Epic 5

I never planned to do this race. I found out about it 7 years ago when I read Rich Roll’s book Finding Ultra. 
I was interested in Ultraman but Epic 5 seemed too big and unachievable. That was until a friend said to me after Ultraman Canada in 2014, if you do Epic 5, I’ll do Ultraman. 

Game. On. 

I’d already committed in my mind to Ultraman Australia in 2016 so I decided to set aside 2017 for Epic 5. I can only do one massive race like this a year. If that. It just takes too much out of my body and mind to try and do more than this. Some people can. Not me. 

So earlier this month, I found myself in Hawaii with three amazing people who had agreed to come and help me achieve my dream – my husband Michael (who insists he didn’t have a choice), my friend Ben, who was using this as the first stop on his round the world trip, and my friend Catherine, who signed up for a beach holiday and some crewing in the middle!

Day 1 – Kauai
We had arrived in Kauai a few days before the official race meeting and briefing so I was able to get out a little on the course to check it out. 
This island is tiny with one main road so it was pretty easy to navigate the course  (although I still managed a wrong turn!) and I could see what it was like to ride the roads without a shoulder. Thankfully the locals were nice to riders and gave us plenty of room. 

One thing only my crew knew about was I managed to hurt myself the day before the race. I tripped on something, probably air, and managed to bend the toes on my right foot back underneath my foot. It hurt a decent amount and I ended up with a nice bruise on my foot as a result, but I just figured it was one more thing to deal with. It wasn’t going to stop me. And it ended up not hurting during the marathons so I was okay! Phew! 

We started the day with a traditional Hawaiian blessing on the beach before getting into the water to start the day. 

Before the race, there was a bit of noise around me about being the only female on the start line. To be honest, I didn’t think much of this. I’m someone who will go out and do a race because I want to do it. Not because of my gender. If I’m the only female, that doesn’t bother me. I’ll go play with the boys. 
The importance of my presence was highlighted to me when one of the Epic 5 staff, Mary Margaret, came up to me with teary eyes, put her hand on my arm and said that she was glad I was there as they had been waiting for more women to start coming to the race. I was the second woman to turn up on the start line in the history of the race. And first Australian woman.
Okay. So I need to pay more attention to this. Got it. 

We had our own paddlers for all of the swims except Maui. Mine was a lovely man Jim who also asked for a selfie afterwards!! The course was an easy out and back, I took it super easy. I had a plan to treat every day as three consecutive training days and focus on Day 5. Whatever I ate was for Day 5. As long as I got to Kona in relatively decent shape, I’d make the distance. 

I saw a turtle swim underneath me near the start. At this point, I knew it was going to be a good day. I ended up with a swim PB but I’m pretty sure the course was short. I didn’t start my Garmin until about 10mins into the swim so I can’t be sure. 

My friend Catherine helped me in transition. I warned her beforehand that she was going to be seeing me naked multiple times a day. Thankfully neither of us cared!! It made it easier to change clothes as I did a full change of clothes between each leg each day. 

The race director Rebecca explained at the race briefing that they take down times for the event for sanctioning, but it is not an event where there are 1st, 2nd or 3rd place getters. There are only finishers and participants if the person doesn’t complete every day. I really like this as when you get into super long distance, if doesn’t matter about who won, we all celebrate each other for finishing it! 

I initially had a plan to eat every 30 mins on the bike but I found myself eating every 20mins. As per my initial plan – eat for day 5, I went with it. I told my crew to get as much food into me on the bike as this is the easiest time to be able to eat and not risk an upset stomach, as my stomach can be fragile when I’m running. 

I tried to stick to real food and leave the gels to the run as much as I could, to also avoid getting flavour fatigue. Which is where you get sick of the same foods all of the time, and want something different that your crew doesn’t necessarily have! Also too much sugar burns my mouth so I had a mix of sweet and salty including cliff bars, scratch lollies, carbo shotz choc mint bars, Nutella in croissants and sandwiches – PB&J, Vegemite and Nutella. All of these things I have been using during my training and I know works well for me.
I’m always the one on rides who had pockets full of food for a 5 hour ride but it certainly paid off as I am able to eat a lot of food and keep it down! An important skill in ultra racing. 

Michael had uploaded all of the maps onto my Garmin so I was able to get out to the road before they caught up to me. Only issue with technology is technology. So my Garmin told me a couple of times I’d taken a wrong turn when I was going the right way. Hmmm. Luckily I didn’t go too far the wrong way before turning around! 

The island is known to be humid but I didn’t find it that bad. The course was one way with a small looped section and then coming back the way we came to transition. The bike was on the main road but the run took us off onto a quieter road. 

I made sure I stayed very conservative and even backed off my effort even more when one of the staff, Mary Margaret, yelled out to me to conserve. 
Since I hadn’t done a race of this distance before, it was hard to know how hard to push. 

Day 5. It’s all about Day 5. 

I was in really good spirits for majority of the ride. To the point where my crew did a quick video interview when they were driving past on a quiet part of the road. That got a few comments from people watching back home!! 

