Every Step of the Way for Lombok

Two months ago, my friend Matt and I ran an ultramarathon across Indonesia’s Lombok island. We signed up for the challenge to raise funds for Project Lombok – a collaborative project between Classroom of Hope and Pelita Foundation Lombok to build Pop-Up Schools for the children who lost their schools during the 2018 earthquakes.

This was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. It was tough. Really tough. I am proud of myself for completing it. I am also really proud of Matt. And I am grateful. Grateful for the experience, grateful to the people who supported the journey and grateful to be in a position to push my personal limiting beliefs to give back to others.

I’d love to share the experience with you. From the beginning to the finish line.

The First Starting Line

This journey began long before the day of the run. Matt and I made the decision to run an ultramarathon sometime in September 2018. I had recently been inspired by a group of people who ran an ultramarathon for charity. Duncan and I are constantly looking for people to challenge themselves and to fundraise for Classroom of Hope. I felt motivated to walk, (or should I say run) the talk. Matt, an experienced runner and marathoner, had also been inspired by the same ultramarathon. He was ready to take on his next challenge and he wanted to do it for a good cause.

Classroom of Hope had been supporting a disaster relief initiative to build Pop Up Schools in Lombok after the earthquakes. Matt and I decided we would run for the children who lost their schools. We committed to run across Lombok in August 2019. We set a goal to raise $20,000.

The Lead-Up

When I began training, I had no idea what I was doing. I’ve always dabbled with running because I enjoy being outside and active, but I would not have referred to myself as a “runner.” I was seriously out of practice. My last run was sometime in late 2016 before I got pregnant with my daughter, Aura. I started my training with a 2km run and I could hardly finish it. I went back out again and again. Eventually, I could run 5km, then 10km, then 15km.

Luckily for me, Matt knew from experience how to train for marathons. Training for an ultra is different from a marathon, but Matt had done his research and I followed his lead with my training.

I also took his advice around my diet and how much I needed to be eating. Saturday night was carb-loading night because every Sunday morning we would set out on our weekly long run. We would start the first 10km together and then we would each run at our own pace. We were training our bodies to run for long periods of time, rather than just focusing on distance.

A couple of weeks before the ultra we ran our longest duration – six hours. We refueled with water, salts and a small snack every 5km. This was the approach we would take for the night of the run.

Two weeks out from the ultra, I didn’t do any more running. I had injuries in my left ankle, foot and knee. My body needed rest so I stuck to restorative yoga practices during that time. The intense part of my training was behind me, but the tension in my body was building up. I was an emotional rollercoaster filled with uncertainty, doubt and fear about how this was all going to go.

August 15th could not come soon enough.

The Day Before the Run

My heart sank into the bottom of my stomach. I felt sick as my eyes glazed over the words on Jenny’s “Lombok Ultra Marathon Health & Safety Support Briefing”. 

A list of possible risks of running ultra marathons
Some of the topics covered by Jenny during the Health and Safety briefing.

“What am I doing here?”, the voices in my head took over. “Do you actually think you can run 83km overnight across an island? This is crazy. Fake an injury right now and get out of this!”

Jenny, an experienced medic and health and safety specialist, had come with us to Lombok to oversee the health and safety of the run. As she briefed us 24 hours before the whole event was to kick off, I realised, perhaps for the first time, the enormity of the task I would undertake the next day.

Jenny taking us through the Health and Safety presentation the day before the run.

The subject matter of Jenny’s presentation was no joke, but her light and confident approach eased my panic slightly. It gave me peace of mind to know she would be in my support car with her vast knowledge and expertise. She would also be in communication with Megan in Matt’s support car to ensure his safety. I looked around the room at all the people who attended the health and safety meeting and each person who was there to support Matt and me through this. Their faces calmed my internal hysteria.

I looked over to Matt, who looked so calm and collected throughout the whole briefing. I later found out that this was a conscious effort on his part to keep himself from getting too anxious. He shared with me afterward that he also found comfort from the support of the people in the room.

