Now for a completely different type of challenge.
I consider myself a trail ultra runner, running Coast 2 Kosciuszko was going to take me out of my comfort zone, but I never thought that it would be unachievable. It has been a huge year for running and I was looking forward to having a rest after all of this. Coast 2 Kosci is not just about the runner, it is also one of the only events in the world where each runner must have a crew to support. This dimension adds so much to the event and makes it even more appealing to compete.
I had seen C2K come and go, but never considered running it as it was not really my thing. Roll onto to 2015 and Gavin Markey asked if I wanted to crew for Dave Graham. I said yep, willing to give it a go. We had a crew meeting and I was in! Trouble is, Dave pulled out shortly before the event. Instead, we crewed for Andrew Layson as a crew of five. Andrew drew me aside the day before and asked if I would crew for another team as we already had a five person crew. I moved camps and crewed for David Billett (Adelaide) from Cathcart with his Mum and the rest is history. I ended up running over half the distance as a mule and got a kick out of it. I even got a real kick out of David coming 2nd last by the skin of his teeth!
At the end of that weekend in 2015, Gavin and I made a deal that we would both give it a go in 2017. Gavin pulled up a bit lame after GNW miler and couldn’t do it, this sort of race is not the sort to enter half hearted. I had it on my radar (for 2 years!) and had entered the GNW miler to give myself more of a chance to gain entry. I had the best performance at GNW that I could have hoped for, now just needed to carefully prepare for C2K.
I decided to structure my training around races that would serve me well (in conjunction with Scotty Hawker from Mile 27). I entered the Crater Rim Ultra (50km & 2300mD+) in Christchurch NZ to start it off. Strangely enough, a Morton’s neuroma flared up in my left foot the week before and although it was agony I finished well enough. So good to be racing in my home town and I was embarrassingly overdue a visit to see Mum and Dad! The neuroma was a sign it would be a tough training run to C2K.
I had a bit of a break again for a week to recover and then got into some more serious training. I had three good weeks averaging 110-120km with good vertical. I included Carcoar Ultra 60km, where I had a fantastic run. Not super fast overall (still a PB), but Scotty gave me the goal to run negative splits for each 20km block which I did and it gave me more confidence and some ideas on how to run C2K (speed and nutritionally).
Now for the wind down and taper for C2K. My foot was sore, not really an injury, but not making running very enjoyable. There is a lot of organisation that goes into this race. I hired a van to make it as comfortable and roomy as possible and bought quite a bit of gear including 2-way radios and camping stuff. My crew had been sorted 2 weeks after I had confirmation of my entry, Todd, Rochelle and Kylie (wife). I could not have chosen a more disparate bunch. One organised bossy machine, one easy going dude with focus and one redhead who loves to run. What a crew to pick (all newbies too), at least I could spend all the time on the road! From my point of view, I could not have asked for more from C2K virgins. All were fixated on the summitting of their runner and I never felt I was forgotten. Except for the flyscreen incident (more on that later).
A fair chunk of the prior weekend was spent packing. Preparing food and tubs of gear which were all highly organised by Kylie. I think she was stressing more than me, but it is a different stress, at least I knew exactly what I had to do, she was going into the unknown. The Wednesday before, I had to pick up the rental van. I had done quite a lot of research into the vehicle, then it was a search of where I could rent a Hyundai iMax from. In the end I ended up having to pick one up from Darlinghurst. A big hassle, but worth it for comfort and space.
Todd and I took turns driving to Eden on Thursday morning. I was stressed, wanting my crew to get into the atmosphere of the race by participating in the Cossie to Coast event. I didn’t want to get to Eden too late. Todd and Rochelle competed and really enjoyed the tough little 7km fun event. Kylie was saving herself for the Kosci summit.
