Sunday, 31 December 2006

Spanking the mammoth again!

Coast to Kosciuszko Ultramarathon 2006 Race Report

Having completed last year’s C2K, I knew what to expect from the race but did not enter it as well prepared as I would have liked. I’d already had three disappointing races in 2006: I had my first ever DNF at the Bogong to Hotham race after just missing the Langford gap cutoff, though I dismissed this disappointing performance due to the race taking place only three weeks after last year’s C2K. Then in September, I DNFed at around 130km into the GH100 race, which was followed a month later by a sub par run at the Sri Chinmoy 24hr in Adelaide where I only managed 143km.

I decided that things needed to change and realised that training was the only solution. After some good weeks of preperation the Brindabella 55km came around and I managed to finish in 5:19, which I was happy with especially considering that I injured my right quad and knee at the 51km mark and hobbled in for the final 3-4km.

I joined a training group called SWEAT and started doing intervals. I am still a little suspicious of interval training with its focus on increasing your speed because the important part of any Ultramarathon that goes for longer than 100km is the final five or six hours. If you have enough stamina to run at any speed in the final 30 – 50km you are almost guaranteed of a good placing. All the same, being faster over the first bit must be a good thing so long as you don’t blow up.

Anyway, I was desperate to finish this year’s C2K. I needed to finish to redeem my poor performances in 2006. The way I went into the race, I would have needed to break a bone in order to DNF at this year’s C2K.

Recruiting crew is always difficult for me. Asking others to give up their time so that I can indulge myself in my folly seems selfish. As a result my crew is invariably someone who has volunteered rather than me actively recruiting them

After starting this report on a rather negative note, the year was actually not all doom and gloom. I concede that I finished the Marathon des Sables in April. The MdS is a 150-mile stage race in the Sahara Desert. This year’s race was staged in southern Morocco and was especially hot and there were an unprecedented number of withdrawals resulting in air evacuations and all the drama that threats to life can bring. I was very happy to finish this race given that I had done almost zero training due to a stress fracture in my right shin.

Doing the MdS, I met Steve Pizzey, a fellow Aussie who had a great MdS run. And so it was my association with Steve that led to his wife Pip Jamieson volunteering to assist me with my C2K race this year. Pip has all the credentials to be a great crewmember: she’s a student doctor who should be used to staying awake for long periods of time. Pip and I had agreed that it made sense for Pip to come down from Sydney after the race had begun and join me on the course at around the 75-80km mark.

I flew in to Merimbula on the Thursday and shared a taxi to Eden with some sailors. They each had their own interesting stories: one of them had a boat that broken down en route to Tasmania and so had had flown to Sydney to get the necessary spare part. Another was off to Auckland and was picking up a boat in Eden before heading east to NZ.

I arrived at Shadrack resort in Eden and settled into my cabin. Wayne, Bernadette, soon greeted me and Sarge followed by the Mellum Crew who seemed to have arrived with an extraordinary amount of gear. Carol La Plant and husband/crew Phil had arrived from the USA, making up the international team for this year’s event.

Once inside my cabin I became doubtful and paranoid that I had bought enough gear in my one bag and started to obsessively lay out all my gear inside my cabin. Of course everything I needed was there. All I needed now was 20 litres clean water. I accepted a lift into town with Carol and Phil for a last minute trip to the store and had a walking tour of the Eden’s sights. My right ankle was already hurting (I must get rid of those thongs that make me pronate) and I was worried whether my ankles would stand up to 245km of fun that lay ahead

The pre race briefing at the Eden Fisherman’s Club on the Thursday night was very social. Carol and Phil provided the international flavour and we welcomed another new face in Ian Twite all the way from Traralgon in Victoria. Paul Every performed an animated demonstration on how Diane crews for him, which involved the use of a toy car and a small figurine. The dinner was similar to last year with the predictable battle with the kitchen. As usual there were only two things on the menu where meat wasn’t the main ingredient, one of which was the Greek salad. With the dinner out of the way we all settled in for some pre race packing back at our cabins.

