Event Gone Black Fallen Off
I was lucky to get a lift up to Bilpin with Doug Richardson, Gillian Russel and her flatmate Wayne. Arriving around 8am we got out of the car to be greeted by progressively more and more NRG’ers! There were only about 4 on the start list in the newsletter (and I wasn’t one of them) but it looked like someone had ‘put the band back together’ and we ended up making up about 20% of the entire field. I wandered around talking to people, had a couple of nervous wees and then we casually gathered around the start line for the race briefing and tun we were off!
I hadn’t looked very closely at the profile but it looked like an out and back run. These things normally aren’t very accurate the first time they are run so I was interested to see how far to the turn around……
In the first km there was a big descent and the worry started to make itself felt ‘what if it’s all like this? I was hoping for a fast 32-34km run, don’t want to kill myself with 3 races in the next 4 weeks…’ and honestly it was a lot more hilly than I had expected, I just settled in and walked the hills, catching up many of the people who passed me on the flats. One thing that has improved in the last few weeks is my fast hiking up hills, a very good thing as this has been a major weakness in my trail running. If I had to call out the guys I would measure myself against in this race it would be Leigh Reynolds, Chris Johnson, David Madden and Chris Dawe. I also expected Steve Bruggemen to glide by at some stage…… Leigh has so much guts and determination and works so hard, he’s been on fire recently, Chris Johnson will typically pass me about half way through a race and I won’t see him again, David has youth (and natural talent) on his side. And the only way I ever finish in front of Chris Dawe is if he is injured. I thought I’d be able to pick him off today because he had run with the slower group on Thursday, and I had been blasting out some quick ones with a faster group. But maybe we’ll come back to that mistake later……
By 6km in I was having a good chat with Chris Johnson and we were passing each other regularly. I figured eventually one or other of us would get tired and let the other one go but I was having so much fun, Leigh called out from a turn a few hundred meters ahead and I thought he was gone for the day. At about 10km we caught up with David Madden and had a quick chat but he didn’t seem keen to come with us, and slowly but surely Chris J and I started reeling in Leigh. The three of us leapfrogged each other for a while and we were counting down the k’s to the halfway mark. Just before the turn around the front runners started coming past- a couple of guys I didn’t know then Beth Cardelli in 3rd outright, Jess Baker not too far back and our own Doug Richardson caning it along the back half.
I caught up to Justine Medin along the fire trail and had a quick chat, and 400m before the turn around point we saw Gillian Russel and Chris Dawe coming the other way. This meant that I wasn’t too far behind but Gillian looked like she was about to bust a valve and Chris didn’t look too comfortable so I vowed on the spot not to try to catch them……The turn around point was at 17.25km by my Garmin so it looked like we might be in for a 34.5km run instead of the advertised 32.xkm, however I did later discover that the return route was slightly different and it was very accurate. Justine is remarkable because she actually runs all of the hills, so she slowly but surely started making a lot of extra progress on me. I put my earbuds in and punched up a John ’00’ Fleming podcast and prepared to knock out a few km and not worry about my position, just to enjoy the day. I hadn’t seen anyone for a while, and I was punching the air and dancing along to a particularly good song when The Man In Black came past- this was a guy who had been struggling earlier and I assumed he would fade away but he came back stronger tun ever and finished well ahead. I only picked up a couple of places in the back half, and I had lost a few more than that so it wasn’t my finest race. Going back through the last few aid stations, there was a sign that said ‘4.7km to go’ and I wasn’t sure whether I should believe it- they’ve been wrong before!
Then with about 4km to go I had another nightmare- another bloke coming up fast from behind in the distance! I decided if he got close I would let him go- as mentioned before I have a couple more races this month and can’t afford to do anything stupid. Then I thought ‘no, let’s not be defeatist. You have plenty of gap now, just push a little harder on the hills and you can hold your position’. I did this and the benefit was I started to gain on Justine. But it wasn’t early enough and she had me by about 200m at the end. A very well run race from her. I crossed the line at 3:24:57, 27th across the line and 20th male, which means I was only chicked 7 times. 10th in my age group is a nice surprise, you have no idea how demoralising it can be to be a middle aged male in these races, competing with all the other mildly crusty old coffin dodgers.
