Thursday, 22 December 2005

from Zero to 240km in one year


Coast to Kosciuszko Race Report 240km

I thought I better get off my fat ass and actually write something about my experiences at this year’s Coast to Kosciuzsko race before the memories start to slide.

My racing schedule over the past few years left a lot to be desired. A mix of laziness and corporate entertaining had taken its toll on my fitness. I managed 4:20 at the London Marathon on two weeks training in 2004. I was disappointed in that result so then started to train properly with Brian from Sporting Spirit. I set the 2004 Melbourne Marathon as my target race. This was significant because I had run my Marathon personal best (3:30) in 1984, 20 years earlier. My training for Melbourne went well but I injured a ligament in my left knee in an “idiotic injury incident” so I was out. No more races for 2004.

2003 Racing Schedule
No races

2004 Racing Schedule
London Marathon 42km

On New Year’s Eve in 2004 I decided to lose 10kg of body weight and run in the Comrades Marathon. My preparation went well and I was thrilled to have met both of my 2005 objectives of losing 10kg and completing the Comrades.

2005 Racing Schedule
Maroondah Dam 52km
6 foot track 46km
Canberra 50km
Brisbane 42km
Wahalla 65km (included 15km in addition to the course)
Williamstown 42km
Comrades 89km

After I completed Comrades in June I decided to see how far I could take my running in one calendar year. As you can see from the list below I managed finish quite a few long races.

2005 Racing Schedule continued
Gold Coast 100km
Sydney Trailwalker 100km
GH100 161km
NZ 24hr 163km
Melbourne 42km
Two Bays Trail 28km
Coast to Kosciuszko 240km

This report relates to the last, and longest, run on that list.

The C2K thread had been stagnant for a month and I was worried that interest in the race had fallen away since the official race status had not got through its various hoops.

I had managed to get a good finish at the Glasshouse 100 mile race, On paper I felt that I had the CV that would allow me to finish at C2K. I decided to strip all the mental and physical aspects of the decision aside and decided to give it a shot on the basis of the work that had been completed so far in 2005, I knew I could get to the top of Kosi because of races that I had done so far in 2005. In the end it was one of those “fuck it, lets give it a shot” impulsive decisions. No one chooses to run 240km the first time from logic and considered analysis, there needs to be a reckless component to the decision process.

I didn’t really worry too much about crew, in fact I thought that I might be able to give it a go without support. I remember Richard advising me that this was a dumb idea and that it would be certain death to consider taking on this event without support. I heeded his advice and went into crew recruitment mode. I won’t bore you with the details of the various crews only that Sean had offered to assist ‘at the pointy end’ if I needed help. I assumed the pointy end was the part of the race that occurs after 100 miles, ie. The last 80km.

Sean’s offer firmed up to the point where I’d only need to share support for the first 45km.

The evening before the race I flew into Merimbula on my private jet and managed to hitch a lift for the 25km to Eden with a Truckie called Darren who had a very entertaining Blue Dog (nicknamed Wayne) causing all sorts of chaos in cab of his rig. I was dropped at the Shadrack resort where there was a fantastic view of the ocean and an oil rig that was in from Bass strait for repairs.

The dinner at the Eden Fisherman’s club was nice and the beer was cold, Paul Every did an appropriate and stately speech, the various crews and runners made small talk about anything except C2K, I suspect that we were all shitting ourselves, at least I was. Funny enough, as I was leaving I ran into the Truckie and his dog who were procuring several long neck bottles of beer. The Truck man offered to get me back to Shadrack (4.5km from Eden) and I settled down into my luxury suite in the hotel.

I must admit I managed almost zero minutes of sleep on the night before the race, a combination of equipment faffing and nerves took away any desire to rest. Before I knew it one of my three alarms sounded at 4am. I had anally laid out my gear in the order that I’d put it on and called on my friendly Truckie and his belligerent Blue Dog to assist me with some foot taping.

