“The secret is the same as for anything else, you have to get out there everyday and train and train. And when you train, anything is possible” – Kilian Jornet
Teralba to Watagans – Leg 1 – 28.6km
On the “GO!” from Dave Byrnes, the line honour contenders in the 100km race, two-time winner Clarke McClymont joined by his No Roads teammate Brendan Davies and Dave Coombs lead out with a small but tight grouping of the 100 mile runners. This includes two-time winner and course record holder, Dave Waugh, last years third place runner Matt Cooper, Phil “Pipi” Whitten along with Chris Turnbull, Jono O’Loughlin and a couple of local Terrigal Trotters being Levi Martin and Darren McClellan.
Clarke and Brendan were running well out in front and missed the very first turn on the course, it’s a right across the railway bridge for next year boys! After hesitating for a second I called them back and they asked why we didn’t say anything earlier? I said I thought you might have been checking out the toilets.
Leading the group now across the railway bridge and up to the first hill out of Teralba, I was happy to drop back and let the 100km guys run the hill and then gap the lead group of 100 mile runners. We headed out of town along the first 6km of bitumen before entering the hills and bush at Wakefield.
Lots of small talk transpired between the 6 of us as the pace was kept very neutral, and the easy early kilometres ticked by.
As we hooked a right at Wakefield and entered the fire trail, the climbing began and soon Matt Cooper, Levi Martin and Jono O’Loughlin made it pretty clear that they were not going to be mucking around on the early climbs, with Jono running all the way to the top of the Sugarloaf turn off. I was happy to walk the climbs here and linked up with Dave Waugh, Chris Turnbull and Pipi all travelling at a similar pace.
I managed to have a chat with Dave Waugh, questioning him on the perceived efforts he and Tim Cochrane had run in 2007 when they set the longstanding 23:30 course record. A lot of chit-chat and gentle sledging amongst us ensued over the 15km to the Heaton Gap service station and as Jono and Bull peeled off for water, I gave a thumbs up to my sister and solo crew, Bec and then Dave and I crossed the road in 1:25 to begin the first major ascent of the day to the Heaton communication tower.
Dave wanted to chat about life stories on the ascent and I let him know that in 19 minutes I’d have plenty to tell him. We got stuck into the climb, grabbing a +1 minute split on Levi and Matt further ahead up the climb.
We cruised to the rainforest working out a plan for tackling this beautifully brutal 3km section, which takes 45 minutes and is a recipe for disaster if you push it on the technical terrain early in the race. Jono and Bull rejoin the group and Pipi came flying through overtaking us at speed.
The group of 4 were moving well, doing all the little things right, taking turns leading, laughing, sledging and discussing the early pace and thoughts of the day and night ahead.
We hit the fire trail leading into the checkpoint and suddenly the pace heats up, we’re cranking along at 4:30 pace, Dave leading, Jono matching it and Bull going along with it too. I initially hold back and then decide to match it whilst also clearing the last 28km from my thoughts and focusing on the checkpoint and what needs to get done.
3:11 for the 28.6km and I’m in 9th spot. I grab a new Salomon S-Lab 12 pack pre-filled from Bec and as I’m leaving, Mick yells calmly from the checkpoint “7 minutes” – that’s the information I was after. Matt Cooper and Phil Whitten who are leading the race outright were really starting to turn the screws and make their race plans known. 3:04 to CP1 for the front-runners, they were clearly not mucking around today and had overtaken the leading 100km runners along the way.
Watagans to Congewai – Leg 2 – 23.9km – 52.5km total
I head out of the CP quickly in front of Dave, Jono and Bull and get settled for the next leg, which involves a lot of undulating fire trail running. One by one I am passed by Brendan Davies who was in the CP, he gave me the news that Clarke was still there with his race in trouble suffering stomach cramps. This was hard news to take as Clarke and I had spent months training together on the course, he had won back to back 100km titles and I had done the same in the 100 mile race. I still hoped he would rally and that Tiffany and Cooba could get him back into the race. He had thrown down some incredible splits on the upcoming legs in training, and he is one of the few people I know who truly gets what trail running is all about.
Brendan took off in search of Dave Coombs, who was a couple of minutes ahead in order to regain the lead in the 100km race. Dave Waugh, Jono and Bull all ran past me here on the few kilometres out of CP1. I maintained line of sight and all four of us settled into a spread out line stretching a long way into the distance with Dave Waugh leading it out.
