I had fully accepted that I was going to run until my body completely failed, there was no other option.
In my head during this run, I did not entertain any other possibility besides completing the full 100 mile (160km) distance from Bondi to Newcastle.
I would finish the run or collapse on the floor.
I didn’t want to crack under the pressure of it being too cold, blisters or running out of food.
I didn’t want something that I had a solution for to stop me from finishing this run.
Preparation was the key.
Originally this 100 mile run was mapped out and organised by a group of long distance runners, which I was invited into. I hired a run coach and trained for 5 long months. Two weeks before race day the group made a call to cancel the event due to the Northern Beaches being locked down from another COVID outbreak.
I never really gave much thought to an injury or slowing down when it got hard. I had a list in my head of all the training, time and money I had spent in the lead up to the run.
• Five months of training, six days a week.
• Nearly $200 spent on food for the run on the day, plus thousands more in the lead up.
• My girlfriend, Aneka giving up her entire weekend with no sleep to support me.
I wouldn’t necessarily call these factors my ‘why’ – I’ve seen a lot of videos about people saying you need to find your ‘why’ – the most common answer I’ve seen is “my family”.
I’m not against this answer by any means, but I think you need to also have a ‘why’ that is a bit more selfish. I believe you need at least one motivator that’s driven for yourself, with another dependent on someone else.
In the lead up to the run, I Googled if someone had completed Bondi to Newcastle before, I found a long charity walkthrough national parks over three days, but that was the only event that came close.
The next question was the fastest time from Bondi to Newcastle – nothing there.
That was all I needed.
My external motivation was Aneka, to think that someone would volunteer their time to drive to my checkpoints, many in the early hours of the morning and in the middle of nowhere, while I was in a terrible mood, helping with my nutrition and supporting me in any way I needed.
Not letting her down was motivation enough.
I didn’t want to leave her stranded or worried about me when I was the one who’d put myself in this position.
The thought of these motivations didn’t even cross my mind until well after dark.
I started the run at 10am from Bondi Beach, travelling up the east coast to Palm Beach, it was a little hotter than expected but I was confident knowing how many times I’d completed 50kms.
A quick ferry across to Killcare Heights would follow – which was actually the most enjoyable part of the run for me – I had my first painkiller with a Red Bull and I felt like I was back at the 5km mark.
On the other side of the ferry trip, my legs felt amazing running through Bouddi National Park at sunset, it’s a time I’ll never forget.
It got dark at Avoca – the 77km mark – this is when I noticed how much I preferred running on the streets because of the lighting, compared to running through the bush and parks at night.
Running through trails at night was scary. I decided that any opportunity to run on the road rather than the park trails.
A trip through Terrigal at 10pm amongst drunk locals spilling out onto the street was another experience, copping a couple of mouthfuls along the way.
The temperature was cool and perfect for running as I crossed the 90km mark. The body felt good, at this point I was four painkillers deep, more precautionary than anything else.
Moving through the Entrance at the 100km mark was when my body really started responding to the stress I was putting it under. By this point I was sick of food, and now relying on drinks and gels.
This is where it started to get tough.
Even though I had a route to follow, it was at the Entrance where I first started to modify which direction I was running. The majority of the course was set as a mixture of local streets and trails through national parks.
Any runner will tell you that flat roads are the dream, especially once you clear the 100km mark.
I kept to a bike lane and ran for 20kms simply looking down and following the white line.
The road was smooth underfoot and staring at the white line started to become a bit hypnotic, when I stopped at the 115km checkpoint just before Birdie Beach, it was like coming out of a flow state.
Time flew by and I felt way more comfortable running than stopping and eating.
Fuelling was starting to feel like a chore, Aneka made sure I didn’t leave a checkpoint until I had consumed enough to get me to the next.
This signalled the start of a downward spiral.
The original plan was to run though the Munmorah State Conservation Area, and I set off to the park gates but found they were locked. I could have looked for an alternate route through the park but I wasn’t mad about missing some bush trails at 3am.
I decided the safest option was to run inland and up along the Pacific highway which added another 7km to my trip. I was back running the white line of the highway, I found myself in the comfort of that flow state again.
