Thursday, 13 November 2008
With a little trepidation i headed south for the Great North Walk 100 Miler, the plan had originally been to drive down after work the Tuesday night and have 3 days checking out the trails before the race, but with a public holiday in Melbourne i needed to be in the office on Wednesday so with that decided to do a good long trail run on the Tuesday instead. Headed up to Binna Burra once i found i was needed the next day and did the section "Great Walk" section from there towards Springbrook, not really being sure just how far i could get as i'd not done much of this track past the Ship Stern section. Ultimately made it to Apple Tree Park (http://www.epa.qld.gov.au/media/parks_and_forests/parks/springbrook.pdf) approximately 26.5 K's, some very muddy and some very steep.
Essentially this is an easier Aussie version of something like the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim, starting at 1,000 metres going down to the valley floor and then a climb (supposedly up 900 steps i didn't count) to 500 odd metres at Springbrook, definitely a good hard run but possibly a little more than i needed that close to GNW. Decided that was far enough as black clouds and occasional rain had been building up and looked like i'd be getting soaked on the way back. With the Numimbah Valley Cafe shut meant i had no hopes of a hot meal so it was muesli bars and nuts in my camelbak to get me back.
Last half was pretty much stormy and by the time i made it back to the car looked and felt like a drowned rat (and had no idea what had happened in the Melbourne Cup).
Dry clothes and a car heater definitely made things brighter for me and a 53K trail run with Camelbak certainly helped my confidence.
Leaving Wednesday afternoon meant i had time to get the race maps and directions laminated which i hoped would help but having only reached the Kurrajong Rest area by nightfall decided i'd have a nap in the car before heading down (had rained all the way the drive from home to Coffs Harbour can't say the weather was looking to hopeful).
Great sleep (something like 9 hours more than i get at home !!) and it was back down the Pacific Hwy, first stop Teralba to actually find the start and do some of the first set of directions. Basically the rest of the day was spent following where i could access the course (not having the crew instructions often struggling to find roads and certainly using roads not really made for little Subaru Imprezas). Went down and up the trail accessing Checkpoint 1 and had magnificent views over the Hunter Region at Macleans Lookout as well as strangely a flock of 7 goats (interesting reaction to me they simply fled !). Also found my way around the Area off Freemans Drive and up rocks (this was going to be tough) and then to Congewai.
Decided i'd do the Congewai to Barribri Trig trail in reverse and then time the distance back to see just what sort of speed i could go, actually took longer to get up there than i thought and with nightfall coming (and drizzle) was content to run as quick as capable getting back to the car by 7:30. Basically enough time to just get in before check in closed at the hotel we'd booked for Friday night (and i'd changed to a 2 day booking when able to get phone reception).
Being late night shopping at the nearby Tuggerah Westfield meant i then dashed in their and got my supplies (6 Mars Bars, 6 Bottles of Staminade one per drop bag to go with the cans of baked beans i had brought down), as well as price reduced Spag Bol as the Woolies was open till midnight but the food court only till 9.
Even indulged in a beer, had had a good day and felt i needed a reward and was about as fit as i get.
Friday was spent following the trail out of Yarramalong, the 100K mark and probably the one place i may be tempted to stop, so parked the car at the 111.9K mark and did the track in reverse (7.5K's), apparently disturbing every dog in that valley.
Shame i didn't have much money on me as i popped into the General Store and found i could only afford a 300ml tropical juice and a choc chip cookie, still a real feed was something to look forward to when i made it back to the car.
On returning reckoned i'd get out of Yarramalong easily (although noisily thanks to the chorus of dogs) and returned via the General Store for Fish and Chips, that would be enough for today as i'd tried out the Lunarlite Shoes and their minimal style definitely wasn't going to work as i found they wore a cut in my heel (no padding around the heel is fine for road races but evidently not a good idea of steep trails).
Back to the Motel and caught up with my room mate Robert as well as other runners Belinda and Horrie and their son and crew.
Robert had brought lots of delicious lasagne down so got stuck into that whilst watching the Aussies crumbling in India (even that wasn't enough to ruin my appetite).
Spent what felt like forever then packing my drop bags, i'd put two at Western States (and never made it as far as them) but otherwise this was a totally new concept to me, but considering i had 21 laminated A4 pages in total the last thing i really wanted to do was carry everything that i would require.
