RUNNING THE RACE OF MY LIFE: RECAP OF NICKS 3RD PLACE PERFORMANCE AT THE WORLD TRAIL RUNNING CHAMPIONSHIPS AT KUALOA RANCH- OAHU- HAWAII

Below is a reflection i wrote about how i turned the negatives into a positive at the World Trail Running championship race which lead me to finishing with a bronze medal. This race is symbolic to me in more ways than one. Hopefully other runners are inspired by this very honest reflection.
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I’m nervous as anything as i sit in my hotel foyer talking to friends on Facebook the night before i compete in the biggest race of my life. I was thinking about all the hard training and sacrifice which had lead me to this one race and the preparation which had gone into it. Its surreal to think that the time has come to compete after such a busy year completing my Post Graduate Teaching Degree along with working two jobs and training almost every day. The support i received leading up to this race by my work places, my friends and family as well as my sponsors was amazing and i can’t thank them enough for what they had done to get me to the race in Hawaii. I have never in my life worked so hard for something and i had never competed so much leading up to an event, but if you want something bad enough you work extremely hard for it and you need to make many sacrifices. In saying that, nothing has ever come easily to me i have always had to work incredibly hard to get good results whether it’s running or at university. I think because i am so passionate about trail running and running as a sport, i was disciplined to do whatever it took to run well at World Champs.

I woke up on the morning of the race and i felt good, i had my normal routine of having a nice and early breakfast consisting of rice cakes and honey and a banana and i made sure i was hydrated. I had done testing with NSWIS leading up the race and results from the testing proved my body reacted negatively to heat so hydration was the key to having a good run. I started the morning feeling hopeful and determined knowing the time had come to run an awesome race.

As i arrived at the bus terminals at Waikiki beach i saw people from all over the world. I met some Australians and New Zealanders along with some Americans and South Americans. Everyone was so friendly and the atmosphere was very relaxed.
The busride over was full of conversation and i was taking in all the volacanic surroundings which seemed so surreal.
As I approached Kualoa Ranch i did begin to get very nervous and had butterflies raging in my stomach. As the bus drove up a dirt footpath i then looked straight ahead and noticed to the 2 massive volcanic ridges which began close to the ocean and made it’s way in land. It definitely looked like scenery out of Jurassic Park (which is one of my favourite movies).
I got off the bus and took in the surroundings and it felt amazing to know i had finally made the race and that everything i had trained so hard for had finally arrived.

I started off my warmup with a light jog and decided to run some of the course. I came across movie sites for Jurassic Park, Godzilla, Lost and many other movies. It still at this stage seemed so surreal that i was finally in Hawaii ready to compete. Funnily enough, all year as my mobile phone screen saver i had Kualoa Ranch as my screen saver so what i had used as visualisation leading to the race had finally become a reality and just jogging through the open fields of the ranch was incredible! I did my run throughs, made sure to hydrate, did my drills and was ready to compete!

