Monday, October 29, 2012

GOW100s Race Report

GOW = This is an initialism which stands for Great Ocean Walk. The Great Ocean Walk is an established hiking trail which starts in Apollo Bay and roughly follows the coastline to Port Campbell. So it's a walking event then? No. Like many ultramarathons (which are running events any distance greater than 42.2km), the event is named after the trail on which it is run. Other examples of this are the 6 Foot Track (ultra) Marathon and the Great North Walk 100s.

Cool? Well what about the 100s part? Well that's easy. The distance of the trail, give or take (as is the nature of trail running events) is 100km. Why is the 100 pluralised with an 's'? There are two events running concurrently on the day, a 100km solo race and a 100km relay race, where two runners run approximately 50km each to make up the distance. Since the race originated in 2009 there were two events; a 100km and a 100 miler, however the 100 miler was removed in 2010  and replaced with the relay. Phew! Now that's out of the way, let's get into my race report.

Damien Smith and I had decided to travel down together by car, it made for great conversation and a relaxing journey stopping regularly for coffee and food at the outlets along the Hume Hwy. As was the plan, we rendezvoused with Shona at Avalon Airport at 15:00 on Friday, who had sensibly decided to fly down. While Damien and I had packed over cautiously, throwing in multiple shoes, gear and way too many supplements, Shona had fit everything into one big suitcase, strategically and confidently leaving a little room in it for booty. She wasn't going to get stung again by the Jetstar 14kg luggage policy as apparently after Surf Coast Century the trophies had put her 'over the limit'. Funny policy that. Even with her, her luggage and concrete boot she would weigh under the average Australian female.

We got out of the airport and soon found our way to the coast where Shona was pointing out parts of the route of the SCC. I was enjoying listening to the retelling of the race. No other runner I know can give as much detail as Shona can. Soon we passed under the Great Ocean Road gantry and were appreciating the brilliant scenery of this lovely drive. I have driven it before with Nadine a couple of years ago, but it was nice to see it all again. We arrived at Apollo Bay and after a bit of pfaffing around decided to check in our gear, then go back to our hostel before the briefing. Time was a little against us and it meant that I had not prepared my drop bags before we got to the briefing at the hotel. I was definitely looking like a rank amateur  hastily spooning Hammer Perpetuem into my bottles (and on the floor) that were going in my dropbag, and chucking in an unprescribed amount of Hammer Gels into each one, along with some of the mandatory gear. Looking at Shona's dropbags, with flourescnet, easy to spot signage, told me I really should have prepared this earlier. But even the best made plans can go awry, as I counted Shona's dropbags to total 6. 6 bags don't fit into 4 checkpoints I told Shona, who had evidently been using an old map of the course when it did have 6 checkpoints to organise her bags. So at least now we both looked like rank amateurs and she went to work on her bags. Meanwhile Damo was relaxing enjoying his dinner reaping the benefits of being properly organised!

Back to the hostel, it was time to pack the race bag and lay out the gear. All the buzz was about the mud on the track and I was glad that I had packed my Inov-8 190's. I had planned to run in the new Inov-8 Trailroc 245s but the deal was sealed after seeing some photos that Race Assistant Brett Saxon had put up on Facebook (oh the benefits of social media!). Sharing the dorm with Damo, Shona and I was another runner Ruth and a Canadian backpacker who had to put up with hours of us (well mainly Shona and I) being indecisive about what pack to use. I switched from the UltrAspire Omega to the Surge, only then to settle on the Omega. Shona did the opposite and settled with the Surge. Ruth on the other hand was the epitomy of minimalist, to the point where 'shoes shmoes' was her mantra-yes she ended up running the track barefoot!

In with the earplugs and on with the eye mask, hostel experience coming in handy and thanks to Nadine for reminding me to bring them. Glad I did too as Shona was less than impressed with the Canadian girl the next morning who had quite the snore on her apparently! A brekkie of porridge, honey and coffee and I was ready for the day ahead. Dawn was lovely and still, a bit of moisture in the air but not terrible, all in all fantastic running conditions. Walking to the start line, we were picked up by Barefoot Ruth who gave us a lift to the line. A bit of pfaffing around as we assembled in the park at the start line. A huge anchor marks the starting position. The coast down here is nicknamed the 'Shipwreck Coast'. I was hoping that there would be no 'shipwrecks' on the run!

The Inov-8 X-Talon 190's were the shoe of choice for both winners and
the 3rd place male too!
The first section can be best described with one word - MUD! Running with Chris Wight through the first 5km up and over the first headland I said ''s the mud', to which he just said with a smile 'this is nothing!'. And he was right, making our way on the firetrail up to the first checkpoint was really tough going. The mud was across the entire width of the firetrail and I was thankful of my shoe choice of the 190's. They were eating up the mud, making sure I could run confidently and with good rhythm. As I was running downhill in the mud, and the Talons would grip in I was thinking back to what Clarke McClymont would say in this situation "X-Talons engaged".

I had planned to run through CP1, starting with a full 2L bladder and well stocked up on Hammer Gels and Perpetuem, it was enough for me to get to the marathon distance of CP2. The guys at CP1 were still getting organised when I arrived and were a little shocked not to see me stop. Whippet escorted me up to the trail entry for the next leg with the departing words promising sweet windy single track all the way. He didn't disappoint either, it was the most wonderful little journey around the headlands and up and over the lush rainforest covered capes. The environment was stunning, it's here I encountered the first wallaby of the day, just one of a plethora of wildlife seen throughout the day.