I soon noticed that the other guys in the race fell into two distinct categories. 
1. Pushed too hard/melting in the heat 
2. Conservative like me and were going to do well. 

It was very interesting to see the explosions on day one and wonder who would survive the next four days! 

I have been using a lot of mental strategies for the past year to manage the heat. My old coach Craig called me out once to tell me to stop whinging about the heat and learn how to deal with it. So I did. And it clearly paid off as someone like me with my complexion, usually wouldn’t cope in heat but I didn’t find it hot at all! Mind over matter every time! 

My mental strategies that I use:
1. Never say it’s hot. If someone else does, my response – “it’s not that bad.” Every time. Even if I’m saying it in my head, the words don’t come out of my mouth. 
2. When I can feel the sun bearing down on me, I repeat in my head – the sun gives me energy and I thank the sun for that.
3. Knowing that I had spent 3 weeks prior to the race in Kona training in the heat and humidity, and taking confidence from this.

I was ready to get off the bike by the time I rolled into transition. I was feeling the pressure of making the flight off the island that night. The only day we had transport at night. We had booked onto the later flight of two options to make sure we had enough time as possible, but I was still stressed. 
Last time I did an ironman was in 2014, 4 weeks after breaking my arm. I knew I am a lot fitter and faster now than I was back then but I didn’t know how fast I am now. Plus since I was trying to conserve as much as possible, it was hard to judge how fast I was going to go or should go. 

The run consistent of 5 laps. Again, Michael had uploaded the map onto my Garmin. Only issue was, my watch was now in miles instead of kms. I realized quickly how painful it is to run in miles. It takes so long!!!! Kms are so much more rewarding as you count them down a lot quicker! 

Catherine had gone to Honolulu on the early flight to arrange the hire car and book into the accommodation for when we arrived so I had Ben and Michael for the run. My crew made sure that I would have someone beside me for every run the whole time. It was awesome. 

We had joked prior to who would be running x5 marathons in x5 days. Luckily all three crew could run alongside me so they were able to rotate as we went. 
Their other joke was, if I was going too slow, they would try and trade me for a faster athlete so they could get more sleep!! Lucky for me, that didn’t happen! 
I had been training for 9 min run, 1min walk so I started this for the first half of the run. I pretty much stuck to it for the first half then started walking a bit more in the second half. 

This is when I had a few questions in my mind. The main one that kept coming up was how. How am I going to do this for the next 4 days?! 
I don’t ever think can I or entertain any ideas about quitting. I’ve trained my brain not to even think about this anymore. But I couldn’t fathom how I was going to do it. I knew I would. But it seemed so massive that it was hard to wrap my head around. 

Towards the end of the run, I was told by the staff that we would make it in time to catch the earlier flight. This would mean more sleep!!! I had entertained this idea earlier in the run but dismissed it as I didn’t want to put anymore pressure on myself. I discussed it earlier with my crew about how we would stick with the later flight and it would give me time to eat, stretch and chill out before the flight. However I soon found myself finishing, being thrown in the car with a race-supplied pizza from their sponsors Pizza Hut, told to eat and change clothes as we went off to the airport. 

This side of the event is where my crew really stepped up. They had to pack the bags and get them ready to fly to the next island each day. The car I suspect was usually a bit of a mess so throwing everything in bags but then knowing where it all is for the next day was certainly a task they got good at as the race went along! 
You just never know what I would ask for as we went along so they needed to know where everything was at all times!! 

The TSA agents had a good laugh at us carrying pizzas through security but we made the flight and this meant more sleep so we were all happy. Quick shower then to bed. 

Total time sleep: 4 ½ hours.
4 hours in a bed, ½ hour on the plane.

Day 2 – Oahu 
I woke up in the morning feeling like I’d done an 8 hour training day the day before. In reality, my Ironman in Kauai had taken longer than this but that’s how my body felt. A feeling I knew very well. This gave me a lot of confidence. All of those “how” questions left my brain and all I could think was – I’ve got this! 

The swim was two laps and again, we had a paddler to swim with us. I had my paddler give me an electrolyte drink half way through as again, I was not stressed on time, I was more concerned about calories going in. My paddler was super sweet and very excited, but I didn’t brief her properly on what her job was. By the time she ran me into the 3rd buoy in a row, I explained to her that she needed to sight for me as I was looking at her, not straight ahead. After that we were on track!! 

This swim was slower than yesterday but again, I didn’t care. I relaxed and swam as easily as I could with minimal energy exertion as possible!

Like yesterday, my crew had to pack up before they headed out on the road to catch me so I had to try and navigate myself. I grabbed my phone this time, just in case I had to call them if I got completely lost. They also took photos from “The Bible” AKA the Epic 5 book – with all maps, directions, accommodation each night and other handy information about each island that you may need to know. It is the most comprehensive race guide that I have ever seen!

Luckily, I had another athlete and his crew nearby so they were able to tell us when I went left instead of right and help us with the other turns to get out to Honolulu. I found this island the most stressful. The increased amount of traffic and lack of shoulder on a decent amount of the road increased my anxiety as the cars didn’t seem to be as friendly as in Kauai or Kona. I was told that 70% of Hawaii’s population lives on Oahu so no wonder it was busy! I also realised at this point why they do the islands in the order that they do. You wouldn’t want to be navigating this island with any more of a foggy brain. It would be just too hard and too dangerous.

