Rewind to GNW100’s 2016, out of some morbid curiosity I ventured up to the beauty that was Patonga Beach to witness first hand runners with all of their willpower run, shuffle and wince to a small wooden pole only to plant a kiss that would usually be reserved for their nearest and dearest of loved ones. So this is what the GNW is all about I thought to myself, this lot are mad, I fancy a bit of this.
It’s simple, I enjoy to run, I love the beauty of being outdoors, the people you meet are the salt of the earth, and you get to eat cake without guilt, so why would you run 100 miles?
Seeing those finishers back in 2016 I still wasn’t convinced that a 100km race was for me yet alone 170kms (100 miles), Sixfoot Track came by and after having a nasty hamstring tear at the end of 2016, I pulled off an excellent finish getting a 1 hour 16 min PB over the previous year finishing in 4:59:36. Job done I thought then people started to talk about Utra-Trail Australia, oh what the hell let’s do this, 50kms? blah, lets go for the 100kms. 15 hours and 8 minutes saw me tick off my first 100kms. Job done. Nope, my crazy running friends were already talking about UTMB but there was also something called the GNW100’s, feeling strong, injury free I thought what the hell lets do this.
Training kicked in in earnest in July under the able guidance of Geoff Evison (possibly the only person to date to have completed in the one calendar year Western States; UTMB and GNW100, the latter being only 7 days after UTMB). Events were organised through SUFR with invaluable training days out on the course. The pacers were recruited Dean Israel and Iain O’Donnell only for Iain to return to the sunny shores of Scotland. He would be missed. Dean stepped up to the plate and whole heartedly jumped at the chance to run the three legs covering the final 70kms of the course. We continued to train on the course plus doing some additional night training here in Sydney, which meant that the refreshment stops could take on a whole new level of comfort and drink choice.
Race week was upon us but the organisers had the small matter of a fire to deal with at Heatons Gap (15kms into the route). On or off became the chatter on social media but the organising committee pulled one out the bag and with a last minute move of the start to the corner of Mill Lane and Heaton Rd at Quorrobolong we were all back on it.
The night before and the view from Cardiff back towards Heaton Gap.
We (Doug Richardson) and I trained it up to Cardiff for our overnight stay, pre-race would still be at Teralba but car pooling would be called upon to get all the runners out to the start some 40 mins away. Lucky for Doug and I his crew Chantelle Farrelly (who had only returned that week from UTMB) drove up on the Friday night, pre-race and start line transport was now sorted, thank you Chan.
I slept remarkably well, the alarm was set for 4.15am, quick breakfast of porridge and off to the start we went. Check in done, weigh in (75.6kgs), drop bags done for CP2 & CP3 only, didn’t worry about CP1 and my crew would be supporting me from CP4. Chatting with familiar faces, pre-race brief then the drive to the start.
The morning was crisp, fortunately the wind was westerly therefore blowing the smoke from Heatons Gap back towards the coast. Met up with Geoff who promptly informed me that I would be his unofficial companion for the run, a sense of honour but then a sense of fear would I be able to keep up with this man even though he’d only ran UTMB 7 days prior.
Race number #125, weigh in weight 75.6kgs
Start Time – 6.30am
The nervous and excited chatter amongst all the runners drowned out the “GO” so without warning we were off, bloody hell I thought to myself, this is it.
The new route saw us climb steady up Heaton Rd which then turned to fire trail and on past CP1. Down Mt Faulk Rd we headed, with Vladimir Shatrov and Brendan Davies already heading back up. Dougie then came running up past us, looking strong and raring to go. Back up the hill we went then dropped into ‘The Jungle’ where the GNW trail crossed Barniers Rd, back on to familiar territory plus I was still with Geoff, the prior two times I’d dropped into here I’d lost the trail, not for a great period of time but it was at the back of my mind. I ended up going in front of Geoff who was being more cautious on the trail and before I knew I found myself on my own and heading comfortably along the trail. For once I was heading advice to take GU’s which I stuck to religiously (so far) in taking every 10kms which was backed up with Tailwind in my bladder. So far so good.
