GOW100s – 2013 – Bruce Wright
“Looks like we’ve jagged the good weather!” For a moment I didn’t know what he was saying. But looking out to sea at the calm waters and the clear blue sky over Apollo Bay, I knew what he meant. We were both making our way to the start of the GOW100s, our running packs swinging over our shoulders bulging with gels and power bars, rain coats and space blankets, water bladder tubes poking out at crazy angles, bobbing along excitedly in our wake. As we joined the small crowd milling around the Apollo Bay Hotel, I did what everyone else was doing. I checked out the gear. The packs, the shoes, the tops and tights, the brims and shades. I noticed a lot of compression socks and gators. What was that all about? It was all new to me. This was my first trail run. A little ambitious, admittedly. But I’d convinced Andy I was up for it. I’d done a few marathons, an Oxfam Trailwalker. “The GOW100s is no Oxfam” people had mentioned on several occasions. But what was the big deal? GOW is 100 k’s, the Oxfam was 100 k’s. Snap. There was little ceremony before the start, we were ticked off the list and weighed (to help determining hydration levels later if necessary). Then we wandered over the road to a large white anchor, the official starting point.
“We’ve got some more great new single track on the course this year” enthused Andy at the briefing in the hotel the night before, “And a special pasta order for table twelve”. Peppering his briefing with meal orders from the bistro was a personal touch that made me warm to him immediately. Typical of his concern for the runners welfare. After all, what’s more important than a full tank of fuel when you hit the trail! Despite their casual delivery, Andy and Brett had serious messages to impart, focussing on runners taking care of themselves with the right gear, the right food and fluids; taking care of each other if anyone gets into trouble; and being considerate to other users of the walk. The mandatory gear check was no rubber stamp either. My compression bandage failed miserably to meet requirements. (Fair cop. No arguments). I left the briefing with some of Brett’s birthday cake completing my carbo-load, feeling I would be in good hands and in good company the next day.
As you’d expect, the start of the GOW100s saw no jostling for position or explosion out of the blocks when the gun fired. Andy wished us all the best and off we went. After a pleasant jog along the beachfronts, we popped out of the Marengo Caravan Park onto the Great Ocean Walk proper. Almost as one we filed along the boggy tracks, crossed a few short beaches and climbed up and down over small rises. It was a carefree, happy time. We were all fresh and full of optimism for the day ahead. It was marred only by my clumsiness when I drenched one of my shoes in mud. My running buddies laughed at my distress. I was going to have to stop being so precious.
I’m not sure if it was the excellent weather or something in the water or that little extra boost we got from Brett’s birthday cake the night before, but everyone was flying! As a new comer I hadn’t notice it but a few runners mentioned it. We were a chatty lot and I enjoyed a few conversations, mainly about how we ended up in the GOW100s. For my part I was converted marathon runner. After enjoying an Oxfam Trailwalker event and realising that I was unlikely to ever break 3 hours in the marathon, I tried trail running. Why the GOW100s? Running through the Otways, along beaches, through rainforest, over and under spectacular sea cliffs, where else would you rather be? I fell in with Mark along the Parker Spur, one of the longer climbs on course (5.5km) but quite a gentle grade heading up. Mark was a big guy like me. At the weigh-in this morning we’d both looked on in dismay as people clocked up weights in the 70’s, 60’s and even 50 kilo range. Both around 6 foot 3 with no change from 90kg, we wondered if handicapping might be appropriate – maybe 10km head start or perhaps some of the lighter runners could carry our packs? Just a thought. Checkpoint 1 at Blanket Bay came before we knew it. I was in the middle of the field but still made the 21 km in 2:15hr, over 9km/h. 17°C. Quite a fast section. Fortunately, Allister, my crew, had it covered and I got the full treatment before heading out again. Mark wasn’t so lucky. His Dad hadn’t arrived yet. I asked if he needed any supplies but he was still fairly well stocked. We both headed off towards the Cape Otway Lighthouse, still with a spring in our step.
“You’re right on track” were Allister’s parting words. To tell you the truth, I hadn’t thought too much about a target. In fact I’d only gotten my entry two weeks earlier. I’d been a bit tardy in registering and missed the cut. But Andy was optimistic there would be a spot for me so I joined the waiting list, kept the training up and badgered him every other day. “Can I go, can I go, huh, please, please”. It made getting up early for those long Sunday runs a little harder, having that demon on my shoulder saying “Why even bother, you won’t get in. It’s so cold out there today. It’ll probably rain, too. Why not have a nice long sleep-in instead… ”. When I finally got the call I panicked. I did about an hour of stretching then went out the next day and ran like a madman! After I calmed down a bit, I admitted my training was looking OK. I’d been doing 90-100km per week, mostly tempo runs from 10 to 30km at 4:30kpm pace, long trail runs around the Plenty Gorge area (where one of the Salomon Races was held this year, tough course!) and trying to keep my body from seizing up from the strain. Based on my 60km long run time of 7 ½ hours, my optimistic goal was 13 hours. But really, after 60kms, it was a big unknown for me.