Once we got out of the city, it was a little easier. Again, one out and back course with a different way of coming back to add on the extra distance. There was more climbing today than Kauai and stronger wind so again, my time was slower but my effort was also around the same. All about day 5!!
The route took us along a beautiful coastal road. It actually reminded me a bit of the Great Ocean Road, which is one of my favourite places to ride in Victoria. Anywhere near the ocean has my heart.

I was in good spirits again. I found myself eating constantly, to the point where I was joking with the event photographer Colin about how every time he popped up, I would be eating! At least the photos looked okay as he reassured me I didn’t have food in my teeth or Nutella all over my face before he took the photos!

I was quite surprised to see the lead guys as close as they were coming back from the turn around. I guessed that the heat got to some of them the day before. Not sure. I was there to do my own thing. I made sure I tucked my ego away before starting the race. It tried to come up a few times when I was close to another athlete or someone passed me but I put it back very quickly and reminded myself that I needed to ride and run my own race. Again, all about day 5!

At the turn around, I saw one guy sitting down in the gutter with his crew, doing a video chat and eating Maccas. This is a fun race!! I stopped to eat, re-sunscreen and have a little stretch before going on again. The pressure was off today as the transport was planned for the morning so I knew I had all day. We had started the swim around 6am so I know it wasn’t going to take me 24-hours to do the Ironman distance so I was going to get another decent amount of sleep tonight!

I started to feel that 180 kms actually wasn’t that far to go. I would count down the kms on my bike and before I knew it, I would be almost finished. I usually have to do a bit of mental work to get through the distance, where I work out how far I have to go and let myself count down from there. I still did this but I wasn’t as focussed on it as I usually would have to be.
It was a very interesting mindset to be in. I wasn’t used to being so positive all of the time. Even when it started raining, I didn’t mind. My crew stopped me to put lights on me so I was safer, but I felt good.

Thankfully, my crew were able to stop at the turns on the way back into town for most of the way to make sure I didn’t get lost and then my trusty Garmin got me back the rest of the way. My powers of observation are really good when I’m at work but outside of that, I feel that that part of my brain is broken. I often ride along thinking, did I just ride here? Is this how I came in? Hmmmm. So I can’t rely on my memory to get back! There was a decent amount of traffic too so I was a bit slowed down, but apparently my crew was as well and only arrived back at transition 5 mins before I did!

The run followed the Honolulu marathon course. Only difference was, since we had to follow the road rules, we had to stop at pedestrian lights to cross the road. When I’ve done other races, I haven’t had to stop at traffic lights on the run as there hasn’t been any! But since Honolulu was so busy, we couldn’t risk running across the road. It was certainly a strange sight running down past Waikiki beach with Michael with his top off as he was hot! I just think he wanted to show off. I usually don’t like pacers running in front of me but Michael went in front a couple of times to get me through the crowds. Certainly unlike any other race I’d ever experienced! 

The run course took us back over where we had ridden on the bike (I remembered that bit!!), then down the main highway where we ran on the shoulder towards the oncoming traffic. Luckily, the roads have really big shoulders and I could put my pacer on the outside of me so I felt safe the whole time.

Again, I was feeling really good so we did another update video as we were running. This run was hillier than Kauai so my 9/1 run plan wasn’t able to be stuck to as well as previously, but I still tried to run a fair bit of the first half. Unfortunately, my right knee started hurting around half way through the run. I stopped a few times to stretch out my calves and hamstrings as I figured that was where my knee pain was coming from. It was a dull ache, not a sharp pain so I knew it wasn’t an acute injury. More than likely an overuse injury considering I was doing the second marathon in two days. I managed it by walking and taking some painkillers to get through.

By this time, I had also started to develop a couple of small blisters on my little toes. That is where I always get blisters so I wasn’t surprised by it. I just have to manage it. Michael was doing a foot check each night and popped any blisters that had come up. I deliberately packed needles in my medical kit to deal with this situation!

Once again, when I finished, packed up straight into the car. Pizza in hand and to the hotel room to shower and sleep.

Total time sleep: 4 ½ hours.
4 hours in a bed, ½ hour on the plane.
Accumulated sleep hours: 9

Day 3 – Molokai

We had a charter flight to Molokai. Made me feel like a bit of a rock star to be honest! Private plane and all.

We looked like a bit of a funny crew travelling though the airport in Epic 5 gear, turned heads for most people who had no idea what was going on. And why did so many people have Esky’s? I made sure I sat down as much as possible and Michael gave my legs a little once over to try and help my knee.

When we arrived, we found out one of the guy’s bikes didn’t make it. Damn! This is where the Epic 5 staff really impressed me. They spoke to him and suggested he swim, run then when his bike arrived, do the bike then finish the run. Then he would have as much opportunity available to be able to finish the next few days instead of waiting for his bike.

I had the sports doctor, Jessie, on staff check out my knee. She diagnosed bursitis and assured me that I wouldn’t be doing any damage by continuing to run on it. That’s all I needed to hear.

