Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Great North Walk 100k

Another race down and I'm certainly glad to have made it through, but I'm not quite out of the woods just yet!

Having heard so much about this event, it was only a matter of time before I toed the line for this epic race. While the 100k (actually 103.7km) gets totally overshadowed by the 100 miler (and so it should), I really rate that 100k course as the toughest I've done so far. It has so many differing terrains and of course the big factor - the November heat and humidity. Thankfully for the first time in a long time, the weather was mild and everyone knew that this could be the year that some quick times are posted across both races. Of course this proved to be correct, with all race records obliterated!

On Friday afternoon, Nadine and I travelled up to Forresters Beach to the McClymont's new place where we enjoyed a lovely pasta dinner and did our pre-race preparation things. Clarke was a little concerned about the stomach issues he had been having the past couple of days, but was still very keen to try and break 11 hours together. I was looking forward to running with Clarke, he is great company on a run and also knows the course better than most! Nadine and Clarke's wife Tiffany discussed crewing details, and then we were off to bed for a 3:30am wake up!

With Clarke pre-race.
Once up, I downed some muesli, porridge and coffee and we were on our way. I was happy with my gear and pack, the super light Nathan Endurance Vest was going to get a baptism of fire today. Clarke put me on to Nathan and after a bit of searching around on the web, I was finally able to get one delivered just in time. At the start, I was weighed in at 65.5kg. This is the heaviest I've been in a long time and testament to the big sessions of carbo loading that went into the preparation. Hot tip, the takeaway shop in Whalan still makes hot chips the old fashioned (not frozen) way and they are really really good! is there a better pre-race snack?

Once the gun went off it was down the tar and my GPS system for the day (Clarke) took a while to warm up, almost overshooting the turnoff over the railway line. Once going up the hill, the main contenders in both races became clear. We swapped introductions and I met Dave Coombs, a top guy and super runner from up North way who seemed like the only other 100k runner who was looking for line honours. I told him of our plan to go for a sub 11 run and he seemed to like that idea. We all knew it could be the day for it with predicted lower than average temperatures and we agreed in not so many words to work together to make it happen.

At the start line chatting with Damo. Shona, the female 100k
winner is to my left. She ran a scorcher to finish 2nd overall!
Once into the bush, my calf was beginning to play up a bit, especially on the downhills where I had to stretch out, or on uneven ground. I knew that I would have to nurse it on the downhills without going crazy, and certainly our pace was quite conservative. Climbing Heaton Gap was OK, I ran most of it (the uphills were not aggravating the calf) while Dave and Clarke walked sections but never got too far behind. I had a half minute breather at the top while waiting for them and took in the spectacular view. Into the rainforest section, I didn't quite expect it to be so technical and navigationally challenging, thank goodness someone had marked out the course by spray painting a series of dots on the trees. It was very slow going through here, conserving the energy was definitely the wise thing to do. I didn't realise how conservative we were going though until about half way through this section when we suffered the indignity of being passed by the leading three 100 milers! This was like a slap in the face with a wet fish and I rallied Dave and Clarke to pick it up a bit. Clarke was beginning to suffer from the stomach cramps, and I could tell on the look on his face that he was concerned about the day ahead. Dave looked very smooth and comfortable, he has a really nice running style, very fluid and relaxed and I knew he had more to give.

Just past the rainforest secion, I ran ahead and caught the three milers, just to find out who they were and what their aim was for the day and 100k split. It was Pipi, Matt Cooper and, as I was later to find out, Levi Martin. On the last turnoff before checkpoint 1, I wished them well and waited for Dave and Clarke about a minute back. Here Clarke told me to go ahead, but there was no way I was doing that, and on the last bit before CP1 I encouraged him to find a rhythm, hoping it would brighten his mental state.

Coming into CP1 with Dave Coombs.
Clarke was just behind us.
Unfortunately for Clarke, his stomach and bowels were giving him too much grief and he decided to pull the pin at CP1. Tiffany and I tried for about 5 minutes to convince him to soldier on, knowing the next leg was relatively smooth and flat. But in the end, Clarke made the right decision. He was clearly not well, with diarrhoea and gastro there was a real risk of dehydration on a day like that. He encouraged me to go ahead. As I'd been at the CP for about 10 minutes now, I was raring to go and once off I began to pull in the leaders.
First was Andrew Vize, who was clearly unconcerned that the leading milers were at least a km or two ahead. He was pacing himself nicely and we had a little chat about tactics. I thought he showed a lot of self control not to be sucked into the early race to CP1, and no doubt that would pay off later in the race for him (he ended up winning in a classy 22:02). I then pulled in Dave Coombs, and ran with him. I would have been quite happy to run with him all day, but he also encouraged me to go off and 'smash it'. I wished him well and then took off after the milers. The type of undulating firetrail along this leg is my favourite type of terrain; hilly without being fiercely steep at any point. I had a couple of 'where is the trail' moments; once waiting for Dave to catch up to confirm that it was straight ahead, and then stupidly taking a left at a junction where someone had spray painted lots of pink arrows on a tree. Thinking this was the course, I followed the arrows! It soon became evident it wasn't looking like the trail, so I retraced steps. When I got back to the junction, right below the arrows next to the same tree was a little Green sign with a red man on it (the GNW signs) pointing straight ahead! These two moments probably cost me 10 minutes.

