I know it sounds stupid to most people but I wasn’t worried about running 175km, I was worried about the sleep monsters.
I CAN RUN FOREVER*
*as long as I keep eating, drinking and moving forward there’s no problem. When I’ve helped out people like Joe Ward, Kirrily Dear and Jane Trumper I’ve typically taken the night shift and I’m quite happy run/walking through the bush at night and telling silly stories. These are the things that great adventures are built on. But some people get an extra buzz when the sun comes up and a new day starts. Not me, I get sleepy. So I had to consider the prime directive-
FINISH THE RACE
After the disaster of last year I had to take a long look at strategy and give myself the best chance of a finish. One of the reasons I do these long races is because you never know what is going to happen- a finish is never guaranteed. I am comfortable with a DNF, but I was pretty motivated to not collect another one this year. This year I have big plans. Yes kids, that means C2K. As far as I can tell, there are a couple of official requirements and a couple of unofficial ones. Officially you need to do 180km on road or a 100 mile trail race. Now I’ve done both this year. Unofficially you need to have crewed and have completed the GNW100 miler. Tick!
Normally I run with a head full of caffeine and breeze through the race. The major problem with doing this is my vocal filter (which isn’t very good to start) falls off completely. This means I say some fairly outrageous things but luckily I can usually get forgiveness from my friends! This strategy wasn’t going to work for this race. Even a 30 hour finish would mean kissing the post at midday- 6 or so hours after daybreak. I needed to be very conservative, assume I was going to just make the cut off at 6pm and try to make sure my caffeine intake didn’t spike too early or I was going to be spazzy with tiredness too early.
I do think that my subconscious was trying to destroy my plans though. by the week before the race I had not organised-
1. Transport to a hotel near the start
2. Getting to Warners for the pre race meal
3. Accommodation on Friday night
4. Transport to the start on Saturday morning
Australia’s toughest trail race? So, let’s see what we can do to make this a little bit more difficult….. how about we do it with no crew and have your pacer pull out with injury 3 days before the race? Now that’s a proper challenge!
I was gutted for my pacer as her injury has proven to be tough to shake, it was a little disconcerting when she dropped of a charging cable to hear her knee grinding as she moved it. Recover well!
I really wasn’t concerned about doing the race without crew, and the lack of a pacer isn’t as bad as it sounds. Yes it’s great if you don’t know the way, and you kind of need someone around in case you totally lose your shit, but I knew I could either pick up a pacer whose runner had pulled out or simply run with another runner for the last few sections. I know the way fairly well. Or so I thought…….
Massive thanks to Rob Mattingly who offered to share his room at Pippi’s. Luckily this was very close to the start. Unluckily it was Friday night and there were several bands playing. That’s ok, I don’t need sleep. Oh wait, yes I bloody do!
I also carried with me a note from my coach Andy DuBois. he said- ‘Believe a finish is possible until it is proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that it isnt – ie you have missed a cutoff or have been told not to continue – if neither of those things happen then keep putting one foot in front of the other’. Wise words.
We woke at 4:10am, ate and dressed for a big day out. I slipped on my new Hoka One One Mafate Speeds (review coming soon) and we ventured off into the night. Brand new shoes for a 108 mile run? Yes, I’ve done 2 or 3x 100km runs in new Hokas and never regretted it. Michael Delgarno from Northside Runners didn’t even bat an eyelid at this stupidity. Thanks!
It’s amazing to be around the start. We collected our t shirts, got our wristbands and were weighed in, and waited for Dave Byrnes to do the race briefing at 5:30am. It was a very different feeling for me this year- last year we had a huge group but this year we were missing Rocco Smit, Adam Darwin and Jennie Sharland- Riggs. Although Jen would be with many of us during the race doing support, and getting to hang around for a while speaking to my mates and running heroes before the race is amazing.
At 6am I didn’t hear Dave give the go signal (as usual) but suddenly everyone started moving forward and we were off…..
Start to CP1 Watagan State Forest (28.6km)
The first few km are on the road and we were all very careful to go easy, and I drifted along chatting to Kurt Topper and Damon Roberts, both of whom I had met through the Unofficial TNF training group. I had drunk 600ml of sports drink before the start and had 2x 750ml bottles on the front of my pack containing electrolyte. By the time we got to Heaton Gap service station at about 15km I didn’t need to fill up but I went and had a pee, this being the last real toilet for some time…..
As I was crossing the road Martyn Dawson caught up, and the last I saw of him until the end was his bum disappearing up the monstrous climb.
It was right here that I was reminded of a couple of things-
1. Having a massage before the race is absolutely necessary, and I had absolutely not done it. Having run the 240km Larapinta last month and had 3 races in 4 weeks this month, I REALLY needed a massage. Time had conspired against me and it didn’t happen, so my legs started to complain on the first big climb. Bugger.
