From 800 meters to 100 kilometers

Natalie Dau runs her first ever 100km ultra race at the SG Ultramarathon 2019.

NATALIE DAU BY | UPDATED 2 WEEKS AGO

Words Natalie Dau
Photos Lim Teck Chye and Ming Ham

I have no idea of the exact date in March that I decided my challenge for 2019 would be to run my first 100km ultra race at 47 years old, especially as I had never even run a marathon before.  Having focused on short track distances the previous year, and Spartan Races preceding that, I was keen to get completely out of my comfort zone again and try something new.

A few friends had developed a love for ultra-running so I was curious to see if it was possible to push my body in a way that I had never had before, and understand what it was that had them so hooked on it.

With any new challenge I decided that I needed to ask some experts to help with my training, so over coffee with my long-time friend Ben Pulham from Coached Fitness, I asked him how I should start.  He suggested that I go on one of his marathon plans and add in additional large peak weekends to help mimic what an ultra would feel like.  He also thought entering a marathon or two as easy training runs was a good idea, but prefaced it with the fact that if I was training for an ultra the chance to run a fast marathon was not really going to be possible so I needed to know that upfront.

One of my strengths is loving structure so off I went and followed the program set by Ben like a star student.  I am a massive fan of heart rate training, so I knew what I was doing and found that I soon started to build some endurance for my longer runs, which previously had never been more than 21 kilometers.  I was balancing my running with my other training too, which was weights and other cardio about four times a week.

At this time I was also deciding whether I should tell people outside of my family that I was training for an ultra.  If I did, it meant I was on the hook to actually enter a race so there was no escaping from that point on.  Something I also needed to do, was actually enter a race! I like road running so that narrowed my search down a lot, as most ultras are on trails, and I ended up putting my name down for the SG Ultra 100km distance on October 19.  Now with a race in my calendar and a few people now knowing about it, there was no turning back.

Before I knew it I was due to run my first ever marathon, the Sundown on June 1.  To be clear I am someone who is usually in bed asleep by 9.30pm most nights as I’m an early riser, so having to stay up until midnight just to start the run, was a challenge in itself.  I had no idea on how to plan my eating beforehand because of the crazy timing, and I just packed a load of hydration tablets and gel-like sweets to take during the race and off I went.  As I was running it as part of my training I felt zero pressure to go fast, and I loved it.  All was going well until the last 5 kilometers when I think the lack of sleep kicked in, I had a sugar overload and I just really wanted to have a shower and go to bed.  I finished in 4 hours and 20 minutes, which was well under my estimated 5 hours so I was thrilled.

It wasn’t long and the next “training marathon” was upon me.  I headed down to the Gold Coast for the July 7 event, my second marathon, which I was looking forward to as it went past my parents house on the way out and back, so I would get to see familiar faces on course.  It was such a great atmosphere and this time I felt better in a normal time zone and had my nutrition better planned which had me finishing in 3 hours and 47 minutes.

It was great to see some improvement and at this time another friend, Dr Jason Karp, reached out and offered to send me one of his ultra programs to get me through the last two months.  I gladly accepted and immediately noticed the increase in minutes I would be running each week.  With my workload increasing around my Rockstar Fit App and the new series “Keeping It Real” I was filming for Facebook, this meant having to put most of my  other training aside and just focus on running as I didn’t have the time to do everything, plus balance a family.

So run I did.  Podcasts and audio-books became my new best friend, as did jelly beans and Vaseline to stop the chaffing (which I had never suffered from before).  I soon knew the location of every water point, vending machine and toilet between River Valley and Bedok, and waved at the workman along the way as they became a regular part of my day. 

Before I knew it, it was race week and I have never felt more nervous about anything in my life, I was more calm giving birth to my daughter!  The unknown of running so far (a marathon was the furthest I had run), if my body could actually hold up (having lived with Deep Vein Thrombosis and Rheumatoid Arthritis), and mentally how I would cope, were all keeping me awake at night. Which was crazy as the only expectation I had set was hoping to finish it within 15 hours.