Sleep the night before was not all that good. Perhaps 4 or 5 hours only, but I knew that would be the case and had tried to get as much sleep the previous week as possible to make up. The alarm set for 3:45am went off well after I had woken. Here we go, the big day! All I had to do was liberally lube and have some breakfast. Weetbix is all I usually have and that was heaps. Toileting wasn’t much and I resigned myself to carrying the whole lot to the summit. The only thing that moves in an ultra for me is my limbs! We were staying only a short drive from the start of the race, I am not the sort to be late and I had to be check in between 5am and 5:15am for a 5:30am start. We got there in plenty of time. The obligatory photos, touch the water and then we are all lined up ready to go. There was definitely a buzz of anticipation, especially from 13 of us C2K virgins.
Stage 1 to Towamba School (24km)
A very discrete, low key count down and off we go. Keep the sand out of shoes type of shuffle seemed the best approach, but I still got a bit of grit in there. I chose Hoka Speedgoat 2 shoes in the end as they had served me well over all sorts of terrain and cushioned my neuroma. Even so, the first 70km was very painful, but I wasn’t worried as I could deal with that pain. I talked to Nikki, Jeri, Rene, David and more than I can remember and really took it easy. The first 24km is beautiful and peaceful with bush clad hills that I enjoy. The trail ran out after about 4 km and now we were on gravel road / sealed road for the rest of the race. I just took it easier than I thought I should, although relentlessly forward and was looking forward to seeing my crew for the first time. In fact I was practicing running slow. I got to the checkpoint and the crew were ready with a table and anything I would need. I grabbed half a bacon and egg roll and lollies and said I’ll see them in 4 km, off we go!
To CP1 (Rocky Hall 50km)
This section to me was pretty uneventful. I didn’t push too hard, cruised and took it easy as I knew there would be plenty of time to dig deep later. I chatted to Sharon quite a bit during this stage (I think). The windows of the van started to get plastered by signage. My nieces and nephews in New Zealand were sending me encouragement and Todd was transforming them to signs on the windows. Whoa, tell Uncle Stephen I will buy him a pony! (My 4yo niece said). Miss 15yo “Run like you stole it!” Mr 13yo “Eat my dust” and Mr 7yo “run like a cheetah”. I didn’t understand the “only 3 or 4 km to go”, but later realised that was to the next crew stop.
Rocky Hall was achieved without much drama, honey wraps were the fuel of choice for most of this section. We had brought along 2-way radios that they were good fun and helpful too. Todd would be the welcoming committee 100m+ from where the van stopped and would call in the runner requirements.
To CP2 (Cathcart 70km)
Next major milestone was Big Jack. This is a 7km hill climb where a crew member was permitted to accompany the runner. Rochelle drew the short straw and off we went. She brought her poles along, I gave them a go but was not familiar with them and still had plenty of energy, so only tested them. The hill seemed to block out radio coverage until right at the end, so it was difficult to forewarn the crew. Never mind though, I was happy to have a quick break. I ate some cold tinned spaghetti there and it went down a treat. One more stop then Cathcart. As the crew drove past, they asked me what I would like at Cathcart. I yelled out Ice cream! Lo and behold when I got to Cathcart, Kylie held out a fly hood. In my grumpy manner I asked what’s that for? That’s what you asked for! No I didn’t, yes you did, you asked a for a fly screen! Ahh, the penny dropped, not fly screen, ice cream! I really saw the funny side them. Todd raced into the shop and got me one. No time lost and it was just divine.
To CP3 (Snowy River Way 106.7km)
The country now started to get a lot more open and exposed and, like, BIG. Straight after Cathcart, we turned right, back onto gravel again I was slowly catching up to Jeri Chua. She suddenly stopped in the middle of the road just ahead. By the time I caught her, a crew car had stopped beside her too, then a member of the public behind the crew car. I wondered what could be wrong. Just as I got there, a large red belly black snake slithered across the road and into the verge in front of Jeri and the car. It was great to see, although I did not see much other live wild life during the whole race. Most of the time it was road kill and was normally smelled before being seen! I caught up to Kevin Heaton and passed him, then caught up to Jane Trumper for a chat. I decided to tuck in with Jane for awhile and draw from her experience, we both enjoyed the company. Kevin then went past and surged on ahead in his run/walk style. We finally got to the dead tree at 102km (just under 13 hours) and Jane said she was on PB pace. I know the race wouldn’t really start until Jindabyne, so I was happy to idle along with Jane. Sooner or later I knew it would start to get hard going. We finally made it to CP3 at about 7:30pm with still plenty of daylight.
