42 Peaks in 24 Hours – The Bob Graham Round (May 2018)

rich recce insta
An English Fell Running Ultra Marathon – no medal, no t-shirt and don’t write a blog!

After living and running for the last 11 years in Australia, I returned to England with Christine and the two kids, to reconnect with family and friends and rediscover the beauty and history of fell running, which lies on the doorstep of my childhood.

As a kid growing up in Consett, County Durham (on the borders with Northumberland and Cumbria) we were surrounded by moorland, heath and fells. The Lake District, across the Pennines, was an easy day trip with Mam and Dad.

The peaks and valleys of the Lake District are spectacular, and are known as ‘fells’ where I come from, a term which (according to Wikipedia) means “high and barren landscape features, often above the alpine tree line”. We’d usually focus our attention on the Lakes and towns themselves though, and rarely can I remember really venturing up the cloud-covered summits.

Within days of arriving at my parents’ (mid-December 2017) I began to plan what running in 2018 could offer. Now back in Europe my options were huge; I immediately entered a few local fell races and quickly experienced the conditions North-East English winters had in store: sub-zero temperatures, frozen rivers and snowdrifts. The winter would go on to become one of the harshest in years, a massive contrast to sub-tropical Byron Bay, NSW, Australia.

In terms of experiences that would give me something very different to Australia, I was keen to try Europe’s alpine and altitude ranges. Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) seemed an obvious opportunity. I’d had sufficient ‘qualifying points’ for a few years now, but never the funds to justify a trip halfway around the world for a race – no matter how iconic!

So I chucked my name in the lottery for that – but didn’t get in.

BUT WHAT ELSE?

Hunter Dodds, a mate I’d met in 2017 training for and running the Great Southern Endurance Run that November, messaged me:

“Still thinking you’ll give the Bob Graham a crack?”

We’d talked about it, but it had slipped from my mind.

I replied:

“Oh I’d love to but… it takes a heck of a lot of organising???? A mate of mine did do it two years ago…”

“actually my brothers paced and crewed for him…”

“ah now I’m thinking again!!!”

And that was that! Thanks Hunter…

What is the Bob Graham Round?

The BGR is a classic fell-running ultra-marathon that famously featured in the brilliant Richard Askwith book Feet in the Clouds (2004).

Bob Graham, as Wikipedia will tell you, was a “Keswick guest house owner, who in June 1932 broke the Lakeland Fell Record by traversing 42 fells within a 24 hour period”.

The history of fell running in this region is immense. The BGR, as well as other similar challenges, have been repeated and records consistently smashed in the 88 years that have passed.

The names of Joss Naylor, Billy Bland (record holder since 1982 – 13 hrs 53 mins and broken this summer by Kilian Jornet) and Nicki Spinks (her double sub-48 hours round in 2016 is epic), count among the multitude of athletes who have become mythical in the mists of the valleys, mountains and consciousness of people in these parts.

No longer a local to the area, organisation would prove to be one of the biggest challenges of this adventure; it had been 25 years since I’d lived ‘back home’.

The ‘Round’ itself begins and ends in Keswick town centre, at the Moot Hall (now an information centre). It isn’t a race, but a self-organised traversing of 104km (66 miles) with 8,200m (27,000 feet) of ascent, over 42 peaks each over 600m (2,000 feet) high (the full details and rules are here: http://www.bobgrahamclub.org.uk/index.php?page=hour24 )

If it’s your intention to be admitted into the hallowed “Bob Graham 24 hours Club” then the attempts must be witnessed by at least one person, recording the time each summit is reached. Names of all companion runners and road crew are recorded and later ratified before you can be permitted to join. Successful rounds are submitted to Bob Wightman and are published in January of the next year. Membership numbers are assigned and certificates presented to new members at a reunion dinner, held the following October at the Shap Wells Hotel, near Penrith.

No race director, no course markers or organised aid stations. No other competitors, medals or t-shirt ‘merch’.

Logistics would be vital, if I was to even consider the attempt.

The Planning – recces and setting a date

My first port of call had to be Richard Petty, a friend from years ago who had successfully done it in 2014. He had now moved to the Lakes with Jo his wife and new twin boys.

How possible was it for me to put this thing together?

I didn’t have years, or even many months. The course would need to be recced and five legs individually trialled, possibly on numerous occasions due to the heavy dependence on weather conditions. BGR training and actual attempts have regularly been aborted due to freezing rain, snow, winds and zero visibility. All are common and the cause of many an accident or even death.

Did I have that time?

People often have a date set, plus a back-up date should the first fail or be cancelled. I didn’t have that luxury, or the crew I’d need to depend on, to have this flexibility.

Fortunately Rich got straight back to me,

“bloody hell mate, how exciting! Loved the BG and would love to talk about it…”

“would love to crew/run a leg with you…. been dying to do this since our nuts weekend in May 2014”.

In the weeks that followed other friends and family were dragged on board and the adventure began to take shape. The first public holiday in May was set, giving us a longer weekend and lighter, longer spring/summer days.

But the problem with setting the date for early May was that training and recces needed to start immediately. Fitting it into to work and family life would mean grabbing any chances I could to get over to Keswick, no matter what.

It was still winter!!! Very much so, in fact some of the biggest snow storms and coldest weather in years, courtesy of the ridiculously-named “Beast from the East”.

Recces in winter

So it began – a kid-free weekend with Christine to Keswick!

Keswick to Threlkeld: Leg 1 recce

After starting with Christine up to Skidaw, I continued to complete the first leg: Keswick to Threlkeld. The weather wasn’t ideal. The clouds came in and there was lots of snow and ice melt, flooding the normally marshy section over to Great Calva. Navigating across heathland with almost non-existent tracks was an eye-opener.

By the time I’d begun my descent of Blencathra, down Halls Fell there was zero visibility. The narrow rock ridge, only metres wide, felt perilous. On more than one occasion, sitting in melt water cascading around me, I wondered how much of an idiot I’d been.

I had no back-up plan to descend via another route. My naivety embarrassed me. Would I be calling my awaiting wife to say that mountain rescue were needed to get me down? After what seemed like a lifetime of kicking my toes into icy narrow tracks, I made it. Shaken!

I was petrified. What if the actual day was like this? Too dangerous for me and pacers; the responsibility for everyone’s safety was much more important.

Threlkeld to Dunmail Raise –  Leg 2 recce

Regardless of this, two weeks later I returned for Leg 2. Brilliantly?? It was worse!! Threlkeld to Dunmail Rise, over summits including the Dodd’s and Hellvelyn, saw a repeat of the horrendous visibility, but with added howling wind and freezing sleet.

This time it was not the terrain but the weather that almost got me. I’d packed plenty of layers, but gloves were the problem. The Clough Head ascent was a snow drift and my hands had got cold and wet through soaked gloves. The ridge line had been sheltering me from the sub-zero gale above.

I bumped into a guy at the top, giving me a bit of a boost. It felt good to have someone alongside. We chatted and continued along the ridge line.

After an hour he turned to head back to his car, but as he did his GPS tracker and my watch map were showing conflicting information. The visibility was only a couple of metres. We then separated, only to bump back into one another minutes later. Neither of us was 100% sure which way was the right way.

I looked down, saw the path and trusted my watch map. When I looked back up he’d gone into the clouds. I shouted a few times but the wind was blowing hard. I stood at the trig point for a few minutes. I was freezing and I needed to keep moving. I’d changed my gloves and added my final fleece beneath my waterproof jacket, but my hands were ice!!! I couldn’t focus on anything else. (Now 5 months since that day, the frost bite in both my index fingers has left the tips partially numb).

I eventually arrived at Dunmail Rise after 5:30 hours to catch a lift with Darryl Priestley (brother-in-law) who’d had an equally horrific experience; he was training for the Fred Whitton endurance bike race, around the mountain I’d just been over. We both were relieved to be back inside the warmth and safety of the car.

Once again I was gaining a less-than-enthusiastic appreciation of what this challenge was going to take.

No less petrified, the next one, is the longest and arguably the toughest.

Dunmail Raise to Wasdale – Leg 3 recce

Logistics are everything! I had Rich Petty, my veteran BGR’er, to help. I stayed with him and his family in Orton the night before.

Getting to recce this section meant hours of driving to place cars at the start and finish, and Leg 3 is tricky. Starting at Dunmail Raise is easy but having a car at Wasdale, travelling over the spectacular Hardknott Pass was a 3+ hour round trip, followed by 5-7 hrs of running and an hour-and-a-half return from Wasdale to the start where my car had been left. This added up to an almost 14-hour day by the time I drove back from the Lakes to home.

Mercifully Leg 3 was less life-threatening. With Rich by my side, we chatted and discussed everything and nothing. Alternate options at Scafell, whether you choose Broadstair or Foxes Tarn, was a hot topic. The former requires ropes and climbing, the latter an additional 30-40 minutes. Without climbing experience we opted for Foxes Tarn.

The weather mostly held, and we were given occasional glimpses of the views the Lakes can offer.

Heathland for the first half saw us progress quickly over the route. Although on a few occasions one of us found himself literally thigh-high in boggy mud, running carefree over short, bright, green vegetation that had tempted us into a more direct line. We dragged ourselves unceremoniously out of the sludge, skilfully avoiding losing one of our shoes.

The second half was a world away from the first. Moonscape rocks and scree made progress slow. Rocking boulders flipped and tapped our ankles, like a small hammer smashing glass on an emergency exit sign.