2. I really do have something wrong with my lungs/ heart/ body/ whatever. I was running comfortably until that first big climb but I lost about 35 places in 800m. I was gasping for air, sweating bullets and needed to stop constantly. It was really obviously a problem, and something I’m looking forward to working out. Why on earth do I enter races with so much vertical ascent?
As we came close to the rainforest section I tried to get a group of us together because of the difficult navigation. We did go a little bit wrong however Billy Bridle managed to show us the correct way!
I came into CP1 a bit behind David Brown but honestly the competition here was in my head, not with other runners. I had planned to go easy on the caffeine for as long s possible but I had a cup of Coke there, grabbed a bottle of gel and a pack of dried bananas and took off.
Time in CP: 12 minutes
This was dangerous, because average time for a 36 hour finisher was 4:55, meaning I was dicing with the cutoffs and it was only checkpoint 1!
CP1-CP2 Congewai Public School (24km, total 52km)
Luckily Kurt Topper came with me and we spent a very pleasant couple of hours chatting. He’s a lovely bloke, quiet and considerate. Did I just hear you say he’s the complete opposite of me? Harsh but fair. I pulled my dried bananas out of my pocket and suddenly realised why these aren’t sold in supermarkets any more. They look like poo. It’s pretty much impossible to make them look like anything else except dried turds. But yummy turds, and great ultra food!
This stage is significant because it looks fairly flat in profile. But that’s a damn lie. Although it does have a few km of fairly pleasant groomed road as you come into the checkpoint. Except that you arrive at that point in the middle of the day and there isn’t any shade over much of the road. Coming into Congewai was a very different beast to last year- there was a bit of a celebratory atmosphere rather than the last rites of the previous year. No bodies on the ground, very few people needing medical attention and loads of smiling vollies.
Another cup of Coke, and Jennie was there to help me, as well as Zoe Howard and Jill Saker. Thanks ladies! I also ate a can of dolmades, the Greek rice wrapped in vine leaves. This worked well last year, and I’m pleased to say the same this year. It’s very difficult to get a product with a decent amount of protein in a non refrigerated drop bag but this seems to work nicely.
Time in CP: 24 minutes
A long checkpoint because I ate and fixed a blister, could have been much faster. A 36 hour finisher would do this in about 3:36- I wasn’t making up much time!
CP2 to CP3 (the Basin Campground (29km, total 82km)
Kurt came with me and we battled up the communications tower climb and used the downhills after that for the occasional trot. We crossed the farm with the little stream as the sun was fading and climbed up to the first unmanned water stop where a few people were having a well deserved top up. The fresh water was delicious! We got out our headlamps and at almost exactly 6pm switched them on. I have a new headlamp and I’d forgotten to program the output and burn time, so I was very worried that it would burn out too quickly on the factory settings. oh well, at least I had a spare battery. And also a spare torch. And spare batteries for the torch…… in the end it lasted until almost exactly 4am, so 10 hours burn time and very bright is really very good!
Shortly afterwards we had a couple of guys come back towards us complaining that they had gone the wrong way. After arguing with them for a while I accepted that they were right so we headed back and found a turn off that we had missed. Then there was a tree across the trail causing a bit of a back up, but great conditions for a bit of running after. I noticed Kurt falling further and further behind and he finally admitted that an old war injury was playing up. I was a bit rude to him in the hope it wasn’t serious and he’d snap out of it, but it wasn’t to be. So I continued by myself which isn’t so bad because the last few km of this section you have people coming back out to head over the hill for the next CP. I got to see a few people who were in front of me but not Martyn, so he must have been flying!
I sat down in the CP and the lovely vollies brought me several cups of soup and some Coke. I dumped some of the food I’d been carrying since the start and hadn’t eaten and picked up a gel flask and a Coke to take away. I picked up my battery pack and cables and started charging. When you charge the Garmin 910xt on the run it keeps recording but does not display any stats. Charging it to 100% just before CP4 gave me enough juice to record the entire 35 hour journey. Sweet.
Time in CP: 11 minutes
Made up some time here, a 36 hour finisher would be 6:24. Also this is the only checkpoint I did without waiting for anyone. Seemed slow to me, but 11 minutes is ok!
CP3- CP4 Yarramalong Public School (24km, total 103km)
There’s a massive climb out of the Basin and I didn’t really know the way so I was determined that I should have someone with me to share the navigation. Well, hopefully tell me where to go, in a nice way. So I dragged a lovely bloke called Pat along and we managed to have our first disagreement at the top of the hill. Something gave me the powerful urge to make my mark on the trail, so a few minutes later I came out of the bush pulling my pants up only to surprise one of the international runners, a Cuban lady called Nahila Hernandez who is doing the 5 continents challenge. This race is the 4th of the year with only Israel to go in 5 weeks. She was understandably a bit reluctant to shake my hand but I did assure her that the other runners were ‘just down this way. Yes, into the creepy dark bushland….’
