Saturday, December 1, 2012

GNW Race Report

The dust has well and truly settled on this epic event. My first 100 mile event and I got to say, I loved every step of the journey. A long event deserves a long report though...apologies in advance!

Race morning and all thoughts of a hot, stinker were erased from the mind when I got out of Clarke's car at Teralba and immediately reached for my jacket. It was cold, the wind was sharp and stinging and the air temperature couldn't have been much above 10. I met up with Shona who was a bundle of nervous energy and then sought out Sally from barefoot inc, always a calming influence! Sally was going to look after me at the first 3 checkpoints before Nadine took over for the night shift. Sally came with gifts too! A really nice pair of Inov-8 branded BSc compression shorts and a pair of Inov-8 combined sock/gaiters. Sally offered me a muscle top, but I politely declined the opportunity to show off my ripping abs, I'll leave that for the triathletes! I went to the loo and got changed into these shorts, liberally lubed up and filled my UltrAspire Surge bladder to 1.5L. I weighed in at a touch over 63kg.

With Shona at the start
All the usual suspects were present and accounted for: Damo, fresh from a ripping 3rd at the GOW, Clarke, looking like a man on a mission, and other royalty of the ultra running scene. Surprised not to see Matt Cooper, a shame for him and others that withdrew earlier as they missed an opportunity to really rip this course to shreds with the very unseasonable weather.

Start - CP1. 28.6km. Leg time 3:11.
The start was as low key as starts go, a simple 'go' from Dave Byrnes and we were off. The pace in the first 5km was pedestrian to say the least. No one was wanting to take it out of 3rd gear, I think everyone knew today was a day not to waste by racing off into the distance and blowing it all early. Eventually a lead pack of Clarke and Stephen Johnson took a bit of an initiative and the gap widened. I was happy running with Noel Annett, Damo, Beth, Shona and Matty Abel. As much as I wanted to run with Clarke I knew it wasn't the smart thing to do. It was simple, we were on different race plans and that was that.

Heading on the first part that is single track, an alert on the Garmin advised I was off track and so I was. The  preloaded maps just saved me from a real stuff up. Another runner followed me up and when we turned around there was Damo also following us. That gave me the pleasure of running with Damo who was putting in a strong leg. I noticed he was in road shoes and hoped that he would survive the rainforest sections without coming a cropper. I was wearing the Inov-8 245s and knew I'd be a little better off. Eventually I gapped Damo going up the first big climb after the road crossing into Heaton State Forest and caught up to Stephen who had dropped off Clarke who was obviously looking to put to bed this nemesis race of his, the 100k. Although a 2 time former winner, he has never felt as though he's conquered the race. But today was to be his day when this changed forever!

Stephen and I were chatting away, oblivious to the right hand turn into the rainforest. We even saw the sign but decided for some strange reason to ignore the wisdom of the Garmin and keep going up the trail. Eventually we realised the stupidity and turned around. Mick Miles was driving up the trail to grab us. What a shocker. Probably lost 3 minutes there. Into the rainforest section, I had that feeling that you always get when you go off course, I had to make up time! So instead of doing the smart thing and staying as a group, I took off. Was a frivolous thing to do, because of course a couple of kms later I was stuck out in the middle of nowhere not knowing where I was, losing track of the pink dots on the trees and shouting 'coo-eeys' to whoever could hear me! Eventually Stephen and Beth trundled along and pointed me in the right direction and I was on my way again.

The rest of the leg was non eventful, just tried to get in a relaxed rhythm and find the 'groove' along the firetrail coming into the first checkpoint. Once there, Sally from barefootinc, had things ready to go and it was a quick transition. Sorry to all the people there who had to watch me apply the vaseline  But I did give you plenty of notice to turn your heads! Ultra running is no glamour sport!

