It’s about 1am on Saturday morning, I’m 116kms into the race and I’m smashed. The slog out of Yarramalong was just that. I had all intentions of making a fist of the first 12kms that took us out of the Yarramalong Valley and out towards Somersby, but I was battered. It’s here that I hit my lowest of lows ever in a race. If someone had offered me a loaded gun, I would have happily taken it.
Rewind 17 hours and we’re on the start-line at Teralba and this is my third attempt at GNW. I was crapping myself hugely at the thought of having to drag my sorry English arse around 175kms of Australia’s toughest terrain. This course just has something about it and it’s hard to pin down. It’s amazing really because when you think about it, 17% of the first 100kms is actually on bitumen – that’s more than any other ‘trail’ race in Australia. Yet it is the Mother of all trail races. We feel as much for this race as the US guys do for Western States. Our eyes light up at the prospect of putting our bodies through hell – it’s all rather bizarre really, but then you realise why you do it – for that brief few minutes of having the privilege to run on the sands of Patonga Beach. Nothing beats it.
The front guys skip off ahead and I settle into a chasing second pack with Darrel, Gordi and Spud. Before long, their pace is too quick for me and I hang back, relaxing on my own and running within myself. A few 100km runners go past, but I’m happy and content. These first 6kms on the road are what I regard as ‘free kilometres’. Indeed any flat bit of trail or road, I tell myself the entire way that they are ‘free kilometres’ – I should be running – always and never letting up.
As we enter the 4WD dirt track I forget just how much climbing there is in this section. In training we rarely come up this far, so the only time we get to go on this section is during the race. I think I say each year that I forget how much uphill there is in this section, but it doesn’t bother me – hills are my friend.
The rainforest section is tough going though. Despite feeling fresh, like the Basin it attempts to sap the life out of you. At this point I’m running with Andy Bowen and we’re having a nice old chinwag as us pommies do. Andy though makes a move and is gone, leaving me once again on my own.
I decided not to wear a GPS for this race. Having worn my 310XT at GOW100km it annoyed the hell out of me as I would constantly look at it, to the point where I beat myself up about it all. GPS’ are great for training, but for racing they’re no longer part of my strategy. Instead I wore a stopwatch, purely to have an alarm every 15 minutes that told me when to eat. I tell you, that 15 minute beeper got quite annoying too after 20-odd hours on the trail, but it was good discipline. As the rainforest section drew to a close, a glance at my watch told me I was way up on splits. I almost walked to CP1 along the trail, jogging at a very light pace and hitting the CP in 3hrs 52mins. That’s far quicker than I’d ever done before, yet it felt so easy. Not easy for my crew though who were unprepared for my arrival – but no dramas, we’re all cool.
They told me to slow down, I said cool. Then I promptly smashed the next leg by 20 minutes under my predicted time. By this stage it was warm in the Congewai Valley, but it wasn’t all that bad. I’d done quite a few steam sessions the weeks prior to this and I do think they helped. It was at this point that I was running with MQ too, and I like to think we kept each other very honest in our running to the school. It certainly helped me to get through that section, knowing that I was running with a top runner.
After a relaxed CP break it was time to face my ultimate test in section 3. The climb to the communications tower at Congewai has beaten me twice before and totally killed me. I was nervous and apprehensive. Dr. Jess, the ‘Terminator’ overtook me here, but I kept her in touch on the climb. I felt good and strong, going steady, but going strong.
As I reached the top I saw the scene of many a year gone by. The log at the top where in previous years I’d had to sit down for 30 minutes or so to sort my head out. This year I looked at it with disdain. “You’re not getting me this year” I said to myself, and with that I hastily jogged on for what is a most refreshing part of the course up on the ridges of the Watagan State Forest.
By now I could hear the thunder rumbling in the distance. It was coming closer, but as I neared the descent to the Watagan valley floor, I was somewhat lucky to be slightly under the shelter of trees as the torrential downpour hit us.
Hitting the valley floor the sun came out after the storm, and with it turned the humidity knob up a notch or two. The rain was burning off, but it was sticky, and I knew what was next – the steep climb up towards Watagan State Forest and the unmanned water drop. I was still feeling great and I knew that if I knocked this section off in my allotted five hours feeling great, then the race was there for the taking.