I really enjoyed this section, I was able to do my own thing and not get sucked into running the hills on this leg, just doing the little things right. Hammer Perpetuem every 15 minutes, Endurolytes every 30 minutes and sips from the gel flask as and when required depending on energy levels. Race nutrition has never been easier and it makes the crews’ job all the simpler too. These races eventually come down to a gel eating competition, and I like to mix tropical with vanilla to keep the flavour mild and the caffeine up.
Running just inside the top 10 I played out how I thought it was unfolding up front. I pictured Levi and Coops together pushing the pace to get a good gap on the field in the cooler temperatures and easier terrain. I also thought Jono and Dave Waugh would be match-racing along the fire trails and Pipi was out there somewhere doing his thing pushing the downhills as fast as possible.
The time flew by and I was encouraged by a few intermediate splits I was knocking off along the way, despite not seeing anyone in front for a while, but no one had come past either. It’s so good to be able to run through this course and not have to worry about car shuffles or logistics, race day is as simple as running gets.
On the descent into the Congewai Valley I linked up with Bull, and we cruised the free-flowing steep downhills to the road. We then set about maintaining 5:30 pace along the road into Checkpoint 2 at Congewai.
On the way in we got a look at how the race was unfolding in front. No sign of Brendan Davies in the 100km, he was long gone, he ran a 2:02 leg record-breaking split and was on his way for the win. Coops had just entered the farm as we went past giving him a +16 mins, Pipi at the bridge giving him a +10 mins, Dave Waugh on the way out +6-7 depending on CP times and then Jono just at the school gates on his way out +1 minute. I was now in 8th place with a 2:31 split for Leg 2, and a 5:42 total time for the 52.5km already behind me.
Another bag change, a weigh in (0.1kg down) and a mandatory gear check all occurring in the space of a minute, my only time spent in CP’s in the first 100km’s. Bec was so well organised and all I had to do was concentrate on the running.
I was in the same position as last year, but with a deficit to the leaders of 16 minutes instead of 32 minutes. The field was very tightly bunched and everyone was now embarking on the toughest longest section of the race. I was having an absolute blast, this is the best day of the year.
Congewai to Basin – Leg 3 – 29.1km – 81.6km total
On the way out I pass oncoming 100 mile runner, Darren McClellan. That was it as I headed right at the farm gates and begun the brutal climb up to the communications tower. Jono was just in front and Levi just behind as we made it to the base of the climb. Soon enough Jono was off again. Having only ever run into Levi on the course in training, always travelling in opposite directions, it was good to have a quick chat before agreeing to work together on the climb, a pivotal part of the race and a cause of many DNF’s over the years.
I had run this section a few times in training and knew exactly where I wanted to be at certain times. Levi was following right on my heels as we progressed with purpose up the slopes. He was using me to slow himself down and I was using him to keep the pace honest and controlled. Looking up with 1km to the top you can get a range of splits on the switchbacks above you and I placed Jono and Dave Waugh at +4 minutes, although with the open fire trail over the upcoming kilometres they were once again in the box seat being able to cruise very well over this type of surface.
Levi and I tagged the tower in 0:55, a little shy of the unofficial record of 0:36 belonging to a certain central coast tree lopper and his dog.
Along the ridge-line I went, not checking behind for Levi but assuming he was still right there. Jono came into view as we descended into the Watagan Creek Valley. I knocked off a Peak to Creek to Peak split of sub 30 minutes and came into water drop with Dave Coombs and a fast-running Levi. Dave’s legs were shot and I was able to borrow a couple of salt tablets from him. Having lost mine earlier somewhere on the climb up from the creek and there is no way I was going back to look. Thanks Dave!
As the thunder and lightning rolled in, we rolled out. Levi snatched a good break on me here and Jono was nowhere to be seen. The race was well and truly heating up as everyone was about to turn over their cards and see what they were really playing with. There is no bluffing on this leg.
I shifted it up a gear through the rain forest and the climbs in the next section. I wanted to get a good look at the frontrunners on the out and back section at the Basin, so put my head down and caught and passed Levi, then caught up to Jono who was running like a well-stoked steam train. Jono and I train together a lot and in an eerie case of déjà vu we were running this exact same formation in the same spot in the race last year. Everything felt great here and we shifted up another gear trying to limit the time losses on the field as it bunched up into the Basin.
We were now running 3rd and 4th with Coops leading and Pipi in 2nd. Somewhere close behind were Levi, Dave, Darren and a raging Turnbull and then another 80+ runners all cashing in their training miles on the testing run into the basin.
