Guest Blog- Fitzroy Falls Fire Trails Marathon 2013 FFFTM

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(Adam) I’ve done this race twice, and missed out this year as I couldn’t fit it in the schedule, but you might like to hear from Doug Richardson who placed 17th male this year! It’s a great race, stick it on your planner for next year……..

 

(Doug) It’s hard to believe that this time last year the FFFTM was my first trail race.  Two marathons (Hobart and 6ft track) since and a failed TNF50 attempt, here I was to face my demons of cramping with the inner quad muscles on race day for these long events (as some of you may know have haunted me in recent times).

 

The race last year at least gave me positive thoughts as I managed to complete that without the dreaded muscles spasms, maybe it was the cold weather or just being ‘super’ hydrated that time drinking plenty of electrolytes and water during the near two hour drive down to the Southern Highlands.

 

So I decided to repeat that strategy and keep the fluid intake up again this year and added artillery such as 3 ‘Shotz’ tablets (sodium and magnesium electrolytes that mix with water), many salt tablets and the standard gels (Second Surges) to take throughout the race.  The Rural Fire Service are the beneficiaries of this event and they again put a great effort in with their presence and water stations throughout the race, so I elected to take my palm held water bottle as the sole race hydration carriage thus avoiding the extra weight and restriction of a water pack.

 

Weather on arrival was clear and certainly crisp but that would not last long as temps of around 25 were expected. Runners were relieved it was not held the next day (Sunday) or a couple of days earlier when temps were in the high 30’s. A quick hello and good luck to Chris Johnson from NRG and I made my way to the starting line, allowing the elite runners like Brendan Davies, Ian Gallagher and Beth Cardelli plenty of space for a clear take off in the rather narrow starting shoot.

 

At the line I remembered I had forgotten something in the car …another potential remedy for cramps, “pickle juice”. Yes I actually drank this stuff at the Coastal Classic last month at the onset of cramps at 24km and it provided relief although for a short time, as they returned later in that event.  The starting horn went off at 8am so it was too late to worry about that delightful tasting remedy now.

 

The first couple of kilometres are a little ‘narly’, although on fire trail, you need to watch your footing.  Up until the first 8kms, the gradient is up and down but nothing to difficult and actually includes some coverage on a gravel and then sealed road for about 2km where you will find your fastest km pace for the race. Km’s 5-7 were in the 4:19 and 4:34 pace and I felt very comfortable including the climb up to the 8km mark where the real fire trail began and the downhill section to come.  This next section got technical with some sharp descents and the choice is there to either go leaping down many rocks (John Lewis style) or take the more cautioned option with smaller careful paces, the latter I chose, as I still lack the technical sharp skills of downhill rock running.

 

At the 10km mark, the downhill ceases for a short while, where you cross a small creek with some minor rock jumping and head back up in elevation before another drop down.  It was at this time I needed  a ‘nature’ stop so I knew I was at least well hydrated !  The first water station was about a further km on so I stopped again and that was where I took my second electrolyte tab (first was in the water bottle at the start).

 

Next 6km were uphill but with the recent hill training that I have been doing, this climb was actually reasonable and I was able to maintain a good steady pace, overtaking many on the hills that had overtaken me with my recent two stops.

 

At the 20km mark, the first out and back sections begin.  About 2.2km downhill to a turn around point and then back up hill to the water station that aids the marks of 20km and 24.5km. It was at the 20km point I saw Brendan Davies coming out of the uphill climb in first position looking in control and very comfortable and gave him some encouragement (not that he needed it) as he powered on with Ian Gallagher in close pursuit, so you can gauge how far the leaders are ahead of you – 4.5km already in my case !  Beth Cardelli was clearly leading the women’s race.

 

I saw Chris Johnson at the 24km mark and gave him a high five and he seemed to be travelling well as he headed down for the out and back section.  After that first out and back you make a right turn into another fire trail for about 3.5km and reach a small hill at the 28km mark where another aid station existed this time with electrolyte drink, fruit, lollies and coke.  Not sure actually why I stopped here at this aid point looking back at my race review (maybe it was the lollies – no jubes Rocco), but you then start a smaller out and back of 1km downhill (60m drop) to a turn around point and then the 1km back uphill to the same aid station.  Some magic views of Kangaroo Valley and the cliff faces can be seen during this section on a bright sunny day like it was as opposed to the mist from last year.

 

The return aid station was where I was to have my last electrolyte, another salt tablet, gel and some fruit and get set for the next section which I knew for memory was the ‘wall’ with 9km of gradual fire trail climbing in sunny semi-open conditions where the temperatures began to rise.  This section is not particularly scenic and I was beginning to think that I should be cramping about now.  So to help combat any chance of that happening, I began using the leg muscles by running in different stride lengths, lifting the knees up and higher kicks and even opening the stance of the feet so that you look like you are semi-waddling like a duck !  Anything really to avoid the repeat usage of the same muscles through the race and to just provide a different approach.

 

Definitely the toughest section of the course, but I was beginning to pass a few more people.  I don’t think I was getting any faster (in fact I wasn’t as my splits were in the low 5min/km range), it was more the runners ahead were hitting the wall.  Respiratory I felt great, although it was getting warmer, the heat was bearable and I poured water on my head from the hand held bottle where I could ration (although the number of water stations ahead allowed me to do this).  So feeling good, but my mind was clearly focusing on avoiding cramps so I needed to think of something to distract me and I just started to say to myself it’s just a training run – treat it like an NRG Six Foot Track long away run – no race pressure, just go with it.

 

Two more water stations passed and I reached a quick downhill section before another smaller 40m climb at the 39km mark.  Feeling okay still, I really wanted to give this hill climb a go so I tried some more powerful strides and then I could just slightly feel the beginning of the dreaded cramps again in the inner quads.  But I played it carefully and decided to walk this hill, stretching the legs considerable whilst I walked up talking to myself that just reach the top and then take off again.  This seemed to help as I felt the initial tightness go away as I was ‘stretch walking’ up that hill.  So I got to the top knowing that some of the runners behind may have caught up a little ground but I now felt comfortable to go a bit harder.

 

2,400m to go (6 laps of a running track I thought to myself) and I will succeed beating my demons.  Another sharp downhill section and then one final rise up to the finish to go, so I used quicker smaller steps to make sure I killed off any last minute concerns up that last climb.

 

I crossed the line in 3:39:15 net time and was relieved and elated at the same time if that is possible, (a) because the demons were beaten FINALLY and (b) I had some time goals with splits written on my arm with an ambitious sub 3:40 finish in this event (in fact it the desired goal was 3:39).

 

I then had a quick chat with Brendan and Ian and congratulated them on 1st and 2nd respectively.  Those guys are superb runners. Brendan asked how I went and I was just chuffed to say I took 11mins off last year’s time.  A look at the final results sheet whilst devouring the free and amazing ‘hamburger with the lot’ put on by the RFS and I was amazed that I snuck into the Top 20 positions.  The drive home was a pleasant one as a result and aided by some post race Endurox R4 chocolate recovery powder with milk (cash for comments there Matt Cherri – ching$ching$), the legs felt good.

 

Thanks again to the local RFS with their help supporting this race.  It really is a nice event and I will be back again hopefully next year for #3.

 

Chris Johnson finished with 5:05 but I didn’t get a chance to speak with him afterwards, well done Chris ! Said g’day to Michael McGrath who completed yet another marathon here and snuck into the Top 40.   Other names I noted were Jason Wheeler (aka Gater Bullant) in a superb 3:22, Justine Medin 4:24 and Jess Siegle in 4:31. Apologies If I have missed any other names.

 

Brendan won the men’s event in 2:58 and Beth in 3:24.

 

Course profile (elevation chart) included.

FFFTM Course profile

Spiny Cray Ultra 2013

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Yes, that's pretty much the entire field

Yes, that’s pretty much the entire field

* Please note that as far as I know, all the photos in this blog post were taken by Kimberly White. She did a great job didn’t she!

I’d had this run on my mind for some time. Not sure why, must have been the name. Basically it’s an out and back along a fire trail up Mt Molloy from Jullatten pub, about 90km from Cairns, and just up the road from the attractively named Abbatoir Swamp Environmental Park.

Nope, I have no idea what is going on here either

Nope, I have no idea what is going on here either

I’m guessing that the driving made the field a bit small- 9 males and 4 females rocked up for the 3rd running of this event. I’m amazed and extremely grateful that the organisers put so much effort into running such a small event- did I mention that I love small events? There were km markers every km on the way up and down, friendly faces at the aid stations, and did I mention the food? Gourmet delights everywhere, I’m just sad I didn’t have more eating time at this race.

How awesome is this checkpoint food?

How awesome is this checkpoint food?

After the race briefing in the first photons of sunlight, we assembled at the start line just outside the Jullatten Highlander Tavern (great spot) and the RD quietly counted down the last 10 seconds, and we were off. We settled into a nice easy pace about 5:44/km and I had a good look at the people in front. The entire race of only 13 entrants made it easy to count the people in front- 6 guys and one female. This meant for a top 5 (male) finish I only had to outlast one of the guys in front. That’s good, because my only talent is outlasting people.