This is the leg that would be important; 6-7 hours perhaps, and some difficult ascents and descents that needed care to be safe. Rich got me through and something resembling confidence began to return as the approaching attempt day loomed.

Legs 4 and 5 were going to have to wait until the ‘real thing’. With only weeks to go, time wasn’t on my side.

Fortunately Rich would be with me for Leg 4, Wasdale to Honister, not 3 as he had been on the recce. I was super grateful that he was doing a recce for Leg 4 on my behalf, a week before our attempt date!!!

The final leg from Honister back to Keswick was deemed less of a concern. With 50% of it on road back into Keswick, it’s possible to get away without practicing it beforehand.

AND SO WITH RECCES DONE…..

Training continued and long runs closer to home resembled 4-5 hour hill rep sessions to guarantee the necessary ascent.

THE REAL THING – MAY BANK HOLIDAY 2018

Snow, ice and zero visibility had meant that the Lakeland landscape had held its beauty very close to its chest, but that was about to change. Spring had truly sprung and unbelievably our chosen date was to become extraordinarily clear, sunny and hot.

I was over the moon. Not only would I finally get to see further than 2 metres past my nose, but from a crew/support perspective it would present a holiday atmosphere for both adults and kids.

house in hellvlyn st

We booked a house in Helvellyn Street, very close to the centre of Keswick, and this became HQ for the weekend for the 14 of us.

THE TEAM

Crew and support Pacers
Christine and Stella Leg 1 Mike Buckman – ‘Basil’
Peter and Anne Byrne (Dad and Mam) Leg 2 Ian Hutchinson – ‘Hutch’
Sarah and Ruby Berry Leg 3 Steve Collins
Behind the scenes Leg 4 Rich Petty
Emma Little and John Wyndham Leg 5 Mark Berry – ‘Buz’, Rich Petty, Sean and Sandy
David Byrne
Stu McKenna

Pacers and crew changed over the final few weeks, as inevitably family commitments and life presented unavoidable obstacles.

Thankfully my local trail-running club ‘Derwent Valley Trail Runners’ (DVTR) saved the day as a couple of lads (Ian and Steve) jumped in last minute to pace Legs 2 and 3.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/category/Athlete/Derwent-Valley-Trail-Runners-868875203166607/

MOOT HALL – KESWICK

Leg 1 Keswick to Threlkeld 4:06am departure

(Pacer: Mike ‘Basil’ Buckman)

Starting at 4:06am on Sunday, we were waved off from the Keswick Moot Hall and Mike and I began the attempt. Apart from a minor ‘extra’ peak before Skidaw (impossible it seems, but I managed to stray from the most well-marked track on the whole round) things were perfect.

Dark for the first 45-60 mins, we were greeted by the sun, as the last clouds we’d see for the day disappeared.

It was going to be stunning. Cloudless vistas in all directions. For the first time there was the chance to see, in the distance, huge sections of what was to come – the ‘Round’ itself.

We chatted and admired the place. Just “WOW!!!!!!” I would go on to repeat this hundreds of times. I’d never seen the Lakes this clear.

And so it continued; Great Calva, onto Blencathra and then the hectic Halls Fell descent to Threlkeld. Thankfully iceless, yet still needing care, we made it safe and sound to the rendezvous point where the crew awaited.

Leg 2 Threlkeld to Dunmail Raise 8:22am departure

(Pacer: Ian ‘Hutch’ Hutchinson)

I changed my MoreMile Cheviot fell shoes (it hadn’t been as wet as expected) and into the Hoka Evo Jawz, and a DVTR club singlet.

We waved our goodbyes and ran for about 500m when I realised that although I’d eaten, I’d picked up no food/gels/bars. My crew notes hadn’t been clear and so no one had repacked for me. OOPS!

Hutch turned and legged it back to the cars before they departed and I slowly kept moving forward.

The leg starts with a short but tough steep climb straight up to Clough Head and then runs along the ridge toward Helvellyn, the site of my previous frostbite. It undulates for the most part, but is reasonably runnable and fairly good underfoot.

MORE WOWs!!

We talked and recorded our summits and times of arrival. It was ridiculously clear. Neither Hutch nor I had ever seen it this stunning before. We marched on without too much trouble and hit the last couple of very steep ascents and descents at Fairfield and Seat Saddle (summits 14 and 15) and down to Dunmail Raise.

We were greeted by Sandy, my 11 year-old son, who guided us directly to the rest of the support crew in the layby.

The size of the turnout reminded me just how much of a team effort this really was.

Leg 3 –  Dunmail Raise to Wasdale 12:30pm departure

(Pacer: Steve Collins)

Dunmail Raise is such a convenient spot between Keswick and Grasmere, and so a chance for everyone to get involved. Mam, Dad, my wife Christine, the kids – Sandy and Stella (7) – and my brother Sean were there. Pacers for later stages Rich and Buz, with his wife Sarah and daughter Ruby, plus Basil, were there too. Dad informed me that someone from Bob Graham Round (possibly Bob Whiteman) had passed by and enquired about our progress.

I thanked Hutch and picked up Steve Collins for this, the most difficult and longest leg of the Round.

Amazingly the kids joined us for the VERY steep climb out of the valley. I was surprised at just how far they kept up with us. Eventually though, as Stella and Ruby dropped back, I turned to Sandy and said,

“Mate, you’re going to have to stop here. I know you could keep going”.

Far below the cars and people were dots and the kids needed to get safely back down without me returning with them.

“Good luck dad, have a good run”.

After about 15 minutes Steve and I had cleared the ascent and I could begin to run again.

This leg is very much a game of two halves; the first being an undulating plateau of heath and moorland, relatively quick and easy progress can be made. Beautiful weather and spectacular views gave us the chance to enjoy this thing. We chatted to walkers and stopped to admire and take pictures of the whole experience. MORE WOWS!!!

The second half, though, is entirely different. Underfoot the soft grassy heath is replaced by rocks and scree, and traverses that slow the progress to a much more pedestrian pace.

Midway through this part I began, for the first time, to feel the pressure of time – sub 24hrs??

We’d moved well but I’d been so happy to be distracted by the experience that I’d let time slip by.

As we approached Scafell Pike I realised we had seriously fallen behind and we still had some work to do before reaching Wasdale. The descent from Scafell Pike, and then the ascent back up to Scafell, finished with a long descent all the way to Wasdale and was hectic.

We’d never intended the 30 minute ‘time saver’ using the rope climb up Broadstair, and hearing Steve’s comical admission that he was scared of heights, it was never an option!

We’d be dropping down to use the Foxes Tarn ascent. You lose a lot of height and although no ropes are required, the climb is virtually a waterfall crack between an almost vertical ascent. It’s then followed by a very steep march to the summit.

We passed a couple camping in the suspended tarn and reached the top.

The light was more subdued, and I was aware again that the big scree descent to the lake would still take some time. It was already 7:05pm, more than a few of hours later than planned.

The scree is fun. We bounded down it as it slipped beneath us, taking the impact and filling our shoes with gravel. We arrived!!

Steve had done a brilliant job…

But I could tell from the look on Rich, Dad, Mam and Sean’s faces that I needed to stop messing around and get my shit together.

I was hours behind and it would now take more than a concerted effort to get back on track, if this attempt was to succeed.

I’d done everything but focus on the time. It was starting to seriously look like I’d buggered it up and things we rapidly going pear-shaped.

It was 8:10pm; I needed to get back to Keswick by 4:06 am. That gave me 7 hours and 56 minutes to do the final two legs.

I really wanted to avoid this. It was unnecessarily stressful for everyone, and I could see it in their eyes.

Rich had had a similar experience in his attempt in 2014 but for different reasons. He’d got here hours ahead of now, but the weather had turned and in this next leg they’d experienced a couple of navigation and visibility problems. They’d then had to pull a monumental effort out of the bag.

I had no such excuse.

I’d already lost the time ‘buffer’ I’d hoped for and was now seriously behind. It was rapidly approaching dark and the first climb up to Yewbarrow from Wasdale is ridiculously steep.

Rich said,

“Ok, put the GoPro away, it’s time to get on with this.”

I wasn’t cold but changed my top and socks.

“Put some gloves on as well.”

“I’m not that cold.”

“Yeah, but the next ascent you’re going to be using your hands and the heather and gorse are sharp.”

Leg 4 – Wasdale to Honister 8:21pm departure

(Pacer: Rich Petty)

Refuelled and recharged we said our farewells and looked forward to getting to Honister Youth Hostel. Rich had specifically recced this section the week before and had used an ascent that was on less slippery scree. We headed towards it and began to gain altitude.

I looked below and could see the team in cars waving as they headed off to Honister. As I turned back to face the climb, I realised Rich was a fair way ahead. My feet were sliding and so was my head!!!!!!

All the effort that everyone had put in to supporting me in this attempt and

I WAS ABOUT TO BLOW IT!

Rich is amazing. An historian with a seemingly photographic memory, he encouraged, cajouled and led the way. He recounted every height for each summit and the distance between, and he kept me going with facts and numbers. Well, and the occasional Delia Smith (English 80’s TV chef) quote:

“Dare to dream” and “Let’s have it!”

Bizarre references, that were hilarious, and lifted me.

Pitch black now and relying only on the head torches, I followed. I ignored, for the first time, the GPS maps on the Suunto.

Steeple, Pillar, Kirkfell, Great Gable, Green Gable were tackle in the dark.