We had nine runners starting the C2K this year: Paul Every, Carol la Plant, Phil Murphy, Wayne Gregory, Tim Turner, Jan Hermann, Lawrence Mead, Ian Twite and Me. Knowing the history of the race (.the first race had three runners and two finishers, the second had seven runners and five finishers), the question on everyone’s mind was how many would finish this year and who would they be?

I managed to get my head down just after 11pm and awoke at 4am following some frenetic and fitful sleep. If you’ve read a few of my race reports you’ll realize that I never sleep well in the days leading up to a big race. I procrastinate and fritter away time, I get nervous and fiddle with gear.

Race morning was magical. It was cool and the sun had not quite risen. It was a still day and there was steam rising from the ocean and a there was a red hue on the horizon.. The tide was out and we joked that this race would be longer than last year because of the low tide. Lots of hugs and good lucks and pictures.

As he did last year, Paul drew a line in the sand to mark the start of our epic journey to the top of Australia. Wayne, Phil and Ian took the early lead out on to the highway and on to the trail up the first hill. One of the ironies of this race is that the steepest incline of the whole course occurs within the first kilometre of the run. Paul hung back a bit and Tim, Carol and I stuck together. Lawrence was a little further back and Jan brought up the rear of the pack.

A few of the runners didn’t carry water for the hike up the hill which I thought it was a little silly given that the first opportunity for crews to meet runners is the 3.6km mark. When we arrived at this point last year every car was waiting for us, but this year… there was not a car in sight. The crews had all miscalculated our exit point from the trail and were they were waiting lower down the hill. The runners all thought this was rather funny and the crews, when they did turn up, were all rather embarrassed that they had made such a fundamental navigation error so early on in the race. As a result of this error, a number of runners ending up travelling a few kilometers more than they had planned without water.

I ran within a few km of Tim and Carol for the first few hours. Andrew was doing a sterling job crewing for me until Pip turned up. I was trying something new by eating Clif Bars, these were providing good steady energy as was the maltodextrin mix I was drinking. I was doing 7min per kilometer, which is probably a bit fast for me but I felt good and was following the theory that you need to run when you feel like it.

Juliet, my wife, had made me a special mp3 mix that was really getting on my nerves… who would want to listen to Pilot’s “Ho Ho Ho it’s magic” while running an ultra? There were a number of great songs in there too. I remember listening to a couple of David Byrne tracks which were excellent to run to while I decided to fast forward through all the Donna Summer and Bee Gees. Thanks darling.

Weird things can happen in the country when you’re running. On the most remote fire road, a horse and buggy will suddenly appear. This guy was around last year as well and made me jump when he trotted past. Mostly the country is a serene place, the people are friendly and the cows chew with a sideways motion in the bottom jaw.

I remember going through the marathon in about 5 hours, which was 30 min faster than last year, but I was feeling much better than last year so I just kept on chugging along. At this point, I think Carol was about 5min in front and I was catching her when I got to a scheduled stop and Tim was a few min behind me. Lawrence and Jan were behind Tim. Wayne and Phil were duelling it out up front with Paul and Ian running a smart conservative race behind the two pack leaders.

With the marathon behind me, the next big goal was Big Jack Mountain. By this stage it was the middle of the day and it was getting warm, my legs were killing me and I was already wondering how I’d get through to the end. I had decided I would stay away from pills until there was no other option. The vicious carnivorous flies were out and having a chew of me whenever I stopped. My stomach was hurting and I was worrying that I might experience the return of the nausea that had plagued me through most of last year’s run.