The swim was in a 25 m pool as apparently there isn’t anywhere appropriate to swim on this island. Majority of us still got into our wetsuits. I figured that my body would appreciate the extra flotation and streamline that it would provide. The downside was, I was overheating. I stopped every km to drink from the bottle at the end of the pool but I still felt the effects of a wettie swim in a pool!

I had a fun time heading out onto the bike as I got so many compliments on my bike kit! I was wearing an Entrix kit that I had been given prior to the race. It was my favourite as it looks like a sunset. Very pretty!
Two quick wrong turns and I was out onto the main road on the bike course. Are you seeing a theme here yet?! 

This island is tiny. Smaller than Kauai, and it is like a little fishing village. There is one main store that closes by 8pm. Actually, it closed earlier according to my crew!

My crew went to the shop to stock up on a few things after I finished the swim as they had spent the time during the swim counting laps so I didn’t have to, putting my bike together and organising the car. Only issue, as I found out later, the people working and in front of them in line, were all on island time. So I rode down the road for an hour before they caught up with me. I was a little distressed by this point as I had run out of food and water and didn’t know where they were. 

I noticed that since I wasn’t eating a whole lot straight after the day ended, I would be hungry getting out of the swim so I would eat a lot more in the 1-2 hours on the bike then slow it down as I went. So when I ran out of food and water and I saw my crew, I signalled to them frantically to pull over!! I let go a high pitched little “an hour!!!” to Michael, who quickly explained what had happened, stocked me up again and let me go. Phew! I felt a lot better knowing that one of the thousands of dramatic situations that I had come up with in my head weren’t true. I had thought that they might have had a flat tyre or even a car accident!

This bike course took us past our accommodation on the bike and run. The rules of Epic 5 stipulate that the crew needs to be in a half decent shape at all times to be able to drive. If the crew is deemed too tired to drive, the athlete will be stopped until the crew has had a rest. With that in mind, they suggest that one crew member is dropped off to the hotel at a time to get a decent amount of sleep as I went along. I knew that my crew was getting less sleep than I was because when I went to bed, they still had organising to do.

At first, I was pretty unimpressed with the course. It was flat, windy and boring. That was until I hit the coastal road. The views were amazing. Past a lookout point, the road narrowed so you had to have your wits about you going around corners to the turn around. The road then took us back through town and into the hills before going back to the coastal road for the final turn around.
Today, I found hard. Mentally, I suspected that day 3 was going to be hard.
I tried to deal with this by looking forward to Molokai. It’s an island that I would not usually go and visit, so I told myself that it would be interesting to have a look around it but that didn’t work. I found it hard. The sun was really intense and since I was already feeling dehydrated from the pool swim, it just dried me out even more.

In the past few ultra races, and I suspect for all of my long-distance racing career, I have struggled with hyponatremia (low salt levels). I have been put in hospital twice as a result of this. So before coming over to Hawaii, I tried a lot of different things. I went to a couple of different doctors, stopped drinking water and just had electrolytes and a few other things but nothing worked. I always feel thirsty and I drink a lot on the bike. I was really worried about this in the lead up to Epic 5, so I went to a family friend who is a practicing Homeopath. She tried me on a few different remedies until we found one that seemed to work. 

I don’t cramp in races, my symptoms are nausea and light-headedness. I paid very close attention to how I was feeling during the race to prevent this. I had been given some small “magic pills” as my crew referred to them to put in my water bottles to help with my salt regulation. And yes, it was magic as I didn’t have any major issues. My biggest problem was making sure I was getting my salt tablets on time!

I had a little “princess” moment when I had just seen my crew and they assured me they were going “just up the road” for me to stop where it was safe. So when I got a flat tyre, and they were no where to be seen, for what felt like eternity, I cried out “WHERE THE F ARE THEY?!?!” Yep. Not my best moment. Thankfully another crew who I had told earlier to contact my crew to tell them that I had a flat insisted that I pull over so they could help me. My crew then turned up soon after to change my wheel and get me going again.

I was ready to get off the bike well and truly by the time I got to transition. This time it was in a car park, instead my crew offered to take me to the hotel room but I didn’t want to walk any further than I needed to so I did a quick change at the car. Modesty? That left a long time ago!!

My knee felt okay heading out on the run. We had a longer out and back initially then a short out and back past the hotel to finish off the run. I can’t remember how far into the run it happened but it was early on when my hamstrings locked up. I felt like they had a tennis ball attached to the back of them. And there was nothing I could do about it. I had a choice. Try running and risk damage, or walk. Michael was next to me when I was debating this and I got a bit emotional. I felt guilty that if I walked the rest of the marathon as it would mean my crew would have to be out there with me too.

Michael wasn’t able to come to Ultraman Australia with me because he is a teacher and couldn’t get time off work, so we negotiated that he would come to Hawaii instead. And this was the exact time that I knew he was the perfect person to help me and calm me down. 
He just said to me – so? So, what if you walk. Who cares. Okay. Stop sooking and get walking! So I walked as fast as I could and chatted away to whoever was next to me at the time.

