From the time that I entered, every time I told someone who knew of this event of my goal to conquer the GNW100 miler, they looked impressed. I can see now that they were impressed because they knew that the marketing of "Australia's toughest trail races" isn't just marketing. It's fact, evidenced by the imposing the drop out rate.
This year, by my calculations*, only 53% of the field finished the distance they entered. I am beyond disappointed that I was not one of this 53%.
I'm not known for my DNFs... so what happened this time?
Given my result, I'm a little bit emotional. I'll reflect more in a future blog post, but for now the easiest way to recount my experience at GNW100 is to start at the beginning, and get to where it ended.
Checkin and start
Tulkaba Park, TeralbaThis was all very straightforward - we got there in plenty of time for me to pick up my race pack and wrist bands, and get weighed in. A few last minute decisions and preparations, before race briefing and start.
Section One - Teralba to Watagan Forestry HQ
via Sugarloaf National Park, Awaba State Forest, Heatons GapI totally underestimated the difficulty of this section, mainly because there is a lot of sealed and gravel road, as well as fire trail. I realised there was an uphill to the communication tower, and realised there was a section of 2.4ks of "hard walking track". Having experienced this section I think it's better described as "freaking near impossible walking track" - I lost my way at least three times and took two attempts to haul myself over a tree trunk that came up to my chest.
As would be the way for the rest of the race, I spent much of this first section by myself. I thanked my stars that others came along just when I needed them (ie, when I was lost), including Bill - the oldest man in the field and the only person who has attempted this event in each of its 11 years - and two dudes from the Gold Coast who had the course loaded into their Garmins and were relying on technology for directions.
I arrived at CP1 with little time to spare before the midday cutoff, but I didn't have much to do here, just refill my food and drinks.
Section Two - Watagan Forestry HQ to Congewai Public School
via Watagans National Park, Barraba Campsite, and Congewai ValleyThis section was a lot less technical. I was able to run along most of George's Road, with opportunities to fuel up while walking the hills. The track sections were technical enough to slow me a little, but not overwhelm me. I was also fortunate to have some company along the walking tracks, a French-Canadian man who lived in Singapore. When we reached Congewai Road I took the opportunity to run along past farms and properties, before walking a hill with Bill.
I arrived at CP2 with plenty of time for the compulsory weigh in, mandatory gear check, as well as a toilet stop and refuel. I'd lost a bit of weight, but wasn't sent to medical, so I took it upon myself to down 500mls of fluid in the checkpoint, and concentrate on eating and drinking more during the next section.
Section Three - Congewai Public School to Basin Campsite
via Corrabare State Forest, Watagan State Forest, Olney State ForestIt was going to get dark during this section, so I wore arm warmers and a vest to keep warm. I'd left the Checkpoint by myself, but it was during this section that my "merry band of men" formed around me. Among them were Bill, the Gold Coast dudes, another fellow from Newcastle, plus a few others that I didn't really converse with too much. We didn't stay together the whole time, but I made a tactical decision to not get to far ahead or behind when different paces saw us split for a time. This decision paid off - when I missed a turn, the merry band were not too far behind me and called out to me to come back!
There were some difficult ascents through this section, and the last section of "hard walking track" into the next Checkpoint was perilous at times (another runner actually described it as a "death trap"). I got ahead of the merry band a couple of times, but lost the track and waited a minute or two for safety in numbers.
I found out later that a lot of runners needed time at CP3 to warm up, having left the previous checkpoint underdressed. I emptied some dirt out of my shoes and changed my socks here - best decision ever - and refueled with hot potatoes prepared by my crew, and some soup from the Checkpoint supplies.
Section Four - The Basin Campsite to Yarramalong Public School
via Olney State ForestAnother ascent up from the 'death trap trail' with the merry band of men... on to more 4WD and walking track through the Forest. From here, the merry band disbanded and I only spotted Bill and another dude for much of the remaining 10ks through the forest.
From here it was left onto dirt road, which allowed me to settle into a steady run right through to Yarramalong. I passed a few other runners along this section, arriving with one of the Gold Coast dudes. I had been able to get some food in along that section too, but still tucked into some soup as well as the Sustagen popper and can of lemonade I'd been having at each checkpoint.
Section Five - Yarramalong Public School to Somersby Public School
via Jilliby National Park, Ourimba State Forest, Palm Grove National ParkI was dreading this section because the research I'd done using the provided maps and Google Earth had still left some doubt about directions and landmarks. It turned out to be better than I expected, though I did have some help, and I also had my only equipment malfunction through this section as well, dropping my maps twice.