I was now creating this route on the fly, some roads were blocked or didn’t even exist anymore. I would run down one road and need to turn back. This really started to get on my nerves because when you are inching closer to your breaking point, your capacity to think and problem solve is non-existent.
I started to remind myself of the enormity of what I was taking on, this was no easy task and the challenge deserved more credit than I was giving it. This was partly due to the confidence I felt up until the 110km mark – like I was definitely going to complete this – that thought would hit like a tonne of bricks as I descended into Catherine Hill Bay.
This is where I started to get into some dark places and thoughts of discomfort. I would try and counter them with whatever motivational self talk I could muster.
“That’s why not anyone can do this, this is what you wanted and now you’re in the thick of it. If you want to complete 100 miles, this is where the race begins”.
Motivational talk helps to a point, it reminds you of why you’re there and what you’re doing it for but has absolutely zero effect on pain.
It’s easy to say you want to push yourself and your limits. I hear every athlete and wannabe quote this.
However, the truest test of this ideal is when you’re actually at the limit and in that moment.
I think this is why only a few get there. When it moves away from physical and solely becomes mental – maybe that’s why challenges like this have such a high failure rate.
Everyone pushes themselves in workouts, it’s not that hard to push yourself. To legitimately test yourself until you find your body’s limit? I don’t think people really understand how far you need to go or even know how far away from that point they truly are.
Imagine when that head noise starts to kick in during a workout, that’s just the beginning. Add six hours down the rabbit hole, double the pain, triple the self doubt and you start to scratch the surface.
The Catherine Hill Bay checkpoint – after 17 hours of running and 130kms – was a low point. It was 5am and I didn’t want to eat anything. I was freezing and sick of running in the dark. Knowing the next part was another national park, I just assumed it was going to be shut which meant another 7km to my original trip finding a different route.
If I was ever going to quit, this was the closest point. I can see why people would fail this sort of challenge, the thought that ‘it just keeps going, there’s still so much to go’ slowly breaks you down until you start to consider quitting.
All I remember thinking was “if I quit right now, I will never forgive myself”.
To get out of Catherine Hill Bay is uphill. I had perfectly timed my run reaching an old lookout on the hill as the sun was rising.
The sun was beautiful and it ended up saving me to be honest. I got my second wind and my energy boosted. It was all downhill on an abandoned road from there, it was 6am and my confidence started to come back as I knew I had made it through the darkest point.
Caves Beach was the 138km mark and I was looking forward to the remainder of the run, building momentum since sunrise. There was no doubt in my mind that I was going to finish at this point.
I wasn’t looking at my phone the entire run until this checkpoint. I received a lot of messages from people waking up and catching up on my run through the night, their messages came at the perfect time.
My legs were feeling really heavy so I took another two painkillers to try and help, this took me to a total of eight for the run – a little more than the recommended four per day.
I set off again in good spirits knowing I only had 20kms to go, that bubble quickly burst after only a couple of kilometres as my legs got worse. I had no bounce and it was obvious that no amount of painkillers was going to help me at this point.
I tried to get back into that flow state I had experienced on the highway, but no dice.
Even though I thought I’d made it past the darkest point, the greatest pain was yet to come.
Running along the highway at 7am while everyone was starting their morning walk wasn’t enough of a distraction to take me away from how slow I was moving and the pain of each step.
I battled a lot of self doubt to reach the next checkpoint.
I eventually made it to Fernleigh Track, an old railway line turned into a public path that bike riders and runners use to commute from the surrounding suburbs into Newcastle.
By this stage, it’s 8am and the only thing I wanted to eat was McDonald’s hash browns. Fuelling was becoming vital but I didn’t want to eat, so I would consume as much red bull and gels as I could stomach.
Fernleigh Track was like a slow, painful death. When you’re running it, the track goes as far as the eye can see. You reach the horizon and on it continues, again and again. It was 13km of pure torture. My brain was fried, plus my running pace was getting slower and it was hard to lift my legs.
I was shuffling along and then at the halfway point of this track, I remember very clearly just telling myself “pick your fucking legs up”.