The first 10km is fairly harsh uphill, it’s possible to run some of it, but the primary goal is not to blow up too much, there’s still a long way to go. I managed to catch up to the leading woman Sarah Warren and we had a short chat. She wasn’t feeling very confident, but I could tell she was a classy runner, very consistent and pacing herself nicely. I let her go, and a couple of km later noticed that I was being hunted down by another runner behind. I’d noticed a group of 3 blokes in front and one of them was starting to weaken. I felt I had a good chance at making that one extra place I needed so I stopped a bit and waited for the guy behind to catch up. No point in suffering alone!

Adam & Paul ran together for a few hours

Adam & Paul ran together for a few hours

just enough energy left to wave

just enough energy left to wave

This turned out to be a good move, as my new friend Paul Firth was an Army guy and very interesting to talk to. At about 16km Shawn caught up with us- he was part of a group in front, but had left the tail for a comfort stop and we’d passed him. He then turned around at the 18km mark for a 36km total. This meant that Paul and I had 5th place and would have to fight it out. We encouraged each other to keep moving and generally had a great time up to the 29km turn around point. My father in law (Andrew Campbell) was manning this aid station, so I had a quick chat but tried not to get too comfortable! I restocked my gel, had some Pepsi and dropped a few things I wouldn’t need. I’d previously given Paul the pep talk ‘don’t let me get in front of you on the way down as I won’t give up that 5th place easily’. Me and my big mouth- he put his headphones on and blasted down the hill, making up nearly 20 minutes in the last 29km. Great performance, and he totally deserved that 5th place!

Sarah goes it alone

Sarah goes it alone

My legs had been hurting from the training load from very early on, and it was difficult to take advantage of the lovely downhills. There was a creek crossing at the 22/36km mark and I stopped there to fill up my water- what a huge pleasure it is to be able to drink the water! I can only hope that one day we get cleaner water in Sydney for our runs. On the way down the sun became an issue- we’d gone up in mostly shade with only a few patches of sun, but now it was hot and unrelenting. My headphones that had been around my neck  were only playing on one channel as one bud was so full of sweat. Yum.

I spent the last few hours counting down the k’s and trying to concentrate on keeping good form and turning the legs over as fast as possible without blowing up my heart rate. It became clear that a 6:30 finish was not going to happen (the loose calculation was 3:30 up the hill, 3:00 down the hill) so I relaxed and tried to make progress.

That, my friends, is precisely how much it hurts

That, my friends, is precisely how much it hurts

With 3km to go I started to fall apart, my body not wanting to listen to my brains ‘come on, surely you can run 3000m’ but I held on and finished in 6:47. Pretty much exactly in between my predictions of 6:30-7:00. Placed 7th overall, 6th male and 2nd in my ‘masters’ category. Dear race directors- I’m not sure being over 40 should put you in the masters category, you cheeky (young) bastards.

Feeling very tropical

Feeling very tropical

Our race entry fee included a beer which I gratefully accepted, then I ordered a chicken burger (I love races that finish at a pub) and sat around waiting for Sarah. It was getting hotter, and after her experience at last years Glenbrook Half, I was quite worried about her reaction to the conditions. When we spotted her I went out to run the last 50m with her- that was long enough for her to tell me ‘I never want to do this again’ over and over. I hope her result makes her have second thoughts- her time of 8:47 got her 3rd female and 1st in the masters category.

Female Podium Winners

Female Podium Winners

 

Sarah & Tennille having way too much fun

Sarah & Tennille having way too much fun

full results here but you’ll have to scroll down.

I want to congratulate all of the hard working organisers and volunteers, this was a small race (for us- there were 2 other distances run and finished while we were on the run) and impeccably managed. The food, the run and the people were all fantastic. Also thanks to MountainSports for providing a couple of entries to the Glow Worm tunnel Marathon– I didn’t score one but you may see me there anyway.

CONVICTtON- The Convict Ton

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So Michael McGrath calls me ‘How would you like to do a totally unsupported 100km run along an old convict built road with only 3 water stops? On the hottest day of the season? Oh, and if the furthest water tank is out of water, we’re screwed’

‘ That’s the craziest idea I’ve heard for ages. Let me get my backpack.’

Well it didn’t happen quite like that, but it could have……. Michael is a meticulous planner and when he said he was doing a 100km route that hadn’t yet been done as a race, I was intrigued.

Starting at Wiseman’s Ferry, the Great North Road was built in the 10 years after 1826 and almost immediately fell into disuse as people preferred to travel by river boat. Today it’s a well known mountain bike track, fairly smooth and open in parts, but overgrown and dense single track in others.

I wasn’t feeling very charitable when the alarm went off at 3:40am on Saturday morning, but managed to stay awake and get out side to be picked up at 4:15am for the drive to the start. There were 3 runners, Michael McGrath, Rob Mattingly and myself. Mike was obviously hedging his bets, taking along one mighty fast runner (Rob) and one plodder (me). It worked well, we know each other well enough that there were no problems with ego or understanding each others needs, and I was pretty sure they hadn’t heard quite all of my jokes. There was a lot of smoke around and Michael checked- there was 9 fires within 50km of us, but none likely to be close to our run.

The route

The route

We were aiming for a 6am start, but by 6:08 we’d come off the ferry and started the Garmin. The first 3.5km are along a tarred road along the Hawkesbury River until we get to the entrance of a fire trail and enter Dharug National Park on the Western Commission Track. My only problem was that at 2.7km I’d looked at my Garmin and thought ‘wow, my legs really hurt a lot’. It was only 2 weeks after Trailwalker and I’d done a fairly hard strength session with Andy DuBois on the Wednesday. Knowing that I was with 2 runners better than me didn’t help, so I resigned myself to joining the pain train a little early. Normally I’d expect to feel pretty good for at least the first 20-30km, so 2.7km was pretty ordinary. Sub optimal indeed.

Rob checks out the view

Rob checks out the view

Luckily we all knew it was going to be a long day out, and even Rob who would normally bound up all the hills was playing it sensibly- we walked the hills, kept the heart rate down and stopped to take pictures frequently. We re joined the Great North Road (GNR) at about 15km and 4km further on we got to the first water stop- it’s a barrel with a tap beside the road provided by the Wat Buddha Dhamma Buddhist Monastery there. Thanks! About 400m further we turned off on to Simpsons Track and had another short stop at the Ten Mile Hollow camp ground where there is more fresh water. We then entered the longest stage without access to water (39km). There’s quite a few areas with signs of previous habitation, but it’s mostly just flat areas with different vegetation where the bush is taking back ground. We reached a large open area where Simpsons Track meets Ten Mile Hollow Road, took a pic at the plaque, and carried on up Ten Mile Hollow Road. We also took a short diversion to have a look at ‘Fairview’- and abandoned home in the middle of nowhere. Very cool. This next part included the biggest climbs of the day. As you can imagine an old convict built road has to be reasonably flat to allow for horses, but later roads don’t have quite the same restrictions. Anyway, the views were spectacular.

Plaque at Ten Mile Hollow flat

Plaque at Ten Mile Hollow flat

Eventually we came back to the Great North Road. This would have been my last bail out point- we’d done about 34km, and all I had to do was turn back on to the GNR and home was about 18km away. It’s essentially a 24km out and back from here to make the 100km distance. By now I was getting into the groove and thought I may as well carry on. I mean how bad can it be, right?

 

The answer came quickly- the road turns rough and gnarly almost immediately. There’s heaps of leaf litter on the track, and as you might think for a road that’s been disused for over 80 years, it couldn’t really be called a ‘road’ any more. For me, this bit was increasingly soul destroying. I knew we would have to come back this way and mentally it was eating away at me. It was much rougher than I’d expected and progress was slow. I knew that we could expect the Mogo camp ground at 58km so I started focussing on that. Our first marathon distance passed in 5:50 which was pretty good considering all the time we had spent sightseeing. With about 15km to go we rounded a ridge and were fully exposed to the sun. Apparently the temps were mid 20’s however by then we were really feeling it. Winter doesn’t prepare you for this! At 51km I got the Dead Man’s Suck. My water ran out. I still had a 750ml bottle of Coke on my front, but I was trying to save that.  Oh well, that plan turned to ‘get fluid on board, worry about caffeine levels later’.

On Western Commission Track

On Western Commission Track

At Circuit Flat Bridge we were originally intending to do another loop to increase distance. However it wasn’t needed and we took the direct route to the camp ground. Michael said ‘it’s 2.2km from here to the campground, you can’t get lost, see you there’. I hadn’t told him about my water situation but it sounded pretty straightforward. Unfortunately 2.9km later I was wandering around the bush, by myself with no fluids, in a blazing hot sun thinking ‘uh oh, this is bad’. Luckily I carried on and found the campground at 3.1km. It was a simple mis remembering- I wasn’t in any real danger, they would have come back to look for me, but I think we all realised we’d have to stay together from then on, and Michael said as much at the camp ground.

The water tank was full of fresh delicious water, and I drank 1.5 litres before lying down on the grass and we all watched the wind move the trees for a while. Michael went to refill his bottle and yelled ‘guys, we have a problem!’ The water was alive with larvae. We’d all drunk some but we had yet to fill our bladders. I’d borrowed a water filter but hadn’t brought it along because of the weight. In true MacGyver style we then filtered about 8 litres of water through a bandanna (unused) into a water container we found onsite, then transferred it into our packs. I applied a Compeed to a developing blister and remarked to Rob ‘gee you’ve been good today- you haven’t turned a nasty shade of green or grey like you usually do’. He didn’t say much and wandered away towards the toilets. On the way there I thought I spotted him stop to have a spew but I wasn’t sure. Unfortunately this wasn’t the last spew of the day.

