Where to start? It’s such a huge undertaking this event it really does deserve a lot of respect. I am getting tardier and tardier getting my race reports together these days, it seems I feel all that can be said has already been said.
Anyhow I guess it’s a good idea to record how the day/night unfolded for my crew and I.
I’ll start off with the goal. I always wanted to come back and better my time from last year where I suffered terribly from blisters, which saw me shuffle along for the last 50 odd kms of this great journey. So with happy feet (thankfully no blisters from the Great North Walk 100 miler four weeks earlier) and a happy frame of mind my crew (Sub50 and Hamburglar) and I set off for the southeast NSW coastal township of Eden.
The plan was simple, get to the 100 mile marker in 20hrs or thereabouts and then on into Jindabyne with feet still in shape to run a lot more over the final 50kms. In theory I should be able to better my time by doing just that?
Race day dawned amidst a buzz of anticipation as a record turnout of 20 runners including 2 females assembled on Boydtown Beach. It was 5.15am and the sun had barely poked its eye over the horizon as we fidgeted with last minute stuff.
I walked straight up to the waters edge upon arrival and looked out to the sea. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath steeling myself for what lay ahead.
Paul and Diane had drawn a line in the sand flanked with two cones. We assembled behind and after a plethora of start line photos were sent on our way.
I love this very moment, just getting going and doing what we do best. It’s quite simple one foot in front of the other and repeat for a very long time.
I found myself in about 4th place early on with Tim Cochrane and Martin Fryer duelling it out at the front and Lindsay Phillips just ahead of me. The early steep climbs were walked whilst I jogged out the gentler ones, I was already sweating quite profusely such was the early morning humidity. It was nice running with nothing more than a handheld after the “haul’athon” that is the GNW100. No camelbaks today thank you. Still despite the lighter load I felt like I was working quite hard over the first 40 kms. My crew were stopping every 4kms or so. Chris (Coolrunning's Hamburglar) was crewing alone with Scott due to arrive later that morning. The plan was to run through the day with no stops until teatime at around 6.30pm and then break for dinner and a change into night gear.
I started to feel a bit better just before Rocky Hall and was looking forward to the climb up Big Jack Mountain. Scott had joined us now and we were in 3rd spot after having passed Lindsay at 10km. We would not see another runner for the rest of the day. Crew cars were leapfrogging giving me an idea of who was behind, it seemed Sean Williams was next with his crew looking very happy with the way he was running. They seemed to be quite enjoying the day too.
The first marathon is actually quite hilly as it traverses the Towamba Valley snaking its way down to and alongside the river. It’s a very pretty place indeed with the lushness of the valley and the rolling hills. I crossed the marathon point uncannily to the minute of last years split in 4.22. I was living off a diet of creamed rice and sports drink from my crew with the occasional Sustagen thrown in. No stuffing around just a simple swap of handhelds and continue.
The weather looked like it was taking a turn for the worst as the temps dropped off dramatically and the sky seemed to close in. I was thankful however having struggled in the early heat. I was making good progress up Big Jack and when Paul and Diane pulled up alongside offering encouragement. I commented I was looking forward to the impending storm. And storm it did, with heavy winds, an angry sky and lots of rain. I was just cresting the climb when it really started to lash down. As I turned off onto Cathcart Rd I noticed my crew stopped and returned with my spray jacket, nice one, I was thankful as I was feeling the wind-chill. As I approached Cathcart store the instruction was to have an Up and Go ready. Chico, our intrepid roving reporter for the Daily Telegraph was there, busily taking notes as I refuelled. I quickly snorted down my carton of Up and Go much to his amusement, and left.