When I got to the first run turn around, I was met by one of the Epic 5 staff, Will. He told me that he was so impressed with me as I was always smiling and happy every time he saw me. He said that he had done x 5(?) RAAMs and had never felt so inspired. This warmed my heart. So lovely to hear and kept me going.

I passed the hotel after what felt like forever and a fellow crew member for another athlete who I met a few years ago, Darwin, checked in on me as well as Epic 5 staffer, Victoria. After assuring both of them that I was okay and just needed to walk to get this done, Victoria told me she would be waiting until I got back and to take as long as I needed. Awesome.

I was so glad when the run/walk was over!! Luckily when the sun went down, it cooled right down so it ended up being a very pleasant night for a walk! Catherine read out some Facebook posts to keep me distracted and Ben talking about Anime, while Michael was back at the hotel sleeping after we passed the hotel again.

Cruely, there was stairs to the accommodation. Ben had tried to get the room changed but to no avail. Thankfully it was only one flight! I jumped in the shower which was over a bath. Can you guess what happened next?! Yep. I was mid turn and I slipped and fell backwards. Out of the bath, taking down half of the shower curtain with me. Nothing had woken Michael before this time. Turning on the light, talking, nothing. Until I fell out of the shower/bath. Catherine came to my rescue to get me back up as I was feeling a bit hopeless by this point!! Thankfully, the shower curtain caught my fall and I didn’t hurt myself.

Total time sleep: 3 hours.
2 hours in a bed, 1 hour on the ferry
Accumulated sleep hours: 12

Day 4 – Maui
We caught a ferry across to Maui. I managed to grab a bit of sleep and then stretched and rolled out my legs. Recovery stuff like stretching and rolling had been severely neglected after days 1 & 2 as they would be eating into precious sleeping time. I figured that it had caught up with me on day 3 so hoped that some TLC for my legs would help me over the next two days. Fingers crossed!!
My new friends Ingrid and Pea, who I had met a month ago and stayed with in Kona with. had decided to fly over to Maui to come and hang out with us for the day. It was so good to see a couple of fresh but familiar faces. 

Ingrid could see I was stressed so sat down next to me and said – be straight with me, how are you feeling. I almost cried. I was exhausted. And worried. I was worried that my legs weren’t going to let me run again for the next two days. And I couldn’t know this until I got to the marathon. I was so grateful that they were there to help out. It gave my spirits a little lift, as well as Pea planned to swim next to me on the swim here and in Kona.
This was allowed within race rules as again, the underpinning theme of the race was safety. So if it was safer to have someone to swim, bike or run with you, they encouraged it.

The swim in Maui was between a couple of no-boating buoys. Unfortunately the Epic 5 swim buoy had been left behind in Molokai so they had to rely on the local lifeguards to tell them how far it was between the buoys and set the swim course from that. So it was long. Super long. The water was rough and unpleasant to swim in. One thing that made it better was having Pea next to me so I could just sight off him. Plus he could count the 9 laps we had to do!! I got confused at one time on how many we had to do, he sensed my anxiety and held up two fingers. Thank god! I didn’t know if I could do another 3!!

When we were swimming, we had two turtles appear underneath us and just cruise along past. At this point, I decided it was going to be a good day. I love turtles. They are amazing creatures and someone once told me that it’s good luck when you see them swimming in the ocean. Not sure if that is true but I’m going with it! So, when I saw them, I knew my luck was going to change for the day and all I had to do was finish the swim, get onto my bike and then the run would take care of itself. I felt my whole body relax and I felt calm.

When we FINALLY got out of the swim, my Garmin said 6 km. Ah well, what can you do. Keith, an Epic 5 staff member, apologised for the screw up with the swim. I assured him it was okay and he thanked me for not being angry about it. I honestly didn’t see any point in getting angry. It was done with and now I needed to focus on the bike instead.

By day 4, I was sick of most of my nutrition. I had refused a lot of my bars the day before so my crew fed me sandwiches. They told me later that I managed to get through 3 loaves of bread! I’ve never eaten that much bread in my life! And I don’t think I will ever again but, you know, whatever it takes!!

I told Michael that in Maui, if they could try and get some variety into my food, that would be appreciated. I knew Molokai had very limited food choices so I knew that they couldn’t do much until day 4. And wow, did they step up?! When I got out of the swim, Michael shoved some banana bread in my mouth. I swear he could see my eyes light up and widen when I ate that and requested more if possible!! By this time it was really the small things that made me happy! Or more happy than I was!

The bike was one loop. I really like one loop courses when I have a crew with me as I know that they will be able to find me easily and once I turn around, all I have to do was ride home.
Ingrid and Pea joined my crew out on the road in their own car to cheer me on and help out where they could, and go and get more things that I was requesting.

I was getting really sick of my electrolytes so I asked for P.O.G juice instead. Only issue was, I ate and drank so much sugar in the first 90 mins that I then had a sugar crash! Whoops! Needed to space out my carbs a bit more next time.
The course took us out along another beautiful coastal road for a short out and back before heading along a couple of highways towards another coastal road towards the west. I only knew it was west because Mike (Epic 5 staffer) told me at the turn around!

