Great North Walk 2011 Race Report

The GNW100’s is now over so now is an opportunity to reflect on the training that went into this race, the race itself and after thoughts.

Training

I think its fair to say that I probably didnt take this race as seriously as I should have – in terms of training. Of course, from all the race reports that i’ve read from the previous years, I understood that it was going to be a huge undertaking and would require alot of effort – i just didnt follow this up with a large amount of physical training for various reasons.

Mentally, I thought about this race a great deal. After only running two 100km races I really struggled to get my head around what it would take to have to run another 75 km’s on top of one of those. Mind boggling and daunting. After both races I have ended up with painful ITB injuries that have sidelined me for considerable amounts of time. I was worried that I would reach the 100km point in the race carrying injuries which would force me to quit or make the rest of the journey excruciatingly painful. Not pleasant thoughts.

I spent a lot of time picturing myself running across the beach at Patonga and how this would feel. Another thought I used was picturing myself or someone else in a wheelchair thinking how they would happily put up with the pain of running GNW100 ten times over to be given the opportunity to walk again. This certainly helped put things into perspective during the times when I was struggling out there.

Ok, now lets look at the stats. The 3 months of training I devoted to GNW100 are below:

Oct: 404 kilometres
Sept: 244 kilometres
August: 0 kilometres

Total of 648 kilometres over 55 hours. This is probably what most ultra-runners would do in one month.

In the few months leading up to August I was hampered with a persistent ITB injury which meant I didnt train a huge amount. I managed to fluke my way through my debut road marathon in 2.48 after wolfing down a fair amount of Neurofen and then I took a whole month off (August). During this time I went on holiday and put on 6 kilos and had a thoroughly good time. I also did lots of core work strengthening the various parts of my body that required it.

On my return to running in September I was quite shocked by the loss of fitness. It was considerable. My HR was elevated and what used to be easy runs became hard. I had to start from scratch again. It would have been suicidal of me to take up Ultra168’s weekly offers of weekend long runs of 60+km’s. I felt bad having to decline each time but I think I made the right decision. At least my ITB wasnt hurting.

During the middle of September I decided to push myself and do 50+ km’s on the 6ft track in the heat. I gave up after 34 km’s as I felt so unfit. I came home and told Phill that I was going to withdraw my entry from GNW100 as there was no way I could complete it. The next day I retracted that statement and decided I would run it easy and as a recce for a future attempt at a decent time.

October came and went quickly. With my fitness slowly returning I had a crack at the Fitzroy Falls Marathon hoping to beat my previous years time of 3.09. This was a benchmark fitness test for me. I remember feeling really fit the previous year so I thought if I could come close to this mark then I was probably in ok shape. Against the odds I came in at 3.02 and I was full of confidence again.

In total, during the 3 months leading into GNW100 my long runs looked like this:

1 50km run
3 40+km runs
4 30+ km runs

Not once did I set foot on the course but this approach suits me fine. I’m happy to be oblivious as to whats coming next. I did however go from CP’s 4 to 5 with Andrew Vize (winner for the 3rd time in a row in 22hrs 02 minutes!!)  in the early part of the year as part of his Western States training.

The last couple of weeks before the race I stocked up on magnesium tablets and echinacea I didnt want to catch the bug that was going around and I know us runners lose alot of magnesium and i read somewhere that its good to take. Thats about as scientific as it gets im afraid..

I also used the time to decide what bag i was going to carry. In the end i opted to try running with a nathan 2V elite belt which holds 2 bottles and has some compartments and also my inov8 bag  with a 2 litre bladder. I just cant seem to compress all my mandatory gear into small bags like others.

It was during this time that I had to start thinking about nutrition. I took a gamble and decided to use Hammer Perpetuem for my whole run. Risky as I had only done one run using it but I was impressed with the consistent stream of energy it provided. No sugar highs or lows which is key.

The last few days before the race I bought my 6 drop bags and had a banana for each along with 6 scoops of perpetuem and 2 doughnuts per bag. I dont know why I chose doughnuts.  I think because they were on offer! As you can see my pre-race planning was meticulous…

Warners Bay the night before. Had a nice pizza on the way up and I was in bed by 10 for a largely restless sleep.

Race Day

I set my alarm for 4 am and immediately started drinking as much water as I could. I’m a big fan of chia seeds as I like their taste and also because those mad Mexicans use them during their ultra races – if it works for them then i’ll give it a shot! So i had 3 scoops in a protein shaker and put that away along with 2 bananas.

