The Ultra Unicorn (Also, Why It’s More Fun to Run Your Own Race) - Sparta Chicks

The Ultra Unicorn (Also, Why It’s More Fun to Run Your Own Race)

Real Women Real Adventures

Feb 08

There are two hashtags I’ve used more than any other over the years: #runyourownrace and #runyourownlife.

In a race, it means running the race that is right for you based on your fitness, strength, background, fitness, strengths, goals and what is important to you.

It means staying focused on your goals and not getting distracted by what’s happening around you.

But the same theory applies to life.

It means to make conscious decisions that reflect what is important for you and your family, rather than what is expected of you, what you think you should or worrying about what other people think of those decisions.

This theme of #runyourownrace #runyourownlfie is subtly (or perhaps not so subtly) laced through everything I’ve done here at SpartaChicks over the last 18 months.

This is why I was delighted to receive an email from my friend, and one of our #10kStrongWomen, Lisa Murphy sharing a race report she wrote on her experience running a 56km trail race last year - dressed as a unicorn.

Yep, a unicorn - complete with horn, colourful wig and flashing lights.

The TL:DR (too long didn’t read) version- she finished the race as she started it: dressed as a unicorn.

After I read her race report, I asked Lisa what she learnt from the experience. And she responded:

"To think that fear of failure had probably held me back from entering this race for 5 years, you can never say "I could never do that" because I just proved that you can.

Seeing people, particularly women cross the finish line of all sizes, shapes and abilities the year before inspired me. You do not need to be a marathon running stick figure to do this race or run the whole way. Once this barrier had come down, I realised anyone can do this race if you ignore what you "think" a runner should look like or how they run. It's been liberating to be on this journey. The self-confidence I have gained has made me feel unstoppable. And the journey continues....."

I’ll leave it to Lisa to tell her story. You might want to settle into a comfy chair with a good drink and enjoy this tale of what happens when an injured runner decides to #runyourownrace and #runyourownlife.

The Ultra Unicorn

Ever wanted to run a race in a crazy costume? No, you probably haven’t because only clowns or quirky people do that.

Well, it clearly wasn’t enough that I had signed up for my first ultra-marathon.

With 5 weeks before the race, I found myself injured with a tight ITB/dodgy hip and unable to train. I even thought I might have to pull out of the race. I got all frustrated and tried half-heartedly to keep fit but I was feeling increasingly under-done and un-motivated. My mood dropped and I started sleeping in. As the race got closer I tried running twice a week – managing a maximum of 12km. Given that the Yurrebilla Trail is 56km through the Adelaide Hills, I had a feeling the day for me was going to be a short one. I would have to pull out early and be a DNF. I warned my support crew.

I knew it was too little too late but I tried more physio exercises to build up the muscles around my ITB to give me the best chance of finishing. I even tried to strap my knee in the week leading up to the race but after trying to run on the coastline my ITB tightened after just 5 flat kilometres.

On the Friday before the race, I had reached a new low. I considered not running and just supporting our interstate friends who were flying in to be a part of things. Somewhere on that Friday, I began thinking that maybe if I couldn’t run it, I’d walk it and maybe just maybe I would make the 11 hours cut-off time.

Then I thought that it would be way more fun to do this as a unicorn.

Ultra Unicorn - Run Your Own Race Run Your Own Life

But I couldn’t wear a onesie style costume, I’d cook! But I thought I could maybe try a wig and a horn with a tutu or even a rainbow tail. I made a few calls and managed to locate most items I would need. Suddenly I was not worried about how the day might pan out running wise. I still had to make the costume work but ultimately, I just had to be comfortable running/walking in it.

I need to point out that I am not a costume collector or wearer in my everyday life.

I am an extrovert yes, but an exhibitionist, no. This was going to be outside of my comfort zone.

