My First 100 Mile attempt: Great North Walk 100s 12-13 Nov, 2005

Lawrence Mead and Grant Campbell in the inaugural Great North Walk 100s ultramarathon

Lawrence Mead and Grant Campbell early on in the inaugural year of this iconic race. Hahaha…I even wore regular running shoes back then!

My Background
Having only done 1 marathon and 2 ultras, my previous races pale in comparison to GNW100s:
– Bilpin Bush run 36k (2003), final 7-8km is a killer slow climb completely devoid of flats
– the Warrumbungles 42k (Sept 2003)
– the Warrumbungles 50k (July 2005), tough climbs but not a scratch on the GNW100s
– Sydney Oxfam Trailwalker (Aug 2005), when I saw the Trailwalker profile superimposed over GNW100s profile, it was like comparing the City to Surf to the Six Foot Track.

My Motivation
From friends and family I’d heard everything from “You’re a lunatic!”, “You’re crazy!”, “You’re mad” and “You’ll end up an arthritic mess when you’re in your 50s” but I was excited at the thought of 2 things I never imagined I could:
– entering a 100 mile event through extremely demanding terrain
– being in remote bushland, at night, alone, navigating with no way to contact the outside world than a whistle

Lessons Learnt
– Distances at night are incredibly difficult to judge when you aren’t travelling at a regular pace.
– Using the detailed directions alone and reverting to the map only if something doesn’t make sense doesn’t work. For the few extra seconds it takes I think best practice would be to always:
1. Read the detailed direction clearly
2. Take a mental note of the distance and altitude gain/loss until the next direction
3. Check that the direction agrees with the map
4. Give a quick check on the compass to make sure you haven’t made a mistake

What I’d Do Differently Next Time
– Make it to Patonga!
– Less sweets, more savouries (vegan pizza) [Editor Note by Raw Aussie Athlete: This was just before I started eating 80/10/10 raw vegan]
– Lots of cycling to prepare quads
– More hill training (sandhills can be tough on the knees…so maybe just cycling and solid hills)
– Don’t overexert myself by running any sections too hard as the cost is too high (consistency is the key)

My Story
On the Friday I had a 2 hr lunchtime sleep but then was up until 11:30pm packing all my drop bags and re-reading the race materials. I awoke a 4am for my 4:15am picked up (Thanks Brendan! Hope the bucks weekend was all you hoped for). I hadn’t really carbo loaded apart from spaghetti on the Friday night. I would have loved to have had about 8 bananas for breakfast but they weren’t ripe enough. We arrived about 5am in time to give blood (for ultra marathon research) and empty the bowels which wasn’t to happen again for another 48hrs! I only recently found out that bacteria in your colon converts half your fibre into fuel readily available to muscles; a by-product being gas which other bacteria converts a portion into readily available muscle fuel. The remaining gas is emitted…don’t run too close behind these guys! [Ref: Vegan Voice No 23 pg 19]

Fortunately I was able to eat 4 small bananas just before the race start. Feeling outclassed and in awe of the achievements of those I was running with, I still couldn’t believe I was in a race amongst these legends.

With no support crew I had a drop bag at each checkpoint each with:
– a fresh pair of good trail running socks
– a fresh shirt
– a piece of vegan fruitcake (Thanks Lynita! Delicious!)
– 2 vegan chocolate bars and a couple of other vegan bars and dried fruit.
I generally ate 1 banana at each checkpoint and another about 30 mins later, a little piece at a time with a mouthful of water. Everything I ate during the race seemed dry and I could only get it down with some water. I took capers for their high level of sodium, but next time I’ll rinse off the vinegar first!

I spent the first 15km running the flats and gentle downhills and walking the ups. Having met Paul Every a few nights earlier at the Trailwalker presentation night, we had a good chat as the miles chugged by. Yianis had already pulled away from us, but I was told we’d see him later as he doesn’t take the heat very well. I had good conversations getting to know Rodney and Lawrence in these early stages of the race and also met Deano who was to drop out at CP3 with blistered, swollen feet which he said felt like walking on hot coals. I picked up many stories including Glasshouse 100s, Mittagong to Katoomba and Coast to Kosci. Having a 3 litre camelbak I didn’t require a water top up at the service station. Both calves were threatening to cramp only 15km into the race towards the top of the climb to Heaton Gap trackhead. It wasn’t much later that my quads were also very tight and getting that punching bag feeling.

The seam in Paul Every’s camelbak bladder had split by the Heaton Gap communications tower. A quick repair with waterproof patches was attempted but fortunately a spare was given by another runner. Rodney and I pressed ahead. Many kilometres later I was very concerned that Paul hadn’t overtaken me. Knowing his capabilities I was concluding I was going too hard to early.

Passing the water tank just past the Heaton Gap lookout left me on my own for the first time in the race. It was a feeling of freedom and a race highlight for me.

I was wearing “Comform’able inner soles for running & dynamic sports” to give me the extra arch support I don’t usually get from Asics/Brooks running shoes. Having only worn them for about 8 days with only one 5km run in them, I was developing blisters on my arches. I took out the inserts reverting back to the Brooks inner sole. After using some bandaids (and sports tape at CP2) I didn’t have any foot problems for the rest of the race. I did the right thing acting early.

