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The Big Dance Blackall 100 Zara John

This was so much more than just a run.

I don’t know where to start but I know there is so much I want to say. I have this sense

of grief that something I have been so immersed in and almost fixated on for the past three

months is done. But then on the other hand I feel free both mentally and physically. Let’s

start at the beginning so I can fully deconstruct the events that unfolded to this point; sitting

on the couch, dealing with the influx of messages, bursts of laughter and episodes of tears

because I am extremely overtired.

The training was the 99% of this experience. I have not only grown as a runner but also

in myself. When I signed up for this crazy run, I knew exactly why I was going to do it. I

didn’t express my exact reason for wanting to run 100km through rocky terrain, crazy

elevation and not to mention a long time on the legs. The true reason behind this run was

because I needed to show myself the strength I had within and that I was more than the

negative, self-sabotaging hamster wheel of thoughts that cycled through my mind constantly.

Not many of you will know this but a prior eating disorder used to control my life. I was

controlled by silly voices in my head telling me I am not good enough or strong enough etc.

etc. This challenge wasn’t for any other reason but to show myself how far I have come in

this journey and to further challenge any other demons still invading my subconscious. I still

hold myself back in social occasions instead of backing myself and just being me. The

beautiful thing about this training was I needed to back myself, I had to say with confidence I

could do it otherwise what was the point.

The trails didn’t care what I looked like or what I felt. I was able to just press start and

let go of comparisons, self judgements and finished each run feeling amazing. As the training

runs increased in distance and my confidence boosted, I found myself changing. I stopped

caring about what people thought. I didn’t give people my time just because I ‘should’. I was

finally choosing me over others and putting my own energy first. This was an unreal learning

curve because previously I didn’t have any time for myself let alone people who didn’t have

my best interests at heart. My usual schedule would look something like this; leaving the

house between 4-5am, run, work, then uni, sometimes back to work then either run again or

gym. After all that I’d then head home, eat, and pass out. Between places throughout the day,

I’d eat and call the people I love, trying to pretend I had the time to support them. Wow I

was so busy. But I wouldn’t take any of it back. I loved every second of it. The meticulous

planning, running from place to place and somehow still fitting in time to study and socialize.

This training showed me that true friends don’t need to see or hear from you every day. They

are happy that you are happy and are there when you need them. It also gave me a deep

appreciation for my body. I finally started listening to what it wanted. For the first time I was

fueling properly, eating more if I needed to and having rest days when they were required.

This was new territory for me, tuning into what I was feeling.

Saturday was nothing short of perfect (Jye Dean quote). What a day, 16 hours of

running in the heat with a stomach that was not impressed at the activity I had chosen. I

cannot describe the feelings I had Friday night and Saturday morning. I was so excited

because I had trained my arse off for 3 months in preparation for this run. Nervous because I

wasn’t quite sure what I was going to encounter or what point I was going to start hurting.

6am the race started and wow I was so keen. I still had a pit in my stomach which I thought

was nerves but soon come to realize that was going to be the feeling for the next 16 hours.

The first section of the trail was mostly road. It was beautiful. We were running along

an undulating road on top of the mountains. The views of the coast were so clear, and

everyone was pumped for the day ahead. I seemed to talk to so many people in that first

20km. I don’t know if it was my age, or I had a sign on me saying ‘first time 100km runner’

because everyone seemed to know it was my first ultra. Maybe it was my anxious smile, or

they just knew, either way it was so special how encouraging the pack was. Unfortunately,

one competitor got in my head. He had no idea if what he said was wrong but it seemed to

stick with me from then onwards. I was at telling him how beautiful the day was, pointing

how the beautiful sun and how lucky we were that we had such a pearler of a day to enjoy.

He quickly noted that it was going to be a ‘hot fucking day’ and the bluff was going to be like

a graveyard. He explained to me that the bluff was going to be the toughest part of the day

due to the unescapable heat and the massive climb required. He continued to explain that at

the 64km checkpoint would be the hardest and to keep some in the tank for then. That pit

that was in my stomach was even bigger thinking about what was to come. My initial game

plan was to focus on each section rather than think about was coming up. I was still shitting

myself (not literally but kinda ahahah) thinking about the bluff but I knew I had to focus and

enjoy the section I was on. This section was amazing, a beautiful waterfall, easy running, and

fresh legs.

Checkpoint 2 seemed to arrive so quickly. I was so stoked to see the crew. It was starting

to heat up which I was trying to ignore because it was only making my stomach more upset.

