Trek For Timor is a 50km event put on every 2 years in Kangaroo Valley to raise funds for the Remexio area south of Dili in East Timor. They raise funds to provide solar powered lighting to houses, which improves local life as it means not all tasks need to be completed during daylight, and helps save money on fossil fuels. Each unit to provide light to one house costs $160 and every cent goes to the lights. Staff even pay their own airfares to Timor, and top up the commission that Paypal removes with their own money.
After a terrifyingly warm day on Friday, a cool change came through and set us up for a 14-18 degree run through Kangaroo Valley. Perfect running weather, a little cool, no hot sun, and it was only raining a little bit. My team mate and I, Jeff Duncan, stayed at a friends pub in Sutton Forest, waking up at 4.30am -only a few hours after the pub had shut.
A quick breakfast and it’s in the car to the start, at McPhails Trail. There’s no starting gun, you turn up, register and when you’re ready to leave your time is recorded and off you go! We were told that due to National Parks burning off, the event had been reduced by about 4km to around 46km from the original 50km. When we left, our vollie (Volunteer) asked us what time to record, and Jeff said 6:18am, he was out by 2 minutes but I figured if it was important that I could bring up the fact that I was wearing a Garmin that gets its time from a satellite.
….And then 100m from the start is the first major climb. It’s very steep, and according to the map only flattens out after about 6.5km. However we did get to run some flats and it wasn’t as bad as it first looked. A couple of stinging nettles in the legs reminded me I was alive, and some beautiful views including an abandoned farmhouse Checkpoint 1 @ 13km was at Fitzroy Falls visitors centre, we had passed all of the walkers in the first hour, so I was very curious to hear about who was in front of us. We were told there was a team about 10 minutes in front, which raised my long dormant (previously non existent) competitive instinct. I knew they had to have started before us as no one had passed us, and I also knew they couldn’t have started before 6am, so we were either faster than them, or marginally slower. The trails around here are full of leaf litter and sticks and not well travelled, unlike other trails where the ground is packed hard and you just have to deal with rocks. I mention this because just after CP1 I managed to shoot a large stick into my leg, slashing it open nicely. Jeff said I was just opening up a vein to attract the leeches, which wasn’t very funny as I have a thing about leeches…….. I also seemed to have an uncanny ability to kick up small rocks directly into my ankles, which hurts more than childbirth. I should know, I’m a man. An interesting diversion about halfway to Checkpoint 2 we came across some signs asking us to guess song names, and sure enough every couple of hundred meters was a display relating to a well known song. it was kind of nice to realise my brain was still working. This is where we came upon the team in front- they had 2 female runners and a guy who was carrying a pack big enough for a tent, bbq, and provisions for the night. I had a bit of a look and decided that if we got in front, we probably didn’t need to worry about them catching up. I know, famous last words…….
(that’s mist, not smoke- although we did have some smoke and flames later, left over from the burn off)
I was silent for the next few hundred metres (unusual, I know) and then blurted out ‘I don’t care what happens from here on in, but I will go to my grave knowing that I’ve been in 1st place in an ultra marathon. Once.’
When we arrived at Checkpoint 2 @27km, they offered us soup, but I figured that this was going to mean boiling the water, getting the soup, waiting for the noodles to soften, waiting for it to cool enough to eat etc. And I knew we weren’t that far ahead of the other team, so we couldn’t relax. Lucky, as we heard the vollies clapping them in just as we headed off!
We arrived at the last checkpoint (Jack’s Corner at 37km) to be told that Parks had given the go ahead for us to use the full course, so we were back up to a 50km event. They had home made muffins! I snarfed down a chocolate and raspberry one which made my day. I was a little fearful here, as the extra distance could allow the others to grind us down, and as we were in front we had no idea how far back they were, but they knew approximately where we were. As usual, the marathon madness settled in- that point about 34-36km where you just don’t want to go on. Your body screams at you to stop, and instead of yelling out ‘victory or death!’ your body would happily settle for death. With only 12km to go it became an internal battle rather than one with another team. For the last 10km there were markers each km, and at 42.2km I pointed to a white road marker and said ‘there you go Jeff, that’s the marathon done!’ I swear I saw him kissing the ‘5km to go’ marker- I would have done it too if I’d had the energy. It’s surprising how long you can go with a little marathon shuffle, the hills don’t look so bad, and I only had to stop when my heart rate got a bit high. The final k’s were made a little easier by seeing so many kangaroos- inquisitive creatures, and by then I could have really used some of their leg strength! I told Jeff not to get too close to the roos as they can eviscerate you quite easily and he turned to me, looked exasperated and said ‘is there anything in the Australian bush that WON’T kill you?’. He has a point. Jeff was the most brilliant team mate during this time, he walked when I walked, ran when I ran and didn’t scream ‘Schnell Schnell!’ even once. No matter, I couldn’t have replied ‘jawohl, herr kommissar‘ anyway.
Yes, mixing my Russian and German, you don’t think anybody will notice, do you? A bit confused at the end, we went through a gate and up towards a school at Glengarry where there were huge banners for a mountain bike race. Were we in the right place? Yes, but the finish was up another mild rise (see, I didn’t say the ‘Hill’ word). Shouts of ‘Go Adam!’ from down the hill (I mean rise) and it turns out there is (I think) Ann Powell off on another crazy mountain bike adventure. Ann, you know those things are dangerous don’t you? Actually I’m pretty sure that’s why she does it…..
So we finished in 6:21 by my Garmin, official time 6:25, but because of the staggered start didn’t know whether we would get handicap honours as well as line honours. The other team, Zahra & Laura (their porter was not an official runner) came in about 15 minutes later and revealed that one of them had sprained an ankle in the first 100m, so if they’d been healthy they probably could have knocked us off! That’s a stunning achievement with an injured team mate. Their total time of 6:43 made us the overall winners! I almost cried with happiness, it was a very emotional moment for me.
Now let me be brutally honest here- I reckon way more than 50% of the club members are faster than me, and only 16 runners were registered. So we only had to beat 5 or 6 teams, it doesn’t make me the next Killian Jornet. But it does make me a very happy old bloke.
Jeff asked me how I would feel on Sunday and I replied ‘I’ll probably have trouble walking, but every time I get a muscle twinge I’m going to remember we won, and laugh my arse off’. I posted on Facebook that I felt like Charlie Sheen as I was ‘winning’ and ‘full of win’ and my kind friends reminded me that I didn’t have a house full of rented ladies, briefcase full of cocaine and a multi million dollar salary. Or tigers blood. Pretty sure I’m not going to get those things running, but I feel like I got a much better deal than Charlie. Now I’m off to write an ebook to make my fortune. It’s called ‘How to go from the bottom 50% of the running pack (Coastal Classic) to winning an ultra marathon in 2 weeks’ So far it’s not a very long book, it just says ‘make sure nobody faster than you signs up’.
Thank you NRG for helping me to achieve something I never thought was possible. Particularly Steve Bruggeman, who puts up with the groans every time he tells us what tonights special torture has in store. Honestly Steve, those swear words come out all by themselves. Every one of you helps me every week, whether you’re out in front making me want to do better, or up the back with me trying to do better! Well, that was my moment of glory, and I enjoyed it a lot, thanks NRG!
*And special thanks to photographer Ian Watson, who provided these photos*