The seed for this race was planted a number of years back when I was first told that you can’t call yourself an ultrarunner until you’ve done C2K. I was training for a 100 kilometer race at that point which at the time was a massive undertaking. After googling C2K and reading up about it I was intrigued and in awe but I couldn’t fathom running it myself.
Fast forward 3 years and a few more ultras later including two 100 mile races and I was ready to toe the line. Unlike many other competitors I hadn’t experienced the race previously from a crew perspective so it was all brand new to me. I had however followed the races online so I was familiar with all the famous landmarks.
In the lead up to C2K I employed the help of Andy Dubois to provide some structure to my training. This was a first for me. I’m usually the sort of person that would have a plan in my head but not on paper and I’d mostly just go out and run what I felt like. Having a plan setup for me was good, it took all the guess work away.
I peaked at around 175 kilometers per week for a few weeks, around 6-3 weeks out from the race. I’d had some early issues with pain on the inside of my knee which a physio had addressed with weekly sessions of massage and prescribed exercises. Apart from a sore left foot which was a source of great pain after my long runs I was feeling pretty good. My longest run in the lead up was a little over 60 kilometers.
My crew consisted of my long suffering wife Phill, my best man Hywel and Pistol Pete. Pistol Pete was the runner, Phill was chief organizer extraordinaire and chef and Hywel was there to provide the banter.
We left Sydney at 5am on Thursday morning for the drive down to Eden. Fortunately Hywel had Maria Carey’s Christmas album on his ipod so I was a happy man.
After a false alarm with arrived at our caravan park in Eden. It was pretty cold and the ‘deluxe’ caravan hut thingy wasn’t well insulated. In fact, it wasn’t insulated at all. Nice spot on the bay though.
The pre-race dinner was good fun. The buffet was great and I loaded up on the vegetarian options. I’m not a vego but I tend to refrain from meat in the week leading up to the race as it takes a long time to digest fully.
After the meal it was back to the shack for a shower and I was in bed just after 9pm. It was freezing but I slept ok. I had the alarm set at 4.30am to be out of there at 5am.
My crew joined me at the start and there was a lot of nervous excitement in the air. It was the day I had been waiting for and I was amped to be there.
I switched my garmin on and set it to show me my splits every 10 kilometers. My rough game plan was not to run faster than 50 minutes for each 10km section and to not run slower than 60 minutes until it was dark. I also had another goal of running a 100 mile pb so I wanted to tick that off in under 16 hours. That was the extent of my game plan. I hadn’t bothered studying other splits in detail. After looking at the course profile I decided that I would take it very comfortably until the top of Big Jack which is 63 kilometers in. I was hoping that if I was still feeling good then I could put in a big effort for 100 kilometers, all the way to Beloka Range, 100 miles in. I anticipated that by the time I make it that far something will be hurting pretty badly and I can use the hills as an excuse to walk and just grind it out.
I had no idea how the race was going to pan out. I wanted to finish at a reasonable hour so my crew wouldn’t have to be out there for 2 days. This was actually Phill’s request so that was my main motivator.
On my feet I wore my Newton Gravity’s. For nutrition I had a whole heap of food. Nutella sandwiches, museli bars, haribo, fruit, potatoes etc. I also had Hammer Perpetuem to top it up.
So, 5.30am and we’re off. Woo hoo! I broke the race down in my head into sections. My first milestone is where I can meet my crew 24 kilometers in. I have a 2 hour bottle of perpetuem and there are a few aid stations on the way where I can take on additional fluid.
There is some nice bush running at the start of the race. I’m loving it. I settle into a nice rhythm and I’m quite surprised by some of the climbs, all of it I run but i’m sure its comfortable. Out of the bush and onto the road I start chatting to Lachlan Fraser. He is a runner from Melbourne. He has done this race a number of times. We have a good chat about races we’ve done, upcoming races and everything in between. I let him go on the downhills as I dont want to fry my quads and I catch him on the climbs. My climbing legs feel good – always a good sign. Eventually Lachlan’s pace is a bit too hot for me at this stage and I let him go completely. I then have the pleasure of chatting with Kevin Muller for a little while. Again we play back and forth a little, he runs downhill quicker and I go uphill quicker. Plenty of back and forth which is quite nice. Kevin ran over 400 kilometers in 48 hours on a track – yep you read that right! Insane.
