It had finally arrived, the event that I had lived and breathed for a year. Surprisingly, I was very relaxed, knowing that I was going to be tested to my absolute limits. Although, as it turned out, I didn't realise how absolute they were. Probably a good thing!
Here we are at Boydtown Beach with the clock approaching 5.30 and before we know it we are off on our journey to the top of Australia. I am surprised by the uphills in the first trail section but happy enough to find myself walking with Lisa Spink. We chat a bit about Glasshouse and before we know it, we are hitting the road where our crews are waiting for us for the first of many times. The first kms tick away nicely and Lisa moves ahead. We start to hit some downhills and Whippet flies past. I am used to this as he loves to show off his downhill running ability and he is soon out of sight. I go through the marathon point in 4:52 which is around my target time, but I am surprised that it has been tougher than what I thought it should be. Hermie and Tim go past me around this point and run off into the distance together. Not long later Allison and Marie cruise past me together and they start to move off into the distance. I am having my first bad patch and realise I must do something to bring me out of my malaise.
I discuss this with my crew and then Belinda hands me my ipod, a can of V and a sandwich. Before I know it, I have got a bit of zip back in my legs. I soon realise that I am catching Allison and Marie and stay with them for a little while before moving ahead of them just in time to see Colin, Sailaway and SMC42km doing their thing with the manequins. After a bit of banter, I am off - soon to be climbing Big Jack Mountain. At the base I see T-Bone walking with Vegie Girl and he doesn't look happy. I turn my ipod off and try to talk to him but he is in a shitty mood and isn't interested in talking to me and just powers off ahead. So I turn my ipod on and stay 10-20 metres behind him singing at the top of my voice. That should teach him to snob me like that. Then half way up I notice Whippet join him so I catch back up to them and again try to talk to them. The conversation lasted a few sentences longer this time but same result, they just increase the tempo of their walk so I have no option other than to put my ipod in walk hard to keep them in sight. I notice I am catching them on the flatter bits so I take the opportunity to pass them as I know I have already scheduled a lunch break at the top of Big Jack Mountain where a freshly cooked chicken burger will be waiting for me.
After lunch is eaten and shirt changed, I notice Hermie, Allison and Marie leaving. This is my cue to get going again. Hermie goes ahead then Marie follows then Allison and then me, all spaced out 100m apart on our way into Cathcart. I catch up to Allison and we run into Cathcart together. Everybody is excited that the infamous store at Cathcart is open for the first time in 5 years and to cap it off, there is a toilet there as well. True gold! My crew have a surprise for me here - a golden gaytime. I have a great laugh when Belinda passes me this. I immediately think of Tim and Whippet and wonder how far they have got ahead of me since they re-passed me while I was having lunch. The ipod goes on as I leave Allison and Marie behind and chase after Hermie. Then when I get to the Monaro Highway, my crew have another surprise for me. Timmeister has found 2 unopened cans of VB there. They must have been left over after a wild party there. haha. I immediately open one and start drinking it and it gives me a nice boost at the 50 mile mark. A third of the race over and still on my target. I catch up to Hermie as we turn off the highway as he is having a gear change. We run together for a while and discuss how good it will be to catch Tim and Whippet. My 3 person crew are getting toey and ask if I would like one of them to run with me for a while to give them a break from sitting in the van, which they have been doing for over 10 hours. I happily accept the offer and GraeGrae joins me. He is surprised how relaxed the pace is and instinctively lifts it a notch. I am happy to go with him as he has been waiting all day for this moment. We start to ease away from Hermie and not much longer we have Tim and Whippet in sight. The only problem is they see the Horriemobile and lift their tempo as well. So we play cat and mouse with them for a while and by the time I reach the dead tree, they have not long left. I am happy to let them go while I change into my night gear. By the time I do this, Hermie reaches the tree as well.
I run onto the turnoff point to Dalgety where I have Schultzy ready for a pacing stint. Hermie now has Boonarga running with him and he is starting to take distance off me and soon passes me. At this point, Schultzy tells me this is such a long race, that Hermie and I could end up 3 hours apart. As it turned out, it ended up being over 5 hours. Well run Hermie, you are such a tough bugger. Not long later, there is a mix up with my crew and I go almost an hour without food. I feel fatigue setting in and it is now dark and with that my mood darkens. Belinda takes over pacing duties from Schultzy not long later and she is great and has a great calming influence on me. She makes sure I am eating and drinking regularly again and my mood and pace picks up. Paul and Diane are soon doing their drive through the field giving us a weather report for tomorrow. It sounds like it is on the improve. I should know by now not to trust weather reports. He tells me I am looking good and should probably catch a few people as there are a few ahead having problems. This keeps my mood and pace up and Belinda decides to keep running with me until Dalgety.