We pushed and pushed, aware that we were going to need every minute. Then, a slight early detour off almost the final summit sent us too far down and I quickly began to stress.

Thankfully Rich recognised we could traverse across the scree to avoid losing any more height and dropping into the wrong valley. But it was slow going. Ten, maybe fifteen minutes.

Rich pushed harder and I tried to hold on. Occasionally I’d lose sight of his light:

“Rich!!”

He’d turn and I’d see him a couple of hundred metres ahead and attempt to chase him down.

By 1:20am It was looking desperate. Finally, lights below and Honister Youth Hostel, the final CP. We charged into the car park area where Dad, Mam, Christine, Basil, Sandy, Sean and Buz awaited.

Leg 5 – Honister – Keswick – 1:29am departure

(Pacers: Mark ‘Buz’ Berry and Rich Petty, Sean Byrne and Sandy Byrne)

I only had 187 minutes remaining. Schedules reckon; 180 minutes for 23 hours or 171 minutes for a 22:30 hour finish. I was going to be pushing 24 at this rate.

I barely remember stopping here. By now I was only consuming Coca-Cola and said virtually nothing. IN AND OUT.

I picked up Buz, who marched alongside and then took up position leading the way.

I’d also asked Rich to stay on for the first part, up to Dalehead and as far as Robinson. His navigation and experience would be vital if I was to avoid any silly minor mishaps on this ‘un-recced’ section.

We fast-paced up to Dalehead and from then on it was go, go, go!!

Both Buz and Rich sat 30 metres ahead and I just put my head down and chased them. The last descent to the road was steep, but I ignored my feet and bounded down as quickly as I could.

A 4-wheel drive track that went for a few kilometres finally gave way to the country lane, where the whole team were waiting in their cars.

I heard voices and could see them. From here the leg continued for about 10km of ‘proper’ road back to Keswick.

Christine had a fresh pair of shoes, but I shouted that I’d just keep going. Sean my brother now joined us and Rich jumped into the car.

My head torch suddenly went dead, but the beams of the support cars provided enough light. In addition, I realised that my back pack, still full of uneaten food and 1.5 kg of water, was an unnecessary weight I could do without. I unclipped and passed it to Buz. He burst out laughing,

“You nutter! Why’ve you been carrying all this”

I shook my head,

“I know, I know”

He jumped into the car.

One of the cars up front stopped and out jumped my son, Sandy. We’d planned on him joining me for the final 5km-ish. He ran towards me, excited at the madness of running at this time in the morning.

“Come on Dad, let’s go!”

I was fighting back the emotion of the moment, whilst panicking at the prospect of us arriving LITERALLY minutes too late.

“I can’t talk, Sean, tell him I can’t talk”

Sandy looked up and ran beside me,

“It’s ok Dad, don’t worry the time doesn’t mean anything really. We do this because we enjoy it!”

I could feel Sean look across at me, eyebrows raised. It was such a true, perfect, beautiful and thoughtful thing to say.

Oh man, not now… I wasn’t giving up yet, we were so close.

The three of us, my little brother and son, followed one car and were followed by another through winding lanes, the lights of Keswick still nowhere to be seen.

Suddenly we were at a junction, but the first car had disappeared. We had no idea which way it had gone.

“Nooooooo!!! Where are they?”

Panic.

Sean gambled on right and sure enough could see them around the next corner. He spoke to Basil and Rich and then led Sandy and me off the road and along the final country track to Keswick.

They opened and held gates for me and I ran through unimpeded. We turned a corner and there it was. The town. It appeared from nowhere, possibly the cloud in which my head was engulfed.

In no time I could hear voices.

“Come on Son”, Dad shouted.

“You’ve got this babe, come on”, Christine ran alongside.

As we all ran into the Keswick town square, The Moot Hall awaited. I climbed those final welcoming steps and covered my head.

The sheer relief; we’d done it!! We couldn’t have cut it much finer.

We’d had it all: perfect weather, perfect views, an amazing team of crew and support.

And to top it all off, an unnecessarily dramatic finish to really give the challenge a level of stress we all could have done without.

Sorry team!

But yes, we did it. 23:47hrs.

full crew
Family and Friends

Sandy you’re right the time doesn’t matter…

…well it does a bit! 24:01hrs would have been devastating.

confirmation email Bob Wightman
Confirmation email from Bob Wightman (Bob Graham Club)

Last thought…

This event truly is a team effort and I can’t thank everyone enough for indulging me in this adventure. Support from family and friends (crew) is something that can’t be underestimated for the Bob Graham Round.

“The doorstep of my childhood” proved to be the greatest chances for me to immerse myself in my love for moving across a landscape.

(Next: 6 weeks ago I finally raced in the European Alps in Switzerland and Italy in Ultra Tour Mont Rosa 2018  https://www.ultratourmonterosa.com/  )

Massive love and thanks to: 

 

 

 

 

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“This is not a sprint to the finish line”

“This is not a sprint to the finish line”

GNW100 Miler 2015

2015 Great North Walks 100 mile NSW Australia

September 11th & 12th

“We’re expecting our flight to be 18 minutes ahead of schedule today, due to the tailwind”, the Jetstar pilot announced, as we departed Gold Coast Airport going to Newcastle, NSW.

IMG_2454
View from the plane, Minyan Falls to Mount Nardi. Our Sunday training playground. (My photo)

Looking out from the window, Jules pointed to the view outside and smiled.

I nodded and began to laugh….. I’m not a believer in good omen, luck or superstition really, but coincidence is a funny thing. At that very point, we were flying directly over Nightcap National Park and the telecommunications tower below was Mount Nardi.

cropped-mt-warning.jpg
The view from the Historic Nightcap Trail, on our Sunday morning runs. (My photo)

This stunning, rainforest covered section of the Mount Warning volcanic caldera; about 25km west of Byron Bay, is exactly where we’d spent hours on Sunday morning’s training. In addition, I’d be using ‘Tailwind Nutrition’ for the first time, in an attempt to overcome past issues I’d had with calorie intake, and so, if the pilot was correct “tailwind” would have me “ahead of schedule”.

It’s true to say I’ve become slightly obsessed with the Great North Walks 100’s. As an Ultra marathon it is a low key, yet spectacular and gruelling event, with the most incredibly friendly organisers and helpful volunteers.

My two previous attempts at the 108.9 mile/ 175.3km  (2013 and 2014) had been marred by major navigation cock ups, as well as my stomachs refusal to accept anything, once I’d ran passed about 120km.

I just wanted to get it right. Both previous attempts (33hrs 45mins and 31hrs 22mins) had quietly pissed me off. Not because of the finishing times, 2013 was my first ever ultra over 50km, (I finished it and was over the moon, in 38°C heat – a surprise to me as much as anything else – 75% didn’t finish that year), but the silly mistakes I’d made each year partly wrecked the final outcomes.

Yeah, learning experiences, I know!!

Without crew or pacer this year, it would be all about my preparation and planning.

IMG_7154
Preparation – carry it or eat it!!! (My photo)

I’d had the good fortune to have Mile27 coach Andy DuBois move into the area. I couldn’t believe my luck. I’d met him briefly in 2013 and he’d attended a few of the Thursday evening Byron Bay Runner’s pub runs.  As the GNW approached, I sent him an email nothing short of begging him to coach me. Andy not only has an amazing knowledge of all things ‘Ultra’, a list as long as your arm of personal achievements, has both ‘elite’ and ‘normal’ international athlete success stories, but also knows the GNW race, as well as the terrain available to me around Byron Bay and its hinterland.

Thankfully he agreed and we met where all the greatest plans are hatched – the pub! And so began my first coached programme since I was in my teens. The confidence and variety Andy gave me in training, made it not only relevant, effective and injury free, but fun. I loved it!! I looked forward to 5-8hr Sunday long runs, hill sessions, even tempo/speed sessions?!!!!

The start : Tulkaba Park, Teralba, NSW. 6am.

two hats  dave byrnes prerace  jules portrait

                         Me              Dave Byrnes pre race briefing        Jules Devlin   

Register, weigh in, mandatory equipment check, place drop bags in the relevant 6 check point boxes and assemble for the race briefing with Race Director Dave Byrnes. The morning was cold, but the place was buzzing. I couldn’t wait to get started. This year the start line was on the grass sports ground (it’s usually on the road) and again, police and safety required all competitors wear a high visibility vest, on all road and night sections.

fancy pants start

All smiles and ready to go. (Jules photo)

and theyre off

And they’re off. (GNW100 photo)

No music blasting, PA system or gun, just Dave telling us to get going and we were off.

The first 7kms of this 175.3km race are on road and head toward our section of the larger 260km Great North Walk trail.

heaton gap me

Early days (GNW100 photo)

         early sign post

Heaton Gap signage (GNW100 photo)

In 2013 I’d run this event with Jules Devlin for the first 104km to Yarramalong, the fourth CP (plus a major 2hr deviation before CP 3). Here I’d begun to struggle; he just got stronger and caned the final three sections, to still go under 30 hours. He’s a great mate and training buddy from Byron Bay. Together we chatted, whilst passing through fire trail, rain forest, overhanging caves and hills.

IMG_2467

Jules Devlin (Jules photo)

IMG_2535

JD and Me; overhanging caves (Jules photo)

caves

Amazing terrain (Jules photo)

We reached CP1 in great spirits alongside Levi Martin (who’d paced Jules in that epic ‘2nd half’ effort) and Dave Graham (a fellow Mile27 runner, although I hadn’t met him at this point).

