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2012 Report by Gayle Cowling

Great Ocean Walk – 100km’s – Apollo Bay to 12 Apostles

As most of you know I usually write a story of the Oxfam journey of myself and my team each year so ever one can read an account of what happened. This year I took on an individual challenge of 100km’s along the Great Ocean Road known as GOW100. And I have to say Oxfam was a walk in the park compared to this….I was totally out of my comfort zone for this event. Firstly you have to demonstrate to the race officials that you are capable of even completing a 100km’s by providing evidence of past events you have competed in, then the race director decides if you will be accepted into the event or not. This year saw 60 individuals and 5 teams of two (relay) compete in the GOW 2012. I was competing in this race with one of my fellow Oxfamer’s – Owen. He had attempted this event the past 2 years but had been unsuccessful like many others in completing it – this year was going to be different.

A top field of runners from around Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Singapore and England signed up to participate in what was going to be an amazing event. The race briefing at 6pm on Friday night in the Apollo Bay was mandatory attendance by all competitors to ensure that all mandatory gear was accounted for and ticked off by the race director, if you did not have it all you could not start the race. There was a detailed race briefing and the next morning at 6am we all fronted up to be weighed in and our numbers allocated. I was lucky number 17. Another race briefing about weather conditions and tides – it was going to be a wet 13 degrees. We were all moved to the start line along the beach – no rain but the clouds were threatening. A good luck to everyone and a kiss from Nick and we were all off at 6:30am. Standing in the field I noticed another female runner with no shoes on – about 15km’s into the race I was going to introduce myself to her – her name was Ruth and she was running this course bare foot – insane or smart I had not figured it out yet because I did not know I was going to be in for so much mud. 

There are 4 official checkpoints throughout the race with cutoff times for each to ensure that runners complete the event in an appropriate time. The first checkpoint was Blanket Bay – approximately 21km’s into the event. This part of the course took you along the coast line of Apollo Bay through Marengo Caravan Park and along the coast cliffs for the first 6km’s. It was absolutely stunning scenery but the rain started within the first 3 km’s of the course. That was to set the scene for the rest of the day. Once past Marengo we hit the sand for a brief stint across the beach then headed inland to Shelly Beach. At this point the track had become dark slippery mud all the way into Elliot River about 10km’s into the race. The run down into Elliot River opened up into an inlet where we rock jumped across the river overlooking the waves roll in – the sun had appeared briefly at this stage. Next the race took us inland again through the Otway Ranges for the next 11km’s – it was deep thick mud the entire way. The cutoff time for Blanket Bay was 4hrs and Owen and I had completed this in 2hrs 45 minutes so we were well on track. As we descended into Blanket Bay we hit the beach again and soft sand for a couple of hundred meters before we climbed up to the top of the cliffs and made out way to the second checkpoint – Aire River which was at the 42km mark. The views along this section of the course were incredible and the only way to see them was to hike into the area. The course was going to take us down into Parkers Inlet then onto the Cape Otway Lighthouse. As we approached Parker’s Inlet a number of hikers were already heading down, they stopped and formed a guard of honor and gave us high five’s as we ran past them – that was inspirational and made me feel like I had my own personnel cheer squad. After all the mud Owen had decided to change his shoes at Blanket Bay, there was a river crossing at Parkers Inlet. He decided to take his shoes off and wade across. I went straight through it – knee deep and as I stepped up on the soft sand it collapsed underneath me and I ploughed face first into the sand. I lay there laughing and in the meantime Owen had crossed the river and put his shoes back on – not sure who was the smarter one. 

Nick and Owen’s wife Kathryn were our amazing support crew for the race and the Lighthouse was the second point we were able to see them, get more food and water before we continued onto Aire River another 10km’s down the course. BTW the track was still mud, we had no reprieve and I would say 75% of the course this year was mud which made for a slower race. The weather was wet coming into the lighthouse that I did not even notice it along the coast until we were about 5km’s the other side of it and looked back to see how far we had travelled. Before we knew it we were running over the sand dunes into Aire River – the sand was deep and soft under foot which made for difficult running – mental note too self – get some sand running under my belt before I attempt this course again. As we came into Aire River Nick and Kathryn had crossed over the rackety wooden bridge ready to great us with food and water again. As we approached the checkpoint the husband of another Oxfam team member was officiating. It was so good to see Greg he gave me a kiss, made sure I was travelling ok and checked us off – we had plenty of time so the volunteers gave us more food and water before we started the next section. We made it into Aire River in about 5 ½ hrs – the cut off time was 7 ½ hrs so again we were well on target. 

The next check point was 13 ½ km’s away at Johanna Beach. I was just loving this course with the majestic views as we climbed below the high cliffs into Castle Cove 6km’s from Aire River even with the ocean wind in our faces. 7 ½ km’s later the rain cleared and the sun shone through the clouds ever so briefly as our feet hit the long sandy beach at Johanna. It was long enough for me to just stand there and watch the high loud waves roll in – it was a picture perfect moment so out came the iphone quickly to capture it. Then it was about 2km’s of pounding through the soft sand as quickly as you could. Johanna beach had another river crossing and in recent times depending on the tides it had been shoulder deep. Something I was a bit worried about but we had our timing down pat as it was low tide at 2pm when we came through so it was only knee deep as we struggled against the current to get through it. If it had been much higher it would have been difficult to keep your balance as you crossed. 

