“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.

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.

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.

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.


Jules Devlin (Jules photo)


JD and Me; overhanging caves (Jules photo)


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!!


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.

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

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..


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:


(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