Coast to Kosci 2013- Guest Blog Joe Ward

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(Adam) Those who know Joe are very lucky- they can call a happy, tough and thoughtful bloke a friend. And now a certified legend thanks to conquering GNW100m, GNW250k and C2K. Read on……

 

Joe’s C2K Race Report

December 2013’s C2K adventure started for me in December 2011.

As many C2K finishers have done before me, the first step before you enter the C2K is to get a taste of the race by volunteering to be part of an athletes support crew. Duties of a support crew member can consist of some running (but you don’t have to run to be in a support crew !!), handing out food to the athlete, keeping them hydrated, taking care of navigation, offering words of encouragement and generally keeping them moving forward.

I felt honoured to be asked to crew for an amazing man and now my great friend Kieron Blackmore. Kieron and I had met during the GNW 100 miler in November 2010 and e had instantly connected (translation – I couldn’t run faster enough to get rid of him). We had completed several training runs together and on one of these runs he discussed a 240km race in December called the C2K or Coast to Kosciusko. This was interesting to me because I’d never heard of this race before. All runners discuss their favourite races and you will often hear races like The North Face 100, Six Foot Track, Marathon Des Sables, Comrades and the GNW being spoken about almost as if they are mythical pilgrimages but I’d never heard of the C2K. Maybe the reason I hadn’t heard of it was because this is a race you cannot simply enter. The Race Directors of the C2K (two beautiful and amazing people, Paul and Diane) are very protective of their event and of the events competitors and rightly so, because they recognise the level of difficulty of the course. The race runs 240kms (149.1 miles) from Boydtown Beach in Eden to the top of Mount Kosciusko, the highest point in Australia. Runners are often subject to electrical storms, high winds, heavy rain, extreme heat, deep snow, blizzards altitude, flies, snake bites and potential dehydration or hypothermia issues. Paul and Diane want all of their participants to finish uninjured and safe, so they only select the best prepared athletes for the start line.

Wow ! So which Ultra Runner doesn’t want to be a part of an event as exclusive as that !! I told Kieron to count me in 🙂

The 2011 C2K was a steep learning curve for me to say the least. At the welcome briefing I was star struck to be surrounded by so many accomplished ultra runners. I was in a room full of my ultra running heroes and I left the event having learnt so much about being an endurance athlete just from speaking to them and getting a sense of their character. Sometimes when you speak to someone who is a tough mofo you don’t need to ask them if they are a tough mofo, you just know.

I made some amazing new friends and did my best to be there for Kieron throughout the 2 days he was running. Yes, that’s right, 2 days of running non stop !!

I was in awe of Kieron’s achievement when he finished. He pushed through barriers I had never seen anyone come close to before, it was real Forest Gump stuff. Kieron taught me that when you think you’ve given everything there’s still a little bit more left to give. He also taught me that even when you feel like crap and you’re at your absolute lowest you can still be a charming, cheeky SOB, good onya mate.

I witnessed more suffering, guts, determination and awesomeness at that race than I had ever witnessed in my life. As a support crew member you get a front row ticket to all of the mental toughness, the highs, the lows as well as a few of the not so pleasant aspects of ultra running (what happens out there, stays out there) and at the time I thought, why would people do this to themselves ?? This is INSANE !!

In 2011, I honestly didn’t think it was a sensible event, let alone something I was capable of completing. The athletes pushed their bodies to levels that it was hard for me to understand. This was a race where running through the night non stop without sleep, losing toe nails and vomiting was considered all part of the journey. WHAA ??

I completed a couple of 100 mile events in 2012. My first was the Glasshouse 100 in September 2012 and then the GNW 100 miles in 2012. Both were extremely rewarding but before running either of these events, I was already starting to think about C2K during my training. I ran looong training runs including a couple of all night runs and I fell in love with running through the night till sunrise. Nothing feels more amazing than running with a friend and watching the sun pop up over the horizon. The wildlife comes to life and suddenly you feel awake and your legs are filled with more running. If you’ve never experienced running through the night please please please take my word for it. It is beautiful 🙂

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I changed careers. I was inspired by these happy, motivated people that loved to run and share the joy of running. It was time to follow my heart and become what I have always wanted to be, ever since I ran my first marathon in 2006, a marathon coach. I started my own business coaching running, boxing, kickboxing, kids kickboxing and personal training. I was training everyday, getting fitter and stronger and loving it !!

