Still 100km to get to halfway: Octember pt. 1 The Great Ocean Walk 100

Between October 12 and November 10, I have set myself the challenge of running 3 100km races and a 174km trailrunning slaughterhouse on one of Australia’s toughest 100-mile courses. It’s a total of 474 race kilometres within 30 days and even with 200 kilometres already down, I don’t feel any closer to the halfway mark. Maybe after this Sunday’s Ned Kelly Chase in Wangaratta (northern Victoria), when only the Great North Walk miler remains, I’ll feel like only the hardest part of Octember remains. But halfway isn’t the finish, and as every ultrarunner knows, it isn’t even halfway.

GOW map view

The Great Ocean Walk (shuffle, sprint, stagger, roll, run, shuffle, dawdle, heave, bolt)

IMG_2608

RD Andy Hewat explains the GOW100’s complicated navigation protocol…

The first of the month’s 4 runs, the Great Ocean Walk 100, was on one of the most beautiful and unforgiving routes in Australia. With the simple instruction to keep the ocean on our left, close to a hundred runners raced, staggered, stumbled and deliriously zigzagged their way from Apollo Bay to the iconic Twelve Apostles. Perhaps if I’d been less preoccupied with thoughts of the long month ahead or had even just brought my climbing legs with me, I’d have run into sight of these monolithic oceanic landmarks before the sun had dropped from view for the day. Getting in just under 15 hours on a course that I’d expected to be a lot kinder was a good bucket of cold water to the face. Just as recently minted US Grand Slammer Andre Blumberg had advised me, confirming lessons from last year’s 4 Deserts Grand Slam, 4 out of 4 is a long game and it’s different than the one everyone else is playing. This challenge was going to be a challenge!

The sort of relentless effort that the GOW course demands is a subtle but pervasive corollary to the beauty of the run. Endless views of the changing coastline and vast expanses of rolling navy sea and frothy tidal white were paid for by short plunging descents, strength-sapping sand runs, and a barrage of short, steep climbs that seemed to outnumber the flats and downhills in the back of the course by a ratio of 2 to 1.

The good stuff, ready to go. All that was missing was salt  vinegar chips darn it!

The good stuff, ready to go. All that was missing was salt vinegar chips darn it!

And it’s a sneaky course, luring you into a false sense of confidence with open rolling firetrails and gently flowing single track early on, only to become Disney evil after about 60km, with looming peaks and laughing forests that close in around the trail to bully you, with craftily grasping stray branches happy to grab at your hat, snatch your arm, or even collect your forehead on the way through.

Definitely a superb way to start the day

Definitely a superb way to start the day

This year we were apparently treated to the driest course on record, with just occasional patches of mud and grassy slop to leap, negotiate or stomp through, rather than the mud holocaust that has beset previous events under 4-tone Victorian skies of mist, storm, doom, and Spring. The following morning before the awards presentation saw rain giving way to hail followed by hot sun, all within a matter of less than three hours. But the unexpected radiant warmth of the day brought its own challenges. As much as it was both blessing and curse for some of us in the main body of the field, its effects were acute at the pointy end.

Stu Gibson, the Scottish running machine once tagged Australia’s Fittest Man and who famously took the North Face 100 course record under 10 hours when he jointly won with the Blue Mountains’ Andy Lee a few years ago, made his return to the 100km distance just a few weeks after smashing the Yurrebilla 56km in South Australia. Built like a razor blade and twice as lethal, he pushed the front end hard for most of the day until he dropped from dehydration, somewhere close to the mid-70s in under 7 hours.

Ultrarunning death machine, Stu Gibson. Difficult to spot with the naked eye

Ultrarunning death machine, Stu Gibson. Difficult to spot with the naked eye

The women’s race, similarly, was led by emerging speedster Jo Brischetto. Barely able to eat much after the 20km mark and with her hydration similarly challenged, she was passed into 2nd place at the 90km mark. Her delirium at this point was reportedly so acute that she couldn’t even name family members when asked to by a race doctor. Tough cookie that she is, Jo pushed on, only to be passed into 3rd place with just 2km to go, finishing 90 minutes or so after newly announced talent Blake Hose.

