Great North Walk 100 mile 2017
GNW100’s and I have had a love affair for what seems like an age.
2012: After finishing TNF100 in May 2012 in what I thought was a fantastic time, better than I thought I could ever run it, I was drawn to an even bigger challenge, GNW miler. I managed to conquer it then, but it certainly chewed me up with a time of 31hrs 44min.
2013: The following year I was at Yarramalong to pace Michael McGrath, but that was the Congewai furnace year and very few runners went on to finish, Michael was one that didn’t go on.
2014: The following year, I paced another runner Nahila Hernandez (Mexico) from Yarramalong to the finish with only a few minutes to spare. This was an incredible life experience.
2015: I finally took the plunge and entered the miler again, only to strain my calf a week before. I started, but pulled out at 82km when my stomach shut down. This is my first and only race DNF ever. Oddly enough, it was my stomach and not my calf that forced me out.
2016: I chose to run UTMF in Japan but suffered FOMO watching GNW from home.
2017: I have learned that running this type of a race is more about finishing rather than racing. This year I told myself that I just needed to finish. Finishing would remove my demons that foiled the race attempt 2 years ago. I decided I would have this as a priority in my mind and my “race” would only start when I could be sure of this. I just didn’t know when during the race that this would be.
I decided up front that I would need to run my race solo. I knew it is possible to do it without crew or pacer. Logistics are the main issue with this race as it is point to point, but I had worked out a way to do it. Callum offered to pace in the end and I knew this would be all good for my race so I accepted the offer. It meant that he would be able to drive me home after the finish and there is nothing like sleeping in my own bed afterwards! Not to mention the moral assistance Callum would bring to my journey.
Kylie dropped me off on her lunch break and I took the train from Macarthur to Teralba on the Friday with my big suitcase (thanks Sydney trains 3hr 45min journey $5.95!!!). My cabin accommodation was only 300m walk from the station, so a relaxing day before. When I got there, I sorted all my drop bags and made a final check on race gear then I went for a walk. Bruce Litterick was sharing my cabin, and he was coming up later. Rochelle and family finally arrived (staying next door cabin) and we went to the event dinner at Warners at the Bay Hotel. The race director explained the race start change. Already, due to the dryness, bush fires had begun. There was a large one at Heaton Gap where the race was supposed to pass through. Luckily the race organisation had managed to come up with a great alternative, but the drive to the new start was 40 mins away.
Scary bush fires
Race morning started after a terrible sleep at 3:30am. The race check in was only 400m away and I expected to walk there (with my massive suitcase), but Stephen Redfern (and Pen) came past in his truck and offered Rochelle and I a lift. Fantastic! We checked in, allocated wrist bands, got weighed, had our gear checked and dropped off our drop bags. I picked up my Personal Locator Beacon (one concession to Kylie who insisted I carry one due to the remoteness and wild nature of the race route) and stashed it at the bottom of my bag. Then thanks to the Markey bus (thanks Rebekah), I got to the new start line without nerves. The drive took us past the fires raging away still. We were starting up wind from them and safe, but we didn’t seem that far away and I think we were very fortunate that the race even started. The new start time was 6:30am, but due to the slightly shortened race (2km shorter) all the cut offs remained at the same time of day throughout the race. I hoped the shortened time limit wouldn’t be a problem.
Stage 1 to CP1 (Old Watagan Forestry HQ) 26.4km
Well, I am at the start in the best physical condition I can hope for. There are a few niggles, but these will temper my enthusiasm and stop me going out too hard. I know my main battle will be with my stomach.
The start was very low key and we were off. The road started flat, but soon began to go up and I finally warmed up a bit. The trail was definitely easier than the normal route, but had an out and back part which meant that we could see the front runners which is always great. At about the 18km mark, we re-joined the original race route and still had a fair chunk of the gnarly jungle to negotiate. It is very slow in there, but it is the part of the race that I love to hate and was hoping not too much would be chopped due to the new route. I was not disappointed! Overall I made good time to CP 1 and felt great. I ran in there to a cheer with Kerry Hope (I ran with her quite a bit in the first two stages) who was obviously a crowd favourite. I found my drop bag easily and I think I ate a little too much.
Kerry, myself and another coming into a roaring crowd
Stage 2 to CP2 (Congewai Public School) 52.9km
This stage is the easiest of the race. I had a plan of eating as well as I could for the whole race to try to keep up my energy levels for when the inevitable stomach rebellion happened. It was this strategy (eating too much) where the first rebellion occurred at about the 30km mark! The Tailwind that I was drinking suddenly didn’t go down well. I decided to reset, stop eating for a while and change to drinking straight water. It seemed to do the trick and I felt much better. I then tried another mouthful of Tailwind and the nausea returned. Water it was then and I never touched Tailwind again for the rest of the race. I spent a lot of this stage chatting to other runners, but ran my own pace for the rest of the stage. Once I got to Congewai Rd and the dreaded 8km road run, I found myself alone again. I made pretty good time once I got into my groove and ran most of the way. About 700m from the CP, Kerry caught up to me and we ran in to crowd cheers again! I met up with Rochelle coming out of the checkpoint and we chatted briefly. She was looking strong. Once in the CP, I was weighed (3kg less), gear was checked and Bill helped me out like a well-oiled machine filling my hydration pack and bringing me anything I needed. He has really got the hang of crewing and I left the CP buoyed and happy.