I got to the registration at about 5am and said goodbye to Phill and that I’d see her on Sunday at about 1pm if all goes well. I put my drop bags in the various boxes and then set about saying hi to a few people. Good to see Dan Bleakman (read his great race report here) pumped for the race hoping to get the monkey off his back on this particular course. The atmosphere was very low key but there was alot of nervous energy in the air.

I went to get weighed in as this is a requirement. Your weight is recorded and then checked at CP2 and CP3. If you have lost too much or gained too much then you have to stop till you get fixed up.

I weighed in at 83.1 kilos. My fighting weight is normally around 81 kilos but I figured I had probably about 2 kilos of water in me. I certainly hadnt carbo-loaded before hand. Just eating normally seems to do the trick for me. I dont want to start a race feeling sluggish and full.

After the weigh in I said a quick hi to Andrew Vize. He gee’d me on a bit telling me to stick with the front runners. I have to say it was seriously tempting as the pace isnt red hot compared to a marathon but I knew I had to stick to my plan of slow and steady to get through this. I was in for a long day and didnt want to get caught up in any racing from the start. Will save that for another time…

Start to Check Point 1  28.6km in 3hrs 29mins – 5mins at checkpoint

6am and Dave Byrnes gives the countdown and we are off. The front runners have immediately shot off and I settle in to roughly 5.30 min/km pace. Feels super easy which is great. The first few km’s are all on road and people are overtaking me and im overtaking people until things start to settle down. Before I know it im pretty much running by myself and I start to get into my routine of a swig of perpetuem every 15 minutes with a swig of water. Every hour on the hour I consume a salt stick cap which is full of electrolytes. I bought these specifically for this race having never used them before. They say you shouldn’t experiment on race day but really this whole race is an experiment for me.

I decided to run in my Brooks Adrenalines because of the added support. I had an ankle niggle in training and didnt want this to flair up so decided on these. I had my NB 101’s in a drop bag at CP4 and my Hoka Stinsons at CP5 in case i wanted to change.

I bumped into Malcolm Gamble on this course who ran a neat 100km time and came 3rd overall. Nice bloke with a wealth of experience. He was using this race as a training run. We spent some time chatting and he knew the course which was great as I had no idea where I was! At some point on the course Malcolm took off and I was on my own. However I soon saw someone up ahead. There was a turning to my left which I was pretty sure I had to take and the other guy had shot off in front. I shouted out about 10 times to him that he was going the wrong way. Luckily he heard me and luckily I was correct with my navigation! His name was Michael I think from the UK. Had never been on the course before so it was like the blind leading the blind. We didnt run together long as I went ahead and came into Check Point 1 at 9.34am. A fill up of my irritatingly shaped Source bladder which all the volunteers struggled with and a 6 scoops of pertpetuem, 2 doughnuts and a banana I was on my way feeling weighed down with all the water I was carrying.
I peed 3 times during this section and was feeling properly hydrated.

Checkpoint 1 to Checkpoint 2  23.9kms in 2hrs 27mins – 7 mins at checkpoint

I was feeling really good leaving CP1. My pace was easy and I was enjoying the new scenery. The day was warming up but it wasnt uncomfortable.

Found myself running with Mal again briefly until he took off down the Congewai road. This is a fairly flat road and i must confess that I took my first walking breaks on this road. The Sun was now out and it was getting hot. Doused myself with my water bottle a few times which provided some relief. I upped the salt stick intake to 2 an hour and plodded on to the checkpoint. Before i reached it I saw Chris Turnbull running in my direction and another runner. Both looking comfortable. They were probably 40 minutes ahead of me.

I was weighed and came in at 81.04 kilos which I was happy with. I was back to my normal weight and feeling really good. I had some hotspots on my feet which needed attention. I tried to put some blister gear on them but my sweaty feet wouldnt allow them to adhere. Oh well. Dan Bleakmans pacer, Garth,  kindly filled up my backpack and waterbottles and then I was off, back into the heat.

Checkpoint 2 to Checkpoint 3  29.1kms in 4hrs 13mins – 12mins at checkpoint

Back down the Congewai road and then a right turn at Glenagra Farm. I had to pause for a few minutes as my route suddenly seemed to stop when i was following the fence line. There was a gate in the way and the directions didnt mention anything about a gate. So I walked around and then went over the gate and soon enough found the trail again.  The trail went downhill on some nice single track and Darrel Robins (read his account of the race here) of Ultra168 fame passed me here. I’m not a great technical runner and tend to get passed alot on these sections particularly on the downhills. I caught Darrel and passed him up the climb to the communications tower. Thunder was overhead and I was hoping for a storm. We both came stopped at the unmanned water stop and took some time to rehydrate and fill our bottles. We then plodded on together mostly in focused silence.