We caught up with Pat and after abut half an hour of her following us we started up a conversation. She’s obviously a very tough woman, having completed Badwater in 58 degree heat last year, but when we asked her what the hardest challenge of the 5 continents was, she didn’t hesitate ‘this one!’
There’s about 10km of road into CP4 and yeah, I thought it would never end. But we eventually got to CP4 which is the end of the race for the 100km runners. I had 2 sausage sandwiches (they’d run out of soup) another cup of Coke and grabbed some stuff from my drop bag. I’d made a deal while on the way into the CP that we would leave together, but we’d lost the Cuban runner, she was having nasty foot trouble.
Time in CP: 25 minutes
Actually lost a couple of positions here because I spent too long in the CP. It was a bit of a disaster because I lost Pat for a while in the CP and when I found him he still had lots to do. Not his fault but I should have been more on top of things. 36 hour finish time for this section is 4:30.
CP4 to CP5 ( Somersby, 29km, total 132km)
Pat and I left Yarramalong and headed up Bumble Hill Rd towards the GNW track head. We were quickly caught up by Sarah Highfield and her pacer. They were going at a fairly quick (walking) pace and I advised Pat that we should try to stick with them because we were about to hit the infamous Dead Horse Creek section and it’s navigation challenges. This turned out to be a great idea because her pacer had the notes out and was reading and understanding them, unlike us. We managed to contribute a little bit by pointing the right way a couple of times, but my power of speech wasn’t all that great. Thanks for getting us through that section guys! We surged past before 40 Acre Farm, but they decided to run when we got out to the road and we didn’t see them for the rest of the race. I should mention that I’d pretty much given up running before CP3. Why? Because I could! I’d gone from being behind the time needed to finish before the cut, to well in front simply by having a fast walk. I really needed to finish this race so the choice was to take it easy and deal with the sleep monsters, or speed up, risk bonking and still deal with the sleep monsters. Under almost any other circumstances I’d probably be trying to catch up to Martyn Dawson, but not this time…….
Doing some sums, I knew that last year I had arrived at Somersby at 9am, and I had 9 hours to do the last 42km, which was ok, but not a lot of time. I was pretty keen to beat that to give us a bit of a buffer- late in the race, the key target is to make the last unmanned water stop by 3pm. Whilst it is unmanned for most of the race, there is someone there who will DNF you after 3pm on Sunday. If you make it by 3pm, you have 3 hours to do the last 12km.
I’d noticed that Pat was taking a while in the checkpoints and so we had a little chat ‘you know mate, those checkpoints aren’t an oasis of food and rest, they are a fierce dragon that sucks time out of your race and destroys your chances of finishing’. I’m sure he silently called me names after that little speech but we agreed that the next checkpoint would be only 10 minutes. Poor guy was starting to suffer too, this probably did not come at a good time. We arrived at 7:34am and my family was there! It was lovely to see them but in all of the photos I look really cranky because I was trying to concentrate on my tasks to get ready for the next section. It’s only 18km to the next CP, so I dropped a heap of useless crap and re packed my bag. We got out at 7:48am and now had over an hour buffer on last year! Yay!
Time in CP: 14
This section would take a 36 hour finisher apx 6:50 so we were comfortably ahead. not competing anymore with the 100km runners made us jump many places too. Could have shaved a bit off this CP time, but not much.
CP5 to CP6 ( Mooney Mooney 18km, total 150km)
Not much to tell here, I assured Pat that I still wanted to finish with him, despite me being a bit of a prick about time in checkpoints. the terrain and navigation isn’t particularly challenging which is nice. There’s some rolling fire trail before we walk/ run beside Mooney Mooney Creek and we caught up to David Brown and his pacer Bruce Craven. I think it’s a good thing having someone with you who is capable of thought, so we spent a bit of time with them. Bruce is taller than me and called out a low hanging branch. However I had lost the ability to bend down so I smacked my head right into it and landed flat on my arse. It was a pretty big smack and there was some blood spilled, but overall pretty funny. Except when I tried to stand up again, which was quite a challenge. Around this time David was having a bit of a low point and we got slightly ahead. I wasn’t expecting this, David has been training the house down and had been in front for something like 28 hours, but I figured if he wanted the position he’d come back and take it!
