The Great North Walk 100s 2013 (GNW100s)


That one word appeared a lot last weekend. In the few days before the race Michael McGrath kept on looking at the weather forecast and saying ‘it’s going to be carnage’. I think he was kind of looking forward to the challenge after last year, which was considered to be an ‘easy’ year because of the slightly gentler weather.

L-R- Adam Connor, Adam Darwin, Rob Mattingly, Martyn Dawson, Rocco Smit, Jennie Sharland Riggs, Aileen Waldron. Only 2 of these people would finish their race....

L-R- Adam Connor, Adam Darwin, Rob Mattingly, Martyn Dawson, Rocco Smit, Jennie Sharland Riggs, Aileen Waldron. Only 2 of these people would finish their race….

He was soooo right. I think the race paid us back in spades this year. We dealt with temps in the high 30’s (possibly 37) and overnight down to about 15 (estimated), and bucketing rain. It was completely bipolar. We started at 6am on the dot, a quiet but excited atmosphere gripping us from Teralba sports ground. We settled into a good rhythm, mostly surrounded by my NRG mates and chatted as we went. I saw Sebastian Warmedam take off, but I knew both Allison Lilley and Kirrily Dear were behind me. This was ok for the moment, but I mustn’t get too far in front because these two are great at pacing themselves. In 2012 Allison arrived at CP1 in nearly 100th place but finished 8th overall, and I knew on a good day Kirrily and I should be close. Sure enough, she came past just as we got past the hugging post climb and I yelled out ‘follow that woman, she knows the way!’

So I was very lucky to be guided through the tricky rainforest section. Had a weird moment here- felt a couple of sharp stings on my calf and thought ‘I’ve been bitten by a snake or something’, when I put my fingers on the spot it was wet. However I was sure the punctures were not deep as I had calf guards on, and nothing bad happened so I carried on. Jennie Sharland-Riggs and Martyn Dawson had taken the lead by then, but as it flattened out I got past them again and after those ridiculous climbs we finally got to checkpoint 1. I filled my bottles, had a coke and some food and took off. Martyn had been injured so I had a quiet word to him- told him that my wife would be at CP2 and would drive him out if he needed to quit. I also told him that the next section was all downhill. That’s what it shows on the map, I didn’t know that this was a filthy lie- there’s plenty of uphill into CP2.

Annabel, Wyatt, Rocco, Michael and Marina

Annabel, Wyatt, Rocco, Michael and Marina

I caught up to Roger Hanney (very interesting guy, you should read his blog) and made some conversation with him. He was polite, but something was obviously on his mind so I left it. Only later did I find out he was having problems with his insulin delivery system, and was understandably worried. He’d done 3x 100km races in that month and was finishing with the GNW 175km. You might have read where I thought about doing something similar but not quite so crazy, and I didn’t make it! Adam Darwin caught me here and it was starting to get hot- where we were exposed the sun was at microwave levels of heat.

We discussed this and agreed that all we had to do was knuckle down, stay slow, and outlast the sunny part of the day. So we settled in for a long hot section. I’m very glad that Adam stayed with me, it was quickly turning into a death march. Along the road into Congewai we started seeing all sorts of people in trouble, many had run out of water. Even Adam ran out about 8km before the checkpoint but he would’t take any from me- although I had plenty. One bright spot here was seeing Jane Trumper– I’d thought she was still in the USA but she came out especially to see us and it was a lovely gesture.

Aileen coming into CP1

Aileen coming into CP1

Coming into Congewai Public School was like entering an Army field hospital. News travels fast- before we entered the grounds we’d been told that both Rob Mattingly and Michael McGrath had been held back for losing too much weight. Rob had lost about 6kg and Michael had lost 6.9kg in only 8 hours. Yep, it was that hot. Another shock was seeing Rocco Smit coming out of the CP as we were coming in. He should have been about 1-1.5 hours ahead by then, but it seems the conditions had gotten him too. I was so glad to have Sarah there- I asked her to apply some sunscreen, ate some dolmades, swigged some soft drink and tried to balance my breathing and get my head right.

Seb at Heaton Gap- from a training run

Seb at Heaton Gap- from a training run

I was sitting right next to a guy who was lying on a stretcher having involuntary spasms. Alex was fascinated as they administered a saline drip. Michael had drunk about 2 litres of Coke and was allowed to leave, so it was myself, Adam Darwin and Michael on the way out to one of the biggest climbs of the day- the dreaded communications tower. With the 3 of us travelling together it was like getting the band back together- we run together quite a bit. Only one person was missing, but we’ll get to him soon.

