There are always more runners wanting to take a part in this race than the number of yachts. I had been trying to get in for three years until giving up. Twice I was offered a place in a team. Twice the yacht pulled out before the race started. This year I did not put my name on the Register of runners. I was not interested in another disappointment.
One week before the race I received a telephone call I expected the least: “Quality Equipment “ is looking for a runner. Would you like to have a go?
The first reaction was to say no. I have not trained for it. But please, give me an hour to think about it! That was enough time to realize that I cannot say no. Here is the window of opportunity I have been waiting for. There might not be another chance.
Yes, please, thank you for the invitation. I am already getting exited about it.
The week went very quickly, I had to organize all the gear we would have to carry during the runs plus everything else I might need while on the yacht.
Another good news was that the other runner was Les Savage, veteran of ten Three Peak Races whom I knew well from runs with Professional Cross Country Club.
He too was asked to run only two weeks before the race and having no plans to run this year he had done no training at all. It was obvious that we were not going to break any records but we both knew that we can do it and that we will have fun doing it.
Our crew assured us that they will be happy if we finish our runs regardless of time. They need the race as training for much bigger event – Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race.
It is Good Friday, 9th April 2004. Arriving at Beauty Point, situated north of Launceston on the western bank of Tamar River we are attending briefing session and meeting our crew. Placing my belonging inside the cabin it is the first time I can see what it looks like inside a 37-foot yacht. I cannot comprehend how 8 people can fit in and spend several days traveling across rough seas. Actually it never happens, several sailors are on the deck at any time regardless of weather. At the most four or five people are inside the cabin at times.
The weather is too good. Beautiful sunny day, hardly any breeze. Not ideal for sailing! The tide will be coming in about the time of the start of the race. Will we be moving forward or backward for a while? It is a worry. Fortunately when the starting gun is fired by the Tasmanian Governor exactly at2 pm, there is some breeze and we are moving. Final wave to some 10,000 spectators who came to watch the start of the race and we are on the way. I always wondered how it is possible that yachts can move forward against the wind direction. Now I have a chance to find out. We are not moving in a straight line.”Tacking” from left to right all aboard have to help to balance the yacht. When the signal comes, the yacht makes a sharp turn and all of us have to move quickly from one side to the other. This rapid moves from side to side make the trip up the river very interesting and before long we pass the heads and head into open sea in the direction of Flinders Island. Tacking becomes much less frequent, most of the time we are moving in a straight line. The weather is still fine and warm. It is time to sit on the side of the yacht and have a chat until darkness sends most of us down to the cabin.
Australian Three Peaks Race is unique non-stop sailing and mountain running challenge held in Tasmania every Easter. They call it “The ultimate endurancechallenge”. I fully agree with the description but would add to it: “yet the most enjoyable and satisfying experience”.
I expected to get seasick. Damien Killalea has some tablets, which he believes are the best you can buy over a counter. I am taking them together with placing Sea-Bands on my wrists. By exerting pressure on the acupressure point called Nei-Kuan Point they have been clinically tested and found to provide effective relief from Travel Sickness. The Chemist told me that they work for some but not for everyone. As soon as I enter the cabin I am finding out that I am not one of the lucky ones. Neither the tablets nor the bands stopped me from getting instantly sick. Fortunately a bucket was handy and I spent the night filling it up while someone always promptly emptied it making it ready for the next refill. Everyone is very understanding and helpful. I am trying to assure them that they do not have to worry or feel sorry for me. I will be OK to run, no matter what! Every time after being sick I eat and drink something only to return it to the bucket again. Needless to say that being sick combined with continuous rocking of the yacht and all the noises around I could not sleep though spending all the time after dark in bed.
After fourteen and half hours of sailing covering 90 nms we are approaching Lady Barron. Skipper Alf Doedens is asking if I want something to eat. I am trying a toast with jam and a cup of coffee. It had hardly time to warm up my stomach before it all ended up in a bucket again. We have a long run ahead so I do not panic. I am taking plenty of food with me. My plan is to eat as much as I can during the run so my stomach has time to digest it. I expect that the runs will provide the only opportunity to refuel my body. It is about 4.45 am when we dock and rush to the race control for the check of our equipment. Each runner has to carry in his backpack the following items:
Thermal long-sleeved top, Thermal long pants, Windproof and waterproof jacket, Windproof and waterproof pants, Lightweight Polartec fleece top, Thermal or fleece gloves, Balaclava, Sleeping bag, Polythene bag, Head torch with spare batteries, Emergency ration minimum 4 oz, First aid equipment, Whistle, Luminous compass, Pencil and note paper, Waterproof matches and a map between the two runners.
Safety of the runners is very important and the above equipment is essential. It has to be remembered that the run legs can come during the day or night and in all weather conditions. It can be freezing this time of the year. It has happened that the runners got lost on Freycinet run and had to spend the night in open.