All of a sudden, I was running at a pace from back in Sydney. I would run as far as I could until my heart rate spiked and then walk a couple strides, catch my breath and start running again.
I soon realised that the small amount of walking wasn’t making too much of a difference so I started to challenge myself. As I was running, I’d think “you said you were going to walk back there, you’re still going. If you walk again, you will fail this run”.
This is also where I continued to remind myself of the commitment I’d made to running until I failed.
“I will run until I die. When my legs give out, that’s when I’ll stop”.
The end of Fernleigh Track was the 157km mark. I was ecstatic because I knew this track led into Newcastle, for some stupid reason I imagined it would be all downhill and easy going.
I was faced with a very steep hill that left the track and at this point it was 8am and the sun was really starting to heat up.
With only 8km left, I didn’t want to carry any excess weight in bottles or food which would soon backfire as it warmed up – getting what felt like heat stroke as I made my way to Newcastle.
I’d never been to Newcastle before, so I was running into what I thought was the finish line at Newcastle Beach. I was running down hill and saw there was another even steeper hill on the horizon.
I realised I was at Bar Beach – south of Newcastle Beach – I was shattered as my finish was extended.
At this point I had bonked, which means you’ve drained all the sources of glycogen in your body. This was kind of a blessing because my thoughts went from my painful legs to not fainting or passing out.
It was 9am and it was starting to get really warm in the sun now, but at the top of the hill I finally saw the finish so I bombed it downhill.
All I could think of was the feeling of stopping and resting.
I ran down to the surf club and the last part of the stairs to the main section of Newcastle Beach.
My run totalled 165kms in 23 hours
Overall running time 22 hours if you don’t include the ferry ride from Palm Beach to Killcare.
175,000 steps and close to 20,000 calories burnt.
It was surreal to finally finish. I almost felt like I needed to keep going because I was so used to moving by that point. The last 8kms playing tricks on me only fuelled the disbelief that I’d actually made it.
I found a bench to sit down and finally relax.
That’s when it all hit me, my body became incredibly tired and I didn’t want to move. I started to feel really stiff and all I wanted to do was lay down after having a swim.
Sitting there after the run didn’t bring any life changing moment or desire to sign up for the next event.
It felt quite anti-climactic, I had built up this amazing finish in my head and all that really happened was I finally got to stop my watch and sit down.
In the lead up, I had envisioned running into Newcastle and breaking down both physically and mentally – a mixture of crying and being curled up in a ball from pushing myself in this amazing final moment.
I’m not disappointed and didn’t expect everyone to drop everything and cheer me in, but it’s amazing how you build up this epic moment for five months and then just like that it’s over.
A couple of days after finishing the run, I started to appreciate the effort and the magnitude of what had happened. This was reinforced by the amount of kind words I received from friends and complete strangers, this started to put into perspective what I achieved.
I’ve never been called ‘crazy’ by so many people, every one of them said they could never do that run. I had to remind myself, only a small amount would ever think of doing it and an even smaller amount would successfully complete it.
More than six months on, I now realise when I finished the run, why I felt the way I did.
I was chasing this big challenge that would push me to my limits – and it did, I’m not denying that in anyway – I ran over the finish line and it was complete.
Watching people finish Ironman races and seeing their legs fail, falling over and needing to crawl to the finish – I wanted to chase an experience similar to that.
My body’s complete and utter limit.
I thought this run was going to do that for me, that’s why I was ready to run until my legs collapsed because I too want my ‘crawl to the finish line’ moment.
Sometimes an athlete can complete a race and still not be happy, they know they should feel happy but instead they feel empty because they are still not yet satisfied.
Once you complete the task you want more. I know that I can still push more.
The thought of “what is my limit and what it will take” doesn’t excite me, but I need to find it otherwise it will annoy me until days end.
Would I do 100 miles again? No.
If I didn’t have a choice and it was a part of a 240km run? Maybe.
That’s the biggest take away from this run. I can look back and rely on this for future events as a reference. To see that all the time and effort paid off, I now see where I can improve to create a new challenge.
What’s next? I’m not sure. We’ll see what life throws my way.
– Lewi Ray