Blake’s a young gun for whom this race was his first 100km. Even on the Friday afternoon at registration, he was edging to go, almost hopping from one foot to the other, as he said he just wanted to get racing right now. If he had, his 9 ½ hour winning time would have seen him back in the sheds before the rest of us had even started. What a debut! Less fortunate was Perth’s Scotty Hawker. With course records over the distance at Glasshouse and his hometown’s Hoka Kep Ultra, this young gun pressures himself to get a result every time he races, and why not. This time though, it wasn’t to be, with early soft sand racing biting him in the ITB. Nonetheless, he hung in hard in the top 3 until well past halfway, eventually finishing top 5 with a time well below his ability. Regardless, he showed the stuff that ultrarunners are made of, sticking it out and taking the pain and the finish even though he’d come with sights set on a placing.

Scott Hawker in action on course, pic by Brett Saxon

Scott Hawker in action on course, pic by Brett Saxon

But this wasn’t the race that I’d come for. Even without a month-long challenge requiring serious commitment to recovery and focus, the closest I’d ever get to these guys and girls are the stories collected from checkpoint volunteers and spectators on course throughout the day. And that’s what most of us are doing at an ultra, pushing toward the finish all day, surrounded by 80% of the field. Ocean on our left, blue skies up above, cool forest closing in, and great people running with us or looking after us all day, it’s a special, painful, jubilant place to be.

The nitty-gritty? The practical stuff? I flubbed up my nutrition by prepping my drop bags in a hurry, so didn’t have any drink powders to rely on after the 40km mark until the 80km mark. I had only sweet stuff to rely on until then as well, with a mysterious bit of absent mindedness putting in nothing but gels and chews to get me through the day. Ever the heroes, Paul & Diane saved my confectioneried butt with vegie soup and a potato with just 20km to go. Rapa Nui Trails were my shoe of choice along the predominantly noodly single trail and beach sections through to 55km by which time they’d gone for a swim and I just wanted to strap on a massage, switching to Stinson Trails which were perfect for the harder pounding of the road sections and sharp straight descents in the back end of the day. One day I’ll drop 25kg and run a bit more like Meltzer. Until then…

Ruthless and cruel, the GOW100 scenery did this all day. All. Day.

Ruthless and cruel, the GOW100 scenery did this all day. All. Day.

Good times were also had running with Adrian Bortignon, an active participant in the modern cult of 70s porn moustachery, fitness coach on a mission Ant Traynor, and an hilarious good mate from Coast2Kosci who I just don’t see enough of at all, Lisa Spink. She sprung me doing a video selfie near the halfway mark with cliffs looming above and coastline dropping away sharply below, as we negotiated the headbending anti-erosion wooden pathways of the Victorian coastal walkway, with their alternating short log-tall log design which increases traction but puts runnability second.

Runnability nearly disappeared entirely with just 22km done and a notional 452 to go. Throughout the course, there are decontamination stations set up to help stop the spread of invasive species. Walkers and runners are encourage to stop on long and wide metal plates and drag their feet through a 3-way brush that scrubs off pollens, seeds and weed particles. But there is also a 15-inch springloaded trapdoor in the middle of this metal plate that is designed to be stepped on, lowering the user’s foot about 6 inches into an antiseptic bath below, and enhancing the quarantine process. I didn’t know this.

Feeling just a little... blerch

Feeling just a little… blerch

So one minute I was running along happily, thanking Andy and Brett and all the volunteers for the awesome race day. The next, there was a loud ‘ker-chunk’ and I was on my face with a knee that felt bruised and three toes that felt broken. Looking back to see what had attacked me, all I could think was that the grating had flexed and that I must have caught my toes between one metal plating and the next. That process of accepting that even with three broken toes I was going to get this thing done was a total overreaction, but it was also a good moment to stick in the willpower bank. I’ll be drawing on it this weekend as the road 100km of the Ned Kelly Chase starts to hurt and probably for several hours across the duration of GNW. GNW doesn’t need bear traps to kill people, because GNW has Congewai.

Central Coast stalwart Gary Pickering kindly waited for me to regroup before running off to get himself a decent finish while I got distracted on the run and again dropped my self by headbutting a tree. Things were shaping up nicely.