Our local NGO partner, Pelita Foundation (who does all the groundwork for our Pop Up Schools program) had been incredibly supportive of the run. They helped to organise the finish line, and members of the Pelita team would be driving the support cars through the night. To my right, my dear friend and Matt’s wife, Megan, was sitting next to me. She had gone above and beyond to organise everything we would need for the day of the run. She thought about all our gear and made lists of all the food we would need. During training, she cooked our carb-loaded dinners the day before our long runs and she always made sure we had a hearty, nutritious meal to come home to afterward.

My husband, Duncan, was sitting next to Jenny. I thought of all the support he and my daughter had given me throughout my training. The training process can feel selfish at times. It’s massively time-consuming. For all the times I went for a long run or to yoga or to the gym, Duncan stepped up to take the lead with Aura. When I would return home from my runs, Aura would always greet me by saying “Go, Mommy, Go!” They were my biggest cheerleaders, and there is no way I could have made it to the start or finish line without them.

And of course, sitting to my left was Matt, who would go along this journey with me. We knew we wouldn’t run the whole thing together, but knowing we would be on the same path, completing the same mission, reminded me I was certainly not alone.

My support group sitting together the day before the run.

Run Day

From the early morning, I felt as though I was in a dream. I wished in every moment that time would stop or that I could tap into some magical power that would speed up the clock to the following day when this would all be over.

While I daydreamed, the awesome support crew Matt and I had around us continued about their awesomeness.

Dear friends came to pick up Aura for a playdate with their daughters so I could spend the day resting and getting my mind right. Megan and Jen meticulously went through all our gear, medical equipment, food and drinks to ensure the support cars were properly stocked and we would not want for anything. Jen also worked closely with Duncan and the Pelita Foundation to review the details and logistics of the run.

Manu, a Classroom of Hope field photographer, quietly captured the moments of the day and prepared to capture the moments of the night. For these recorded memories, I am eternally grateful. Like any challenge, we never accomplish anything on our own.

Matt and I had our capable and very supportive village moving us along every step of the way.

Jen and Megan ensured we were prepared for anything and everything.

Time didn’t stop. Before I knew it, we were loading up the cars to drive to the start line. I would start running at 6 pm and Matt would start running at 8:30 pm. With this gap in between our start times, we hoped to run a part of the ultra together in the latter half.

At the start line, the adrenaline kicked in and I could not wait to get started. I think there may have been a countdown, but I don’t remember.

All I remember is that I started running with my support car slowly following behind me and a police car in front leading the way.

I felt amazing. My pace was good and my body felt strong. The first 20km were all up and down winding hills. Matt and I had prepared ourselves for this and I could hear Matt’s voice in my head reminding me to take it easy on the uphills. This strategy worked well for me. It didn’t feel like long before the winding roads were behind me and I was entering into Mataram, the main city of Lombok. People were out having dinner and drinks. The buzz of the city gave me another boost of adrenaline. I took my earphones out to listen to the sounds and music of the streets.

Matt had started his run by this point. Jenny let me know that he was feeling good and off to a strong start. He was taking the same approach to the uphills that we’d talked about and enjoying each passing moment as it came. A lot of preparation had gone into this day and he was enjoying all the parts of it that he could.

Shortly after passing through Mataram, we pulled over for one of our scheduled stops so I could top up on salts, water, and food. I forced myself to have a small bite to eat at each stop, even though I really wasn’t hungry. I looked up from my chia pudding and mango to see a man dressed in running gear approaching my support car.

His name was Beku, a member of a Lombok running team who had heard about what Matt and I were doing. He asked if he could run with me. He promised to stay a couple of feet behind and respect my pace. With one last swig of water, I set off with Beku.

We hardly spoke a word to each other as language was a barrier, but he ran with me for 25km, all the while fending off wild dogs and protecting me from speeding motorbikes.

At the halfway mark, 42km, I was still feeling good. Matt’s support car and mine were in constant communication, so I knew he was also in good spirits. I thought I would pause and rest a bit at the halfway point, but I just wanted to keep moving. So I did.

Matt did the same when he reached 42km. Feeling good, he just kept moving.

Beku ran with me until about 55km. He then left because he had to work in the morning. I was back to running on my own again, with my support car closely behind and the police in front.

I was still feeling good. I had really surprised myself at how well I was running and then, out of nowhere, my right knee buckled.