The climb out of The Jungle I had found challenging on the training runs and this was no exception but no rush and I settled in to a steady climb up to the gate and joining back on to the fire trail and the run into CP1.
CP1 – Old Watagan Forestry HQ
26.3kms In: 09:43 / Out: 09:48, position overall 25.
CP2 – 23.9 kms away.
It’s always good to be greeted by a happy familiar face and this smile was no exception and would prove to be a game changer later in the run for me, welcome to Chantelle Farrelly, not even my crew for the day but she had me in and out of CP1 in 5 mins, drinks topped up, sun-cream applied although she refused to don the rubber glove and apply the vaseline which I’d forgotten that morning in my haste to get some breakfast in to me.
I left CP1 with Michaela McDonald who I’d had the pleasure of running with during a number of training runs along with her partner and last years winner Tim Locke. Everyone had high hopes for Michaela, she was looking strong and comfortable, she had the time to help me adjust my backpack, I asked if any other miler females were in front of her “No” was the reply “Right then, let’s see what I can do to help you get through this” we were off. The run to Congewai Public School would be a mixture of undulating fire trail with some climbs then a drop down to Congewai Rd and a 5km uncovered run in to the school. The road bit I wasn’t looking forward to, the day was warming up and I was keen to get to the road soon so that it wouldn’t be too warm once I got there. It was a risk on how hard I push. Michaela had dropped out of site for a while but before I knew it she was there again some 50m behind me, keeping me in her sites and cruising along, I felt like I was being hunted. My fluid intake and gel consumption was good, no stomach problems and the music was on. All was good in the World.
During the descent to the road I caught Doug, oh shit I’m going too fast I thought, but it turned out that Doug had been suffering cramps and was taking it easy on this downhill section, salt tablets were offered but he had a good stock so on I went. I hit the road and I went for it. 5.1kms covered in 28.04mins (5.28/km), too fast.
CP2 – Congewai Public School
50.5kms In: 12:19 / Out: 12:38, Leg position 14 / overall 19.
CP3 – 29.1kms away.
There’s that happy smiling face again of Chantelle, she was holding a tray and I had no idea what was happening, turns out it was compulsory gear check time (but on the way out). I shovelled in some cake and fruit, grabbed my main torch as CP3 would most probably arrive at dusk.
Next lesson learned….. at check-out / gear check I realised that I hadn’t filled my bladder up and I wasn’t allowed to take my backpack back to the food area so I had to run up, grab the kettle (only thing I could find) then take that to refill my bladder. On the grand scheme of things it meant I was in and out of CP2 in 19 mins rather than 14 mins.
Michaela had left just before me and it would be the last I’d see of her for the race as she went on to gain the win, superb result, the training paid off Michaela congratulations. You can read her race report here.
Back out onto the Congewai Rd, but it wasn’t long until we took a right turn and headed up the steep climb to the comms tower. This was one of the few sections that I’d not done as part of a training run and did not know what to expect other than I knew we had a big hill to come. At this point Geoff had caught me up, I desperately tried to stay with him but it wasn’t long until he’d got a good 200m on me and was powering on up the climb, whatever he was on I wanted some of it. I was struggling and it was at this stage that I had my sixth GU for the day, Tastefully Nude but tasted bloody awful to me it did not agree with me, the rest of the race would be a battle with GU consumption.
Crossing the paddock then it was the next big climb which on a training weekend had taken me 16mins to climb was now taking me ½ hour, I felt like I was going backwards. At this point whilst passing Mt Warrawalong my brain was screaming for sleep, the sun was shining through the trees, the temperature was perfect but all I could fantasise about was finding a sunny spot, writing in the dust don’t wake until this time next week and curling up to sleep, you wouldn’t believe how close I came to doing just this but CP3 beckoned and I had set myself one target and that was to hit The Basin before dark.
