Friends with Pain: CBR Sri Chinmoy 100km
Updated: May 23
About half way home from work on Friday I stop my bike in a moment of dread. I take off my pack and look inside. I’ve left my phone and wallet at work. Can I go back and get them? No. I don’t have building access outside office hours. Normally I’d shrug. A weekend without the phone would mean less distraction from important things, like running. But tomorrow is the Sri Chinmoy 100 and a phone is mandatory gear.
I get home and when Mutsumi arrives I use her phone to call Marsha (friend and also my boss) who heroically launches into action: She’s bundled her family into the car. She’s retrieved phone and wallet from my workspace. She’s delivered the items to us at the check-in party in Dickson. Boom, boom, boom. All the things have already happened. Marsha, Dave and the boys Nate and Zac have saved my race. I guess I better finish it.
At the check in party we collect our bib numbers and carb up. Mutsumi has met with her team ‘I am Emu MaGun’ (fellow GunRunners Ian, Mel, and Mal - crypto crossworders will figure out the name) to strategize and logistize for tomorrow’s exercise. There’s no point lingering at the party. We need to get home, prep and get to bed.
We wake up at 5am, grab some oats for brekky and drive to Rond Terrace. I’m paying close attention to my left leg. I’ve been resting for three weeks due to tendonitis. Last night the injury was still noticeable. Right now it feels… completely fine. But now I have a different problem: I haven’t run for three weeks.
At Rond Terrace it’s dark and cool. I ask for my drop bag to be taken to the second transition and stand around with Mutsumi chatting with runners. Steve Kiley is there (he’s running 2 legs for a team) Kevin Chan and Nick Hamilton are there to run solo. At the start line race briefing Damo Stewart is to my right, Brendan Codrington and Pam Muston are to my left. We wish each other luck and when 6am ticks by we go.
I’m excited to be running after a three week break and after a few hundred meters I nudge ahead. Over the bridge, round the lake and up past Nara Park I’m alone. At the 5km point a fella I don’t know, (I later learn this is Abhishek Tiwari) pushes on past me. “I’ve got no idea what I’m doing,” he says with wild eyes. I, on the other hand, have a pretty good idea what I’m doing and should probably know better. But the movement feels great, so I don’t back off. Not yet.
The views from Red Hill at that time are beautiful. I can hear Justin Hiatt whooping somewhere behind me. The energy is high. I refill my bottle at the drain pipe aid. I know there won’t be another station until exiting Farrer Ridge and I’ve already gone through half a bottle. The mercury is coming up quickly now.
The climb up to Isaac’s Ridge is where I start to back off a little. Justin climbs strongly and overtakes. Then Mike Brennan and Richard Dunley (who overtook me in the last kilometers of the Bush Cap Marathon earlier this year). Kevin catches me and we keep pace for a while, we haven’t raced each other since Neverest where his knee gave up on him after 16 laps, we chat about how the year is going running-wise. On the descent he tells me he’s worried about diabetes - he runs ultramarathons and must weigh all of about 60kgs. He also says he’s worried that his doctor might tell him to stop running. If you’re worried about diabetes, giving up running sounds like a terrible idea to me.
We blow through the next aid station and over Athllon Drive. On the far side a speeding silver van comes at us over the rise. We quicken our pace to get off the asphalt. Not getting hit by a car in the first leg is an important part of my race strategy.
Mt. Taylor is before us and we can see the runners ahead of us. That’s good, but I’m starting to feel some tiredness in my quads. Kevin is starting to complain about a stomach issue. Well, this is ultrarunning.
Martin is at the transition yelling “what’s your number, Elliot?” I twist my running belt to display the 15. I fill a bottle, grab some watermelon, give Martin the thumbs up and go for it. Kevin stops to vanquish his gut demons. After the race I will learn that neither the guy in front of me nor the guy behind me at this point will finish.
I skirt the edges of Kambah eating cake. Lately I’ve been working on my baking skills, and I began to think Cliff Bars might be a waste of money. I figured that if I stuck together dried fruit and nuts with something gooey and baked it, I’d end up with a big energy bar that I could just eat on from time to time. It tastes good but as soon as it hits my stomach I get a demon of my own. Now Matt Robbie, the first of the relayers, passes me at approximately the speed of light. “Go, Elliot!” he yells, and disappears around a corner.
