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Jo Blake's 2009 race report

Race Report – Jo Blake
Coast to Kosciuszko 2009

The Plan

I agreed to be part of Colin Soloman’s Research Project, and in the questionnaire associated with participation the question was asked about what my pacing strategy was. That got me thinking and led me to suggest a strategy of 60kms blocks at 6min/km, 7min/km, 8min/km and 9min/km which would bring me in at 30hrs. That’s all well and good for a response in the questionnaire, but really my strategy was to start off at peak comfortable running pace and to maintain that for as long as possible. I have a thing about 100kms and don’t like to walk before I reach that point, only stopping briefly to collect food or drinks or attend to any other matters. Beyond that I expected to walk a lot of the hills and run as best I could the rest of the time. In 2008 I started having issues after about 110kms, and in England recently also had problems about the half way mark of the 24hr race also, so that was an anticipated trouble spot. Beyond that it would be to minimize the damage by continuing to move when going through bad patches and work on finding a cure in the meantime. Overall I felt I could run under 30hrs, but how much under was going to come down to the day. The other unknown was that I’d started wearing orthotics for the first time on the 22nd November but I had managed 427kms in them prior to the race including a 5 hour run; but I was still expecting blisters under my feet where the orthotics were putting abnormal pressure, so that was to be another unknown. Overall I believed I would be competitive in the race, and apart from the usual suspects, saw Andrew Vize and Carl Barker as big threats. I’d seen Carl run a 50km age record on the track in Brisbane in June and saw first hand what a strong runner he is. Andrew, I knew little about, but anyone that can win GNW is one tough runner who can handle hills.

The Race

The alarm had us up and moving at 4:15am with a few bits of honey toast before getting into the kit, applying sunscreen, and lubricant to all the vital parts. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get out the big dump which we all like on the race morning, but the guts felt fine so thought it shouldn’t be an issue. We were greeted by a gorgeous chilly morning on the beach and before long we were into final start line photos, then 3, 2, 1 and we were away. Andrew Vize went straight to the front, followed by Bluedog and Spud as we left the beach. We wished each other well and then I cruised into the lead just as we hit the Princes Highway. I wasn’t sure why Tim Cochrane hadn’t assumed his usual position at the front, but put it down to pacing himself into the race.

The first 24kms went quickly, with the 4 aid stations operating very efficiently. I took the opportunity to start my food intake with fruit cake and was taking powerade at each station. Tim caught up to me about 8kms in to the race and I commented that it was about time. I asked how he was going and he commented that he’d felt worse and that it wasn’t a bad way to spend the morning. We ran together for a while before Tim stopped for a toilet stop and I ran on. Approaching the 3rd or 4th aid station, Tim went back past as I had a toilet stop but his lead was small and I picked him up and passed him easily at the aid station which wasn’t the way it normally works with Tim. Turns out my crew had driven past to see Tim in the lead and was wondering if I was struggling. All was in order however and I ran off on my own to meet up with the crew for the first time. I took the supplies on the fly and so began the rest of the race as a team. I was left wondering why Tim’s support car never leap frogged past me; I assumed he was changing his tactics from the usual front running.

From that point, there were 2 4-wheel drives that kept going past, one I worked out to be Carl Barker’s crew, the other I wasn’t sure but now assume to have been Spuds. The last I saw of another runner was probably around the 30km mark when I had a toilet stop and saw a runner coming down the extended hill. I couldn’t make him out, but am now sure it was Carl. That got me moving and I pushed on strongly. Having been 8mins behind last years pace at 24kms I was conscious of keeping the pressure on to steadily recapture that time, and also to push away from Carl. The next significant point was Big Jack Mountain. As I did last year I timed my dump stop to coincide with the toilet at the base of Big Jack. Carl’s crew arrived not long after my crew and confirmed I had extended the lead to about 14 minutes. My boys then did a terrific job keeping Carl’s crew out of the toilet so I could have a clear run in and arrived to a smorgasbord of food and drink options while doing the business. I took my time, but a job worth doing is worth doing well. The pit stop was timed at 7 minutes so the lead had been halved. As I mentioned at the presentation, I saw this as being very symbolic; I’d done a dump on the feet of Big Jack and was now prepared to give him a good belting. I figured if I ran it hard then I’d either put a gap on if the pursuers walked, or potentially they might torch themselves a bit trying in vain to catch sight of me. Discussions with Dave Byrnes later on suggested the latter took place, as Carl ran 80% of it before losing 12 minutes to me on the climb.

Cathcart is not too far from Big Jack so that provides another landmark close by. The run into Cathcart involved pushing into a headwind but was rewarded with a frosty fruits before running on. I remembered distinctly walking much more around Cathcart last year so felt that I was tracking very well in comparison. Last year over the course of the run from Cathcart to Dalgety I slowed quite significantly, so I felt I was in a state to pick up time consistently for a while yet. We went through the 100km mark according to the car odometer, and as we did last year we celebrated the accomplishment with Coley and Lambo using dirt mounds (not cow pats as rumored) to mark the spot. I had been prepared for bad flies across the plains, but I found I only noticed them when I stopped for a toilet break, the rest of the time I seemed to be moving too fast.

