It is so lovely to have Ness from A Girl Who Loves to Run sharing her 50km story with us today. She’s had an amazing year and has been such an inspiration to so many people. I got to share 21 kilometres with her in Sydney and now you get to share some of her amazing 50km run too.


As I sit here today, it’s raining and grey. This time last week, the sun was out and it was looking to be a perfect spring day. We’ll skip the fact that I was nervous, about to embark on my first 50km event.

A couple of months ago, a friend mentioned that she was doing the 22km event at Hume & Hovell Ultra near Tumbarumba NSW. I looked at my calendar, I had a spot free, so I agreed to go do it with her.

Then, I had a nagging inside of me, a little voice saying ‘I really think you should do the 50km’. I tried to quiet this voice considering I hadn’t done much running in the lead up. That little voice kept nagging. I emailed the race director, Pete, with a brief history of my running this year and asked ‘do you think I’d be able to do the 50km?’. I quickly got a reply saying if I could do Six Foot Track, I’d be able to do this. And, it had a 10hr cut off, so I thought that I’d be fine and I’d take all those 10hrs to complete it. I paid my upgrade, ordered my T-shirt and it was done.

A 50km event is not one to be taken lightly. I knew I hadn’t done much running, but I still had to respect the distance and the hills involved. I had one slight meltdown during a training run which lasted a few strides and then I was over it. I was amazed at how calm I was. I kept waiting for a massive freak out, but it never came.

On Friday, I dropped my 3yr old at my parents, picked up my friend Cherie, waved off her husband and 4 kids and off we drove, both of us saying ‘what are we doing’.

Friday night was checkin for Cherie and we had dinner. I met Pete and his wife Val who had dinner with us. Pete has run 12 Six Foot Tracks, is a sweeper for the Ultra Trail Australia 100 (UTA100) so a very accomplished runner. And he believed that I could do the 50km. Ok, starting to freak out a bit now. And his bit of advice for anyone doing UTA100 – practice running downhill!

Back at the motel, gear sorted, alarms set, nerves getting high, off to sleep we go.

Awake before the alarm on Saturday. Nerves ok. My standard and favourite running breakfast of crumpets and jam eaten. We get ready and head on out to the Henry Angel Campsite, the start and finish line. I went through gear check and got my bib. Starting to get real now.

Saw an old friend Sara, who was in the 22km. It’s fantastic having friends do the same events, they seem to believe in you and know just what to say at the right time.

I saw another girl, Gemma Worland, who looked to be in the zone and so focused. I thought ‘she’s the real deal’. Names on bibs is the best idea ever!

We marshalled for the race briefing. Pete told us that Julia Thorn was competing in the 50km. She has run over 200 marathons and over 50 ultras. AMAZING!

Move to the start line. Fiona Brown from Albury came over to have a chat, it was her first ultra too. She also mentioned something about I should go do Buffalo Stampede (I’m trying to block that from my mind). Countdown and off we go.

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We had a 6.5km run out along the Burra Creek. This was through ‘farmland’ but with all the rain, it was more like running through a boggy cow paddock. Lots of fences with stiles to climb over. Creek crossings, wombat holes, rocks. Concentration was required. It was very pretty when I could look up. I fell in with some others and in front of me was Julia Thorn, who commented how tough the going was. I was relieved to hear this as I was feeling the same. We turned around and headed back.

Back through the start area, cheered on by everyone there. I had put some distances down on my arm and broke the race up into 7 races, as my mind felt much calmer tackling 50km this way. By this point I could rub out 2 x 6.5km races!

There was some lovely running back along the Burra Creek and the Tumbarumba Creek/River. It was all single track, lots of concentration required. The best part of this was the 100km and 100mile runners were on their way back. Words of encouragement were given and received. Running alongside the waterways was really comforting. When I race I rarely listen to music as I enjoy the atmosphere. With no runners near me, the water was my atmosphere.

Crossed the swinging bridge and it was time to head up Mt Garland. This was tough. Hills are not my friend so I slowed to a walk. I let Julia Thorn go round me and I hoped that I could keep her in sight. Nope, with all the winding up the hill I soon lost her.

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Finally the 22km runners were coming through. Again, lots of encouragement. Trail runners are just the friendliest people. Saw Sara and Cherie. Just what I needed at both those points.