28.6km down, 146.7km to go…..

me and dave graham

Entering CP1 Dave Graham and Me (GNW100 photo)

Checkpoint 1 : Old Watagan Forestry HQ. 9:34am.

28.6km : 3hrs 34mins



The temperature had begun to creep up, but due to the races move from November to the cooler month of September (only 26-28°C), extreme Australian heat wouldn’t be as big an issue. In response to this and to add a bit of difficulty, the unmanned water stops had been removed this year, resulting in increased self-sufficiency.

The trail begins to head along a ridge and then descends to the extended road section into Congewai Public School, 23.9km away. Jules had begun to have some issues just before the descent. He’d stopped to go to the toilet and I’d continued to move along at a fairly gentle pace. I knew he’d catch me up and I’d banked on my efforts being consistent for the whole duration of the race. No pushing or slowing unnecessarily. Even effort! True enough, I looked back along an extended stretch of bitumen road and I could see him a few minutes behind.

Around me were three or four others, Kath Carty (who would go on to win the woman’s 100km event) and a few men. The usual conversations were struck, “miler or k’er”, “have you done it before”, “goal times?” etc. I pointed to a runner a few hundred metres ahead and commented that I thought it was Paul Cuthbert (I actually meant Paul Monks), both Paul’s had podium finished in 2013, 2nd and 3rd place respectively. One runner replied that he’d in fact loosely based last year’s race on Cuthbert splits, and finished under 24 hours, in 2nd place. I began to laugh,

“Well I’m gunna sound like a stalker, but you must be Dave Graham. Haha, I’ve been looking at your splits and have loosely planned my dream ‘A race’ on your schedule. Nothing concrete, but a framework to work with. I believe you’re also a one of Andy DuBois Mile27’s athletes.”

He said he was and we both chuckled, agreeing that all manner of things can happen and situations can change very quickly.

“How are we going then, are we on target”, he added.

At this stage we were bang on, and would be arriving at CP2 midday as hoped.

(Apart from navigation, and stomach/calorie issues, my check point times last year were tectonic compared to his total of only 29 minutes, for the whole event last year. Mine had been two and a half hours.)

Jules had run well along the road and we checked in within 4 minutes of each other at CP 2 (52.5km), Congewai Public School.

 Checkpoint 2 – Congewai Public School. 12:12pm.

Leg 23.9km : 2hrs 33mins.

Total 52.5km : 6hrs 12mins.


My feet were feeling a bit uncomfortable so I change from a new pair of Injinji (toe socks) to a really knackered old pair. Mmm, much better! My Hoka One One Challenger ATR’s shoes were faring well too. I’d loved my minimal Inov-8 Trailroc 245’s, but their lack of mid-sole protection didn’t help with “De Agony of De Feet” in previous years. This was walking on clouds in comparison. I refilled my pack and downed some watermelon, coke and coconut water.

I was then reminded that this was the first mandatory weight and equipment check. Everything needed to be emptied back out, onto a tray and ticked off. Bugger, I’d forgotten about that. Jumping onto the scales, I’d dropped from 70.6kg to 67.8kg, not too bad, especially at this early stage. The extra time unpacking was a waste but compulsory.

Jules was already good to go and set off with Dave Coombes (running the 100km and acquiring final points for his application for the UTMB in France next year). Again we figured we’d be alongside each other at some point into the next section, so he kept moving!!

IMG_2477

Gear check – Repacking CP2 (Jules photo)

Back out along the road the course swings right onto what looks like private property and then the ominous ‘communications tower’ climb. There were a few runners ahead and I heard one shout to a separate group that they had deviated away from the track and were heading in the wrong direction. As they made their way back toward us I burst out laughing,

“I should have bloody known who’d be leading that little detour! Dave don’t trust Jules’ navigation mate; he’s a nightmare!”

Jules protested, but I think we all know the truth mate!!!!

We regrouped as we approached the start of the climb. It was pretty warm by now, and Jules said that he and Dave were going take it easy on the ascent.

“Me too, I’m not looking to smash any ‘Strava segments’ myself.”

Occasionally it levelled slightly so I shuffled from a hike to jog and repeated this at each opportunity. Breaking out the poles (‘Black Diamond’ – Ultra Distance) I power hiked the steeper sections. Gradually, I realised I’d left the group and was moving along nicely. About half way up I could see Delina Rahmate (doing the 100 km) ahead of me. She’s an awesome endurance competitor and I’ve met her numerous times at races closer to home. We briefly spoke, but uphill conversations are rarely in-depth. Her aid station stop had been 10 minutes quicker than mine and her experience had got her back out much more quickly. I told her Dave and Jules weren’t far behind, and kept on moving up to the top.

Following a ridge, some beautiful undulating forest trail and a steep descent, is the next killer climb. When it arrives, it’s a relentless mix of ugly, uneven fire trail and single track, up to what had previously been the unmanned water stop (removed this year). Poles deployed I hiked, ran and picked off a few more runners. I was actually enjoying this. Those Sunday morning hours, running in Nightcap National Park, as well as relentless hill sessions and fell/ trail races back in the UK were paying off, this was honestly fun.

I was smiling and occasionally singing to myself. I’ve never been able to run with tunes, I enjoy music so much; it actually tends to mess with my running rhythm. When I run, I prefer the natural sounds around me or even just my feet.

For me this section is such a critical leg, and having now broken the back of the majority of it, I concentrated on getting in, and more importantly out of CP 3 during day light hours.

The out and back into CP 3 ‘The Basin Campsite’ is an uneven technical forest trail and was the location of the disastrous 2013 navigational mishap (we’d stayed on the actual GNW path without the CP detour??!!). Getting out of there in daylight makes the subsequent climb easier and puts you on track, as night falls, for a much easier descent down to the 9km road section into Yarramalong.

Checkpoint 3 – The Basin Campsite. 4:52pm.

Leg  29.2km : 4hrs 13mins.

Total 81.7km : 10hrs 52mins.


Spectacular volunteers and aid station crew jumped to attention and mobilised to help unsupported athletes. I checked-in, refuelled my pack, ate and drank coke, tea, coconut water chia porridge mix and watermelon. It took longer than planned, but it had been hot. My priority had to be to look after myself leading into the night and ensure I remained strong and consistent throughout.

I checked out and began to retrace the track to the beginning of the stepped climb. It’s only a few km’s but it takes 30-45mins. Runners approach me going towards CP3, and after 25 minutes I spotted Jules and Dave.

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Delina exiting CP3. Dave and Jules going towards. (Jules photo)

Jules was smiling but said he was struggling with cramps down one side from hip to feet, and was moving slowly. He said he’d see me at CP 4, and to look out for him, he’d be wearing something different!? I assumed a change of running gear from CP3. He encouraged me to get moving and we both went our separate ways, he with Dave.

It occurred to me, that including his aid station times; Jules would be around an hour behind me by now and figured he’d need a very strong next leg to see me at CP 4.

The steps arrived and signalled the only real climb to CP 4 at Yarramalong. A couple a female runners were just ahead, one of which was Susan Keith also doing the 100 mile. I passed them on an uneven section, cleared the climb and began the descent through forest trail to the road. It had now begun to get dark, and I stopped to get out the ‘Petzl’ head torch (thanks Sarah Link). Paul Monks and a few others were doing the same just ahead.

The remainder of this leg was about holding myself back. CP 4 is the finish line for the 100km race and can seem physically easy. It is an almost flat, very runnable, bitumen road section. It’s easy to get sucked into running it too quickly (I’d done this last year alongside Sam Weir and wrecked the following leg).

I ran and speed hiked when necessary. My phone beeped, as it picked up reception, so I actually gave Christine, my wife, a call. I realised through family and friend Facebook/SMS notifications that the race updates had been slow in coming through. It was great to speak and reassure her that everything was going to plan and I was ticking along nicely.

I arrived at Yarramalong School CP4. 104km in just over 14 hours, feeling… Ace!

Checkpoint 4 – Yaramalong Public School. 8:05pm.

Leg 22.1km : 2hrs 57mins.

Total 103.7km : 14hrs 05mins.


I’d wanted to make sure that I got here with the bigger picture in mind. I hadn’t over done it, and my nutrition was under control. I was happy, feeling great and having fun.

100km2    100km3

Feeling good at 104km             Chatting to aid station crew

       100km

The ‘100km’ finish line at Yarramalong. This is CP4 of 7 for the 100 mile event. (GNW100 photo’s) 

But this is where the race really starts! The night section; with some hectic terrain, over the next 70kms.

I checked in and went into the aid station. As ever, the volunteers were superb.

I went to the bathroom and when I returned to the main area, there was Jules. He was standing there in jeans and ‘normal clothes’, not running gear. What the, what the?

He shook his head and laughed. He’d pulled out at CP3 and hadn’t wanted to tell me when we’d met. The cramping had become too much and impossible to consider continuing. He was happy to pull the pin (as was Levi) and fight another day! Sometimes the wisest decision.

I took 35 minutes here, and in retrospect was possibly getting the ‘fear’. I was still concerned about my calorie intake because I’d had trouble in the past very soon after leaving this station. The “Tailwind Nutrition” had been great, but so had the “Hammer Perpetuem” 2 years earlier and the ‘real food’ last year. What if I cleared this station just to ‘bonk’ an hour down the path? I’d detected a few retching feelings in my guts and feared the usual calorific rejection. My worry was the “Tailwind” mix was possibly too concentrated.