Jo Blake and Trevor Allen are out of sight by this stage which is fine by me. Ewan Horsborough is close by (winner of the previous 2 events) and we have a quick chat, both pumped for the day ahead.
Soon enough we are 24 kilometers in and there are crew cars everywhere.
After some communication issues we changeover my water bottle and I grab a nutella sanga and i’m on my way having stopped for a couple of minutes. After the pit stop all the other ones go perfectly. My crew were spot on!
The plan now is for my crew to drive 5 kilometers up the road where I’ll grab more fluids etc. Life is good and I spend some time for the next little while swapping back and forth with Kevin and Ewan.
Unfortunately, during the night when I was a bit out of it I took off my garmin and lost it. So I don’t have splits of my race. However I made note of some major milestons. The first being the marathon distance – this flew by in 3 hours 47 minutes. Only 5 more marathons to go!
Somewhere along the way I passed Trevor Allen who was walking up a runnable incline. I said g’day and headed off to Rocky Hall. This is the first checkpoint and the site of a pair of toilets. I was very much looking forward to doing a number 2. Jo blake was first into the checkpoint 3 minutes ahead of me and he was occupying the first toilet. Ewan didn’t stop and ran past. I didn’t take too long and I was out of there in 3rd place and back into the race.
So far the race was going really well. I was ignoring all foot pain, whilst it hurt I just refused to let it consume me. I disowned it from the start and just focused on having fun.
A few kilometers later I caught sight of Ewan up an incline with Jo still out of sight. Without pushing it I was able to catch up to Ewan at the base of Big Jack Mountain. We are now 56.8 kilometers in. This is a 6.7k climb with over 500 meters of ascent. Uniquely, our pacers are allowed to join us here for the climb.
When I get to the base Pistol Pete is raring to go. Immediately I know this is going to be good climb. My legs feel awesome! It really is quite strange, but they feel fresh. I pass Ewan early on and then proceed to run down Jo. Some sections I powerwalk but alot of the climb I just run and in a flash the climb is over.
At the top of the climb poor Hywel and Phill are just getting settled as I come by. I thank Pistol Pete for the ride and now is only 6.5 kilometers to Check Point 2 – Cathcart.
Cathcart marks the 70 kilometer point in the race.
I am feeling absolutely brilliant at this stage. Running freely, taking on board calories and hydrating well. Life is good.
Typically what happens in a long race is my big toes explode. I have no idea why, I think the pressure just builds from all the pounding. At the 100 kilometer point this is exactly what happened. The pain is manageable though. I don’t bother addressing the issue. I leave the same pair of shoes and socks on for the entire race.
I pass the dead tree at 102 kilometres without any fanfare. Its only a dead tree but its good to see it after reading about it in lots of reports.
In terms of a race report there isn’t much to say until I hit 140 kilometers.
There is a long stretch of downhill and I’m running so well still I can’t believe it. Then ‘pop’, my left knee goes and drops me to the floor. I can’t believe it. I get up and get moving and it drops me again. The pain is excruciating and is on the inside of my knee. I immediately think that my race is over, I cant possibly go on with pain like this. The crew car is not too far ahead in the distance so I try to walk and then force myself into a run/limp thing. Once I get to the car Hywel
gets the vaseline out and gives me a rub down. Immense amount of pain but he works on it for a couple of minutes. I get going again and then stop 5 minutes later for another massage. It doesn’t seem to be doing a great deal apart from really hurting me. By this stage I’ve resigned myself to the fact that the rest of the journey is going to be a struggle but I’ve come to far to quit now. Only 100 kilometers to go, I can walk that if I need to.
I force myself to stop feeling sorry for myself and I get going again. My stride is altered to compensate for the knee but somehow I am running again. Each step from here on in is painful but it is what it is.
I tick off the 100 mile distance in around 15 and half hours – again I don’t have the exact splits as my garmin is still out in the wilderness sadly. 100 mile pb achieved which gives me some satisfaction. I still cant believe how easy it felt, even with the issues at 140 kilometers.