CP1 - CP2. 23.9km (52.5km). Leg time 2:05.
The second leg is my favourite of the whole race, it's a time to get into grooveland and put down something solid before reaching what is usually the furnace of Congewai Valley. After getting away in 2 minutes from the checkpoint, it was rhythm, rhythm rhythm to the end of the firetrail to where the single track descends the spur to the valley floor. Pretty uneventful leg except for a bit of a navigation stuff up. I must have been taking a swig of Perpetuem and my head was looking up and in that time I missed the singletrack as it veered to the right to avoid a gully and I kept going straight on a rough, but distinct trail which led to a camping area. So backtracking again, it probably cost me three or so minutes, very stupid mistake and I made sure that I ran the road quite quickly to make up the lost time.

Refuelling at Congewai
Once in the valley, I couldn't believe how pleasant the conditions were. I mean a freakin' cool tail wind? What the heck was this? Usually it's hot and humid as all hell and here I was enjoying the little trip to the school. I felt for the local resident who had set up an unofficial drink station; I really felt like just having a drink to show my appreciation but reality was I still had probably over a litre in the pack to get through, so it was a polite 'g'day and what about this weather eh!'

Approaching the GNW trail turnoff I saw the back of Clarke disappearing up through the property. I was sure I would see him on the little out and back section to the school, but what a massive leg he must have had. I was the previous owner of this leg record, but evidently Clarke had just smashed it to smithereens! I was a little spurred on by this. At the checkpoint, again Sally had everything beautifully laid out. I weighed in and had lost just 200g. I spent a little time phaffing around with the gear check before I was on my way again.

CP2 - CP3. 29.1km (81.6km). Leg Time 3:11
This leg is the 'make or break' leg of this race, the crux of the race, destroy it or be destroyed. I wasn't going to let it gain a foothold, so ran strongly out of the school and through the property to the first real big climb up to the communications tower. Just downgeared, up the cadence and jogged calmly up to the stop. Psychologically, reaching the top without walking was what told me today was going to be my day. The day was not heating up, if anything, it was a little cold. For the next little while, past the flatrock lookout along the firetrail, I really just concentrated on holding really good form and feeding/drinking regularly. I was cruising along and loving it.

The next descent takes you down to Watagan Creek and I remember last year it was deadly down there and on the steep category 2 climb straight after. What different conditions this year. I was pretty determined to run the whole 5km or so of the climb, and I was stoked to reach the top in pretty good nick. I didn't frequent the bar of the unmanned water stop; so different to last year where I literally plonked myself under a tap of one of the containers and drank myself silly. From there there is some great open running, the large portion of it downhill. I was really upping the pace, without going crazy and entered the descent down to the brook feeling very alive! Approaching the GNW turnoff before going straight ahead to the Basin, I was really hoping I would see Clarke as it had been ages now since I had seen anyone and I really wanted to see him smashing out a great time. It's a 5km out and back section from the sign and I knew it would be touch and go. Just when I thought I'd missed him I heard some footsteps and a blue blur coming towards me and it was Clarke, a grin as big as the Cheshire Cat. After a high five, I looked at my watch and couldn't believe the time. A very rough calculation and taking into account the last leg, I really thought a sub 10 was on the cards for him if he ran the last leg well. But not wanting to put pressure on him, I told him that he was going to go under 10 and half easily. History now shows that he of course went under 10h in 9:58. Just an awesome performance!

I find this out and back very tricky and a bit slow going which was probably good as the light along here is dim to dark at best and it's really easy to come a cropper. I took it easy to the Basin where the smiling Sally had everything ready to go again. I was in the zone now and ready to stop the conservatism and really start pushing the effort in the next leg! And the good news...not one off course moment!

CP3 - CP4. 22.1km (103.7km). Leg Time 2:02
Yep, fast I wanted and fast I gave it. Made it out of the tricky Basin section, thanks somewhat to the uploaded maps to my Garmin. I really can't recall much of the leg, although I remember that I was really looking forward to getting to the Yarramalong, seeing Nadine (who was taking over crewing duties from here) and also hooking up with Jo for the rest of the journey. Descending the Cedar Brush trail down to the road I was remembering how quickly Clarke had descended this section on a training run over a year ago. Clarke is one of the best technical downhill runners I know, just so agile and balanced on his feet. It must have something to do with his surfing background, he doesn't run down hills, he glides down them.

