After months of emails, sms’s and other ‘gentle’ reminder/messages from my friend Joe Raftery, I finally relented and agreed to enter this year’s Coast to Kosciuszko. My ITB and Achilles tendonitis had submitted by way of cortisone so I was injury free. It had been niggling me since I made such a butchered performance at the 2007 event. I knew that I needed to run and finish this race on my terms and get that monkey off my back (so to speak!). With Joe (aka Boonarga) and Mel (friend and masseuse extraordinaire) as my trusty crew and my Volvo as the very trusty support vehicle (no hire car this time!) we ventured to Eden. In the boot was every food possibility that I could ever think of and more and my kit was HUGE!!
To say that I was terrified before the start would have not have come close to how I was feeling. It was reassuring that upon meeting up with Marie and Allison at the pre-race dinner, they felt the same. That dinner was a great opportunity to meet up with so many familiar ultra runners and crew, like a giant family reunion. With the logistics sorted, back we went to our rooms to make the final preparations. Mel gave me a fantastic massage that sorted out some back spasms I had been experiencing for a few days. Something I was a little concerned about, but no more! The wind was howling when I eventually went to bed and being woken up in the middle of the night by driving rain added to my terror. At least my back wasn’t sore anymore!
With way too little sleep we rocked up to the start at Twofold Bay at 5am. I collected my GPS tracker (for Colin Solomon’s pacing research) from Colin’s student, Thomas, who asked if I was expecting to finish under 36 hours – no idea was my response! He gave me two trackers as the battery only lasts 36 hours just in case. It was a cool morning, but the rain had gone and the breeze was only slight. I'm not sure whether it was the lack of sleep or caffeine but I felt numb and the nerves were only a background noise! Looking around I could see that, as usual, the most enthusiastic and animated people were the amazing organisers Paul Every and Diane Weaver. The true meaning of this race is tangible, purely from the energy that this couple put into it and exude!
Once the flurry of photographers and Sue Swinburne’s doco crew had their way with us runners, the countdown began and we were off! No less than a kilometre up the road we came to our first hill and the walk-run strategy was adopted by all except the ultra keen / top runners. The first 10 or so kilometres is on trails and it was a great opportunity to catch up with the others, especially the other women. I think this must be the only sporting discipline I know where it’s an unwritten rule that ALL women are fabulous people! Not a bitching, whinging or boring bone in their bodies. It was really nice to get to meet and know Jane Trumper and to re-acquaint with the others. Except Pam Muston – she was already making her way to the pointy end of the field! I spent the first 50 kilometres or so with fellow Queenslander (although she’s originally from Eden) Lisa Spink and her support crew. Thank you for your conversation – I really enjoyed your company. Every 5 or so kilometres, her crew swapped to run with her, including her brother with a broken toe! Toughness is something that must run in that family. We crossed the marathon mark in a very comfortable time of 4:59 to see Graham Doke treating Tim Cochrane’s leg. It was fairly obvious that he was in a bad way and it was very sad to see the two-time previous race winner out and so early on.
Meanwhile, my crew were beginning to learn my dietary peculiarities and generally kowtowing to my demands. I had a feeling that by now they would be wondering why the hell they had agreed to crew for me. Iced water, salt and vinegar crackers to go with the avocado, rice cakes to go with the ricotta and Marmite combination… We hadn’t even got to the night-time and the specifics of hot chocolate with rice milk and coffee yet! Poor buggers. Even with these burdens (and later on a couple of little tanties – sorry guys) they continued on stopping for me when I needed them and tirelessly egging me on.
Big Jack was the next threshold to cross and I was really looking forward to the 8 kilometre or so climb. I remembered how much I enjoyed this section in 2007 and I did again this time. With a large bag of GF lollies in my belt and a serving of Coke (thank you very much SPC Ardmona and Rick Cross for your kind sponsorship) and jelly demolished at the bottom, I made the most of the walking break. My only challenge was to get past Glenn Lockwood (Horrie), not because I wanted to beat him but he’d already performed a “wee-run” in front of me and was now listening to his iPod and enacting the ‘YMCA’ dance whilst singing like a mating Koala. It was a sight to, well, get past as soon as possible and scrub from your memory as best you can (my CBT starts in January). Besides, no-one should be enjoying themselves THAT much!
Upwards and onwards. More Marmite and Coke was served on a silver platter by my wincing slaves at the top of Jack and onto Cathcart. I saw Kelvin Marshall disappearing into the distance and I was relishing the thought of potential real loos in town. Joe went into the local shop and manage to persuade the staff to open the town hall’s toilets. The lady arrived at the locked venue with a large bunch of keys and proceeded to try every one at least twice – eyes were now beginning to cross as well as my legs. Once relieved I had a new lease of life and trotted on. The next threshold to look forward to was the iconic “Dead Tree” at 102 kilometres.