“##$%^&*##!!” Almost immediately into the second section, as we climbed out of Blanket Bay, the risks of trail running became apparent. We passed two very pissed off runners as they hobbling back to the checkpoint on very tender ankles. To add indignity to injury one poor girl was also being attacked by a leech! I was just starting to think that my Plenty Gorge training had prepared me well to deal with the rocks and roots and branches when in the space of a hundred metres I stumbled over twice and lost my hat on a branch. Mark told me to take it easy. We’d be up on cliff tops soon and I was quickly becoming the most dangerous obstacle around! Probably one of the ironies of running through such picturesque countryside is the fact that we spend most of the time looking down at the track six foot ahead of us! The short run over the beach at Parker River inlet deposited some stones in my shoes. Annoying! Those funky gators that people were wearing didn’t seem like such a superfluous fashion accessory anymore! The crowd started to thin out as we all finally started listen to our bodies and set our own pace. The day was still glorious as the lighthouse came into view. Hikers and walkers were starting to hit the trails. I remembered my manners and gave then a cheery welcome. Some cheered us on, some were just bemused. The grove of gum trees that lined the track was laden with Koala bears. Allister gave me an encouraging grunt as I crossed Lighthouse Road. Volunteers met me at every turn showing the way and cheering me on. The trail from the cape to Aire River was quite a challenge; not that hilly but dry and exposed to the strong westerly wind with lots of sand on the track. With few runners around it felt quite desolate. I was glad to get into Aire River and Checkpoint 2. 21 km, 2:15hrs, 24°C still motoring along.
I was getting into more of a rhythm at the checkpoints now. We aimed at a 5-10 minute stop - change the socks, vasoline, sunscreen, drink a lot, eat something to take away the sickly taste of the gels (bananas, peanut butter sandwiches, pizza, chips). Allister would refresh the bag, empty the rubbish, restock the gels and bars, fill the bladder, (I swapped around between Endura, Gatorade, Staminade, Electrolytes and plain water, depending on how I felt). High five, then off. By Aire River we were a well-oiled team. The body was holding out. The legs at 42k were starting to make a few noises. Some cold wet towels around the calves felt great but were soon forgotten when I got back on the track. That was when my compression sock envy began!
“Do you think drafting is OK?”. The two of us were being sand blasted as we struggled through the deep soft sand along Johanna Beach. At almost 2km it was the longest stretch of beach on the course. At times the wind blew up, almost pushing us back down the beach. All the while I was thinking “If we were on bikes we’d be drafting” I wasn’t sure if it was kosher. I hadn’t read the fine print on trail running ethics. Still, I thought I should try. So I asked. “Do you think drafting is OK?”. “Oh no, I’m OK thanks” I’m not sure if he didn’t hear me correctly, or he thought I was offering to draft him the whole way, or he knew it was against the rules and he’d caught a glint of reflected light from Andy’s binoculars as he policed the beach from a hilltop or he was just outraged that I thought he would stoop so low. Maybe he’ll tell me one day. The 13km from Aire River to Johanna had been fine up to then. Mostly hard trail over small undulations reasonably sheltered from the wind. Volunteers manning the Castle Cover lookout waved me through. But after the struggle along the beach and a wade across the Johanna River, Checkpoint 3 was a welcome sight. 13km 1:40min.25°C. Time to don the high viz vest!