When we reach Dalgety, Billy Pearce the race medic asks me a few questions to assess my condition. I tell him the only problem I have is a few blisters but nothing that is going to stop me. He then tells me he will see me at Charlottes Pass. Schultzy tells me Whippet is having problems and Tim has left without him. I realise that this is probably the beginning of the end for Whippet. I feel for him but he has had such a stellar year, I am sure he will get over it. I also realise that this will make catching Tim that much harder. GraeGrae takes over pacing duties from Dalgety until the 100 mile mark, which I reach in 23:51. I realise my pace has dropped but am happy to reach this mark in under 24 hours. Belinda joins me on the road again and leads me up through Beloka Range. She gets me to chi walk it and this helps immensely and I seem to go up effortlessly. She runs with me for a few more kms but then I decide I just want to run in my own company for a while so the ipod goes back in and I keep shuffling along. Marie has gone past me after I must have seen her husband at least 10 times throughout the night. She has now left Allison behind. Then as I run a long downhill, I notice that my blistered second toe on my right foot has got a lot worse as when it pushes against the toe of my shoe, it no longer feels like a toe but more like mush. I realise I have to stop at the next crew stop and deal with it. While getting my toe patched up, Paul and Diane drive through the field to tell us that the finish is now at Charlottes Pass. Their calm manner does not make us realise how bad the weather is up there.
I am very lucky to have a nurse for a wife and crew member and the toe is soon patched up and feels a lot better so I head off into Jindabyne with GraeGrae. He tries to encourage me to push a bit harder on the downhills but I have got nothing. We soon hit the bike path and as neither of us have been on it before, we have no idea where it ends. I know it rejoins the road at a service station but we walk around like headless chooks for a while until we eventually find it. Our crew also have problems finding this service station but we are all now on course again. As we hit the road again, Allison and one of her crew Barbara catch up to us. They go past us but we manage to keep them in sight until Guthega turnoff where we stop to put extra wet weather gear on.
Since we have hit Jindabyne, we realise the strength of the wind and it is getting stronger with each passing km. Belinda and Timmeister take over pacing duties from GraeGrae at Thredbo River and we are soon climbing again. Timmeister is very happy to be out on the road with me and tells me he is glad he doesn't have to do the climb to Kosciuzko with me. He stays on the road for a 3km stint with me. It is great to have him out there with me and I draw a lot of inspiration from how he deals with his problems. Not long later Mr G pulls up in a car and says G'day, I am shocked to see the Big Fella and Virtual get out of the car and ask me if I want some company for a while. I soon forget the problems I have been having with my stomach and my feet, and am making good progress. We are soon passed by RB and family in a car. He steps out to tell us that he hasn't pulled out but he is struggling and just wants to drive ahead to assess the conditions before making his mind up. I soon start to get this uneasy feeling that conditions must be really bad and when we are greeted by each runner who has finished on their way back down, the messages become more and more serious and fearful. Colin is almost white and I can see the fear in his eyes as he talks about what it is like. I can feel he is really worried about me. Virtual combats this by telling me to stay positive and just deal with whatever is thrown at me. Belinda is also great and tells me no matter how bad it is, it hasn't stopped them and they have all finished. RB soon reappears from his car on the way back down and declares that he has quit. I feel for him. He got to within 60km of the finish last year and 30km this year and still no akubra. I know he will be back for another shot next year.
By the time we see Hermie and Tim on their way back down, the weather is getting a lot worse and the winds are getting stronger and driving rain into your face and the temperature is dropping. I am so thankful that I bought a new jacket especially for this event and that we packed Tim's ski gloves amongst our gear. I just reach into the car and shake Hermie's hand as he tells me the weather only gets worse from here. When we see Tim and Whippet's crew car the only word that I can come up with is insane. Tim just lets out a 'maaaaaaaaate, wait until you get to Perisher'. As we head down the hill to Perisher, the landscape is unrecognisable. Belinda thinks she sees the road flooded and wonders how the Horriemobile is going to get through. I tell her she is mistaken and tell her it is a lake. When we get there, it is a car park and is not flooded at all. Tim is not wrong and the weather here is absolutely abominable. We are getting smashed from every angle and I don't think I can take much more. I am hardly moving forward and am having trouble staying on my feet. I get my crew to drive the van ultra slowly and think I can walk either behind or at the side of the van to protect me from these monsoonal conditions. We do this for a while until Schultzy tells me we will run out of petrol before we get to Charlottes Pass if we keep doing this. Up until this point, the only thing that has kept me going is knowing that when it is over I can climb into the van and be back in a warm bed within an hour. He also tells me that at the pace I am now moving at, it is going to take 4 hours to do the last 9km. Belinda tells me she can't take another 4 hours of this and I know I surely can't.