At this stage we all felt like we’d had a good day, and if we’d had support at this point we probably would have pulled the pin. Conditions were difficult, and weren’t getting better. The camp ground is next to a public road, so here is where we saw the only 3 humans we would see all day. One stopped their car to go to the toilet, and one couple actually talked to us- they were scouting for a place to camp for the night.

With 43km to go, I suggested to Rob that we could wait for a tourist and ask them to take him home, or we could all give up. He said that he’d be ok, and would simply walk back if we had to, and that’s the way it worked out. I need to make something clear here- you might think it’s unwise or dangerous to head back into the bush with an injured runner, but Rob is one of the strongest people I know. If he says he can do something, he can. It wasn’t easy, most of it wasn’t fun, but we got it done. Also- I’m not singling him out for any criticism. It could have been any one of us having issues (in fact 2 weeks earlier it had been me), and this is essential to the story!

Strangely, I was feeling fantastic- my leg soreness was gone, my mental attitude was good and I was raring to go. It never lasts, but was nice to have for a short while. Could have been the stop- we spent more than an hour at Mogo.

 

3 Amigos at Ten Mile Hollow flat

3 Amigos at Ten Mile Hollow flat

The last 43km was just a death march. We sandwiched Rob between us so he couldn’t drift off the back, and I occasionally tried to get him to talk about races where he had experienced great success, like last years North Face 100. Michael reminded us that he’s won the Dolls Point marathon a few weeks back so I was forced to tell everyone that I’d once won a race that nobody had ever heard of too, but it was an ultra marathon so there. The conversation died out, and the sun descended. At 30km to go I started counting down until the Buddhist water stop. None of us were keen to keep drinking the ‘protein water’ but we had no choice. The bush at night was teeming with bugs. There was spider webs across the trail, beady eyes reflected from our headlamps and innumerable moths attempting suicide in our lights. I got my share of protein straight out of the air as they flew everywhere. At one of our many stops Michael produced some crushed fruit, and magically Rob was able to keep some of it down. In fact both of them took off on the last 2km of downhill heading back to the start. By then I was shattered and wanted to get off the ride.

Total 102km, 19 hours 29 minutes, 2000m of elevation.

We got back to the car, took off some crusty clothes, had a wash in the cold water basin, a quiet beer and headed home. And got lost. To be fair, none of us really had any mental acuity left, but arriving home well over 24 hours after leaving, with the local wildlife signalling imminent dawn I was able to have a real shower and fall face first into bed.

Thank you Michael and Rob for an experience I will treasure. And yes, next time we can definitely go sub 15 hours. Oops, did I say next time?

The 4×100 Relay

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I don’t know about you, but I’ve been having a lot of trouble getting excited about running since it’s turned cold. After the North Face 100 I had a brain wave and decided I’d like a new challenge, and that’s when I started working on an event I would call the ‘4×100 Relay’. It consisted of 4x 100km runs, one each weekend for a month. I chose the month of August, and it went  like this-

Week 1- Saturday 3rd August 2013
CONVICTtON- This is a new run devised by Mad Mike (Michael McGrath) along a 50km section of an old convict built road as an out and back. Done as a Fatass/ unsupported run with no support.

Week 2- Saturday 10th August 2013
12 Foot Track– Another Fatass run, another out and back. Yes, it’s ‘only’ about 90km so you’d have to do the City to Surf on Sunday to make up the distance

Week 3- Saturday 17th August 2013
Capital to Coast 100km stage race. This one is 100km over 2 days, so a great ‘warm down’ for the main event which is-

Week 4- Friday 23rd August
Trailwalker Sydney– I did this in 2010 as a walker, and 29.5 hours of walking is pretty difficult. I think it will be much better as a runner!

It didn’t work out- I wanted to use the Poor Mans Comrades as a test, and I failed the test. With 3 weeks recovery after TNF100 I was still feeling it in the legs and realised that it was going to be impossible to do so much running in such a short time. What I’ve only realised today is that I COULD have been a little less ambitious and done 4×100 over 4 months. It would have looked like this

May- The north Face 100
June- Poor Mans Comrades
July- 3 Marathons in 3 Days, Adelaide 12/24 Hour, Kokoda Challenge
August- Trailwalker

So if I’d finished PMC I’d be halfway through my challenge! Oh well. Maybe if we start with Trailwalker we could do something that looks like this-

August- Trailwalker
September- Centennial Park Ultra
October- Hume & Hovell 100/Ned Kelly Chase
November- Great North Walk 100s

I really need to have something to focus on and help me get outside while the weather is chilly, maybe this is it. What about you, will you join me?

UPDATE 9.9.13. I’ve just completed the CONVICTtON (it was rescheduled several times), so we might be on target for ‘Plan B’ after all…….

 

Kirrily Dear Guest Blog- Big Red Run 2013

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(Adam Connor) I’m very pleased that Kirrily Dear has agreed to share her experience at the Big Red Run this year. As the first ever guest blogger she has some interesting things to say, it’s a pity it has taken me so long to post this. She’s done some great writing and I might ask to host some more of it- including her incredible multi day epic out on the GNW. I have to add that I wasn’t really interested in this run until I heard about how much fun it was afterwards! Take it away Kirrily………

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A few people have been asking me to write a bit about my experiences so I’ll keep in nice and short and break it into a series of indisputable facts.

FACT 1: I HAD A BLINDER (FOR ME!)

3rd female, 7th overall, 33hrs to run 250km and plenty of time spent sight-seeing along the way. Don’t ask me where I managed to pull that from on my first multi-stage race but I felt comfortable and strong for 90% of the way. That last stretch on the 84km long day was a killer as always.

I had absolutely no interest in racing the BRR. I was there to enjoy the experience and take in the scenery. As soon as I got moving on the first day though I knew my body was feeling strong and my brain was in the right space. Each day I just kept getting stronger. I was pain free and didn’t have any sense of fatigue until toward the end of the 3rd marathon on the 3rd day.

Over the last 18 months I have dramatically changed the way I train and it’s really starting to work for me. The change has been fuelled by increasing understanding of what my own body responds to and also watching the large number of elite ultra runners that are now completely sidelined because they have overloaded their bodies with the wrong type of training. I may never be world champion at this sport but I plan to be taking out the 80+ year old age category in a few more years.

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So what’s changed? I no longer believe in ‘running through pain’. If there’s pain I get it fixed, early. I no longer believe that you have to be doing ‘the big km’s’. If I regularly go above 80km a week I end up with injuries and training becomes inconsistent. So I am keeping the km’s low and focusing on intensity instead and giving all I can to every training session. I am more exhausted after a session at Crossfit 2036 or Sean Williams Sweat than I was after any of the marathons at BRR and I back up 4 mornings in a row week in, week out supplemented with long runs on the weekend. It provides incredible conditioning and with good condition you can do just about anything.

Finally a wonderful run of this magnitude is only possible with incredible support through the vollies and medical team. They were everywhere and always unerringly positive and helpful. One of the greatest sights in the world was one of those little red checkpoint tents appearing on the horizon, shimmering in the heat haze like a mirage.  I had a minor incident on the long run that could have easily brought the whole game unstuck in such an extreme environment but with their outstanding support I was home safe and well. Thank you!

FACT 2: THE LANDSCAPE IS MONUMENTAL

The Simpson Desert landscape is vast and more diverse than I expected. It is staggeringly beautiful. I don’t have the words to describe the impact it has had on me. I’m a nature nut and have been on a lot of adventures in all corners of the world and the Simpson Desert ranks up there as one of the greatest. It’s a silent, vast beauty. It commands attention through its stillness.

The sand dunes in the ‘channel country’ part of the Simpson all run north-south with wide areas of flat ground in between. They are like waves in an enormous sandy ocean. At any point we were either running parallel to the dunes or crossing them. Running over the dunes was an absolute delight. The climb was one of anticipation, wondering what would be on the other side. Each crest brought with it vast, sweeping views and revealed the next terrain feast laid out on the desert platter for kilometres in front of me. As a dedication to 5 year olds everywhere, it was then essential to hurtle down the dunes as fast as my legs would take me.

Surprisingly around 80% or more of the course was completely flat so the challenge of BRR isn’t so much in climbing dunes but dealing with the technical nature of what is underfoot. Gibber plains, hard clay pan, sand moguls and mud meant constant variation in gait and pace. Tuft grass hid endless burrows ready to snap an ankle should concentration wane. Scratchy “grrr” bush (need to find out the real name one day) lacerated bare legs creating a stinging brew when mixed with sweat and sunscreen. We had rain, cold, wind and intense heat. The desert giving us just a taste of its true potential.

Navigation of the course also demanded attention. Much of the course was cross country with no trails. We ran from one pink ribbon to the next. It was easy to get off course. Every day people returned to camp with stories of unplanned detours and gut wrenching moments of realisation when they discovered they were off track, tired and alone.

The highlights for me? Every day was an incredible adventure although I have noticed there are a few scenes that keep replaying in my head a bit over a week later.