The rain forest provided a great cover for the overhead storm which was now lashing the field behind us, while we barely got a drop on us. The intensity of the dark and rich smells of the rain forest went off the scale and the leeches started to make their presence known in the steaming soil of the forest floor. All sorts of birds were going off in the trees overhead.
We put a clock on the field on the way out. Brendan was first on his way for the win and course record in the 100km race and then we had Coops at +13 minutes as he came hurtling towards us. Then a cheeky Pipi at +4 minutes as he asked Jono and I “What took you so long?” I told him to wait up if he needed some company on the next leg!
My split for the leg was 3:47, coming in to the 81.6km point at 3:30pm in a total race time of 9:30. Bec was joined here by my cousin and his wife and they provided a welcome relief as I spun around and left saying hello to Race Director, Dave Byrnes on my way out in 3rd place.
Basin to Yarramalong – Leg 4 – 22.1km – 103.7km total
On the way back out I caught a glimpse of Darren and Bull all coming the other way and again everyone looking like they were having great races.
I got set for the climb out of the rain forest up to Kingtree Ridge and then the long flowing easy downhill to Cedar Brush.
I passed Pipi on the climb here and he said that he’d had better days. I ran well to cedar brush hitting the road at 4:50pm.
The next 11km are run along the quiet farming roads of the picturesque Yarramalong Valley, and I set into a good pace coming up on a couple of locals out doing their farming wondering what was going on as I ran passed.
The fourth leg was knocked off in 2:32 as I came into the school at 6:02pm for a 12:02 103.7km split.
On the way in I had seen Coops and his pacer Rob Mason heading out and estimated a 5 minute lead. It was all happening now, but a string of runner’s right behind me all lined up were also getting ready for a big night of running.
Plenty of friends and family were at Yarramalong to welcome me in and I was looking forward to meet up with my pacer Ewan Horsburgh, who would join me for the final 70km to the finish.
Reflective vest on, another weigh in (0.3kg down), lights packed away for later and with the heaviest pack of the day we headed out at 6:03pm 7 minutes behind Matt Cooper in the lead.
Yarramalong to Somersby – Leg 5 – 26.8km – 130.5km total
Heading up Bumble Hill was hard work, but we could see the wet footprints on the boardwalks above the boggy swamps and knew that we were close to the leaders. Along the top Graham Doke from Sydney Altitude Training drove past with words of encouragement and then Clare Holland and Karl Miller also drove by on their way to crew and pace Keith Hong.
Ewan was setting a good pace as the sun set, and I followed his feet all the way along as we set about knocking off the various sections of this leg. Coming down into the Ourimbah Creek area we stopped and put our lights on and in the distance below us we could see Matt and Rob ahead moving well.
All four of us crossed the creek together, then had a bit of a chat. I had been trading emails with Rob for a while now so it was great to say hello again. Matt and Rob were in front and Ewan and I following close behind. I shook hands with Matt and wished him a great race, same to Rob as we went passed. I didn’t know whether we would leap-frog each other through the night or not but it seemed like the right thing to do.
I was now in the lead of the GNW100s for the third year in a row and set about making it count.
Coming into Somersby it was great to see loads of family and friends. There is always a great atmosphere at the Somersby checkpoint, and I was keen to keep the lead and go for the record from here on in.
I ran the fastest leg 5 split (3:42) to Somersby, which had me into the checkpoint at 9:45pm for a total race time of 15:45 at 130.5km and on leaving the checkpoint 2 minutes later I was 10 minutes up on Matt Cooper in second place.
Somersby to Mooney – Leg 6 – 17.8km – 148.3km total
The shortest leg, but it includes some very rocky and technical running which can really slow your progress if you haven’t paced well and the GNW100s are a very tricky race to pace.
Ewan was setting a great pace out of the CP, and soon enough we were back in the bush and I was calling out the upcoming terrain to keep things interesting and the mind engaged. Ewan would ask some great questions to keep me occupied, unfortunately any questions that involved, heat or efforts of the first 100km I couldn’t even contemplate. My mind was solely on the trail right in front of me, the next turn and how I was going to get my next calories in.
Across the creek I took the lead, setting a great pace and really thriving in the late evening running conditions as we crossed under the freeway bridge soaring above us.