Every drop bag had at least one 425G can of baked beans or spaghetti, one 90G Mars Bar, one 600Ml bottle of Staminade, one Strawberry Banana Gu, one energy bar and a baggie of 4 Succeed Caps, but 4 of the 6 had a pair of shoes simply because i was worried that my favourite trail running shoes Nike 4.0 Frees would be fairly useless if the course was too muddy in sections and secondly if the course was too rugged they could simply fall to bits as by now these 2.5 Year old shoes had some structural weaknesses particularly holes in the back of each heel. Spread over the 6 drop bags were also 2 cans of creamed rice, 2 thermal tops, 4 pairs of socks, one headband and a pair of running tights.
Set the alarm for 3:30 as we needed to be at Teralba (a 43 minute drive according to Whereis) by 5 and i still needed my mixing bowl worth of Vita Brits.
Not a great nights sleep (but not worried as Thursday night had been another good 9 hours) and once organised we headed off to Teralba.
More like a family reunion than a race with so many familiar faces and so much to catch up on.
Fairly easy decisions clothes wise stuck with the usual Nike Fitdry Shorts, the Lululemon Bike top (god only knows how many miles it has done, used most stages in France 2006 & 2008, Germany 2007 and Badwater as well as most of my longer Aussie Trail Ultras), Drymax Trail Socks and my usual blue headband.
Was using the new camelbak i'd bought for only $20 at Sports Chalet in Redondo and despite having only used it for my three Binna Burra runs in the last couple of weeks thought it would be a better bet as it held that little more than my old Salomon one. Wasn't a race to take risks so as well as carrying all the compulsory gear (including taking my Goretex Rain Jacket rather than some inferior but more lightweight option) also carried the Buff Bandanna, Moebon Sleeves, Running Gloves, Bike Shorts, a tube of Diaper Cream (the best chafing fixer i've found), Legionnaires Cap and an extra couple of energy bars and Gu as well as the ones i had in my bike top pockets and baggie of 8 Succeed Caps.
A quick talk by race director Dave Byrnes and at 5:30 we were off.
Nice morning but heavy cloud made it rather humid, was quite content midfield having a chat with some of the usual suspects and with this crowd navigating was not an issue. 15K's in and we'd made it to Heaton Gap trackhead, a very solid uphill stage and was travelling well but sweating very heavily the humidity was definitely going to be an issue. Caught up with Innes just before Macleans Lookout and we ran quickly towards the first checkpoint.
Incredibly well organised with a table to get our camelbaks filled and easy to find drop bag zone. I drank my Staminade, ate my Mars Bar and had a couple of the salted potatoes being handed out and also replenished my Succeed Cap supply.
Spent a little longer at the aid station than Innes and others but calculated that with only 6 stops i could afford to do this without any rushing.
Next part was again familiar, and i was thankful i'd only driven so far in my car along Georges Rd as the firetrail deteriorated rapidly before hitting Barrabri Trig.
Had Lachlan Fraser (who surely must have been jetlagged after a flight a few days previous from the US) catch up to me here and we ran together all the way down to Congewai pretty much a 10K conversation as we caught up on each others exploits since the Gold Coast 100K.
No need for a camelbak top up at Congewai but instead a sausage sandwich and cake to go with my Staminade and Mars Bar. Had heard tales of Wayne Gregory's injuries earlier and was worried just how he was going far in front of me. Left with Ian Wright, one time winner and a man noted for often passing me in the last 40K's of the Glasshouse 100 Miler over the years. He was trying new tactics by mixing running and walking so i kept up easily still very fresh. Was disappointed to find i had to get my feet wet at the Watagan Creek crossing but was thankful i had a runner experienced here to get us through this tricky bit. Ultimately we hit the 66.9K Unmanned water stop and whilst i didn't need to use it a couple of other runners also caught up by the time we left. At this point there was a little drizzle but really it was ideal running conditions certainly the sun and heat wasn't a problem (as usual i hadn't put sunscreen in the camelbak and had none in my drop bags really find it only of use over 40 degrees and was bemused to see so many people slapping the stuff on at CP 2). Good consistent running from there till the turn off to the Basin Campsite which was CP3, glad i was still with Ian as he knew not to take the wrong turn which many others did. Saw quite a number of people heading back towards us as we go 2.5K's in and then back out and on to another track, reassuring that there were so many out there and also giving me something to chase down later.
Beatiful Spag Bol at Checkpoint 3, again didn't need my can of baked beans but had all the other usual things, injured Tim Turner (one of the few people to have started this race each year and one of the "Ultra family") filled my camelbak while i consumed that (50 Odd K's between 2 Litre Camelbak refills seemed perfectly timed) and i also knocked a leech of my sock, i'd been warned about them !!.
Soon we would need headlights, but first up the steep track that we'd passed on the way in. Me and Ian were then joined by Michael Lovric and we 3 ran along in ragged style as we both took it easy on the uphill sections as we were planning to burn along the flat Ravensdale Road.
