Phil Murphy's 2005 12foot Report

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With temperatures forecast to be between 2-10C at Katoomba the day of the race, it was no surprise to see the usual suspects turning up with the odd extra layer or two.

A beautiful sunrise greeted us as we assembled at the Explorer's Tree. There would be 8 runners and I guess about 8-10 mountain bikers making the return trip to Jenolan Caves. After the now customary breakfast provided by Ross and Jill (who came down from Lithgow in the middle of night to prepare!) we huddled up against the Explorers Tree for start line photo. Gayle and Mel were going to help out with the drop bags and crew for the day. Coolrunner 2P carried our gear from Explorers to Megalong Rd.

7:30am and we were off. I ran with Jan and Sean to the top of Nellies. Not far before the steps, a bloke in a reversing Bobcat doing some grading work nearly cleaned up Sean as we passed by. Jan took off down the steps like a scalded cat as I tried to keep up. Sean fell off the back a little taking a more sensible descent.

Jan and I reached Megalong Rd and crew in 45 minutes. We grabbed our packs, a muesli bar and some orange juice (provided by Ross and Jill), quickly dumped our drop bags in the tree hollow and took a quick photo. We waved goodbye to our crew and took off for the valley.

Upon reaching Pinnacle Hill, where there is the most beautiful view back to Narrowneck and the rolling hills behind us, we stopped for yet another photo. I spotted Sean off in the distance coming up the hill not far behind. I had originally planned on doing the first half in 5:30ish with Sean and knew that Jan and I were going out faster than that but decided to just stick with it and play it by ear.

We reached a low flowing Cox's river in 1:28, staying dry as we rock hopped across. The mountain bikers were at the water tank as I checked that there was indeed water in the tank. A quick loo stop and we were off up the hill. I ate a fruit slice as we power walked up Mini. We passed the mountain bikers on the steeper ascents, while they flew past on the flats and downs. This would happen repeatedly to Deviation.

The temperature was perfect for the climb and we made good progress. Little river was upon us before we knew it, Jan stashing his drop bag there for the return trip.

A few more dry crossings and we were on the climb up Pluvi. We chatted about a possible Mittagong to Katoomba run in October and the big one Coast to Kozi in December. I felt superb here and eventually started to pull away from Jan towards the top, passing our biker mates, all very friendly I might add. Arrived at the top in 3hrs flat! Shit this is gonna hurt I thought to myself, last year it took me 3:20.

I looked back for Jan as we were a good team up to now but he was falling behind further so I decided to just keep going and if I blew up, I blew up. I was feeling fine and was actually surprised to reach the top in 3hrs. Again the mountain bikers re-grouped here and gave me some encouragement as I turned for Black Range.

I mixed up walking with running here but mostly ran to Deviation. It was through here that I first noticed some snow along the edges of the trail and the further I ran the heavier it became. I was delighted to see so much snow about; having never been to the Snowies (in winter) and most of the puddles were iced over too.

I arrived at Deviation in 3:56, where Mel and Gayle had set up our aid station. I quickly ate a can of creamed rice and drank half a bottle of powerade. Mel had the art of crewing down pat, asking me what I needed upon arrival, filling my pack etc. They also informed me that some kids had been playing in the snow at the campground. I thought my kids would love to be here right now. I must say it was great to have a crew out there. I didn't hang around for long though, something I have been working on, compared to last year when I had spent too long at various stops.

So 3:56 at Deviation, I started thinking somewhere around 5hrs to the Caves house! Shit too fast, but I was still feeling super strong and very comfortable so far. I knew the next section to Caves Rd was tough and planned on holding back a little. The snow was now quite thick up the embankments, still yet to see the rays of the morning sun. In fact I recall it was quite dark along here.

I crossed Caves Rd with 4:22 on the clock disturbing some roos as I scampered along the undulating trail next to the road. The descent down Mt George firetrail was hard on the legs as ever and I was on the brakes the whole time trying to save myself for the second half. Mel and Gayle were there (to my surprise, I was thinking they would be delayed waiting for the rest of the guys to come through at Deviation) They had offered to pre-order a bag of hot chips for my arrival allowing me to get in and out of there quickly. I was delighted to see Mel there as I walked into the bathroom to fill my pack.

Gayle had already set up at the tables outside. I grabbed a coke from the bistro and said g'day to a few of the mountain bikers who were just about to leave. I had my spray jacket and food in the back of Gayle's car but was concerned they might not make it back to Deviation before me, depending on how long they decided to hang around there for the others. So I grabbed what I needed thinking I might not see them again and set off up the hill munching away on hot chips washed down with a coke (heavenly ultra food).

The climb was long and slow but I wasn't killing myself getting out of there. I figured I had at least 20 minutes on Jan and maybe another 10 on Sean. Not long after Sean came into view coming down Mt George. I thought I was going to see Jan first. We exchanged a quick hello and I gave him my first half split to which he cheekily told me to “piss off�, I figured I had at least 30 minutes on him at this stage. I bumped into Jan a little further up the fire trail and he mentioned he was doing ok and was managing to eat some food along the way.

At the top I broke into a run, it felt strange but good to be running again after the long climb up. Further up the trail I came across Tim and Andrew who were looking strong. Tim mentioned something about chasing a crow for a bite to eat at Deviation. I laughed at the time thinking he was joking, only to find out it was the truth!! Cracked me up.

I was still feeling quite strong here and had a good trot happening down past Binda Cabins and on to the track to Caves Rd. Ken was next, I stopped briefly to see how he was doing, he mentioned I was on about the same pace as Kieron last year! No way I said to myself. Not long before the Caves Rd crossing, Kevin came into view looking like he was doing it a bit tough. I reckoned he was on for a 7hr split to halfway and questioned whether he was going to do the lot. A long day ahead!