I’m now at the base of Beloka Range – a nice 5 kilometre climb. The sun has just gone down as I reach it. At 9pm Pistol Pete joins me again. Once it is dark runners are allowed pacers again. I’ve been really looking forward to Beloka Range as my running is becoming more and more laboured now. The knee is now completely stuffed and running just isn’t happening. Somehow, in my head at the start of the race I envisaged that something like this would occur. I had no faith in my knee holding up. I looked at the course profile and knew that if I could just make it to the base of Beloka Range then its all uphill. This meant that even if I could only power walk I would probably still do ok. I’ve got a decent walk and wouldn’t lose huge amounts of time compared to running.
Well this situation had become real and that’s what I was left with. I felt sorry for Pete as he was trying to encourage me on but running was just hurting my knee so much. I was now just focused on moving moving moving. Apart from the knee everything else was still ok – I kept that at the front of my mind.
At 180 kilometres I have a second wind of sorts. The pain is still there but I’m able to run a bit. Hywel joins me for 7 kilometres as we go through the caravan park. The pace feels pretty good whilst it lasts and I’m enjoying running with my mate.
The good time doesn’t last long though and I’m out of CP5 and i’m suffering again. From the 190 kilometre mark it now really is all up hill. The sleep monsters have hit me hard and the race is now becoming a struggle. I’m entertaining all sorts of thoughts of stopping for a rest. My pit stops are becoming more and more frequent. I feel sorry for my crew as I was hoping they’d be able to get some rest but thats not happening.
Im still leading the race at the 212 kilometre mark at Perisher Village. I’m not in a good way though. I have no idea who is behind me or how close they are but I sense Ewan isn’t too far away.I’m hallucinating a little as lights on the side of the road look like they are flying around the place, I even think I can see runners ahead. Soon lights from behind appear now and again and instead of making me fight my mind is telling me to pack it in! I’m in so much pain. I can’t even touch my knee. It’s smashed.
Inevitably I make a pact with myself that when Ewan passes I’m going to get in the car and take 10 minutes rest. I just cannot keep my eyes open.
The climbing continues. I’ve been running by myself for quite a while as Pete is resting up in the car. My guts are starting to feel a bit off too making moving awkward.
Finally, after what seems like an eternity Ewan and Andrew Vize pass me. Ewan is extremely chipper which is great too see and after some encouragement they are on their way. At that moment in time I’m actually looking for a place to do a number 2! Too much information I know. I look for a place on the left side of the road and I walk straight into a marshy area. Water straight up my shins. The water is freezing on my feet. My crew is shouting at me to go there but there is no chance of that. Meanwhile, Ewan’s 2 crew cars are hanging back and appear to be watching all this going on. Sod it, on the right side of the road there are no bushes on hiding places but when you gotta go you gotta go. So with 3 cars lined up I do my business. Funny what ultra running reduces you too. I then take a 10 minute break in the car in which time the lead cars have gone.
The rest doesn’t do me any good, in fact I force myself out of the car after 7 minutes and I’m as stiff as anything. Pete hops out with my and we get moving. Not running as I can’t, but moving with purpose anyway.
However, i’m really struggling with the desire to go to sleep and soon enough i’m back in the car again. I limit myself to 10 minutes but I’m back out on the road way before then and thats the last time I allow myself to rest. It’s just not worth it, I want to get the race finished now. 5 marathons down and now less than 1 to go!
At around what must be the 215 kilometre point on the way to Charlottes Pass I start complaining to Pete that the fog is really making it hard for me to see where I am going. He tells me its alright and to keep on moving. I don’t think anything of it and keep on marching. As we approach Charlottes Pass we can just make out first light, however the fog is really thick. Pete turns off his headlamp to run and tells me to do the same. I tell him that he is mad as the fog is too thick then he tells me there is NO fog. Not sure what this means but probably not a great sign.
Finally we make it to Charlottes Pass. My crew is there to meet me and I’m so keen to finish this beast that I don’t really want to stop. However we faff about a bit to get things sorted and to locate walking poles. I grab the poles and run off. Immediately I trip over myself as I can’t see anything. I shout out to the volunteers where I need to go and I receive a bemused look and answer as they tell me to go up the mountain.
