My successful journey down the hallowed strip of sand at Patonga Beach started 5 months earlier with a chance meeting with US ultra-running legend Andy Jones-Wilkins at the 2011 Western states 100 miler. A number of you will have seen the video where we talk at length about what completing a 100 miler means to him.
There was one common theme that emerged from that time we spent on the mountain top together. When running he always has a smile on his face, regardless of the pain, his position or overall performance. If you can’t smile, don’t race !
So what does this have to do with my GNW100 adventure ? Well quite simply, the time I spent deliberating whether to enter this race at all, all came down to the conversation I had with my nearest and dearest before the race entry opened on how I would approach the build up and running of the darn thing. I was only going to have a crack at this epic run as long as I enjoyed every glorious moment of it. It honestly took me about 10 days of hard thinking back in August on whether to have a go. For some this might sound soft, but for me, it is so important to set a goal and stick to it, knowing that along the way, that goal will require nurturing and tweaking.
I remember distinctly that August day when entries opened, Andrew Vize, Russell Trotter (my pacer) and I were heading up for a training run from CP1 out to the start and back. 6:01 am rolled around, I fired off my entry form from the car, and soon after, we were heading down into the rainforest section. This is when the reality of what this run is all about hit me. We were making such slow progress I couldn’t imagine what it must be like on race day. I was hooked!
This single training run was enough to inspire me to commit some serious hours in training to this race and that night I wrote down my 3 goals. Finish, finish and finish. Anything on top of that was a bonus. Of course I heard all the scare stories how on debut I had less than a 30% chance of finishing etc, but some wise words from Andrew set me on the right path.
He, along with my fellow Ultra168 team mates and GNW veterans in Darrel and Dan, all had some golden rules, which included the obviously usual suspects like eating early and often etc. But there were some very specific to GNW100. Here are just a few:-
- Firstly, the race doesn’t start until Yarramalong and only really gets serious at Somersby.
- You have to get into and out of the Basin CP as quickly as you can and in daylight if at all possible.
- Don’t try and run too quickly through the rainforest section on the way to CP1, its 16 minute/KMs whether you push hard or take your time.
- You have to have running legs along the sections of Kingtree Ridge down to Cedar Brush
- Dont underestimate the toll the road section into Yarramalong take on your legs.
I could go on and on, but it was this last one that really made me know I was running a 100 miler. That road section just went on and on, but more on that later.
Lets wind forward to the race itself, my build up has been well documented through this site and my taper had gone well. I was bouncing off the walls in the days and hours before race day. The journey up with my wife Oriel and Dan was uneventful apart from some comments on how mild the weather was and general nervous chit chat about expected splits etc.
We checked into our accommodation and I had my final meal of Spag Bol and a couple of beers to calm the nerves. I laid my kit out on the chair and did a final drop bag run through with Oriel who would be crewing for me. We were both in a good space and looking forward to race day.
I slept really well and was up at 4.30 am for my usual light breakkie of a Strawberry Up & Go, a muffin and a cup of English Breakfast Tea. Well hydrated and in good spirits we drove the short distance to the start, the glow from the flood lights as we approached, heightening the tension a little.
Check in and then the weigh-in. I was pretty shocked to see me top out on the scales at over 88kgs, this was a good 5kgs heavier than I thought, but a calming comment from Andrew, that my cargo-loading must have gone well soon got me to forget about it.
I based my splits for the race on good friend and fellow Wild Endurance team mate Martin Price, who ran a sub 30 hour run last year. It was nice to see him make the journey up from Tasmania to be at the race as a spectator. He told me to relax, enjoy the experience and be honest with my self regarding my expectations of a strong finish.
6 am quickly came around, we lined up, and I slotted into the second row behind the big guns and 100kers. Dave in his understated way waved us off with a gentle ‘Go!” and we quickly settled into a trot on the first 6-7km of road section. Dan sees this section as free KMs, for me, it is chance to do some vital checks as the body wakes up to the reality that for the next 30 hours or so, it will be doing all the work. The great feeling about this section for me, is that I actually felt like the day was going to be a good day. Cant figure out why, but maybe more a quiet confidence that the training was done, I had arrived at the start line healthy and the rest was just down to getting the job done.
I saw the leaders head off into the distance and I settled into a group which included Rachel Waugh, Blue Dog, Kevin Heaton and Keith “Buzz” Hong. We exchanged a few comments about the weather and slowly made our way to the first off road section. Here I slotted in behind Blue Dog and traded places with Rachel and Meredith Quinlan for a few KMs. It was nice to see Blue Dog running again as this race has such meaning to him, but I did notice that he was already finding his body protesting a little as he warmed up. He made some great comments about our site and how the magical baton of ultra running was being passed on from guys like himself and Paul Every to the Andrew Vize’s of this world and that they then filtered down to the novices like me. It was a shame to hear later on that he DNF’ed about 80KMs in. I hope he returns to some form again soon.