Kiki climbing up to the hugging post- from a training run

Kiki climbing up to the hugging post- from a training run

Rocco gets weighed at CP2

Rocco gets weighed at CP2

It got worse from there. We met a female runner (could have been Erika Brann) just before heading through a paddock of slightly pissed off looking cows. And they were huge. But no incidents and we soon started the climb. Only to see Nikolay Nikolaev climbing down. He didn’t look too bad, but what we didn’t know is that Antoniya Bachvarova (female winner of the 175km race in 29:04) had already spent 30 minutes with him to make sure he was ok.

Then the carnage went into overdrive. I think I lost count at 4 runners heading back down the hill to pull out at CP2, including some super tough runners that I hold in very high regard. We found Rob Mattingly, our missing musketeer, sitting on a rock about half way up. He joined us for a while and got to within 100m of the summit, but I heard him grunting in pain from cramps. When I arrived at the top, I got a phone call from him saying he was heading back down. I suppose what we forget is that even if you make it to the top, there’s still about 22km of track to make it to the next cp. Erika had taken off, then at various stages Michael, Adam and myself all felt good enough to push on, so we swapped places for a while.

I got a huge boost from putting on some music but of course that couldn’t last. I caught up to Erika in a very technical section and she was very relieved as she hadn’t seen another human for hours. Some time later, wallaby bounded away in the bush and I made the mistake of saying ‘it’s probably a 15 foot long feral pig with rotten, sharp tusks and a taste for human flesh.’ She freaked out just a little. So Erika, if you read this- I’m sorry. I thought it was hilarious at the time, but maybe not.

CP3- The Basin Campground

CP3- The Basin Campground

Michael caught up but was having trouble by this time, I wasn’t very happy but the three of us  came into CP3 together. The vollies here were fantastic- they filled my bottles, got me food and encouraged me as much as you can a grumpy tired old man. It was great to see Lea Marsh, and Diane and Paul Every- next month is their unforgettable race- the Coast to Kosciuszko!

Adam Connor arriving at CP3. Yes it's bloody dark

Adam Connor arriving at CP3. Yes it’s bloody dark

The next section was the only one I had absolutely no experience on. So when Erika and Rocco both asked me to come with them I should have gone. Instead I stayed in the comfy seat and worked on Michael to try to get him to come along for the last bit of the 100km race. To his credit he agreed, but it soon became clear that he wasn’t well. This section includes a big climb out of the basin, and I understood it to be a gentle downhill of fire trail and then road to Yarramalong.

Nope. It’s gentle fire trail, and then that disappears and you have to descend into the bowels of the earth along some difficult single track until you finally hit the road. I’d lost a lot of time here- not being organised to go with Rocco, and then doing a death march with Michael cost a lot of time. This isn’t a criticism of him, he’s helped me more times than I can count, and he was doing it again by showing me the way to Yarramalong. He’s a very tough guy, but was having a very tough day. Jason Wheeler caught up with us just before the road and I left Michael, tried to run up to Jason to offer him some lollies, but he took off and was too fast for me to catch.

I was trying to get some speed up on this section as it is nice flat road, but my body would only cooperate for a few minutes at a time. Soon I noticed that it was 19:35 race time, and if I wanted a sub 20 hour time for the first 100km I’d have to boogie.

Surprisingly I was able to keep up a pretty decent speed and caught Marina Bruin- Smits just before the CP. I asked her to run with me because she looked like she was feeling ok, but I had to push on to get my time. She came in less than a minute after me and got a sub 20 too. nice work.

Rocco makes the 103km finish

Rocco makes the 103km finish

I’d covered that section slightly faster than Adam Darwin, but because of the amount of time I’d spent in cp3 he’d left about half an hour before I got there. Rocco had pulled the plug and gone home after a valiant 103km dash, so it was now up to me to decide whether to pack up my toys and go home, or press on into what it the longest section of the race.

I’d had the great fortune to sit down next to Jess Baker (Roger Hanney’s girlfriend), and she was heavily interested in getting me to carry on. I was disappointed to be 3-4 hours later into the checkpoint than I’d promised Gillian Russell, my pacer. And I wasn’t sure that she’d be ok to keep going until 6pm the next night which was my new expected finishing time. So I looked her in the eye and said ‘if you’re ok to help me- we’re going all the way to Patonga. Are you ok with that?’ She replied yes. I can be such a wanker sometimes.

So we headed out into the night and made pretty rapid progress on the Bumble Hill section. In fact Gillian managed to pick up 3 Strava course records and 6x second places during the next 6.5 hours.

