The 2016 GOW100s
Following a string of shorter ultra trail runs, the 2014 Great Ocean Walk 100s was my
maiden 100K. It was tough, but I finished it. After two unsuccessful attempts at Eiger101 (in
2015-16), I really needed to give this event another go. Clearing the cobwebs of successive
DNFs and recovering from two Achilles tears, repeating a previously successful event
seemed suitable to boost morale.
In 2014, this was a jump into unknown 100K territory, with 80Ks at Cradle Mountain the
previous longest distance. The reason I picked this race in 2014 was the 3pts counting
towards UTMB qualification. The additional point over say the SCC100, indicates that this is
a tough race. It’s certainly not an “easy” 100K with significant (surprisingly) climbing
involved. I learnt a lot from that first experience. After cruising for the first 55k, I totally fell
apart after Melanesia Beach, struggling into the Gables, and walking it out in 17 hours. I
thought I learnt my lesson – keep reserves, eat plenty.
Having struggled with an unsettled stomach while running for years, I’m still desperate to
find the magic nutrition plan. Good thing is that the stomach problems are now kicking in
much later than they used to (when I struggled 30K into a marathon – and let’s not even go
into a 400M track run). Problem is they still occur some three-quarters in. If only I could fool
myself mentally that I’m really running a 100 miler… My latest food plan for the GOW
included three portions of quinoa salad, lots of cherry tomatoes, bananas and plenty of gels.
I also think that using poles has helped, as it keeps me upright!
Having taken the day off, I arrived early on Friday afternoon in Apollo Bay to check into the
AB Motel. Race registration and gear check occurred in the Mechanics Hall, where it seemed
a larger crowd would be running than two years ago. It’s all a seamless process nonetheless,
and the RD Andy and his team sort us all out in no time. After the briefing we head off to the
AB Hotel for a bowl of pasta.
After a restless sleep (why is it that I wake up for hourly time checks…), the alarm bleeps at
5am. A quick shower and solid breakfast later, I head off to the AB Hotel where a crowd of
runners and crew have gathered. It’s quite a pleasant temperature and blue sky. Without
much ado a roll-call is taken and Andy sends us on our merry way from the Anchor.
The first flat few Ks on the bike path are a blast. Marengo Caravan Park arrives in no time
and there are already a few early riser supporters. Then we cross a few small beaches
before the trail heads inland into the Otway National Park. It’s pretty wet and muddy but
not much worse than two years ago, despite the rains in recent weeks. Once we leave the
beaches behind, it’s the first significant climb. But it doesn’t feel like that as it is mostly a
vehicle track, and this first section is easy-going. In the early morning the birdsong is all
around here with screeching yellow-tailed cockatoos and the odd lyrebird. Blanket Bay (21K)
is reached after 2h22, and I’m feeling really comfortable and maintaining a nice pace. Too
fast? Hard to say, it doesn’t feel like I’m pushing myself. A few goodies from the wellstocked
check point, and I head straight through.
From here we hit the sandy trails – softer than I remembered. It’s also getting quite warm –
‘eating’ lots of mozzies – with only the occasional refreshing breeze whenever we get close
to the cliff’s edge and ocean. It’s beautiful with spectacular cliff formations (although
noticing this does require a fair bit of looking backwards). After the carpark at Cape Otway
lighthouse, I’m starting to feel a little unsettled. That’s disappointing as it’s a long way to go
from here. Amazing how quickly I then start to doubt my preparation (insufficient), my food
intake (insufficient), … the likelihood to finish (doubtful). In hindsight, I think my biggest
problem here is the switch from the “all runnable” to “mostly walkable.” I turn into survival
mode and just plod on.
It’s great to finally see Aire river and bridge appear from some distance up high on the
headland. It’s zig-zagging steeply downhill from there and turns into a sandy path along the
river before crossing the bridge to the check point at Aire River (42K) in about 5 hours. Left a
drop bag here, so I’m eating my first supply of quinoa salad – and manage to eat about
three-quarters of the little tub. The cherry tomatoes wash it down, and I finish the banana
while heading out again.
There’s always someone there to cheer you up with “it’s only 13K to Johanna Beach.”
Remarkable how many headlands, twists and turns fit into 13K! I’m still feeling a little down,
so continue to battle the “I could just drop out at the next checkpoint” demons. But there’s
enough stamina to keep going forward. At long last there’s Johanna Beach. Soft sand as
ever, and hardly a chance to jog. When the river (just a creek) comes into view I follow the
example set by another competitor and take off my shoes/socks. That’s nice and cool in the
surf and actually allows a jog – why didn’t I do that earlier? The river is pretty shallow and
after crossing I almost miss the steep turnoff (tiny sign that) into the dunes, but am kindly
re-directed by two bathers. Shoes back on and it is just a little stretch to the marquee on the
It’s 7 hours into the race when I arrive at the Johanna Beach (55K) check point, where I have
another half container of quinoa salad and tomatoes, and a coke to give a boost. Stocked up
by the volunteers (apology for knotting my drop bag so intricately…) I feel quite good –
much better than at the re-starts from the two earlier check points. I remember this section
quite well. The Old Coach Road climbs steadily and I walk most of it, but at a good pace. At
the road intersection with Melanesia track, it’s time to put on the safety vest (although
there’s no traffic). It’s downhill to Melanesia Beach – first nice and steady for a jog, then
very steeply after climbing the steel fence – just beyond the dead-end Knowledge Track! –
all the way to the beach. It’s a short runnable beach, crossing a little creek….