I ran well along the flats and downhills towards the Basin. Each little section in the leg I’d give myself a time by which to knock it off, and each time I hit my goals. As I dropped into the Basin proper I gave myself 25 minutes to hit the CP. I ran very well through here, meeting runners on their way back. I was heartened to see the likes of Spud and Gordi – it made me realise I was moving well. Then MQ and Jess – it was close between them and it was going to get interesting later on I thought.
I hit the Basin over an hour up on my splits and I felt a million dollars. This was one of my first big goals of the race ticked. Get to the Basin feeling like a million dollars. A quick feed and I was back out there. I was positively booming here and leaping up the climb out of the Basin. My other big goal was to get to Cedar Brush Trackhead before it got dark and I knew I was going to do it.
But as I descended down to the road, I started to feel very ordinary. Bugger. This is where the free kilometres sign marks the way to Yarramalong. But I kept running, again setting little markers along the road to run to, knocking them off one by one and doing my best to ignore the nausea that plagued my body. After 5kms or so, she decided to depart and I was back to feeling good again. A 100km runner passed me along the road into Yarramalong, but that was cool, he deserved his strong finish and my ego wasn’t in the mood for racing someone whose glory awaited a few kms down the road.
As I hit the CP, I glanced up and saw the clock 14hrs 55mins. Wow. That’s still over an hour up – I’m loving this race and I’ve still got 70kms to go – please sir, can I have some more? But as I sat down for a refresh, the waves of nausea hit me again. I had longer than usual here and I started to feel pretty rank. The mental demons started to play in my head. So the best thing to do was to just get straight back up and out of that CP as fast as I could. I told Garth my pacer for the next 13 hours or so that we’d be walking for a bit. But walk for a bit too long we did.
Bumble Hill dragged and dragged, and by the time I hit the top I was quite spent. The body wasn’t really working here, but jog on I must. It’s a road and the free kilometre sign was clearly painted on it. It was hard though and as we hit the trail again the death march ensued. It’s only 3kms to the descent to the creek and towards the Hidden Valley, but it felt like an eternity here. Like I said if someone had handed me a shot-gun at this moment I’d have happily taken it.
We slowly made our way down the hill and we were joined by Gareth ‘Danger’ Parker. He too wasn’t feeling great, so he walked it with us for a bit. After crossing the creek he made off and we didn’t think we’d see him again. But for some reason, something in me clicked. You can’t explain it. I’d been feeling like crap now for nearly 2 hours, and then as if someone had switched on a light – BOOM! I was back.
The legs had come back and so had the head. We ran along the creek and made good time to Hidden Valley. Up in the distance was Danger Parker. My mood was positively jovial now and I took great pleasure in heaping as much shit on him as I could when we reached him. As we entered the final climb up to Somersby I knew we were in for a treat. “What climb?” I thought as we marched upwards towards Somersby – hills are my friend. At the top Gary took off like the cheeky chipmunk that he is, but again thanks to my pacer I knew we’d hit our splits, despite the death-marching out of Yarramalong – all was good and I was feeling fine.
It was at Somersby that the onset of chaffing reared its ugly head. It had started on the climb up to Somersby, but it was really beginning to grate now so to speak. I was applying the Vaseline by the bucket load, but things weren’t getting better. On moving out of Somersby, the next section is probably one of the easiest in terms of little climbing, but very fiddly underfoot and rocky at that. It’s also here that the sleep demons pay you a visit just before dawn.
But again thanks to Garth, we moved well and chasing his heels was something I was very thankful for in the dead of the night. He pushed me and dawn started to break just as we hit the Old Pacific Highway towards CP6 and the final onslaught towards Patonga Beach. Looking at the watch it was 5:55am when we hit the CP. I said to Garth that we were leaving at 6:10am. This gave us nearly 6 hours to screw up this section 🙂
By the now the chaffing was getting serious. I decided to take a tub of Vaseline in my backpack as I knew that I’d be regularly applying it over the course of the next 25 kms. We moved well over the first two flat kms, before hitting the climb to head up to the plateaus. We slow-jogged the rocky plateaus before hitting the awkward trail once again. I just knew that once we got to the unmanned water stop, all would be great. It was relatively easier running from there, but things started to fall apart a little.