With a renewed sense of enthusiasm, I carb loaded and did mostly the same prep as I would for any big race. With the pressure lifted, I slept well and woke up excited about the race when the alarm pinged at 3.45am. In the rush to get dressed, I’d forgotten to trim the toenails and lube the body in all the usual rubbing spots. Chafing is painful and yet again I had forgotten to prepare for this. “Ouchies in the shower” later I thought on the drive to the start line at Belair.

After packing my gear, wig, horn and tutu, I decided to quickly change before heading to the starters area. I looked at the ginormous queue for the ladies and snuck in the queue-less men’s loos instead. Unicorns are unisex I decided for this bit!

My horn had an inbuilt flashing light in it and, as I installed it through my hair net, I flicked the switch on and attached the wig and the small mirror I was working with lit up like a disco. Success! I crashed the horn into the wall and the door on the way out as I hurriedly passed a huge line of ladies for the men’s loos staring at me – I felt suddenly self-conscious but they put me at ease straight away with some lovely compliments. I was a bit excited to have straight rainbow hair for the day too. I bit of a novelty for this curly top.

Another nervous wee later and I was lined up at the start line. I also grabbed a quarter of a donut on the way past. I had never started a marathon on a donut. The Yurrebilla Ultra is well known for its extensive food selections at numerous Aid Stations. Another reason I signed up. It was going to be my kinda race I thought to myself!

I found my running buddy Andreanna just before the gun went off. I was thrilled to have Andreanna’s sister Caitlin supporting us too – she was a 2015 finisher. It was seeing her cross the line that inspired me to do this race. Hubby Ian and our friend John waved us off, Kate our interstate racer was up near the front and out of sight before I made it across the start line.

There were around 200 runners in our 6am start wave. We started out nice and slow. Our spirits were high, we chatted and got to know a few new faces, saw a guy take a tumble early, thankfully he seemed ok and those first 3 hours went fairly quickly. I think we were still waking up. I got used to running with the hair and horn. So far so good!

We saw our support crews a lot which was great but I kept forgetting to ask for my gloves – my hands were numb and I couldn’t warm them up. It had drizzled a bit but my wig kept me dry. It was just my hands.

The giggles and comments with my costume started early – did I burp and fart rainbows? Was I horny because I looked like I might be? Was I a hallucination designed for the whole race or just the final section? It was good to laugh and honestly, trail runners are just the friendliest bunch!

The aid stations did not fail to disappoint – I found myself hungry at every stop and enjoyed a variety of snacks and drinks at each one. Beautifully spaced 5-8km apart, I scoffed peanut butter brownies, lollies, fruchocs*, salty potatoes, chips, pretzels, rice puddings, and more…..I missed the pizza at one stop because I was too busy talking. The volunteers were just so nice as well and some had dressed up too, so I had a few photos. It was a great talking point. I was started to feel like a celeb.

I somehow managed a quick Go Pro interview while running with Ryley a local Adelaide DJ which was unexpected. Not sure that one will make the 6 o’clock news but we had a laugh. At this stage, the 7am runners had started to overtake which was awesome because I knew a few faster runners and some of them didn’t know about the costume. More jokes and advice on running uphill in front of a unicorn. Another pickup line about me being a rare piece of meat. I replied he couldn’t afford me. He sped past.

Was relieved to see a toilet about 20km in – I opted for the ambulant toilet for horn space and had a private disco in there while my lights flashed. Still managed to hit the mirror while washing my hands. Caught up with the support crew and realised that we were getting closer to half way and still feeling OK, just a little bit of tightness in the ITB.

At the next meet up spot though and around the half way mark, I did something you are not supposed to do while racing; I took an anti-inflammatory. It was a godsend. With a renewed sense of enthusiasm, we ploughed on. My ITB behaved. I could continue.

It was an unusual sight for kids to see a unicorn running. They wanted to "high five" me and I got asked by parents if I would stop for a photo. The sheer joy this brought to those little people was such a highlight. I didn’t expect that doing something like dressing up would have that kind of impact.