Much of this section was paced for me by the grader that I followed for at least 15 kilometres. The camber proved a little challenging, but at least it brought a change to the legs. Flies happily danced around my face and inside my sunglasses with annoying persistence. Kelvin and I ‘leap-frogged’ each other a good part of this bit too, a pattern that rolled on until the early evening. We passed Colin Solomon in this area too, and I observed at the time that it was nice to run with some fellow Queenslanders. I think we all relished the warmth of the afternoon sun. I commented to Colin that I was pleased for him that he had Michael Schulz as part of his crew - it would have been beneficial to have someone with his experience when you’re a rookie. Soon enough a line on the road indicated the 100 kilometre mark at about the 11:30-12:00 hour point. I was pleased to be feeling comfortable and still relatively fresh. My stomach was a little unsettled , so I chose more bland food options and drank some ginger beer. Hello Dead Tree!
I really enjoyed this rural area. Although fairly bleak and bare, the locals were friendly and courteous; slowing down and waving to us. Even the cattle were amicable! Kelvin and I were still continuing the pattern that we had initiated some 40 kilometres before. I was also beginning to familiarise myself with Andrew Vize’s crew who were packing up just as I arrived to mine every 30 minutes or so. I thought that I would see the last of Kelvin as I found a toilet stop underneath a bridge. That stomach was beginning to annoy me! I collected a lovely ensemble of cobbler’s pegs and bindies all over my knee length socks and it took some time to remove the prickly little buggers! Not 30 minutes later, Kelvin was in the same predicament as me and I passed him for the last time.
Darkness came down soon after. Headlamp and reflective gear donned, I braced myself for a cold and long night. My crew had made some very nourishing mocha that really hit the spot and apart from continuing gurgling from my unreliable stomach, I was feeling pretty good. I was hoping to make it to Dalgety for the next civilised toilets, but trees seemed just as enticing and I maintained my rather canine-like behaviour of marking these with some consistency. Luckily it didn’t seem to affect my appetite too much, and I enjoyed some hot GF spaghetti. I couldn’t believe how quickly Dalgety came up and I was warned by my crew that the pub was still open. When I’d passed over the Snowy River, three young men who had apparently enjoyed the hospitality of the local were there to encourage and cheer me on. They told me that they’d seen four others just ahead and asked if I was going to beat them! Joe and Mel kept a close and protective eye on me, but they were harmless and in a jovial frame of mind. I thanked them for their efforts. I also was quite surprised to realise that I had done a negative split in the last 80 kilometres; I know it’s much flatter, but after the first 80 in my legs and the amount of impromptu stops, I didn’t expect it. Joe seemed less impressed when I pointed out this observation – a hard man to please!
Soon after I caught up with Andrew Vize who complained that he kept seeing my crew! I apologised! He said that ITB problems were giving him the turds, and I could only sympathise and offer him the obvious advice of taking it easy on any downhills (duh!). An hour or so later I over-took a waddling Wayne Gregory (Blue Dog) and Bernie was running with him. I stated that it was a “braw bricht moonlicht nicht the nicht” which was received with two blank faces. It was a lovely night. In the distance I could see another pair of runners, one with a flashing light on their back. It was quite a hypnotic vision and I kept that as my focus. Paul and Diane drove up and kept with me for a chat. They were in great form and their enthusiasm had not dwindled since the morning before. I felt uplifted by their ‘visit’. Hunger pangs were beginning to visit me too. I asked my personal chef for the GF fettuccine to be prepared in rice milk with loads of cracked pepper… “Yes, m’lady” . I found out that the flashing light was Pam Muston keeping up her cracking pace accompanied by the wonderful Kerrie Bremner. They were only 100 or so metres ahead as we neared the bottom on Beloka hill when another tree called for my closer inspection. During that stop I could see Andrew striding on past. Once at the bottom of the range, Mel passed me my meal and I immediately felt really cold. Another two layers of clothes and gloves were quickly donned. Joe waved me goodbye and I agreed that I’d see them at the top. Hooray for hill-breaks! The hot, salty gooey pasta dish was devoured with relish and I strolled up the range feeling great.