Kerry and I coming into CP3
Stage 3 to CP3 (The Basin Campground) 82.3km
This next stage is one of the hardest and the temperature had risen. I had a forethought to fill my hat with water and doused myself before I left. I think the heat two years ago had a big influence on my DNF. The first big climb is a killer and once at the top I sat on the log and ate some food. I was in this race to finish, not even half way and I knew the stop would reset me after one of the hardest climbs in the race. This stage went well. Whenever I exerted myself too much, I would feel nauseous, so my pace was not pushing too hard. I came upon the point where I took a wrong turn 2 years previous and realised I was well ahead of my pace 2 years ago as then it was beginning to get dark. This time my race avoided that 2km of purgatory of the added out and back and I was enjoying myself.
As I finally got to the really difficult track into the Basin, I realised I was also ahead of my 2012 effort by about 30 minutes. For the next couple of KM, I greeted other runners coming back from The Basin CP. I had a quick chat to Rochelle and realised I was about 30+ minutes behind her. The Basin CP for me is historically one of the best CP’s in the race. This time it did not disappoint. The best pumpkin and carrot soup on earth. This is just what my stomach craved. Sarah and Adam Conner helped me sort my life out. A special thank you to Sarah for understanding what ginger minges are! I couldn’t remember what gin gins were called (ginger chews) and the minges word sort of just popped out! I made the best of the checkpoint and stayed longer than I should which is the story of this race. Thanks Guys!
Just before I left there was a cheer and in ran Kerry again, she had a cheer squad at every checkpoint!
Stage 4 to CP4 (Yarramalong) 102.3km
I had reached The Basin at a perfect time – headlight time! I used my small battery, plenty of power to get me to the next checkpoint. On the 2.5km journey back to the turn off, it was great to see runners coming in the opposite direction. I gave them all the good news – not far now to the fantastic hot soup. The climb out came easy to me and I made good time. Fortunately Rochelle and I had trained on this section a few weeks previous and it had been good to get a refresher.
Nikki, Jochen and I coming into the 102km finish
The steep downhill section to the road was tough on ever fatiguing legs and the final thrill was the pitch black cows and glowing eyes in the paddock at the bottom. These cows must have really wondered what was going on that day. I knew the road section to Yarramalong would be a mental struggle. I started with a run walk strategy that eventually became a constant run once I got my rhythm. I picked up some reflective vests in the distance and this gave me an incentive to catch the next runners. I eventually caught Nikki and Jochen with 5km to go and we ran/walked to the CP. We got our photos taken together across the line and decided on a 15 min stop.
I first grabbed a drink of Coke and it immediately made me nauseous (not normal!). I decided to have some soup, but it was cold. In the end I pfaffed around a lot longer than I should have. Callum was here and helped me out. We were eventually all packed up and ready to go. We checked out then found that we needed another gear check. Bugger! The bag needed to come off and emptied out. I should have been thinking more clearly. In the end, bag packed, light set up with long cable and larger battery, we checked out. The larger battery should last me until daylight now.
Stage 5 to CP5 (Somersby Public School) 130.9km
This stage is one to dread. It was getting very cold. I am glad I took the advice of the gear check people to wear a buff. I was shivering to start with and was looking forward to the climb up Bumble Hill to warm me up. I passed a couple of people up the hill and made much better progress than 5 years ago and passed people rather than was passed. Callum kept me going forward and I don’t think he let me dawdle.
It got really cold on Ourimbah Creek road and I was glad to veer off and up the steep hill. This was also a dreaded climb that keeps on giving. On the second part of the climb, the sleep monsters caught up with me. I had to sit on a rock for 5 minutes and take some caffeine. Just saying, Revvies are disgusting, but 80mg caffeine seemed to get me going again. I was beginning to look forward to the CP and was getting increasingly nauseous. I was threatening to Callum that I wanted to take a 15 min power nap at Somersby. I think he pretty much talked me out of it!
This checkpoint again really well looked after the racers. When we finally got there, a lady came over and sat me by the fire. She fetched me some coffee and some soup. I managed to finish the coffee, but battled through most of the soup. The fire was fantastic and you know the old beware the chair saying was starting to come true. Callum was glad when I finally said I was ready to go. I think he thought I was going to settle in! At least I ended up spending a lot less than the 2+ hours I spent here 5 years ago! I was trying to get my nausea to settle. I even had a tablet for it. In the end I decided I had to get going, it wasn’t going to get any better.