Day 2 – I had just worked my way through a field of sand moguls with burrows, bushes and all manner of challenges. A head wind was blasting whatever slow progress I was making. I was glad to see the pink ribbons cross up and over the sand dune knowing the terrain would likely change. Cresting the dune and the world opened up to a enormous hard clay pan. The red checkpoint tent was a kilometre or two away on the other side and there were people around. I ran like crazy down the side of the dune, the momentum propelling me across the clay pan. At last running at full tilt, it was pure bliss.

Day 3 – Running along the top of big red after the rain. It’s one of the iconic photos that has come out of the week. The sand was an intense red colour and the air fresh. The rain had firmed the sand so it was easier to get some pace.

Day 4 – Sunrise. It was a clear morning and the intensity of the colour is like nothing I have seen before.

Day 5 – Early morning I was running along the top of a dune. The wind was gusting and lizards scurrying. Overhead two wedge tail eagles circled watching my progress. I had a strange feeling that if I didn’t keep moving I would be on a lunch menu.

Day 5 – Crossing the vast moonscape of the gibber plains. I love running on gibber. The rocks are all highly polished from water rushing over them in the wet season and underneath is sand so as you run along the ground looks like it should be hard but it is spongy. I also enjoyed being out in the intense heat on day 5 on the gibber. Strange I know but it felt like a real desert experience. Heat waves distorted the horizon. Dry air sapping any moisture from your mouth.

BRR desert pic

Photo by Damon Roberts – Stellar desert runner

I miss the desert.

FACT 3: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE PEOPLE

I remember when I first met someone who had run 100km and it hit me how casually they talked about such an achievement.  It was much like other folk talk about going for a walk around the block; it happens, it’s nice to be able to do it, but for the regular doer it’s no biggie on life’s list of achievements.

 

Turns out I’ve become one of those people. A hundred kilometres on foot in a day barely even warrants a post except perhaps to mention you’re home, fed and relatively blister free. Every ultramarathoner knows how much of a privilege it is to do what we do.  It’s not something we take for granted but more that it’s just well…normal.

 

That’s where BRR was completely different to any other ultramarathon experience.  Many people on that start line were about to face their first marathon and then keep going for another 208kms.  It was an honour to bear witness to their journey.  Each morning it was awe-inspiring to see them overcome the fatigue and mental barriers to get to the start line.  Into the afternoon and sometimes the night we waited and watched the horizon for them to be making their way back to camp.  Each day while their bodies grew tired, their minds grew stronger.  Slowly they chipped away at the challenge and began to believe.  The last person across the line was out on the course 22 hours longer than me.  Close to an entire extra day.  I find the thought staggering.  The persistence and resilience it would take to keep going, the inner strength.

 

The transition to being an ultramarathoner is a life changing experience.  It redefines the boundaries of your world in the most profound ways.  To be in camp everyday with the true champions and support their journey is a memory I will hold dear forever.

 

 

Thanks so much to the BRR organisers, vollies, medics and the massage angels for making the journey possible.

Photo Provided by Big Red Run

Photo Provided by Big Red Run

Big Red Run

FAQ & Info For New Runners

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happyfeet

I’m not shy about telling people that I run, and this gets me a lot of questions from friends about running. It seems this is common for all runners, so I’ve compiled a list of some common questions, and my answers. If my advice is wrong, it’s totally my fault. Or possibly yours for listening to me.

Why do you run?
I run because it’s the LEAST efficient way for me to move. I can use more energy in a shorter period of time than doing just about anything else. Think about it- it would take a lot longer to use the same amount of kilojoules by cycling, driving or batting your eyelids. I kind of hate running, but I’m kind of used to it. And I love the people I’ve met- interesting and DEDICATED. I get a lot of strength from these people- much more than I put in. I get a lot out of running and the community. There, I said it again.

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What shoes should I buy?
Hang on- you’re asking someone who’s run (slowly) for 3 years when you can get expert advice from a trained professional? Seriously, go to a specialist running shop and ask them. A place like FootPoint Shoe Clinic in Mosman will even have a someone video and check your gait (make an appointment). Don’t go to Athlete’s Foot or Rebel. Really

Should I buy those Vibram Five Fingers things?
No

But I’m a dreadful heel striker!!
Yeah me too. Modern shoes have plenty of cushioning- get the right ones and go for it. If you want to teach yourself to forefoot strike, just run barefoot. That’ll teach your nasty feet. Or do your body a favour and buy some Hokas

But I need to wait for summer/ winter/ my pet lichen/ the rapture
No you don’t. There will never be a perfect time to start. The closest to perfect is NOW.

Do you run every day?
Hell no. My days off are like brilliant pearls of cool nothingness in the brutal fire of training. I mean I really enjoy my days off.

But won’t you stuff up your knees?
Short answer- no. Longer answer- not yet. Pat Farmer’s knees are ok, and he ran more than 2 marathons a day over 10 months from the North Pole to The South Pole. Strangely enough, we seem to have evolved to be able to run. If you don’t run you are ignoring one of the key things you are built for. Yes you.

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But I’m too unfit!
Yep, so was I. Make a plan, execute it. Don’t delay any more. Do it while you still can. Don’t end up like the next person-

I can’t walk up stairs without an oxygen mask!
See a Doctor, you really need more help than I can give.

But Don’t runners get injured all the time?
I read a statistic that says that 60% of runners will get injured in any single year. That could well be true. You could get run over by a bus- does that stop you going to work? Let’s call this one out- it’s an excuse that has a basis in truth. I can say this- if you run, you won’t care much about this statistic. I don’t.

But won’t your body wear out?
Will your brain wear out from all that high level thinking? No. In fact if you start now, you might reverse some of the damage caused by NOT moving your arse.

Don’t you have a certain number of heartbeats in your life? You’re using them all up by running……
This is unscientific garbage. You will  live longer if you exercise

Isn’t it hard?
So what? Shake your life up. If you’re my age, you’re probably not going to get any better looking, unless you get fitter. Worth a try? You bet.

vilja

Don’t you freaks live on mung beans and air?
I really like air. I also really like foods with lots of fat, salt and sugar. I can’t control those cravings well enough to diet my way to thinness, so I eat and run. My diet has become slightly better because of running, but boy do I earn a lot of beer points.

Is pain just weakness leaving the body?
No, that’s just some dumbarse saying that gym rats use to make them seem tough. Pain is a useful message that your muscles are breaking down, or building up, or it could be your body telling you to stop. Learn to ignore it. Unless you really are injured.

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Do I have to give up things I love?
Do you like living or watching TV more? I’m not going to live for ever, but running has improved my quality of life. I’m prepared to give up a bit of TV for that.

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But I prefer 40 minutes of running and 4 hours of drinking!
Join the Hash House Harriers.

I have a problem with motivation
Join a running club, you’ll have a great time and will look forward to training. Also- sign up for a race, that’ll scare you enough to train!

I have a problem with motivation, but I’m rich
Get a personal trainer

I have a problem with motivation, but I’ve just signed up for this ridiculously hard race
Get a coach

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I Don’t have time
Here’s a confession- I have the same number of hours in the day that you do. I have a supportive wife and together we’ve set up our lives so that we can both train. Not easy, but we’ve done it. Here’s a typical Saturday for me- get up at 4:40am, breakfast. Run from 5:30am-9:30am, have a nap. Take son to a birthday party, take son to grandparents. Go out to dinner, midnight home and tucked into bed. Does it sound like I missed out on anything? Nope. Runners fit more in to their day.

I can’t change everything at once!
Don’t. Even trying to do that is a sure way to failure. Change one or two things at a time. Turning up is half the battle, the other half is well, turning up regularly. Amongst my running friends there aren’t many smokers, but there are a lot of past or present booze hounds, gamblers and a few drug pigs. Don’t be surprised if a few of us take to running like a new addiction, because it is. Sorry if we sound like we’ve got religion, but if you start running, some of those high fives will be aimed at you.

Why do you run such long events?
Well, I can’t run very fast. And I’m like a kid with a new toy- I want to see what my body can do. Does this mean I will poke it until it breaks? Probably, but you shouldn’t be worried because we have an amazing capacity to heal. My VO2 Max is probably quite low from childhood asthma, I can’t ascend hills very well. I’m a middle of the pack runner and will probably never get much better. But that’s no reason not to try.

I like cycling better
So do I. But I like runners better, and I’ve recognised that I’m a social animal. I’m more likely to go out on a cold night for a run. So I run. You should do whatever gets you going, it doesn’t have to be running. But do it.

Are you one of those crazy people who run in the rain?
Ohhh yesssss. It’s stupid, and painful for a short time. But you know what? One of my most memorable runs was with a bunch of people I didn’t know very well through a major storm. We were screaming with laughter and splashing through puddles for joy. It was awesome. You feel a bit like King Canute screaming at the implacable rain ‘come at me bro!’ Don’t ever feel sorry for people running in the rain…….

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But I get shin splints/ stitches/ knee pain/ groin pain etc
If it’s really bad, see a Sports Doctor. Otherwise it will probably go away if you keep going. I had bad shin splints for several months, but it was just my body adjusting. It’s also very common for new runners to get stitches and other pains. These will usually go away when your body realises that you aren’t simply going to stop when it gives you the signal.