Upon reaching the top, I saw that Mel and Joe were sleeping peacefully in the car. Rather than disturbing them, I kept on going thinking that they would have set the alarm. They had been working so hard that they needed the rest. An hour and a half later, my thoughts weren’t so charitable. I was a little worried and hoped they were OK, but I suspected they were still asleep. The latter presumption proved correct. I had asked Andrew’s crew to go back and see where they were and ten minutes later they showed up. “Do you need anything?” asked Joe, “Water, food and batteries would be good…!” They giggled that they were caught out! Never mind, no harm done and I am glad they were stopped for their unplanned snooze. With my supplies replenished and a new battery in my radio (I am really grateful for Triple J and their club music at night!) I could see the lights of Jindabyne in the distance.
It was SO nice to be able to run down the hill into Jindabyne as opposed to the limp I had two years before. The sun was beginning to rise as I ran along the cycle path around the lake and enjoyed breakfast of coke and Manuka coated popcorn. Mmmmm. Once through town I was on the search once more for another pit stop. A perfect location came up not a moment too soon and as I was venturing over to the other side of the road, Andrew’s crew stopped to ask if I needed anything. “Privacy please!” was my request and with a laugh, they drove off rapidly! My legs were a little bit unforgiving by this stage and I hoped that if I needed another stop that it was at a proper loo.
From Thredbo River at the bottom of the National Park road I found it difficult to run. I knew this section was going to be the longest and most arduous. The tops of my feet felt really bruised, but I wasn’t complaining, things could be a lot worse. I was finding it hard to keep food interesting, but knew I had to keep the intake going. The protein bar was not a good decision and made me feel decidedly ordinary for at least two hours. Thank goodness for ginger beer and ginger sweets. Watching Andrew running up some of this section amazed me. His pacer seemed less impressed as he struggled to keep with him! A car pulled up on the way down – JO! (Blake) WOW! His chuckle said it all and I was so pleased for him. The wind was getting stronger and soon enough another layer of warm clothes was needed. When the downhills were there, I ran where I could. Now I just wanted to be at Charlotte’s Pass for the company of my crew. Sleeeppyyy, verrry sleeeeppppy… Shuffling through Perisher I saw the firemen out on the balcony of their station… AWAKE, helloooo!
Finally I arrived at Charlotte’s Pass! Joe and Mel were busily packing and rearranging the car and getting the warm gear out. I grabbed my stuff and the food I wanted for the last section and made a bee-line for the loos. The first I’d seen since Cathcart and to sit down was wonderful! I changed and my crew caught up with me a kilometre or so along the path. Soon after Paul had left me after his pep talk and encouraging words. His departing was marked with a peck on the cheek and a “Love you”… I was really touched.
Closer and closer we got to Rawson’s Hut, the worse I felt. A combination of nausea, tiredness and overall general crapness was overwhelming. My hands and feet were so swollen that they weren’t cooperating with my demands. Too cold, too hot, faintness, sleepy – these sensations kept washing over like waves. Joe looked over at me and asked if I was alright, the lack of response was a good answer! I was worried that I wasn’t going to make it. I tried smiling as I knew this can trick the body into thinking it’s happy, not this time! The snow proved very challenging to walk across, Joe and Mel kept very close to me. I remember congratulating the leaders coming down and envying their near-completion! How the hell were some of them running!? Reaching the summit of Kosciuszko my emotions got the better of me and as I hugged the “Mammoth” I shed a couple of tears. Composing myself I looked around at the amazing view and blue sky – WOW. I realised I really needed some food and grabbed the packet of GF salt and vinegar chips and scoffed several handfuls.
I suddenly felt revived and picked up the pace. I passed Meredith Quinlan and her team on the final ascent and wished her well. She looked as exhausted as I had at the same spot. I knew that I was feeling better because Joe stated that Mel had given him the best hand job ever during the night. He needed the relief, he said! A second to tick over and I chuckled loudly. I found out later he told Ann (his wife) on speaker phone in the car the same story and Mel who was sitting in the passenger seat was totally dumbfounded!
The final stretch seemed to go on for ages, but I felt good and knew it’d be over soon. Mel was having a hard time keeping the pace, but she said she was OK. We passed several runners on the way down on their way up. They at least were friendly and on the whole happy, unlike many of the other walkers on the path who only grunted (if that) as we said hello. How bizarre, Joe and I concurred, that people can be so rude, but then, these were the same people that attempted to take out some of the runners as they raced in their cars to Charlotte’s Pass! Oh well, I was happy at least.
As we got to the end of the path, the Coast to Kosci banner was held across the finish line by Paul and Diane and I strolled through it. “How do you feel?” asked Diane “F…ing awesome!” and I did.
Thank you so much Paul and Diane for the race and how you organised it and thank you Joe and Mel – the best and most patient crew in the world.
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