The chaffing was beyond bearable by now – my nuts were on fire and I felt like someone had placed razor blades down there. Coupled with this, my little toe was just about to explode. At CP2 I’d changed shoes from Nike Free to Inov8 Roclite 295s after the Frees had for some reason squashed my right little toe. A few hundred metres down the track my little toe literally exploded in my sock from the pressure of the fluid that had built up in it. It was trashed, I had to stop and sort it out.
By now I was getting worried for our 6 hour goal and silver medal. I’d worked so hard to get myself in this position, and here it was going to shit. But the stop was vital. I couldn’t put any pressure on the toe and running was becoming harder, and coupled with the chaffing I had visions of another death march. But after chopping my toe to bits and releasing the fluid, things got better. It was at this point that I decided to just ‘ignore’ the pain of the chaffing.
I pretended to myself that it didn’t exist. A few glances in the shorts had told me it wasn’t great – blood has started to find its way onto my legs and I knew it wasn’t pretty – but a silver medal was more important. Skin heals, a silver medal can be taken away in an instant and locked in the cupboard for another year. I set myself another little goal. Get to the rubbish tip in 28 hours and it’s in the bag.
We hit the rubbish tip bang on 28 hours. Now break the journey into two. It’s 3 kms along here to the road. One last climb and then it’s Patonga Drive and easy street to the finish. Now we were running freely and up ahead we saw Stephane whom had run with me on section’s 2 and 5. He was walking and there for the taking. We cruised past him, but he obviously didn’t like that. So he ran after us. We couldn’t shake him and then it dawned on me…
A month ago I’d written an article for this website about hand-holding. Here I was, level-pegging with someone and a potential hand-holding finish. No… I didn’t need this. Garth started running, so that meant I had to. Stephane started running too. The pace quickened and we reached the heady heights of 6min 20secs kms along Patonga Drive – still Stephane wouldn’t disappear. We ran side by side for 10 minutes trying to shake each other and I was blowing out my arse.
I couldn’t believe this – 173kms and I was in a freaking race for 17th place – what is this all about? I just wanted to walk my way down to the beach and revel in the glory. But no, the GNW decided that it wasn’t going to let me do this and that it was going to throw up one more bastard thing for me to overcome. After 1.5kms of racing we reached the car park and we both just stopped. I told Stephane that I wasn’t doing this and we agreed to walk it in.
BUT, I knew what all the guys at the finish would say 🙂 I’d given everything in this race and I had nothing left – as far as I was concerned, this wasn’t hand-holding.
As we hit the beach we all hugged each other and made our way to the soft sand for the final run in. I wondered if I would cry at this point. I’d waited three years for this moment and as we got near, a few tears hit my eyes. I’d also thought about how we should celebrate. Go mental? Arms in the air? Or just quiet and unassuming? I decided with the latter, to show respect to the course. I may have won today’s battle, but the GNW is still 2-1 up on me and I know I have many more battles ahead of me as far as this course is concerned. Now is the time to say “Got you this time, and I’ll be back for more.”
A big thanks to Garth and Ella – my crew and pacer extraordinaire. I’m very lucky to have two people give up their weekend for a selfish runner – they were superb. Dave and the Trotters have a very special race here – let’s hope those in charge of the Parks allow more people to actually use the tracks for what it is intended for i.e. getting people out in the bush, fit and healthy. The Trotters do an amazing job and it was evident that the level of professionalism went up a few notches this year. What a race and team that run it.
- Desert Hat / Running Cap
- Hammer Nutrition Cycling Top
- UnderArmour shorts x 3
- Bridgedale socks x 3
- Nike Free 3.0 Running shoes (until CP2)
- Inov8 Roclite 295s (CP2-Finish)
- Salomon S-lab 5litre backpack
- Nathan 2.0 Endurance Vest
- LED Lenser H7R headtorch
- 2 x Nathan Bottles
- 1 x Platypus 0.5 litre collapsible handheld bottle
- Garmin 110 stopwatch
- Hammer Perpetuem (primary food source)
- Hammer Gels
- Hammer Bars
- 2 x cheese sandwiches
- 3 x cups of English Breakfast Tea
- 1 x grain of rice with ‘Good Luck’ written on it from Mrs. B