It was hilly / undulating again but this time, I was enjoying it, not suffering. I enjoyed passing a bunch of cars that were crawling along but also this meant that my crew were stuck behind me for a while. This only was an issue when I had my salt tablet late once. Other than that, they were able to stick with me. Pea and Michael took over the bike leg while Catherine and Ben went back to rest and sort out washing, shopping etc that needed to be done, with Ingrid.
I was told by everyone in my crew that having Ingrid and Pea turning up was awesome and very helpful for them to get more rest than they usually would be able to.

Since we didn’t start the swim until late, I ended up riding along in the dark. I had a high-vis top on as well as a decent bike light so I felt okay. The crew’s aren’t allowed to directly follow us on the bike, which I can understand as the road was pretty busy and there was a decent shoulder so I felt okay about riding along. Plus there were street lights to help us along the way so it felt safe. The main issue was when I got a flat tyre. I knew that my crew were behind me but I didn’t know how to signal them, as I didn’t always know it was them until they had passed and I could see the stickers on the back of the car. So I decided to lie my bike down facing towards them so they would see my front light lying down. 

To be honest, Michael didn’t like this. He panicked and thought that I had fallen off!! He understood when I told him my intentions but told me “never do that again!!” Poor thing! I had taken spare wheels with me to the race so all I needed was a wheel change and off I went again. 

That is one thing that I always do with ultra-distance racing when I have a crew. Spare wheels. The last thing you want to do is be stranded on the side of the road while you have a flat and fixing it. You want to be back out there going as soon as you can!

I was using two different pairs of shoes for the run so I wouldn’t fatigue a pair. But when I put my shoes on, my little toes screamed at me. I insisted that I change back to my other pair despite Michael telling me that there was no difference between the shoes. Thankfully the other pair was slightly more forgiving and my feet felt a little better in them. 
By this time, I also had a blister on the inside of my left heel that was bothering me. We had popped it and left it for the bike. Put Band-Aids on my toes and got me going again. 

When I was leaving transition with Ingrid, who was starting the run with me, I heard a man yelling out to his wife saying: “she’s here!!! she’s here!!!”. I had no idea what was going on until the wife came rushing up to me. She was so excited to see me and tripped over her own words telling me how excited she was to see me and how awesome it was that a woman was doing the event. She told me about her daughters who also strive to achieve their dreams and how excited that they were to not have missed me, as they had specifically come down to see me.
Wow. This is when it truly hit me, how much of a responsibility I have. Being the only woman in this race wasn’t a big deal to me until it was pointed out to me. Twice. I now know that I have an opportunity to help inspire other women of all ages to go out there and strive to achieve their Epic dreams. I don’t expect everyone to do Epic 5 like me, but everyone has a dream so I would love it if they took steps to make this a reality. As I was doing at that exact moment.

The run took us down along the ride route to the initial turn around then back past transition and the hotel to another turn around and finished back at the hotel. When we were heading down the road initially, I was convinced that we were coming to the turn around from a different direction. Granted it was dark so I couldn’t use any landmarks to get my bearings but I doubt that would have helped either!!

I was excited to see a traffic cone and Keith who told me I could start heading back. Awesome. I had been able to run a decent amount by this point, except for the hills. Always walk hills. My hamstrings were cooperating and my legs felt tired, but good. My knee was getting regular rubs with some pain relief gel, which seemed to be working as well. It was turning out to be a good day!
Catherine and Ben swapped out for Michael, Ingrid and Pea stayed in the car with Ben and Catherine joined me on the run. By this stage, my shuffle was her walking pace but my walk was super slow so I figured I would keep shuffling, as it was a comfortable pace. By this stage, whatever that had me moving forward in the fastest possible way was good!

Catherine and I decided to FaceTime a friend Nicky, who had just raced Ironman Australia. Again, it was amazing to have someone else to talk to. Someone who hadn’t heard all of my stories and who was super keen to hear about how I was going. We ended up chatting for about 90 mins I think!! It was such a nice distraction and really kept me going.

My crew told me initially that the pace I was going would mean I would have time for a shower and quick nap. My Garmin battery had died so I had no idea what pace I was going or what time of day it was. This then changed to a shower. You will definitely be able to have a shower. By the time I got to the finish line, they said no. No time for a shower but the room is upstairs. Too bad. I’m going straight to the car. If I’m not getting a shower, I’m not climbing any stupid stairs!!

Straight to the airport to catch the plane to Kona. For party day!!

Total time sleep: 1 hour.
1 hour in the car, 1 hour on the plane
Accumulated sleep hours: 13

Day 5 – Kona
Party time!!! This is it. The LAST island! This is what we all had been waiting for.

Never before, in the history of the race had all the athletes who started the race had gotten to this point. A-mazing! Spirits were high and the mood was positive.

My wheels hadn’t made the flight but my crew assured me that I would have them by the time the bike started. No worries. I didn’t care by this point! I was running on 1 hours’ sleep and I was ready to jump in the water!