Big Jack Mountain is one of those long 6 or 7km hills that never seems to stop. But there is a toilet at the base of the mountain, which is a wonderful luxury. The ever-attentive Andrew was there to make sure I was hydrated, fed and ready to climb Big Jack. The best way to approach this climb is to assume that it will never end and at every corner to expect that there will be another, even steeper corner. Halfway up BJM is the 61km mark. Like last year, I decided to push hard going up BJM and managed to pass both Tim and Carol. How, you may ask yourself, can a 91kg oaf enjoy hills? “When you feel good, push. When you’re flat back off, wait.” Mark Allen 1986

The section from the top of Big Jack to the town of Cathcart is 5km of flat bitumen. This section was very hot, my tummy was still hurting and I had a small vomit. Just this short amount of road pounding did more damage than the demanding but sheltered Big Jack hill. I arrived at Cathcart (65km) with a nice lead on Tim and Carol but decided to have a break and wait for them. For the second year in a row the town of Cathcart was closed in the middle of the day. The only shop where cool fluids can be purchased was shut! In battle it is helpful if you can rally differing interests by concocting a common enemy. Carthcart and its lack of retail opportunities was our common enemy and kept us all focused on our objective.

I called Pip to see how she was getting on and asked her to get some ice for the other crews (Andrew and Phil).

Next stop Bibbenluke, 85km. Through this section, my legs and ankles were hurting, the flies were at their most carnivorous and I was wondering how I’d be feeling in another 24hrs, but I’d already made up my mind that this was a run that would be completed, I just needed to be conservative and to keep moving and I would be alright. Despite the physical discomfort, I was enjoying the solitude, the music and the countryside. The cows were still staring at me and I was keeping a close eye on them just in case they decided to go feral and attack me. I had opened up another lead on Carol and Tim. I suspected that we were all traveling within our comfort zones and whiling away the hours until the night closed in.

Bibbenluke marked the handover of support from Andrew to Pip. Pip arrived and started to feed me with cool fruit, grapes, melon etc. Very nice. There was little news coming from up front. Apparently Wayne and Phil thought they were running a half marathon, Wayne was in front but no one knew by how much, Wayne may have instructed his crew to observe radio silence so that critical position and tactical information did not filter back to the enemy. Ian Twite was in third; all we knew about Ian was that he had never competed in a race of more than 100km, but he had two crews and was a tough looking bloke so we knew that he would be OK. Paul Every was in fourth and either in trouble or taking it easy. Me fifth, then Carol, then Tim, then Lawrence, then Jan.

Soon the news that Jan had DNF’d at Cathcart (65km) made it to us. Jan has struggled with knee problems over the past few months and will need to take up another sport while the scientists invent a synthetic cartilage. Jan will need figure out how to satisfy the urges that his extreme genes create.

I can’t remember when Carol passed me but I think it was around 90km. I do remember thinking that I might not see her again during the race. As the weather cooled, Carol just got stronger. At 90km I was hurting but no more than expected. Tim and I were moving slower than we should have been. James E Shapiro wrote the classic “Ultramarathon” in about 1980. His advice is to keep going, no matter how bad you feel. Injury and sickness is the only excuse for stopping. Because in ultrarunning you will always find energy somewhere down the road. For me, sometimes the line between fatigue and injury/sickness is blurred. When I DNF’d at Glasshouse my ankles were so swollen and I was in such bad shape that I didn’t think that I could make it to the end even though there was only 28km to go. I feel like I gave up: I did, and I was glad I did, but 10min after I had stopped I wanted to go again. At C2K I didn’t want to get into that situation.

Reaching the 100km tree felt like a non-event. I was moving slowly and my soreness had been eclipsed by tiredness. I knew that 5hrs of sleep the night before had not been enough. But I figured that 5hrs was better than 3hrs. I was still tick-tacking with Tim. We weren’t running together but we were staying in contact, which provided a sort of companionship. Tim was having problems with his leg and ended pulling the pin at the ~125km mark. Fuck I thought. Now I have no one to share the pain with. I must keep going.

Pip was fantastic. She was providing me with a good variety of food and there was no risk of me falling into the same trap as last year where I decided to stop eating. I was having regular breaks but started going into my ultimate nightmare of micro sleeps and zoneouts, as Phil Murphy calls it, “sleep monster territory”. I really, really hate the sleep monster. Falling asleep while running is one of the most uncomfortable states of consciousness, the zone outs and tripping over are a real pain in the neck.