The climb up to the first comms tower from the Heaton Gap servo was uneventful and I was joined by Gareth Parker, a good friend who trained regularly with me and the team. We both looked at our watches and thought that the pace we were on was pretty good but maybe a little too quick. We agreed to take it easy going down into the rainforest section. I restated Andrew’s golden rule of not going too hard through here as the gains v effort were not worth it. I quickly found that I was leading a conga line of about 7 runners who were either using my navigation skills to help them through or were more interested in the crazy topics Gareth and I were discussing including fishing for sharks with live dogs as bait !
On a couple of occasion I asked if the runners behind would like to pass and a couple took the offer and sped off, funnily enough about a kilometre later we saw them emerge from a side trail having taken a wrong turn and slightly busted up. Again, that golden rule held me in good stead. As we emerged from the forest, I slipped on a branch and twisted my left ankle pretty badly, immediately I thought race over, but decided to run on a little bit, checking for those tell tale signs of how bad it was. Glad to say, I didn’t think about it again until a few days later!
Up and over the hugging post climb and we made our way as a group into CP1 about 20 minutes up on my predicted split of 4hrs 15 minutes and with a big smile. Not to worry, I was looking forward to this next section and knew I could hold the pace back a little. I quick swap of my Amphipod drinks bottles for some new Perpetuem, a top up of my bladder and I was out of there clutching an icy pole courtesy of the Sydney Altitude Training sport crew.
As I made my way along this next section I was again joined by Gareth and we settled into a nice rhythm and knocked off the KMs with ease even though the day was starting to warm up a little. We were joined by Kevin Heaton, who has finished this race a few times but was looking for a more reasonable 30 hour finish this year. Again, the little voice inside my head told me to pump the breaks a little and I let Gareth pull away on the descent to Congewei Road.
This road section was interesting for a number of reason, firstly it felt 10 degrees warmer immediately as there is no tree cover and it was late morning, and it also allowed me to see where I sat in relation to the rest of the field. What I did find a little interesting is a number of those runners I know who usually come in around 34 hours were already leaving the school. I passed Andy Bowen and Gordi at this stage and something said to me that it wouldn’t be the last I saw of them.
My good friend Jamie Morton had walked out to the small bridge just prior to the school with his young son Harry, he took a few pictures and jogged ahead to let my crew know I was en route. I jumped on the scales and my weight was down 5kgs, nothing to be alarmed at, with my super hydration strategy and in the knowledge bigger guys able to loose more weight without too many issues, I went over and got my mandatory gear checked. I quickly made my way out of the CP and onwards for what is one of the toughest sections of the race.
In training we had always feared the day on our schedule that an out and back from Cedar Brush to Congewei School was to be run the first time. All up, we ended up doing this several times in training, so that even on race day with 55KMs in the legs I was confident of getting to The Basin in good shape.
I was running alone for the first part of the climb up to the famous comms tower before being joined once again my good buddy Gareth Parker. Deja Vu! Not only was it good to see Gary again during the race, but on numerous training runs we had climbed this hill together. Again, a nice groove in our run walk strategy unfolded and we quickly said good bye to the climb. We cruised past Flat Rock lookout and off in the distance we could hear the first distinct rumbles of thunder.
As we started to descend towards Watagan Creek, Gareth was having a little bit of a low patch, a couple of my salt tabs seem to pick him up and we moved through the valley quickly having picked up French runner from WA, Stephane Benyaoun who had got a little lost on the descent.
The long climb up to the unmanned water stop meant we were able to revisit our splits and it was the first time we made reference to the fact we were likely to be in and out of the Basin in daylight. Throughout the day, I kept breaking the run down into bite sized chunks, never thinking any further ahead than a particular climb or key eating and drinking landmark, so thoughts of the Basin in daylight got me a little worried as to what sort of pace I could sustain. These thoughts quickly disappeared as nature firstly refocussed us when a giant goanna weaved across the trail in front of us followed very quickly by an almighty flash of lightening and an instantaneous clap of thunder. Gareth and I literally hit the deck as the strike was far too close for comfort. We were up on the top of the ridge with the storm right on top of us. Within a matter if minutes the trail was flooded and we got soaked. I am glad I had done a Mt Solitary loop in constant rain only a few weeks before as it allowed me to get my gear sorted to deal with any chafing that may occur on a wet or humid day.