The rollercoaster run out of the forest down to Congewai Rd gave me the opportunity to practise controlled downhill running - too many tight twists and turns to go hell for leather. Once down on the road I began the trudge to the Public School. It was hot hot hot but I was running with a fair amount of determination. Here I came across Jordan, Dave's mate, was was running out to meet his charger, and we exchanged a hopeless high five. Into the school, I was weighed (62.4), I restocked, refilled and was on my way out. Losing 3 kg raised the eyebrow of a race medic, but I told him my usual weight is 60-61kg so still had a bit to burn off before it should become concerning. I was drinking plenty and keeping well hydrated so I wasn't too worried either.

The climb up Congewai was a run/power walk. Only a month earlier, Clarke and I had run the entire 3rd leg including the hills all the way to Yarramalong. Clearly this was not going to happen today though! Once up the top I opened up a bit again and started to churn out some quickish kms along the Watagon Range. It was just me, the goannas, the birds and the occasional stop and look at the map! The run down the other side was fast and I reached the farmyard gates in good time. I ran the first bit of the big hill, until the rocks started slipping from under me and decided that a walk might be the better option. Grinded that one out and  boy was it tough, and I certainly needed to refill my bottle and hydration pack by the time I got to unmanned water stop at the top.

Entering the Basin section I was really careful. Clarke and I had run all this section on our training run, but we didn't do the little out and back to the Basin Checkpoint. This was to prove a little costly as it was here that I took the most significant detour for the day. It was stupid and I should have trusted my instincts a little more which were telling me the right way, but hey, it wasn't major and probably cost me no more than 12 minutes.

When I had filled my bladder and made my (correct) way out of the campsite, I was a little shocked how close the 100 milers were; even with my stuff up I didn't think they would be that close. I think I have found a new found respect for these guys. I don't mind saying so, but as far as ultra running press goes, I have thought at times that these races get way too much exposure purely for the distance, rather than the quality of the run. Yeah, I'm guilty of being a little whinging bastard when it comes to the lack of exposure the shorter (but faster) ultras get. Classic example, the great results at the Commonwealth Ultra Trail Champs, hardly raised an eyebrow on the big Oz running websites. However, saying that, and now seeing these guys in action, there is no doubt they are supremely, fit, immaculately conditioned athletes at the top of their chosen discipline. I'll jump off my soapbox now.

Shuffling to the finish line. That road killed me!
Going out of the basin I ran very solidly to the track head at the farm just before the road to Yarramalong. I was pretty sure 11 hours would be out of reach now but was keen to get under 11 and a half, so I started the road doing 4:30 minute ks, pretty much giving it all I had. Problem was, it seemed my body only has 100k to give, and halfway up the road I hit empty and was forced to a shuffle the rest of the 3.7kms. A pretty disappointing finish, I would have loved to have sprinted in but it was not to be. End time 11:36. End weight 60.2, more than a 5kg weight loss!

What about my post mortem of the race? I think this course is brutal, given the heat, but definitely a much quicker time is attainable adn I don't expect this record to last for long. I don't think the course is harder per se than The North Face, it is just slower due to the technical sections that TNF just doesn't have.

Nadine presenting me with the winner's medal!
I've had a few people ask me if I'm going to step up to the miler next year. I just don't know. It's very tempting, but to be honest I love racing the shorter stuff, so I'll stick to that for the time being. Talking of short stuff, next race is the Kedumba Half this weekend. I'm reigning champ, not expecting to win this year but it would be nice to stay out of Katoomba Hospital.

Oh...and the 'not out of the woods bit'? A day or so after the race my ankle has turned into a cankle with a nasty infection causing Celluitis in my left foot. It was caused by a leech or spider bite, I have no idea what, but the treatment is a 5 day course of a heavy antibiotic via injections into my butt cheeks. My ass feels a bit like a pin cushion at the moment! The good news is that it has settled the infection down and it looks like it has turned the corner and the worst is over.

Post race shower, Yarramalong style!

3 comments:

  1. Great run Brendan for the course record. Sounds like you've got more to do on this course next year - would love to see you in the miler as well. Hope the infection clears up as well... them leeches can be nasty buggers :)

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  2. Mate - Good read, stick to running the stuff you enjoy not what others want you too. For me that means back to Rogaines for Year. Good times getting lost.

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  3. Congatulations mate. Super effort. Super result.
    - Arun Bhardwaj, New Delhi

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