So at the Cooma turnoff (131km), I decided I needed rest. Pip reclined the passenger seat in the rented Falcon and I grabbed 10min of sleep. I ran well for around 40min after that before dropping back into the sleep zone, so I stopped again for another 10min. Not far down the road, I needed more sleep so I stopped for 30min of sleep. This made a total of 50min sleep, which should have been enough, but I was still zoning out badly.

I arrived in Dalgety at around 6am, with my time schedule in tatters. I was in trouble and in poor physical and mental condition. My bowels were playing up and I made good use of the 24hr toilet at the Dalgety Bridge. Just keep moving, I said to myself. It wasn’t that I knew I’d be ok, I just hoped that everything would get better. Lawrence had passed me during the night so by now, I was in last place. I was in terrible shape. Still zoning out and still 100km to go.

The section to Beloka was hindered by my (sleep) walking pace of 15 min/km. I’d keep catching myself stopped and half way through a step; I’d awake when I took a step back. I started yelling at myself. When I felt a zoneout coming on, I’d yell at myself “WAKE UP!” It seemed to work. This zone is the less glamorous side of ultrarunning. It must have been difficult for Pip to see me in bad condition but she never said a thing to me, even though I could tell she was concerned. I’d arrive, she’d have a variety of offerings, I’d choose something, she would encourage me to keep moving, I’d hang around a bit then go. And we’d wave as she drove past me.

At around 9am on Saturday morning, I passed the place where I remembered overtaking Kelvin last year. Garry Wise and Lis had been there waiting for him while he finished his kip and I had tipped my cap to them: I tipped my cap to the memory at the same place this year. Kelvin had sensibly decided not to run C2K this year; even if he had, I still would have been last at this point. This year, this spot felt like a lonely, desolate place. I suppose I was feeling a sorry for myself. Ah, ultras are such a rollercoaster of emotions. I was in a hole and wasn’t sure how I was going to get to the end. I took stock and recognised that it was time to rebuild myself and regain some composure.

A break to my melancholy came in an unexpected form. From apparently out of nowhere, suddenly there was a large flock of hundreds of sheep blocking the road, shepherded by two young women on horseback. They waved and asked why I was in the middle of nowhere, running. I told them that I was running to Kosciuszko from Eden and they wished me good luck and then yelled back, “You’re all crazy”. Look who’s talking, I thought to myself.

I got to the Beloka Range and it was bloody hot. Somehow getting up the hill made me focus and I seemed to regain some energy. It was steep and unrelenting. I rested a couple of times on the way up, once at the half way point (the 100 mile mark) and once again when I was almost at the top. When I had summitted the Beloka Hill, Pip turned up with a frozen icy pole which was just what I needed to perk me up. I stopped and rested for a while and eventually pushed on. She advised me that Lawrence wasn’t too far ahead, which felt like a bit of positive news. I now had a target, a reason to go faster.

I went through another rough patch but managed to run between the sets of microsleeps and slowly clawed back some of the distance that Lawrence had made on me during the night. I started catching glimpses of him, 2 to 3km ahead in the distance and even began to run walk. By now we had completed around 166km.

I ran into Jindabyne just 50 metres behind Lawrence at around 12 noon. The heat was oppressive; apparently it was 38 degrees. Lawrence went into a loo but I didn’t hang around too long to see him come out. I wanted to strike while I could. Quick as a flash, I turned left and took the bike path beside Lake Jindabyne. I was carrying two handbottles and they were both empty but I felt well hydrated, so I had no cause for alarm. I was a little concerned that I couldn’t find Pip but I was confident that she would find me. I got to the big petrol station and saw the Mellum mothership (Kombi van) parked there, meaning that Andrew was on pacing duty for Phil Murphy.