Saturday October 19 arrived and there I was covered in sunscreen and Vaseline, wearing a race belt packed with hydration tablets, jelly beans and squeezy packets of food.  It was the first race I have ever entered where no one was fighting to be at the front on the starting line, it was quite the opposite, people had to be encouraged to come forward.  The horn blasted at 9am and as I crossed the start line a wave of calmness came over me and I thought, yes I am going to finish this.

The first 10 kilometers I ran with a lovely guy who was doing his first ultra race too, so it passed pretty quickly.  Before long I saw my friend Ling yelling to me along East Coast Parkway and then was met at a water point by two friends from my Keeping It Real Facebook series, Josh and Gibran, who joined me for the next 5 kilometers. This was a welcome distraction as we joked and took videos along the way until they told me they were done around Tanah Merah, leaving me with the dreaded Changi Airport Road stretch. 

I had never run further than Bedok but had been warned not to count the lamp posts on this stretch as they go on forever.  It felt like the Sahara Desert out there. Long, hot, zero shade and nothing to look at except a few cyclists and a lot of trucks.  I could not have been happier to see Changi Village, but again not ever having run there, I took a wrong turn getting lost, and reading a map on your phone in the heat was never going to work out well.  Eventually I found the next water point and off I went.  I finally saw another runner ahead and passed him, only to take another wrong turn, and end up behind him.  But before I knew it I had passed him again, and someone else, and headed into the halfway check point where my family were waiting to greet me.

I was so happy to see them.  My daughter Lilliana passed me a honey sandwich, more water and then my husband Matt joined me to run for the next 13 kilometers.  He told me there was only one person who had come through before me, and I couldn’t believe it.  How could I possibly be in second place overall? But I was tired, hot and low on energy, and all I could think about was getting this done and finished.  I ate some more food, waved goodbye and told them I’d see them at the finish line, then off I went.  Only 40 kilometers to go I told myself.

The run back was better, I knew where I was going, but being hit with a bad stitch for about an hour slowed me down a little, but I vowed not to stop and walk, so I just kept running.  Before I knew it I was back near the start of East Coast Parkway and had caught the runner ahead of me.  I had no idea what to do, as I never thought I would be in this situation so I just kept going, asking if he was ok and needed anything.  We both wished each other the best.

And then I just ran. I stopped for some water at a hydration point and was looking for some friends that had planned to meet me for a few kilometers.  We had missed each other so I just kept going, passing runners that were participating in the 50km run and encouraging each other along the way.

I finally rounded the corner with the finish line in sight, still in disbelief that I had crossed it in first place overall in 11 hours and 27 minutes.  I was greeted by some lovely people from the ultra running community who offered to take a photo, but my husband was nowhere in sight.  I phoned him and it turns out the organizers had told him and the official photographer to wait in the wrong place, and hadn’t made any announcement that someone was about to finish, so they had completely missed me.

Trophy in hand I headed home for a much needed shower and sleep.  Although my body didn’t seem to like that and I was throwing up all night and nursing blisters on top of blisters covering my toes.  Which then turned into losing quite a few toenails.

I treated myself to whatever I wanted to eat, a well-deserved massage and three days later I was running again, and feeling good.

My big takeaway was that I surprised myself at what we are capable of if we want to do something, no matter how old. So would I do another ultra?  Never say never!



NATALIE DAU

Natalie is the Founder and CEO of The Daily Escape, a health and fitness platform delivering online content, video, tools and fitness programs. As a Reebok brand athlete, she leads by example and is one of Asia's top Obstacle Course racers, a 2 x Spartan Race World Championship elite racer, a regular podium placed runner and is Asian CrossFit champion in her age group. Natalie is also a qualified Personal Trainer, and is passionate about the fitness programs she develops for people around the world. Follow her at - Instagram - @rockstararms Facebook - @rockstararms Twitter - @rockstararms

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