GLASSHOUSE MOUNTAINS 100 MILES, 2007.
I woke with a start. The kind of jolt you get when you’ve slept through your alarm on a work day. There was a buzzing in my ear. I was disorientated. I sat up and swatted a mozzie on my leg. Another buzzed in my ear, the size of a small humming bird. I think they were trying to carry me off. It was broad daylight. When I laid down on the pine needles it had still been dark. Oh my god, how long had I been asleep? Instantly I had visions of Dave Mc sneaking past me, snickering to himself when he saw me asleep on the trail. My second sunrise of the race and I’d slept through it. I was in the pine plantation between CP9 and CP1a, around mile 93. Somewhere between the Glasshouse Mountains Tourist Road and the Freeway. I had no idea how long I’d been out for; I didn’t have a watch. I had been so, so tired and with no time incentive I had decided a little nap was in order. Within seconds of closing my eyes I had been deeply asleep. Now I felt great. Jumping to my feet was a reality check: my legs were still trashed. I shuffled on, looking over my shoulder for signs of another runner. I’m not sure why: I couldn’t go any faster.
Glasshouse has become more than a race. It’s become a social gathering for Australia’s hardcore ultra-runners. And yet it attracts a lot of first timers because of its achievability. It’s a great weekend of running with a well-marked course, regular, well-provisioned checkpoints and a variety of distances. But for me it’s all about the 100 miles. This year heavy rain cleared on the morning to produce great conditions apart from the sticky clay, thick mud and lots of unavoidable puddles, some more like small dams. This would lead to a mix of great and not so great times and plenty of entertaining moments out on the course. I came in underdone as usual and had been crook just a week out. As I lay in my bunk the night before listening to the rain I contemplated not starting. For the whole of the run I contemplated pulling out: something that usually takes injury or missed cut-offs for me.
I started very easy with walk breaks right from the start. From 1a back over Hamburger Hill for the first time I found myself towards the very back of the field, picking my way around the puddles. This was futile as skirting the track led to certain immersion in the hidden puddles amongst the grass. I resigned myself to wet feet. I caught up to Tim back at the school. By the time we reached the carpark halfway up Mt Beerburrum the leaders were coming back down. Tugger and Nic flashed by first and we were a long way further up the mountain before Spud crossed our path in third place. We were met by a steady procession of familiar faces with a few remarks that we were way behind. We were being conservative. I made up a few places on the way down by passing a few runners cautiously picking their way across the slippery concrete. I decided it was safer not to brake and risk skidding on the wet leaves, to just let gravity do all the work. There was still a long way to go.
The trail out to CP3 was drier than expected. The sun was breaking through warming us up. Runners were spread out as far as you could see. Damo on debut ran with Tim just behind me. Hermie and Richard disappeared up ahead. There were some soggy patches on the open forestry roads but the going was easy and relaxed. CP3 is the most basic of all the aid stations so no time wasted here. Hitting the bush track after CP3 was refreshing after the wide-open gravel roads.
Crossing the road at CP4 was fun with the mud chopped up by cars. A quick refill of the single handheld bottle and some rock-melon and we were off. After more gravel road, there was some climbing and rough trail through to Weetbix Hill and CP5. We were moving easily enough and I was still feeling comfortable but not great. We hit the first really rough stuff on the goat track to CP6 and it was here that Tim commented that I was out of shape. I usually revel in this terrain but today I was just plodding along. Despite this melancholy, I really enjoyed the gnarly downhills coated in slick clay or coarse sandstone. But I struggled to pull myself up each of the next rises and was labouring way too early.
CP6 and time to pick up the second handheld and smear on some sunscreen. The sun was climbing and the cloud cover was sparse. Still I was happier with the warmth than the cold of the early morning. We were not seeing any other runners by this stage. Neither of us were wearing a watch or carrying splits. We were running by feel. And I was starting to feel like crap. We left the road and headed into the infamous powerline section. I love that first decent into the powerlines. It signals the beginning of the really fun stuff. There was lots of yahooing as we threw caution to the wind and jumped, skidded and slid our way down the ravines. I would lead and then watch Tim tackle the tricky stuff. This proved to be very entertaining. He was doing so well until he started thinking about what he was doing instead of just doing it. I was rewarded deep into the powerlines when his yahoo turned into an aaaaaarrrrrgggghhhhhh as he crashed face first into a slide on his outstretched hands, water bottles fountaining in a parabolic arc like the fire hoses on a harbour barge, as he slid like some ungainly wilder beast, arms and legs akimbo, out of control, all the way to the bottom, ending up on his back, in the mud. Definitely points for style. Soon after my foot slipped as I skirted a puddle and I went waist deep into the brown slush. He laughed and thought that evened the score but no way did my slip compare to his acrobatic mud surfing.