After what felt like way too long of standing around in my wetsuit, we were off on the swim. And it was rough. Again. Thankfully Pea and Ingrid had been able to come back to Kona, so I had Pea to choose the best line in the water for us to swim and guide me along to the turn around point. The swim and bike courses are along the world championships course then the run was up and down Ali’i drive after a short loop to the pool and back along the Kuakini Highway, then down to Ali’i drive. All of which I had swam, biked and run when I was in Kona so I was super comfortable knowing the course. It felt like I was coming home when the plane touched down in Kona. It felt good.

I pushed a little in the swim when I felt that I had to so we could bridge across a couple of sections against the current. But it didn’t matter. No longer did I need to conserve for day 5, I was here!!

My little toes were shredded by this point. There were no longer toes there, only blisters. So when I got out of the swim onto the bike, Michael put Band-Aids on my toes and sent me on my way. Only issue was, my feet had swollen to the point where my little toes were being crushed. I stopped at the first turn around to try my other pair of cycling shoes I had brought. Nope, that was worse. Michael tried to drain my blisters but there wasn’t much in them. He reminded me at this stage that he didn’t marry a quitter. I had no intentions of quitting but I was trying to find a solution. Clearly there was no solution except to keep up the painkillers and hope that my feet went numb soon. And use anything possible to keep my mind off the fact that every pedal stroke was agony. I ended up lifting my feet in my shoes whenever I went over a bump instead of standing up. I figured it was better to save my feet and sacrifice my body as my feet were the sorest part of my body by this stage!

At about 2 ½ hours into the bike, I was seeing spots in front of my eyes, I was weaving on the road and hallucinating. I could clearly hear the conversations of the people in the cars driving past me. Just before this moment, I had thought to myself, I hadn’t had any hallucinations that I always hear about people having when they’re doing ultra-distance events. I was feeling left out. Not for long!!

I had said to my crew before the race, if I needed to stop for a sleep, let me sleep for 15 mins then get me up and going again. So I stopped as I knew I would crash if I didn’t and had a nap. 15 mins and I was bright as a button. It did the world of good and I got going again!

I had ridden to Hawi twice in training so I knew that the winds on that section could be ugly. The cross winds in that section really smash you around and you have to have your wits about you to keep your bike straight on the road. I was happy to get to the turn around, after another quick wheel change from a flat (as caught on Facebook live), have a sit down and a chat to my crew, Mike and Scott (Epic 5 staffer). My crew decided to stop and feed me as I would be descending so I wouldn’t need as much food, but also it was windy so I wouldn’t be able to eat as much. I was thankful for a stop and chat, had a few laughs before I got going again. That’s what this race was all about for me. Amazing people and having fun. Times didn’t matter. Places overall didn’t matter. I was living out a dream that I had held onto for the past 3 years so I was celebrating the fact that I was able to be out there living it!

Ingrid and Pea had gone back home for a nap as unlike me, they hadn’t had any sleep in transition from Maui to Kona so they decided to come out and meet me on the bike instead. Ingrid brought her bike out and rode back along the Queen K with me. By the time we hit the Queen K, the sun was setting and it got dark pretty quickly. We had a late start for the swim in the morning so it meant I rode back in the dark. Thankfully, Ingrid was able to assure me my hallucinations that I was seeing weren’t real and the brown paper bag on the road wasn’t an animal that was going to jump out at me. Once we got close enough to figure it out!

I did manage to take a wrong turn – followed a turn off thinking I was going straight. Yep. Even on the Queen K. People who know this road will know how hard it is to get lost but yes, I still managed to!! Thankfully I realised very quickly and turned back up the road. Only once!!

I did manage to almost crash into the car at one stage. I had asked Michael for something and he was confused when I went to ride past, the next time he stopped to give me medication I asked for as I was feeling nauseous. Not from salt issues, but because I was so tired! Only issue was, I had forgotten I’d asked for it. Then when I went to take off again, I swerved and almost crashed into the car. Talk about sleep deprivation!! 

We pushed home and got back to the pier. By this time, the toilets were closed so I had a change next to the car again. Whatever. No one cares by this point!
I had a quick nap before heading off on to the run.

Michael told me he decided to cut the sides of my shoes open to let my little toes out to give them more space. The only issue I had with this is how we had not thought of this earlier. It was amazing! My little toes were instantly grateful. The other blister on the inside of my heel still protested but we put a patch on that and told it to suck it up!

I started running at a decent pace. For me. For day 5. I felt good so I went with it. I knew that I would slow down but I figured the further up the road I could be before I started to slow down, the better. So I ran and walked fast. Not quite as fast as a sub 2 hour marathon as I said I was planning on doing on Facebook (people enjoyed my joke!). I was on a massive high when I got to the turn around the first time. So excited. This was going to happen. I was going to finish. Amazing.

I had another nap on the first? second? lap of the run. I can’t remember. I was weaving all over the road and could barely keep my eyes open so I stopped for 15mins, woke up, felt really groggy so had another 15 mins and then felt much better. I knew that we didn’t have to catch any transport so it didn’t matter how long it took to finish it off. No pressure. Loved it.