They called the 10k runners up to the start and wheni arrived there was a huge start list of around 500 athletes consisting of both men and women. I looked around for my competition and they were everywhere. I particularly focused on these 2 hawaiians who seemed to be incredibly fit and they were doing some fast run throughs. The starter called us up to the start and we were given a 30 second count down. I was really feeling the nerves and i was so ready to start.. i really wanted the race to be over and done with to kill the nerves! A canon exploded and away we went. I had a great start and i was out in front but i knew the start would be important because the track would go into a single trail so you would need to get in a good position before getting onto the single trail. The first k was pretty flat and fast and then after that first k, the first lot of mountain climbing began. Each corner kept on going up and up for about 2k then after the 2k there was a bit of aup and down running. At this stage i was still leading and had the two Hawaiian guys right on my tail. Heading back down the hill i had one of the runners over take me and in my head i thought i need to reserve my pace as i still had 7k more to go and i was running very fast for the beginning of a 10k. Leading back up another one of the steep hills up the ridge line heading into the 5k that was when i began to feel pain especially with my breathing. I made sure i carried my ventalin puffer along with my hydration bottles just in case. At this stage I needed to take my Ventalin as i could feel the humidity was getting to me. I kept pushing through. As i made my way up the 5th hill i was getting pretty weary and this was with about 4k to go. I could feel like i dropped off the pace and 3rd place was very close to me. At this point we caught the 21k runners who were struggling at the back of their race so over taking them on the single trail was pretty tough as it is hard to around runners. As i entered the 7th k i was in pain. I felt dehydrated and i had drank all my electrolytes. 2nd place over took me and i dropped back into 3rd. The last 3k for me was by far the hardest, There was ome very steep up and down hills but what made it hard was that iw as muddy and very slippery which meant that it was very easy to have a stack. From memory, i had about 6 stacks running down hill and for me it was frustrating. I could barely lift my legs and my breathing was way off and my chest felt very tight. I was really pushing through pain at this point. I really didn’t want 4th place to over take me and i was going to do anything to secure my place as well as hold onto my pace. As i approached the 9k mark after a few stacks and falls i was in a pretty bad way. It almost felt like i was suffocating and no matter how hard i wanted to go, i couldn’t go any harder than what i doing. as i reached the last station before the finish line i got stopped by an official as i looked in very bad shape! Psychologically though i was still in the game as i knew i was in 3rd position. It was frustrating that the officials stopped me to rest as i thought in my head i would lose my place. Just as 4th place was catching up the organisers said i was right to run so with a km to go it was literally a race to the finish line. It definitely was a race to the finish line as i did 3:18 for the last km which was a good time considering i was physically energy depleted and in a bad way. I did not want 4th place to catch me.

Feeling the burn after the halfway mark.. legs felt heavy, chest was tight and it was a mental challenge to the finish line.
Feeling the burn after the halfway mark.. legs felt heavy, chest was tight and it was a mental challenge to the finish line.

As i approached the finish line, each 100m seemed so tough and i just wanted to finish ASAP. It hurt like hell and it seemed to take forever even though i was running really quick. I remember seeing the international flags which were lined up down the finish line area and the feeling relief overcame my body. I knew i had finished 3rd which was such an accomplished feeling to have. i held both my arms up knowing i had ran the race of my life as i crossed the finish line. I was more than happy to celebrate the run until my life came crashing down.

Approaching the finish line- a very proud moment which no one can take away from you.
Approaching the finish line- a very proud moment which no one can take away from you.

As i crossed the line i do remember just falling to the ground. What happened between the finish line and when i was taken over to the stretcher where the ambulance was remained a complete blur. I remember waking up on the stretcher and i had ice packs all over my body along with an iv drip running out of my finger. i remember at this point that i struggled to breathe but the paramedics were telling me to relax and to keep talking to them. They said i was doing fine and my temperature which was at 106F was slowly coming down but just to relax. At this point i remember that i started to get short of breath and i said to the paramedics that i was losing my breath but the paramedic persisted i was fine and to relax. All of a sudden i stopped breathing and my eyes shut, however my hearing still seemed to operate. I could hear the paramedics go into emergency mode and they were panicing. The worst for me was hearing what was going on around me but unable to do anything. In my head i was praying to Gold to pull me through as i thought my time had come. I could hear the paramedics say that i may not pull through and that i was dropping off. They did perform cpr and i just remember thinking about my family back home wishing they were with me as i had travelled alone. I started to think that this is not my time. I was trying to be positive and just kept praying. I remember heading a waterfall sound in my right ear and it’s still unclear to this day what that sound was. Miraculously after being out for a couple of minutes i started breathing again, very slowly but my eyes were still shut. As more oxygen came into my body the more i began to relax. My eyes finally opened and no one can understand unless they have been in my situation how good it feels to breathe and know that you are alive. I could hear the paramedics having a moment of huge relief knowing that i was breathing again and conscious. I lay down and at that moment i thought how lucky i was to have the paramedics at the finish line because without them i would have died. I owe my life to them. I was eventually able to talk and i couldn’t believe what had happened but i was thanking the paramedics. i had to lay down for about half an hour to allow the iv drip to finish and at this point my body temperature was cooling down. The nurse had told me that i had suffered from a severe heat stroke and that i may not have made it without immediate medical attention. After about 45 minutes i sat up and felt very heavy but i was still feeling a huge relief to know i was alive. When i stood up and walked i couldn’t believe i was still here. I walked out into the open area where i dropped my bags off and it felt like i was in heaven. I looked at the volcanic mountains which surrounded me and the feeling i had was like god had given me a second chance. I thought of my family back home and to talk to Mum was the best feeling. Mum and Dad were of course super worried and really sick after what happened and were concerned for the rest of my entire trip. I walked over to the results table and i saw that i was in 4th place and thought perhaps i had been overtaken on the finish line before realising soon after that the organisers had made a mistake and put someone elses name down as 1st so this meant i was 3rd! I was so happy and over the moon but at the same time very shaken up by what happened to me just an hour before.