At last we start running. It is a round trip and each pair of runners can nominate which way they want to run – clockwise or anti-clockwise. Les chooses the first option. It is easy running, mostly on roads or bush tracks. Although still dark for about hour and half it is full moon and we do net need to use much our torches. After about 30 kms we are at the foot of Mt Strzelecki. It is only 756 m high, but we are starting at sea level and the mountain is very steep. I love mountains, done a lot of bush walking before my running days. I have no worries about the claim. Especially since we are taking it easy. We are about two-thirds up the mountain on a steep goat track when I am trying to pull myself up by grabbing a small tree. I cannot reach it without pushing up on my foot standing on a small rock, which seemed to be very solid. As I make my move the rock gets dislodged and my hand cannot reach the tree. I am finding myself flying backwards down the steep track. Everything seems to happen in a slow motion. I am wondering when and how it is going to end. I have absolutely no
control over my fall. Finally I used my head to stop the fall. Literally! My head hit a large rock, which stopped me from falling any further. I was a big bang and suddenly the sky was full of stars! I am not trying to get up immediately. Starting to feel sick I am reaching for my water bottle to have a drink. I expected to get sick during sea legs, but on the mountain? That was my first thought. Then I check my legs, they are OK and that is all that matters. Big lump appears on my head, but no blood. Good! Another large lump pops up on my knuckle. I am trying to move my finger – no problem. Bruise on the elbow, bruises and scratches on my legs, but fortunately nothing serious. In a couple of minutes we are on the way again and I am just laughing it off. At least I have something to remember. I hate trips when everything works smoothly. There is nothing exiting about them.
After reaching the checkpoint at the top of the mountain we are on the way back. It is a beautiful day and the views are fantastic. Worth the effort.
Back on the road and we are heading to Lady Barron. Suddenly a car stops in front of us and the Tasmanian Governor is introducing himself: “I am Richard Butler”. Few words of praise for our efforts from him and after covering 65 kms we are back on the yacht. I have some other seasickness tablets prescribed to me by my doctor some four years ago. They are now three years out of date but I think that it is worth taking the risk. Without hesitation I am swallowing two of them hoping for the best. It is about 4 pm and without any delays we are back at the sea. It is still fine weather so I am staying on the deck with all the other crew. I am amazed how shallow the water is. Only about 3 – 4 m bellow the keel for miles and miles. The sea is very choppy mainly due to being so shallow. After about an hour we reach deeper water and with the sail in action it settles down a bit. Mike Wearne cooked meanwhile some delicious pasta and we all are having good feed. I am thinking what a shame that it is all going to end up in a bucket again. Fortunately I was wrong. The tablets have done the job. I keep taking them for the rest of the race and never got sick again. Huraaaaay!
After dark it is again back to bed staying there till we arrive at Coles Bay after almost 20 hours of sailing covering 145 nms.
Weather has changes dramatically. It is raining and the wind is very cold. After the check up of the equipment we are on the way again to complete the circuit of the peninsular. Running across the Coles Beach and onto the road to a steep up and down track to Wineglass Bay and over to the beach. The sand is very deep so it is not easy running. But the knowledge that I have the privilege to run on a beach that has been voted as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world is enough to make me very happy. After this it is up over Mt Graham to the top of Mt Freycinet. As we are approaching Mt Graham I think I can hear someone talking in my native language –Czech. Two figures suddenly appear in the fog and I cannot believe my eyes. A nice young couple from Prague who has been traveling through Tasmania and whom my wife and I met in Burnie in a Supermarket. It is almost unbelievable how small is the world. But no time to talk, they promised to drop on us before departing from Devonport about two weeks later and we keep going. The track is very wet but it completely disappears as we are approaching the top of the mountain. It is all large boulders and we have to be alert not to get lost and to pick up the markers showing the way up. Also have to be careful to avoid some nasty falls. I am certainly grateful that the luck is with us and that we do not have run it during the night. I am not surprised that people got lost there during a night run. The distance of the run is only 33 kms but it is very demanding. There is hardly any level running, mostly up or down or on a soft sand on the beach. The weather condition makes it even tougher.
I have to admire the man waiting on the top of the mountain manning the checkpoint. What a dedication. He must be spending there very long hours in that horrible weather and it is all for us so we can have a fun. Thank you and all the other helpers we encounter during the race very much.
After reaching the top of Mt Freycinet we are running over the East Freycinet Saddle to Cooks Beach, returning to Coles Bay via the Peninsula Track, Hazards Beach Isthmus Track and the Wineglass Bay Track over the saddle between Mt Mayson and Mt Amos.It is already dark when we return to the yacht at around 8 pm. Luckily we were on a well-defined track by the time it got dark so there was no drama at all.