We caught up to Richard and then passed Eagle towards the end of the powerlines. Once we were out on the road to CP8 I expected Ray to pass us again but it wasn’t until I slowed to walk into 8 that he went by. CP8 was it’s usual hive of activity. Definitely a focal point for both runners and crew as we passed through here three times in a few hours. It is also a chance to cross paths with other runners as they start or finish the different loops and share some common trail in the cloverleaf shaped loops. I was deteriorating rapidly now. I told Tim to go on. I just wanted to stop but instead headed off ahead of Ray expecting to see him out on the 8a loop. Spud was finishing his first loop as I was running down the long descent and he reminded me to turn at the mango tree. I could run this part of the course blindfolded so had no concerns, but other runners were missing the sharp right at the bottom and continuing around the loop in reverse. I passed Tim and found some energy and pushed hard along the flat tramline bed. At the end of the flat section I stepped off track for a nature stop and knew that Ray and Tim would now be ahead of me. What I didn’t realise was that Ray had fallen foul of the mango tree. I think people should forget the tree and remember that when you stop descending it is time to turn, hard right. Once you are not going downhill then you should have turned. Simple. Anyway, returning to the track I now felt worse than ever, the steady running having drained my last energy reserves. I walked large sections around the back of the loop, being passed by several 100 km and 50 km runners.
Back at CP8 I seriously thought about stopping. At least having a rest for a while. I sat down and was fussed over. I had some iced coffee. That helped a little. I realised that there was nothing really wrong with me. Sure I was flat but I had no blisters. I had no injuries. I was not dehydrated or vomiting. I got up and trudged up the big hill that starts 8b with Dog revving me up from behind. With a long descent down the back I picked up some momentum again and ran some of the way back out. I stopped another 100km runner about to miss the turn onto 8a on my way out. The climb back out wasn’t as bad this second time. I resigned myself that this was going to be a long day. Forget what time I might run and just work on keeping moving.
Back at CP8 I was weighed again. Only 1 kilo down; no problems. Tim and Ray were now well ahead of me. I told Boon that I was unlikely to catch them anyway. I finished my iced coffee and grabbed some fruit and trotted back towards CP7. There was cloud cover and I was glad to be out of the 8 loops and managed to run steadily to 7. The new sandy trail is a vast improvement over the old road. Terry caught up with me, running a controlled pace and we entered CP7 together. I was through quicker and left him sorting stuff. I wanted to get past the Beerwah loop in daylight. This saves a heap of time and keeps you in a good position for a sub 24 hour finish. Damn, still thinking about the 24hr cut-offs. I must have been feeling better.
With the sun getting lower I felt much better. I hoped this would last and started to run hard. I caught Eagle again and kept going. Turns out looking at the splits post race, I actually ran the overall fastest leg from 7-6. Amazing. I grabbed my small light and night clothes and kept moving. I could see a figure in the distance when I crested each hill and figured it must be Tim. I had chased him down about here last year so tried to repeat that feat. I saw the distant figure disappear into the forest of the Beerwah loop. As I followed a 100km runner was coming out of a wrong turn and I pointed him onto the right path. I was surprised that people were missing the markers. Again into some technical terrain that I usually enjoy but my euphoric surge had petered out and I just plugged on.
CP5 had been relocated a little further down the road but I was still here in plenty of daylight. As I approached I could see Hermie and Milov heading off and Tim resting in a chair. I feigned like I wasn’t going to stop and Tim protested, as is his wont. I couldn’t have gone on, anyhow. I needed food, and my Apex was here. We set off back to base together as the night started closing in, not realising just how long a night it was going to be.
As we approached base we crossed paths with a few of the faster runners heading back out. It is always fun trying to guess who’s coming. Nic surprised us and his death march foreshadowed his imminent withdrawal. CP2 is always a welcome haven. I was starting to feel really crap again and the temptation to curl up with a warm blanket was strong. We had prebooked pizza and it had arrived just in time. It really is food of the gods.
A hot footbath and a rough blister dressing on a tiny blister and it was time to go before I changed my mind and stayed. The hot, solid food seemed to help for a while. It was hard facing all those muddy puddles again now that I had dry socks on. It was just over 14 hours gone and technically we could still make 24hrs: 60km in under 10 hours. Always in the back of our minds.
We stopped at CP1a again. My coke from base tasted funny so I dumped it and refilled. Not far down the gravel road towards Glasshouse Tourist Road, Tamsin came powering up behind us. We lifted our pace to go with her and had a bit of a chat. She was clearly in better shape than the pair of us so when we ran into Darlo coming back along the bike path checking that he hadn’t missed the crossing to Moffat’s Rd, we were more than relieved to let her run off into the night with him. The pine plantation off Moffat’s Road always seems to go on forever. Then you hear the traffic on the freeway. Then you go on for miles again until you actually reach the infamous Jave’s pool at the underpass beneath the freeway. Except that there was an added treat awaiting us tonight. The last couple of hundred metres before the road was inescapable mud. It was like a skating rink except unlike ice, the mud clung to your shoes so that you were dragging along a couple of extra kilos. By now I was complaining bitterly. And then we hit Jave’s Pool. Oh my god! It was a lake. That’s it, I told Tim: I’m not coming back. I’m dropping out at 9! And in we went. Mid thigh, freezing cold. My arthritic toe ached. I whinged a lot. I was not having fun.