I’d love to come for a run with you- when I’m fit enough!
Discard the bit about ‘when I’m fit enough’. We don’t care how fit you are, we just want to share a bit of outside time with you. If we go and do the Bay Run and you run 100m and walk 200m, we’re going to love it so much more than if you pounded out those 7km by yourself. And you might too. Get someone else involved. Don’t be shy about your abilities, everyone starts from nothing (well not everyone, but I sure did). You want to go for a slow run? I LOVE a slow run!

Join a club-
Northside Running Group
Sydney Striders
Sydney Front Runners

Join a FaceBook Group-
Northern Beaches Trail Runners
Hunter Valley trail Runners

Get a Coach-
Andy DuBois
Dominic Cadden
Anthony Traynor

 

Clayton Crabtree- Sydney Trailwalker 2013

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(Adam Connor) This is actually the second guest post here, I’m still working on the first! We often say the true heroes of our events are the ones who spend those extra hours on the course. It’s very apparent here that Clayton and his team show an unusual amount of grit and determination. An amazing story…….

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Disclaimer: You know how it all ends, it takes a while to tell the story of a 45hr trek, so feel free to jump to the end (at times we all wished we could have), or trudge to the end and re-live the adventure with me…

Well, just what is it like to go on a non-stop 45hr trek through the Australian bush with a bunch of strangers and no sleep (for 50+hrs)? Especially when it was only planned to be 32hrs, with no specific Oxfam
training (i.e. long walks) at all, no special planning or preparation for 45hrs on the go, I was entering off the back of fitness from TNF100, some speedy training for the City to Surf, and two successful cracks at Oxfam 2 years earlier. Nothing can really prepare you for 45+hrs straight, except just
jumping in and doing it.

So, let’s start with the late last minute ring in request via Wilson from the NRG committee. Not yet met this famous NRG runner, but will be hunting him down on my next club run.

Cowan Station

Earlier on in the year I had considered doing Oxfam again, I began sniffing around the singles board, kept an eye on what teams were looking
for who, and who was looking for teams, what pace teams were aiming for that had lost team members. I was thinking 24hrs being a suitable goal.

But I was also battling sore ankles (& eventually black toe nails) that came and went mysteriously. I wasn’t prepared to commit to an Oxfam team
until I had worked out what was wrong and resolved it. Turns out my new shoes I wore on the TNF were half a size smaller than expected. Ankle and
other injuries now resolved I went for the bait on the NRG Facebook page and jumped into a team at the last minute (with my old shoes).

Sunrise Balmoral

Met my new team mates (actually two teams) at a restaurant in Crowsnest on
the Wednesday evening, less than 36 hours before the start. So no time to train with them, it was straight into taper, rest and carbo loading. They were the Adventure Angels Teams 1 & 2. Hailing from the personal fitness company “Fitness Angles” (clients, friends & other ring-ins), run by Laura.

I was looking forward to a quick trek with some fellow fitness fanatics and was happy to
offer my 2 x experience with various nebulous and random tips.

The day came, we had a civilised start at 10am. I caught the bus to Chatswood, train to Hornsby (was intending Berowra), another train to
Hawkesbury (that did not stop at Berowra), I arrived nice and early to enjoy some bacon and egg rolls, a good coffee, bit of a stretch, and a short wait for my 2 teams.

Off we went, start pace was relaxed, no fear of sweating too early on the first climb for me. Heading up the hill was the first of numerous amazing sights – another teams walker carry a back-pack hanging from neck height to less than a few inches off the ground & wider than he was; guess they did not meet their support crew first, they must have had the entire teams
support gear in the suitcase with shoulder harness (or he was a Ghurka).

Suspecting the latter there was no good natured ribbing as we trudged past, and then they trudged past us, and so it was until Bobbin Head with
these guys (we’ll meet up with them again later in the story).

A relaxed easy pace saw us arrive at CP1 around 2:30pm. Burgers all round; Elisha nailed two of them, just in-time as they then ran out of burger
buns. Hence an insentive to climb that first hill slightly quicker if you want more burgers. We left CP1 after half an hour; a quick turn-around from my previous two CP1
trips; time to make up time.

I made a de-ja-vue prediction earlier in the week: helicopters in the air halfway to Berowra waters. I’d been on that section of track 3 x and we’d heard noisey choppers all 3 x; so a fourth? Yes, another noisey chopper, just one, but bang on schedule & location.

CP1 to CP2 continued slow and easy, it’s the toughest stage of all. Ben and his sore knees were holding up well, playing it slow and careful on the downhills, a raging bull on the up-hills. We were treated to a
beautiful sun-set heading down into Berowra waters, it was going to be head-torch time by the time we got to the Berowra Waters road & ferry crossing. Much earlier on the trail than the last 2 x. But I figured that
the night would last just as long whether you walked it, ran it, or no matter how early it started. I was covered with head torches. I’ve done it twice and we were going with head torches this time much earlier, so the
suspicion of two full nights on the trail was beginning to dawn on me.

Sunrise Balmoral 2

Arrived at CP2 at 8pm to a near empty carpark. Less frantic than I recalled, more relaxed, much warmer, no change of clothes required for me
(wasn’t sweating at all), and they still had sausages this time (thanks for leaving some Adam but I was well fed by my support crew)! The Oxfam
volunteer lamented to us she had cooked over 2000~ sausage sammies that
day, and there was still plenty left over, but she was finished!

CP2 closed at 10pm, we left at 9:30pm, the first hint of the trail sweep monster closing in on us was becoming apparent.

CP2 to CP3 was dark and late. Tide was in and we had to take our shoes off to cross one section, brrrr. Woke the feet up anyway! Laura was playing tunes from her iPhone via a beat-box attached to her back-pack as we skirted around the swampy bits. Theme song for the trek (for me) was “Wake
Me Up” by Avicii. It’s still stuck in my head, I downloaded it from iTunes, sad I know!

We soon encountered our friends with the TMNT back-pack; only this time they had 2 torches between 4 of them, one torch was attached to a walking
stick (sharp pointy end almost getting me several times), the other was grabbed from the counter of a BP petrol station (or 2$ shop). But hey, they were ahead of us and (for some reason) not really wanting us to pass. The ultraristic side of me wanted to part with one of my spare torches and give them a boost, normally I would; but we’d be in for the long hall for
two nights ourselves and I hadn’t tested my Nao over one night let alone 2 so decided to keep my spare for my spare to myself or my team mates. In
the end they kept close by and sauntered into CP3 not far behind us. It was also a full-moon and plenty of ambient light.

Approaching Bobbin Head, we got to the bottom of the hill into Apple Tree bay. Was cold down at water level, I stopped on a flat top table and snacked on some chippies. My first mistake of the trip. Seems starch and
simple carbo-hydrates get snapped up and amplified by the melitonin the body uses to generate sleepiness. within 15 minutes I had gone from wide
awake to the “fog of dispair”, I was walking asleep. Kept awake by nailing the downhill into Bobbin Head, sat on some cold concrete steps to wait for
my team mates – who I could see at the top of the hill. I blinked and there they were, right beside me. Feigning the lack of suprise (as I tried
to work out how they got to me so quickly), we trudged into CP3 for a mighty fine dish of chicken soup and bread. It was 3:30am, only 6hrs to get here.

A good strong mocha from a sachet (sorry Paul, sacrilige I know, but it worked, blame Da) cleared my head for the new section of track for me, the
Gibberong trail. The team was holding up well, Ben hobbling along on sore knees still, Elisha making steady progress, our endurance cyclist hanging
with the peleton; and the rest of the crew, tired but still cheerful.

We headed off from CP3 at 5am (closing time was 7am), about 4-5 hours behind schedule now; but two hours ahead of my first Oxfam. Sun-rise somewhere along Gibberong; a climb up into Nth Turramarra; along to the
Sphinx where we were met by some fancy dressed Oxfam helpers with yummy dark chocolate, and then on down into Warrimoo creek. Tom, Meg and I took the quick / fast option up Warrimoo hill climb and then practiced our “bush hollahs” to communicate to our team taking the more leisurely pace. Dust and lack of air in the lungs made for a tortuous attempt at bush communication; more like a stuffed bush turkey than anything useful.

The constant “are we there yet”, or “we are halfway, aren’t we!” to CP4 were getting less easy to fend off with double-speak – “yes, only 4km to
go – and 3 hills”. Tom and Meg had gone ahead to stretch their legs again, I – with short legs and (normally) tight hamstrings can’t walk all that quick (which is why I run nowdays) – so gave them a head start and then
jogged to catch up, and onto CP4 where we waited for the rest of the crew to arrive “imminently”.

Somehow Oxfam Control decided to call me and ask where our team was on the
trail; “At CP4 waiting for the rest to arrive and we’ll check in”. He didn’t know there were two teams walking together; they had only noticed 3
of 4 people arrive at the CP but not check-in straight away, leaving, in their mind, one person alone on the trail. I was quick to add we were two
teams. Seemed to work, but either way these guys are great and onto it with looking out for the teams. Team note: stick together, we had only split on this end section to have a stretch and free the mind.

Time for a team talk. The trail sweep monster had been spotted earlier, St Ives was closing at 2pm, it was 1pm. We might be in danger of both teams DNF’ing. Elisha & Tom bundled themselves off to the first aid tent for a check and pit-stop repair job. I had to do my part to convince everyone to
delay any thoughts of dropping out with the promise that the next stage was 80% downhill… It worked.