Heading up Arawang I’m ok with the leg pain but the stomach demon just makes this hard. I touch the trig and descent the steps. Out on the ridge now I spot a tree large enough for business. A couple of runners pass. I have no idea if they are soloists or relayers. My legs will still carry me forward, but my race plan is slipping away.
Back on track I’m moving at a shuffle. The Cooleman Ridge is one of the best parts of this year's course, but instead of looking out at the Brindabella Range I’m looking down a lot, feeling my pain. Another runner is approaching from behind. After dropping down to the west there’s another climb where he catches me. I say “it’s getting warm”. He’s silent. Looking back I see he’s got headphones in. Headphones are against the rules. For a moment I’m negative, but with the Brindabellas stretching out before me the negativity quickly disolves. He’s got noise in his ears, I’ve got this view: I’m winning at life.
At the entrance to Narrabundah Hill reserve I take on water and clamber over the fence. Soon I’m aware that another runner is gaining on me, but I can’t keep running. So I walk a bit, then run a bit, then walk again. He catches up and I’m happy to see it’s my friend Nick. He looks fresh. “I’m sorry to see you man” he says, “I figured I’d just see you at the start, then I’d see you at the end.” This is one of the things I love about ultra running, if you go in with a plan to win (guilty) you might, but you’ll probably crash and burn. Yet if you go in planning to mid-pack the race, you’re smart. And if you play it smart interesting things can happen later in the race.
Nick stays with me on the Narrabundah Hill ascent and we chat. I’m hurting, but I’m also super pleased to see that he looks like he’s just getting started. He bounces ahead. This is his day.
I get to the top of Narrabundah Hill with the intention of running, but lacking lower body cooperation, I walk. In the back of my mind is the idea to call it a day at Coombs. A couple of runners pass. I smile and tell them they’re doing great. When I get over the fence and out to Eucumbene Street I look behind and see Brendan Codrington coming over the fence, looking rough. “You alright, Brenny?” I say. It's his stomach. We talk about the struggles of running in the heat. After a stint of walking he feels he can run, so he goes ahead while I continue walking.
Mike l’Pirate is at the Cotter Road crossing. It’s good to see him. With a big reassuring smile he says “keep moving, you've got plenty of time”. I try to run a bit on the bike path but the pain soon forces me to walk. More runners pass me on the Stromlo ascent. Mal, of team I am Emu Magun fame, passes me carrying the baton that he will hand to Mutsumi for her leg 3. He looks in good shape. Mutsumi will be expecting to see me before she runs, so I call her to say I’m walking and to wish her luck.
At the summit of Stromlo I fill my bottle, drink half and fill it again. I seem to need so much water today. Just past the observatory ruins, Pam comes from behind “what happened?” she yells. “Quads are blown” I say. “How many girls are in front of me?” she wants to know but I haven’t been paying attention, “It’s hard to tell because of the relays but maybe two” I offer “I thought it was four” she says. Maybe. She then offers a “sorry about the quads” and disappears around a descending corner.
Further down Damo catches up with me. He’s steady as always. Smiling. Just working away at the task with his running poles. We exit Stromlo, go through an aid station (more water) then across a field to Uriarra Road. Then it’s on to the bike path and under John Gorton Road. I pass a guy who is suffering like me. I’ve already worked through my first moment of self doubt, he is deep into his. There’s still time, and besides, if I drop out at Coombs what am I going to do all day? Through the Molonglo River Reserve and back out on dirt road I’m travelling with another runner. When I’m beside her I ask, “you solo?”, she nods. “It’s gettin’ tough” I say. “It’s gettin’ tough” she says. She will feature in the rest of my race.