So I decide that I just have to suck it up and get my arse moving. We send the van a km up the road and I tell Belinda to get me moving again. So we start swinging our arms with vigour and I slowly start to quicken up. Even though it is turtle's pace, it's still a heck of a lot quicker than snail's pace. Belinda then asks me if I can start running. I think the weather has got to her and she has lost her marbles. But as she says this, she starts jogging on the spot with her arms moving and encourages me to do the same. We are now making some headway and we arrive at the van in 18 minutes. As the previous 2km took an hour, that is a hell of an improvement. I am buoyed by this and we soon realise that when there is a slight break in the winds, we must take advantage of it so we are now playing games with the winds. When a gust picks up and smashes us, we just link arms and stand our ground and as it eases off, we start to shuffle. The next km is done in 17 minutes. I am getting quicker and am now gaining hope for the first time in a long time. Belinda tells me we are doing 1km reps and we only have 7 left. The next one goes well and we get through that in 14 minutes. The next km is a bit of a downhill and we are aided by some changes in the wind direction so we take advantage of getting smashed in the back by a 100km/hr tailwind and fly through that km in 11 minutes. It is now only 5km to go and I know I will be finished in a little over an hour. The kms start to get slower again but we are happy to keep the next 2 under 20 minutes. Somewhere towards the end of the 3rd last km, we think we hear a car behind us but the winds have been making us think this so many times already. Then we hear voices and Belinda is sure she is hallucinating. Then in his unmistakable deep voice, Mr G asks 'pies anybody?'
We gladly accept the offer and with food warming our stomachs and the knowledge that it is now only 2km to go, our spirits are lifted further. The winds are getting stronger again and visibility is getting poorer but we manage to reach the van just before 8.30pm with 1km to go. We link arms and just walk strongly until we can see car headlights. Our crew have driven to the finish and left the headlights on to alert us to where the finish is. As we approach, Grae Grae is out of the car and guiding us towards Paul and the finish line. We finally reach it 39 hours and 17 minutes since we left Eden and I have never been so glad to finish a race.
We are whisked into the 5 star accommodation in the Charlottes Pass toilet block where Diane offers me a cup of hot water. I never realised hot water would taste so good. There were hugs and tears all round and several chants of "Horrie" led by Paul and Virtual. This was followed by a couple of cups of coffee and when we had got dry and warm, out came the bottle of french champagne we had saved for the finish. There we were in the Chateau de Toilette at Charlottes Pass drinking french champagne. It was a truly magical moment.
I cannot thank my crew enough. You could not contemplate doing an event like this without one. It was ably led by the love of my life Belinda who always knew the right thing to say or do at the right time, even when I didn't like the sound of it. And she showed me in those last couple of hours out in treacherous conditions just how tough she is. Thank you darling. I am so lucky to have found you so early in my life. I look forward to doing several more of these events and the rest of our lives together.
GraeGrae, you committed to crewing for me in January/February this year and never faltered. Just as you did in the nearly 40 hours we were out on the road. You said you wanted to see first hand what we go through in doing these ultras. I think you got more than you bargained for.
Schultzy, to come in at the last minute and fit so well into the team just shows how committed you are. You never missed a beat and also knew the right things to say at the right time. I am so glad you realised the problem with the fuel as I would have been mortified if we had to spend any further time up in the high country. That's 2 out of 2 for me with you by my side for a 100% success rate.
Paul and Diane, words cannot adequately express the feelings the competitors have for you guys. C2K is so much more than a race, it is a big family adventure and you are our ever caring parents. The effort you go to make sure we all know what is going on and in turn you are able to monitor things gives us all that extra feeling of comfort. The heartfelt love you show us when we finish is just unbelievable and I know you would love to see every starter finish.
Virtual, to see you pop out of the car just after Thredbo River and walk with me for a couple of hours was priceless. It made me realise how I love having you around and I can't wait for when you return to Australia to live, whenever that is. And those pies with just over 2km to go were absolutely sensational.
To the rest of the runners and their crews, thank you for sharing this journey. People are right when they say it is a family reunion and the friendships that are forming are only going to get stronger. That post race breakfast atmosphere is truly amazing and I wish I could take it with me wherever I go.
Already looking forward to next year.