Soon after Sean and Mel arrived having left Sydney late on Thursday and driven through the night taking time out to kip along the way. I promptly advised the Truckster and the Dawg that they were past their use by date and transferred my attention to Sean and Mel. Sean checked my foot tape and we were off to the start.

The start was amazing, lots of pictures and a festival like atmosphere, heaps of good luck hugs and back slapping. The beach was flat, the sun was nudging the horizion and we all performed some sort of ritual. Lawrence, Jan and Paul filled little bottles of water to be taken to the summit, I decided to get my feet soaked in an uncoordinated duel with the surf and took a mouthful of seawater that would travel with me to the top of Kosi.

A few minutes past 5:30am Paul drew a line in the sand, we all got behind it for the start of the second run to Kosciuszko. As usual in these long runs the field stayed together for the first couple of kilometres then Paul, Martin and Kelvin as the three most accomplished runners took their place at the front and proceeded to ascend the first bit out of Eden as if they were running in the World Mountain running championships.

I took my position in the field, seventh out of seven and deliberately held back so that I would not burn out too quickly, this proved difficult as I was feeling good and wanted to be part of the fun going on up ahead. Truckie and Blue Dog were omni present ferrying water bags and generally being cheerful.

At about the 4km mark we saw all the crews, the race at this point had the feeling of a big race with cars leapfrogging each other and a high degree of fussing going on. Sean and Mel were catching up on some sleep back at Shadracks resort, this is exactly where I wanted them. The early parts of the race were not too demanding from a support crew perspective and a rested crew in the latter stages would prove valuable.

Through the next twenty or thirty km I remember school buses passing and large trucks stirring up dust, through this section I was being fed waterbags, bananas and the odd bread based appetiser from RB, Gaby and Kelvin’s crew (Lis and Garry). Things were getting hot and my HR went to 160bpm despite my slow pace.

I crossed the marathon in about 5hrs 20min ish. I remember Robert telling me that Richard had had a quick dip in the creek where the causeway marks the 42.2km. I also remember looking at my Garmin and noticing that it was more like 44.5km . But who cares what the distance is, we only have one objective and that is the summit of Mt Kosi (+9km).

Rolling along the next 20km was loads of fun, not. It was getting bloody hot, and dusty. It was along this section that my insect repellent somehow got onto the nozzle of my camelbak and onto my hands and onto the waterbags and into my gut. Needless to say I was feeling crook. In fact my tummy was never really good through the whole race. I was consuming my home made goo which tasted disgusting so I was surviving on a staple of glucose jelly beans and powerbars. Soon after I had a vanilla crisp powerbar, the first of my twenty that I had purchased especially only to discover that they have peanut flour as an ingredient, mmm what to do… My peanut allergy has never been a real problem so long as I don’t eat peanuts, this left me with a small issue of 20 useless powerbars which I had purchased in the states and were now a useless passenger on the highway to hell.

You guessed it I was listening to prime vintage AC/DC on my MP3 player, in fact I didn’t give a shit what my stupid stomach was up to I just had a fantastic array of cool sounds coming through my earphones.

I decided to push hard up Big Jack Mountain just to test my resolve for the first time. My tactic for this hill was to assume that it would never end. I decided that every corner would have a switchback that went up again. Sure it was hard but I felt good. At the top I saw Richard refuelling, he had obviously pushed hard as well because I was trying to catch him on the hill. I decided to keep going for the moment and rest a bit later.

It was a nice feeling getting that mountain out of the way, I can’t really remember what was going on with the crew apart from Mel telling me that I was going fast. It is probably worth mentioning that our team mascot, Dave, the rabbit, was doing a terrific job in his role as morale officer and wiggling his nose lots which was a hugely motivating factor in my progress.

Sean and Mel were kept busy making me honey sandwiches and giving me cordial bottles. It looked like I wouldn’t be eating much of the stuff I’d asked them to get on my behalf.

There has been much discussion on the CR bulletin board on how to crew for a runner; in many respects I probably needed a lesson on how to be crewed for because it was my first time with a crew.