Next stop Dalgety. As we approached the left turn into Dalgety Rd, Dave Byrne drove past and I thought Carl must be close, but Dave did confirm I was up by about 35mins at our 100kms marker. This was consistent with a report we had that at 90kms Carl was 33mins behind. In a way, although the lead was still good, seeing Dave gave me motivation to push on hard. I still felt so much stronger than last year and I knew if I stayed strong to Dalgety I’d be well ahead of my pace from 2008.This section of the course was really enjoyable this time. I had  a chat to Paul and the film crew while having dinner at the 133km point and Paul filled me on developments with Carl apparently 10kms back and then another 10kms to Spud; Tim had pulled out at the marathon point with hamstring issues. In hindsight, given his slower start to the race, this was not a surprise. I was disappointed he was out but injuries can happen.

I then ran the next 14kms into Dalgety in daylight which was a great contrast to 2008 when I was being stalked by the headlights of the crew cars of Bluedog, Spud and Brick. I was well clear and running as strong as ever. I walked when I ate and drank, and ran the rest. I knew I could hold that through to Beloka at which point I’d have a more substantial walking break. I told the crew to give me a bottle of Powerade and head off into Dalgety for dinner. Billy’s substitute crew flew past encouraging me to hit the Pub for a quick schooner. The boys had already represented me at the bar, so no need.

As the sun was setting, it was so motivating running into Dalgety. Sean Greenhill greeted me and we chatted briefly while I swapped the singlet for a few warm tops, pleased to see the boys had a good serving of hot chips to give them strength for the evening ahead. Then Paul and Diane walked with me across the bridge as I ate, and their excitement was nothing short of inspiring. They informed me I was the first person to leave Dalgety in daylight (as against arriving). Then as they peeled off, a friend from Illawong, Steve Wisby (Wiz) appeared next to me having driven down after work; yet another inspiring moment.

We ran together for a while before he peeled off and I headed off in daylight towards the Beloka Range. The head lamp and reflective vest came out over the course of this stretch so we were set for the first part of the evening. We hit the climb and I had my first walking break of significance for the race. It’s a very steep climb, but not as long as Big Jack so it went quickly, and we took the opportunity to call my wife Shelley in Illawong near the top and fill her in on the progress, which provided another lift.

The top of the range was the point last year when I had been crewed back into shape but this time I knew I was still in good shape, but thought it would be interesting to see how the time compared into Jindabyne as last year I felt I was flying during that stage.

Coley offered the Ipod at this stage and I took it, but I felt so focused that I didn’t need it and could easily have refused the offer. The music was a nice change however and probably helped with my momentum.

The run into Jindy was good, until we approached the Barry Way and whilst I was running strong, I could just tell that I was a bit nauseous. I put out the request for some ginger cordial, and Coley presented a strong mix at the next stop which did seem to do the trick and I felt better for a while and for the remainder of the race ginger cordial was used as one of the alternating drinks.

We hit Jindy at 12pm and went straight to the bike track. Last year the bike track seemed slow and frustrating, but this year with last year’s experience it went quickly and was trouble free. We got up onto Kosciuszko Road and felt we were now running for the finish. A bit of climbing and before we knew it we were descending into Thredbo River and there was less than 50kms to go.

The climbing from here was sure to slow the pace, but I figured the more I could run the better off I’d be, so run it I did. The nausea was still there so I was walking a bit longer to ensure I got the food down before running off. I felt I was continuing to run strongly despite the nausea, so the risk was that if I didn’t get enough into me, then the running would eventually see me fold. The boys tried everything with chicken noodle soup (almost gagged on that), tomato soup, coffee, red bull, and the usuals. The combination, in one go, of tomato soup and red bull proved too much so I distributed the fertilizer and ran on feeling better.

After that we settled on powerade and ginger cordial as the staples with some lollies, the last ginger kiss, and some oat and raisin cookies being the pick of the bunch.

Just as the run into Dalgety was different this year, so the run from Thredbo River was a contrast with darkness and an incredibly starry sky compared to the daylight and rain and wind of 2008. It was still cold and I did a glove swap with Steve for the thicker gloves, but aside from that was comfortable. At Perisher, Paul (from the timing crew) joined me on his bike and allowed the crew to head off to Charlottes to prepare for the final leg and get a head start, Paul told me the climb out of Perisher was 1km, until the point where we’d been going for 1.8kms and still had more to go and he let me know he’d done the maths wrong. It didn’t matter, we just ran on looking forward to reaching Charlottes as the sky lightened. The big thing I remember of this leg is how cold the powerade was getting from the night air.