That's right. Thanks to its unique geology, this course actually flips you the bird. Nice.

That’s right. Thanks to its unique geology, this course actually flips you the bird. Nice.

Hitting the 55km checkpoint, it was a shock and shame to see that my mate Shane Hutton no longer had his pack on. He was pulling out with a bit of a wrecked leg. I felt bad as he and his partner Richelle had helped get me out to the start of the race the day before and here they were about to head home without the satisfaction of the finish. Still, he probably had his 200+km run from a month or two ago in his legs, and his next weekend would be a 24-hour mountain bike endure. So he’s not totally missing out. Jacinta and big Jim Eastham, mates from the Simpson Desert race, filled me in on how everyone else was going as I came into the checkpoint where Mal Gamble and other vollies treated us all like royalty, fetching ice, water, cola and drop bags. It had been great to see Lucy B earlier in the day but now she’d followed her neatly speedy dad Ash down the course and wouldn’t be seen again. Kerrie Bremner was popping up and being a superhelpful superstar throughout the day too, taking it easy after her epic 215km at the Auckland 24-hour just a couple of weeks before and supporting Chili Man out on course. Sorry Chili, but your chafe stick saved my man nipples 5-hours in at the marathon mark. I thought you’d want to know. 🙂

As the day progressed and desirable nutrition options dwindled, a Jack Russell terrier, two little girls with a bowl of orange slices, and a proud father appeared out of nowhere around the 70km mark. There was no carpark or access in sight. We don’t know who they were or how they got there. But in our haze of paracetamol, caffeine, dehydration and nausea, they became known by all as The Orange Angels. The final hours of the day were spent racing the sun. A giant flaming ball of gas whizzing through space at thousands of miles an hour versus a tired but motivated ultrarunner with an iPod full of angry heavy metal and pumping drum and bass seemed like a pretty even contest. Nevertheless, and even with Victoria’s long hours of daylight, I succumbed to the use of torchlight with about an hour to go. Determined just to get it done, I rolled past echidnas, vaulted scorpions, and paused once to photograph a frog.

My nemesis, The Sun, abandoning the field of battle as I fought on.

My nemesis, The Sun, abandoning the field of battle as I fought on.

Pounding the final kilometres of the day with my remaining strength, the sub-14-hour finish had escaped me, as had the pre-sunset and non-torch finishes I’d secretly hoped for. At least I could soon throw off my pack at the finish line and run thigh-deep into the cool crystal ocean which had both taunted and delighted us all day.

No.

Because the finish line was atop a cliff about a hundred feet above the soothing surge of the sea. Next time I might read the course notes more thoroughly, for the sake of an achievable finish line fantasy.

The view that sub-12 finishers are treated to goes a little something like this...

The view that sub-12 finishers are treated to goes a little something like this…

At least I’d got this far in one piece, the prelude to an unknown outcome had gone well enough. Thoughts were already turning to the following weekend’s run, the Hume and Hovell 100, another point to point but this time in the heart of regional New South Wales, another course previously unseen, guaranteeing only the joy of discovery and another instalment in this self-beasting thing of a month called Big Octember.

This month, stay focused...

This month, stay focused…

To be continued… And how

About Roger Hanney
Ultramarathon runner. Wannabe adventurer. Writer. Australian HOKA ONE ONE guy. First Type 1 to complete the 4 Deserts Grand Slam. www.runeatsleeprun.com www.type1ultra.com

4 Responses to Still 100km to get to halfway: Octember pt. 1 The Great Ocean Walk 100

  1. Roger Hanney says:

    Reblogged this on run, eat, sleep, run. and commented:

    I’ve just created an epic multimedia fun-gasmic race report about my excursion on the Great Ocean Walk a couple of weeks ago. It’s got me in the mood to write up Hume and Hovell 100 from last weekend but that might have to wait until next week, after the Ned Kelly Chase.

    Enjoy!

  2. Jill Homer says:

    Nice work crazy man. Good report.

  3. Pingback: Great North Walk 100-miler 2013, Central Coast Sufferfest pt. 1 | run, eat, sleep, run.

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