Although it’s a different course, I was about 17 minutes faster than 2011 so very happy. Congratulations to Doug, 4th overall first in age class and 3rd male, a podium!
The volunteers and marshals were all absolutely brilliant, happy to have a chat and a joke, really enthusiastic and the entire day was heaps of fun. You should come next year…..
Thanks to Tony Sharpe and Lucinda Rigby for the photos
I’ve run a bit with Kirrily Dear in recent months and I hope you’ve been following her campaign and preparations for running 860km to support an end to violence against women. I used to think I didn’t have anything to say on the subject except ‘don’t f@cking do it’ however she’s brought up a couple of points that I can speak about, one that makes me look bad, so let’s (reluctantly) go…….
I’ve never directly experienced domestic violence, and I have pretty much the same attitude as you- any type of violence towards women should be eliminated. But to achieve this we’ve got to have the conversation. I mentioned to Kirrily that for some unknown reason the whole subject makes me feel uncomfortable, but her reply was that the only way we can fix these things is to expose them, bring them out into the light and get people to reason with themselves about their actions and those of their mates. YOU need to be involved.
Uncomfortable topic 1- I’d like to think that no woman who has slept with me has regretted it. OK I can think of one, but the feeling is pretty mutual, and that has nothing to do with sex and much more about screaming at each other constantly. There’s a very fine line where your pleading or forcefulness could become assault, and it’s not you who determines that. As a married man I could pretend that doesn’t affect me anymore but that negotiating phase never disappears. Got it? Good.
Uncomfortable topic 2- How many times does a man need to be told that his behaviour is unacceptable?
I challenged Kirrily on this one and she said something like ‘we imagine a lot of abusers to be poor and from the western suburbs but reality is that they are from all over and their behaviour is predicated on the fact that they don’t get called out for it. A huge proportion of these abusers can and will change their ways when they see that their mates and the rest of society are outraged by their behaviour’
I immediately thought of a personal example- not very flattering but here goes- about 10 years ago I was organising bike rides on the weekend and wanted to convince people not to pull out if the weather was bad. I said something like ‘don’t be a poof and pike out’. My good friend Jaycen Fletcher replied ‘and what’s bad about being a poof?’ and you know what? He was right, I was being an idiot.
So I sent around an apology and I’ve tried very hard ever since not to use these kinds of derogatory terms. I was called out in a very simple way, and that one email made me change my ways- hopefully forever. Those who know me also know that I swear like a sailor, so sometimes it’s really hard not to rely on cheap attempts at humour but I’m trying.
So there we go- I’ve avoided writing this for a month or two, but I do hope you’ll read it and have the conversation with your partner or mates. I also hope it’s more helpful than one of my female family members who recently called for all males over the age of 35 to die. I’ve changed the end of this story, it was originally a snipe at that family member. It wasn’t very nice and I do think that she’s quite smart but just comes to the wrong conclusions sometimes. We all should have a bit of leeway occasionally so I’ll sign off with a message of hope. Even with all the terrible things happening worldwide, we can all make a difference by doing very simple and repeatable actions. Make a difference. Have the conversation.
To walk/ run across the 223km (plus some side trips) Larapinta Trail in the West MacDonnell Ranges, Northern Territory in 6 days. This is normally a 12-24 day walk according to the NT government.
Garry & Janet Tapper and grand daughter Tia- Our hosts for the week. These guys transported our gear, cooked our food and didn’t mention how much we stank.
Jane Trumper (Small)- Needs no introduction, but it was Jane who invited a few friends to share the adventure
Andy Bowen (Mumbles)- The man in the red lycra did much of the logistics, and photobombed us at every opportunity
Andy Hooten (Hoots)- Now do you see why we have nicknames? 3 Andy’s became quite confusing. Hoots is a workmate of Jane’s and this was to be his (and my) first expedition of this type. We hope it won’t be our last.
Kieron Blackmore (KB)- Another man with impressive running credentials, KB brought a soft Irish lilt to balance the noisy Aussies.
Dave Graham (Dark Horse Dave)- A well known ultra runner, adventurer and all round over achiever, DH Dave could tell you what he does for work, but then he’d have to kill you…..
Wayne Gregory (Blue Dog)- Blue Dog injects the fun into every situation despite having some seriously impressive running credentials. Believe me, you want this guy on your team every time.