A couple of hard bits of navigation but once we hit the road it was time for a good hard run (finally i could use some of that spare energy that i appeared to have). We ran nicely into Yarramalong but Michael having nausea peoblems went into the doctor while i hoed into hot soup and delicious caramel slices as well as a can of creamed rice, time now to take the headband off and put the bandanna on.
Once i left (16 Hours 16 Minutes having now gone, my guesstimate of a 30 Hour time seemingly pretty right) i then realised i hadn't grabbed the thermal top from my drop bag and almost headed back but decided to hop into a phone booth and put on the Moeben Sleeves and running gloves and see if they would work, in short thankfully they did.
Turning up Bumble Hill Road was glad to have a few local cheering me from their back yard, way better than having their dogs yapping at me, way more silent than Friday arvo. I think Fridays run was very worthwhile as the course seemed very straightforward and reached the top easily but was then caught up to by a runner with a pacer. Ran with them for a while but when passed was asked to join them being told we'll only run the flats and the downs, sadly that meant i lost them rapidly as i was finding the flats to be very ordinary underfoot and as for the downs on thin trails i was way too clumsy !!.
For the first time after crossing a creek managed to lose the track but could hear runners very close behind, Innes and Terry so waited less than a minute and saw the marginal wrong turn i had taken. After that it was a case of walking and running uphill, me usually leading on the walking stages simply because i was just way too fresh meaning my legs could walk as fast as at the beginning.
We passed the second lady (with pacer) on the road and then rapt to get a real sealed road, found an extra gear and flew into the Somersby School.
More hot food as well as my usual stuff and i was feeling in great shape, only downside being the fact that my feet were feeling a little blistered the one issue with the Frees being that in boggy ground i was essentially holding them on with my toes and with "pimpled" insoles i was making the toes quite sore.
Left with Innes and Terry but again it was a case of being outrun on the single trails so was soon by myself again, was only thankful that it was now getting lighter and would soon not need the headlight. Once i crossed Mooney Mooney Creek i got some really good running surface and was beginning to think the rest of the run would be relatively easy.
Checkpoint 6 and my usual feed (never ended up having any of my cans of Baked Beans as good hot food was provided everywhere) as well as filling up my camelbak but was surprised to hear i still had around 5 hours to go !!!. I did say i was expecting it to be easier from here, well pretty simple i was wrong, sandstone plateaus were not only hard on the feet and sometimes hard to follow (marked by painted arrows) but i was beginning to get hot with no shade. Finally got to the 100 Mile mark and felt i'd achieved something although still a long way to go. Came across a local (who'd pulled out at checkpoint 2) a little later and walked with him a bit, probably just the witness i needed for a little later managed to disturb a brown snake which bounced of the back of my shoe (spent the next couple of miles worried about that as having holes in the back of both shoes i suspect that it would have bitten me if it had managed to get its head caught there and it must have got damned close).
Eventually began to get views of the sea and really enjoy the course but certainly the end appeared to get no closer (especially as i had no idea what the end looked like !!!), but with a few K's to go was pleasantly surprised to see Innes and Terry walking just in front, finally i'd get to race. With abundant energy (it may have been a long run but i had few opportunities to actually run fast so was very fresh) made sure i made it look easy when passing and basically run as long as i could, was relieved to find a sealed track to Warrah Trig so could actually get a good pace going and from then on ran faster downhill than any other time on this run, refusing to look behind me, finally spotted the beach and initially a bit lost as to how to get on it (with a pier in the way), absolutely bolted on the sand (just like at home between Currumbin and Tallebudgera Creeks) finally close enough to see i would get in under 30 Hours, very happy indeed.
Bit of a haze after that, had run long and hard and had little rest and there was a certain extra joy about conquering this course. I know people reading the title of this will question the fact i claim it's the hardest run i've done but most of my extreme races (ie Badwater, Trans Gaule, Deutschlandlauf, Coast to Kosi, etc) have been on roads and simply i'm a much better road runner than trail runner, no longer quite as nimble as back in my early 30's and certainly i find my large feet and height are a positive disadvantage. Love trail running and with 17 Six Foot Tracks, 13 Maroondah Dam Trails, 10 Bogong to Hothams, 5 Walhalla Woundups and numerous others over the years can't claim i am unable to run trails but i know my ability on them is tested once over 50 miles or so whereas on a road i can run virtually forever.
As i type i'm happy to say the body has recovered well (trails are way easier on it the roads) so now it's a case of what's next ???.