Why It's More Fun to Run Your Own Race and Your Own Life - Sparta Chicks

I even had trail running champion Lucy Bartholomew slow down to chat with me right before facing a hugely steep and rocky track. She was so lovely and we agreed to selfie at the finish line. Thankfully we managed a conversation before that incline started!

Parts of the race course had been amended after flooding a couple of weeks before the race so some significantly hilly sections of Horsnells Gully and my favourite bit in Morialta Conservation Park had been re- routed. Instead, we followed some flattish roads between Summertown and Norton Summit, nice, but the backlash of this would be facing the most brutal sections of Black Hill Conservation Park in the final 12km. I didn’t think about that though as I cruised into Norton Summit.

Sections of the track were muddy and wet and managed to keep my feet dry until we entered Morialta. This was also a section where there was the biggest gap between aid stations. I got so hungry even though I had eaten a ridiculous amount of food at the last station that I ate my emergency honey sandwich after a really taxing steep rocky section. Just as I swallowed the last of the sandwich, we turned a corner and the next aid station appeared. I still washed down my sanger (editor’s note: sanger is Australian slang for sandwich) with coke and a lemonade flavoured gel. I couldn’t get enough. I felt like a bottomless pit.

We headed downhill for an hour or so before reaching Montacute Road. Here we would have our last major aid station, a gorgeous little creek crossing and the last of the fun – we were about to face the long and steep slog of Black Hill. And then it got really bloody tough. The incline was nothing like I had come across on the track so far.

At first we entered this stunning green patch – ethereal like – I actually pictured unicorns living here. Then we turned a corner. All I could see was people walking or doubled over. This climb was one of two that honestly had me reflecting on my Kokoda Track experiences from 4 years ago. It was relentless and went on and on. The downhills were just as steep - then the same incline was repeated. This was probably where I saw the most people struggling. This kind of steep climb 45km into the race was aiming to finish people off. There was a friendly marshal up the top helping people up with a bum lift.

An aid station party with more dress ups and more laughs and fun before the final 7km. The final food scoff – this time I couldn’t get enough salt, I took as many pretzels as I could carry and returned a couple of times to top up once again.

We realised we were dangerously close to the finish line as we did the last loop section – Ambers Gully. You could hear the bells and cheers of that final km but it was all a tease. We still had 4km to go and that included a mother of a hill. It was so long and steep, it had paving bricks with holes to help with the grip. I said hello to a human in a Fruchoc* suit at the bottom of this hill. Even I was lost for conversation at this point.

The last little bit was a bit rocky – took extra care to get through that without falling or tripping especially as tired legs and feet start to lose strength.And you could hear the finish line – unbelievably, I had survived the distance and shared the finish line as I had started with my running buddy.

My smile was so big my jaw hurt.

I normally cry in big races – every marathon has ended in tears – either happy ones, tired ones or angry frustrated ones. I did get close on that last section but honestly I was in nowhere near the pain state I have felt in marathons and I savoured every moment as a unicorn. I was way too happy and relieved to cry.

I nearly took out the volunteer’s eye when he put my finishers medal on me. I was so distracted by the food (again) that I didn’t get a photo with my medal or my running buddy or anyone, including Lucy Bartholomew who I chatted with again while scoffing more peanut butter brownie. I was on a total high!

And I had managed to finish the whole race:

1/. before the cut-off time,

2/. with my wig still on, and

3/. almost uninjured though I predicted I would lose 2, maybe 3, toenails.​

I was so lucky it was not a warm day – mostly cloudy and cool - perfect wig running weather.

Before the race some fellow trail running tragics had said to me I would want to do a 100km race after trying an ultra (editor’s note: yes, the editor was one of those people!). I scoffed and thought “yeah right, I haven’t even got through this race yet!”

I would absolutely love to do this race again or yes, I will admit it, maybe even a longer one.

My only question is: Am I only capable of running these crazy-distance races as a unicorn?


*Fruchocs = some weird confectionary popular in South Australia. I had to Google to find out what they were!

Lisa is a trail running adventurer based in Adelaide and founder of Big Hearted Adventures; an adventure travel company for women.