….. and little old me, so now you can see why I was a bit worried that my middle of the pack, never runs very fast habits might get me into trouble during this trip. I should probably have been more worried about cirrhosis of the liver…….
Day Minus 1- (Friday)
I arrived at 12:30pm intending to have a look around Alice Springs and sleep in a hotel before meeting the others for Day 1. Instead Jane met me with out host Garry and we went into town to get some supplies, and then out to the Big 4 Caravan Park just outside town. We went out to dinner at the Outback Steakhouse and I met Janet, Garry’s partner and Tia her grand daughter both of whom would be accompanying us on the trip.
Day 0 (Saturday)
The plan was to arrive at the beginning of the trail and go up to Mt Sonder to watch the sunset. Unfortunately the transport gods conspired against us.
Dave who was coming from Canberra had joined his flight on time and circled Sydney but unfortunately couldn’t land because of fog. So he landed back in Canberra. So frustrating. The others also joined their flight on time but a piece metal fell from their plane causing them to be stuck on the tarmac for some time while an engineers report was done- very encouraging! It mustn’t have been an important piece of metal because they all landed in Alice Springs an hour late, so we were only ready around 4:30pm. The only takers for the trip up to Mt Sonder were all the fast guys so I declined, particularly as I didn’t think they would make the summit by sundown! This put me 20km behind my expected distance before we even started, so I had to evaluate whether I really wanted to attempt to do 300km in the week as planned…..
Jane couldn’t go as she was suffering from some sort of food poisoning, earning her the nickname Ebola Jane. So for days I had this song going through my head.
Day 1 – Redbank to Ormiston Gorge (Sunday)
After a fairly easy first few km, running through lots of dry creek beds, fairly big rise, running through valleys and across a small billabong – these things must be raging torrents when there is loads of water! About 5km from the end, Dave Graham came running the other way- poetry in motion! After flying back to Canberra, the plane was refueled, and then back to Sydney. He’s missed the flight to Alice Springs by a few hours. Qantas paid for his accommodation at the Airport, then on Sunday he was routed back to Melbourne then on to Alice Springs- how is that for complicated!
Arriving Ormiston Gorge at about 3pm we set up our tents and discovered that there was a kiosk, hot showers! We celebrated by ordering $250 worth of pizzas from the kiosk and had a great meal with some great friends. Apparently Nick from the Ormiston gorge Café makes the best iced coffee in the world…… After dinner Janet came across and said that she’d just found the contents of her purse strewn all over the ground- we raced back to the campsite thinking that there had been a thief. The truth was stranger- while we’d been enjoying our pizza a dingo had come into camp looking for food. It had found the licorice bullets in Janets bag and taken off with them! Even worse, in the morning we discovered that the little buggers had taken the hot chocolate. This was a disaster for some of the runners and crew!
Day 2 Ormiston Gorge to Serpentine Chalet Dam (Monday)
I got up, fed, watered and headed out on the Pound Trail with Jane and Blue Dog. We had an epic run on a circular track around Ormiston Gorge, getting wet towards the end when we had to wade through some freezing cold, black brackish water. Then it was off into the 28km stage into Serpentine Chalet Dam. What an amazing mixture of easy trail, epic climbs, death defying descents, lush valleys. It’s just amazing to be in a steep gorge, clambering over boulders and marveling at the power and majesty of nature. At one stage we arrived at nearly 1000m and ran along the spine of a massive hill, the views were epic in every direction
It was quite rough after that, loads of gnarly river beds, ankle snapping rocks and undulating hills, clambering through the saddles between valleys etc.
Day 3 Serpentine Chalet Dam to Ellery Creek (Tuesday)
We rose early and started at first light. 1.5km from the campsite was a toilet, so I made good use of it because it actually had paper and a manual flush system. Had I gone that far off the grid that toilet paper was a sign of luxury? In a word, yes. It was an easy day- 28-30km so I was looking forward to finishing early and doing nothing for a few hours. Of course this meant that we were making great time until the halfway fill up point and Serpentine Canyon. What a beautiful place- and then we came to a series of decent climbs. No big problem, except the high iron content meant that other bits would erode away, leaving extremely sharp, gnarly rocks to clamber over. You really felt you could not safely use your hand to help you over the climbs. Progress slowed to a crawl, and luckily the sun wasn’t too hot. However it was starting to sting the sunburn that I’d developed on day 1. Dave was bombing a descent and scared some tourists, looks like they scared him back because he turned his ankle. Whippet also had a stack and got a face full of spinifex grass needles
We got into camp at about 1:30pm and straight down to Ellery Creek, another superb waterhole- with freezing cold water!