I can’t remember if Kieron asked me to join him again in December 2012 for his next C2K or if I volunteered before he asked me but before I knew it I was back there with him, running beside him on the course and once again we summitted the top of Mount Kosci and took the obligatory photo from the top of Australia.

This time was a very different experience for me. Of course I had to make sure I did my best job to look after Kieron but the whole time I was crewing for him I was planning and strategizing. Could I enter this race ? Is it possible ? What nutrition strategy would I have ? How would I get to Dalgety and still feel fresh ? What’s the best way to take on these hills ?

Again, I was struck by Kieron’s determination, courage, spirit and character. He is still to this day, the best man I know. But could I do this ? I wanted to be like these incredible ultra runners but there was a lot of experience there. Maybe if I couldn’t be like them then I could at least share the same start line, that would be a good start.

Kieron achieved the impossible again in 2012 and at the awards ceremony after the event on Sunday morning, I listened to inspiring stories of strength and mind over matter. I told my then girlfriend Emma that I wanted to do this race one day and she said “You will !” … I had the bosses permission. I discussed a 2013 attempt at the GNW 250 Fatass (unofficial event) with a few friends after the awards ceremony. This run would be a way to prove to myself and to Paul and Diane, that I was ready.

GNW 250 in July 2013 was tough. 276 ish kms in 69 hours and 28 minutes. It was a hard slog but it was a respectable time and would hopefully give me the chance of being accepted when entries opened. I was right and my entrance was accepted and confirmed in October/November 2013.

THE RACE – Friday 5.30am

“5    4    3    2    1   GO !!”

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I barely had time to hug my Kimberley and Simpson desert running heroes Jane Trumper and Andy Bowen before we were off. I settled in just behind them and tried to relax. This was going to be a looooong day … no wait a looooooong TWO days !!

Superstar runner (and eventual winner/record holder) Jess Baker ran with us for a minute as we hit the first trail section and before I knew it she was gone. What an incredible lady she is ! Smiley and friendly on the outside but a warrior to the core. I was already feeling like running this race was a good idea. Just to be around these people is such an honour.

I kept just behind Jane and Andy and soon we were greeted by Mat Grills aka tattoorunner, an ultra runner from Queensland. We immediately struck up a conversation which lasted around 24kms.

What a legend Mat is ! A fellow vegan ultra runner that used to play in a hardcore band, he has some awesome tattoos all over his body. He looks a bit like a Japanese Yakuza except he’s not Japanese and much friendlier. He has a rule that if it’s above 13 degrees then it’s time to take his tee shirt off. He carries as little weight as possible, even wearing sandals on his feet instead of trainers. It’s amazing, whenever I think I’ve found a really difficult challenge there’s always someone raising the level of difficulty even higher. Go Mat !!

The first 24kms went so quick it was almost like they didn’t happen. A mixture of adrenalin, great conversation and a feeling amongst all the runners that the race really wouldn’t begin till the next day early Saturday morning.

24kms was the runner/crew rendezvous point. From this point onwards I would have my amazing support crew to cater to my every need and whim. Now it’s important to point out here that there are support crews and their are AWESOME SUPPORT CREWS. A support crew will help their runner run but an awesome support crew can make or break a race. If you have the right crew it can really make all the difference.

I had two of the best support crewers with me. Ultra Runner Toni-Anne Lee from Manly Beach Running Club. She has run 3 marathons, including a 50km and crewed for me during my 276km run. I also had my fellow hobbit and Ultra Runner Brad Smithers. Both are super positive, incredibly experienced and wonderful people. We said a quick hi, I told them all was well, we swapped over some electrolytes and gear and agreed to check in another 5kms down the road.

My support crew met me every 5kms or so to give me a banana, couple of dates, fresh electrolytes and anything else I needed. At 42kms, my support crew and I shared a couple of high fives. The running was well underway and the nerves were starting to disappear.

I still had a bit of dicky stomach from being ill on Wednesday night but that was slowly fading and the food I was eating was staying down so everything was going to plan.

At 50kms we hit Rocky Hall and reached the first Mandatory Checkpoint. My support crew sent a text message to let the Race Director know my time of arrival. Brad said I was on track and running at a good pace. I was comfortable and running at a pace that was still near my 36 hour A Target pace.