I crossed Caves Rd in 6:19 so 1:14 from Caves House to here, not bad I thought to myself. The run to Deviation was beautiful, snow still lying in patches, puddles that had been iced up earlier were now beginning to thaw if they weren't already smashed up by the bikers on their way through.

My spirits were buoyed even further when I saw Gayle and Mel near the campground, they had indeed made it back before me. Mel opened the boot and asked if I would like some water. She filled my camelbak whilst Gayle tried warding off an annoying bee that was trying to get into the car. Mel checked that I had my night gear (again great crewing) and mentioned that Sean turned around at Caves house on a mission and at a cracking pace up the hill. I knew he would be trying to reel me in, so I grabbed a bag of salt n'vinegar chips and was out of there. I was pretty confident of keeping my lead barring a fall, cramp or sprained ankle. Energy wise I was eating happily enough and had no issues keeping stuff down. My (vaseline) lathered feet were coping well and the only soreness was on the top of my left foot from running downhill.

I was now looking forward to the gentle descent down the Black Range. This is where I came alive last year. I was a good hour ahead of last year's splits at this point. I had started the day with the intention of going sub 12:30 but now sub 12hrs seemed realistic. I did stop every once in a while to walk and break it up a bit, still trying to save the legs for the plunging descent down Pluvi.

Pluvi in 7:37 and down we go. It was dry and hard as, the trail rutted in places. I remember flying down this last year, comfortably numb after taking some Nurofen for a niggling knee pain. This year I felt I had to hold back a little as the pain in my left foot was bugging me. The plan was to hit Cox's before dark (last year I arrived there at 5:25pm) but this year I was thinking Megalong and beyond before I would have to get the headlamp out.

With Pluvi behind me and after several minutes of hard downhill running the flatter terrain along little river provided welcome relief. Soft going under foot and a great time of the day to enjoy this wonderful sport, that is ultra running. I crossed Little river staying dry again and thought about Jan's drop bag as I passed it, wondering how long before he would arrive there. In fact, I would not of been surprised at all to see Jan pop up from behind; such is his reputation for fast second halves.

I found the climb up Mini pretty tough and was not moving too quickly to Alum Creek. I started to think my fast first half was coming back to bite me. I stopped and pulled out some jelly frogs from my pack to see if I could lift the energy level a little. The sugar hit seemed to do the trick, as I recovered a short while later and picked it up again. Once at the top of Mini I flew down it's gentler slopes to the Cox's river pulling out a few sub 4 min kms along the way, gravity's a great friend late in the day. With both arms spread open wide I was sailing down to the river, loving every minute of this runner's high filled rush.

There were a few campers at the Cox's wondering what the hell I was doing. I chatted briefly with them as I scoffed a tin of creamed rice and refilled at the water tank. It was 4:15 in the afternoon and 8:45 into the run. I was now 1hr 10 mins ahead of last year's split and feeling fantastic. Crossed the river no worries and then stupidly took the wrong track heading up the hill and in broad daylight too! Only a few metres of backtracking as there is a huge sign saying, "Wrong way bushwalkers turn back" Once back on track I started jogging again and walked the steeper hills. I was still managing to run some of the gentler ascents and felt confident of getting beyond Megalong Rd before dark.

No hassles with cattle on the track this year, I passed through unnoticed. The light was still good when I reached Pinnacle hill with the sun just dipping below the horizon behind me lighting up Narrowneck and the escarpment around Katoomba in all its glory. Truly a moment to treasure, this is what it's all about, I thought to myself. The red ochre rock faces resplendent in the fading light. I took a moment, stopping to take it all in.

I arrived at Megalong Rd bang on 10hrs into the run at 5:30pm. Grabbed the bottle of coke I had stashed there earlier and another tin of creamed rice. I was so looking forward to that coke, it was fantastic. I left some chips behind for the other runners coming through.

After a brief walk whilst eating and drinking I figured I should get a wriggle on and cover as much ground as possible in the fast fading daylight. This is a nice stretch to get a good rhythm happening. A bit further down the road to Nellies a lady in a Ute pulled up and asked me where I was going. I replied “Katoomba� and she asked me if I would like a lift, hmmm tempting but I'm “actually in a race thanks� I told her.

It was about 500mtrs from the “Warri� gate and probably 5km from the finish before I needed to switch on my headlamp. I had some good daylight running behind me and knew now it was just about getting up Nellies Glen and the finish. I had figured 1:45 from Megalong Rd would do it, so sub 12 was definitely on.

I find this last stretch to the foot of the climb eerie and somewhat spooky. I don't know why, probably the dark massive cliff face fast approaching. I hit the steps and began the long slog out of there. I was doing great until now but have to say this last climb took it out of me, I was totally buggered at the top. It just went on and on forever. The final dash on the bitumen to the Explorer's Tree is a sublime feeling. I grabbed the iron railing around the tree with both hands and let out a defiant yell of triumph. I had made it in 11:26, far exceeding my own expectations and taking 1.5hrs off last year's time.

My thoughts almost straight away were of GH100 in September, could I run another 70km right now, no bloody way was the answer then, certainly not at that pace anyway, but I'll cross that bridge….

I ended up with splits of 5:05 and 6:15 there and back. Most pleasing was the fact that I managed to hold it together for the second half after what was my 3rd fastest 6 foot split and didn't blow up.

I know there is still room for improvement on this time and look forward to next year. But first up the big one and GH100 in 4 weeks time!

Well done to all who ventured out on the day, some good times ran, and some tough times for others. Numbers were up on last year, let's hope we see more entrants next year. Thanks also to all who helped out on the day, another memorable experience.