Tents up, gear packed for the next day and burritos for dinner, just tired enough and deeply happy. That was a great day.
Day 4 Ellery Creek to Hugh Gorge (Wednesday)
A few people were disturbed overnight by a crying baby in a camper ‘where’s a dingo when you need one?’
Up little bit later this morning because it is an easy day. Funny how quickly you can get to thinking that a 31km, 6 hour run is easy….. however we knew that this section was not technical, and sure enough we were spoiled with some great running. I spent most of the day running by myself, which gave me a lot of time to think. About nothing really, and it was truly great fun. The trail was well marked, and as we get closer to Alice Springs there’s a bit more foot traffic. OK we saw 5 people today- that’s not heaps, but in the past few days we would come across valleys where we could see for tens of kilometres and know that we were the only ones there. It really does make you feel quite insignificant, but also very grateful to be able to experience it. Getting into camp before 1pm was a bonus, I even got an afternoon nap! Dave had another stack today, lost some skin on his knee and hand, that might slow him down a bit! Dinner was sweet and sour chicken followed by damper with dried fruit- Lots of excited talk around the campfire at night- apparently there is a kiosk at the next stop- with showers!
We’ll probably miss the kiosk opening hours because we will be doing 2 sections marked as ‘very hard’ (walkers estimated time is 19 hours), but I am starting to smell, and not in a good way.
Saddle up boys (and girl) for tomorrow we bathe!
Day 5- Ellery Creek to Standley Chasm (Thursday)
We knew today would be challenging so we rose early and planned to leave by 6:30am. Blue Dog and Jane set of at 6:30am on the dot and I managed to finish faffing about a few minutes later and left with Dark Horse Dave. He’s a very easy guy to talk to and we passed a pleasant hour or so bombing through chasms on the creek bed until we ran into Blue Dog and Jane. I was thinking at this stage that Dave would run off into the distance and the other two would be too strong for me however we all spent the rest of the day together. What a day. There was only a couple of km of running in the whole day- loads of creek beds, some with huge boulders to scramble over. If you’d shown me the climbs and descents we’d have to make beforehand I would have freaked out, so I guess it’s kind of lucky that I hadn’t spent too much time looking at the trail beforehand. Massive climbs up to extremely sharp ridgelines which we would run across with freezing wind trying to blow us off. We pretty much followed the highest ridges and then crossed saddles until it was time to climb down into Standley Chasm. Walkers were expected to take 19 hours to complete these 2 sections and we had a fairly easy time doing it in 7:47. And the kiosk was still open when we arrived!
We all had a wood fired hot shower, bought some cold drinks. I may have accidentally inhaled a pie and a sausage roll before dinner, which was a lovely pasta dish with curry. The cafe kindly put out a whole heap of firewood so we spent a pleasant few hours after dinner on the patio of the closed café with a big roaring fire.
Day 6 Ellery Creek to Simpsons Gap (Friday)
Today had an option to go the high or low road. Naturally because we lack a full set of brain cells we chose the high road. The result was me wanting to cry because my legs hurt so much from the previous days, and on all fours trying to ascend to a ridgeline in icy wind while planning some more self harm. Yes more. The second stage of 25km was a very pleasant surprise, mostly flattish and undulating. I walked most of it with Blue Dog because my legs were rudely reminding me of overreaching my ability. We spent a pleasant few hours in each others company, not much conversation except our bums having an interesting conversation, and subsequent scores out of ten. Don’t judge me, you’ve done it too…..