(Instead of 2, I added 3 scoops per 500ml. The mix is based on body mass and I’d begun to realise, that at 70kg ‘dripping wet’, I didn’t fall into the larger body category).

I ate as much as I could here; warm soup, watermelon, chia porridge, coke, sachets of kid’s food (6 months plus baby food; sweet potato, carrot and lamb??  Mmm).

Any negative low thoughts were vaporised when it suddenly struck me that with Jules present; I now had a crew man. I decided on a shoe swop. (Without crew I’d had to gamble as to when I may need to change my shoes and place them in the relevant drop bag, not to be seen again until the end of the race). The bonus now was that if Jules could get to the next CP at Somersby, I would be able to reassess if the old Brooks Cascadia’s weren’t feeling up to it, and go back to the Hoka ATR’s.

IMG_2487

Exit CP4. Feeling good. (Jules photo)

Shoe exchange complete, I checked out at 8:40pm, and headed out and up Bumble Hill before joining the trail path adjacent to the road.

I soon passed a few runners now with their pacers, (they’re allowed for the final 70km, mostly night section), then discovered a rhythm that was right!! Things just… sailed by.

Literally, the noisy electric pylon hill; didn’t even notice it. The technical ups and downs through the rainforest trails; Well!  They weren’t as monumentally hopeless as usual, I was having fun!!! Even the long up hill road into Somersby just happened.

Even effort, this was not a sprint to the finish line.

Upbeat, I ran into CP 5, Somersby Public School at 1:31am. With 132.1km behind me, I’d now been on the move for 19hrs 31mins.

Checkpoint 5 – Somersby Public School. 1:31am.

Leg 28.4km : 4hrs 51mins.

Total 132.1km : 19hrs 31mins.


I immediately checked in and began to look for Jules. After asking around and even apologetically lifting a few blankets from the faces of sleeping crew, I realised he’d been and gone because my ‘extra shoe’ drop bag had materialised.

I later learnt that he’d embarked upon his own epic logistical journey. He was returning(in the middle of the night) to the start line, by hitching lifts and catching trains, to retrieve our hire car and drive it back, all the way south again, to the finish line in Patonga. More than a 200km round trip!

This meant we’d have the car the next day to get back to Newcastle airport and we wouldn’t have to worry about finding other transport. Happy days; wicked!

“Crackers!! But so grateful mate.”

My Hokas were back and I was pleased to change into them. Tightness in the top of my foot was irritating me and I figured the re-substitution would be good. The extra cushioning would be welcome over the next two sections.

I  absolutely love them, but I’ve had a few issues with aspects of the ATR design, and it’s not their more than adequate ability to handle all the varied terrain this course threw at me.

They’ve been a revelation to me. Previously, by this point in the thinner Inov8 345’s my feet were tenderised. Now these stretches of broken sandstone fire trail, were runnable. The ATR soles felt cushioned and my soles appreciated it.

But two little things had niggled about their design.

Beware! Semi shoe review coming………

Firstly, I’d had to replace the insoles because the originals ‘crept’ up the back of the shoe-to the point it was almost out of the heel on any run over 2 hours. Tony at the UltraRunningStore, (Cramlington, Northumberland, UK) gave me a replacement Saucony insole that fit perfectly.

Secondly, and more importantly for me, was the tongue. The flimsy material makes it tricky to keep in place.

I’d made sure the laces were tight enough to make it secure. But it was this, I reckon, that was the root cause of what became the only thing I hadn’t seriously considered in my plan. An injury!

The pain in the top of my right foot had started to prevent me from flexing it fully. Of additional concern, was that this irritation had now spread to my shin.

The temperature was much cooler now and I hoped I just needed to stretch it out on this next, very runnable section.

‘King of the slow aid station stops’ again, but I ate soup, chia, melon, baby food, salt tablets and whatever was palatable, to ensure I stayed on top of my nutrition. I’d been carrying an extra hydration belt (from Aldi?!) my mam had given me in July, when I was back in England. I’d been filling it with water and this was helping me dilute the ‘Tailwind’ mix. I realised, my experience from previous years was paying off. I was adjusting and adapting when things weren’t perfect and was more able to recognise the signs when they needed attention.

I walked towards the road after checking out and went to switch my head torch on. I’d saved my super bright ‘AyUp’ double light for these final sections. It would light the way through the darkest final legs of the race.

I pressed the switch, nothing. I repeatedly pressed it, nothing!! Ah come on… Maybe the battery hadn’t charged… but I’d checked it?

The ‘Petzl’ headtorch I’d been using had been great, but I’d hoped for a boost psychologically, as well as in luminosity.

Finally the ‘AyUp’ came to life and lit the whole road ahead of me. Normally the switch would allow the beam three modes of brightness, but now it was on, it was stuck in full beam mode. I hoped the battery would last.

I gradually moved from walking through shuffling, into a decent jog. It’s a mostly gradual downhill route to CP6 at Mooney Mooney, 17.8km away.

I’d figured on about two and a half hours and wasn’t about to take advantage of the negative vert. Just stick to the plan: even effort, consistency!

Before joining the trail, on the road section, I met Susan Keith, now with pacer. She was going through a bit of a low.  She asked how I was able to run. She was struggling with quad’ problems I think. Uphills had become a real challenge and she was questioning the point of continuing, without actually being able to run.

I told her the next section at least had very few uphills and then she’d be within 25kms of the finish. She didn’t seem too impressed.

Twenty minutes later it was a different story, and I found myself running behind both of them. We sat on a steady but decent pace, and I was inspired by the strength she’d managed to discover. I could barely keep up.

Suddenly the bridge and layby which serves as CP6 at Mooney Mooney, came into view.

In no time, it felt like we were there. 149.9km done!

Checkpoint 6 – Mooney Mooney Creek Bridge. 4:37am.

Leg 17.8km : 2hrs 35mins.

Total 149.9km : 22hrs 37mins.


Checking in here at 4:37am, still dark, meant that at least for some part, I wouldn’t be exposed to the heat of the day, on the final exposed granite topped hills.

Brilliant aid station volunteers were at hand. Laughing, joking and helping in any way possible. We chatted and exchanged stories.

I need a t-shirt that says, “Do not speak to this man! Kick him out of your CP in 10 minutes.”

I used the bathroom, refuelled, ate the usual, did the mandatory weigh-in (67.8kg again) and equipment check, and then enquired how many runners had passed through. The volunteer checked the sheets and said “only twelve”.

I was 13th. Cool.

Susan Keith had already left CP6 15 minutes earlier, but I was, well… slow getting out! Or at least making sure everything was right! Maybe I needed to trust myself more, but …

The 25.4km to Patonga, is a hell of a leg. It’s got some of the toughest ups and downs, but some fairly runnable parts too. The granite ‘steps’ both up and down are so irregular that any rhythm is impossible. The uneven footing and exposure is energy sapping. When the later runnable fire trail parts arrive and you’re ‘done’, the slightest gradient can feel like Everest.

I’d spoken to Andy about how to approach the race only a few days before. One of the final things he said was,

“Don’t forget, the second half to Patonga, has some very runnable sections”, and

“At that point what are you saving yourself for? It’s then mostly your head; you have to convince yourself to run”

Fully fuelled, I checked out at 5am. The ‘AyUp’ headtorch played up a bit, but eventually I got it to illuminate the way.

I was moving along reasonably well. I had soreness in my hips and my right foot/shin; but neither was giving me too much to worry about.

This final leg delivers a fair bit of stunning rain forest and river action to ease you in. Then you’re served a relentless array of serious vertical ascent and descent. Both virtually unrunnable!

Strangely when I hit the ascents, I found I was cruising. The poles were helping; easing the legs and giving my hands and brain something extra to keep me focussed. It came to a point when I was actually hoping for uphills, because the downs were so laboured. Sadly even the flats I’d committed to run; were an increasing effort.

IMG_2495

Sunrise Sunday morning. (Jules photo)

The sun was rising and as I cleared a long forest incline, the route became sandstone fire trail. Ten metres in front of me was Susan Keith. She was still managing the quad soreness, but looking strong. I wished her well and said I’d no doubt see her before the end.

As I pushed on a thought crossed my mind; 12th.

I figured everyone was probably feeling buggered by this stage, and so, I was no worse than any of them. Could I push; race even?

I was beginning to feel pretty comfortable, even confident with my preparation. I could trust the ‘Suunto Ambit 3’ watch to guide me effortlessly. My energy levels were ‘good’. It was coming together, I could see this thing through without the past ‘melt downs’ or detours.

I just had to keep moving. Run when I could, power hike when I couldn’t. Clamber and stumble if those two failed.

Within a short time, maybe twenty or thirty minutes, I could see two people with back packs. Maybe day hikers?  Or runners?

Simon Gulliver and his pacer, I’d seen at various parts of the route. We briefly chatted and ran together. He remarked that he wasn’t ‘racing’ me and I agreed. We’re just getting there as quickly as we can.

It dawned on me that! Well……  I must admit, I got competitive!

And Andy’s earlier words did echo;

“At that point what are you saving yourself for? It’s then mostly your head; you have to convince yourself to run”.

And so I did. 11th…..

I extended a gap between them and I tried not to look behind, to avoid looking like I was desperate or trying too hard. I ran a few decent straight sections and as soon as I approached a bend I glanced over my shoulder. I was slowly getting away from them. A few times it seemed like they’d remade ground, but this helped me keep pushing.