I knew that but little did they know that I can’t see a path. They point in a direction so I follow their guide and after a minute or so I’m back at the car park. Apparently I missed the turn off. I tell Pete to get in front but stay close and second time lucky we are on the right track. By this stage I can’t even see my hand a foot in front of my face. Literally.
There is some flat walking (would have been easy running if I could have seen) before the heavy snow appears. I’m so glad Pete is with me. I would never have made it. I look ahead and I can’t see anything. No peaks, no track, nothing. My pace is horribly slow. Every foot fall hurts now as my body knows it’s nearing the end and can soon just give up. Every now and again I fall into knee deep snow. My calfs are burnt and the snow makes them sting like crazy.
After what seems like an eternity Pete tells me we are about 2 kilometers from the summit. He then tells me that he can see Ewan and his crew coming down the mountain. Only 4 kilometers in front of me but they may as well me 20 miles ahead the way I am travelling. Crews and runners all give each other a hug as we pass. Ewan tells me that he is also practically blind and is only seeing fog, which makes his finish even more spectacular. Good on ya mate! Cracking run!
The path narrows off as we round the mountain towards the summit. This section is sketchy and I slip a few times and almost slide off 100 foot. Eventually however he Strezleki monument comes into sight – for Pete anyway. I can’t see it until I am touching it. No emotions run through my body, all I want to do is get off this mountain and have a beer. Pete takes a photo, I think its pointless as its too foggy and I tell him to hurry up ( I still didn’t comprehend how clear a day it was until I look at the photos the next day).
Pete has to take a selfie as cant make out any of the buttons on his iphone to take one of him. And then we are off.
Going down is slightly easy but still a struggle. By this stage I have broken both walking poles after slipping and applying too much force to them. Paranoia is beginning to set in now as I keep asking Pete if he can see other runners.
At about the same point that Ewan passed me, Pete and I pass the 3rd place runner from Canada. We then pass another runner and from then till the finish I think i’m asking Pete every 10 minutes if he can see them coming down the mountain. Although I’m wrecked there is no way I’m giving up second place now.
Nearing the finish Pete tells me to start running.
Apparently the finish line is up ahead. I can’t see the cars, Phill, Hywel, or volunteers. All I can see is thick fog until i’m a few feet away and then i’m done.
26 hours 54 minutes. I don’t hang around long. All I want to do is go back to the hotel and have a shower and a nap and I’m sure my crew want to do the same.
After a few hours of tossing and turning i’m back to life. My vision has improved and I head off the pub to meet Ewan for a few beers and to chew the fat.
The awards ceremony on Sunday is good fun as Paul talks genuinely about each runner. We receive our Akubras and hat pins, have a group photo and a chat with other runners and crews. Lots of brusied and battered runners out there.
After the ceremony we’re in the car again for the long drive back to Sydney as we all have work on Monday. What a weekend!
A big thanks to Paul and Dianne for putting on this race. It really is spectacular. And thanks to all the volunteers who give up there time. People, put this race on your to do list!
And of course, this race would be impossible to do without the support of my crew, particularly Phill who has had to put up with all my 4am runs, no weekend lie-ins and boring conversation topics! Phill was also the main driver, organiser and everything in between. Legend!
A big thanks to Hywel too for providing the entertainment. Always something amusing to say and also does a mean massage! Chief!
And Pistol Pete. There wasn’t a hope in hell of me finishing this race without you guiding me up the mountain. I’ll be there to support you for your half marathon pb! 😉
It’s now been almost a month since I finished the race. My left knee stopped hurting about 10 days after. It was incredibly sore to touch and walk about on. Likewise, it took this long for the my face and body stop peeling after suffering from deep burns. My big toe nails both fell off a couple of days ago so i’d say i’m almost back to normal. My left foot was really numb for quite some time after the race and its only in the last week that the numbness has mostly disappeared. All that’s lingering is some numbness in my left leg running up my IT Band. I’m guessing its some sort of nerve damage.
I’ve now spent the vast majority of the last month in a pub and getting heavily involved in the festive season without having any urge to run. It’s only now those thoughts are returning….