At CP1 (10:40am) the main pack left 3-5 minutes ahead of me when I found out Rodney had left his map behind! Off I trotted catching him a few km later…only to realise I hadn’t topped up my water at CP1!!! I only had about 1.25 litres of water until the next checkpoint and it was getting hot! Fortunately Lawrence was able to give me 500-600 mls of water for which I am eternally grateful. We both arrived at CP2 with no water but didn’t have to cover any substantial distance without fluids.

By CP2 I was very dehydrated. Barely urinating and not sweating but my brain was still functioning. I succumbed to the sports drinks here (being a vegan health freak I’m pretty strict on natural approaches but I’d gotten myself into trouble). My camelbak was filled to the brim complete with ice (thanks to the Trotters volunteers!!!) and my bottle of soak water was topped up (currants and/or sultanas soaked for 24hrs gives good nutrient rich fluids). I took a little over 30 minutes in the shade at this checkpoint, trying to get my fluids back up. It was to be another 3-4 hours before I was rehydrated. I picked up my headlamps and reflective vest here which was fortunate as it was dark for almost the last hour to CP3.

To avoid stiffening up too much Lawrence set off walking down the road until I caught him. I set off running down the road about 1.5 km and Lawrence was walking back towards me. He’d left all his maps at the checkpoint. See a trend here??? Perhaps there should be a big sign on the way out of each checkpoint: “Do you have your maps?”. Fortunately I had a spare set and gave them to him, so he didn’t have to go back to CP2.

In the 14.2km from CP2 to the unmanned water station just after Watagan Creek Road, I had drunk 2.75 litres of fluids and was still dehydrated. The entire course was well marked except for a gate a few km after CP2 which baffled us as it looked like private property and didn’t have the usual GNW steps to get over it. We wasted 30 mins here in the hottest part of the day going back and forth to ensure we were on the right path and not wanting to enter private property possibly jeopardising the future of the race.

Heading up the second killer climb in the race to the Communications Tower (Cabans Rd) I was drinking every 1-2 minutes as that was how frequently my mouth became dry. Fortunately Lawrence had previously been to the Basin Campsite and we didn’t get lost in that section like so many others. The slow 2.7km haul in and out of the Basin Campsite was a memorable part of the race as Lawrence and I were able to get an update from most of the field including Paul Every, Blue Dog, Eagle, Jan and Rodney.

4.6km out of the Basin Campsite, Lawrence and I made a major mistake in missing the right turn onto Kingtree Ridge Rd and unknowingly heading north for about 5-6km. A fairly solid 50 min run back to Kingtree Ridge Rd finished my quads for the race. The tough things with a race like this is that any significant mistakes can put you very close to the race cut-off times. Now on Kingtree Ridge Rd we had the opportunity for a good run but my quads didn’t allow it. On the steep decent down to the Cedar Brush trackhead I was frequently putting both feet on each step making very slow progress. I concluded around this point that if my quads didn’t improve by Yarramalong I would have no chance of making the cut-off times to Patonga. Having accepted the 100km optional finish and knowing it wasn’t too far away, I ran large sections along the final roads leading into Yarramalong trying not to hold Lawrence back. Thanks to Lawrence for dragging me through this.
After covering about 17.5km with completely trashed quads which weren’t recovering I took the soft option of the 100km finish accepting my quads couldn’t get me through the numerous remaining hills by the cutoff times. I finished at about 3:15am with a 100km race time of around 21 hours 15 mins.
…but I can’t help but wonder how much further I could have gone before complete breakdown.

After a 20 minute drive home, a warm bath supervised by my wife to make sure I didn’t drown when I fell asleep (which I did many times) (…an ice bath would have been better), a litre of watermelon juice, a large celery juice (high sodium) and some vegan chocolate, I was ready for bed…though I ended up asleep on the lounge for 4 hours waking up feeling temporarily refreshed before stumbling into bed for another 3 hours.

Around 12:30pm I made a call to Patonga for a race update. It was disappointing to hear Lawrence had pulled out at CP5 but what an achievement with virtually no specific race training! I was able to drive myself safely to Patonga (1hr) arriving before Blue Dog finished. I guess I’m hooked on these events as it brought a tear to my eye clapping Blue Dog over the line and then again when Jan arrived at 4:30pm finishing with a solid run along the beach. His race tactics of beer and vomiting somehow always work for him.

After all the hype over leeches I think Tugger was the only runner to get one after getting his kit off and wading in some place with a name like Dead Man’s Waterhole.
It was great to hear at Patonga that a couple of the ladies are keen to give the 100km a shot next year.
With a strong crew including Dave Criniti and the King (Paul Arthur), Blue Dog (Wayne) was always a good bet to make the 100 miles. To the 4 of 12 who made the 100 miles! It’s good to hear the King may be interested in this race.
No more explosive stretching for Dave Criniti…hope you can make a full recovery (back to your usual 200%!!!).

To Dave Byrnes and the devoted Terrigal Trotters volunteers, congratulations on getting every element of this race spot on in it’s first year. I’m walking pretty normally again now, went for a light ride today and with the labour pains disappearing am already looking forward to next year.

It was an experience shared with amazing people which I’ll always remember.

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