At the Coombs footbridge before the transition Mal is waiting for me with a cup of water. It’s a nice gesture. He saw that I was suffering when he passed me and now he's come to check how I was doing. At the transition Brendan tells me he’s had a rest and is feeling better. Liesl is with him. They’re smiling. It’s a beautiful ultrarunning moment: encouragement from family gives Brendan the strength to go on. He goes. I swap out empty cake and electrolyte bags for full ones and go. As I do this I’m squatting, which is a mistake. I leave the transition dizzy with my quads feeling wrecked. But I know that movement will help. Matt Robbie is at the Molonglo River crossing with another supporter I don’t know. As I approach the stranger says excitedly, “Are you Elliot Cooper?” I’m startled by this and ask “am I that famous?”. “I love your write-ups,” he replies. I guess I better make sure today is a good story. Matt R. asks how I’m travelling, “Quads are...” I start to say but the other fella cuts my short, “Stop don’t tell me, I’m waiting for the write-up”. They walk with me halfway across the river offering banter about my running prowess. It definitely lifts my mood. As they send me off I call to the stranger, “Hey, I didn’t catch your name”. “William” he says. My brain puts two and two together. That’s William Barlow, the guy who made that Bullen Range Youtube I’ve seen.
On the Arboretum Boundary track I’m yo-yoing with that same solo runner. She stops to change socks and I pass her. Now Matt Robbie rockets past, baton in hand, covering leg 3 for another team. The soloist catches me on a climb. I go ahead on a descent. At the turn into the Cork Oak forest Liesl, Steveo Adams and others are waiting with an esky. They offer water and ice. This was lucky because my (probably faulty) memory recalls an aid station here last year, and so I had only budgeted water for about this distance. If I’d had to wait until Black mountain summit I would have been in more trouble than I already was. I’m indecisive about the ice, but they tell me to put some in my hat, which is absolutely the right thing to do.
I’m thinking about changing my socks and reapplying Vaseline but I can’t find either in my pack (I'll later find them on the ground in the garage at home). The route takes us under William Hovell Drive and onto bike path before sending us over the fence into Frost’s Hollow and Aranda Bushland. Then it’s under Caswell Drive and right to follow the southern hook around to the Black Mountain climb. My ribs are hurting now from bottle rubbing on my right side and cake on the left side. Anyone out there ever been bruised by cake? No? I guess I must be soft.
I climb and climb and just as I’m reaching the top I realise the guy in front of me is Brendan. His support crew is there and they greet him excitedly. I look around and Liesl asks if I need something. “Water” I say and she points to a brand new water fountain (how long have we waited for a working water fountain on Black Mountain summit!). There’s a fella who has stationed himself there to help runners fill their bottles. What a dude. At the aid station I grab some fruits and electrolytes while chatting with the volunteer.
The descent hurts, but I don’t have a choice about that. I run a bit and I walk a bit. It’s what I do. Next is the Centenary Trail section which takes us through to Bruce Ridge. Halfway to the Ridge, I decide I’ve had enough of the rocks in my shoes and find a tree shaped conveniently like a seat and sit down. Getting the shoes off isn’t easy, with every attempt to reach towards my feet my leg muscles start to cramp in multiple places. After some persistence I get off my shoes and one sock. When I upturn my shoes to shake the rocks out I see that the uppers of both shoes have torn away from the soles at around the ball of the foot allowing debris to come in. #Altra, I love you but sometimes your uppers are downers.
While I’m sitting there trying not to cramp the soloist I’ve been yo-yoing with catches up. A few relayers have passed saying “are you ok” like it’s a statement without breaking their stride, but the soloist stops and with genuine concern asks, “do you need help with anything?” I don’t know this person at all, but the ultrarunning experience has brought us to be invested in each other’s success at the race. I smile and say I’m fine. She says she’ll see me down the track. Probably, I say.
Before the next aid station Liesl is walking in with her boys and a friend, “Elliot they said someone was sitting down was that you are you ok?” I'm being offered a Calippo. The youngest boy holds up an empty wrapper, declaring “I ALREADY FINISHED MINE!” I loved Calippos when I was a kid. I’m not sure it’s ok to accept this kindness, but I do. “IT’S LEMON” says the boy. I taste the icy treat and play along, “WOW, YOU’RE RIGHT. IT IS LEMON!” I start to move on, “Let us know if you need something cause I can do, like, anything” says Liesl. Really all I need is to keep moving, but the generosity is touching and I’m grateful.