We past the sweepers (they heading into CP4, us to CP5). The team with the two torches and the TMNT back-pack (shed earlier) cruised by, but were not
likely to beat the closing time, but hats off to their effort! We made CP5 just in-time to enjoy the warmth of the late setting sun. Trent and Ryan &
Annemarie arrived to cheer me on. Trent and Ryan did their reliable “don’t let daddy sit, sleep or eat” routine. Meg had decided to pull the pin, but
then I saw her putting her warm trail walking vest back on, so decided I did not need to try and convince her to stay with it. You tricked me & escaped!

CP5 to CP6 was a classic “death march”. Nite-time, familiar trails to me that just dragged on and on. A quick yell to Ben – “you have a ration of
12 strides before stopping again” – worked, we were off with big long walking sections between rests or stoppages. Arriving at the flat firetrail along Middle Harour creek before CP6 the dreaded “fog of
dispair” hit me again, this time it was un-shakeable, in-penetrable, caused probably by the chippies at CP5, no-doz had no effect. The only cure – which randomly entered my head (never encountered this ever, so had no set strategy) – was to run, fast, cold air-flow over my face, all the
way to CP6 with Tom. Was either that or fall to the side of the track (which might have been into the water) and sleep. The team was not too far
behind.

Again we were treated like kings at a banquet by our totally amazing support crew of Kate and co. We consistently gave them plenty of time to
setup, cook, layout the cutlery, wine glasses, pluck & bbq the chickens. Thank you guys for your patience!

“Fog of dispair” cure was still desparetly needed. If it returned my ability to finish the event was going to be in serious question. Physically I was solid. No blisters, no joint, ligament, muscle pains, nada. This time it was 2 x no-doz, a full cup of full strength sachet mocha, pieces of dark chocolate, held back on the amount of food eaten,
avoided simple carbs, dropped a layer to feel colder. But was thinking “was that enough”? Then I remembered one of my nebulous tips to the others
earlier in the week: when you cross a creek you might need to dip your head in to wake up. I looked around and saw a cold tap over in the distance. It was mid-night, 6deg, water was freezing, but never felt so
good! Wide awake, just like an eskimo after rolling in a glacial fed river. But I wasn’t convinced, so I drank lots of cold GU re-hydration
water. There ain’t going to be any sleeping with constant stops to water the trees every 12 strides, so I hung at the back on our trek to CP7. The
end was in sight, downhill from here.

Arrived CP7 around 2am after enjoying the Natural Bridge track and gloriously last single track uphill, we had a good 1hr rest and small feed, and we were off at 3am heading to the finish.

The walk along the tarseal streets was hard on the feet. A stop at Chinamans beach facilities was very timely, and then the stroll along Balmoral beach as the sun rose was simply amazing. The smoke filled haze provided amazing colours for lots of photos.

On my first Oxfam I ran to the top of Middle Harbour steps; this time I wanted to catch the actual sun-rise. Tom was with me, video in hand to capture the craziness, I turned by GPS / Strava app on for the first time,
and off we went for a quick & fast run up the 194 steps.

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Snapped the stopped button on the GPS just as the sun-rose and my iPhone went flat
before I could take the photo! Never mind, Tom and Chris had cameras to catch the majic moment. The team quickly joined us and the support crew
(who were not there really) for the team photo against the warm glow of sun-rise. Truely a magic moment.

All that was required was a short stroll basking in the warmth and glory of a well earned finish to the finish. Even with the clock counter ticking
toward 45hrs, the team held form and sauntered over the finish line in 45hrs and 5 mins.

Bloody awesome team and support crew, and well done to all!

& Yes, I’ll be back again.

The Journey Log

Oxfam Trailwalker Sydney 2013

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I’d lightened the training load since The North Face 100, took lots of days off for no reason and generally didn’t take this race seriously. Big mistake. In my defence I suspect a few others had done the same……….

There was a great amount of sledging between me, Martyn Dawson, Adam Darwin, Paul Blamire, Joe Hedges, Michael McGrath and others a couple of months ago. Then it all went suspiciously quiet. None of us were putting in the hard yards, and we all started to worry that we hadn’t done enough. Some of us hadn’t! However we all made it to the finish, and here’s what happened.

Anyone running the course needs to put together a very strong team- it’s all about arriving at the finish with all 4 team members. This year the top spots were wide open, with Quality Meats not entering (they won 3 years running) and Shona doing UTMB instead of fronting a female team. The night before we discovered that Mountain Sports were fielding a mixed team comprising Beth Cardelli, Ewan Horsburgh and a couple of others, they would be tough to beat. I’d decided that we should field a mixed gender team in an attempt to place a bit higher in that category. We’ll see how that worked out later shall we?

Oxfam Trailwalker Sydney 2013

I got in initially because one of Robyn Bruins friends posted for team members on Facebook. He then picked up a random from the singles board (Christopher Beavon), and I was in charge of finding female talent. Note to wife- I mean running talent Sarah! On the basis that you should always choose someone better than you we drafted Gillian Russell and Kate McElligott as our reserve. With the difficulty of this event you tend to go through a few people so reserves are important- and so it proved. Both of our ladies were out injured well before the event. Apparently Kate has filled in her time spilling blood on the streets of Mosman, but Gillian decided she wanted to crew for us. So I drafted Jane Trumper, Queen of the Desert into our team. She spent a lot of time telling me she wasn’t interested, but I wore her down. There simply wasn’t anyone more perfect for the role.

On race morning I found out that I was the least experienced team member- Jane was about to start her 12th, Aaron his 5th, Chris 4th and me just 2. But I knew that if any of us had issues we were likely to be able to carry on simply because of experience. the gun went off and we all had a little 300m run to the first hill. And it’s a beauty. The kind of hill that truly takes your breath away. I knew the first 2 sections were the most brutal and difficult so I resolved to just hang on until they were over. We had a plan of finishing in 19 hours (which I thought would be easy!). Arrival at CP1 at 9:27am was 10 minutes in front of our timetable so very happy. On our way to CP2 I started fantasising about Coca Cola and our fearless team leader went ahead and got us each a can. This pointed out a major flaw in our plans- I had Pepsi in my drop bag, but we weren’t due to see our crew (Peter Trumper, Jane’s husband) until CP4 St Ives sometime around dusk. To make matters worse, there were sausage sizzles, coffee trucks etc at each checkpoint but NO ONE selling soft drinks. The event itself provided some lollies, tea, instant coffee and water, but no fruit, sports drink or other food (to be fair we were given 2 tubes of Gu Brew at the start, but I had obviously mis read the instructions and thought that sports drink would be provided. I left the Gu Brew in my drop bag, D’oh!). At CP2 we saw Steve Bruggeman (in work clothes!) and Lise Lafferty taking pics. By CP3 we were 30 minutes ahead of schedule and looking like we would A) get to St Ives in daylight and B) finish an hour ahead of schedule. Unfortunately I had been suffering all day and everything was taking a toll. I was getting slower and I’m sure at some points the only thing keeping me going was the caffeine. Up to this point we had been dicing back and forwards with Martyn, Adam, Joe, Paul and Michael. Guys I’m not sure a tap on the bum or a loud fart as you go past is appropriate, but neither made me go faster. Thanks anyway, I think.

We arrived at St Ives to see our crew at 5:40pm, just 10 minutes after official sundown. We hadn’t need our torches, but got them out for the death march to Davidson Park, CP6.   At Davidson there’s still a few climbs but you know you’re going to finish- it’s only 20km to the end. By this stage I was grumpy but off my head on coffee and Pepsi, Jane was baiting me by asking us to go faster, we had some instant noodles and headed off into the night. I felt like I wasn’t far from my limits and we weren’t going very fast, but every time someone talked to me I was surprised when my voice sounded happy and intelligible.

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At Ararat we could smell the finish- had a quick stop and slipped out to slay the dragon. We were dicing with 2 teams now- Mike McGrath was pushing his lot along but at Ararat one of them was covered in a space blanket and looking green. We figured that would be the last we saw of that team as a complete set of four- we were wrong! The other team was one with Alison Lilley- you might notice that I have a lot of female runners as heroes, well she is another one! She’d been making noises that we were going to catch her but I think natural justice prevailed when she got her team home a bit over 30 minutes in front of us.

Martyns Team

Martyns Team

Down at the Spit my guts started to go liquid, and not in a ‘you’ll be fine’ kind of way, more of a ‘if you don’t find a toilet in the next few minutes this suburb is going to be a different colour’ kind of way. So up Parriwi Rd I walked with my butt cheecks clenched and ran down to Chinamans Beach where there was a structure I first mistook for a house. But no, it was a new toilet block, open at 1am, and with clean, gleaming fittings and GASP- actual toilet paper! It was like getting entry into Valhalla and finding a comfortable, ceramic throne. The team were waiting for me at the exit to the park, but there was too many lights- Michaels team had just gone through. Bugger.

Jane wanted to chase them, and I was feeling a bit better, but not good enough to chase. Not far on, they took a wrong turn and we got back in front. Why? Well it seems that Mosman Council won’t let Oxfam put up any directional signs. That’s just plain stupid for the last 3km of a 100km race. A race that involves 2000 people and raises $3million for charity. Mosman Council- get a better grip on reality you idiots.

