MY BEST RACE SO FAR: NOVEMBER – Ashul Shah and the 2015 Outback Marathon

30 November, 2015

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While we’d all love to think that our best race is still ahead of us,  for most runners there’s a race or a couple of races that already stand out as particularly memorable. Not necessarily the fastest you’ve ever run, though it might be. Not necessarily a race that you won, though it might be.

What it tends to be, is a race that was deeply satisfying because you achieved what you were hoping to…or surpassed the big hairy audacious goal that you’d set yourself. They’re the kind of races where you sit back later in the day and think, “I may run faster one day but, on this day, in the shape I was in, that’s the best I could have possibly done…my best race so far”. That’s a great feeling. 

It’s a sad thing if we can’t enjoy what we’ve already accomplished or are so driven by the pursuit of the goals we have ahead that we miss the opportunity to say ‘that one? That one was really good’.

These are the stories of a bunch of different runners from BT RunClub and their best races so far.

We hope these stories will inspire you as you chase your ‘best race so far.’

Here’s to the best races ahead…and running the race marked out before us.


Ashul Shah and the 2015 Outback Marathon 

When I started running ‘seriously’ in 2010 primarily due to social media and the HBF fun run, I became friends with a lot of people on twitter and we went by the #twitfit hashtag.

One of those people was Michelle whom I quickly made my running mentor due to her love of running, she became my Yoda of sorts, helping me get along from setback after setback with tweets of advice as any runner knows it is not just simply putting a pair of shoes on and running as if you were born to run unless you are Kenyan – which is where I happen to from so I got a nickname online of cheeky little Kenyan or #CLK.

One evening I read a tweet that Michelle had posted. “Sipping champagne, calming the nerves prior to the race tomorrow”.  It caught my eye and I went and had a look at the race details and the seed was planted.  One day I will run this race I told myself, for someone that had just run the longest run ever, a 14km HBF race, to even fathom a full marathon was highly questionable but it became a goal, something to say to my peers “I ran the Outback Marathon”.

Australia’s red centre has a spiritual and magical pull for many, whilst for the local Pitjantjatjara people it is a scared place of ancestral homage that combined with the spectacular effect the sun plays on uluru and kata tjuta is amazing to say the least. So the allure to run there remained strong.

My journey to run this was not simple as injury followed another injury and each time I got better at a distance something came into play to take me two steps backwards. I first ran my first distance longer than 16km that year, the Fremantle Half Marathon and thought to myself: “I will never run a full marathon”.  There was no point putting the body through all the pain when 21km was a challenge hard enough. The marathon was really for mad people.

In 2012, a good friend that I met through twitter, Lee, was running the Perth marathon and she said: “why don’t you do it?“.

I had done a couple of 21k’s by then and the Perth 32 was coming up so thought that if I could do 32, surely 42 is just like a 10k run after that.. So I ran the 32, came out alive and signed up for the Perth Marathon. Now I was a step closer to my dream of running the outback!

As with any first marathon, I read everything about nutrition to how your kidneys stop working and your body goes into survival mode, all the stuff that made me think maybe I won’t run the Outback as it seems one marathon is all you get for most people. So I ran it and came out feeling like I must run another, signed up for the City to surf and the hills killed me.  This marathon took everything out of me and actually just thinking of the last stretch to the sea made me sick. The outback was now out of the question but I was hooked I wanted to kill this marathon and become a better runner. Something important happened from being a runner with a goal to run a race and to train specifically for the race I became a runner to whom running became something you just do.  People would ask “What are you training for?” And I would reply “Life”

I forgot about the Outback marathon for a while because of the expense and not only did I want it to be special, I also wanted to do it well. Early 2014 work was going good and I was running well as I got introduced to BT running club via Gillian. I formed a friendship that would change my running forever. Kelpy (aka Kelly) became my early Saturday morning running partner at BT.  Kelly was the dose of crazy I needed to have self-belief, resist the urge to surge, and above all run run run.

I thought it might be crazy but maybe I can do outback in 2015 and take my team with me for the journey.  So I asked the crew and got two bites from Ronan and Eli, both in Australia from France they saw the same chance that I did about running the red centre.  In the meantime, I also asked people in my running community and my dear friend Steph put her hand up as well.  We did the booking as soon as the places for 2015 became available. I still thought that Vanessa will still put her hand up so booked the Emu apartments that could sleep 6.

Side note: the outback marathon is a package deal – so unless you are camping, it includes accommodation, dinner, transfers etc. The logistics of doing this (they have to import portaloo’s from Darwin) in traditional land in the middle of nowhere is actually nearly impossible. But huge kudos to Travelling Fit, Mari Mar and her crew for making the impossible happen.  Internationally this marathon is up amongst the top exotic must-do marathons of the world. A big hat tip to travelling fit for making this happen.