The theme of the day was an upset stomach. The toilet stop count was already up to 4 or 5 I

don’t even know at this point, but I was trying my hardest to silence it. Mum and dad had

tears in their eyes and Jye worked like the pit stop crew off the movie Cars. He was organizing

things I didn’t even know I wanted. Before I knew it I had a salt mill breaky bar in my hand,

ice in my hat and was being sent on my way after sweaty hugs and kisses. Two meters down

the road I was doing the math’s on how long it would be until I saw them all again. Gosh I

still felt sick, all I could think about was why didn’t I treat myself to a proper toilet while I was

near one. The sun was beautiful, but it was losing its beauty as the day progressed and it was

indeed getting hot. I pushed on, counting down the 19km until I see the crew again. The first

part was stunning, hilly but runnable. I was feeling super strong, the legs were fresh, my mind

was strong but oh boy my stomach wasn’t having a fun time. By this stage I had stopped

eating because everything that went down seemed to come back up or out faster. Bananas

were my go-to during my training but for some reason today, the most important day they

wouldn’t sit in my stomach. Let me tell you, spewing up bananas and water while trying to

run isn’t ideal when you’re only 30km in to a100km day. I ditched the banana’s shortly after

that and just tried to get down the purred fruit and water. I don’t quite remember the point

where I thought ‘far out that guy was right, she’s getting hot out here’ but it hit. It was close

to checkpoint 3. I wasn’t tired but was feeling drained and as the kind fella predicted It was

indeed hot. My nutrition plan had gone out the window and I knew I was dehydrated but

miraculously still needed to go to the bush toilet.

Checkpoint 3 seemed a lot more serious. I walked in and I think everyone knew I was

struggling. I was hot, dehydrated, and pale. I looked at them all with concern and explained

‘I have not eaten enough’. They quickly sat me down, I had an umbrella over me shading me

from the sun in seconds (thanks dad) and was being presented with an abundance of food and

drinks. I knew I needed all of it but nothing looked appetizing. I smashed yet another salt mill

breaky bar (soon becoming my favorite treat) and prepared for what was to come. I knew the

next section was going to be the hardest part of the day. It was now the middle of the day,

sitting at around 28 degrees and I had a huge climb ahead of me. My crew all hugged me

again and sent me off. The first 2 sections I had come in ahead of my predicted time but I

knew that I was going to be slower now.

Up the bluff I went. The first 5ish kilometers was just a long uphill climb with very

minimal shade. My feeling surrounding the sun had progressed from being ‘gees how

beautiful is the sun’ too ‘wow the sun is shit’ real quick. To my surprise my hiking game was

still strong. I tried to move as fast as I could because all I wanted to do was arrive at the 64km

checkpoint and see the people I loved. I found myself leading a train of humans up the bluff.

This was so special; I was mentally battling but had 4-5 people behind me feeling the same.

They were hiking at my pace and sharing the moment together. I was still really hot but I put

on some music as a distraction. The first song that played was ‘I am Australian’. What a song.

We were all battling but doing it as one. No one spoke, just listened, and trudged together.

The song ended and we all spoke about it for a little bit. I stopped playing my music because

the song that followed was Pony from magic mike and that didn’t really suit the mood.

Silence reappeared and then before we knew it we were at the top. Thank god for that. The

volunteers at the water station were so lovely, spraying us with water and words of support.

My stomach had slightly settled because either I was too distracted with the climbing or

because I wasn’t running it had time to digest some food. Unfortunately, we still had 14km

until the crew checkpoint and that couldn’t come sooner. I was still hot but begun running

and it felt good. For the first time during the run I was feeling a proper high, after eating my

weight in watermelon and being able to keep it down I had energy. For the next 8km I felt

speedy, the kilometers ticked by so fast. Unfortunately, this high didn’t last as long as I hoped.

The trail become hilly again, it was still dam hot and that watermelon that I thought was

settled come up faster than it went down. Far out, this was such a low point. I went back to

what I knew. Hiked the hills with power and run the runnable.

I came into checkpoint 64km feeling like a shell of a human. I couldn’t be more stoked

to see Mum, Dad, Jye and Lans waiting for me. I didn’t know if I wanted to cry or laugh. My

fabulous crew stepped up yet again and took control. How ironic, my mum who loves a

healthy, well-balanced feed and anything to do with carrots sticks and hummus is now

handing me a Mars Bar and a Can of Coke forcing me to eat it. This checkpoint was the

hardest to leave.