Out on the open Kosciuszko Road, it was extremely hot but I didn’t feel I had any reason for worry even though I had no water. I decided to wait under a tree. 45 min passed and it dawned on me that Pip had lost me and was probably checking the course behind me. What to do? I still felt good, no sign of heat stress (apart from a slight headache) or dehydration but I knew that I wouldn’t get too much further without water. My time target had been blown out of the water long ago, so my only goal was a finish and I didn’t really care how long it was going to take. I started walking, all the time wondering… Where was Pip? Why hadn’t Lawrence appeared? He couldn’t have passed me without me seeing him, could he?.

There was no way I was going to back track so I decided to flag down a car. It is gratifying when people are helpful and they really care. It turned out that the woman in the car knew about the race and she was only too willing to help. She gave me a three-litre coke bottle full of water that she had kept in the car for more than a year just in case of emergencies. She was thrilled that the emergency that allowed her to dispose of the water had finally arrived. I filled both my bottles and drank the rest and even had some spare to tip over my head. Despite the year in the back of her car, it didn’t taste too bad either. Better than filling from stagnant gutters, I figured. Quenched, I started to run again.

But now I was weak, mmm what’s the problem now… Oh yeah I hadn’t eaten for a couple of hours. So I walked and then stopped for a while. I flagged another car who once again generously helped by letting me use a mobile. I called my wife and asked her to call Pip (silly me didn’t have Pip’s number) and tell her to come looking for me up on the Kosciuszko Road away from Jindabyne. Soon after Pip arrived and I had some food and we were back in business. The situation was at the less serious end of “bad shit” that can happen to you in races, like being lost and spending a night in the bush with no food or shelter. Pip cancelled the missing person alert (I had wondered why I was hearing sirens) and we started up the hill. I honestly didn’t care but Pip seemed a bit embarrassed. In fact I was quite grateful to have had an excuse to stop and rest for a while.

On Saturday afternoon, the procession of finishers started coming back down the hill. I was getting tired again so was probably zoning out a bit and I told later that I was incoherent which is absolute bullshit. I was totally in control … for a change. Anyhow it was nice to see everyone. I found out that Paul Every had hurt his leg and had pulled the pin so we were down to six potential finishers and I was now in fifth place with Lawrence behind me.

I decided that I’d work with Lawrence so I put the brakes on and moved at an easier pace. I took a few longer breaks and focused on fixing my feet. I decided that a walk at 12 min/km was an acceptable pace though I probably could have gone a bit faster.

Lawrence eventually caught me at Perisher Valley late on Saturday night. I decided to get into the warm weather gear and get the trail shoes on. Together we made our way to Charlotte Pass (a bloody long 12km). And prepared for the final push to the summit and back.

Health Check: Blisters on a number of toes but none serious. Two rather painful blisters on the inside of both heels, extremely horrible rash and soreness between the buttocks (not funny! It had me walking like John Wayne for a week). Ankles still sore.

We arrived in Charlotte Pass knowing that we would not be down much before dawn but without any doubt that we would make it through. Lawrence was having a few leg problems but still making good progress so there was no cause for alarm. Pip was still offering up tasty treats. I was tired and probably getting a bit narky, but we kept moving that’s the main thing.

News had reached us that Ian Twite was up on the mountain and was unable to descend. Apparently he was all puffed up and I was concerned that he might have been suffering from hypotranemia. If this was the case he would need to get to a hospital ASAP. Anyway, there was a fair bit of drama and his crew eventually evacuated him. Turns out his salts were probably a bit out of whack but the overriding issue for him was utter exhaustion.

So we were down to five potential finishers out of nine starters. All I needed to do was finish and I would have two finishes under my belt plus an improvement on last year’s fifth and the time didn’t matter.

The 9km up to the summit and then the same 9km back down to Charlotte Pass section never ends. I asked myself, why did they make it so bloody far? I was glad I had the foresight to bring my trail shoes - what a treat for my feet. Last year my feet suffered so much. Pip was now walking with us, Lawrence was zoning a bit and we were all having loads of fun.