Prior to the race I had given Sean specific instructions that I needed him to be hard on me, not to let me get away with too much. I knew this advice was going to come back to haunt me at some point during the run. But, for now, I was travelling well.

I can’t remember when I passed Jan and Lawrence but they were behind me at this point, but not too far because Gabi was still screaming past on a regular basis. I think I was on schedule to get to the Dragon Swamp Bridge at around 3:30pm, which made 10hrs of running so far. My plan was to run 8min/km for the first 70km and to have 5x 5 min breaks in the first 10 hours. I had asked Mel and Sean not to let me sit down until I had run 100km. From past experience at Glasshouse and NZ 24hr I knew that I’d probably need a rest at about 80 or 90km.

Being a total technophile, gadget geek freak I had created a triple redundancy wireless comms system that meant that I’d be able to communicate with my crew at any point. This system used GSM in built up areas, CDMA in rural and lightweight UHF 2way radios in remote areas.

I think it was around 80km that I radioed Sean to sat that I wanted to conduct some foot maintenance, the 2way was also good because I could let them know from a few km out what my food and liquid needs were. This system worked well.

I sat down and I think Sean asked me If I wanted to switch shoes, “nah, I didn’t bring any spares shoes or clothes” I replied. “What you’re going the whole thing in one set of gear?” Sean responded with a horrified look. Lesson for next year, more than one outfit.

At this point I was stopping roughly every 10 or 12km, I think. Sean and Mel cruised by in the kombi and Sean gave me a target, make the Dalgety Rd turnoff (104.3km) by sunset. The next section was from Bibbenluke across all the cattle grids through higher country was the most enjoyable for me, not only was it extremely beautiful in fading light but I was in an euphoric state. I was pushing hard because I wanted to complete the challenge that Sean had set me. Travelling through here I was visited by a farmer complete with sheepdog on the back of a trail bike who rode beside me for about a mile because he thought I could use some company, I can’t remember his name but I think his dog was called Silver. Anyhow future C2K runners watchout for friendly farmers along this section at about the 100km mark. I think it was around 8:30pm on Friday night.

I think I was a little behind target when I got to the Dalgety Rd turn off but the team were very happy with my progress. May need to be corrected but we’re at about 105km and roughly15hrs into the race.

The night-time section was really blurry so these next bits may seem a bit scant.

I think I first experienced micro-sleeps at around 10pm which is really early for me and it took lots of concentration to keep moving in a straight line.

For the next 40km or so All I really remember is Sean pacing me through the most brilliant starry night in the middle of nowhere. We seemed to be moving quickly and we were both wearing headlamps and our world was that thin beam of light that cocoons you from the surrounding darkness. At some point along here I listened to the Church’s song “under the milky way” a few times and it seemed like I was the only person in the world, I was still stumbling around from tiredness and no matter how close my pacer was I still felt alone, it was a similar feeling that I got at the Glasshouse race. For some reason this is how I imagine a mother of a newborn who gets up in the early morning to feed a screaming child must feel kind of like solitary confinement, total seclusion, aloneness.

Along here somewhere we stumbled upon the ever-resourceful Mel who was adept to building warming fires and cooking hot food. Was it here we had a great pasta? Wherever it was it was great. My stomach was still not happy and felt crook for the first half an hour after any food, nothing to do with the cooking just a crap constitution.

Mel took over the pacing duties for the next hour or two and boy did she do a good job. Her focus was on walking. Walking in events like this is inevitable. Mel gave me my marching orders. When we run we run as far as I did with Sean. When we walk we walk fast, walk with purpose, big steps. I’m sure Mel got me through that section much faster because she walked me faster, no stuffing around.

The new target was Dalgety by 3am (?) phew and we pushed hard to get there. What a quaint and secluded little place. Can you imagine what a place like Dalgety is up to at 3:30am on a Friday night? Right, nothing!