Unfortunately we were unable to camp at Simpsons Gap so we were all ferried in to the caravan park in Alice Springs. You know when that means- showers! We may also have diverted via the bottle shop for some essential supplies. And yes, our campsite looked like the scene of an alcoholic festival the next morning. Ah, hangover, my old friend
Day 7 Simpsons Gap to Telegraph Station (Saturday- finish)
For the final 25km we went back out to Simpsons Gap and started at 7:30, expecting to take about 4 hours for the final push into town. I was very lucky and was able to run the whole thing with Jane, Andy Bowen, Dave and Blue Dog. I let them go a few times, intending to just run by myself and enjoy the trail, but somehow always found myself at the back of their pack again. Halfway through we met Kay Haarsma, a family friend and former orienteering coach of my wife’s. She is a great adventurer, in fact the last time I saw her was close to Charlotte Pass when I was pacing Jane for Coast to Kosci. I was so tired then I could barely speak, and of course this time I didn’t recognize her- it’s kind of disconcerting to meet someone you actually know in the middle of nowhere- let alone twice! At the end we went into the kiosk for food and drink and waited for the final 2 runners, then it was over. A quick trip back to camp and then to the pub! Several schooners later we went to pick up our race packs for the marathon on Sunday and then off to dinner at the camp ground courtesy of Dominos delivery…. And yes, once again the campground looked like a bunch of alcoholic unsupervised teenagers had taken up residence.
So how was the experience? I learned a lot. It was bloody freezing every night, and a couple of times I did not tighten the valve on my Thermarest enough, so I’d wake up in the middle of the night cold, uncomfortable and with my bum on the ground. I learned that I can do without things, even FaceBook. I learned that running by yourself can be very Zen.
8558m of climbing on the trail
97m of climbing on the marathon
282.4km total for the week
74.1kg, 8.9% body fat
One day after run
73.6kg, 7.3% body fat
Two days after run
73.0kg, 6.8% body fat
Three days after run
72.6kg, 7% body fat
Yes, there was a sting in the tail- some lovely person discovered that the day we were meant to leave was the Alice Springs Running Festival, so most of us did the marathon before hopping on a plane home. Story here
We rose at about 5am for the 6:30am start of the marathon. Breakfast and coffee and we all bundled into the cars for the short trip to Lasseters Casino which is the start/ finish. We set off while it was still dark, and the whole field (about 50 of us) started slowly drifting apart in the first few km. Of course I started to feel the need for a wee, and because I had read the briefing document I knew there was a toilet around the 6km mark. Unfortunately the drink stop people at 6km didn’t know where this might be- luckily it was just around the corner, a little sign directing us into someone’s front yard to use the dunny attached to their laundry……er thanks.
After 240km of running in the past 6 days, I was a bit worried about my ability to back up for another 42.2km in a decent time, so I’d pretty much decided to just beat the cutoff which was 5 hours, and with a vague target of 4:30. I set out at a pace I felt was comfortable and managed some fairly consistent 5:40 ish km. Of course pretty soon I wondered if I could keep this up for the half and go under 2 hours before fading. Turns out this was not too hard, I hit the half in 1:58. The next challenge was how long to keep this up for? I’d decided that I’d be happy with 4:30 meaning I could relax by about 25% and still make my target, but as the km started disappearing I wasn’t slowing down much, getting to about 6:06/km.
I figured if I was within a few seconds of a 4 hour finish by the time I hit 36km, I would pump out a few quick ones to go under that mark. This was also a bit stupid, because I have the Great North Walk 100s coming up in a couple of weeks and can’t really afford to kill myself chasing a time. Oh well, it wasn’t to be- I was pretty sure Jane Trumper would come breezing past me, and sure enough she did at around 37km. I was happy to have held her off for that long and watched her move off into the distance, and she’d mentioned that she was running 3rd female and could podium if she kept going. Well of course she was going to keep going!
I caught a couple of guys who were flagging badly in the last few km and encouraged them to come with me. Neither could, but strangely this gave me a big boost and I started putting on a bit of a dash- my final km of 5:16 means I probably could have gone under 4 hours for the marathon, however I’m still very happy with the result of 4:04:56.
Janet and Garry got us to the airport and I raced off to the Qantas Club for a shower and some food, (I hope they didn’t count how many rum & cokes I had) and we had our hugs and got on the plane for the ride home.
As it happened, Jess Baker and Meredith Quinlan were on our flight too- they’d just finished running the Larapinta Trail as well and had gone 21 minutes under the record for a time of 59 hours something. Which just goes to prove that no matter how crazy you are, there’s always someone crazier.