This page last updated: Saturday 20 March 2010
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by Sean Greenhill
The course (described at http://www.coolrunning.com.au/fatass/lostworlds/index.shtml) promised a tough mixture of highly technical bush tracks connected by some road sections and a punt across Berowra Waters. No aid- runners carried their own supplies, or got what they needed from taps and shops along the way. The remark was heard that, seeing as this was Sydney's affluent Northern suburbs, runners would need to carry their credit cards because a ten dollar note just wouldn't cut it. At 7am, Kevin Tiller assembled the runners, took some photos of this inaugural Fat Ass field, and delivered a quick briefing. He had marked the course in one spot, Kevin noted- writing "FA" on the trails behind Berowra to mark the turnoff to Berowra Waters. Kevin Cassidy pondered whether FA actually stood for "Fuck All" rather than Fat Ass. Otherwise, the course was unmarked and we'd have to rely on our maps.
"I make it 7.06," Kevin Tiller intoned. "Ready? Set? GO!" The runners took to the streets for a hilly road section that led to the trail turnoff, and I was jogging easily enough along next to Ross Shilston. We must have looked an unlikely pair, because I'm built like a Rugby flanker and Ross's compact frame couldn't look any more different- his head would have reached my chest. The course turned off the roads at Ti Tree Close and onto a long, undulating fire trail which gave the occasional glimpse through the trees to Berowra Waters. Kevin Cassidy settled in behind the two of us, and in the back of my head I was saying "Jesus, I'm running with KEVIN CASSIDY AND ROSS SHILSTON!" I'd never met these guys before, I had exchanged emails with Kevin but more or less knew of them only by reputation- and that was a formidable reputation. I just didn't think I deserved to run one on one with these guys.
It was a great time, however, as Ross spoke of the ultra running scene in Australia in the 1980s and early 1990s- well before my time- and the now extinct races that existed in that period. It sounded like, around 1990, there was a regular contingent of Australian ultra runners training together and building up for the American 100s. Max Bogenhuber was the first, and as well as Ross and Kevin there were others like Geoff Hook, who ran under 24 hours at Western States.
There was plenty of opportunity to talk on the sure footing of the fire trail, but when we reached the "FA" and turned off towards the water, conversation was stifled as the course went over a narrow, rocky technical path which wound up and over a ridge, then dropped sharply towards the water. Most of this route was via steps cut into the rock face of the escarpment, and it was slow going. My IT band played up a little on this tough descent, but sure enough we dropped to the waters edge and ran along a narrow path to Berowra Waters, where the ferry waited. Not a suburb, but a few restaurants and plenty of boat moorings, this was the turnaround for the 15K, and two runners headed back past Ross and I as we arrived. We had timed it well- we had just missed the ferry which was carrying all the other competitors!
Kevin arrived just after us, and accompanied by Colin from Sydney Striders, we boarded the next punt across the water. Crossing the broad, flat peaceful expanse of water beneath a pale blue sky, we exchanged plenty of coments about the fun (or lack thereof) of boating and yachting, and bemoaning our luck for being unable to afford any of the craft that were moored all around us. When the punt alighted, the four of us set off up the road towards Berrilee, avoiding several cars on the narrow, winding bitumen. Colin dropped off as we climbed steadily upwards for about 3km, and it was the two Victorian legends and myself turning off the road onto an old 4wd track. This wound through farmlands, then into dense Australian bush. Easy enough going at first, but then the trail got rockier and tougher as it started to drop. Ross fell behind us as his damaged calf started to act up again, so Kevin and I kept onwards, running easily enough and doing a bit of rock hopping where needed.
Fellow competitors started to come back to us, all in a tight group. Up front were Paul Every and Phil Hugill, two top ultra runners with not much between them for fitness. Then came the rest of the menagerie, including Dawn Tiller- already falling behind with a calf problem that would terminate her run at 30K- and the "looking very lean, mean and and fit brigade" of Mike Ward and Darryl Chrisp running together. Kevin and I trotted out to the ruins of the Calabash Hotel- the turnaround point overlooking the water- after 2.10 or so. The return leg back up via the same rocks was slow and unpleasant, and we passed Ross fairly quickly and Colin a bit after that, then swung back onto the road for the drop back to the ferry. Our timing this time was a bit better- the ferry arrived within a couple of minutes of us.
Once we alighted on the Berowra side, we retraced our earlier steps up and up and up through technical bush. Kevin, whose training has been affected in recent years by injury and commitments beyond running, took this climb slowly and I stayed with him- this was, after all, a Glasshouse training run for me, no need to hurry. And any extra time I could squeeze in with this guy was well worth it. I joked as well that if we got truly lost, I might need to have someone around to cannibalise. "This course'd be more fun if I was fitter," Kevin remarked. He was starting to feel the effects of an old back problem, and decided that he'd finish at the 30K mark. Jogging and walking, we reached the fire trail, jogged back along the fire trail (which seemed far longer than when we ran the other way along it earlier), came out of the bush, and returned to Berowra Oval along the roads to bring up 30K.