It was excruciatingly painful. In an instant, it felt as though everything I had worked for had been ripped away from me. My knee would not bend; I could not even put one foot in front of the other. At over 60km in, I still had roughly 20km to go. I had no idea how I would finish.

I sat in the back of the support car. Jenny had told me that at some point in the run I would experience a “come-to-Jesus moment”. Well, here it was. The most critical moment of my run.

It was as if when my knee buckled, my mind and spirit buckled too. She helped me to refuel, she iced my knee, gave me a tablet for the pain and she talked me through the emotions that were arising.

Duncan came towards me from one of the other support cars. As soon as he approached, I had a complete meltdown. Jenny, Duncan and I talked about my options. Jenny said Matt wasn’t too far behind and I could ice my knee until he caught up. Maybe running together would help. I knew she was right, but I also knew if I sat in that car for another minute there was a very good chance I wouldn’t get back up again.

Matt and I had heard ultramarathon runners speak of this moment. This moment when you have to get out of your body and out your head. You have to go somewhere deep inside of you. Your body and your mind can take you so far, and then it’s something else that drives you. I wasn’t sure exactly how to get there, but my intuition guided me to listen to mantras and to just put one foot in front of the other. The volume on my phone was set very loud and it wouldn’t adjust. I accepted this completely and understood that the booming mantras would help to block the outside world and to find that place inside myself.

One agonizing step after the other, I found a rhythm with a power walk; swinging my arms intensely from back to front. I used the force of my upper body to propel me forward. 

I kept refueling with Jenny and the support car every 5km, but I was cautious not to stop for too long. After a few of these stops, and in need of some additional moral support, I asked Jenny when she thought Matt would join me.

She explained that Matt had been suffering from dehydration, which had started right around the same kilometer mark at which my knee had given in. He was walking and drinking water to get rehydrated, with Megan by his side.

I could sense that he was also having his “come-to-Jesus moment.” He had run for 60km and the distance had begun to take its toll. We all knew that Matt wasn’t going to give up, he just needed to manage things differently to keep moving forward. That’s all either of us could do at this point. Just keep moving forward.

Part of me wanted to stop there and wait for him. We were in this together. But I also knew, just as before, that if I stopped for too long I wouldn’t be able to keep going. I continued with my bizarre power walk and mantras knowing intuitively that eventually Matt and I would run together.

As I approached Kuta, about 4km out from the finish line, the flat roads I had become accustomed to all started to slope downwards. I had been looking forward to the downhills the whole run, but the moment they started, the pain in my knee escalated. I didn’t think it was possible to be in any more pain, but here I was again, so close but so far, unable to see how I could possibly finish what I had started.

Jenny and another member from the support car came out to be my human crutches. I leaned on them to get me down the hills. It was the longest, most unbearable part of my entire run. I was choking back tears. Tears of pain. Tears of frustration. Tears of exhaustion.

Finally, we made it through the downhill roads and I was able to hobble without the extra support.

About 1 km left in the run, Jenny called at me from the support car telling me to look back. I could see Matt running towards me. He had made a serious comeback from the dehydration and was able to pick up a lot of speed on those downhills. We had always talked about running together at some point and here we were – 1km out from the finish line and about to cross together.

In perhaps the most Canadian moment of all time (we’re both Canadian) we apologised to each other right away. He was sorry he hadn’t caught up to me sooner and I was sorry I would have to hobble, instead of run, into the finish line.

We walked for about 500m until we turned a corner and saw a group of children holding a sign that said “THANK YOU.”

These were some of the incredible, resilient children that our fundraising would help to support get back into school. We were amazed that they had come to see us. When we saw them we knew we had to run to the finish, for us and for them.

A group of students from Lombok in matching shirts holding a handmade sign saying "Thank You"

Overwhelmed and exhausted, we were elated to see that finish line materialise in front of us and to then cross it together, greeted by friends and family and a bunch of pretty unbelievable kids.

We had done it.

Tears streamed down my face as I hugged my daughter and my husband. This time though, they were joyful tears. Tears of disbelief. Tears of complete amazement.

All photos were taken by the incredible Manuel Gussmann


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