On the descent into the Basin, it was good to see a few familiar faces making there way out already, including Dan who seemed to be pretty focussed. Another quick chat with my crew, a big cheer for the supporters and a couple of pointers on my expected race pace beyond Yarramalong for my pacer Russell who had made the trip into this CP and another icy pole and we were off up the climb and on our way to Cedar Brush. I was glad to have the Basin ticked off as it was very clear from the number of runners already crashed in chairs or curled up in cots that the early pace had taken its toll and just because the weather was milder given grant permission to go crazy !
Gareth and I ran this next section pretty much together and didn’t see another runner until late on along Kingtree Ridge. It was here again that I reminded Gareth that this whole section must we run and run well. We again both found this section flew by and we started to have thoughts of making it onto the road to Yarramalong without putting on our head torches.
Our wish came true as the last remnants of the sunset gave way to 1000’s of firebugs appearing as we entered the road at Cedar Brush. For the first time in about 15 hours I took a few minutes to appreciate what was going on around me and how wonderful nature was.
Headtorches on and we were joined by Luis and the 3 of us shuffled our way to the Yarramalong CP. This road section sucked. This is the only part of the whole race that I didn’t enjoy. All too often this section is quickly dismissed in training as we drive at 80KMs per hour from Yarramalong to Cedar Brush. Running it was a whole new kettle of fish for me. To get through it Gareth and I decided to run the flats and downhills and walk the ups. Whilst this section is often seen as dead flat, we utilised a simple technique to determine whether we should be running. If water flows down it, however shallow the gradient then we walk !
Arriving into Yarramalong, the atmosphere was awesome, people everywhere, loads of energy and the odd wrecked body all added to the spirit of this race. Another chance to jump on the scales and my weight had settled to 83Kgs. It was a funny feeling I had as I prepared to leave this CP that I didn’t feel like I needed my pacer. I just had this total feeling of calm sweep over me as I blocked out the noise from the supporters and the hum of the generators. It was too late to mess with my plans, and also the fact that having been a pacer two years running to Andrew Vize, there is a hell of a lot of commitment and sacrifice that goes into pacing by the pacer.
A quick pep talk from Russell and the expectation that these next two section would be a grind and we were off up the famous Bumble Hill climb. I saw Kevin Heaton approaching the CP as we made our way out and he was clearly suffering from the early efforts. I was to discover later that his race ended there.
The climb over the top by the power lines was uneventful apart from the unpleasant wafts emanating from the nearby chicken farms. Thank goodness that I had no feelings of nausea otherwise the smell could have really set me off.
Down the road and onto the trail towards the Hidden Valley. Gareth again caught up and passed by after about a kilometre of chit chat. It was clear he was living up to his usual strong finish reputation had he took off down the trail. It was at this stage I had a bit of a low patch, the first of the day and to be honest was well overdue. Up until now, everything was going along like clockwork, I was hitting or exceeding my splits, no navigational errors, hydration and nutrition all dialled in and feet and legs feeling pretty good. I just couldn’t explain why I was grinding to a halt. Russell pushed me to get running and we jogged the final section of unsealed road before the first of two climbs up to Somersby. I grabbed a couple of branches to help me with the first climb and Russell then inaccurately told me that once we get over this summit we would be on the road to Somersby. I knew we had another descent and then what is possibly an even tougher climb before we hit the road. I was not in the mood to question him and resigned to the fact that this last 5KMs to CP5 would take a fair while. Of course I was right, we had another climb to do, but I endeavoured to laugh it off and keep the grin as wide as possible for as long as possible. I must admit this was the most challenging bit mentally for me. The annoying thing was that my body was fine, it was the funk I was in that was causing the problem.
Finally the lights of CP5 could be seen and I informed Russell that I would grab some soup, a quick change of shirt and footwear before making our way. I had a small cut on my little toe that needed some attention now that I had taken my socks off, so some patching up by Oriel, some dry socks and a switch from my Nike Free 3.0’s to my North Face Single Tracks and I was ready to go. As I went to check out, I noticed Jane Trumper battered and bruised and wrapped up in a blanket on the car park floor. Her race had ended when she trapped and fell earlier in the day cutting her face open. She will love me for saying this, but seeing the state she was in, I quickly stopped feeling sorry for myself and dragged my butt on the way to Mooney Mooney.
Oriel also noted that I had slowed on my water consumption during this section and that I should try and get back to my original routine as it was shaping up to be a hot second day and I needed to be well hydrated for the last two sections. That was a promise not easily kept as my mode was starting to struggle with basic tasks.
This section was somewhat of a blur for me as the sleep monsters paid me a visit. On a couple of occasion I told Russell that I just needs to stop and gather my thoughts before progressing. At one stage the overwhelming fatigue hit me to such an extent that I stopped, found a rocky ledge, perched on it, shut my eyes, knowing that should I fall asleep, I would be woken up by my impact on the ground below. This worked a treat!