A few kms later we reached the first big climb at Big Jack mountain. A long 7km climb to the top. Brad walked with me up here asking me how I was going and sharing his yoda-like wisdom. When life is an uphill battle then Brad is the man you want by your side. Unwaveringly positive with a bottomless bag of motivating stories.

Several runners overtook me up Big Jack and offered words of encouragement and smiles and I was starting to settle into my own race and worrying less about my position. When I reached the top of Big Jack I had a quick sit down and massage from gorgeous Sarah-Jane. I’m always happy to see SJ, she is so full of energy and positivity, just what a grumpy ultra runner that doesn’t like climbing hills needs 🙂

At this point I had such a long way to go that the maths was starting to mess my head up. So I’ve run 65kms but I’ve still got 175kms to go !!! … That’s over 100 miles !!!

Brad kept telling me not to think about it and leave the maths calculations to the support crew. I agreed but it’s difficult when there’s such a massive distance ahead, you can’t help but think about it and try to break it down somehow.

So 175kms, that’s 7 x 25km runs. Wait, that’s no good. Okay 175kms is around 4 marathons to go. Wait that sucks !!

After a 5 minute sit down and a watermelon refuel I was back up and running and 5kms down the road I arrived in Cathcart for the second Checkpoint.

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I had some cold lemonade and pressed on. Note to self, cold lemonade during a long run is awesome !!

I was worrying less about time now and just ticking off the landmarks that I recognised from crewing in previous years. One big landmark was the dead tree at 102kms which I knew was coming up soon. I watch a lot of Lord of the Rings and as every good hobbit knows, the dead tree is a good place to be. Who doesn’t want to pretend to be the King of Gondor ??

Just before the dead tree I was greeted by the other three members of my support crew. Beautiful Sally Dean, kickass Jodie Hermit and Superman Robin Yates. Three more warriors to add to the fellowship of Mount Kosci. I was feeling very positive and a little dehydrated. I greeted them and slurred my words quite badly. So much so that I decided it might be time to ditch the beanie that was causing my head to overheat.

Once the orange Can Too beanie (Go Can Too !!) was handed over I managed to remember everyones name (including my own) I headed toward the dead tree (of Gondor).

I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived there ahead of schedule. My amazing support crew celebrated by letting off some party poppers and taking a few photos. I was finally in 3 figures !! Not quite half way but I’d made a real dent in the race and moved past the 100km mark so that felt fantastic.

Onwards to Snowy River Way !! (it really does sound like the Lord of the Rings Middle Earth doesn’t it ! – or maybe that’s just me)

It was around 8pm and starting to get dark so the head torches had to come out. This was a positive thing for me. The cool air of the night is always a welcome relief from the heat of the day and there’s something nice about running in the night when nobody can see you. It’s almost as if you are invisible and the pain can’t find you.

At the intersection Brad sat me down and told me that he was heading 40km down the road to Dalgetty and Team Silver car support crew were taking over for the next 5 or 6 hours. He told me to stop worrying about the time and focus on running. He assured me I was way ahead of schedule so there really was nothing to worry about.

The next section was 40kms to Dalgety and I was hoping to get there for 1.30am ish if everything went according to plan but I knew that I already had 100kms in my legs so anything could happen.

Brad and Toni-Anne went to Dalgety Hall for a sleep and I was left in the very capable hands of Sally Dean, Jodi Hermit and pacer Robin Yates. This was great. I had 3 new friends to chat to and I was looking forward to some night running.

This section is remote farmland with very little light pollution and it had been a beautiful clear sunny day so I knew it would be a good night for star gazing and we were not disappointed. After a few kms running on my own, Robin joined me and the night sky was breathtaking.

A crescent moon with the planet venus hung low in the sky which made the moon look enormous. The milky way seemed to fill with more and more stars when you looked at it and there were shooting stars like bolts of lightning every 15 minutes or so.

I ran well for 10 or 15kms but the sleep monsters (tiredness monsters) were coming for me. I delayed my No Dose (caffeine tablet) for as late as possible and managed to hold out until around 11.30pm. When I took my No Dose caffeine tablet I was able to keep running well for a while and eventually Robin and I arrived at Dalgety Hall checkpoint, a little behind schedule at 3am.