To CP4 (Dalgety 148km)
This is when the race just got a lot harder. Generally I had been enjoying myself with food going down OK, alternating between more solid food and lollies. We left the CP, planning to meet up in 7km, but for some reason, Jane’s crew only went 5 km up the road. We were planning to have a slightly extended break and get more food down and prepare for lights and the first pacer to join me. I ate most of a pot noodle and Rochelle was going to do the first pacing stint to Dalgety. One of Jane’s crew, Sarah Jane, had bad gastro, so it was decided that my crew car would service both Jane and I, while they went and dropped SJ off at Dalgety where she could be miserable in comfort for a while. So off Rochelle, Jane and I went into the sunset. We were hoping to get to the wind turbines before it was too dark, but no luck, they never seemed to get close very quick. As the night wore on, I seemed to get more nauseous as the sleep monsters took hold. Jane’s crew finally returned, but we still stayed together for some time. At about 7km from Dalgety, I suddenly felt really ill. I don’t really remember the sequence of events very well, but the van must have been nearby. I flopped into a chair and couldn’t go any further. Jane carried on into the dark. I vomited everything out of my stomach, but it mostly seemed like fluids. I finally pulled myself together and was only stopped for 17 mins. I ate some apple to clear my palate and off we went. I took it a little easier from then on, grateful for Rochelle’s company. We came upon the crew just at Dalgety where there was a fork. They wanted to make sure that we took the correct one into the checkpoint, I was just concerned that they weren’t getting enough rest. the notes show that I arrived at 3am and then left at 3:44am so this was a long stop.
Before entering the hall, I had to be weighed, just 1.6kg lighter than when I started so all good and maybe a little heavy. Entering the hall was like walking into a furnace. I was feeling nauseous and was keen to sit down. Perhaps it wasn’t the wisest choice? A volunteer asked if I was OK and I asked if there was a medic to tape up my toes. She arranged for Matt the medic to come over. I was going to change my shoes anyway to Hoka Cliftons as the Goats were starting to hurt. I admired his willingness to get in and tend to my feet while I busied myself gazing into the bottom of a green bucket. This is where I vomited what little was in there back up again. The middle three toes on both feet were blistered, I think because I was clawing them. I saw Jane leave whilst I was feeling miserable. I chatted to other crews, summoning the courage to leave and go back out in the cold. My only regret here was giving Kylie the bucket to empty in the toilets, I think the whole hall heard the retching sound effects that she made doing it. Not that I realised at the time, but this is where my crew were not feeling that good either.
To CP5 (Jindabyne 184km)
Eventually I started to feel better and off I went. It was pretty slow, but over time I warmed up. I had Todd as company and enjoyed his subtle ways of getting me to move a bit faster. My nausea had mostly passed and I was hoping to make a bit better progress. I felt I would have Jane as a target to catch up to again. I sent Kylie and Rochelle 7km ahead so they could get a bit of sleep themselves. We saw a line of crew cars stretched out in the distance with lights flashing and was trying to pick which one ours was. In this section before Beloka, there were lots of runners and crew cars, all struggling through that difficult pre-sunrise period where the body is at its lowest ebb. We eventually caught up to the van and I insisted I needed a quick sleep break. Todd and I hopped in the back and Todd said we were having 10 mins sleep (no complaints!). I feel asleep instantly, then woke up 5 mins later in a panic wondering if we had been there hours and was anyone looking at the time. Todd was trying to sleep too and said he had the alarm set, I had slept 5 and had another 5. Instantly I fell asleep and before you know it I’m back out in the cold climbing Windy Hill. One of my most favourite spots on the course for good reason.
My instructions to the girls was that they should go forward 4km or to the bottom of Beloka hill. Todd and I arrived at Beloka and they weren’t there, their name was mud! As it turned out Beloka was only a couple of km and they came on the hill without realising it so went up and found a fantastic stopping point with a view (forgiven!). I had more spaghetti and coffee here which was really hitting the spot now and was a great breakfast. I had passed several runners at the bottom of the hill and then they re passed me. Including Keith and Jeri who were powering up the hill with a little speaker blaring out Oasis. The singing was terrible, but it looked like they were enjoying themselves even though they were on the wrong side of the road!