Things pretty much unfolded as I expected from there- Michaels team stuck behind us until the stairs then blasted past to take glory 800m from the finish. We managed a little run for the last 300m but they weren’t to be denied and used a last burst to have us cross about 20 seconds after them. So we all had a bit of back slapping, taking photos and a quiet little cry inside.

BUT- there’s no electronic timing on Trailwalker. Your check ins determine your time, and Michaels team had forgotten to check in so when Jane checked us in she put us in front of his team that had finished before us!

Analysis- I finished Trailwalker 2010 in a walking team in 29hr 36 minutes. This time was 19hr 26 minutes, so a full 10hr 10 minute pb for me! We were 24th ‘team’ across the line, but when you look at the results, a different picture emerges- many of those 23 other teams were missing 1, 2 or even 3 members. (Please note all results mentioned from here in are 4 team members only). Only counting ‘full’ teams we were 11th! What an outstanding result. Less outstanding was the fact that me trying to ‘game’ the results had backfired. We were 6th mixed gender team, but if we’d been all boys we would have been 4th in that category. We were 4th in the ‘Family & Friends’ industry category, but if we’d chosen to start as part of the ‘Advertising, Media, Marketing & Sales’ industry we would have smoked all of those long lunchers and come first (they were all over 30 hour finishers). Kicking Aaron and Chris out of the team and filling it with fast old farts would have bagged us second in the over 40 category.

Results

But if I’ve given you the impression that I’m competitive or ruthless I’m sorry. I would not have changed a single thing about the way we worked together that day. I have the hugest respect for my fellow team members, and thanks for dragging me home!

There were some epically tough people out there- Paul Blamire who struggled home with a bad hip, others with sore feet, knees etc. Any one of those other teams could have creamed us to the finish- all it would have taken was a bit worse luck for us and a bit better luck for them.

What would I change? I would do more training. Not taking this event seriously enough was a big mistake. I would read the documentation more carefully so I wouldn’t expect things to be provided that weren’t. The stuff not provided this year was in stark contrast to 2010- now they provide almost nothing that we get in most races.  I would have crew a bit earlier. I would lobby the organisers to have a bit of fruit and some sports drink. I would tell Mosman Council to pull their heads out of their collective arses and support the event better.

To my team- sorry, I probably could have run 5 minutes faster to get those bastards from the NRMA, next time. Next time? No, I don’t think I can. I think. I think I can, I think I can, I……

Joe Ward 276km Great North Walk- Pacing

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Joe doing his best impression of the GNW Logo

Joe doing his best impression of the GNW Logo

I woke up at 12:30am to the sound of David Brown’s alarm. Three seconds later I hear him say ‘Hello? Where are we?’

My first thought was why is he talking to his phone? My second thought was ‘oh no, we’ve just committed the ultimate sin. We weren’t at the changeover point for our duties as pacers.’
Sure enough, it was Ronald Stevens calling us to let us know that Joey, who has started in Newcastle at 4am on Friday, the day before. He was making an attempt on the record for a complete traverse of the Great North Walk, a 276km trail from Newcastle to Sydney opened in our bicentennial year 1988. One of the records was 54 hours, set by Meredith Quinlan and Jess Baker. Kirrily Dear and Alison Lilley had previously set the record at 81 hours by simply completing it! There had also been a group including Andrew Vize in about 66 hours. Get the picture? All Joey had to do was to FINISH, and he would take the  record for the first SOLO traverse of the complete GNW. And be only the 11th recorded non stop run of the course.

Ron, always unflappable made some arrangements for the current pacer to continue and for us to be inserted part way through the section we were meant to be pacing. We were meant to start at Yarramalong and go to Patonga, a couple of sections of the Terrigal Trotters GNW100s course that I knew fairly well from pacing Jane Trumper last year. This meant that we had to rely on the current pacer to get Joey through the infamous ‘dead horse creek’ section where someone got so lost last year she was timed out of the race. I felt like I’d really let him down because I was the one who had the course loaded on 2 different GPS devices, including maps, course descriptions etc. I take the job of pacer very seriously and was gutted to let Joe down.

We got to the intersection of Ourimbah Creek Rd and Forty Acre Farm at 2:30am. Then waited, and waited. Sitting in the ute in the dark with the apparent temp below zero was a surreal experience. We took bets about when they would turn up, and I sat there and worried about them getting lost. At 5am I said ‘I’m going to get them’ and we saddled up our gear and headed up the trail. Luckily about 600m up we discovered 2 happy chirpy lads coming towards us.

Only 7km to go until the Somersby checkpoint, but Joey was moving strongly at ~150km and 25 hours. At Somersby we were met by Emma (Joe’s fiancé) and the irrepressible Sarah Jane Marshal in a hilarious disco outfit. A quick fuel up, then we were off into the early morning sunshine towards Mooney Mooney. It was lovely being alone on the trails, having a chat and making sure Joe was eating and drinking to a schedule.

 

Mooney Mooney welcome committee, Saturday afternoon. Helping Joe stay grounded in reality

Mooney Mooney welcome committee, Saturday afternoon. Helping Joe stay grounded in reality

At Mooney Mooney we arrived to a thunderous reception with Alison Thomas in a onesie and some very confused cyclists going past. One cyclist who did stop was Andrew Vize! He’s come down to see how Joe was going- I’m constantly humbled by the willingness of heroes of the sport to help other. Well, it kind of went the other way this time- we filled Andrews bidon with water, gave him some snakes and he wished us well! After a massage and fill up we were off again- this time with Tanya Carrol as an addition to the pacing team. It was great adding Tanya- I think Joe was thankful that my jokes became a bit cleaner.

Bananaman getting more value from his sponsors

Bananaman getting more value from his sponsors

Next stop was Patonga, where Ben Pearce and girlfriend Jen were waiting to take Joe across the bay to Brooklyn, where Ben Blackshaw and Alison Lilley would continue for his last 76km. This was a difficult section, and one that Joe was dreading, but I know that worse was to come! We arrived at 6pm Saturday night to another great reception including my wife Sarah and son Alex. Joe spent a few moments staring at the post which marks the end of the GNW100s Miler (on this occasion it marked the 200km mark of his journey).

Joe contemplates the achievement and tries to ignore what is still to come

Joe contemplates the achievement and tries to ignore what is still to come

I insisted on a beer at the Patonga pub and retired to our lodgings to sleep. I hadn’t slept since Friday morning and was really feeling it. I could only imagine what Joe was going through.

So what next? I slept for nearly 12 hours, helped clean the house, drove back to Sydney, showered, changed, had a big boozy lunch and…… well I couldn’t just leave it there.

Lane Cove National Park welcome committee, Sunday night

Lane Cove National Park welcome committee, Sunday night

I went home, got into my running gear and went out to Lane Cove National Park to do the last section. Joe by this time had been travelling for over 60 hours with no real rest. He arrived with Ben Blackshaw and Alison Lilley after 8pm and just before 9pm we were on the trail again. There was a huge welcome committee from his Manly Beach Running Club! Ben was continuing however Alison was nursing a knee injury and had to go home. During the day on Sunday some of the terrain was so tough they were averaging only 2-3km per hour. The call had gone out for more pacers as some had needed to pull out because of work the next morning, others were injured, it was all looking a bit dodgy. I was happy to step up, also Sebastian Warmerdam and Gillian Russell joined up too. Matt McCarron, who had spent most of the day Saturday helping and then ran the M7 Marathon on Sunday came back out and ran the last section several times just to make sure we wouldn’t get lost. What an incredible team.

We spent the last few hours joking and having light hearted conversation. But we had a problem. The last section of the course ends at Woolwich Pier, and then you have to go across the water to Circular Quay, and from there it is only 300 metres to the ends- an obelisk in Macquarie Place. The plan was to take a ferry from Woolwich to Circular Quay, but its was too late on Sunday night for a ferry. The backup plan was to get a water taxi – guess what? Too late! In desperation the wonderful Sally Dean ( grand organiser extraordinaire) rang the Water Police. The first time her reception was predictably brusque, but as time went on golden tongued Sally managed to convince them that it was not only a good idea, but needed to be done.

Ben had been waiting at Patonga since midday Saturday, and pacing since the 6pm trip across to Brooklyn. It was no surprise that he was a bit quiet, but I had to press on being lively and encouraging, telling bad jokes and generally getting in peoples faces to try to keep Joe going. I’d apologise for being annoying, but I do feel it’s kind of my job as pacer to be inexhaustible and positive. Ben you did an incredible job, you can decide if I’m truly a d!ckhead next time we meet!

I gave Joe a mini Mars bar and some Coke, ten minutes later he breaks out into a run. That’s right- he ran his 270th km, breaking Gillian in the process. This brings to well, uncountable numbers of pacers who lay figuratively broken in his wake. Three km later we see the high wear off and he’s asking ‘where’s the @##$%^ boat? I can’t see the wharf!’ A second application of Mars bar and Coke did not work, remember refined sugars are baaaad kids.

The water police were awesome, picking us up right on time and taking half a dozen of us across the harbour, well fast! Check out the Garmin…….

At Circular Quay we were met by Ngaire Anna and a whole bunch of people, Joe was able to speak to his fiancé via Facetime back to Boston. She had hopped on a plane after supporting him to Somersby. Did I mention they got married a week after this little adventure? Yes, Joe just had to finish by Wednesday, get on a plane and get hitched in the US. Tex Whitney Productions whom I’d been having the big boozy lunch with were there to film the finish.