The clock was obviously ticking too and I’d finally realised the futility of thinking (x) amount of kms = (x) amount of time!!!! The normal rules of relativity ceased to apply at this stage. 5 or 10km could take 1 or 2hrs?? The sneaky few hills towards the finale are impossible to gauge. My watch was showing 26hrs 13mins. For the first time I considered my finishing time. I hadn’t dared before now, anything could have gone wrong; even a twisted ankle or a fall.

It was clear I was going to finish around the 27 hour mark, but those final km’s are tricky, was a sub 27hrs possible? Newly motivated, I pushed on.

My sore hips could only be ignored at this stage, every step was tender. My right ankle and shin were only functioning at a right angle; almost all the flexibility had gone. But this was where I’d told myself,

“If I could run I would”.

To my surprise, I could. Despite the discomfort, I actually felt great, strong to be honest.

As the final decent through a forest section leads onto Patonga beach, 27 hours clicked by. I’d be a little outside, but you know, so what!!…….. All I’d wanted this year was to give a good account of myself. To enjoy an organised, prepared, disaster free race, and that’s what I was soaking up now. I’d smashed over 4 hours from 2014’s time and over 6 hours from 2013.

Below spectators catch glimpses of runners through the trees. Shouts and cheers notify those farther up, at the finish line, of incoming runners. I called back with a, “Yeeeeew!”, even though I was still a long way from the bottom. By halfway down I heard more shouts and the cow bell begin to ring.

As I stepped out from the trees and onto the beach, my initial feelings were of relief and joy. I’d done it again. Faster, stronger – easier!! The final victory lap along the beach is emotional. I’ve always experienced a struggle just to get here: tears have flown. But I was laughing this time. I greeted a spectator, “almost there now”, they called in encouragement.

I looked up and this year the beach was partly obscured by scaffolding at about halfway.

mappatonga

Patonga Beach (Google maps)

Of greater surprise…… were the 2 runners about 100m ahead!!!!! Rob Wildig and his pacer were approaching this scaffolded section, and would soon turn left to rejoin the beach.

The bell had been for them. Maybe they hadn’t notice me. If I put my head down and picked it up a little, maybe I could get closer.

Arrrgghhh! Could I? Should I?

10th. Top 10!!!

They took the left turn to begin their final 500m beach run in. They were out of view now and I began to run much harder. Like a cartoon character tiptoeing towards a wall, to peek around it.  As I hastily made it across the hard surface to the fencing, I quickly rounded the corner and made it to the soft sand beach entry, then slowed, partly because it’s energy sapping, but also not to ‘raise alarm’ that I was closing.

(Now in fairness, this event is a journey and to enjoy the final steps and be able to soak up the emotion is the way these thing go. But….. and this is the source of some guilt here! Sorry Rob…)

After ‘sneaking’ to the water’s edge, I hit more firm footing; I began to wind it up. I gradually accelerated to the point where I was actually sprinting.

IMG_2497       IMG_2498

Hitting the beach in the distance.                 Closing in and ‘hunting’.

 IMG_2499 IMG_2500

Spotted!! Incoming!! Breaking up the family. (Jules photo)

A female voice shouted,

“Rob there’s a runner” or “he’s coming””

Glancing over his shoulder he responded and joined the race in. The kids and the family would have to wait. (So sorry??!!).

Shoulder to shoulder, I literally ‘tore’ towards the finish line. I was smashed, but buzzing.

People cheered and whistled, but mostly laughed. I kissed the GNW pole, the ritual that ends the 100 mile event. It was a ridiculous way to finish such an event. Levi Martin and Jules were there laughing like mad,

“Well it is a race!? “, Levi joked.

This is a sprint to the finish line!!

sprint finish

‘Dip’for the line 

   finish kiss   touch post

       Kissing the finishing post            I’m done!! (GNW100 photos)

I was now not just ‘worn down’, but actually knackered; out of breath! Unusual at the end of an ultra. I shook hands with Rob, after collapsing on the step nearby. Race director, Dave Byrnes leant down to shake hands and present me with my “Silver” medal (sub 30hrs). I muttered something about 3rd time lucky and not getting lost this time,

“That’ll help”, he returned, smiling.

Finish – Yarramalong Wharf. 9:12pm.

Leg 25.4km : 4hrs 11mins.

Total 175.3km : 27hrs 12mins.


handshake       IMG_2506

Medal and the hand shake (GNW100 photo)            Levi Martin (Jules photo)

sitdownsmilefinish                   noflashmedalpole

All smiles and the traditional post kiss (GNW100 photo)

handsonheadfinish      gnwmarker

3 is the magic number!! 3rd time lucky. (GNW100)

b&w finish
Time to reflect (Jules photo)

My finishing time; 27hours and 12minutes!!!

Over the moon, stoked, chuffed, happy; I actually felt grateful and content. I’d knocked off over 4 hours from last year and over 6 hours from 2013. There are so many things that went right this year; training, navigation, support and nutrition to name the obvious. I remained injury free and had thoroughly enjoyed the experience of training as well as racing.

IMG_2551
Beer time! (Jules photo)

Next year I promised myself, NO!! I’d have a 2016 GNW break, look for a different event. But, as I look back at this year’s race, I can’t help finding areas that I can still easily improve. Most clearly, my aid station times. 20-30minutes in each of the check points is not good enough, maybe 5 or even 10. I reckon with this and confidence in my preparation; 25 hours is well within reach. And of course if you’re going for 25 hours you might as well dream of a sub 24 hour!!! Although I think only about 14 people have ever gone under 24.

For me, running this far is a work in progress that I’m happy to be obsessed with!!

The End


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T shirt and silver medal

   Extra bits:

*Actually 11th !!! hahaha.. What the ..? Well after all that, somewhere along the route the positions were mixed up. So, the joke’s on me!  At such a late stage in the game it was unexpected and made for a different sort of finish I’ll never forget.

**Ankle/shin swelled up like a balloon. Couldn’t walk for a week..

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Thanks and love:

*Terrigal Trotters, Dave Byrnes and the superb team who put on this amazing event.

**All my family and friends who inspire me to run and tolerate me banging on about trail running.

***Byron Bay Runners and Blackhill Bounders for all the Facebook updates and support before, during and after the race. https://www.facebook.com/ByronBayRunners https://www.facebook.com/groups/48183524392/

****Andy DeBois at Mile27 for the guidance and making training fun again. http://www.mile27.com.au/

*****Strava friend Matt Tommasi for his navigation advice with my Suunto Ambit 3 and brilliant suggesting to use a ‘power bank’ battery to charge it.

******Jules Devlin, cheers mate!

Other stuff:

 Links:

(I have no affiliation with any brand!)

Mile27 – http://www.mile27.com.au/

Tony at Ultrarunningstore – http://ultra-runner.com/about-us/  (https://www.facebook.com/ultrarunnerstore/info/?tab=page_info) for Hoka One One

Newcastle store, Start Fitness – https://www.facebook.com/startfitness for Suunto Ambit 3

Byron Bay Runners – https://www.facebook.com/ByronBayRunners

Blackhill Bounders – http://www.blackhillbounders.com/

Suunto Ambit 3http://www.suunto.com/en-AU/

Ayup head torch – http://www.ayup-lights.com/

Poles –  http://www.wildearth.com.au/buy/black-diamond-distance-carbon-z-pole-trekking-pole/BD11217700001201?gclid=CI79yuul6sgCFYaWvAodD6EO2Q

Hoka shoes – http://hokaoneone.com.au/

Brooks shoes – https://www.brooksrunning.com.au/

Inov8 shoes – http://www.inov-8.com/new/Global/Product-View-Trailroc-245.html

Injinji socks – http://www.injinjiperformanceshop.com.au/

 Tailwind Nutrition –  http://www.tailwindnutrition.com.au/

Buna The-Runner – https://www.facebook.com/runbunarun.byrne

GNW100 miler Part 3 Adventures beyond the living room!!! The final part.

Part 3 GNW 100 2013
Great North Walks 100 mile
“Australia’s toughest trail race”
(November 9th & 10th 2013)

Section 6: Somersby Public School to Mooney Mooney – 18km/11mi

(Adam – Yeeew caffeine)

(Thank you very much, again)
I was somewhat dubious as to the promise of the ‘run-ability’ of this next section to begin with, but true to their word, it was. Once my legs unstiffened and warmed up, I remember it feeling relatively flat, even ground, not raining and I was mentally awake. We began to run. Adam noted I was tending to run quicker when I was in front of him and kept encouraging me to move forward. Up until then I reckon I thought it was easier for me to hide behind him. He was right. Being conscious of him behind me, I now focused on my form and pace and we began to shift along quite nicely.
The relief of moving properly was uplifting. We chatted and joked about hunting down other runners. We’d barely known each other prior to this race, but having seen me through my darkest moments of my first ever real ultra-distance run, I owed this guy big time. Adam just kept laughing, chatting, and reminding me to eat, drink and move.
Sure enough we began to pass runners. Not heaps but a few. (There weren’t too many left standing we’d learn later.)
18km passed quickly, believe it or not, and with only a couple of k’s left to go Adam pointed out the sound of a highway and said we’re getting closer. A couple more runners were passed and we were approaching CP6. As we left the final stretch of trail and up over a bridge he said “well this is me, Luke will pace you from here”.
“eh, what?”
I’d completely ignored or forgotten the earlier comment by Luke that he’d be pacing the final 25km with me. Adam had to go to a work function that afternoon. (After an all-night 8 hour, 50km run???). This meant he would stop running here and drive the van to the finish line before going home. Luke would run the final section from CP6 to CP7. Now, this was a concern for me on two counts. Firstly, sad because it had only just dawned on me I hadn’t thanked Adam as much as he truly deserved, and secondly, because Luke had already demonstrated a slightly funny, yet sadistic streak!!!
We ran into Mooney Mooney CP6 strongly and whooping. The results would later show we’d run 2:20 hours for the 18km, the 3rd fastest time for that section. Unbelievable!!! Only to be trumped by 2 others. Wow, still chuffed with that statistic.
Even more brilliant was the fact Jules and Levi had been one of those who’d gone faster and recorded the quickest time (1hr 54mins). They also went on to run the fastest final section too!! Lads, amazing!!
We checked in, regrouped at the van and did the swop. I feel I’ll never be able to thank Adam Kranz enough. Mate you are a legend!!
We kept this stop short as the delays and rest weren’t doing me any good.
‘Beware the chair’.
Warm soup and coke from the CP station felt good! And we were moving again.