We got to Rawson Pass and there was some poor bloke in a tent, who had expected solitude but who must have been woken every half an hour all night. We poked our heads in the tent, yelling out, maybe Ian left his gear up here? The poor soul would move and we yelled, It’s a camper!

We summitted Kosciuszko at about 2:30am, I think. It was cold and the wind was howling. We took pictures and did a bit of horsing around and eventually decided that it was time to go.

Once we got down to Seamans Hut (sorry camper, I think we woke him again on the way past), we agreed that Lawrence and I were in no danger so long as we stuck together. Pip ran on ahead so that she could rest up for the drive back to Jindabyne.

The last 7km was eerie; Lawrence and I were having conversations about the hallucinations we had been experiencing most of the night. We compared the visions and dissected the images in a sober and almost clinical way. I had been seeing little monsters like the ones from the children’s book Where the Wild Things Are. Not scary at all. In fact quite entertaining to see the little creatures in the rocks. Lawrence was seeing other sorts of animals and was equally impressed with the show that his mind was putting on for him. The light that my headlight throws often makes me see things in the rocks.

By about 5am Lawrence was micro sleeping and zoning out, I was just tired so I’d jog ahead and lay down on the track and Lawrence would give me a kick as he’d come past. Then we’d measure the distance between snow poles on the GPS to keep us amused.

Then we witnessed a most beautiful sight. Our third sunrise in one awakening. Having said that, while it was a truly amazing and empowering experience, three sunrises without a decent sleep is not something I intend to repeat again too soon.

The distance from the 1km pole to the finish is actually 1.8km (thank you Garmin) which can really piss you off at the time, but is of little consequence soon after. At 6:45am we finished, our time 49hrs 15min. Long, but any finish of this race is good enough to earn a place in the history books.

We arrived at the hotel at 7:45am. Just in time for a shower, a breakfast and the honour of being able to participate in the finishing speeches. Here's a pic of the 2006 C2K family.

pic here when I can figure out how to paste

Even straight after, I felt say that I really enjoyed this race. I was well looked after from a crewing perspective. Things didn’t get messy like last year and I was really nervous that I’d DNF so I went slower than last year. And I felt like I got stronger towards the end.

So now have two finishes to my name. I am yet to beat anyone. But the problem is, every time I look like beating someone, they go and DNF on me. I’ll take equal fourth and last any day compared to a DNF. So my warning to all of you considering this run in December 2007: don’t even think about DNFing: this will be the year I beat someone at the C2K race.

This race is not possible without a crew or a family that allow us to gallivant around in order to cover long distances in relatively short periods of time. Thank you to all the competitors, crews and families that supported the participants in this year’s Coast to Kosciuszko Ultramarathon.


At 31 December 2006 at 12:42 pm, Blogger Jen_runs said...

Wow. Fantastic report Brendan & congratulations on your second finish. Amazing! I'm sure the way the popularity of this event is spreading that there will be plenty of people to beat next year ;-)

Hope the recovery is going well.

At 31 December 2006 at 1:18 pm, Blogger Spud said...

Wonderful read Brendan, what an adventure, glad to be part of it with you this year, roll on 2007 for your 3rd C2K!

At 31 December 2006 at 1:38 pm, Blogger Superflake said...

Excellent race report Brendan. Great reading about your hallucinations and the crew getting lost instead of you. Happy New Year.

At 31 December 2006 at 3:06 pm, Blogger Horrie said...

Great effort in achieving your second C2K finish. I hope I can match your achievement once in my lifetime. I would be very proud to FINISH last in this mammoth!

At 31 December 2006 at 8:15 pm, Anonymous Whippet Man said...

Great stuff Brendan. I hate to tell you but you were away with the pixies when we passed you on our way back down the mountain. :) Well done on toughing it out. Wear that bullet proof t-shirt with pride.

At 1 January 2007 at 8:44 pm, Blogger plu said...



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