The first time, I couldn't remember the last time I'd looked at them, so instead of backtracking I stopped to retrieve the spare directions I'd printed out just in case, from the bottom of my pack. No sooner had I done this when I heard a voice from the dark. "Hey, is there someone there, have you lost your maps" in a lovely Irish lilt. A fellow runner appeared along the track, taking control of the situation and offering to escort me and another runner through the next creek crossing, I thought he was probably the sweep for this leg. He wasn't. By the time we got to the other side of the creek and up the other side to the ridge, the sun was coming up, he upped his pace and that was the last I saw of him.
From here it was along some track, a slow run along Ourimbah Creek Road, then a few more hard kilometres along technical, vertical, walking track, before popping out into Somersby and limping through town to the Checkpoint at the school. This last bit was slow going, mentally and physically, and because of the terrain, had been difficult to get in food. I didn't realise it at the time but I was 40 minutes behind my worst case predicted time when I left Somersby.
Section Six - Somersby Public School to Mooney Mooney Bridge
via Brisbane Water National ParkWhen I left CP5 I was told that this section was all downhill. It kind of wasn't really. But that's OK, besides some big downhills and uphills either side of creek crossings, most of it was easier than previous sections. At the time I felt fairly focused, but in retrospect I think I was probably finding it a bit harder to focus than I had earlier in the event. This may also have been because navigation was fairly simple, and it was daytime again, so I probably felt like I didn't need to be on my game quite as much.
I was aware that my pace had slowed considerably as the event unfolded so in the latter parts of this section I was constantly, anxiously, checking my Garmin. I was convinced it was still possible for me to get to Patonga by 6pm. In retrospect, I worried too much, when I should have realised that worrying about it wasn't going to help - I just needed to keep putting one foot in front of the other, as quickly as I possibly could. (I needed to Shut Up and Dance.)
Only a few ks from the final Checkpoint, the sweep caught me. He kept me on task to get me there with enough time to be attended to before it closed. But only just. While my crew attended to refilling my drinks and food in my pack, the medical crew got some potato, Coke and water into me so I could get on my way before the 3pm cutoff.
Section Seven - Mooney Mooney Bridge to Staples Lookout
via Brisbane Water National ParkI left CP6 with my sweep runner, Lyn, who told me I had two hours to travel 15ks to the final time check at Staples Lookout. If I didn't get there in time, I wouldn't be able to continue. This came as a surprise to me, because of what I now realise was my biggest error - when I got behind my intended time schedule I focused entirely on the 6pm event cutoff, forgetting the interim check points.
My immediate thought was that I had no chance of covering 7.5ks an hour, having averaged approximately 5ks per hour for the last 31. The distance to the checkpoint turned out to be closer to 12ks, but my fleeting hope that there couldn't possibly be too much more up and down was in vain.
I finally accepted that this really is a bastard of a run. It also started dawning on me that this run really was going to chew me up and spit me out. When the 3pm time cutoff came and went while I was still on the track, the realisation was unbearable. I cried uncontrollably (actually I blubbered and howled). Not very tough I know. But the disappointment was bitter, and the cruelty of knowing that I couldn't just stop - I had to continue on at least until the checkpoint - was almost unbearable.
When I got to Staples Lookout, the checkpoint volunteers had packed up. My crew were there waiting patiently. I spotted them as I clambered up what would be the final climb for my 2015 GNW100, and called out to them, "I'm a failure."
Their support was unwavering and they wouldn't hear of my negativity. They had already calculated (or perhaps KKB had told them) that I'd smashed my 100k time from The North Face 100 by four hours.
Four. Whole. Hours.
I can also take away some consolation in knowing that I was tough enough, mentally and physically, to conquer 160ks of the toughest trails in Australia.
(Do you see the irony there? I entered a "100 miler", completed 100 miles, but didn't finish the race. What was I saying about this being a bastard of a run?)
I had a lot of respect for this race from the time that I entered. My respect has not waned.
Even though I can take away some positives, I am under no sense of illusion. The GNW100 chewed me up and spat me out.
I do like to think though, that a little piece of me might have got caught in its teeth.
*According to the start list and the results:
181 people entered GNW100s across both events
53 people finished the 100 miles
43 people finished the 100ks
A further 23 entrants of the 100 mile race were given a time for 100ks, if they completed at least this distance.
Therefore 96 out of 181 finished the event they entered.