I made it to the podium which was about an hour after my race. I couldn’t believe that i was able to walk and felt ok which was completely the opposite to how i felt when i crossed the line. I was still in a state of shock and i couldn’t even believe i was standing up and fit enough to collect my medals at the podium. Somehow the medals were definitely symbolic of the hardwork i put into that race, yet life seemed so much more important than the medals. I was still so thankful to be alive.
After i received my medals i went back to the tent where the paramedics were and thanked them so much for saving my life and had a photo with them which 2 weeks later was featured in my local paper.

Nick Walker featured in the Northern District Times along with the Hawaiian Paramedics.
Nick Walker featured in the Northern District Times along with the Hawaiian Paramedics.

As i got the buses back to Waikiki Beach, everything still seemed surreal and i questioned my own existence. I was just once again so thankful to be alive and able to be on the bus! I had some amazing runners on the bus with me who were giving me lots of support and messages of congratulations which pretty much sums up the trail running community. So supportive!

I got off the bus and made my way back to the hotel! I was wearing my Australian Uniform and i was approached by a lovely couple from Sydneys Northern Beaches and we spoke about the race and they were once again so happy i was alive and also at the fact i won a bronze medal. What was even more amazing was that they tracked me down here in Sydney and called my parents to make sure i was ok.. that really shows what being Australian is all about.. looking out for a mate and being thoughful.

I was so glad to talk to all my friends back home in Australia including my best friend Jamie who had been one of the best supportive friends, aside my parents of course as well as Nadine who is one of my sponsors. I Also got messages from my coaching friends at Knox along with so much support on Facebook wishing me well along with congratulations.

From that race forward i have been appreciating life and despite having post head stroke symptoms these past 2 weeks and going in and out of hospital i am hopeful i will continue trail and distance running. I am so passionate about the sport and despite what happened i will just need to prepare better for the race which might include drinking more electrolytes during the run. I am stoked to have finished with a bronze medal in the world championships but even more so to be alive and well and to be alive for Christmas.

A huge thankyou to my coach Ron Bendall and also to my sponsors H2COCO, LaceLocker and Revive Therapeutic Massage for all their support and especially to my amazing Family and Friends and work places- Knox and Nike for all their support leading up the race and also after the race. I’d also like to thank the Sydney Trail Series for putting on such fantastic races leading up to the world championships, If i hadn’t ran in that 8k featured in that negative writeup on that particular blog (which is now taken down) i wouldn’t have ever competed in any trail or mountain running event. It just takes one race to get you hooked and to find a new passion.

I am so thankful to be here and i am more than Happy to have had both arms up in the air when i approached the finish line. I worked so hard for this race and the bronze medal is a reflection of my past year of finishing my degree, working 2 jobs along with training so bloody hard.

Getting home and seeing my Mum and Dd was the best feeling!
Getting home and seeing my Mum and Dd was the best feeling!

Bring on 2015 for another exciting year!!!

I’d like to dedicate this reflection to my Pop who always taught me to be myself, and to always believe in myself.

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