Back on the yacht and start of another sailing leg – the last one ending inHobart. It is 145 nms so we can settle in bed (us runners – no rest for the sailors!). This time it is Aaron Murray who is cooking evening meal for us. Very delicious as usually and served with a smile. How kind all the sailors are to us! It is very interesting to watch them how they can handle all the tasks in spite of the nonstop violent movement of the yacht. The stove with an oven is suspended on two points at the top with the center of gravity very low. It enables it to remain horizontal regardless of the leaning of the yacht from side to side. In relation to the rest of the cabin it looks completely out of place and one would expect the pots to start sliding down. Of course it is only an illusion.
It is still very windy and we are moving very well. But it is a long way to Hobart so we can relax and rest in our beds. There is nothing else we could do. In spite of being the third night on the yacht it is hard to get proper sleep. Even when I fall asleep it usually ends in an hour or two. When I woke up after one of the short sleep I looked down and see Ben Morgan sleeping on the floor beside my bed. I feel guilty for enjoying such a comfort while he has to settle for the floor. I also admire his courage – he knows well what would happen to him if I got sick again! Luckily it does not happen any more.
It is 9 am in the morning on Monday and we are still moving well. Estimated time of arrival in Hobart is 5 pm. I discovered that we have reception on mobiles so I rang my wife asking her to drive to Hobart from Burnie to pick me up immediately after we complete the Mt Wellington run and drive me home. Three hours later our plans have been completely turned upside down. Wind stopped and we are sitting outside Eaglehawk Neck without any movement at all. It is obvious that we are not going to see Hobart today. I promptly called my wife again. She was already at Latrobe some 55 kms from Burnie so I asked her to turn back and forget about me. We just do not know what will happen next.About three hours later we started to pick up a little breeze. We started moving again! First it was 0.01 nms/hr eventually increasing to 1.1 – 1.2 nms/hr. Four yachts, which were behind us, took shortcut through the Denison Canal at Dunalley but we had to go the long way around TasmanPeninsula because we were in a different Division. There are some rewards for this. I am sitting on the deck for a while admiring the beautiful scenery. It would be difficult to find more picturesque coast anywhere. But it is getting dark again and we are settling down for yet another night at sea. One thing is for sure. I have not had so much rest for many years.Again it is a very long night with only very brief moments of sleep. Plenty of time for thinking just about everything. There is no pressure, it is very relaxing. Over 36 hrs since we left Coles Bay.
As we approach our final destination in Hobart, there is another mini drama. The batteries have run flat and cannot start the motor. The approach to the wharf will be
very complicated. Normally for the final approach all the yachts are allowed to use their motors, which makes it very simple. We will have to make it with total reliance on wind, which is almost non-existent. The skills of our crew will be again tested. They cannot head directly for the wharf. They have to very carefully assess the situation, wind direction and make a decision how to approach it. It means a considerable detour but they are proving that they are worth their salt! Finally at 8.30 am on Tuesday we have landed at Kings Pier and taking off for our run. It is up Davey Street and then to the Huon Highway, Fingerpost Track, Pinnacle Track and Zig Zag Track to a checkpoint at the summit of Mt Wellington and back. covering 33 kms with ascent of 1270 m. The top of the mountain is fogged up and very windy and cold. Without any delays we start running down the Pinnacle Road via Big Bend to the Fingerpost Track at the Springs, returning to the finish line via the outward course.
The whole crew is waiting for us, there is a lot of jubilation but as always I have mixed feelings. It is an emotional experience to be a part of and having completed such a wonderful race. But there is a great deal of sadness. It is all over; it is the end of a great fun. Now it is back no normal, boring, everyday existence. The only way out of this low is to start looking forward to the next challenge. I am already thinking of my next venture, which is already on a planning board. But this is not completely over yet. The following Saturday there is an official dinner presentation in the Casino in Hobart and Les my wife Jo and I will make the trip to Hobart to relive our experience. I am aware that I will receive the Trophy for the Oldest Runner. I always wonder when acknowledged as the oldest at many races whether I should celebrate it as an achievement or should worry about it. I used to be very close to my older brother and wherever he went with his friends he took my along. I used to be always the youngest! It does not seem to be that long ago and suddenly I am finding myself very often the oldest! Where did the life go? I always urge everybody – life is so short, make sure that you make most of it. Do not waste a moment!
But there is still a big surprise for me. After receiving the Trophy for the ”Oldest Runner” the Race Director Alastair Douglas has decided to present me with the “Race Director’s Cup”. That is an honor I never expected to receive. To be singled out from some 90 competitors in the Race for this Cup made me speechless but very happy. And there is another trophy coming from the “Quality Equipment” crew and presented by Adrian Maynard – a bucket mounted on a stand with engraving: “In Appreciation Three Peaks Race 2004”.
There is something to laugh about but also to appreciate the thought. I know that it was a very friendly gesture. Thank you again for having me on board and making me part of this wonderful team. I hope to see them all in Hobart after they successfully complete this year’s Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. Good luck!