As we approached Charlottes Pass I knew I was well in control of the nausea again and running for the finish. As Sue asked some questions, Coley finalized supplies and at 3rd attempt got out the right jacket to see me through the rest of the race. Sue asked how long we’d be and I truthfully had no idea, somewhere between 2 and 2.5 hours was my guess. Lambo and Wiz had headed off sometime earlier so that we could all meet at the summit together while Coley stayed to run support. So at 5:20am Coley and I headed off for the summit of Australia.

Paul rode with us for the first half as we just ran along at a steady pace, nothing high risk, just keep moving steadily. At that stage we felt we’d over dressed for the occasion, but as we rounded Seaman’s Hut we were pleased for the extra layer. We continued to walk when drinking but otherwise run. Paul had told us the only bit to be aware of was at Rawson’s Hut where you just need to be sure you didn’t head towards Thredbo instead of the summit. We reached Rawson’s, I read the signs, and started heading towards Thredbo ….. thanks Coley.

The last stretch was full of anticipation, then we hit the snowdrifts …… The first was scaled very cautiously on the icy rocks, but as we approached the second with the contact lens’s getting hazy I wondered how the hell we were going to get past that one, on closer inspection the foot track through the snow was the answer and it was actually more comfortable to pass than the first drift.

Soon we saw the two Steves up ahead and new the summit was close, as we approached Wiz was at the summit while Lambo waiting for me and Coley and the 3 of us hit the summit together; a truly magic moment and great to share with these 3 blokes. In particular Lambo, who was there in 2008 when we couldn’t continue to the top, both of us had been waiting 12 months for this moment.

The blue skies on approach had gone, dark clouds surrounded us and fine snow/sleet was falling. The top of the monument was covered in ice, but it all just seemed quite fitting. I decided there was too much risk in climbing the monument in those circumstances, so we took photos standing next to it. Lambo got Shelley on his phone, she said “Steve”, and I replied “no, it’s me, I’m on top of Australia!” At that point the battery went flat, which was good timing as I was too emotional to say another word.

Coley and I then headed off for the finish with Lambo and Wiz following. Lambo yelled out, “I forgot to open the Champagne!”, but we turned and said we’d have it at Charlottes as our momentum was all downhill now. I could sense we were out of the range of sub 26 but keen to go as close as possible. We ran very cautiously through to Rawson’s before we started to open up.

It was just such a joy to be running for the finish. We passed the photographer, Steve heading up to the summit, and then with 5.4kms to go we met up with Paul on the bike again, and Coley told me he’d done his job and to take off.

We covered the short rise and then powered along the track to the finish. I felt so strong still and wasn’t surprised when Paul later said I’d done the last 5.4kms in 25mins, as it was downhill after all. The exhilaration of finishing this event carried me through and across the finishing tape to the beaming smiles of Paul and Diane and it was all over after 26hrs 1min and 40secs.

We talked excitedly and waited before Coley arrived followed by Lambo and Wiz and we all shared the moment and cracked open the Champers that Lambo had carried to the top and brought back down to Charlottes. We toasted a fantastic team result. This race is about the team, not the individual and I was privileged to have such a well oiled committed team.

Shelley was the other team member as she’d been there through the 2008 conditions and deserved to be part of the moment. She was very jealous but was there in spirit.

The Feeling

To finish was a moment full of great joy and satisfaction. Races don’t always go to plan, and often go very much not to plan; hence keep any plan very simple and broad. This race went largely to plan. Lambo and I had joked about seeing the sun rise on top of Mount Kosci but that wasn’t even in my wildest dreams about this event. Lambo reckons the sun rose when Coley and I had about 3kms to go to the summit, so we didn’t miss by much.

To set a new benchmark was very satisfying. The existing record holder, Tim Cochrane is an outstanding runner and he’ll be back to take the record back, no doubt. But for now, as Paul said, I can savour the fact that “no human has ever traveled faster on foot from the coast to the summit of Mount Kosci”.

Thank You

Thanks to Paul and Diane, your passion for this event is infectious. There is no other event that generates the feeling that this event does. We all walk away with a life experience that so few people get to enjoy, but if you could bottle it, it truly would be priceless.

Thanks to Lambo and Coley for your unstinting enthusiasm. I was surprised to here that you were struggling with a combination of boredom and flies from 100kms because I never saw the enthusiasm wane. A runner can only ever be as good as his crew in this event, and you blokes were just outstanding.

Thanks to Wiz for the huge effort to head over and join the race on Friday afternoon, your enthusiasm and interest in this event over the last 2 years has been hugely appreciated.

To Shell, Willie, Eddie and Ollie, thanks for putting up with my obsession and for keeping running in perspective.

Thanks to everyone who takes part in the race, both runners and crew who make the event what it is. It’s hard to leave on the Sunday because you just want to stay and talk to everyone; but we do need to return to normal life.

Twelve months ago we visited mum and dad on the way home from this event. This year, dad passed away in early January, so he was able to be with me for the race. I asked him to keep me strong and I rarely wavered; I know dad was there the whole way and would have been so proud of what we achieved. Thanks dad.

Till next time,