(Completed: Checkpoint 6: In 10.29am – Out 10.59am : Leg time 2hr 20mins
Race time overall – 28h 29mins: Total distance 150 km/ 93mi: Position 23rd )

Section 7: Mooney Mooney to Patonga (finish) – 25km/ 15.5mi

The thought of quitting was well a truly exorcised and it was now a matter of Luke keeping me moving and getting to that finish line. With only 25.5km to go, this seemed academic. But man, it was not easy. The terrain switched again, and the trails began to get as tough as they’d been so far. Hills, boulders and freezing rain. My feet were pounded and tender and more weirdly the cheeks of my arse were chaffing so badly I could barely concentrate?!
Even when we hit parts that were soft and runnable, the torrential rain was running in rivers, making it impossible to move freely. Soaked through yes, but wet feet, primed to blister was a worry. I skirted around the flowing water in the centre of the trail and dodged over-hanging bushes, the going got slow again. Climbing up and down boulder paths, running, but at a pedestrian pace, I was beginning to shiver.
As an epic Australian ultra goes, the effort and challenges of this race will always be reported, but it would be a serious disservice not to state the sheer beauty and diversity of this part of the world. In recapping this event it’s difficult to remember or appreciate everything. The ancient beauty of this landscape is magnificent. The geology, the rainforest, the elevation and decent, the little villages, the single trail routes that the whole event runs along, are just awesome. Being a part of such an event made me feel genuinely alive. The opportunity to be running in the company of others that not only ran, but crewed and volunteered over this weekend was exhilarating.

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We picked off a couple of other runners, the finish line getting closer. I’d stopped asking Luke how far we had to go. The distances had become irrelevant and I’m sure he was lying by now in any case. Only how long mattered now. 5,10, 15 km it was impossible to judge.

(Feet feeling tender)
My legs were feeling smashed by now. Stepping up and down the relentless boulder ‘steps’ was a tenderising experience. My feet were numb in places and felt sore, pounded by 33 hours of movement. I needed it to end soon. The final decent onto the beach was filled with mixed emotions, agony and ecstasy!!

(Final decent)
I’d buried the emotion throughout these final kms but it was starting to emerge once more. I excitedly began commentating to myself and Luke. “Come on Byrnesey you’re there now”. I could feel myself begin to well up.

(Almost on the beach)
We stepped out from the forest decent and onto the final 500 metre ‘beach’ finishing straight. We could see the finish line and Luke was laughing and proclaiming the victory we were about to savour. It’s hard to describe how I was feeling because I really hadn’t known if I was going to see this thing through. Never having completed even a 100km race or ran through the night before had been 2 major concerns that were genuine parts of this unknown amazing adventure.

(200 metres to go)
The weather was cloudy and cool now, and a small crowd was gathered around the finish line/ pole. Luke insisted on letting me soak up the moment by myself and peeled off to the side of the path. I was reluctant, but he grabbed the camera and began cheering me in. With a couple of hundred metres to go, the crowd began to cheer and again I did my best to hold it together. I saluted the bystanders and clapped their support to show my appreciation. Jules and Levi were there whooping me in and Luke shouted “kiss that pole buddy”. I knelt before the crowd and kissed the finishing post, as is the tradition, head down trying not to lose it and let the emotion overcome me.
I’ll let the videos and pictures tell the story.

(Me finishing the 100 miler!! Jules video)

(Kiss that pole buddy!! Luke video)

(So many people helped me!)
33:46mins after leaving Teralba my “journey” had ended.

In 2011 Dave Byrnes the race director said this in an interview on the website ultra168.com (http://ultra168.com/2011/11/01/the-great-north-walk-dave-byrnes-interview/)

“I wanted the GNW100s to be a real challenge involving a significant degree of self-sufficiency and providing great personal satisfaction. I enjoy enticing new people into the sport I love and was looking for something that would attract those keen to explore their mental and physical boundaries. In my own running and adventures, I’ve come to love and appreciate the multi-dimensional journey that takes you from A to B and, at the same time, through the full gamut of human emotions and physical experiences, and I wanted a race that gave competitors that journey. Great and varied scenery along with the camaraderie ultras provide would be the icing on the cake.”
And
“For reasons explained above, I want the race to take people to their limits physically and mentally. We all know that, when we are operating at our limits, weak points are exposed and the risk of failure is ever-present. Consequently, I feel that a significant proportion of the field incurring DNFs shows that the race is meeting my goals. It also makes completion that much sweeter for those who do finish.”

Well Dave you clearly delivered this year. The 2013 GNW 100’s witnessed a 70% DNF, a journey through the most epic landscapes that had taken me mentally to places I’d never tested before. And yes, finishing in such a tough year did make the “completion that much sweeter”.
All my time goals had long become irrelevant as the game had changed numerous times over the weekend.
Standing on that beach in front of Dave receiving my finisher medal was unreal. I can’t really explain it to be honest. Relief mostly I think!!

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              The finishing post            Levi Martin                            Hugging Jules

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             Dave Byrnes                                 Hold it together?!            Fried head

Completed: Checkpoint 7

Finish: In 3.46pm : Leg time 4hr 47mins
Race time overall – 33h 46mins

Total distance 175.3 km/ 108.9mi: Position 21st

Jules had ran a blinder!! He finished in 29hr 48mins and 10th position. He and Levi ripped the course up. The last 3 sections they recorded 2 first positions and 1 third!!! Boooom!
As a final note it’s interesting that the 2014 event has changed its date to the cooler month of September. I’ll be curious to see how this changes the experience, because I now know for sure, I can’t wait to do this spectacularly amazing event again!!

Thank you sooooo much to everyone involved that weekend.
Crew: Luke Martin, Adam Kranz, Levi Martin
Race director: Dave Byrnes
Graham Doke and Kev Andrews for CP 5 revive and survive effort.
All the Terrigal Trotters and all volunteers for making the event happen with the meticulous levels of organisation, fun and love.

All the love and support from friends and family who followed the event over the weekend via the website and Facebook.
Jules Devlin for simply being the best training buddy over the past couple of years (more to come).
Christine (my wife). Thank you for all your unbelievable support and sorry for putting you through the stress of not only that weekend, but also the lead up to it, the training etc, etc. I had it covered???!!! I love you!

(How do people write these things so quickly? It’s taken me months to get around to doing this?!)

By the way I got the job!!!

Thanks for reading, if you like you can leave a comment and any input is gladly received.

“Adventures beyond the living room” Simon Peter Byrne

Part 2 GNW 100 2013

Great North Walks 100 mile

“Australia’s toughest trail race”

(November 9th & 10th 2013)

 

Section 4: The Basin Campsite to Yarramalong Public School –

22km/ 13.7mi

Our path was crossed by a Red Bellied Black snake in the first km, (back toward the steps of the re-entry point to the GNW route) Jules barely jumped at all. A first…

At this point I decided to finish it. Not just the 100km but the 100mile. This was gonna be the making of the run. Being able to overcome this would be my challenge.

(Turns out Dave Waugh pulled the pin at CP3. We’d missed him by getting there so late and had only been a half km in front of him when we took the wrong turn, damn….. It was a real pity for us as well as him. By now news was filtering through that the DNF rate was increasing rapidly. Veterans and first timers alike were dropping like flies)

As we began to climb, Jules began to discuss options for our situation. 4 or 5 of them?? I could tell by his tone they weren’t gonna be easy listening. He was looking strong, but most of them gave us ways we could get to the ‘100km’ finish line (CP4) and stop!! Start the drive home that night and be on the beach in the morning…

“noooo we’re doing this Jules, I‘ve put that behind us!! We can do this!”

Unlike me, this was one of his few negative moments.

The rest of this section I don’t recall, it was getting close to 11pm and we’d been on the move for close to 17 hours.

..except when we hit the bitumen road that went on and on and on….. 13km apparently.. we’d thought 5 or 6km and we were ready to get there…. Jules had a second dark patch here, the road was boring, and mentally tired we were finding it hard along here…. we kept moving.

Forever later….

Checked in and weighed again, we made our way over to the Ute and van, where now, not only Luke but his brother Levi and their mate Adam Kranz awaited. The back of the transit opened and the 2 of them emerged looking knackered. It was after midnight by now and they’d been sleeping on mattresses in the back. Seriously, these guys whom I barely know were prepared to turn up on a Saturday night, at this time and pace the final 75km for us. I couldn’t get over the selflessness of it.

