Great North Walks 100 mile
“Australia’s toughest trail race”
(November 9th & 10th 2013)
“You’ll think you’re going too slowly at the beginning, go slower”
Our crewman Luke Martin’s words of caution rang loud and clear in my head as we prepared to leave Teralba on the first leg of our GNW 100 mile journey.
The Great North Walks 100s, ‘Australia’s Toughest Trail Runs’ are two races that run a section of the 260km full route. Its popularity has increased in recent years and it was a relief when we both heard back to say we’d been successful in getting a starting number. The 104km and the 109mile races (yes, just for “fun”, they are both more than a bit over) had just under the 185 runner’s (a few DNS) this year.
Jules Devlin is a good mate from Byron Bay, who over the past couple of years I have trained with for various trail runs and marathons. We’re pretty close in most distances. He’d run The North Face 100km in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney last year, and so had more ‘ultra’ experience than me. He’d mentioned the GNW at the beginning of the year and the possibility of doing the 100 miler, just to “put the idea into my head”.
With over 6000m of ascent and decent, through some of the most beautiful, leg smashing Australian single trail, I was beginning to get seriously nervous and excited.
An old school mate from UK, Steve Richards, who knows me as well as anyone, posted this cool tune by Hopeton Lewis called “Take it easy” on my facebook page.
“take your time, take your time, take your time, no need to hurry!!”
We’d all listened to it in the car on the way to the start line.
It was perfect!!
Registered, weighed in, a quick coffee (with a touch of whiskey), count down and we were off… Slowly….
But for 30 seconds Jules sprinted into the lead, laughing,
“It’s got to be done; it’s got to be done”
He briefly led that race, he nearly had it!!?
We had found ourselves in the front 10 runners but knowing some of these would be 100km runners, our main concern was, ‘are we moving too fast’. Jules had worn his Garmin specifically for this reason. We’d figured that although the battery would not last the duration of the race, it would at least help us reign in any desire to start too quick, particularly this soon.
The weekend forecast had promised a hot Saturday with a rainy and cooler Sunday.
The first leg to CP1 was simply awesome. It managed to combine every type of Australian trail running that I’ve encountered. It was the single trail that stood out for me. River gullies, rainforest, cave over hangs, hills, hills. We both commented on the fun we were having and feeling great! Pulling into CP1 whooping, Luke smiled and ushered us over to the Ute where all of our stuff was waiting.
Luke Martin is a mate of Jules’. He trains with him when he is doing triathlons. Luke’s from Newcastle and as a local knows the trails, having ran on them and paced for his brother Levi in the past. He had volunteered months ago to crew for Jules and myself on this our first 100 mile event. I couldn’t believe our luck.
He took our backpacks refilled them with drinks, water, gels, salt and caffeine tablets. We didn’t eat much here.
“You’re going great boys, you’re pretty quick though?”
With only 28 km’s gone it had been cool and we were not ready for food. We signed out of CP1 with more “yeeews”! Enjoying every second!!
(Completed: Checkpoint 1: In 9:38am – Out 9:49am
Total running time – 3h 38mins : Total distance 28km/17.8mi: Position 8th )
Section 2: Watagan Camping Area to Congewai Public School – 24.5km
To CP2 the trail continued along fire and single trail, with a few fair ascents and descents thrown in, cloud cover had been good so it was nice running in cooler temperatures than had been expected. Things were perfect. We’d noticed the clouds were beginning to break up a little along the ridge and soon realised it was getting warmer.
The track went down for some time before hitting a road. Stepping out from the rainforest it was apparent that it had got very hot. With barely any shade, the road winds through a valley exposed fully to the sun. We ran for a km or so and began to walk up a slight incline. Within a couple more km’s the heat was intense. (It was later reported that CP2 had been 38⁰C. I’m not sure how hot, but I think it was better not to have realised any of this at the time.)
Still, we met a guy, Dave Waugh, who I’d ran with and finished 2nd to 3 weeks previously at the Washpool 50km. I’d spoken to him briefly pre-race and on asking for advice he said, “When you feel like you can’t go any further, tell yourself, you will start to feel better.”
He is a modest quiet spoken guy and great trail runner (until that morning I hadn’t realised he had won this event in 2005 (its first year) and 2007). So it was all the more sad to see him struggling along the road. He looked hot. He said his stomach was giving him grief and he wasn’t feeling great. We offered him anything we had, but he was sorted. We chatted and joked for a while before Dave said, “it’s not far to CP2, you go, I’ll see you there.” Jules invited him to join us at our Ute and share anything he needed. Dave was doing it with drop bags at each CP, and so, was without support.