I walked out of the checkpoint feeling tired and emotionally. I walked and cried for

about 2km after leaving the safety of the crew. I then quickly realised that this section was

super runnable. I began running and wow did I feel amazing (lets thank the Mars Bar). My

legs were moving fast and I had somehow managed to ignore what my stomach was feeling. I

continued to run and spew little amounts through this section but by this point that was my

normal. I was on such a high. I kept checking my pace and on the flats I was doing between

5:40-6:30 which was unreal. It was so surreal that I was at the 72km mark and running

strongly. I found myself jogging the hills and was so keen to tell the crew all about it. Jye told

me to make it before dark to checkpoint 5 and boy did I try.

Checkpoint 5 seemed to arrive so quickly. I couldn’t stop smiling or dancing. The crew

handy me all the food; breaky bars, coke & eggs sandwiches. I was on a huge high, telling

them all about how great I felt and how epic that section was. Everyone was smiling and I

was stoked that there was only 18km left. I was under the illusion that because the last section

was so runnable that this section was going to be the same…. I couldn’t have been more

wrong. This was the most technical part of the day and it was in the dark. I was not ready for

this. I was on such a high leaving my team, smiling, laughing and now I was battling downhill

sections with rocks and darkness. I was alone for a lot of this 10km. I remember Lucy

Bartholomew and Jye (run coach) telling me to buddy up so the dark isn’t as mind numbing

but unfortunately the people overtaking me where clearly on a high because I couldn’t keep

up with them. Every time I started to run it seemed impossible, I would stumble then go back

to walking then continue crying. This rather pointless cycle continued the whole 10km which

felt like 30km. Around 2-3km from the checkpoint the path become less shitty and I could

begin running or shuffling. I was still on my own but for some reason that didn’t faze me. I

knew I smelt, and I wasn’t feeling very positive so having someone by my side wouldn’t of

been ideal. My headlight caught something shiny and stopped me in my path. A snake, a

huge snake blocking my path. Due to my exhaustion, I stood on the track and cried. The

snake and I were having a Mexican standoff. He didn’t want to move, and I didn’t want to

pass him. The tears continued to flow while I stamped my feet hoping this huge creature

would politely leave the path and allow me past. Thankfully the female version of Steve Irwin

appeared from the darkness. She was probably in her 50s and greeted me with a huge smile

and a pat on the back. I explained to her that there was a huge snake stopping me from going

past. She questioned the location of the snake while she held my hand and we quickly stepped

past it. I was confused that she didn’t see it but happy she was there to help. We finished the

last part of the section together and were both so happy to see our wonderful crew. I sat down

with my crew consoling me as I explained how bad the section was and how tired I felt. They

handed me a Boost Bar and a Can of Coke while I told them about the MASSIVE snake.

The funniest part of this story is that the following day while looking at photos I stumbled

upon a picture of the so called MASSIVE snake. The snake was about the length of my shoe

and was certainly not blocking the path, I clearly was delirious.

I had 8km to go. Jye and Lans kept telling me it was just a salt social run left and then I

was done. They weren’t wrong but in no way was this a speedy 8km run. It was a walk and

occasional few steps of shuffling. I wanted to run so badly but was so exhausted. I was still

extremely emotional and found myself bursting into tears randomly. Jye had told me to soak

the last 8km because I had done it. To recap on the past 3months of hard work, sacrifice and

planning. I did that, took it all in and cried a lot. Thankfully the time went somewhat fast and

I found myself running along beside Jye coming into the finishing shoot, leading into the

finishers Shed. Holy Shit I was so ready to end the day. 16 hours of moving was certainly

enough. I had pushed myself more than I thought I was capable of. I had given everything I

had and was so proud of myself. Not once did I consider pulling out or did I think it was too

much to handle. I dealt with the crazy stomach pains, spewing, loo stops, high and lows all

while chipping away the kms. Finally, I got to ring that bell. My ring was pathetic, but it was

enough. I was done. I found mum and busted into tears. I was overwhelmed with pain, a

sense accomplishment and delirium. The day couldn’t have been more perfect.

My wonderful body got me through this huge day. It has had to deal with some crazy

issues in the past and continues to show up regardless. And this was just another task I

decided to throw at it.

This little story was a great way for me to get my thoughts out and close the chapter. I

cannot express the gratitude I feel towards the special people in my life that made Saturday

15 th October 2022 so special. Not just the people there on the day but the people that have

been in my corner the entire way. As for now, I am going to enjoy a balanced life and keep

smashing the challenges when I feel the need.

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