The run down to the Basin was good, another section that I hadn’t done (the out and back), and it was here that I passed Doug and Geoff who were on their way to CP4, not long to go they told me and Chantelle would be there.
CP3 – The Basin
79.6kms In: 17:46 / Out: 18:10, Leg position 59 / overall 35.
CP4 – 22.1kms away.
I stumbled in to CP3 and Chan took control, off came the backpack, potatoes were quite literally forced into my mouth and a cup of hot pumpkin soup offered with Adam and Sarah Connor also helping to ‘revive’ me. As soon as I got some sustenance in I laid down on the rug and closed my eyes, that’s all I needed, I didn’t sleep I just needed to close my eyes for two mins I was recharged. More food and hot tea was taken onboard and Chan gave my legs a rub down with Voltaren, I was a new man and off into the dark I was packed.
Chan, Adam & Sarah, from the bottom of my grumbling tummy thank you!
I climbed out of the gorge and headed to Yarramalong with a new spring in my step and it wasn’t long until I hit the Cedar Brush Trackhead and the 11km road run into CP4. I picked of say five road markers ahead ran to it, then walked for two road markers and so on. At times I stopped and turned off my headtorch and took in the night sky, the Milky Way was directly overhead, the moon was not up yet and the stars were putting on the most amazing display, I could have stayed out there for a long time just taking it all in but on to the school I had to head.
I’d heard all about the scarecrows that the residents of Yarramalong put out and this proved to be an excellent break in the monotony of the road run and before I knew it I was taking the short climb at a sprint up into CP4.
CP4 – Yarramalong Public School
101.7kms In: 21:25 / Out: 21:55, Leg position 32 / overall 36.
CP5 – 28.4kms away.
The gang were here, Nicola Darwin; Aileen Davison and my pacer Dean Israel.
My weigh in proved interesting, I was down to 70.53kgs a loss of 6.7% when the limit is 5%, so off to the medics I was sent. “I’ve been a naughty boy” I started to say to them, but upon convincing them that I was still sound of mind (which is questionable for anyone who is running 100 miles) they allowed me to go and sit down and take on as much food as I could, no arguing from me on that point.
The crew fed me with noodles, cake, tea, coke, soup, at this point I not only had Nic, Aileen and Dean tending me but I also had Chantelle and Joe Gallagher, what service and all with a smile. It was at this point that Nic began to get very serious with me “maaaattte!, you haven’t drunk anything from your bladder or your bottles for that whole leg”, she was met with a very puzzled look from me, it wasn’t until I realised that she had been tending to Deans fully loaded backpack that I realised the mistake, phew, bollocking avoided.
Time to go, I had my buddy and off into the cold night we headed, I had two layers plus my fleece, gloves and Hi-viz jacket on but the cold could be felt but the climb up Bumble Hill soon put paid to any concerns about the cold. On the way up we were met by two runners coming back down the hill, we’d all missed the track over the barrier but fortunately we hadn’t gone too far up the hill and dropped down onto the track.
We were making good time, we were keeping up a steady pace with very little need to stop unless any major incline was reached, the temperature was perfect and on we cracked through the night. and before we knew it we were heading up towards Somersby on the road, that climb out from the creek is another ball breaker though.
CP5 – Somersby Public School
130.1kms In: 02:58 / Out: 03:30, Leg position 12/ overall 19.
CP6 – 17.8kms away.
Log fires, you can’t beat them, especially at 3am with 130kms in your legs. The crew were legends, torches, watches and phones were put on charge, hot food and drinks were offered along with a grandad blanket, then again it could have just been Adam Darwins regular home attire that Nic had brought along for the weekend, all I needed now was a leg rub where was Chan. The girls were in good spirit and had managed to get a snooze in before my arrival and Joe was his ever bubbly self.