I carried on up the hill and was passed by Jan for the first time. He is just an amazing hiker! At the top of the hill, most of the other runners stopped for a break, but I carried on as I was feeling good. It was here I made quite a break on those runners and although Jan passed me again, there was plenty of downhill and my running was starting to go well again and I re-passed Jan. We made good time into Jindabyne and passed Greg Wallace on the bike path. It was starting to warm up a bit now, but I didn’t stop at the check point and it was Rochelle’s turn to run.
To CP6 (Perisher 219km)
The next part was running (well more walking this stage!) with Rochelle. I knew now that the road would go up a bit more. The day was getting warm and the asphalt reflected back quite a bit of heat. Flies were beginning to be a problem and I got the opportunity to use the fly netting hoods. They really made a difference, but made it much more difficult to eat and drink. Kylie had bought me a really cold almond milk based chocolate breakfast drink which went down a treat. At about the 195km mark, for some reason I started to get serious sleep monsters again. there was nothing else, but to have another quick kip. The crew put a cold wet towel on me in the back seat, I didn’t go to sleep immediately, but I slept for about 8 minutes which gave me a welcome boost. My ITB was beginning to get tight as it had over the last 50km or so. I stretched out my glutes which fixes it and gets me moving better with less pain. It still continued to get hotter and hotter as there was no breeze until we got well inside the National Park and away from the thicker bush. Although it was hot, I did not over heat. I was wearing all white (including white arm cooling sleeves) on the top half of my body which really seemed to make a difference.
Once we got to the National Park Gates, Rochelle got her poles out. I decided to give them a go under her tuition. I used one at a time first to get them going in the right rhythm, then I soon got the hang of it and did not want to give them back. I had really requested Rochelle to bring them for the possible snow on the trek from Charlotte’s, but now I found out what sort of advantage they can give and wouldn’t give them back! Somewhere along here Todd took another turn running with me. Once into the National Park, I also found I had got ahead of a few runners, the crew cars coming past thinned out a bit, except for Jan’s wife, I knew the walker was not too far away! Eventually I could see Smiggin Holes way up ahead and Todd pointed out what we thought was another runner, that might be Jane, I’ll try to catch her. After Smiggin Holes, Rochelle swapped with Todd so that he could be ready for the trek to the summit. Passing through Perisher was like passing through somewhere after a nuclear holocaust. Everything closed up and mothballed for the summer season, I could only imagine what it would be like during winter.
To the finish (Charlotte’s Pass, 2nd time 240km)
After the long up hill from Perisher then onto the downhill. I saw someone in the distance who was walking. That prompted me to run and I caught Brett Easton. He said his stomach had given up the ghost, something I can relate to, but for once the only thing slowing me down was my right achilles. We got to Charlotte’s Pass, but it seemed to take forever. I stopped and changed into some warmer clothes and prepared for the trip up.
Gear check had to be done, but the marhals said I could start my way up while my crew looked after all the gear checking. They then checked the slowest person’s gear first, which was Kylie and she caught me up first. Then it was off we go as a team. I knew the time of the day was going to be nearly perfect. From this point until the start of the trek down, we didn’t dawdle, but my goal time of under 40 hours was forgotten about. I think I was just overcome with the fact that there was absolutely no doubt by hook or by crook that I was not going to finish this beast. I was so pleased to be doing this in daylight, two years ago I did this at night and I think I missed out on so much. This is only the second time I had been up here!
We had been told that there was still snow up there, there were quite a few patches about that made the hills look like orca’s when the light dropped to semi dark. Just before Seaman’s hut there was a patch right beside the track, my crew stopped for the obligatory photos, I just carried on, wanting it to be all over. Next came Rawson’s Pass and I had to use those high toilets. There was now quite a chill in the air. We then came upon Jane with her crew (Adam) and all wished each other luck and congratulations. Just before the large snow patch we came upon Andy the medic who had a coffee shop set up for orders on the way down. I ordered hot chocolate, but there was a shortage of fuel so the others missed out. He wished us well and offered poles for the icy patch. He had cut steps in it, but it was still pretty slippery and Kylie took a set to take the pressure off her knee as it wasn’t strong on the slippery terrain. Andy said we would be the only team on the summit.