I was weighed and very surprised to find that I was 2.9kms heavier than my start weight but this was probably because I was wearing all my night gear.

I tried to resist the temptation of entering the warmth of Dalgety Hall but it pulled me in like a tractor beam and before I knew it I was inside eating noodles and receiving a massage from ultra running legend and race medic Andy Hewett aka Wippet.

After 15 minutes of refreshments and lots of encouragement from Brado, I was back on my way at 3.15am, crossing Snowy River Bridge.

It was cold. Freezing ! I had seen Kieron suffer here and I was convinced I was going through the same thing. It was encouraging to see my friend Kirrily Dear here looking so strong but I was convinced I wouldn’t feel right again until the sun came up.

My support crew car stopped for me every couple of kms and I felt like my energy was slipping away. I didn’t know if I could make it. My head started doing maths again. I still had almost 100kms to go and most of that was uphill !! … I needed to gain over 2000 metres in altitude and I didn’t know if my body could do it. Brad told me I was still looking good. We walked through the cold of the early morning and eventually around 5am ish the sun came up.

What a beautiful sunrise, incredible. Ok lets run !

I ran the flat and the downhills and eventually made it to the base of a very steep hill. Beloka range, yuck !

8kms up up up ! Even Robin my pacer was tired. Although that could be more to do with the 50kms of running he had done with me already. Congrats on your first ever 50kms Robin !!

At the top of Beloka range we passed a vehicle covered in American flags. It was the American support team. Go America !!!

I met with Brad and he told me that it was around 15kms to Jindabyne. My stops with my support crew were becoming much more frequent by this point so it was a relief that the next major checkpoint in the race was not that far. He said I had to get there before cut off and we agreed to do push a bit harder.

I was eating less and less and couldn’t seem to stomach any food and Brad was increasingly worried about my calorie intake. Half the problem was that my stomach was feeling queezy and I was concerned that if I ate too much it might get worse but I tried to eat as much as I could and bargained with Brad over the number of dates I needed to eat to keep some kind of balance and mitigate the risk of illness.

Onwards to Jindabyne at 182kms !

The sun was well and truly up and it was getting hot. I had to stop a couple of times to jump under some shade. My body was shutting down and I didn’t know what to do. Brad remained positive and was completely convinced that I would finish. I really wasn’t sure.

Eventually I reached Jindabyne where I was greeted by all of my support crew and a couple of familiar faces – Aussie 24hr champ Allison Lilley and Helen, who were both crewing for a Japanese ultra runner.

I was treated like an Emperor at this checkpoint. I was fed hot chips, massaged, put under some shade and generally given the 5 star treatment.

I composed myself, meditated on why I was here and what the point was and decided that this was a massive learning curve that was not supposed to be easy. I had suffered so much but maybe that was what I was here to do. To learn how to suffer and still manage my suffering. I’m sure that sounds crazy but I was surrounded by other athletes that were clearly going through just as much pain but they were still moving forward. I had to learn to just suck it up princess !!

So I did … and Brad and I left after 30 minutes of pampering with a renewed sense of positivity and a feeling that no matter what happens now I WILL FINISH !!

Back out on the road there was a sign that said 38kms to Charlottes Pass. Awesome, I thought. I can do 38kms and then from there it’s only 9kms to the top of Mount Kosci and 9kms back down to the finish. Finally the maths was starting to make sense !!

It was 11.30am, almost midday and the sun was beating down on us. Then the flies came. Flies like to try to get into orifices. Ears, mouth, nose was under full attack. To say this was slightly annoying would be like saying Darth Vader was slightly dark. Arrghh ! … I feel bad for being a vegan that hates flies but who doesn’t hate flies ?? … and why do they love ears so much ?? … Bug Spray, Bug Spray, Bug Spray … they are so persistent … One of my support crew Jodi said they couldn’t be that bad. Jodi, you are accompanying me on this section next year.

We ran a lot of the downhill section to Thredbo River at 189kms and managed to reach it 90 minutes ahead of cut off at 1pm.

Then we started the 10km climb (death march) up to the top. This seemed to last forever but Brad kept me moving and my support crew kept me updated with inspiring messages of encouragement and support from family and friends. Thank the running gods for the internet !!