Moving along we decided to shorten the breaks. I ran by myself again and selected some hard driving electronic music to keep me going. The van was parked near a cemetery (thanks guys) at the top of a hill four km or so from the Beloka range Mel handed me a cup of hot coffee which always spurs on a gastrointestinal reaction apart from the awakening qualities. 400m after I have left the van I see Kelvin’s Subaru and with Lis ferreting around in the boot. Soon after I see Garry. Lis kindly loaned me some toilet paper. As I’m pushing off I see and hear Kelvin in the passenger’s seat. Turns out he had a rest and would be back on the road quite soon. (bloody good strategy).

Sean comes past to get the coffee cup and asks where Kelvin is. “He’s in the car” Quick as a flash. “that makes you third, get moving”. I did move, I ascended the Beloka range and went through 100miles in about 25:30 (?) got to the top feeling ok but not great. Collected a honey sandwich and waited for van to disappear around a corner and chucked the food away. After a few more Km I was given some fruitcake and more sandwiches and did the same, threw the food to the Currawongs. I was finding it difficult to take in any calories, even cordial was not working.

Was it here that things started to deteriorate for me? Sitting and writing this, it certainly seems like I was on road to nowhere. At the top of a big hill Mel cooked me a fantastic looking rice meal, which I rejected. Robert appeared on the scene soon after and paced me for ages. I was not eating and only drinking water.

Passing through Jindabyne Sean and Mel turned up with a box of icy poles. These were fantastic, I had no problem keeping them down.

The long section up to Charlottes took forever, At 186km I was walking almost all the way. Robert kept pushing me but there was very little left. A 10min nap at 200km sparked me into action for a little while.

Martin and crew came past then a few hours later Paul came through both looked in better shape than me.

Somewhere before Smiggins (208km) Kelvin ran past me like a man possessed, before I knew it he’d put a whole kilometre into me. Things got tough. Sean took over pacing duties. I was tired, cranky and probably not very nice to be with but we kept walking.

At Perisher I felt like I had almost Perished. I lay down on the ground and slept for 5min. It was cold but I didn’t care anymore, I so wanted this bloody thing to end and I needed sleep.

We finally got to Charlottes and started the climb, my feet were mince meat and the trail is made from rocks the size of golf bals, Mel and Sean were fantastic.

I probably would not have risked going up from Charlottes if I didn’t have Sean and Mel to pace me through that last 18km section. Getting there was fantastic but it was very much a case of “tick, I’m freezing, just get me out of here before I collapse”, not an anticlimax but no real reason to linger in the dark after the picture had been taken.

A funny thing has changed. It’s my perspective on the whole debate around the split between mental vs. physical strength. This year when people asked me how it’s possible to finish a 50km plus event I’ve responded that it’s 90% mental. Training only takes you so far, and then you need to mentally manage the race so that you get to the end in reasonable shape, that’s still true.

C2K was different, my nutrition strategy was less than perfect nothing to do with the crew, I just didn’t eat enough) and I had to rely on my (poorly fuelled) body to get me through, no amount of positive thinking could have kept me going, it came down to training, no, it probably came down to physical experience which is different to training, my body just knew what level to operate at for the last 55km.

Overall this physical experience was gained in this year’s events. Sounds basic but until C2K I never thought I would find myself in a DNF situation, 5km out of Charlottes the acronym came into my head for the first time in my life, it was a close one.

Thank you Richard you were right, I needed a crew. I needed a crew that had the guts to say no.

Dave and Sean and Mel got me through this one, thank you.

Thanks to all the runners who started and thanks to the various crews who made it possible for each runner to participate.

Thanks to all the families that put up with our ultrarunning absence.


At 23 December 2005 at 8:35 pm, Blogger Robert Song said...

What an fantastic achievement. And a great read to boot. Well done Brendan.

At 24 December 2005 at 3:29 pm, Blogger plu said...

Well done.


At 29 December 2005 at 7:21 am, Blogger Horrie said...

Great report Brendan on a sensational effort. That certainly capped off a great year for you. Well done!


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