Bruce Ridge is more walk than run but soon I’m following bike path towards Northbourne Avenue. It’s fun to take the canal under the roads. The rules are that if you leave transition three after 3:30pm you need a headlamp, and if you leave after 4:30pm you must be with another runner. I’d checked the headlamp in my pack earlier to discover that it would not turn on. Mutsumi finds me ahead of the transition and hands me a working headlamp and a sandwich. The sandwich doesn’t even touch the sides. Damo is there. I’m not sure but I guess he passed me back at Coombs. I get my bottle filled, eat some fruit and at 4:27pm I leave the transition.
I walk run walk run along the embankment. I’ve done this section so many times but I’ve never done it this hard. Mentally I’m fine. I know that if I keep moving I’ll get to the finish, hopefully before 9pm. Damo is behind me briefly, “I thought you were coming with me” I say. “I’m trying” he says. I think I see a look of suffering as I glance behind. Heading northward I hear a scratching noise. I think it’s a wombat digging a hole and I look in the bushes and think I see a wombat, but was that a wombat? Then I see construction work happening at the back of a Hackett house. That must be the noise, I think. But the noise doesn't diminish as I move away. I lift the brim of my hat to stop it rubbing against my t-shirt and the noise stops. But, when I let it down again and the noise returns my mind won't let go of the idea that there are wombats all around scratching holes in the dry earth.
The hike up the Majura goat track increases the pain level in my legs, but it’s not bad and I’m not out of breath. A couple of supporters are at the turn offering lollies so I grab a couple. They taste good. On the road I use the spaces between reflector posts: run one, walk one, run two walk one, run three walk one. The strategy works well. At the top of the road Michael Thompson waits. I hand him my bottle to fill while I summit and tag the trig. I grab the full bottle, “better get your headlight out. Don’t wait till it’s too dark” Michael says. I do it there and then because I know I’ll be descending into darkness.
Descending hurts more than climbing. I’m probably biting my tongue on some of the steeper sections. The route takes me left off the shoulder, through the gate and right down the edge of Majura Pines. I turn on my light and below a reflector on another runner's pack comes to life. I get closer and the runner has stopped to take out a headlight. It’s here that the soloist and I finally offer names. She’s Allicia, I’m Elliot. The moon to the east is deep yellow and full. Here and there we chat, and just by sticking together we increase our speed and run more steadily. I’m reminded of Ken Chlouber’s famous axiom for ultrarunners, “make friends with pain and you’ll never be alone”. Pain has kept me company for most of the day, and pain has made the day worthwhile, but these last kilometers are a fine demonstration that pain shared burdens less. We talk and make a better pace than either of us have been capable of for many hours now.
At the summit of Mt Ainslie Mutsumi is waiting with a jar of pickles. I’d forgotten all about how effective pickle brine had been on my aching muscles at Neverest. I should have had a jar in my drop bag at coombs. It’s too late to help much but I drink it down. All that's left is the despised descent of Mt. Ainslie. Each wave in the concrete is a shock to the system. I struggle on the path, Allicia curses each step. We’re both very glad to be out on flatter ground. We shuffle down ANZAC parade and take the last left. Soon we see Mutsumi who is waiting at the next corner to run us in. There’s a group of people standing to the right of the path and someone yells “great work girls!” then, noticing that one of those girls has a pretty decent beard going, corrects with a “girls and boys”. Allicia’s daughters join her in the finish funnel, “quick hold Mum’s hands” I say. They do and cross the line together. Mutsumi is there snapping photos. We’re done.
The next day Mutsumi and I are invited to Matty and Lilit G’s place to “drink beer on the deck”. How could we refuse. Matty’s mother is there making jokes about his deck in a proud NZ accent: “it’s not a very big deck, but it's nice sit on”. We talk about the race. We’re all impressed and excited about Nick Hamilton’s win. Matty G. sees my race mistake as a systemic problem: “The races you’ve been doing are too short. You’ve become a marathon runner.” It’s a fair summary of my performance. I blame my inability to train closer to the race, but the other truth is that I went out too hard. I used up my power on the first leg when I needed to save it for the last. But I’m not disappointed. Ultrarunning is a teacher, and the 2019 Canberra Sri Chinmoy 100 is one of the best lessons I’ve turned up for yet.
Results for this race can be found at Sri Chinmoy Races.
Check out my other posts on Sri Chinmoy events:
Preparation for this race.
2019 Sri Chinmoy Gunghalin Gallop 31km.