Friday, 19 November 2010

Great North Walk 100 Miler 13/14 November

After injury and illness in September, i'd decided that October was going to be the big comeback month with at least a marathon each weekend, with the aim to be back in really good running shape for Coast to Kosci in November. Being 25th on the waitlist for the Great North Walk 100 Miler (which i'd done in 2008), didn't really give serious consideration to the fact i may end up doing it, but late in October (with the 46 KM Bribie Beach Bash and Melbourne and Toowoomba Marathons under the belt) was offered a start.

The next day i was off to Lamington National Park to mark the course for the "Lamington Classic" and simply to check the course was runnable as storms the previous fortnight made it debatable in my mind, so i told the race organiser i was off bush for a few days (and 3 days of running 44K's of trails should make up my mind as to whether my mind was really into a trail run at that time). Ultimately the answer was yes so i had an extra long Ultra now to finish off a very patchy 2010, no horrifically bad performances but no real highlights either (and until the week previous not one solo win, had one at least on race per year since 1994 and was desperate to keep that streak up, guess at best i could count my Sydney Trailwalker mixed team win).

Knew this was one race i had to get really organised for as Checkpoints are around 20 miles apart and there are plenty of maps and descriptions to carry as well as fluids and various compulsory gear. Also whilst i'd done it two years previously i'd actually forgotten how i'd got my car from the start to the finish over 100 Miles away !!.

So firstly a note on Coolrunning to see how that could be achieved and i was offered accommodation and a lift to and from the race from a couple of coolrunners who knew me better than i knew them to be honest, so a very big thanks to Graham and Jo as that worked out perfectly.

After checking out parts of the course into and out of Checkpoint 4 (Yarramalong) and most importantly to me going over the 2010 deviation (due to Cyprus Rust disease we weren't able to use one part of the course this year), ended up doing 20 odd K's the day before (thankfully fish and chips from the Yarramalong General store kept me well fuelled !), which personally i thought ideal, after all i'd spent the previous day driving 600K's in the car and really do need to run (or at least walk) every day.

Found my way to Avoca Beach to my accommodation and with a very steep walkway down to the house felt like i was moving enough stuff out the car to stay permanently as i needed to fix up my dropbags beforehand as this would be a very early start.

Thankfully fellow ultra runner Kevin "Brick" Heaton had already arrived so at least now i was assured of having my normal camelbak, i hadn't seen it since Trailwalker (where i hadn't used it but had accidentally left it with our crew) and as late as the day before was organising getting it from my Trailwalker Team Mate Paul to Kevin as i really wasnt anxious for a drive into Sydney.

To be honest i hadn't used it since the Glasshouse 100 Miler in September 09, as i much prefer using the handheld bottles but with extra gear would need it this time, had an older one just in case but this was much better in terms of number of pockets and having used it in this event previously had been worried about not having it. Beautiful lasagna and a beer and a lot of chatting about running (maybe i needed an interpreter with all being English Expats !).

Having to leave at 4:30 meant i'd be settiny my alarm for 3:30 and then i realised i had no idea how to on the new phone.
After 15 minutes of fiddling with the phone decided i needed a shower and half an hour later my alarm was set, shame it was to wake me in less than 5 hours.