Out of Johanna beach we were greeted by Nick and Kathryn and the volunteers at the checkpoint. We had now reached the 56km mark in about 8hrs so we were thrilled – checkpoint cut off was 10 ½ hrs. The sweepers spoke to us as we headed out with the rest of our mandatory gear, joking they would run us down but they had another 2 hrs before they could start their sweep to pick up the slower participants. My fear was they would catch us because one of the sweepers was Rowan who had won Oxfam this year in a time of 9hrs 51 mins – from this checkpoint the reflective vest had to be worn at all times. I was still feeling really good about the race and within myself, little did I know what I was about to be in for. 

The next check point was 24km’s away at The Gables so it was going to be quite a few hours before we saw Nick and Kathryn again, I had no idea it was climbing through even more mud the entire way. We started through green cow grazing pastures as we climbed up over the first 3 or 4 hills and the views were spectacular. At one stage I could see a whole lot of animals sweeping down the valley and thought better of it to call out what they were in-case I was seeing things but my suspicions were confirmed by another runner, it was a herd of Kangaroos grazing on the grass. The traverse up the hills through the grass and mud was slow going and became more difficult as we got into dense forest and deeper mud. At one point we were climbing vertically with our hands to get up over one cliff face and at times the mud was so slippery you went backwards. With about 5km’s to go we climbed up a hill and I looked back to see the entire coast line as far as the eye could see – at the furthest point was the lighthouse and I stood in awe at how far we travelled – another picture opportunity I could not miss. We lost a lot of time on this section of the course and after 4 ½ hrs we finally arrived at the 80km checkpoint of The Gables at 7pm. I was starting to feel the exhaustion in my body by this stage and I had so taken so many electrolytes it was starting to impact me negatively. Eating solid food was what I needed so I got down some bread, a fruit cup and some snakes. 

They were shutting The Gables at 9:30pm so we still had plenty of time as we headed out of this checkpoint around 7:15pm for the finish line 20km’s away. I started to get emotional at this stage where my mind was now my barrier to finishing, you start to have self-doubt that you can actually do it and since I was still dealing with the last 25km’s and how hard it was  I needed every smile and encouraging word the volunteers could muster. There was a four wheel drive track for the next km before we headed back along the coast so by this stage Nick was in the car and driving beside me giving me words of encouragement, he already knew I was going to finish this event and was so proud of what I had achieved – I just did not have that feeling just yet. It always helps when you have an amazing husband supporting you every step of the way. Now it starts to get a bit messy. Once Nick had left us I started to feel really sick and within minutes my body started to reject all the food I had put into it, so a quick dash off into the bush and I emptied every bit of energy I had left – it was not pleasant but if I hadn’t then I would still probably be sitting out in the bush somewhere waiting to be rescued. I now set my mind to counting down the km’s in increments of 5. Mind you we still had about an hour of daylight left and the rain had lifted and we were protected from the wind so it made it a bit easier. Owen and I were both feeling the strain on our bodies so a fast walk or a very slow jog was about as much as we could get out of our bodies at this point and all awhile the mud just kept on coming. Every little climb I could feel in my legs and when it turned to soft sand dunes the enjoyment I had felt at the 55km mark was all but now a very distant memory. I began to think about how this was not Oxfam, it was not even in the same league, this was a challenge that I was definitely underdone in my training, I was nowhere near 100km fit enough to attempt this and it began to show by the 90km mark. 

With 8km’s to go we reached Princeton and to my wonderful surprise Nick had managed to find a 4WD track into the section to shout one last time words of encouragement to us before we would see him again at the finish line – it was exactly what I needed. We started one last climb out of Princeton along the coast trail seeing nothing but darkness, no stars, no moon, no lights what so ever – the sun had well and truly set by this stage and all that guided us were our overhead lights. The battle now was avoiding walking into low hanging branches or falling over tree roots or stumps. I felt all I was saying the entire time as Owen followed me was tree, tree, tree, tree so he could avoid hitting them. Before long we saw the reflective 80 speed zone signs on the Great Ocean Road and knew we were getting closer. All of a sudden we emerged into a carpark to officials directing us across the road where we had to follow it 1km to the finish line. During the last section we had revised our time to complete the event in about 16 ½ hrs but we were going to smash that and as we ran into cheers of support and a bright orange finishing timer we crossed the line in a time of 16hrs and 12 mins. We were embraced by the race officials and congratulated by other supporters on a job well done. It was a great feeling to know that we had done it and well within the race deadline of 18 ½ hrs. A hot cup of tea and a warm gas fire for the next half hour was the immediate remedy then we were off to Port Campbell and a shower to wash off all the mud then a spa bath to try and ease the muscles before the next day’s presentation breakfast. 

An 8:30am start at the Port Campbell youth hostel for breakfast and awards presentation. No official placing or results published yet except for 1st 2nd and 3rd in the men’s and women’s so I still don’t know where I eventually finished up. There were individual presentations to each and every competitor who finished the course and we were all given a special belt buckle, I was lucky enough to also win a bottle of wine. It was actually a wonderful finish to sit there and talk with all the other competitors of how they fared on the course. It was also a great feeling to be cheered for so loudly when I went up to get my medal. Even though I look back and analyze how hard the event actually was I am thrilled I am able to say I did it.