Bizarre- a little over 24 hours earlier Emma was helping Joe, here he is at the end talking to her in Boston!

Bizarre- a little over 24 hours earlier Emma was helping Joe, here he is at the end talking to her in Boston!

Joe removed the course marking tape he’d been carrying with him for 276km and laid it on the fence around the obelisk. We cheered, hugged and shed a little tear for his incredible achievement. It had taken 69.5 hours, and even though I’d only seen a small part of it I’d witnessed an amazing feat of human endurance, with a great bunch of people who all donated their time and effort for a great cause. I’m very humbled to be a small part of a community like this.

I can’t believe that it’s actually possible to run/ walk from 4am Friday morning until 1:30am on the Monday, but I saw it happen!

You- I’m talking to you. Think about crewing or pacing someone on a ridiculously long run. I’ve done it several times now and it’s very rewarding. Now, who needs crew for Coast to Kosci?

Poor Mans Comrades 2013

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I’ve wanted to do this run since I first found out about it several years ago. I mean, can you think of anything quite so preposterous as running from the Sydney Opera House to Gosford train station with no support? Awesome!

So let me just start by saying this one didn’t go quite as planned. A lot of people have a problem with a DNF, for me I’m not so concerned. I could easily have made the last 24km – the problem was I was getting slower and slower. Put simply- my family were right there, and it would be selfish of me to ask them to come back and get me in 4-5 hours time, hours after I had promised them. BUT- not my wife’s fault, completely my decision. Next time I’ll ask her not to come visit me on the course!

Anyway, read on if you want to hear more excuses, but I’m writing this mainly so that I don’t make the same mistakes in future. Here they come-

I was Over Confident
Yes it was only 3 weeks since TNf100, and last year doing the Glow Worm marathon 3 weeks after nearly killed me, but I’ve been recovering faster recently and well- I had a great TNF and just expected that my performance had gone up a notch. Consequently I didn’t do much training and got smacked in the face by this run. That’s healthy- if you don’t fail once in a while, you’re not trying hard enough. I can learn a lot from this.

I was Under Prepared
The few runs I’d had since TNF had mostly gone really well. However I hadn’t done much work on pace or any stairs, and pretty much expected to breeze through a 90km road run. I also hadn’t done any of my core exercises for 3 weeks- and I’ve found the core strength to be really key in taking stress off the legs on long runs. Bahaha, who’s feeling dumb now?

Went out Way Too Hard
I had a loose agreement with Annabel Hepworth to run together. There’s not too many people who do this run, and Annabel was the only one I knew who was about my pace! I’m  normally pretty happy to run on the road at a steady 5:20 min/km, (5:41 is a 4 hour marathon), so I figured that I could aim for 12 hours, which is an average of 7:12. Another key statistic is that to finish a 100km run in 14 hours (a TNF100 silver buckle) you need to average under 8:24 over the whole run. I wanted to stick under this pace for psychological reasons- so I could prove to myself it is possible to do that distance in that time. Then I could focus on doing that distance in that time on the North Face 100 course- for next year! Annabel was having a great day to my poor, and shot off from the start. In any normal ultra I’d be trying hard to keep my heart rate down, but I found myself going way too hard many times in the first 30km. Once I looked down to see 158bpm, way above the sub 145bpm I would normally see as my limit in a long race.

Had Tired Legs
I’d been hoping that I wouldn’t feel too much left over from TNF100, but I do think it hampered my speed and my endurance. This has less effect every year perhaps by the time I’m 80 I’ll be able to back up more effectively.

Was Over Provisioned
I left the Opera House with 1.5 litres of water on board. I’d had 600ml of sports drink before we started, and drank 2x 600ml coke, 1x 375ml can of Fanta and 1x 600ml Powerade during my run. All of these drinks were purchased on the run. Amazingly I still had 250ml of water left after 68km. So, too much fluid.
I was also carrying-
3x chocolate bars
3x cliff bars
1x Growling Dog protein/ amino acid bar
4 or 5 assorted gels
assorted other food
6 flasks of home made gel- each flask containing equiv. 4x gels

What did I actually eat?
1x chocolate bar
1.5 flasks of gel
1x steak & kidney pie, purchased from Pie in the Sky
1x Growling Dog bar

Must have been about a kilogram of excess nutrition!

IMG_1041

That’s a pic of the food I carried but DIDN’T eat!

The Run
Starters were, in no particular order
Annabel Hepworth
Geoff Evison
Adam Connor
Roger Hanney
Grahame Wye
RunMikeyRun (CR name)
BalmainMike (CR name)

We decided on a start line just in front of the Opera House steps, had a couple of photos and then Geoff Russell who had come along to support gave us the signal to go. We very quickly broke into 2 groups- Geoff, Roger and Grahame in front and Annabel, BalmainMike and myself sweeping. At 6am it was still half an hour to the official sunrise, so we ran past a few drunks in doorways around Circular Quay and then up the stairs next to Bel Mondo and up to the bridge. Already I was trying to slow Annabel down to try to keep the band together, mostly out of self interest – I’m a social runner, not a loner! And I was worried about being able to keep concentrating on running past my house! Soon after the Harbour Bridge we were joined by RunMikeyRun who had started a bit late. He stayed with us for a couple of minutes then blasted ahead to catch the others.

I had studied the maps the night before, so I knew the path through St Leonards and Artarmon to Roseville. The three of us had a toilet stop at a service station, and then down Bobbin Head Road towards the campground another 10km away. It was clear that Annabel was gagging to take her foot off the brake, and I stuck about 75m behind her for most of this time. That was the last time we saw BalmainMike. I caught Annabel as we started to descend, and when we arrived at Bobbin Head we went straight for the kiosk where I got a Coke, and Annabel got a Coke and a coffee- like she needed an extra boost!

As we headed out of Bobbin Head the class difference between us became apparent. Or maybe the weight difference. I wasn’t comfortable running at the same speed uphill as she was, so I let her go, and she was out of sight by the time we hit Mt Colah. I was by myself for the rest of the day. A couple of times I struck construction crews who said ‘she’s 20 minutes in front’ to which I replied ‘Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty of time to catch her, we’re running to Gosford’ But I never really intended to try. It was all about dealing with my own issues. Running along the Pacific Highway got a bit boring to be honest, but at least it was a nice cool day with little bits of sun. I stopped and got another Coke at Berowra, then it was off for the next 9km stretch to Pie in the Sky. I finally got there in 6:18, it’s 52km by Garmin or 54.5km by the maps. My breathing was a bit uncontrollable- I think I scared a couple of road workers in the pie queue.

I posted my ‘over half way’ message to Facebook and sat quietly having a pie and some Fanta, thinking that maybe I’d had too much Coke! When I got up, I discovered that I could barely walk- my legs were in much worse shape than expected. But luckily I was able to turn that shuffle into a very basic run, but it wasn’t pretty. In a normal long run I’d be happy to walk any steep hills if I could keep up a good pace on the flats and downhills, but here I was struggling to make 7-8min/km on the flats. I forced myself to run down to Brooklyn, then just out of sight of the freeway I stopped to find my Growling Dog bar. These things have some aminos which sometimes give me a bit of a boost, but they’re kind of hard to eat, I had chopped it up into squares beforehand. Of course while I was busy violating my ‘never stop’ rule, I was sprung! Alison Lilley turned up on a bicycle and asked me if I needed anything. It was a huge surprise to see her out on the course, what a nice gesture from such a legendary ultra runner. She rode up to try to find Annabel, while I tried to not find similarities between myself and the wildlife pizza smeared on the road.

I was now slowing so much that there was a very real prospect of walking the last 24km. That’s about 5km per hour or 4-5 hours. I knew that I always speed up a bit at the end, but the boost was taking it’s sweet time to appear. I planned to stop at the Road Warrior Cafe at Mt White, fill my bladder, have another Coke and get out for a finish. This would put me at Gosford station around 8pm. I was running some calculations and trying to figure out what I needed to do to improve my condition. Then there was some frenzied beeping behind me- I was 3km away from the last water stop when my wife came along in our car, and I told her I was done. I made her go to the cafe and wait for me so I could think about the decision. In the end it was just bad timing- if she’d found me 3km past the cafe I would probably have kept going. I was barely running any more, getting slower which wasn’t really the point of the event. Here’s the Garmin-

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/326153310

You can see from the average heart rate that things weren’t going smoothly- compare with this Six Foot Track run last year, much hillier but much lower heart rate.

Five minutes later Geoff Russel appeared and asked if I was ok. It’s possible that I would have jumped in his car too, but I said the same thing- I was pulling out at the cafe ahead. By the time I got there, Geoff and Alison were there with my wife and son Alex. We had a quick chat then took off to Woy Woy to do some shopping. Down at the intersection of Central Coast Highway and Brisbane Water Drive we saw tall Geoff Evison running easily toward the finish, about 1.2km away. Amazingly he was only a few minutes outside his own predictions. So the finishers were

Geoff Evison   9:47
RunMikeyRun 9:47+
Roger Hanney 10:05
Annabel Hepworth 10:30

That brought to a close my adventure, but I’m still keen to have another go, and probably this winter season. The number of shops along the route is good enough to do it unsupported, navigation isn’t bad and it’s not completely boring. And what fun to be able to say you’ve run from Sydney to Gosford. Come with me?