Typically woke up a couple of minutes before my alarm and headed down to breakfast (my usual 6 Vita Brits, muesli, yogurt and banana, only missing fruit salad), and soon the rest were up as well.
Reasonably full car but worked out it was only 50 minutes to the start line and we were there by 5, plenty of familiar faces as we checked in and handed in our drop backs (and had our pre race photos taken).
Of note it was interesting to see Hardrock finishers, Andy Hewitt and Phil Murphy who had already run from the actual start of the trail at Newcastle 30K's away with the aim of breaking the record for the entire course to Sydney, apparently held by race favourite Andrew Vize, as well as the only person to have finished all 6 GNW 100 Milers Wayne "Blue Dog" Gregory.
We then had the race briefing and finally (and not a minute too soon i'm useless at waiting and had pretty much been ready to run from the time i woke) we were off.
Was already warm and seemed it would be humid, so minimal gear, old faithful Lululemon top, Nike Dryfit shorts and headband with the Nike Free Run+'s and Drymax Maximum protection Trail running socks on the feet, as well as the Camelbak with required equipment to weigh me down :-).
Supposedly we were to run with the traffic along the road early on, but with massive tip trucks on their way backwards and forwards seemingly totally disregarding us, this was pretty nerve wracking and i was quite relieved to finally make it onto a trail. Easy early on as we headed underneath the freeway and towards Heatons Gap but even at this early point some runners were making navigational errors with one pair running towards me before we'd even made the road. On reaching the road it was great to see some of the crews and spectators but knew from then on it was going to be a hard slog.
Up numerous wooden steps and then it was very rainforest like, was in a group of 4 or so and already at this early stage the humidity was kicking in savagely. any thoughts i may have had of ever doing the Brazil 135 Mile race were eveaporation away rapidly, only wish my sweat was.
At one point to the shock of Glenn Lockwood (who knows my lack of navigational ability very well) i ended up in front of our group as we got a little lost, only o then lead them astray and head back to the back of our pack, finally after what seemed like hours (but couldn't have been), we were on the escarpment with views of the Hunter Valley, soon we would be hitting Checkpoint 1.
Although only 26K's away it had taken 4 hours to get there and i was keen to drink and eat as much as possible, every drop bag had a bottle of Gatorade as well as a GU and fruit bar and Clif Bar and a scoop of either Cytomax or Accelerade so that i would have only need water in my camelbak bladder but have a real useful sportsdrink in my handheld.
Skolled my bottle of Gatorade as well as had some of the Powerade supplied and some orange pieces and water melon, too early for me to eat too much yet.
Was gone within around ten minutes and running with another bloke (i'm useless at names he'll know who he was), for a while it was easy 4WD track running but ultimately we made it to Barrabas camp area and back onto the thinner trails again, i was feeling good but the humidity was drenching me and i was worried about chafing in the inner thighs, hadn't felt those sort of conditions since the Furnace Creek to Stovepipe Wells section of Badwater 2008, i'd have to keep an eye on that, was regretting i didnt have my Diaper Cream in the Camelbak (hoped i did at least have it in a drop bag).
Knew there was some running along the fence line and a gate, and possibly the funniest thing was me opening the gate and holding it for the next fellow along (only a minute away) as i accidentally let get go of it and it swung towards him (swear i didnt know him well enough for it to be some dirty race tactic), was surprised to see Rachel Waugh also at this point (her husband David was far in front battling for the lead i assumed), eventually i hit Congewai Road, will admit the puddles in the paddocks left by recent heavy rain looked so refreshing and tempting but also knew that soon i could stop and replenish at Checkpoint 2.
A number of runners on the road certainly livened me up, was happy for myself to see Blue Dog, but knew that he must be doing it hard (and injuries catching up with him) for me to see him this early.
Tookn at seat at CP 2 Congewai School and ate as much as i could as well as grabbing a fresh supply of S! Caps, i'd been through my first 10 in only 55 odd K's, was definitely feeling the heat, as well i put on my legionaires cap to replace my headband otherwise i'd be burnt to a crisp.
Ran with Gordie another localish runner for a while as we found our way through the paddocks and unfortunately couldn't avoid getting our feet wet crossing the dam, by now i was sweating profusely and had my shorts tucked in the waistband to avoid excessive rubbing, only wish i'd brought a pair of speedos to wear instead (as i'd carried the whole way in 2008).
From then it was up and more up, caught up with some runners and was passed by others was really looking forward to the unmanned drink stop at the top.
I'd pushed myself hard and almost up really felt my heart beating very rapidly so decided next chance i had i'd stop and sit and simply get some deep breaths in, next big tree with a root formation seemed ideal and sat there for a few minutes gathering my thoughts and relaxing, until the next runners came along.
Finally made it to the unmanned stop (which was manned by race director Dave Byrnes), and having a chat with him (between large intakes of water), heard that Blue Dog had rang to say he'd pull out here, very sad but for once he was doing the right thing by his body.
From then on it was relatively easy and a nice trail follow with even some shade, soon i was with another Coolrunning mate and we ran together, good idea as i always find the track into the Basin (CP3) confusing.
We were going the correct way (as evidenced by the faster runners coming towards us) when our biggest problem hit, a massive tree across the track, i tried above he tried below and ultimately that was the way to go, worrying at this point though as we knew we would encounter it in the dark on the way back.
Ultimately we would encounter one more fallen tree before the checkpoint but it was relatively easy although with tired legs the climb seemed much harder.
Finally we made it to CP3, Michael Lovric (a multiple finisher and Australian representative) was there and happily played waiter to me, a day of humidity and total sweat meant my top was now soaked beyond redemption and with evening setting in i was beginning to feel the chill, very thankful he offered me a long sleeve t shirt. Now it was the time i would struggle, on with the reflective vest and headlamp and also time to put on the Buff, still very warm but with the setting sun hidden from where we were cold could be an issue for me.