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I also saw running legend Jan Hermann, who passed us going uphill and gave us some incredible encouragement and reassurance. Keep moving he said, if you keep going at this pace you will definitely finish. It was great to hear this from such an experienced athlete and one of my all time heroes. What a legend.

After lots of leg movement (and bowel movement) we eventually made it to 200kms where I had a 15 minute stop before getting back up to press on.

I had locked in the 200km mark and I was so pleased that there was only 40kms left in the race. I had slowed down significantly but I was going to make it and this was an amazing feeling.

Then, a car pulled up.

The support crew said, “There’s bad weather at the top of Mount Kosci so you won’t be able to summit so you’ve only got 22kms to go !”

My heart sank. I felt like everything I had battled for had been snatched from me at the last second. I looked at Brad and didn’t say a word. The car drove on, not realising the gravity of the message they had delivered.

I wanted the full course and chopping the last section off made me feel like I had not completed the full race. Brad reassured me that Paul and Diane would not make a decision like this lightly and the weather at the summit of Mount Kosci must be particularly bad for them to make that decision. He said we should stick to the plan and still keep going for the same time we had decided we would get to Charlottes Pass before the climb.

I was heart broken and angry and a mix of emotions. I felt like quitting there and then. If I finished then it would not be the finish I wanted and if I didn’t finish then would I ever be invited back for another go ?  … probably not. I asked him to give me a few moments and then we talked it through. I was disappointed but this was all part of the sport. When we are set challenges we have to face them. You never know what’s going to happen during a race, the best you can do is be ready for anything. I wasn’t ready for this.

I needed to be a good sportsman. I needed to finish.

Running was out of the question by this point. Whether it was the hills, the heat, lack of calories or the bad news (possibly a combination of all of them), my quads were destroyed and I didn’t have any running in my legs.

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I walked with Brado and was quickly joined by my mate Kieron. We let the support crew know we were finishing at Charlottes Pass at 222kms and they all tried to hide their disappointment.

Brad, Kieron and I marched together towards the snowy mountains. When we finally reached the snow my support crew had snowball fights whilst I pressed on. I just wanted this to be done.

I thought about what I would say when I met the Race Directors Paul and Diane at the finish line. Would I be angry that they stopped my going to the summit ??

Then I realised Paul and Diane had made the decision to protect not just me but all my running friends too and it’s far more important to be safe than to run an extra 18kms.

First world problems ! There are much bigger things in the world to worry about than running 18km at a particular time on a particular day.

After a few hours I finished at Charlottes Pass and thanked Paul and Diane for putting my friends welfare first. We drove home and went straight to bed, satisfied that we had given the race everything we had. Team “Just Done It” had done just that. We had gone out and overcome every battle that was put in front of us and conquered 222kms as a team.

I was proud of my team, proud of myself and proud to be a part of an event that puts people first in a world where people often take second or third place to money and numbers.

We drove home slowly and carefully, weaving between Kangaroos and wombats.

When we woke the next day we had breakfast with the other runners and went to the awards ceremony. When my name was called out and I received my akubra hat and pin, I had to pinch myself. I had finally completed a race I thought was impossible and learnt so much in the process.

At 2pm that afternoon, Brad, Toni-Anne, Jodi and I returned to Charlottes Pass to climb Mount Kosci.

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We climbed to the top and chatted the whole way. It was one of the most perfect climbs up Mount Kosci I have ever experienced. Perfect weather and incredible views from the top.

We met fellow runners, Marina Rob and Cassie on the mountain and discussed the race from the top of Australia.

I had to pinch myself again to check it was all real.

Thanks to my support crew who looked after me so amazingly well. I owe each of you a back massage at the timing of your choice !

To my fellow C2K runners. Thanks for being so crazy. You make me feel sane 🙂 To Paul and Diane, thanks for putting people before numbers and for creating this crazy beast of a race.

Joe 🙂

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2 thoughts on “Coast to Kosci 2013- Guest Blog Joe Ward

  1. Thanks for posting this Adam. One of the highlights of 2014 will be training with you for the GNW100 miles and then watching you kiss that post at Patonga. What an awesome year we have ahead of us my man !

    Thanks for your comment Nat. It was such a pleasure running with you during the C2K, you are one tough runner !! … I’ll try to keep up with you next year 🙂

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