The 25km section from Johanna Beach to the Gables is the big daddy. This is where it all happens. I knew that. Gayle Cowling painted a gloomy picture in last year’s report- mud wrestling up sheer walls of terror. (Hey Gayle, great run! 16:31=>13:39. Are you kidding!?). I thought it was just the mud and the weather, which we could forget – 2013 had hardly any mud and the weather was fantastic (a little windy in places is all). I knew about the first 5 k’s – all uphill to the Melanesia Track. But, actually, I was looking forward to the change of pace. It’s one of the key decisions a trail runner has to make - when to walk? I guess the answer is not set in stone. A friend told me to listen to the legs. When you head up (or down) an incline and they go “ah-uh” then you know. On a course like GOW, with small undulations all along the track, my legs and I were talking constantly. From Johanna Beach to the Gables it’s less of a conversation and more of a shouting match. “ah-uh, ah-uh , ah-uh , ah-uh , ah-uh , ah-uh , ah-uh AH-UH, AH-UH!” “That’s not a hill!” “Yes it is!” “No it’s not!” “Yes it is, I’m walking anyway!”. I swear, my Garmin gave the elevation gain for the whole course as 3266m. And 3265m of that has got to be between Johanna Beach to the Gables. It starts off nice enough with the big uphill to Melanesia track. That’s all money in the bank that you spend with gay abandon all the way down to the breathtaking Melanesia Beach. (A splash of fresh water on the face from the rocky stream that runs down onto the beach was magical). From then on it was endless hills; short, sharp, energy sapping hills.
“Shut up Legs” (Jens Voight). My compression sock envy had turned into an obsession. I thought about an ambush of the next calf-clad individual that happened my way. And I really should have changed my soggy shoes. The soles of my feet were feeling like wet paper pulp. “OK, it’s true. This is no Oxfam!”
I think it was a dream, but on a grassy knoll after one particularly steep climb I met the Orange Angels. They gave me beautiful sweet orange quarters and wished me well. It must have been a dream. Thank you Orange Angels.
“Have you got any water?” Two runners were sprawled across the track contemplating water purification tablets. We were still about 5 k’s out from the Gables and one of them had run dry. I pulled my bladder out to see I only had a few drops left myself. Dang! Nothing to do but carry on. Then I remembered Moonlight Head was just ahead. I thought I might see a volunteer, but instead there were a couple of water casks with pink and yellow ribbons attached. Oh thank you, GOW fairies!
“Did you see that huge snake?” A fellow runner asked. So relieved was I to finally pull into the Gables Checkpoint I hadn’t noticed. Snakes were out in force, with many sightings on the day. I also almost stepped on an echidna and spooked a wallaby. But at the 80k mark all I could think about was a taking a break, having a cool drink, something to eat and changing my soggy shoes! 25km 3:20hrs. 26°C.
“My feet are killing me!” remarked a runner, early in the last 20k’s. My feet were actually loving me in their comfy new dry shoes. But I didn’t mention it. Compared to what lay behind us, what lay ahead looked like a doddle. More ups and down, sure. But nothing too taxing. Fairly dry, clear track, no sand, no beach, no river crossings, the weather still perfect, still plenty of light. The legs just had to forget the last 80k’s (AH-UH!). “Wouldn’t mind the finish” another runner said.
“Princetown, you sexy beast!” Euphoria, delirium and exhaustion are a potent mix. Coming over the rise to see Princetown, brought it all out. Only 7 k’s to go! (Nasty patch of sand along the Gellibrand River, though) Allister was by the bridge. I ran the last leg on adrenaline. That I could run at all was a source of much joy. I was going to make it! Finally I saw the Twelve Apostles Visitors Centre up ahead. The volunteers directed me through the Gibson Steps car park, through the tunnel under the road, up the hill. The small crowd cheered me through the finish. 20km 2:30hrs. 22°C. Total time 12:48hrs. Very happy!
“Can you tell me where you live, Bruce” It was fair question. I was feeling pretty crook after the finish. The doctor got me to lie down for a while. Probably dehydration. We checked my water bladder. I’d drunk about a litre over the last 20km. It was a fairly warm day. Probably not enough. Silly boy. I got better. But I learnt a lesson.
I cannot lie. Despite my hiccup at the end, I had one of those rare races where everything went right. The weather couldn’t have been better, I had fantastic support from volunteers and my crew, and my body held together. I was particularly pleased with how my legs travelled over the last 20ks, which I put down to my tempo training, fanatical stretching and some good decisions on the day. I take my hat off to the winners, Blake and Janet (9 hours 28 is just mind boggling – you are a machine, man!) and to everyone else that finished, whatever your goal was, to conquer that course is just an incredible buzz! Well done. The volunteers were sensational! Coming into the checkpoints with everyone cheering, gave me a massive boost. And out on the trail, they were popping up everywhere, keeping me on track, ready with a drink, an orange or an encouraging word. Sensational! Does everyone fall in love with their crew? Allister was a legend, giving me great support and encouragement all day, and keeping my family up to date on my progress! My wife was equally impressed, especially with all the care and attention he gave me after the race; she’s in love with him too! It’s an awesome event! Andy and Brett do a fantastic job, doing everything they can to ensure the runners comfort and safety.
Great job, Andy, Brett and crew!
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