Spent a deal of time there, but though it was well spent having soup and fruit salad, knew soon it would be pitch black so headed off eventually, managed to go off track somewhere between 1 and 2 fallen trees as i was very close to the creek and could see runners above me, thankfully saw Rachel and she directed me up the track, was dreading that big fallen tree but as luck would have it reached it concurrently with some people going the other way, still a pain but between us we worked it out.
Now i was on trails i hadnt seen since 2008, was a little lost in one section and expected to see Paul Every (who'd reached CP3 not far behind) and asked him about the smallish snake at my feet, however it wasn't, possibly better it was one of the local runners who had done this section in the dark in training.
Finally we hit the road and i well and truly knew where i was having been there the day before, however i also knew we had 12 K's till checkpoint 4. In 2008 myself and Michael had absolutely flown his stretch loving the road but this time it was run, walk up minor incline, maybe run, maybe walk and so on, eventually hit Yarramalong a little after 11 (17 hours in !). Knew i had no intention of dropping to a 100K finish but nevertheless really spent too long at that checkpoint eating, drinking and even for 15 minutes laying down on a campbed, was what i needed at the time.
Eventually i headed off, knew this next section perfectly so that i wouldn't have any temptation to pull the pin.
Michael was pacing another runner and they passed me just of Bumble Hill road as we hit the track claiming that his was the 9.5 Hour train, wasnt interested at that point i had to make my own pace, probably making up ground when daylight came.
As i staggered towards the top of the hill i could see two headlights in front of me, i was a little mystified as they appeared to be going of track and once i made the top i could see it was Glenn (and his pacer TW teammate Keith Hong), they appeared to be heading off into the paddocks rather than on the road and then the detour, i yelled out to them and shone my torch and appeared to get a reaction as they turned around, so thought they were right.
Going down along the road to the new turn i could see them again out in the paddock, somehow they were still lost, again shone a torch at them, wasn't really sure if they had replied (and by then my voice was soft with tiredness - not normally megaphone me) but doubted they could go too wrong from there.
Finally made the deviation and headed off to where i'd been on the Friday, certainly no need for the unmanned water stop, it was still very warm and humid (and not a bit refreshing) but i wasnt drinking as much now, as i reached there was passed by another runner with pacer, really hoped it was Glenn but on speaking to them found they had seen them so at least they were back on track.
Managed to get the feet wet again at Ourimbah Creek and despite everything my feet were beginning to feel a bit tender, i'm guessing the heat of the day had swollen them and now they were relatively soft, next part to me was a mystery i had maps i had directions but somewhere something didn't feel right, followed the road for a long way and stopped at intervals to see if farm names matched up with it, at one point even sat down on the side of the road on an abandoned plastic chair near some roadworks, oddly enough when there a car came by but going by the speed it appeared to be going wasnt game to pop up and ask for directions.
By now it was almost getting lighter and i saw the Somersby forest sign that at least appeared to jel with my instructions but this is where i do get confused as it seemed very familiar as though i'd been along it an hour or two previously, maybe i did stuff up somewhere my mind was beyond solving that puzzle.
Finally Somersby school, a real toilet, food, drink, toast with vegemite (normally i love multigrain bread but with that level of tiredeness i've never struggled to eat toast so badly before), off with the lights and also the T shirt simplest idea now was to run the rest of the way in the reflective vest.
An "Up N Go" and a quick read of the instructions and i was off, had vague memories of being really refreshed running this section in 2008, but between chafing and tender feet doubted i'd be going that sort of speed again.
Maybe i'm a rubbish judge of distance but at one point (before the water storage area) i thought i'd gone too far or missed a turn, thankfully within
5 minutes i'd run into antoher run who assured me i was on course. Over Mooneny Mooney Creek and all was beginning to feel good, so nice to not have to cling to rocks and slippery trails and soon i was at the last checkpoint.
One last chance to put my feet up and get my thoughts together, looked like this time i wouldnt be seeing too many other runners so had to keep my wits about me.
Within a K saw a lady sitting not wanting to go on, didnt really have much persuasion left in me so was thankful she had another runner with her, from then on it was sandstone rocks and more sandstone rocks, passed two more runners and then almost immediately took a wrong turn as i tried to make sense of directions about waterfalls (the brain was struggling by now, worse than my body !), finally made it to the unmanned water drop where i drank copiously as well as filling up everything i had, this was going to be a long, hot, dry last 15K's. As usual never quite sure of my navigation so kept on stopping at corners as they all looked the same to me, could feel i was melting away (and probably being roasted to a crisp) in my plastic reflective vest but by now i had one thought only get to the finish line and i could stop, nothing simpler !.
Finally i crossed the Patonga Beach road had very fond memories of this sections and was simply letting my body take over as it knew there was not long to go. With a mile or so to go i ran out of water and cytomax, talk about perfect timing, downhill then the beach and i could stop.
Finally 32 hours and 8 minutes on, i arrived at the finish line, kissed the GNW sign marker and essentially just stopped on the spot.
Feet were sorer than i can ever remember but strangely unblistered just cut on top from them swelling may have taken a few minutes for me to take the shoes and socks off but then it was in for a dip, relieved and very happy.
If i'm honest in ultra race number 249 this was my hardest, after all in Badwater and Coast to Kosci we are on roads and never far from our crews here we are on trails seemingly miles from civilization and carrying all we need for miles, tough incredibly tough, may have only been 13th but i was first of the interstate runners and at times in deep thoughts out there reckoned we should have had three divisions: Runners with pacers, runners who'd trained on the trail and the rest of us, tender feet, raw chafed inner thighs and bloodied lower back from camelbak bouncing but all was well with me, 4 weeks to get my body back into one piece for Coast to Kosci :-)

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