This race needs to be broken down (like any other big ultra) into bite size chunks. I was now onto the second chunk, which involved a lot of open country and rolling hills as far as the eye can see. The roads are hard packed dirt, which still packs a punch as far as wear and tear goes on the body. I had a vague plan of changing my shoes quite often in an effort to avoid blisters but so far was comfortable in my Asics 2120s. The weather abated a little and with cooler temps I made good progress across the rolling hills to Bibbenluke. Still I was seeing Sean’s crew but figured I had a good jump on him. The next milestone was the 100km marker and the dead tree. Scott and Chris were doing a great job to keep me moving along positively. They were now meeting me about hundred metres from the car with a tray of food choices. This worked very well as I sometimes didn’t know what I wanted until I saw it. Bananas were going down very well as they normally do and with plenty of food going in I was fuelled up nicely for the evening.
After what seemed like forever I finally reached the tree at 102kms in 11.37. I was just behind last year’s splits but not fazed at all.
The next section is a long winding downhill, very welcome indeed, to the Dalgety Rd turnoff. Another milestone reached and another ticked off. Chris and Scott stopped another 8km up the road at the Alan Caldwell Bridge. They found a rather quant little picnic area just before the bridge and out of the blowing gale as the weather turned for the worse again. 114km in and my first stop, I quickly changed into a thermal long sleeve and new top before sitting down to a very tasty veggie lasagne courtesy of Vegie Girl (thanks Lis). A quick sock change and foot relube and I was on my way 8 minutes later.
As night descended so too did a thick fog/mist. Chris joined me for some pacing along the never ending Dalgety Rd. It was great to have some company. The kms rolled by and before long we found ourselves leaving the dirt trails behind. It was bitumen from here (the council shire boundary) all the way to Charlotte Pass. My crew had worked tirelessly all day and now was the time for them to get some rest, so we put the rest and sleep pattern into place where I would roll by the car and pick up what I needed whilst one of the crew slept. Chris stayed with me at first while Scott caught some kip.
The sleep monsters managed to stay away unlike last year where I struggled at this stage. With Chris and Scott keeping me company I didn’t get a chance to nod off.
Paul and Diane rolled by once again offering encouragement, which was well received. I asked Paul how the race was panning out for the others and inquired as to the whereabouts of Tim and Whippet. Sean Williams unfortunately pulled at 100km and Lindsay was back in the field now. It appeared the new kid on the block Brick was working his way through the crowd and Susannah was also having a great run. Getting an update was great; we had no idea who was behind at this stage, as we hadn’t seen a crew car for a while.
It was somewhere along Dalgety road when Brick’s crew Colin, and Luis arrived just as I was pulling away from my scheduled refuel. Colin said Brick was about 5kms behind. I must admit this surprised me a little but I figured I still had a good gap on him and as long as I pushed through the night I should maintain my position.
All the same this encounter only proved to give me a bit of a kick in the arse as I picked up the pace a little. I didn’t want to overcook though and had a plan of really attacking the climb up Beloka to further cement my position.
I arrived in Dalgety after a solid run. The bar was still open and a few hardy souls still about on the deck of the pub. We crossed the Snowy River Bridge and headed out of the township in the direction of the Beloka Range. Scott was running with me here and would stay with me through the night. We were ticking the kms off like a well-oiled machine and spirits were high. I wondered how much of a gap I had on Brick now as we arrived at the 100-mile point, the base of the climb up the Beloka Range.
My split at 100 miles was 20.11.
We climbed well through the mist, the light from our headlamps creating our very own cocoons. My mind started wondering as I struggled to keep a conversation with Scott. Sleep monsters were starting to make themselves known. At one point I looked over at Scott who was walking uphill just in front of me. He had his mouth open almost drinking the water droplets from the mist. He asked me “how much water do you reckon you could catch in your mouth if you ran with it open?” The question didn’t quite compute. Maybe I had nodded off momentarily. Sometime later I muttered “not much”. Scott found this very amusing, my God the things this running through the night was doing to our heads. I started micro sleeping, well actually I prefer to call it “macro” sleeping as we climbed the range. I would lapse off to sleep and instead of waking in an instant “micro sleep” style I would sleep for a few seconds. This was fantastic as it revived me no end. I need to work on that. Sleeping whilst still moving forward is an ultra runner’s dream.