32mins of refuelling and we were heading off into the night again for a relatively short 18kms section through to Mooney Mooney Creek. This section I’d been worried about, it had been niggling me on and off through the day as I knew I’d be hitting this area just before sunrise, I’d be tired and the rutted section that you run down towards the dam is quite technical. I don’t mind the technical elements at all, but after 140kms I knew I’d have to be on my guard. It turned out that it was the lack of sleep that finally made me turn to Dean stating that I had to stop and close my eyes for two mins as it was getting too dangerous for me to continue running without falling off the track. Dean guided me to a rock step. Asked me to take a drink of coke at which point it was as if someone had unplugged me, my brain switched off and I was out. Two minutes later Dean plugged my brain back in, I took a swig of coke and on we continued.
All was good now with the short recharge, we crossed Mooney Mooney Creek, the water level was low, no wet feet and the sun was beginning to make an appearance. We were running strong again along the edge of the creek, the morning mist was rising from the water then it was up and over the bridge back down to the creek then the short climb up to CP6, the last checkpoint.
CP6 – Mooney Mooney Creek Bridge
147.9kms In: 06:21 / Out: 06:42, Leg position 18 / overall 22.
The Finish – 25.7kms away.
CP6, what a place, loved it, another log fire, hot beef stew, soup, tea, coke and more cake. Kevin Andrews was there to enjoy the fire too, a huge thank you was said to him for ensuring that the run went ahead, thank you Kevin.
Nic and Aileen were still in high spirits, they sorted me out again allowed me to recharge then it was the final charge. We dropped back down to the creek heading to the suspension bridge, the tide was out both of us laughing how Dean had been caught out on the rising tide on the night run we’d done here a few weeks before, seeing him run knee deep into water will last with me for a long time, both of us not initially taking on board that the trail had since flooded since we’d run through only a couple of hours earlier on that training run.
I’d forgotten how many climbs we’d have on this section, up over the moon rocks, the sun was long up but we were in very high spirits, the pace was constant and we began to pick runners off. We then dropped back down into the gorge and it was at this point that I was convinced we were way off course, telling Dean that we’d gone the wrong way, “but couldn’t I remember the features we were passing”? came the reply, I wasn’t convinced, it wasn’t until he pointed out the random steel railings that had been put up that I was convinced we were on course, my brain was beginning to play games again. I dumped the remaining fluid from my bladder leaving just my 500ml flask and the race was on, we could smell the finish.
We picked off more runners then we caught Geoff who was doing the last leg with Josie his wife, he looked tired but can you blame him, he went on to finish in 29hrs 05mins, Geoff you’re a bloody champion, UTMB and GNW over back to back weekends!
This last section neither of us had done either and we didn’t realise how long the final climb was up to the trig point and then finally the drop down to the beach. Joe’s mate Dennis had run up and joined us for the run down to the beach. You keep glimpsing the beach but it just seems to take an eternity, we were pushing for a sub 28 hours finish, my legs were strong we were pushing each other could we do this?
173.6kms Finish: 10:38 Total Time: 28h 08min, Leg position 3
Overall 15th / Aged 7th.
The beach, the beach, the bloody beach!
One year ago, I had watched the 2016 competitors run, shuffle and wince towards that small wooden pole on the wharf and now it was my turn, the adrenaline kicked in and the stride lengthened.
The bells were ringing and the cheers and clapping were getting louder and louder, forget the previous 173kms this last 600m were magically mesmerising, the crew were there along with Doug and Chan who had stayed over after his 100km finish the night before. I’d done it and with that the pole was all mine to plant the longest lasting loving kiss you can give a wooden pole without it beginning to look weird, I was a miler finisher.
Nicola Darwin and Aileen Davidson, I could not thank you enough, your organisation at the CP’s and your calm nature were beyond anything I could have hoped for, plus Aileen still makes bloody delicious cake.
Chantelle, thank you for your magic hands at CP3 and your reassuring words that I could do this. You turned my race around at a very dark moment.
Adam and Sarah Connor, Joe Gallagher and Dennis McCarthy for assisting too throughout the night.
Dean Israel, 70kms through the night and with that charge at the end what a rock you were, thank you, and by the way your arse isn’t that big, well maybe not at the end anyway.