Running into Yarramalong
Reaching the road, it was like sitting in my favourite lounge chair and set off at around 4:15 pace to the school. I'm pretty sure I held 4:30s all the way to the school, a marked difference to the year before where I bumbled and stumbled, walked and shuffled my way into the end of the 100k run and promptly collapsed. Seems that I ran this leg very well too, my leg time was only 2 minutes slower than Clarke's. This leg is really when my race started.

As I approached the school I saw Tiff McClymont and asked her if Nadine and Jo, who were coming together in the car from Sydney, were there yet. I was having stress attacks that I was too ahead of schedule. In my rough split time estimates, I was taking into account the usual hot weather and I think I was even ahead of my 'best case scenario' splits. However, she was thankfully there and so was Jo, all ready to go as my pacer for the rest of the journey. I'm sure you can see by the photos how happy I was to see my wife, Jo, and also the smile on my face was probably after Clarke had just told me he scraped under 10 hours! I was peaking out, hearing this just made a brilliant day even better!

CP4 - CP5. 28.4km (132.1km). Leg Time 3:30
Leaving Yarramalong, the trail goes up Bumble Hill. Jo and I were just catching up on my race so far and she was keeping me busy and alert to my nutritional intake thus far in the race. At the first real climb under the power lines I was attempting to run it but Jo was walking behind me and pretty much keeping up with me. She convinced me to just walk, and I'm glad she did as it helped enormously with the walk giving my legs a bit of a rest. Once at the top, we crossed the road and hit our straps again before turning down Cherry Lane.

All smiles with Jo ready to go at CP4
Jo and I were hitting a good pace and things were going great. I was very cautious going into the rainforest section. I had run this section with Clarke and Shona in training at night, and although not dark yet, it was still very tricky underfoot. This is also were we all had got lost and I was trying my damnest to remember the course. When we got to the section were we were meant to cross Dead Horse Ck, I couldn't find the left turn down which takes you down over the creek. It was all very frustrating, with a tree across the trail, presumably marking the end of the trail, the left trail must be somewhere! We went up and down this section of the trail 2 or 3 times and we still couldn't find the trail down! Jo suggested we scramble down the gully and have a look for the trail on the other side of the creek, but this proved to be futile, and resulted with Jo slipping on a mossy rock and bruising her shin. Once back on the trail, I decided to have a look to see what was behind the down tree, and lo and behold, there was the trail, continuing on a bit further and the creek crossing was found. All in all this little adventure probably cost us 10 minutes.

With darkness closing in, we finished the leg off without any more drama, walking the steep sections jogging when we could and keeping our spirits high talking, cracking jokes and appreciating the beautiful scenery.

CP5 - CP6. 17.8km (149.9km). Leg Time 1:49
This is a fast leg, without many large climbs and lots of downhill and flat running. I was feeling great, and knew now that I was on track for a 19 - 20 hour run if I could hold it together. The espresso gels were starting to get a bit too...well...coffee tasting and Jo swore she could smell the coffee seeping out in my sweat and breath! I ate a Hammer Bar to break it up and this seemed to give my stomach a break and got me back on track. I was starting to open up the stride on the flowing, sandy trail, with the Ferei headlamp lighting up the trail like a lighthouse, visibility was not a problem!

In fact, the light could have very ironically spelled the end to my race! With the intense beam blasting out in front, and with the bush coming alive with all sorts of nocturnal critters awakening and foraging around, it may have been a early end for me. Running up a straight piece of trail, I noticed a swamp wallaby scoot out across the trail in front of me and go to the other side. As I approached the part of the track where the wallaby had crossed it must have become disoriented by the light and it jumped back out across the trail, missing me by a mere metre and stopped me dead in my tracks. The size of this thing would have easily bowled me over.