There were so many animals out and about, fish flapping to our left in the river, spiders, frogs and snakes eyes lighting up the trail in front, noises left, right and centre as little marsupials scampered sideways. Above all else, two mates running along effortlessly 150km into the race and the pace was on the fast side of the dial. It doesn’t get any better.
We ran this leg well in a second best time of 2:09, coming into the CP at 11:56pm for a total run time of 17:56 to the 148.3km point. In and out again 1 minute later at 11:57pm and with only 25.4km to go I had a 26 minute lead. No mistakes from here.
Mooney to Patonga – 7th and final Leg – 25.4km – 173.7km in total
Ewan continued to set a good pace along the river out of the CP. We then climbed Scopas peak keeping an eye out for lights coming from behind.
It was tough going over the large steps and I said to Ewan that anyone who finishes this race in 35:59 will have really earned their finish.
I was finding it hard to get calories in, not so hard to get them out, but I would keep taking little sips and try to keep something down. Ewan kept pointing out I was still running well, so just keep on going.
I broke down the final stages of the race into three parts and just kept on knocking the kilometres off.
From the tip I worked out all I had to do was get one more gel down and I would be certain to finish, but would it be enough to hold onto first place. I’d contemplate that running, not walking as we carried on into the darkness still moving well, although Ewan could match my run with his walk – not a great sign, but running felt easy still.
An entire year worth of thoughts go through my mind as I run down the final descent to the beach at Patonga and then by the time I hit the sand I am usually totally blank of all emotion, this year was no different. Touching the sand on Patonga Beach for only the fourth time ever is one thought that drives me, it feels amazing when you hit that beach.
I was ecstatic to be able to make it three wins in a row in Australia’s Toughest Trail race, the GNW100s.
Ewan and I ran along the beach, to the clapping and cheering of the small crowd. I thanked Ewan for all the training weekends we had done together, and for generously giving up his weekend to pace me. He was flawless over the 9:59 that we ran together from Yarramalong to the finish. I really hope to see him run a great race at C2K linkin a couple of week’s time.
I touched the finishing post at 4:02am for a total run time of 22:02. I’ve never been so keen to shake Dave Byrnes’ hand.
I broke the 4-year-old course record by 88 minutes and managed to knock over two and a half hours off my own PB.
I was totally content with the result and beyond ecstatic with the time. I knew I had run to my potential and posted a time that I am proud of.
I just lay on the pier by the finishing post surrounded by my family and clapped in Matt Cooper 20 minutes later in second place and a storming Levi Martin in third place 22 minutes later again. Jono O’Loughlin came through 39 minutes later to claim the fourth highly prized GNW gold medal, well done mate.
The closest race in the history of the GNW100s, thanks guys it was an absolute blast out there.
Congratulations to Brendan Davies for his record-breaking run in the 100km. Records continued to fall in the 100 mile race with Meredith Quinlan taking line honours ahead of Jess Baker with Margaret Chu third in the 100 miles. Well done to Meredith and Jess for breaking the old 100 mile course record too, very classy and a very close race all day as well.
I have to say first and foremost a massive thanks to my sister Rebecca. Bec averaged 50 seconds per checkpoint across the entire race for a total CP time of 5 minutes. Calm and collected at every turn and always 3 steps ahead in terms of planning. It’s true, running is the easy bit, and it’s a lot easier when you know and trust the crew 100%.
Ewan, we did it, thanks for breaking through all the spider webs, hopping over the frogs and dodging the snakes. Nothing was ever too much trouble out there and you set the perfect pace all the way. I know I wasn’t too chatty out there at times and you were solid all the way.
To Dave Byrnes and his enormous group of volunteers from Terrigal Trotters and beyond the race is what it is because of your efforts both in the lead up to the race and during and after the race. I have never heard anything but complete praise for every single person associated with the race. Congratulations you have created a true classic.
Thanks also to my wife Laura, we did a lot of great training together on our road bikes and during the race it was great having you at the checkpoints and also at the finish. Hopefully taper week wasn’t too bad for you and no more 1am alarms for a while.
The guys from Ultra168.com and others I train with deserve a mention too. We had a 100% finishing rate at Ultra168. We had some epic training runs over the weeks out on the course. If it wasn’t for the training I don’t think I would race. The weekday Mosman runs, the weekend long runs and the never-ending good-natured hilarious sledging all make it fun and that’s the most important thing, this is something we do for fun.
Smartwool Phd Ultra light socks
Rudy project Rydon Impact X Photo chromatic glasses