As this was our first attempt, I was glad we had the goal of reaching Luke and his beaming face. Jules had arrived a couple minutes before me and was just leaving the medical tent. This was our first ‘race’ weigh in. He’d lost a few kg and as a safety measure they monitor you. I’d dropped about 2kg too. We sat in the shade by the van. Luke took the backpacks, refuelled and grabbed our first change of shirts and shorts.
(Completed: Checkpoint 2: In 12:33pm – Out 1:42pm : Leg time 2hr 44mins
Race time overall – 7h 35mins: Total distance 52km/32.6mi : Position 10th )
Section 3: Congewai Public School to The Basin Campsite– 24.5km
This next section to CP 3 we’d been waiting for, Luke had warned us. The climbs were amongst the toughest on the course and at this time of the day, the sun hits the side you climb.
Within the first 5 km we passed 3 people ending it, returning with aliments or injuries. Veterans, aware of what was to come and realising the efforts it would require, made turning back to their crew more appealing. The naivety of being first timers was possibly an advantage at this point.
The climbs were good? Hard, but on picking up various make-shift walking poles, I realised how much easier it was on the legs.
The communication tower at the top felt good to get to.
Run, fuel, walk, fuel, climb, fuel…..
On a fairly long downhill section we saw Dave. We’d missed him at CP2, he’d forgotten to refill his pack bladder, and had made quite a quick pit stop, 10 minutes compared to our hour. Lying on his back on the side of the fire trail, he’d been sick and said he could only move 50 metres before puking. We stood chatting for 10 minutes and eventually got him to take some Coke Cola from us. He got up and began to run with us. Within a km we met another runner sitting with a dude who’d stopped to help him. Dave told us to go on and sat down with them. They can’t have sat there long, because within 30 minutes they’d caught us up. Feeling better, he was laughing about hunting us down!!
He’d refilled at a water tower, and was moving.
We ran alongside a number of others in their own world. Jules and I talked shite to each other. This was wicked; we were fully loving the experience, opportunity and adventure of it all.
After what seemed like a long time we reach the top of a fairly long climb and the unmanned water station. As we refilled our bladders we were joined by Dave and 2 others runners, both of whom we’d met at races in Washpool or Nerang. It all seemed quite cosy that we were about 75 km into the race and we knew everyone around us. Dave said it was ‘mostly decent from here to CP3’. We ran along a ridge for a while. The ground felt cushioned for the first time in ages.
We began the decent through rainforest and pushed ahead a little. We were now only 3 km from CP3 and ticking along brilliantly. The GNW trail then swung left up some serious steps and began to climb. It zigzagged for a while and then hit boulders and rock ‘steps’. We climbed for a few km’s and then reached a fire trail. After some slight confusion over an unmarked intersection we found ourselves on a main firetrail road. 50 metres along was a Ute with some support crew (who we’d seen a couple of times at various intersections). They cheered as we approached,
“you’re flying boys, only about 14km to CP 4” ,
?????? the 100 km – Checkpoint 4?, where we’d meet our 2 pacers, WTF?????????
“Nahhh mate! We’re only a couple of k’s from CP3”
“Ahh nahh mate, I know what you’ve done, you’ve missed the Lyrebird trail that takes you to CP3, and came all the way up here.”
CP3 at 82 km, it turns out, is about 1 or 2 km from the point where we’d began to climb. Nooooo!!! This can’t have happened; we’d stuck to the GNW path. And that was the error. The map clearly showed a short out and back to The Basin picnic area that serves as CP3. We hadn’t noticed or registered it.
To say we were gutted is an understatement. We turned on our heels and began to retrace our route. Both shouting our various frustrations at what had happened.
It’s hard to pin down what was so annoying.
• The time we’d clearly wasted: about 2 hours.
• The extra unnecessary energy we’d used.
• Losing the feeling we’d had on getting to within a km of reaching the dreaded CP3 in such good spirits. To have seen Luke’s face…. We had been still buzzing at that point. And now, to be turning up hours later, dark and still having to retrace the section we’d smashed, again!!!
Pink or purple glow sticks guided the path towards the final 100 metres into CP3. Luke greeted us smiling, camera in hand. He’d realised quickly what we’d done.
Forget it. Get sorted, refuelled and out. I was beginning to get agitated and paced for a while and then sat down.
Sitting down I ate some soup and Coke. I’d happily been using Hammer Perpetuem as my main source of fuel, but it felt like I should get something solid into me before the night sections started. As I sat, the tiredness began to sneak up on me. My initial haste to get out was less now, I was getting comfy!
It was hard to put the situation out of my mind. Jules and Luke both told me to get up and we checked out. Once we were moving again I felt better. I switched to my head torch and began the long night that we were about to go into.
(Checkpoint 3: In 08:02pm – Out 8:47pm : Leg time 6hr 20mins
Race time overall – 14h 02mins: Total distance 81.7km/50.7: Position 41th)