Going down the stairs of Parker River Inlet I spotted Brett Saxon with his camera, and found I didn't really need to smile, I was enjoying this part of the track so much it would have been written all over my face. I was loving the soft, muddy surface and the 'hippy' manoeuvring I had to employ along the windy, twisty trail. It sure beats running endless kilometres on hard pack firetrail. I found my whole body was getting a huge workout, even my arms and shoulders as I used them as levers to swing me around tight turns.

Descending into the Parker River Inlet
The section approaching Aire River was hard work on the soft sand escarpment; it was breathtakingly beautiful but damn hard work on tiring legs. I was being particularly careful to avoid the sand and run on the verge (not great trail etiquette I know) and also trying to run in the footprints. I was glad when I could see the Aire River Bridge in the distance marking the marathon distance of the race and the first CP stop of my race. The checkpoint vollies were incredibly helpful; filling my already portioned bottles of Perpetuem and bringing my drop bag to me which contained my next lot of gets and a banana. They had my bladder filled with water in no time, and I guess I was in and out of there in less than 2 minutes. The next section of the track to Johanna Beach is a hard but satisfying section which passes through diverse terrain before hitting the sand slog along the beach. The trail passed through stunning heathland where the spring wildflowers were in full bloom and this section also contained some awesome sea views. I remember passing through a section of abundant grass trees and thinking I wish I could take one home to put in my front garden!

I didn't mind the beach running; although hindered by a strong headwind, it gives the legs a chance to run at a good steady rhythm. I crossed the river at the lowest point I could find but it was still high enough to soak the  Inov-8's and I found the cold water a great relief for the achilles and calves. I shuffled up the soft sand and along the little road section to be met by Mel Gamble, Brett Saxon and a few others at the next checkpoint. I popped on the reflective vest and again reloaded the Perpetuem and Hammer Gels into the front pockets of the brilliant UltrAspire pack. I started up the climb and what a deceiving  long ascent it is; all runnable but with a few sneaky false summits, it seemed to go forever. Turning onto the road to Malenesia Beach, it was like being back in a comfy chair, running on the smooth dirt road past the grazing fields. The long downhills approaching the beach were hurting the quads and I was noticing that the 4 minute kms were becoming harder and harder pull out, even on the steep descents.

This leg was by far the most difficult, it was a real test and I guess this is where the rubber hits the road in this race. The undulating climbs are relentless over the headlands and through the narrow forested sections.footing is a big problem. I came unstuck more than once on the slippery treated pine boardwalks; totally my own fault just pushing the envelope a little too far. There are some grinding little pinches and it was definitely a relief to finally reach the last checkpoints at the Gables carpark. I was a bit surprised to see Chris Wight there, in the back of my mind I was picturing his big loping legs chasing me down all the way into the Gables. While good motivation for me, in reality he pulled out very early on, obviously still feeling the effects of his recent bout of giardia as a result of drinking some dodgy water on his recent epic Kokoda track assault. It was disappointing for him no doubt, but he showed a ton of ticker to make the start line and have a crack and I know great things are to come for this very talented trail runner. Chris mentioned I was way under the race record, but I just was focused on one thing - finishing first!

The last section was again very tricky, but at least the footing had turned to crushed gravel instead of mud and I was actually now finding the X-Talons a little unnecessary. It was a long last 20km, just ticking off the kilometres on the gradually ascending hillocky section . With 5km to go I viewed the brilliance of the 12 Apostles in the dimming sunlight that the overcast day was offering and knew it was almost mission completed. Coming off the trail and onto the sealed road with a kilometre to go I was a spent force, reduced to a pretty slow jog up the last hill. I rounded the bend into the car park  avoided a near miss with a tourist bus and crossed the finish line with hands raised in the air. A mix of joy and relief!

Once into some warm clothes, I got stuck into some food and drink and watch Damon and then travel buddy and good mate Damian Smith cross the finish line in a fine 3rd place! He is having a massive year, and as far as I know the only runner doing all the grand slam events this year. Not long after in came Shona, a mighty effort to back up only weeks after the Surf Coast Century. She looked pretty smashed but got the job done in fine form too by also beating the course record. She is having one hell of a year!

Back at the Port Campbell hostel, the host with the most, Tony, made sure we were all treated like running royalty and welcomed every runner back with Mars Bars and good humour. A quick shower and we went out for beer and pizza, no better way to top off a great night! We ended up eating with Mikio, the Japanese born American runner and a few others too. Back at he hostel, Tony organised a little beer collection and he ducked out and came back with a case of Victoria's finest. We all set around and had a couple into the night and recollected the day's events.

The next morning  breakfast and presentations went smoothly and it was great to see all names of finishers recognised by Andy. It was surely a hard earned belt buckle! Damon Goerke and his wife Fleur offered us a lift back to Apollo Bay which we gladly accepted and we had a great time hearing about Damon's and Fleur's many adventures. A flat battery, jumper leads and half an hour late we were on our way back to Sydney.

The coolest trophies ever!