For only 700m, it seemed to take an age to get to the top and then we were there. I had only one thing in mind and that was to get on the monument and stand on it with my $8 NZ flag. We felt like we were on top of the world. All up, we were up there for about 18 minutes. Brett Easton and crew made it up behind us and they took some photos of us all together, then we took one of him and crew. It was time to go just as Jan reached the summit. It was now a dash to Charlotte’s and to beat 40 hours.
We had a very brief stop with Andy for the hot chocolate, but I apologised that we were on a mission. We calculated that we needed to travel at minimum 10 minute per km and we would be there in time. That was pretty tight for my legs, so off we marched and Todd went out front pacing at 8 min per km fast hike. This was easily fast enough, but I didn’t want to leave anything to chance, so I didn’t want to put the brakes on even though I wasn’t feeling the best. We kept on getting waylaid by runners coming up, Nikki, Doug, Damon, Renae, Sharon, Taras, Greg, Jeri. Sorry Guys if you felt we didn’t greet you for long, but I had a tight schedule.
It was getting pretty dark, putting on head torches would take time and we were hoping to beat darkness. My crew got theirs out, I just kept on going and used the light from them, there was no way I could break into much of a run. Suddenly there was the 1km to go marker, but OMG, it seemed to take forever to get to the finish. I was struggling with the pace and slowed down a bit. I was confident we had plenty of time. The crew didn’t hold my confidence and tried to encourage me to go faster.
I think that last bit seemed to play with my head. The finish was hidden around a last corner and we could not be sure until the last second, but finally I was there. The crew allowed me to cross by myself while they recorded it for posterity. I got the flag out just before the finish and the race director Paul gave me a hug. They sat me down and Kylie went to the car for a blanket although I didn’t feel cold immediately. Matt the medic came over and questioned me, making sure I was all OK. I was just exhausted, I didn’t have much emotion, the race had robbed me of that, I was just so relieved to have finished and within my goal time sub 40 hours. The race was harder than I thought, but I never thought the whole way that I wouldn’t finish. The 40 finishers out of 42 starters is a testament to the quality of the starters, it felt a privilege that Paul and Diane had the confidence that I would finish.
The wind down
Now for the drive down to Jindabyne, which wasn’t without its dramas. Avoiding wildlife, including a huge owl that flew up from the middle of the road, then a head torch that dropped to the floor and switched itself on and blinded the driver. I don’t know how Todd managed to drive in such a tired state, but I was very grateful he got us there in one piece. Luckily the crew had checked us in earlier in the day when we ran through and grabbed the key, as the only thing I needed was my bed. My head was whirling and I think I was constantly having micro sleeps and dreaming at the same time so I don’t think I was very coherent. Everything hurt, but I managed to have a shower and hit the sack. I fell asleep immediately.
The next morning I felt much better. Not very mobile, but my head was back together. We had breakfast with all the crews and the dining room was abuzz, then waited for the prize giving to start at 9am. There was crowd clamouring to get in, suffering in the sun, but finally they were ready and opened the doors.
Paul spoke about the race and with so much emotion. Everyone was presented with either hat pin (repeat offenders) or Akubra hat and pin (newbies). I can’t believe how much mine suits me! My crew and another crew were presented with a bottle of wine and the Richard Peacock memorial crew award for helping Jane Trumper’s crew in their moment of strife with crew sickness. This is an example of what this race is like. Everyone helps each other, be it crews or competitors. Every runner had low points, but everyone knew how much they wanted a finish, there was no shortage of encouragement or assistance from anyone.