Then it all started falling apart. My mental capacity (which wasn’t great to start) was suffering all sorts of logic problems. No matter which way I split the next 2 sections, I couldn’t figure out how we would beat the cut. I was terrified of getting to the unmanned water stop and seeing a man (or a woman) there. This would mean I was out of the race only 15km from the end. the rain started pelting down and nothing would help my mood. I tried to catch up eating (I was sure I was missing nutrition slots, despite being reminded by Gillian) but nothing worked. Then my throat started to really hurt, it was swollen and pressing up against something painfully.

I told Gillian I was quitting at the next checkpoint. I tried to figure out a way to get scraped off the course from 40 acre farm onwards, but there was no way out except up those stupid bloody climbs. I said a few choice swear words at Keith Hong’s Golden Compass corner, and up we went.

I could hear somebody playing the radio very softly, but of course we were alone in the bush. There was literally nobody around for miles. I wished they’d find some better music. Gillian started telling me about how she’d had to buy the wrong type of potato for her run food. I wondered if there was a right kind of potato, and then perhaps if there was a left kind of potato. Isomeric potatoes, mixed in a racemate. Are potatoes chiral? How would you separate the left and right chiral spuds in a solution? I had 3D models of spuds floating around in my head, trying to figure out how the polar surfaces interacted. Why the f@ck are potatoes so important? Was that a bush turkey?

As we popped out of the bush, I popped the entrails of my crazy thoughts back where they belonged, and tried to act normal for our entry into CP5. Thankfully Sarah was there with Alex and Gillians friend Wayne had arrived to pick her up. It was an easy decision to pull out, I still feel like I made the right choice, although below you’ll see some points for and against.

Massive thanks for Gillian Russell’s help this weekend. She kept her poise when I was hours late, unable to speak and threatening to vomit out my ears. It can be a thankless job being a pacer and she was awesome. And to my wife Sarah for allowing me to give this dream a try, and for turning up when I needed her, even when I wasn’t expecting to see her.

THANK YOU to Jess and Roger Hanney for trying to get me to come with them out of CP5. You guys did an incredible job, it was amazing to watch you come from an almost impossible time behind to finish before the cut. Well done!

Jane Trumper was gutted for me but I couldn’t understand it. It was a classic glass half full argument, with her saying ‘oh no you DNF’d’. And me saying ‘I ran 30% further than I’ve ever done before’. Niether of us is completely right, but I’m comfortable with what I’ve achieved. I MIGHT have made a different decision if I was better informed, but I wasn’t. No time for regrets.

I was fit enough, just too tired and sick to finish. War wounds? A nasty sore from a flying ant bite, friction burn from my pack where I didn’t put it on at CP2 correctly, another bad one from my heart rate strap, 2 along my back from my compression shorts, a few bumps on my legs and a couple of blisters, but overall I survived really well.

If you never do this race, please consider coming down to Patonga on a Sunday afternoon to watch the milers finish. It’s a very special experience- just a small number of people hanging around on a beach giving massive cheers to these incredible athletes who can can run for up to 36 hours. And you’ll see a few grown men cry. This is without doubt the most brutal, and definitely one of the most beautiful races in Australia.

Adam Darwin comes in for a massive finish

Adam Darwin comes in for a massive finish

Adam Connor Checkpoint Times

Checkpoint 1
Arrival time 10:47am
Stage 1 time 4:47
Time in CP 5 minutes
Total Race Time 4:52
Position 116

Checkpoint 2
Arrival time 2:19pm
Stage 2 time 3:56
Time in CP 20 minutes
Total Race Time 9:08
Position 108

Checkpoint 3
Arrival Time 9:16pm
Stage 3 time 5:08
Time in CP 45 minutes
Total Race Time 15:16
Position 64

Checkpoint 4
Arrival Time 1:56am
Stage 4 time 3:55
Time in CP 41 minutes
Total Race Time 19:56
Position 21

Checkpoint 5
Arrival time Just before 9am
Stage 5 time apx 6:30
Total race time 27 hours

Martyn, Allan and Jen at Patonga on Sunday

Martyn, Allan and Jen at Patonga on Sunday

What did I do wrong

– Not knowing the cutoffs. I had no idea I would come close to the cuts so I hadn’t even looked at them. Between CP4-5 this was weighing heavily on my mind and I convinced myself I wouldn’t make the cuts. I was wrong. Roger Hanney arrived at CP4 and CP5 after me but still managed to finish….

– Not knowing approximate running times between checkpoints. I’d had a look at these but not memorised them. I had the arrival times for a 32 and 34 hour finish written in each of my checkpoint bags but had not included anything for 36 hours.