I definitely hit a low point during this section. The kilometers were going by slowly and negative thoughts were slowly creeping into my head. I had to make an effort to appreciate my surroundings and think how lucky i was to be out there running. The storm came and went and was refreshing.

Some time later I stumbled across Dave Coombs. Proper nice bloke. His ITB had blown up and he was walking along with 2 sticks. Still in excellent spirits and he seemed to take it on the chin happily enough. A great athlete so was a shame to see he was out of the 100km race but that happens some times. He’ll be back.

Then it was more single track to the Basin. I had heard about the Basin being a navigational nightmare but I had no troubles at all. I had my wits about me and didnt have any issues so I guess I got lucky.

There is an out and back section here and I saw Chris Turnbull again and Shona Stephenson. She took out the 100km race and came second overall smashing the ladies record! What an animal! When she passed me she was complaining of taking a wee and getting attacked by leaches. I had to laugh. It wasnt until I got the Checkpoint that i realised I had a couple of leaches on me too. They were trying with all their might to get into my shoes but there is a lining in the Brooks Adrenaline that seemed to stop them. Go road shoes!

My feet got patched up here again by the kind volunteers and I even had a good chat with Alex Matthews. Now this lad can run! He mentioned he will be in for the 100km race next year and i’d expect the record to fall if he doesnt injure himself. Its great to see athletes of his calibre helping out. What a sport this is!! Love it!

Checkpoint 3 to Checkpoint 4  22.1kms in 2hrs 25mins – 18 mins at checkpoint

Heading back out onto the trail to the basin i was feeling good. My feet were pretty busted up now though with all the blisters. My running style is pretty lazy and im always kicking rocks and tree roots resulting in black toes. On the way to the turn off in the basin I bumped into Andy Bowen (read his story here). He commented that he was feeling dehydrated. I later learned that unfortunately he had to pull out. Its a cruel race!

I dont remember a great deal about this stretch apart from thinking how decent I felt considering the distance. Legs were still ok and there was no ITB trouble. At the same time it was also hard not to think about the next 80-90km that lay ahead of me.

I pulled into CP4 for my next weigh in. This time I was 81.08 so a slight increase of .04 kilos. By this stage my feet required serious attention and a nice medic spent 10 or some minutes working on me. Was nice to sit down. Not much you can do for blisters really. I just had to manage the pain in my head and try to focus on the things that felt good.

Plu was here and what a godsend. He set about filling my bladder and water bottles which saved me some time. Very grateful for that.

Checkpoint 4 to Checkpoint 5  26.8kms in 4hrs 34mins – 10 mins at checkpoint

It was beginning to get dark now so I had to get my Ayup on. This was my first long run wearing it and man it lights things up! loved it. I wanted a decent headtorch as I envisaged I would be running by myself for most of the night and I was right. This section was fairly uneventful. I remember running quite well and being confident that I would now finish. Came across a dead snake which was disappointing. I’ve heard about all the wildlife and I was hoping to see more snakes than I did. Maybe it wasnt hot enough this year.

Meredith and Spud caught me towards the end of this section.

I changed out of my Brooks into my Hoka Stinsons here. Anything to alleviate the blister pain.

Checkpoint 5 to Checkpoint 6  17.8kms in 2hrs 27mins – 4 mins at checkpoint

I started to have some low moments at this stage. I took a couple of silly wrong turns. One was on some single track and I just didnt see the path ahead of me for whatever reason and ended up in a bit of a bog. The other time I took a right turn when I should have just kept going. I ended up running downhill for about a kilometer until I took my maps out and then had to track back. Demoralizing at the time but thats what this race is all about. I figured I probably lost 45 minutes due to navigational errors.

I bumped into Mick and Meredith on this section. Mick was in good spirits geeing me up about not breaking 3hrs at Fitzroy. Meredith was concerned that I may have been Jess hunting her down. I passed them by but I was overtaken by them when a took another wrong turn then didnt see them again till the end. Meredith went on to smash the womens record. Awesome result!

I rolled into CP6 to find Chris Turnbull there along with Spud. I went to go through my usual routine of finding my drop bags and filling up my bottles but for some reason my bag didnt make it to the checkpoint so I had to go without my perpetuem for the next leg. I couldnt have cared any less here. A volunteer gave me 3 gels to carry instead which would have to do. Spud left the checkpoint pretty sharpish about 5 minutes before me and I went off in pursuit conscious that Chris probably wouldnt be too far behind.

Checkpoint 6 to the Finish  25.4kms in 4hrs 17 mins.