Stage 6 to CP6 (Mooney Mooney) 148.1km
As soon as I left the fire, I got cold again. We started out the gate. I got 20m and emptied the soup onto the verge. I vomited until my stomach was completely empty and immediately felt 200% better. I was so worried that I wouldn’t feel better and wished I had done that hours ago! I love this stage. It was a lot darker than 5 years ago and I knew that I was well ahead of that performance. I was pretty sure I would get to the end so I ticked off the finishing priority. I now needed to try to beat my best time.
It was during this stage that we took a little wrong turn. There had been some work going on under the power wires and we followed the most distinct track. The problem was it went down and we missed the correct route. This cost me perhaps 10 minutes or so. I was so relieved to be on the right track, it didn’t affect me much mentally. Once we got to Mooney Mooney creek, dawn had arrived and it is a special place at that time of the day. I was still not feeling 100% and lacking in energy due to not eating enough. Callum took charge and set me a goal. I had to eat a whole Clif bar. It might have taken me 40 minutes+, but I ate it with water and started to get my energy back. Going under the freeway bridge is always an awesome sight (engineering marvel), knowing we were not far from the CP.
A cold morning in the bush. Happy to see dawn
The entry to the CP had changed and once we crossed the dreaded Pacific highway, it was much safer, but a little hillier. Once I arrived, they needed to weigh me. They then broke the news that I had lost 7%+ of my starting weight and I would have to keep me in until I was back to 6%. That was a whole kg! Lucky they had the best stew in the whole universe. I ate this, a cup of tea, water and some ginger beer. I sweet talked them and they let me go on. In hind sight, if I hadn’t had the stew, I might have only managed to crawl slowly to the finish. I knew to complete the last stage in under 5 hours was a challenge. By the time I left the CP, I had 4hrs 37mins to get under my secret goal best case of 30 hours. I thought that it was out of reach.
Stage 7 to Finish (Patonga) 173.3km
This is a bloody hard stage. Callum worked out that I need to do 11 minute km and this sounded really achievable, but the terrain is unforgiving when you have so many km already in your legs. I knew there were three main climbs and I just gritted my teeth and kept the best pace that I could. When I thought we had finished one climb, there would be another and the sandstone was starting to give off some heat. Callum had been given strict instructions by the last CP crew to make sure I drank every 15 minutes. Dutifully he reminded me. In fact I was a little concerned that I wouldn’t have enough.
Finally we reached the tip and I knew most of the climbs were behind me and had about 5km to go. We started to run a lot more and did a few sub 8 min km, even a 6.xx min km. It still seemed to go on forever and until we reached the road, I was not certain we would get under 30 hours. We started to come upon more hikers and finally the road. We needed to put on our flouro vests for the crossing, otherwise risked a penalty. Once over the road we ran all the way.
My phone started to ring. I think that Kylie had a sixth sense that we were getting close. I just ignored it, I was so focussed to get to the finish. After the 8th time I answered it and said I was on for a sub 30hr finish and I would ring her from Patonga if I had signal. She said GO GO GO! Off we went and it seemed to take forever at the end of the road before we started the downhill 150m quad smashing plunge.
So good to finish!
I just couldn’t wait to hear the bell. We reached the beach and due to the still reasonably high tide, we had to run through water. Well, there was no way I was going to take the long route, I was determined to get to the post ASAP. Just after the boat ramp and the pelicans, they rang the bell and I knew we had been spotted by the finishing reception.
I did my best to look like I was out for a Sunday run. I focussed on making my form as easy as possible and ran well to the finishing post and gave it a big kiss. The last stage was so painful, but I managed my main goal to get under 30 hours. In the end, my time was 29hr 39min. The cumulative effort tipped me over and I struggled to keep a straight face and had a sob. The photos are not the best (at least not smiling), but I got my SILVER medal! I thought sub 5hrs for the last section would be tough, but I managed 4hrs 25mins, 10th place for the stage and overall I finished 23rd place.
Thanks to Chantelle Farrelly for the reception. That empathy made a huge difference to me (loved that gilet!).
Callum played the mind game with me and thank you for all the help. I know I could have finished by myself, but there was no way I would have finished under 30 hours. The house has suffered a bit in the last couple of months with training and exhaustion, thank you Kylie for supporting me and putting up with my goal.
Thanks to Rochelle for the training runs that we shared and the laughs I had at your expense (snakes!). Thank you most of all the Terrigal Trotters Club and volunteers for the day and the opportunity to do some club training runs prior to the event.
Finally, thanks Scotty Hawker and Mile27 coaching
My silver medal!