Given the row is over a year away, it’s important to keep setting stretching but more immediate goals to keep us motivated. Luckily for Ed and Jon, they began to work with a new company which specialises in helping people to achieve unrealistic goals and raise money and awareness for great causes. We felt like it was a good fit! Lucy and the team at WeWill set the benchmark high when, 2 weeks after first meeting them, they had signed Ed and Jon up for a 50km Trail Run through a National Park in Sydney. Neither Ed nor Jon ran regularly, or had ever completed anything near this sort of distance before. Plus, neither were quite sure what a trail run was…
Undeterred, Lucy took the team out into the hills for a practice. Trail running is similar to a marathon in distance (44km), however instead of flat pavement, the terrain is through forests, next to rivers, with large degrees of incline and descent usually par for the course. Ed and Jon both instantly loved it – it was far more interesting than simply pounding pavement for hours on end! Our first (and only) practice run took us around 4 hours and we covered 20km on a hot Autumn day in Sydney. We learned that blisters were a real concern, listening to music is pretty much out of the question, and you needed to constantly fuel and rehydrate to keep yourself going. We were exhausted but had both somehow managed to run further than we had ever previously run before, all with a little coaching and (mostly flawless) navigating from Lucy.
2 weeks and no more practice runs later, we turned up at the start line. Ed wearing newly purchased trail running trainers, Jon sticking with his trusty 17 years old pair of reliable Asics. The team at WeWill had thought of everything – providing an actual support team who would meet us at checkpoints and help us refuel/stretch/motivate as necessary. Things we had not even considered necessary before the race! We were definitely in way over our heads, however we felt like we were still in safe hands.
Setting off at 8am, north of Sydney in a national park, the pace was slow at first as we fought to get past the walkers on the single narrow trails, but we soon settled in to a rhythm. We tried to stick to a gentle pace on the flats and downhills, and a steady walk on any hills or steps. Ed and Jon managed to complete the first 20km without too many issues: a blister here, a tight muscle there; but relatively unscathed.
We then learned our first valuable lesson about endurance events – Nutrition is King! We hadn’t put any thought into what our bodies would or would not want to digest after 20km of running, and at the first checkpoint began to devour sandwiches and sweets. We would later discover that Ed has a slight wheat intolerance, which can be aggravated by extreme exercise. This put Ed’s stomach into turmoil for the next leg, and his grimacing face and diminishing pace told us that something was not quite right.
The next 20km now really put Ed’s mental strength to test, which is why we undertook this challenge in the first place. How would we cope when our bodies want to give up, but we need to press on? We know that on the row our bodies will quickly tire of the demands of rowing, so we need to make sure that our team never consider giving up as an option. And to Ed’s credit, despite the internal pain and anguish, he persevered and kept moving.
It was during this period that we learned a lesson on how valuable a team can be. Lucy and Jon rallied, coaxed, pestered and praised Ed to keep going, and we moved forwards together. There will undoubtedly be moments on the row where one of the team is not feeling up to the challenge, but the strength in numbers means we should be able to count on our friends to keep us moving.
In the final 10km, now racing against the light, we saw that a competitive spirit can still be useful. With all the checkpoints completed and the finish line seemingly close (given the context), a final push of energy came from nowhere to spur the team on for a ‘sprint’ finish. Ed continued to run despite the pain, and Lucy & Jon decided to press on to catch the team in front. After running the equivalent of a marathon, it was arguably not the wisest of choices to attempt a 6km sprint, however the pace increased and neither wanted to back down. This level of competition will be handy on the row as we race the other boats around us! Hearing the crowd that had gathered at the finish line in Manly was a welcome relief, and we bundled over the line in a time of 9 hours. Given we had 2 weeks of training, not a bad effort!
Despite not being a rowing event, it taught us a lot about mental strength and how our bodies react when under extreme duress. Invaluable lessons for our 40 day row across the Atlantic!