– Not being prepared for a 36 hour finish. I simply couldn’t face the prospect of finishing at 6pm on Sunday.

– Not managing my caffeine intake well. My plan called for not having any coke until CP3 at 80km. I lasted until 29km. If I’d stuck to the plan I may have flamed out earlier, but by going this way I lost the ability to keep myself awake far into the next day. I don’t think this one is controllable, it’s dependant on conditions

– Not waiting until the checkpoint to make the decision. I’d told Gillian (my pacer) that I wasn’t going to make it. So she (quite reasonably) rang her flatmate to come and pick her up. By the time we got into the checkpoint he’d driven the 2 hours to get there and meet us, so I could hardly say ‘er, sorry- we’ll be ready for you in another 9 hours or so’

– related to the above point- I couldn’t add up anymore. I thought it was over 50km to the finish at CP5. If somebody had yelled in my face ‘it’s only 43km you dick’ I would have gotten up and gone. I could have handled another 43km. Possibly

Things that went right

– I don’t want to make too much of this because its a way of measuring success that requires others to fail, but- I’m very pleased I managed to outlast some of the toughest guys and girls in the business. Running slowly sometimes has benefits.

– My body held up really well. I was really keen to get under 20 hours for the first 100km, so I was busting my lungs to get to Yarramalong. I physically could have made it to the end, no massive problems with my legs- I just let the demons get to me.

-Dolmades. I had a tin of these delicious rice wrapped in vine leaves treats in my bag for cp2 and they worked great.

-Eggs. On Friday morning I boiled 3 eggs, left them in the hotel fridge overnight and peeled them, put them in a sandwich bag and ran with them on Saturday morning. I had one during stage 1, and another during stage 2 and discarded the last one at cp2. Easy to eat, not too large as to make me sick, full of protein. Probably full of germs after 8 hours in my backpack at 37 degrees, but they seemed to work well.

-I carried a Garmin e-Trex 30 which was loaded with all of the maps of the course. Did not get lost once. Not even a little bit. Although the instruction manual sucks balls.

What I’m most proud of- being able to pull off a sub 5:30 min/km at the 100km mark. It shows as 98km here but that’s probably because of the corrections applied by software. Yes- the Garmin gave me 102km but a 5:32 min/km for number 100

If you want to know what kind of carnage this race caused, just have a look at the provisional results. I’m putting some of my friends performances down here as a roll call of heroes- every one of them succeeded in making a dent in this most difficult race.

Adam Connor 132km, 27hours retired at CP5
Adam Darwin 175km, 35:30 Finished!
Brendan Davies 132km, 12hr +, retired at CP5
Martyn Dawson 80km 15:22, retired at CP3
Kirrily Dear 80km, 15:52, retired at CP3
Andy DuBois 52km, 8:02, retired at CP2
Geoff Evison 175km, 30:28 Finished!
Jeremy Gordon 52km, 7:41 retired at CP2
Michael Hanavan 132km, 24:54 retired at CP5
Roger Hanney 175km, 35:18 Finished!
Michael Hardie 29km 5:02 retired at CP1
Annabel Hepworth 80km 15:18 retired at CP3
Ray James 103km 21:44 retired at CP4
Lise Lafferty 52-80km 7:09 retired at CP2-3
Allison Lilley 175km 34:02 Finished!
Sarah Jane Marshall 52km 9:56 retired at CP2
Rob Mattingly 52km 7:23 retired at CP2
Michael McGrath 103km 20:14 retired at CP4
Ana Penteado 125-132km 21:08 Retired at CP4-5
Jill Saker 52km 10:33 retired at CP2
Kylie Ann Scott 29km 7:06 retired at CP1
Jennie Sharland Riggs 80km 16:21 retired at CP3
Rocco Smit 103km 19:26 retired at CP4
Sebastian Warmerdam 52km 10:01 retired at CP2
Jason Wheeler 175km 33:27 Finished!

A special mention should go to Aileen Waldron who smashed the 103km race, coming in 15:47- 2nd female and 3rd overall! What an amazing performance!

How tough are these races? Well, a time that wouldn’t even get you a silver buckle at the North Face 100 would have got you a podium here. In the Miler, only two males and one female over 50 years old finished. Out of 114 original entries, only 31 people finished the miler. ‘Nuff said.