As dawn started to appear and we made our way down to the dam and onto the river bank, we started to progress reasonably well again, its amazing what sunlight can do to lift your spirits. We went under the Pacific Highway Bridge and settled into a decent run again to the check point. What was amazing about this section is that we saw no one. I was expecting to have been passed by loads of runners as my pace was somewhat pedestrian through here.
On arrival at Mooney Mooney, Oriel thrust a sausage sandwich in my mouth, file amy water bottles, told me to take on board as much fluid as I could before leaving and to focus on getting to the beach come what may. As I was preparing to depart, Buzz made his way into the CP with his usual bluster and so we had a quick chat before the ever present Jane Trumper, stitches and all sold me that the cP wasn’t a freakin picnic and to get my butt moving again. A quick smile for the cameras and Russell and I were off.
As we left, the CP captain told us to look out for two hazards on the trail, firstly low flying helicopters were removing sections of disused railway line and we may be halted for up to 5 minutes on the trail to allow them to land, and secondly, look out for fellow runner and mate Chris Turnbull who was last reported passed out on a rocky ledge somewhere up by the firing range!
I could tell from the mood Buzz was in and the focus his pacer Carl had, that they were keen to gap me Russell on this section. My thoughts were more towards survival and getting to the beach in one piece. But I did allow Russell to indulge his competitive nature as we made our way over the top of the first major climb as he had spotted a runner and pacer ahead. It was Keith and we moved swiftly up and past with a cheery hello. About a kilometre down the trail I need to use the loo, 30 hours of nothing but Perpetuem and I was ready to take five! To my horror my loo roll was not where I thought it was and so as Buzz past down the trail I called out to him to see if he had any spare paper. His pacer Carl obliged and they set off again. We quickly caught them up again as we went over the moonscape that is the large slabs of lava and the heat of the day was starting to bite.
I slowed somewhat over the next 5kms as we made our way to Mt Wondabyne, good friends Roger and Geoff Evison caught up and passed us by but to be honest, I was more pleased that all of us on this section were almost guaranteed to make it in around 30 hours I was less inclined to try an grab those lost places back.
At the rubbish tip and with about 7KMs to go, the temperature started to really climb and so again I slowed my pace enough to ensure I didn’t suck down too much water and blow up. Having run this section in training off the back 0f 70KMs in the legs and now with over 100 miles in the legs I knew I still had some work to do.
We pushed on hard over the final fire trail and brief thoughts of a sub 30 hours entered our conversation, but sanity prevailed as the descent to the beach came in sight. I started to reflect on all that had gone before me that day and what I was to think about stepping onto the sand and how it would feel to cross the finish line. To be honest, I was not massively overcome by emotion, more a reflection on a job well done, sticking to my plan and executing it pretty much 100%.
As I heard the famous bell ring and the spectators all standing up to greet us as we ran in I couldn’t help but widen my grin and with a simple kiss of the post, a thank you to my pacer Russell and kiss for my wife I was finally ready to accept my medal from Dave Byrnes after 30 hours of effort.
Knowing that I had not let myself down, done the training, listened to as much advice as humanly possible, crossing the finish line was made all the more sweet by that fact that my team mates at Ultra168 had all achieved their goals was just awesome. For Andrew to smash the course record in what can only be described as a world class time, Darrell to own the 40-49 age group record and Dan to succeed at the third time of asking was just the icing on the cake for me.
So in summary, what can only be described as a very straightforward and uneventful 100 mile debut for me that was one big laugh from start to finish, made all the more special by being able to be on that finish line with loved ones, mates and the incredible volunteers that make it one of the truly must do 100 milers in the world.
My training was heaps of fun and what was required to run 30 hours without red lining it, my gear was thoroughly tested to near destruction to ensure it performed on the day and my experiment of moving to liquid food made life much easier for my crew and flattened out the highs and lows associated with solid food.
I cannot wait until my next 100 miler!
Summary of Gear and Nutrition:
Shoes:- Nike Free 3.0s and The North Face Singke Tracks
Socks:- Some cheap numbers from the bargain bin in Rebel
Calf Guards:- Salomon EXO II
Shorts:- Salomon EXO II compression and The North Face Agility over the top
Shirt:- Salomon EXO II International Racewear
Hat:- Injinji Bedouin Badwater cap
Sunnies:- Nike Impala
Backpack:- Salomon XA Advanced Skin 12 L
Waterbottles:- Salomon collapsible flasks and Amphipod 650ml handhelds
Watch:- Suunto Quest