Sitting there were the Tillers (including the kids), Mike Ward and Darryl Chrisp. Darryl's bid to cover the full 56Km had been cut short by cramps, so the attrition rate for the run was starting to mount. I treated myself to a Coke and Kevin (Tiller, that is) asked me if I was going on. "Of course," I replied, "this is Glasshouse training." "You're the fifth, then," Kevin added- ahead of me were Paul and Phil, Bogong- Hotham finisher Larry Mead and another guy. As Kevin Cassidy relaxed with a Coke of his own, I bade them all farewell and set off, having taken 4.40 to cover a measly 30K. It took me another 15 minutes to leave Berowra- I stopped at a service station to buy an iced coffee, and, when crossing the Pacific Highway and train tracks, realised my water bottles weren't refilled and had to duck down to the train station to refill them. Then into the Kuringai Chase National Park via the Waratah Track.
Dawn had run this track during the Sydney Trailwalker 100K and warned me that it was technical. But I didn't expect what I found, which was a narrow singletrack covered in rocks and often petering out in fields of boulders where creeks crossed the tracks. My progress through the bush at Berowra Waters was slow, I thought, but I walked all of this, basically, taking in the pleasant scenery as the route wound its way along the edge of the steel grey waters of Cowan Creek. An experienced bush runner, light on her feet, might make decent headway on such technical surfaces, but when you're 190cm and 90kg (like me), light on the feet is not a term that applies. In fact, I nearly fell and damaged myself any number of times. After an interminable time, the trail came out at the boat moorings of Apple Tree Bay, and trotting down the road towards me were Phil and Paul, looking comfortable and returning from the long haul round Bobbin Head and the Sphinx. It had taken me almost two hours to cover the 8K from Berowra to here via the Waratah track. Was the Sphinx trail any better, I asked these two, and Paul said it was pretty decent singletrack. I left them and set off, as they jogged back to tie for first place.
Along the road to Bobbin Head, the biggest aquatic playground of northern Sydney. If there was a lot of boats moored at Berowra Waters, there were several times as many here, as well as parklands with kids running around and BBQs being cooked up by family groups. Grimly I ran through all this down to the kiosk, bought two cartons of milk and drank them quickly, then ran behind the boat sheds to follow the Warrimoo track.
This was mostly much better going than the Waratah track (ie it was runnable, except for a couple of sporty sections) and it wound its way along the waterline, with a steep cliff rising above my head on the right, and the trail cutting its way through mangroves on the waters edge. After around 7K of this I came to a trail junction, leading upwards to the Sphinx war memorial. I followed wooden stairs, and steps cut into the rock, as I ascended the escarpment, came to a singletrack, and followed it to the Sphinx, a replica of the real Sphinx that had been reproduced here in the Australian bush in the 1920s by an ex soldier as a memorial to his World War One companions, as they had all trained together in Egypt. From here, to complete the loop back to Bobbin Head I followed a good firetrail along the top of the ridgeline. Open to the sky and unprotected by tree cover, the trail was swept by regular crosswinds, and I was shuffling along puzzlingly slowly. In plenty of training runs I had been running much better than this after covering a greater distance; why was I so sluggish now? I should have been making up time here. A wave of light headedness and dizzyness swept over me, so, figuring I hadn't eaten enough, I consumed all the food in my pack- powerbars, fruit bars, mars bars- and washed the down with a big shot of water. Gradually I started to come good, and followed the trail as it switchbacked down to the waterline again.
I set off again along the road back to Apple Tree Bay, then back into the bush along the dreaded Warrimoo track. Luckily I didn't have to trace this all the way back to Berowra, just for a kilometre until I reached a turnoff to Mount Kuringai. I started climbing upwards again along more steps of wood and stone. For anyone who thinks Sydney is flat, a run along this route, switching back and forth between the waterline and these northern suburbs (the highest points in metropolitan Sydney) will convince them otherwise. I almost started to wish I was living in Melbourne where it was nice and flat.
By now I was really starting to come good, and when the two Kevins, Ross and the Tiller kids appeared on the trail ahead brandishing several cameras, I powered right past them, through the streets of Mt Kuringai and onto the shoulder of the Pacific Highway for the last few kilometres to the finish back at Berowra Oval. I had been out for around 9.40, and this section was more or less the first time since the return road section from Berrilee that I really had a chance to open my stride right up. Focussing on the tarmac beneath my feet and a sub 10 hour finish (10 hours for 56K? what kind of race was this???) I hardly noticed the Tillers white people mover pass me a couple of times for more photo opportunities. Rising up to a hard sprint, I powered through Berowra, turned left onto Berowra Waters Rd and ran back to Berowra Oval, pumping my fist, just as Kevin Tiller drove up for a finish line photo, followed by Ross and Kevin Cassidy in the latter's legendary yellow ute. As it turned out, the two guys between Phil and Paul and myself took shortcuts out of the course, so I was only the third and last person to cover the full 56K- and a rough, tough haul it was too. My final time was 9.56.
A succession of people had covered the 15 and 30K options, so, as far as Kevin Tiller and I were concerned, this was successful- originally we were thinking maybe 10 people would show up in total. And despite the tough nature of the course, no one seemed to have a bad word to say- so hopefully they'll spread a few good words around in the Sydney running community for the next Fat Ass event. This race has also, however, probably created an expectation of tough runs in the future, so hopefully the Blue Labyrinth in December (http://www.fatassworld.com/bluelabyrinth/index.shtml) will meet all expectations of a hard trail run.
Sean has also written the following articles that are published on CoolRunning Australia :