t her even prepping the nutrition, she was just running! Again, this moment could have broken my race but instead we moved through it and got ourselves moving again.

I knew I was starting to lose big chunks of time to Tracy. But she must be getting tired too right? No one could run even splits on a double marathon right? It’s probably best I didn’t know what a beast of a runner she really was because if I had known that she ran the second marathon barely slower than the first, I probably would have given up right then and there.

We had to go back through the hills, this time hurting a whole lot more than before. A last minute decision to change into new shoes and socks (thanks Alex!) lost maybe 2 minutes but gained probably 30, had me moving and feeling semi okay again. Coming down the other side of the hill was actually worse than going up, the descending vibrating through every muscle that was already aching, particularly through my core which was so ridiculously sore. When we hit the bottom, it was back to the 9min/1min grind.

We covered about another 5km before we were coming back toward the main road and the Infinit car whizzed past; Rach and Jase had found me on course! They stopped just ahead gave me a heap of encouragement (and a lift – how awesome is it when the team that sponsors you turns up to check in on you!) and went on to meet the crew car just ahead. We were able to keep steady, walking the hills and running as much as possible, back through the 21km to go sign and up and into David Lowe way. Rach even took a turn at pacing too!

Back through Peregian and then we were onto the path tucked behind the road, meaning less access to the crew car and also signifying the hillier section. Surely the hills were not this steep on the way out!?!? I was running as much as I could, walking the up and down hills and doing whatever to move quickly through. I was definitely losing more time and we hadn’t seen Tracy in hours. As I still didn’t have a watch, I didn’t know what sort of pace I was running, exactly how much time I was losing or how much further I had to run – but I just kept moving forward. Sarah had started yelling out encouragement and messages from the car whenever she could, I loved this, and Alex had started to tell me he was getting goose bumps and couldn’t believe what we were doing. I was too scared to ask where Tracy was.

The last significant hill comes with 10km to go, and was right near where our accommodation was. Sarah was really trying to lift me, and I could sense the crew was starting to get a bit jumpy but I just couldn’t respond. My legs had absolutely nothing left to give and mentally I didn’t have much either. We were reduced for a walk for much of the next km’s and I could feel the body language from the crew changing to be a little bit more negative. The way that they were talking had also slightly shifted and I was sensing the race slip away. That was the entire crew except Sophia – that lady never once doubted anything, her positivity felt like a faint light of hope and it was Sophia I was really trying to focus on; I wasn’t sure if she was making it up, hoping for the best or if she knew exactly what was going on but again Sophia you are a bloody legend.

The plan was for the last change over to be Kendall, he had waited all day to pace and had I would say one of the most important roles to direct me through the tricky streets back into town. Again we were walking a lot when he first changed over and we both knew we were about to say goodbye to the crew car until the finish line despite still having over half an hour to run. The car pulled up one last time – Tracy had crossed the line. I had 30mins to get there and retain my lead and 5km standing between me and the finish. This is the moment I had visualised so many times before in training, that make or break moment where you have to go all in and we did.

Kendall and I ran through the streets as quick as we could. I must have looked like death – the tank had been well and truly emptied hours ago. The 9min/1min went out the window. This was all in. I calculated in my head I could have one-minute walk to reset somewhere between here and the finish but anymore walking and I would lose the race. Kendall was busy on his phone, checking all the roads (by this stage looking out for traffic while crossing roads was far beyond my capabilities), and directing. I never once doubted from this moment that we would get there. I am not sure what the crew thought, or anyone else for that matter but at that time I completely believed I could and would make it.

We got to about 3km out and I was desperate for a walk. I knew this would be the last one and I used it. I let myself reset, had some coke, took a deep breath and launched into a run. That road in Noosa has never felt so long, the bridges never so far apart but we just kept running. Occasionally I would get a time update but my brain was no longer able to compute any numbers – besides I felt the equation was quite simple; keep running and win it, or give it up and walk. At the second bridge we hit the stairs, Stephen Forster was there asking if I needed a hand; I refused his offer, not exactly sure how I got down them but then we were on the boardwalk and into the trees where I was greeted by my entire crew – all in their matching “Team Em” shirts; any other time this would have emotionally broken me but I had neither the energy or time to do that now.

We hit the beach for the final 500m to the finish (yep – if the previous 515km weren’t enough, the run to the finish is along the sand). The team was really working me over time. Everyone knew it was getting tight, I kept trying to lift to their demands, I could see people on the beach starting to stand up and clap. I lifted one notch more and it seemed to be one to many, my body immediately rejected it, throwing up whatever coke and water was left in my system. The clapping stopped and the reaction from onlookers changed. Go go go. One last effort up the soft sand and under the finish banner where my momentum was stopped by the familiar face of Mel Kemp and race director Tony Horton, my body no longer able to hold itself up and still trying to rid itself of coke despite there being literally nothing left.

I could hear the mic saying it was too close to call, and for a few moments we stood not knowing. Finally, the result was announced and the title was mine – 77 seconds was all I had left of my lead. After 515km 77 seconds was all that separated Tracy and myself. The emotions I had been trying so hard to hold onto poured out. I saw mum at the finish – the one person who has been there from the start. Her embrace was recognition of the work I had done to get here, the sacrifices I had made and of course the injury that I had overcome in the last 12 months. This victory was hers as much as it is mine. New Race Record. New Female Champion – holy shit balls we had done it!

Post race I was immediately moved to an interview; emotionally overwhelmed I tried to hold myself together as best I could. I then wanted to see Tracy and found her on the massage table, what a beast of an athlete. Sometimes it takes someone so incredible to bring something so incredible out of yourself and Tracy you did that for me. We are both bonded by this unbelievably close race, after 515km and 3 days of racing we were separated by a measly 77 seconds. The moment post race embracing her and both acknowledging what had just happened is something I will remember for the rest of my life and I dare say we will be friends for a very long time after this.

It was then straight to medical. My body was so dehydrated that when pricked for blood, no blood came out and it took a good squeeze to just get the required one drop to check the vitals. I was also 3kg lighter. Today I would be skipping the massage (aint nobody touching my body – waaaayyyyy too tender), and instructed mum to pick up some Betty’s Burgers on the way back to the house to celebrate! Unfortunately, my body wasn’t so keen and the throwing up continued on the way home (I am so sorry team) and more when we got home. I had won it but it had taken literally everything.

For anyone wanted to know how hard I worked this run – my AVERAGE heart rate was 150 beats, for over 8 hours, on the third day of the race. My TSS score for the run alone was over 500 and I burned over 4100 calories. I had also averaged a new pb for BOTH marathons.

Run 84.3km – 8:14:51

Total – 24:44:20

7th Overall, 1st Female

To the crew – its impossible for me to use words to describe the emotion I feel towards you. You will never fully understand what you have done for me but I hope in someway in the future I can repay you. I needed every single one of you, you each had a role and brought something unique. We didn’t miss a single turn in 515km, and I honestly think you guys were the difference. Thank you!

To Nic (my coach) – you did it! You created a plan and a program that worked for me, genius like. You constantly inspire me with your results, your corporate commitments, your coaching and your family life. You have helped me grow so much over the past 12 months in particular and have a belief in me that sometimes I don’t have myself. Thankyou.

To my family – couldn’t have done it without you. We have been through so much, particularly over the last 6 months and I carried the strength from everyone of you with me on Monday, and I needed every last bit of it.

For now, I will rest and recover but after becoming one of the youngest champions in the history of the event - its safe to say I am not finished yet but forever I will proudly have my name written as the 2019 Women’s Ultraman Australia Champion. #207 Em xx