After 15 minutes or so I caught up with Spud and proceeded to hack him off with my light casting a shadow on his footings. He kindly let me overtake him and I ran fairly strongly to the suspension bridge then up the climb to Scopas Peak.

Everyone always talks about the second wind you get when dawn breaks so this is what I was waiting for. I was constantly looking up at the sky waiting for the sun to poke through to inject some life into me but it was dark for an eternity.

The exposed section of running during the middle of this leg really sapped it out of me. I walked alot when I should have been running and the surface of the terrain was playing havoc with my feet.

I had a small celebration when i reached the 100 mile point. Patted myself on the back for passing that milestone in under 24 hours  then I gave myself a kick in the head by calculating that it was still another 12km’s until the finish.

There was a section on this course when you could turn around and look quite far behind at the track above. It was about this time when dawn was breaking that I saw 2 figures running well. Damn it, they were running strong and I was barely moving. I didnt want to lose another place so I had to get going. Within half an hour and I had been caught by Jess and her pacer. I was easily overtaken and was suitably impressed how Jess ran absolutely everything. The small gradients were forcing me to walk but not for Jess. I was quickly gaped and had to work hard to keep them in my sights. When I figured that I was about 1.5km from the finish I put my foot down in a bid to catch them up. I finally did so as we were descending down the single track to Patonga Beach. Having to ignore all pain I flew down this part and was greeted by the wonderful sight of sand! I had to stop momentarily to figure out which way to head then followed the footprints round the beach and towards the boat ramp and back onto the beach. The soft sand was cruel to run on but the finish was great. I have to say it was pretty anti-climatic. Im not sure what i was expecting but I didnt have any waves of emotion or feelings of elation. I just fancied a sit down! Dave put the medal round my neck and I was told to touch the Patonga post. Job done! Final time of 25hr 15 minutes good enough for 8th place out of 121 starters.

I went over to where the other guys were and had some food and drink and waited for Phill to arrive. I admit to being pretty antisocial at this stage. I was pretty wiped from the race and just fancied getting home for a shower and some hot food. I didnt really have the energy for much conversation.

Post Race

After collecting my drop bags I was driven back to Sydney. I funny thing happened when I got out of the car. I commented to Phill that I felt a bit nauseous. One minute I was standing there then the next minute I was on the ground. Phill was a little shocked but after lying in the garage for 10 minutes I was ok. I can only think this was due to low blood pressure, exhaustion/lack of sleep.

On Monday I couldnt quite believe how good my legs felt. Very little soreness and I could freely run up and down the stairs without any pain. I can only attribute this to the low intensity of the race. I took it relatively easy the whole way and was never out of my comfort zone. I was well hydrated and fueled up which probably all helps.

Having said that, my body has been tired. I have been feeling more fatigued this week that usual and my legs have felt tired even after doing very little. My appetite has been ferocious and I have been eating everything in sight. This is now beginning to slow up.

Food and Drink Stats During the Race

  • 36 scoops of Hammer Perpetuem (orange and vanilla flavour)
  • 29 salt stick caps
  • 5 bananas
  • 5 jam doughnuts
  • 2 Hammer energy gels
  • 25 litres of water
  • 2 cups of coke
Afterthoughts
This is definitely a race I will run again (sorry Phill). I wasted at least 45 minutes going off course and 56 minutes at checkpoints. For my next attempt I’ll know where im going and I’ll have a crew to aid with quick checkpoint turnarounds. aka Vizey in and out in a minute styley (providing I have no blisters of course!)
I probably wouldnt change my pacing strategy too much in the early stages as looking back I still feel I got this spot on. Certainly in the later stages I would have liked to push it a little harder but thats there for the taking next time. Given the same conditions I think sub 24hrs isnt beyond the realms of possibility.
Next year is the year of the marathon PB for me with the aim of cracking 2.45 potentially at GC Marathon. With that in mind I have decided to put ultras on hold for a year to concentrate on getting some speed into my legs whilst im still young (relatively!!). I havent yet had a consistent year of training and and im excited at what i might be able to achieve if i have a solid foundation underneath me.
I also firmly believe that I need to have a break from the long stuff as there is only so much the body can take (or my body can take). I want to run for as long as I can so it would be silly to burn out so soon. I think a focus on speed vs long stuff will improve me as a runner massively.
So next year will be plenty of 5kms and 10kms with way more strength and conditioning thrown in. I would like another crack at GNW100 in 2013.

4 thoughts on “Great North Walk 2011 Race Report

  1. That's one cracking run Ian for your first crack – I'm sure there's a hell of a lot more to come from you in years to come once you get that mara PB down too. Don't be a stranger too much though mate and get your arse out on these 60km runs with us 🙂 Nice work buddy.

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