I stopped running, somewhere on the second lap and walked. By this time I had Michael, Ingrid and Pea all walking with me and chatting. I wasn’t talking so much but I really appreciated everyone around me talking and distracting me. My crew never stopped feeding and watering me. Even if it was potato chips and coke, I was still getting food in.

I made Michael promise me that I would not be put in hospital at the end. I said that I was still keeping food down, I was not vomiting and even though I was completely spaced out, I was physically okay. I felt like my fears were founded in reality there though!

My favourite hallucinations were:
1. A bush that had turned into a policeman, talking to a person standing over a scooter with a few people standing around him.
2. The blue car that went past and told me “you’ve got this! Keep going”
Very funny!!

I said to a few of the Epic 5 staff that I was going to be like Forrest Gump and have a posse following me on the run. As it was, I ended up with Michael, Ben, Ingrid, Pea and Catherine come to the finish line with me. All of the important people who had played a part in getting me to the finish line.

I had brought an Australian flag with me to the race that was put over my shoulders as I walked down the rock wall towards the finish line. The sun had come up by this point, I had joked earlier that I would need to put on some sunscreen again too! 

The tears were flowing down my face. I thought about my late coach Craig and how I had felt his presence though out the day, I thought about how me, little ol’ me was able to achieve such a massive goal. One that I initially thought was impossible until dared by a friend to give it a go. And how amazing it was that I had some incredible people by my side who had selflessly given up their time to help me achieve my dream.

I crossed the finish line, hugged the race director Rebecca, who was holding the finish line banner and sat down on the rock wall and hugged my crew and everyone else there. I was done.

I hugged all of my crew individually and FaceTimed my mum. I have no idea what I said. I’m sure I didn’t make much sense, but it was awesome to see her face and her to know that I was okay!!

I even had a few staff members apologise for missing my finish, as they really wanted to be there for it. So cool.

So wow. I did it.

I’m not sure that it has sunk in that I was actually able to do this event. I’m not sure it will for a while, but I plan to continue on this high that it has given me for some time yet!

And the question I keep getting from everyone – what’s next? SLEEP!!!!!

Total time sleep: 1 hour.
15mins on the bike
15mins in transition bike to run
30mins on the run
Accumulated sleep hours: 14

And onto the thank you’s!
Michael – my husband, number one supporter. I know I woke you up multiple times when I was training and whinged when you wouldn’t let me go to bed before my bed time of 8:30pm. Your support never wavered and I can’t wait to support you to achieve your dreams now.

Ben & Catherine – you both gave up your time with the selfless act of supporting me achieve my dream. This event was something we couldn’t prepare for, but you were both amazing and I couldn’t have done it without you!

All of the Epic 5 Staff – Rebecca, Scott, Mary Margaret, Colin, Jessie, Victoria, Jolene, Keith, Mike and Will. You guys are amazing! I loved being able to spend this time with you all. I feel that the heart and soul of this event lies with you all and you embody what Epic 5 is all about.

My fellow competitors and their crews – we did it!! We are incredible! I was excited to toe the line with you all and experience this crazy adventure together!

To my late coach Craig. Your support of me did not waiver when I told you I wanted you to coach me for Ultraman Australia and then Epic 5. You celebrated my finish at Ultraman and we had just begun the build for Epic 5. Thanks for being there on the last day to help with the final push to the finish line. I felt your presence the whole way around the course. I know you would be proud and I plan to continue to promote your legacy however I can.

My current coach Kate. You took me on when I was feeling lost and unsure on how I was going to continue on in my training. You have said to me multiple times that you give me my program but it’s up to me to get it done. I feel that you are so much more than that. You are supportive, encouraging and helped me achieve my dream. I honestly believe there isn’t many coaches around who would be able to coach athletes through ultra distance racing but you were able to and I cannot thank you enough!

My ‘behind the scenes’ team:
Pep at Kinematics
Shane at North Balwyn Osteo
Scooter at Impact Massage
Mary my Homeopath

All of my support people, family, friends, training buddies, work colleagues – you all put up with me in the months leading up to this event with unwavering support. Especially at work, understanding that one flight of stairs was too much and went in the lift instead!

And thank YOU for reading this. I have been told by many how I am inspiring to them. So please use that inspiration to set and go about achieving your Epic goals and dreams. Then come back and tell me all about it! This is about building each other up and supporting each other to be phenomenal.

11 thoughts on “Epic 5

  1. That is an amazing feat. I loved reading it even though I’m suppose to be on my bike right now.
    I love challenges and have failed at times but it’s all about the journey.
    Congratulations! You can relive this wonderful experience anytime with this inspiring account of your race.
    I am 70 years old and on that birthday last year I did a 3-day ironman. I couldn’t do one in the 17 hour requirement because of bone on bone in my knee but my adventure was still very satisfying.


  2. Well done Melissa.. you have grit and determination by the truckload..loved reading of your adventure…. may you always finish . may you always continue to compete on your terms and fond success..xxx Bron..


  3. What a great read. Your attitude and determination is so inspiring. I love hearing of the family who were waiting to see you. Mel, you have influenced and touched people more than you know. So proud of my crazy cousin.
    It’s so amazing that all 10 Epic5 athletes finished. Congrats.


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