This is the point where I would like to thank all the people who supported me in my goal to finish this race. Thanks to Todd for flying down from Northern NSW for the sole purpose of crewing for me, being a PT working for himself, he also didn’t earn anything during that time. Thanks to Rochelle for the company during training runs and also donating her time to support me in the race. Thanks to Scotty Hawker for the coaching and getting me to the finish in one piece. Thanks Callum also for the training runs. It’s much better then doing them alone. Finally to Kylie. She put up with me on a daily basis complaining and grumpy when I was tired. She picked up the slack in the household when I was spending so much time training this year. Kylie was also instrumental in the massive organisation feat that goes with this race. If it wasn’t for her organising, that van would have looked like a bomb site inside. To do this race takes a bit of cash and Kylie encouraged me and supported me to do it no expense spared. Lastly, the race direction and volunteer dedication for the event is second to none.
Now, initially I thought I will never do it again. I have changed that to “I will run it again, but not next year”. Hopefully 2017 wasn’t just luck!
From a different point of view – Guest words from Kylie, part of the super crew and long suffering wife.
I support Stephen’s running, but I’m just not a fan of ‘the big ones’. I’ve seen him after the 100km at the medical room vomiting, half out of it, totally munted and just don’t get it. As for the miler’s, just don’t go there all I have is the stories from others. He entered C2K after spending 2 years trying to explain and get me to understand his need and absolute wish to do it. He entered and I prayed, even considered contacting the race director begging for him not to be accepted as this really wasn’t the race for him
I didn’t and just hoped against hope whatever communication came from the race director went to his junk email!
We waited and waited then all of a sudden one Sunday morning while he was standing at the kitchen bench, I heard him roar YES!!
Shut up I told him! My worst fears had come to fruition, he’d gotten in!
This fella may be able to clock up the Strava km’s, but he’s crap at online banking, I could not believe my luck when I see his entry fee had been returned as he’d sent it to an unknown account. Hmmm, perfect, his C2K ain’t gonna happen.
Only then I decided that he had put so much into this over the last 2 years, he’d better give it a go.
In typical Stephen style, his organisation was last minute. In fact if it wasn’t for my harping, he’d still be getting around to booking the time off work. Pre race organising is not his strong point and how he expects to pack the night before a jaunt like that, one will never know. The week before, I spent 8 hours with him packaging 15 minute lots of chicken crimpies, lollies, Xmas cake and other food he decided he’d need.
I’m still not sure how I feel about the few hours of you tube we watched the weekend prior. The emotion behind this epic adventure probably made me more stressed than ever but when I was actually living it, it all seemed to fall in to place if that makes sense.
I’m not an ultra runner, but in the last few years have given a few runs a go and call my 22km one of his ultras. I enjoy reading race reports and getting ideas about what others eat and do, to enable a finish. Spaghetti, Kendal mint cake and instant mash were hot tips and absolute winners. The mountain of food he’d requested wasn’t used.
I like to be organised, structured and yes, bossy. Dithering is not my strong point, so having the 2-way radios was perfect. Took the food orders and prepped in time for him to pass.
Sleep was interesting. I’m a regular afternoon napper but found I needed very little during the race. Being a rookie meant I had no clue to the fact I was singing (something I just don’t do), feeling nauseous, couldn’t look at food, let alone people meant I was well overdue sleep.
My biggest fear happened before Dalgety…..he was vomiting but this time it was different, he was in good spirits. He was focussed, strong and still committed. This was just a glitch. Now I knew he’d made an awesome decision to enter. When I finally snoozed for 20 minutes after Dalgety, I felt heaps better.
Stephen’s mid morning snooze just after Jindabyne, he claims he had “under control”. Bollocks! I’d watched a YouTube about a C2K entrant who has trained himself to have 3 minute sleeps. I figured old mate was untrained, so I’d give him 8-12 minutes sleep. How funny @ 10 minutes I wake him up and say get out there. He’s like I’ve had no sleep and I’m like yeah, you’ve had an hour. That made him move!!!
He totally powered on then and caused his crew no issue till he tried to argue the finish was closer than it was. Seriously Stephen, I think the crew were way more with it than you!!!:)
Looking back I cannot believe what sort of fool runs 240km just for kicks but hey I’ll run with that, he seemed to enjoy it and it was pretty cool to be a part of that dream.