We were later than they’d expected due to our detour, and the best thing to have done would have been to get out of there quick. But again I sat down and began to slump –physically and mentally this time. The success of reaching this point began to appeal as a satisfactory goal, and my previous assuredness about finishing the miler became irrelevant. I shook my head but every negative thought possible was rushing through my brain. 100km would do!! I had a lot going on at work. With an important interview coming up later in the week I began to fear the overall consequences of being mentally fried for the rest of the week and therefore sabotaging my own interview. I began rambling this dialogue to the other 4 who were looking seriously confused,

“what the f*** is he going on about” I heard Luke say, “just get your stuff together and get  going”.

Looking over his shoulder I could see the mattresses in the back of the van and the option was clear.

“You’re not gonna like what I’m gonna say Jules but I think I’m done. I don’t need to finish this, I’m happy to have got here, this’ll do me”

(CP4 1st doubts)

Baring in mind Levi and Adam had turned up specifically for this point, it would have been pretty rude to have quit then. But man, I so could have. They casually refused to accept my assessment and just said well you’re not stopping now, let’s get moving. Jules was feeling refreshed, positive and keen to get going too. I objected a few times but there was no way they were having it.

(Leaving cp4)

So off we went. Back down the road we’d approached on, before hitting trail again and into the darkness and what would be a very long night.

(Completed: Checkpoint 4: In 12:28am – Out 1:09am : Leg time 3hr 41mins

Race time overall – 18h 28mins: Total distance 104km/ 65mi:  Position47th )

Section 5: Yarramalong Public School to Somersby Public School – 29km/18mi

We learned that a massive number of the field had dropped out, including race leader and course record holder Brendan Davies. The heat had been a major factor; at this point it seemed that they’d be lucky to see 50% of the field finish in both races this year.

We climbed over a road barrier and re-joined the GNW track. We fell into single file and it wasn’t long before I realised I was moving slower or at least having to work to keep up with the boys. A few times they all waited at particular points. Gradually though, Jules and Levi were looking strong and Adam was having to slow down so that I didn’t lose touch. He worked well at trying to strike up conversation and to take my mind off whatever it was that was going on in my head.

I was tired.

It was after 1am now and we’d been on the go for over 18 hours. With the prospect of 74km of pretty steep and technical trail running, plus the fact I was finding it harder to refuel, was beginning to wear me down. Physically my legs and body were not really the worry. We’d avoided any mishaps – we’d seen evidence of falls on the grazed bodies of a couple of folk. But mentally I was buggered. I’d never run this distance before, and I hadn’t got around to doing any training session through the night in preparation.

I apologised later for my quietness, but I was struggling to focus and (unlike me) I just couldn’t find the chat.

The occasional light from Jules and Levi was becoming less frequent and after some time of decent I heard Jules give a loud ‘yeeeew’, it sounded a good way from us; we returned the call to let them know we were ok. They were running great. I was pleased they were now going to run their own race. This was why we’d been over the moon with having 2 pacers.

Adam Kranz is a local from the Newcastle area and has plenty experience on this course. I’d met him only once before, in Byron, when he’d visited for Luke’s wedding a few months earlier. We’d all gone for a trail run through the dunes and headland around the Bay one Sunday morning. Both he and Levi offered all sorts of tips on their GNW experiences and listened patiently to my numerous questions. The thought of them actually pacing for us had never crossed my mind. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t mentioned on the run, but a few days later Jules told me they’d offered to help us.

Patience, man! Adam should have got a medal. We were moving, but slowly. I was struggling to get fuel in. My stomach was cramping at the thought of any food at all and my pace was slow. We encountered a few other runners and ran past them. They were sitting resting. It couldn’t have been much later when we met them again. This time though, I was hands on knees, retching and puking onto the side of the single trail. They stopped to ask if I needed anything and then gave me a ginger chewy sweet, which would help with nausea. I exchanged a handful of salt and salt/caffeine capsules as one of them was suffering with cramps.

All the time Adam remained positive, “are you ok, let’s go!”

He began mixing a sports gel (‘Winners – Cadel Evans’, if I remember rightly) into a bottle of water. If we were going to get to the next checkpoint I needed to get some fuel into me, “Sip, this.”

As well as rehydrating, this would slowly drip feed me at least some energy. He checked his watch and then continued to say “drink” every 5 minutes. It worked, my stomach didn’t reject it and it wasn’t too long before I’d finished the bottle. Brilliant. He mixed another bottle and this was how we continued.

The rain hit us at maybe 4am. Like an afternoon monsoon, it chucked it down. My waterproof jacket was not as resistant as it claimed. It didn’t matter when we were running, but forced to walk down the steeper decent and accents, I began to get very cold. Some of this section was difficult technical trail and it was pitch black outside the narrowing beam of my dimming head lamp, which I’d worn since leaving CP3 with Jules. (I had spare batteries, but could not be arsed to take my pack off and find them).

The rain poured and I was shivering. I remember Adam saying it was mostly downhill, but figured, when after half an hour again we were climbing an endless assent, that he was managing my efforts on a step by step process. Deal with the hills when we get to them. And we did. Slowly, but forwards.

5 and half hours later we emerged from the trail onto a proper road and turned right. Checkpoint 5 at the Somersby Public School was only 1 – 1.5 km away. By this point I was beyond persuasion, this was the end of the race for me. I was done. I’d made up my mind that was it! I’d be pulling the pin here.

At this pace it would take forever. Unable to refuel as well as I would need, for the remaining 42km – yes, marathon still to go!! It would be torture for both me and Adam.

We ran for 10 mins before I laughed and said “Adam, where’s this  f***ing school?”

“mm not sure, should be..  mm maybe it was left back there?”

By now it didn’t matter. I was finishing here anyhow, it would stop. Adam checked a map, but knew we needed to turn. The road was flat here and easy to run on. I did pick the pace up here a fair bit. Adam reckoned I was 4min/km-ing the last 2km. I definitely wanted to finish at least being out of breath, rather than just worn out. It felt like the end was in sight, CP5 at 132km, good job, goodnight!!

Luke spotted us from way off, and cheered us in. I was sprinting to my finish line, the ‘cut’, hand to the neck gesture, signalling my intention.

“no way  buddy, you look great mate, you’re gonna finish this thing”

“No Luke, honest mate, I’m done. I’ve already decided, and told Adam. This is me like! Finished.”

“You looked great coming in there”

“Yeah coz I know that I don’t have to run out of this checkpoint”

I checked in to checkpoint 5 at 7.15am.

“theres no way you can stop here. You’re nearly there now”

I walked away behind a building, I was shattered. Head in hands, I began to get the feeling of relief that it was over. I’d had the most amazing experience and would never forget this event. Half laughing, half crying I walked back over to Adam and Luke and sat down.

“You’re not fucking stopping!”

“Seriously Luke, no”

“Yeah mate, you’re more than half way now” chipped in Adam

“75% done” corrected Luke

“Have you heard what you’re saying man. I’ve still got another marathon to go and on tough trail”

Luke replied “you’re head fucking yourself Simon, you can’t think like that… this next section’s easy, I promise. It’s totally ‘run-able’, you’ll love it.. 18k’s mate, how many times have you run 18k’s? ”

(The Magic Crew)

Others had become involve at this point. One man Kevin Andrews, President of Terrigal Trotters, and today Elvis styled gold suit and shades wearing volunteer, as well as runner and Ironman himself. He’d been at every CP, including registering us himself at the very start of the race.

Kev began muttering to Luke and Adam and they both burst into laughter (something to do with me being a vagina (pussy)). Between the three of them offering a finely tuned balance of rationales, support, hilarious gibes and calls to greatness, they had me laughing.

Graham Doke, a crew member for runner Roger Hanney, offered some massage / muscle release /torture/ relief?! Luke was quick with the video and recorded the ridiculous scene. Standing facing Graham, my arms over his shoulders he applied pressure to my hips and back. I looked up smiling, before screeching in pain, as Luke laughed. This was what he loved. Seeing me at this point is exactly what we’d signed up for. Captured for all to see!!

(The Golden Moments)

But gentlemen, I thank you!

It must be said; the organisation, enthusiasm, humour and kindness of the GNW volunteers and crews are completely amazing. The nature of the course, as well as the temperature challenges, can be brutal. These people made it possible for me to get off my arse.

“beware the chair”

Throughout the night they must have inspired many runners to dig deeper within themselves.

(I don’t believe I’m doing this)

Warm soup, caffeine, drinks and incredibly, 50 minutes later, we were out of there! I really could not believe I was checking out of CP5 feeling this good, positive even; this thing was going to get done.

 (Completed: Checkpoint 5: In 7.15am – Out 8.09am : Leg time 6hr 5mins

Race time overall – 25h 14mins: Total distance 132 km/ 82mi:  Position 25th )

GNW 100 2013 Part 1

Great North Walks 100 mile
“Australia’s toughest trail race”
(November 9th & 10th 2013)

Section 1: Teralba to Watagan Camping Area – 28km/17.8miseconds to go(Saturday 5:58am – Teralba, NSW, Australia)

“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!!”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMO5JQuijrA

We’d all listened to it in the car on the way to the start line.
It was perfect!!

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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

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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.

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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

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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.
“F**********************k!!!”
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)