*Thanks to Sally Mcilwaine for most of these photos

Poor Mans Comrades 2013- 2nd Attempt

Success at last! Well, sort of- we didn’t start at the Opera House steps where the ‘official’ run begins. Here’s the story-

Kirrily Dear suggested doing this run as a last big hit out before the Great North Walk 100 miler on November 9. So when she suggested the date I said yes without thinking about it too much. I really only wanted to do about 60km and I thought that if there were a few of us I could run to the top of Bobbin Head and back. I’ve been doing a fair few long runs lately and I wanted a decent road run to practise ‘not stopping’. Most of the long runs had been in the bush and I’ve been guilty of stopping for dumb reasons. I really needed to whip my mind into  a new attitude of ‘relentless forward progress’ while not worrying at all about speed.

Kirrily is doing the GNW and has also been accepted into Coast to Kosciuszko– a 240km race along roads in December. So she wanted to practise her all day, all night, all day, etc pace.

Here’s the docs- Poor Mans Comrades

So we started on Friday 18th October at 5am from the corner of Shirley Rd and Pacific Highway in Crows Nest. The pace was nice and easy, a big contrast to last time when I was just outside my comfort zone trying to keep Annabel Hepworth in my sights.

Going up the Pacific Highway was a bit of a shock- noisy and stinky during peak ‘hour’, and Kirrily reminded me that’s why she doesn’t like the big smoke. I’d have to agree. The run down to Bobbin Head was fun, lots of smiling older people on bikes headed back towards us- if  that’s what you get to do when you retire I’d like to retire now please, and after a comfort stop and some food watching the bay wake up, we headed up the hill on the next stage past Kalkari, over the freeway and on to Mt Colah.

The best thing about this section is that there’s a whole bunch of service stations and shops – it’s like having a checkpoint every 500m stocked with cold Coke, chips and pies. Awesome.

We finally got on to the Old Pacific Highway and a few km later got to stop at Pie in The Sky. Unfortunately we were held up here for more than 20 minutes because I had to make a support call, but it gave me the opportunity to snarf down a sausage roll and some Powerade.

From Pie in the Sky it’s a loooong downhill to cross the Hawkesbury River on the old bridge, then a loooong climb out to Mt White. At Mt White we made our last major stop at the Road Warrior Cafe (also known as the Old Road Cafe) and had a brief chat to some guys who were out for a bike ride. We saw lots of people who have nice carbon bikes, but apparently no jobs. It was here that I pulled the pin last time, so from here on I was in new territory. Honestly there was more of the same, roads through bush. We went through Calga and came out at an industrial area near Gosford with about 8km to go. It was here I said goodbye to Kirrily- she had to head elsewhere for a lift home with her boyfriend. I was a little worried- she was wearing tiny shorts and as we said our goodbyes a few local tradesmen nearly had accidents as they drove past. OK they weren’t THAT tiny but I was pretty sure the tradies weren’t looking at me.

Adam nears Gosford

The descent into Gosford was terrifying- it’s a little winding road with barely 2 lanes, no pavement, a cliff on one side and a rock wall on the other. And I happened to be there at 4pm on Friday afternoon when everyone was knocking off work. Sub optimal. But the road finally widened out and I came out back on to the Pacific Highway besides Jax Tyres. I’d truly entered the ‘suffer zone’ by now, and when I looked on the instructions I had 1200m to go! Yay, all I had to do was keep it together for a few more minutes……

But no. It was actually about 4km to the end, so I was a bit grumpy when I finally sat down on the steps to the station. And of course there was no one to tell about my run. So I asked some cops if there was a Subway sandwich shop nearby. They said yes, about 500m away- but I thought nope, I’ll eat anything that’s close. They told me about a noodle place only 50m away. Should have gone to Subway- it was the filthiest place I’ve eaten in for a long time- and I’m generally not a fussy person. Perhaps telling the cops later that they mustn’t have high standards wasn’t smart either, but I escaped without a cavity search.

Oh well, off to the train station where I did manage to tell the people sitting next to me how far I’d run, then a noisy trip home in the train with some teenagers, Coles at St Leonards to buy some random stuff that I didn’t really want then a walk home for a shower  and bed.

Elapsed time was 12 hours 14 minutes 59 seconds for a distance of just over 87km. Well under 12 hours if we remove the tech support calls. I didn’t feel as if I’d over exerted myself, nutrition went well and overall I’m very happy.

Garmin link

As soon as I posted the details, Andy DuBois posted this article. I have no idea if it was just a coincidence or just a not-so-gentle reminder, but I still feel as though doing that run was worthwhile for me. I was back running fairly quickly afterwards, but the reasons I wanted to do it weren’t really about the distance, it was all about consistency. I definitely got a few ‘free’ kilometres that I wouldn’t have chosen to do if I’d been following a strict training plan, but it was a great day, great company and I finally finished a run that I’d previously DNF’d.

but Andy is a great guy who’s probably forgotten more about running than I will ever know, so he’s probably right.