My wife Sarah was at Mooney Mooney and Adam Darwin and Joe Hedges turned up too! Adam is one of the 31 tough people who finished last year and Joe was his pacer. It was lovely to see them but quite unexpected. I felt very relieved to get into CP6 as I knew we absolutely had it in the bag. We arrived at 11:01am, meaning that we had 4 hours to get to the unmanned water stop, only 12.7km away.
Time in CP: 6 minutes
Average 36 hour time is 3:36 so we made up a bit. Luckily this CP is small, boring and there is only one stage to the end, which equals a fast transition time. They should all be like this!
CP6 to Finish (Patonga 25.5km, total 175km)
There’s no getting around it- the last section is beautiful, but brutal in so many ways. We rolled on for the first few km, then I think Pat decided that our progress was not fast enough, and he put on a spurt. I wasn’t 100% happy, but I realised that our progress had slowed considerably due to the terrain. It was taking ages to cover each km, and it wasn’t because we could smell the finish. In fact we couldn’t even smell Woy Woy rubbish tip because that was still 10km away……
We finally reached the unmanned water stop at 1:40pm- nearly 90 minutes to spare! A few swigs of cold water was just bliss as it was very exposed out on the rocks, and Pat sat down for a couple of minutes to rest his knees. I wasn’t concerned because I knew that unless I had an accident I was going to get my long desired finish.
The last 12km seemed to go on forever. Pat asked me what the sequence was, and because I know the area really well I could name all of the landmarks. But he kept saying them back to me in a much more abbreviated form- leaving bits out in the hope that the end would come sooner! I had a lot of sympathy for that attitude but yeah, it doesn’t work like that.
In the last 2 hours we probably lost 4 places but I was happy just chugging along. On one hand if I’d been by myself I might have gone faster, but I was so grateful to have someone to share the experience with, even if neither of us could talk much. I think having a fresh pacer would help a lot, but remember the prime directive- finish!
We got up to the final road crossing and there was Sarah, Alex (my son), Adam Darwin and Joe Hedges again. Alex started to run towards me like he was going to jump into my arms and I screamed out ‘don’t touch me!’ I was terrified that I would fall over and be unable to get up! I’d also spent quite a while reminding myself not to take any outside assistance- i.e.. don’t hand your wife any rubbish etc if it’s outside a checkpoint.
We crossed the road, walked the single track, and even had a bit of a trot down the fire trail towards the car park at Warrah Trig point. I said to Pat we should finish together but as it was about 34:40 into the race we shouldn’t try for sub 35 as it seemed too difficult. He replied that his knees were giving him grief and I should go down the final descent without him. I wasn’t altogether cool with this but I thought I should do what he asked in case he needed to experience the moment by himself.
So I bombed down the vicious final descent (how often do you hear that at the end of a 175km race report?) and arrived at the beach only seconds after another runner. I had no intention of beating him but I realised I could actually go under 35 hours if I hustled. I ran up to the car park and an old man in a beat up car said ‘the trail is along the beach’ and I replied ‘mate have a look at the gate I just came through, there is a GNW symbol on it- the correct path is through the car park’ so he just shut up and drove off……
Back on to the beach at the next GNW sign and Alex ran towards me for the big finish and I was running quite well- feeling fresh and in control (might not have looked that way) I blew a kiss to the finish post just before the next runner and gratefully accepted the finishers medal from Dave Byrne. total time 34:57:51
Pat came in about 3 minutes later and promptly disappeared. All I can say is thanks for your company for the last 100km my friend!
Time in CP: N/A
6:07 for a 36 hour finisher, so we just beat that!
I reckon there’s easily 90 minutes to be taken off this time, perhaps a couple of hours if I concentrate. Sub 30 hours? That would assume I’m doing it again….. I think I’ll wait for the swelling to go down first thanks!
Now I have 2 qualifiers for Coast to Kosci, but I could not have done any of this without-
1. My wife. Thank you Sarah for letting me get in the stupid hours of training
2. My coach. Andy DuBois, for helping me to race smart
3. Northside Runners. For providing the shoes, sponsorship, and more reason not to DNF!
3. My friends. I wouldn’t run if it wasn’t for you
Great stories- Rumour is that Martyn Dawson had to flag down a cyclist and borrow a knife so he could cut a hole in his shoe to relive the pressure from his blisters. He still managed to finish equal third in his age group with Rob Mattingly. Amazing effort guys! Nahila the Cuban runner got out of CP4 barely 2 minutes before the cutoff and still finished the race- 2 minutes before the 36 hour cut!
Thanks to Jill Saker, Jen Sharland- Riggs and Sarah Connor for the photos, and thanks to Joe Ward and MBRC for the video!
More stats for me-
Runner number 31
Starting weight 74.1kg
Weight at CP2 73.2kg
Weight at CP4 73.1kg
Weight at CP6 72.9kg