Anyway back to it, with the event booked my dream all those years ago was going to come true I will get to run the through the centre of this nation I call home and it is going to be epic. In my training I will run Perth and City to surf and then… and injury hit again no more running nor did I do Perth or C2S, managed a few small runs and then I helped Vanessa with her training for the Disney Marathon in Orlando and her slow long runs were what I needed to get some confidence back.

Fast forward to this year the plan was to run only the outback marathon. Then Kelly suggested to me that I run Bunbury as a “training run” as I was dealing with a few personal demons that need to be exorcised – I had lost all confidence in my ability and it was all just getting too hard.  I booked on Thursday and ran the most fun marathon I have run on the Sunday.  I ran Perth after and had an amazing race too. What I did not realise that each marathon you run takes something out of you and if you do not rest you get tired and injury rears its ugly head. So I put myself in bubble wrap and hardly ran after Perth to make sure that I did not get any worse with injury, this meant I did take a hit on fitness.

Finally, the time came. The logistics were a bit cray, from Perth there is no direct flight so we had to take a flight to Alice Springs and then another to Uluru. We flew out to Alice after spending the morning at work and I also got news that my friend Steph might not make it due to extreme ‘gastro’ (we only learnt later it was her gall bladder that was on the cusp of demise) this worried me but I was glad the crew were with me.  At Alice we caught up with Vanessa’s parents and her hubby came into town the next day from Darwin.

We flew out to a bit of disorganised chaos a VA flight from Melbourne with 48 runners on-board had returned back to Melbourne as there was an engine issue and this meant all of these people would miss the marathon ad the earliest they could get in was 9:30am the organisers were incredible they changed the plan so that those that elected to fly in and run would be able to start late.  But as you can imagine when we got there for the race brief it was a bit chaotic.  The race briefing itself was a sometimes comical affair with an introduction to all the different countries of the world and a hello in every language. We got told what to do and what not to do as we were going to be running on land traditional land. We heard about how the concept came about and how it has grown in stature over the years.

We had the biggest feast I have ever eaten pre-marathon ever that evening. Early in the morning after breakfast and a sleepless night (mental note never do a 6 sleeper when one bedroom for you can do ;-)) we got into a shuttle that took us 4km from the resort to the start.

This was the first view I had on this trip of Uluru in all its glory at dawn, it did not disappoint. Sadly (well, lucky for us) this was also the warmest, cloudy/overcast start with a slight drizzle that had settled all the red dust morning they had ever had on race day. This meant it was going to be perfect racing conditions. A PB day was in the making.  I had run a PB just 6 weeks ago in the Perth Marathon and had mentally planned to run with Steph and Eli for the first half and then if I had the legs to run a faster second half, so I decided to stick to plan even though I was tempted to go for it early on.

Surprisingly running on the sand was not that hard as the water had certainly helped settle it but half way through I knew my legs were starting to feel it and I then gave up hope of catching Vanessa and finishing with her (she very desperately wanted to hit a sub 4 and I thought I could help her get there).  The wheels as they say, had come off, I was not going to break any records and as I looked at the Kata Tjuta in the horizon glimmering I suddenly felt like I was in a trance.  The enormity of where I was and what I was doing, just when I was all alone, no pack around me and aside from the occasional distant hum of the helicopter now and then (yes they have a helicopter to take pictures) all I could hear was my breathing, footsteps and then silence, yes, silence – I noticed the spinifex for the first time and all the contours of the land, the colours and feeling of calmness enveloped me . The whole build-up of all those years had finally hit home and I realised then it was time to soak the moment and as I crossed 28km looking at Uluru I knew this was a dream a come true this was what I had dreamt about but never thought it would be possible in 2010 – I was living the dream I was here in the heart of Australia and I was one with the land. I passed Ronan at 32km he was struggling at this point and I then slowed down considerably I felt that there was no point rushing this moment I should relish and cherish this run (ok except when you run past the resort sewerage processing area – but this is what made this run even more important about how fragile nature is and how much ‘shit’ we need recycled to ensure such a remote facility can survive and we can have creature comforts).

This race for me was about dreams coming true it was about my dreamtime as much as that of the traditional custodians of the land.

Side note #2 the after party is a bit of a blur 😉 but the friendships made with so many runners from so many parts of the world will last forever.


P.S. Here’s how my team fared on the day.

AOMA0199 AOMC0465 (2) AOMC1238 (1) AOMG1018 (1)


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