Feeling somewhat revived we walked strongly to the top as once again Paul and Di came past. We were informed Brick was at the bottom so I knew I had a big gap now. It was still dark as we crested the Beloka Range, the lights of Jindabyne off in the distance. I was delighted with the way things had gone thus far and looked forward to the long descent into Jindy. My legs were fairly beat up but importantly my feet, although sore, were still in good shape.
Arriving at Jindabyne in the pre-dawn grey light was uplifting, yet another milestone ticked off. Chris stopped here and after a quick refuel Scott and I headed for the bike path that skirts the lake. It was already shaping up to be quite a warm day.
Scott was wavering a little and decided to have a kip in the car. I continued alone.
This is a tough part of the race. The road through the Smiggens and Perisher ski runs undulates all the way tending generally skywards. It was a beautiful dawn however and we were treated to a wonderful sunrise. The wind picked up at times whipping up off the valley wall buffeting me. Keep pushing forward; run when you can and walk the hills hard was the creed. I was already a fair way ahead of last year’s time and feeling a whole lot better at this late stage. Still there was a good 45kms to go and a lot can happen…take nothing for granted. I was tiring a little and the wind was actually cold at times. The crew were now stopping more frequently with the amount of walking I was doing, 2-3km intervals.
There’s nothing soft about this country, I looked around, such rugged beauty all around as far as the eye could see. I wondered how the tiny wildflowers and flora could withstand the harshness of this environment, particularly in winter.
My pace was dropping off which was to be expected but once moving forward I was happy enough. The bitumen hurts and grates the soles of the feet with the constant movement inside your shoes. I longed for some trail but knew that wouldn’t happen until Charlotte Pass. A couple of kms out from Charlottes and a few dead wombats later Colin and Luis passed. I looked for Brick figuring he might have dropped, as there was no way he could have made up so much distance? As I approached their car he was nowhere to be seen, did he really make up that much time? At worst I figured I still had a few kms on him and would still secure 3rd spot. Scott appeared and quickly came to meet me with a fresh bottle. I didn’t stop, instead I ran hard up the final climb to the car park. Scott ran with me into Charlotte Pass where we were greeted by Paul and Di. Paul offered me some cold mango from his truck, man it was divine. I quickly grabbed my water bottles, applied more sun cream and after a quick congrats to Martin Fryer and crew (who had finished already..fantastic) headed off up the summit trail.
Scott and Chris joined me and together we ran the flatter sections and hiked hard up the hill. We were in great spirits, the journey only a matter of a few hours until the finish. I recalled how utterly smashed I was at this stage last year. Now I was enjoying the trip. I looked back at times to see if Brick was indeed as close as Colin and Luis had let on. No sign, bastards were having a lend of me.
Finally we reached the top of Australia after the endless winding trail. The sun bore down and the wind was relentless. There was a crowd gathered there including Scott’s parents. We took a few snaps, but didn’t hang around too long preferring to get it over with as soon as we could. I was quite emotional at the top but probably didn’t show it at the time. I was still very focused on getting to the finish line, as one indeed has to be at this stage. The descent was very social; we stopped at the Snowy River for a photo. About 3kms from the end Brick appeared with crew. Astounding first up run, I congratulated him as we passed.
About 300 metres from the finish we could see Diane coming up the trail checking on our arrival. Finally with arms around each other Team Bangers and Mash finished in 3rd in 33.07. I remembered to keep moving once finished and after another mango walked a few laps of the car park to keep the blood circulating and avoid a total shut down.
We hung around for a while chatting with Paul and Diane before heading back down off the mountain into Jindabyne and our hotel room.
The following morning we enjoyed the post race breakfast, with each runner receiving an Akubra hat and kudos from RD Paul, such a wonderful way to round off a truly awesome weekend.
Well done to all who showed up, such a fantastic journey shared amongst some of the toughest runners around.
To my crew, Scott and Chris, thanks heaps guys, you rocked out there and ensured there was no slacking off on my end. Hopefully I can return the favour in the future.
Paul and Diane, what a race you guys have going here. This has such potential to be the premier ultra in the country (if it already isn’t). Thank you for the huge effort involved in making this race happen.
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