Finally coming down the hill and I was walking/running with another runner, Richard. We are now probably about 4.5-5hrs in and to run with someone was what we both needed. Finally the track turned into a road, with the downside being it was up and down, out in the sun and we had a headwind.

Back at the Mannus Campsite checkpoint. Hydration pack filled with, chat with the volunteers – these guys are absolutely fabulous and so, so encouraging. Time to head off again. Richard had left just before me.

Quick phone call to a friend. Her belief in me spurred me on.

Back up the mountain. I passed Richard and was alone again. I had to keep on going, one foot in front of the other.

Passed the last aid station, handful of Chicos (how good are they) and I cross a few more ‘races’ off my arm and realise I have 12.9km to go. I’m going to finish this thing and well inside of my 10hr plan.

There is no one around me. I concentrate on looking for the course markers and making sure I don’t trip. The single track is full of rocks and sticks, along with the mud, holes and fallen trees to climb over. I’ve always said I’d never do an obstacle race and that’s exactly what this felt like!

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I turned my music on and the first song that came on had the words ‘Hey mountain, you are the making of a man’ how appropriate, I smile and sing along. I text my Dubbo running friends, I had 7km to go. Texts received back. One rang me, again, a little bit of encouragement exactly when required. Walk, run, walk, run. I was just hanging out to get back to ‘The Falls’ as I knew the track was easier going from there on.

Reached The Falls, climbed the stiles. Easier going but still had to concentrate. Running, running, running, in awe that the body can still run after 45km. As the km’s ticked over on my watch, I knew the end was soon. I saw the final stile and the bridge we had to run under. Tears welled.

I followed the flags to the road leading into Henry Angel, at this stage I’m running about 6min/km! Then I hear the claps and the people and the bells. Followed the markers and around into the finish chute. I had done it. They put that medal on my neck. I had done it. A bit over 8hrs and 4th female.

Big hugs from Cherie, so glad to have a friendly face at the end. I was so happy for her, I expected to catch her on my way back and the fact that I didn’t meant she finished well before her cutoff.

Not long after me the first 100km runner came home. Under 12hrs.

My brain was so tired from concentrating for 8hrs. I didn’t know what I wanted. Watermelon was a good start. I chatted with Julia Thorn, who was 3rd female, and she said how she thought I would catch her. I was completely blown away that someone of her experience thought that about me.

We stayed the the finish line for a couple of hours. Beers, chicken soup and sausages consumed – if every trail run is like this I can see why people love it. I chatted with so many people who seemed like old friends. Gemma, who was 2nd female, said that she wanted to pull out at about 20km, and again, I was happy to hear that as I felt the same. Fiona Brown who chatted with me at the start was first female!

We watched the other 50km runners come home, and although I didn’t cry when I crossed the line, I had tears seeing these runners come in, it really was a mammoth effort.

Back into Tumbarumba for some dinner, pizza has never tasted so good. Champagne at the pub while updating social media to let everyone know we’d done it. Phone calls from friends. Home to bed. Both Cherie and I still amazed at what we had done.

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Sunday morning, and I could walk much better than expected once I was up and about. We grabbed a coffee in town and chatted with another runner and a gentleman whose son was doing the 100mile and ‘he’s not really a runner’.

Back out to Henry Angel for breakfast and presentation. After presentation, a 100mile runner came in, my eyes leaked, as did the lady next to me. I can’t imagine being out there all day and all night. Then, I never imagined that I’d ever run 50km on trails.

This event was my favourite ever. It was really hard, harder than I expected. The organisers, volunteers and other runners were all so friendly, there are no egos in this community. This was confirmed by having joint winners of the 50km event. They ran together the whole way and crossed the finish line together which I don’t think you’d see in road running.

To every single person who sent me messages, liked my posts, commented, text, called, thank you so much, it really does mean a lot to me to have your support.

To my Operation Move community and Zoey, I just can’t thank you all enough. When other people believe in you, to reinforce your self belief, you really can do anything you set your mind too.

Hume & Hovell, I smashed you and you smashed me. You’ve sucked me in though and I will be back every single year. I’ve always said ‘find your tribe’ and I’m certain this is my tribe.

*For full details on the course and the event please see the Hume & Hovell Ultra webpage and FB page.
**Most of the photos are courtesy of Cherie!

Zoey Dowling

Written by: operationmove

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