Through the pool, under the freeway and then another “river” to ford. Then more mud. Lots more complaining. Lots of cussing. Lots more mud. And then we were at CP9. Like a little oasis. Tim collapsed into a chair. I dragged him out and said he could rest after Wild Horse Mountain. Up we trudged, paranoid that we would drop our special token to be left at the top. The token is simply a small square of paper with your race number to be deposited at the top of the mountain. And then down again. There was some of our pizza waiting for me. Cold pizza and some warm soup sustained me now.
The next leg to CP10 was short but took forever. In fact we were moving so slowly now everything took forever. And then we reached the sharp turn to take us into CP10. And guess what? Another bloody river to cross. I was tired, and cranky. I didn’t feel well and as soon as my foot hit the water my toe ached again. I pointed out that every time we crossed water like this we would have to go back through it, again. I think Tim was ignoring me for self-preservation. I reminded him that he talked me into doing this run. It was his fault I was here. I think he ignored that as well.
Jane always does a fantastic checkpoint. We sat and rested and drank veggie soup. It was getting cold and I had no more layers to put on. Jane found me an old jacket that I ended up wearing through the rest of the night. I think it kept me from curling up by her fire. Herm and Milov came back from the first loop as we set off. They took great delight in telling us about the huge puddles ahead. It was hard to keep going. Bill had warned at the race briefing that this first eastern loop kept veering left when you felt you should go right. And it did. Every veer to the left meant more ground to cover to get back. And more complaining. Eventually we looped back and were passed again by Herm and Milov finishing their second loop. We lingered at 10 again. I saw Dave’s car so knew he wasn’t far behind us. Bill was at 10 not looking as chipper as usual. I just wanted it to end so we dragged ourselves around the second loop. Somewhere out there Terry came by at great pace, running a well-timed race to go on to finish under 24hrs.
CP10 for the third and last time. Tim was now unwell so we rested. He told me to go on but I wasn’t in any hurry. When he finally got to his feet he promptly threw up. He was going back for a decent rest. He sent me on and by now I felt like I was putting unwarranted pressure on him to keep moving so I left. I had little energy to convince myself to continue so had no reserves to fight with him. I waded back through the icy river then looked back and realised I should just wait. But there was no way known I was going back through that cold water. Unbeknown to me he was only there for another 5 minutes before recovering but missed the turn across the river and lost 20-30 minutes until Dave came along and pointed out the trail.
I was now alone in the cold and dark. And not feeling very well. I put on my music in a vain attempt to generate some activity. Nothing. It was a slow shuffle or a pitiful walk, all the way back to CP9. Last piece of very cold pizza and clutching my token for dear life I trudged up the hill again. This token became the focus of my universe. I couldn’t face the prospect of losing it. My knuckles glowed white as I clutched it tightly.
Leaving 9 for the last time I reminded myself that every step now was closer to finishing. My toe pretty much ached the whole time from the cold. I slipped and slid through the mud and ploughed through the water on autopilot, almost asleep on my feet. I could hear birds, signalling the approaching day. I had no idea of time. My mind wandered aimlessly. Until I noticed how inviting the bed of pine needles beside the trail was. I scratched an arrow into the dirt so that when I woke I would know which way to go (an ongoing joke ever since John woke up and went the wrong way in 2005). And there it was when I jumped up. My arrow. In broad daylight.
I shuffled back along Moffat’s Rd and crossed Glasshouse Tourist Rd. Dog pulled up in his hire car with Ray in the back. A sorry tale of missed turns and endless pine trees. Back through CP1a where the tireless crew were warming themselves by a brazier. Turns out looking at the splits I ran the slowest leg to here. Definitely, not so amazing. And just Hamburger Hill left. And more puddles. By the time I reached the farm the sun was getting hot and I clung to what little shade there was. I was surprised by an elderly lady casually taking down our white flagging tape and instantly realised she was the new landowner. I explained that there were still a few (I hoped) runners to come and she wandered back down the hill with me retying the tape while her Rottweiler nudged my side as if wanting to have a taste. I gave my best diplomatic speech about the race and our desire to respect her land but still have access to it. I didn’t realise the 12km runners would all come barrelling through there a short while later. Hopefully she was still understanding.
It seemed to take forever to reach the cemetery. And then there was Spud coming out to find me. I asked if Dave was ahead of me, still convinced he had passed me while I was asleep. He hadn’t. Nevertheless, I was not in any hurry. This would be a different finish to my previous two. Little emotion. Just relief and satisfaction that despite inadequate training and poor condition, I could still cover 100 miles. 26:22. Tim came in about 10 minutes behind me and Dave about an hour later. Spud had gone sub 20 in a blinder for second place. A solid team effort. But one that couldn’t have happened without all the help of the Checkpoint people and the tireless crew like Veg, Ann, Boon, Bernie and Dog to mention but a few. And of course Ian and his helpers who provide the palate on which we paint our adventure; be it a rainbow, or like mine this time, a little grey cloud. But I had another 100 mile finish and got to spend a great weekend with a bunch of like-minded crazy runners. And that makes it all worthwhile.
Only 358 sleeps to go.