Going down the rocky trail towards the dam, I was becoming aware of a pain in my right knee becoming a little worse. I made sure I was nursing it, using my left leg to take the shock of small drop-offs. It was definitely an ITB type pain, and fearful of it getting worse, decided to back off the speed a bit. Meanwhile, Jo was beginning to also suffer due to pains in her hip flexors which had been playing up for sometime now. As I was setting the pace in front, I could hear her discomfort every now and then. On the lovely flat section where you run by Mooney Mooney Ck, I was ramping up the pace and I was noticing Jo's headlamp shadow becoming shorter and shorter. She was really struggling with the pain in her hips and was beginning to mention that she may not be able to continue from the next checkpoint. It was a tough predicament for Jo. Often when I have hip problems I actually find running with a little more purpose and effort can help; in other words running faster hopefully ends the 'labouring' technique which causes the pain. I suggested to Jo that we run the last 4-5km really hard to the Checkpoint where she could then make her mind up according to how she felt there.

Crossing over the bridge and cruising into the checkpoint, we caught the checkpoint crew totally off guard as they were still setting up their water barrels and food. They were also meant to weigh me here but the scales hadn't been delivered yet from the previous checkpoint! It was all business for me, grabbing my bottles of Hammer Perpetuem, gels and a banana. I was feeling relaxed and ready to knock over this last leg.  Meanwhile, Jo had come to the decision not to run the final leg with me; she didn't want to potentially make her injuries worse. It was the smart thing to do. I was stoked to find out later that we broke both leg records together!

CP6 - Finish. 25.4km (175.3km). Leg Time 3:17
In training with Shona, I had run this leg and knew the tricky nature of the trails. It is scrambly and stony, without a lot of open running. Now running solo, I also had all of the navigation and nutritional responsibilities   Jo was no longer there to remind me to drink or be an extra set of eyes looking for the little trail markers or the white arrows pained on the rocks.

I was feeling very strong. When I wanted to run fast and with more purpose I could. I climbed the first hill after the suspension bridge quite well, even running some of the ascent. The HL20 headlamp was lighting the path beautifully and I was spotting the trail markers and paint easily. But it was lonely out there and I began to desire the finish line. It's a funny leg this one, every time you hit a bit of firetrail, the trail soon then directs you on to singletrack, and alternates like this a couple of times. Also, a lot of the rock platforms begin to look the same after a while. I don't know if it was the brain playing tired tricks, but more than once I had the dreaded fear that I had already run that section of the trail. This actually did become a reality during the leg, at some stage I had unknowingly doubled back on myself. I was actually very lucky that I didn't lose a lot more time, and I have the metal handrail to thank for it. This little muck up cost me probably another 10 minutes.

The finish line, with Nadine
Although starting to long for the finish and company, I was enjoying the ever increasing wildlife; owls, bilbies, wallabies and bush rats were all out and about. The last firetrail approaching the road seems to go forever, and I was starting to feel the pinch now, walking up some of the steeper sections, that I would have easily run up in previous legs. Finally the signs to Patonga started to appear and I knew it wasn't long now. After crossing the road and reaching the Warrah Trig dirt road I was pretty much over this race! I ran strongly to the end of the road and began to descend the stairs going down to Patonga. Wasn't long before I crossed the inlet and hit the beach. I could see a headlamp up ahead and some cheering. It was Nadine and Jo directing me to the little trail marker, the official finish line. 19 hours and 27 minutes after the start, I knelt down, put my head against the marker and the realisation that it was all over washed over me in a giant wave of relief and joy.

The official presented me with a gold medal and took some photos, and I slowly made my way over to the recovery tent. Once stopped and lying down, a bit of nausea mixed with exhaustion set in. I downed some coke and some lollies, but that was all I could stomach. Nadine, Jo and the official did a wonderful job looking after me. The official apologised more than once for not having the BBQ fired up, but believe me, the last thing I wanted was a sausage sandwich, even just the thought of it was making me feel sick! I'm sure, come morning, however, that I would probably feel like eating 10 of them!

Post Mortem
I'm very pleased how my debut 100 miler turned out. I believe my pacing was great and has given me a great foundation for future milers. The recovery was slow, it's only this week that I have resumed full training, and there have been a few niggles that I've had to handle.

There is though, room for improvement. The 22 minutes spent at Checkpoints can be halved and with more care with directions, the time can further be improved. But really, will we ever get another day of perfect running conditions again?

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