… and then this section really starts at about 65K, with a very steep climb off the beach. I
remember this as the point of first collapse in 2014, so I take it a lot easier on the many
short and nasty climbs that follow. More of the concrete steps – fine to ascend but slippery
on the descents. My poles help (I think). It curves, it winds, it climbs, it drops, in a never
ending cycle. Needless to say this 10K is pretty much all walking. Finally out of the bush onto
the Cape Volney Track and a (very steep) section through that paddock, before curving back
into the bush. Hurray, I think I’m going to make it without puking….. Alas, on the final climb
my stomach protests too much and I have to take time out. Thank you to the supportive
runner overtaking me who offers help/call for assistance. I was fine, it just takes a few
minutes of settling down…
Almost immediately after, I arrive at Moonlight Head and know that the worst is over. Two
volunteers point out the water drop a little higher up. Then it’s still another 5K, along the
paddocks and into the woods again, but on a much more level trail – still plenty curvy but
not as many climbs. I actually run quite a bit of this – and my stomach keeps it together. It is
a really nice section – pity it’s hard to appreciate as the Gables beckons.
In 12h15m (6:45pm) I finally arrive at the Gables (80K). At that point I know I’ll finish the
race, so it’s a relief of sorts. Surprised to see quite a few familiar faces clustered in the
shelter of the marquee (it’s really blowing a gale here). Many runners recover here for a bit
before tackling the final section. While they’re heading back out I take a cup of sugary tea
but only manage to swallow my last tomatoes (no more quinoa salad…). And those
tomatoes don’t last for very long either, after I return to the trail. Ah well, at least the sun
will soon be gone, so less need to replace fluids. At this stage, I know I can “wing it.”
The first 5K to Devil’s Kitchen campground is similar to the section Moonlight Head - Gables.
Big curves, but relatively flat. I power-walk with some running to get as much distance out
of the quickly disappearing daylight. I manage to get through this section before switching
on the headlights. My Black Diamond lights are really powerful, which is nice as it widens
out the somewhat claustrophobic corridor (in 2014 I had a really crappy light which made
the path sometimes difficult to follow). Suddenly I’m face to face with a swamp wallaby.
Don’t know who’s more surprised but we politely pass each other. It’s a bright moon but it’s
too tricky to rely on that – too many rocks and roots. But headlights do mean you don’t get
to enjoy the starry night sky.
What’s that brightly reflecting beacon in front of me? Oh, it’s someone’s safety vest. Would
they be off for a pee? I don’t hear a thing so I take the vest and stuff it in my pack. A few K
further on just when I get close to the Gellibrand River I see a bright light ahead, it grows
bigger and it seems to target me…. Ha, it’s a runner asking me whether I’ve seen a fluoro
vest. Better than that, I say… And after a thanks, he bolts off again. I hit the road section to
Princetown and soon enough cross the bridge. Great to see that it’s only 7.7K to go.
While I know I’m on top of cliffs, from here it really is a stretch of dunes – up and down. First
sandy/stony, then boardwalks with rubber matting. Easy to trip though – particularly with
the stone steps hidden under sand. All of a sudden I come across two runners sitting on the
track, one injured. I offer my jacket for the assisting runner to stay warm until aid arrives.
After some 10mins I run into the medical team on their way to assist. They tell me it’s only a
K and a half to the finish. I’m elated but should know better. Turns out it’s almost 2K to the
Just when I start to grumble, I stumble on the kindly volunteer pointing across the carpark
to the roadway tunnel entrance. That’s my trigger to start running again and after another K
or so, the pavilion appears and another little group of people points me along the witches
hats. Stripping off the safety vest and switching off the lights for Brett’s camera, I cross the
finish line after 16h14m, a PB of sorts. It’s cold and windy here – big appreciation for the
GOW crew who make you feel warm, while they must be freezing after so many hours. The
heaters work overtime but I’m glad to catch a ride to Port Campbell and collapse in bed.
Big thanks to the volunteers and “the crew” – amazing how well you all read how we feel,
what words we need to hear, what we want stocked up, and what we need to drink/eat. It
can get a bit lonely on the course so the morale boost at the check points is palpable.
Thanks Andy for continuing to put up such a great run, … and for putting up with us!
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