This page last updated: Saturday 20 March 2010
For more info about Australian Ultra Runners' Association click here
100km World Championships
Chavagnes En Palliers, France, May 15th 1999by Michael Wheatley
Well, what an experience. The trip started at 3pm on Tuesday. Departing from Tullamarine. Donna and I picked up Geoff Hook (team Manager and President of the UltraMarathon association) on the way to the airport and met Australia’s only female representative, Sandra Timmer-Arends, at the airport. All is going smoothly so far. From there we fly to Sydney where we will be meeting another male rep, Paul Every.
First drama, Paul had been informed via Geoff via travel agent, that the Sydney flight departure time is 7pm. When we arrive we find the departure time is 6pm. After frantic phone calls we can’t find Paul, all we can do is hope that he leaves more than an hour to get there. About 5.45pm, Paul arrives and we’re away, Sydney, Milan, Paris. Upon arrival, we meet the other two team members, David Criniti and Rudi Kinshofer.
We have two hours before the 3pm-bus departure and 5 hour trip to Chavanges. 3pm arrives, no bus anywhere, no FAA rep (French Athletics Assoc.) in sight. We do meet Dama, a lone Brazilian, support crew from what we can interpret, who sees our tracksuits and decides we must know where we're going. If only he knew!!
Another hour goes by (32 into the trip) and the Australian Entourage and our Brazilian mate head to a different terminal to see if the bus is there. We arrive and find that it’s there, relief, we can finally get going. Not quite, now the bus is full. Other countries have taken our spots on the bus. After “discussions” with organisers we are informed that it is not possible to get on this bus. Another bus will depart in 2 hours time. The British are also in the bus, one official, after hearing our story of “we’ve been travelling for 35 hours” responded with “well what’s another couple of hours” and then got back on OUR bus. This made our frayed tempers even shorter. ‘Right’, I say to myself, I’m going to get some Poms!! Our Brazilian mate finds his team mates on the bus and he is lucky enough to join them.
2 hours to kill, only chance for a run for the day is now, so Sandra, David & I jump into our running gear and run for ˝ an hour around the airport terminal, a few strange looks, but we’re beyond caring!!
After two hours we roll up to the same bus spot to find a lot of guys in Irish tracksuits jumping into a bus. “Quick, let’s go!” says Geoff, “We’re not missing this one…” We stack our luggage near the bus. A French ‘official’ says “No no” when we look like we are getting on. The last straw, not again. Geoff argues and stands under the luggage door of the bus. He’s not shutting it until we are allowed on. After 5 minutes of confusion we finally understand that we are trying to board a bus with the Irish BOXING team, nothing to do with running, whoops wrong bus & wrong people to pick a fight with!! Geoff quickly bows out of the argument, our bus arrives, and at 1am we finally arrive at our accommodation, 42 hour trip all up!!!
Accommodation is at a Nunnery (seminary). We are sharing the floor with the Japanese, Canadians and Austrians. Finally a bed to sleep in, great!! Early morning arrives, we are awoken by the constant “shuffling” up and down the corridor outside our rooms, no chance of anymore sleep, what is that noise? It’s the Japanese, who don’t seem to know how to lift their feet off the lino when they “shuffle” up and back to the shared showers/toilets facilities. ‘Right’, I say to myself I’m going to get some Poms AND some Japanese!!
We arise, shower and head down to breakfast, a ten-minute walk. This is where I really start to feel the international presence at the championships. Groups of athletes eating, most wearing national uniforms, the butterflies are starting big time!!. We see our Brazilian mate and find out he is actually running the event and not the support crew.
Two days of taking it easy, going for light jogs and eating and drinking. We come across the USA team in the gardens of the accommodation doing a ‘photo shoot’, looking all self confident and important. ‘Right’, I say to myself, I’m going to get some Yanks too!!.
The night before the event arrives. 5.30pm, Friday 14th, time for the flag parade and opening ceremony. We assemble at the Chavagnes town square, the little village has suddenly come alive. The streets are lined with cheering crowds as we make our way down the main street and to the start/finish area of the run. The whole town is decked out with streamers, placards, flowers, flags etc. Many children were getting autographs from us and other athletes.
Each of the 29 country teams and individual national runners are introduced on stage to the cheering crowd. What a build up!! Off to bed early and up at 3am for breakfast and a 5am start.
There are 1400 runners taking part, the atmosphere at the start is incredible. I’m ready to give this all I’ve got. 5am it is pitch black dark and we are off. Can’t see my watch, no idea if my pace is right, I guess it is. 10k ticks over, still dark, 41 minutes, about 1 minute too quick. I consciously hold back, feeling good. 20k in 83 minutes, better pacing. Marathon ticks up in 2:57. Feeling like I could run like this forever, this ultra running is not so hard!! 50k in 3:30, about 5 minutes quicker than planned, that’s okay, I’m still feeling good. 60k ticks up, around 4:13. I’m now in new territory, never run this far before, starting to feel tired, I’ll back off a bit. The cool morning has turned into a bright, sunny, warm day. I’m drinking all of my pre-prepared drinks and more. 70k drink stop comes up, I’m now feeling ‘extremely’ ordinary. I’ll walk the drink stop and 200 to 300m, then run again. Good in theory. When I try to run my legs have gone AWOL, much too painful to even jog slowly. 30k to go, I can’t run, nothing left, I’m gone!! There goes an American, couldn’t care less I say to myself. Couldn’t care less about the Poms, Japanese, or anyone else either!! So this is what Shilston meant when he said “Just remember at some stage you’re going to feel very bad.” But THIS bad, this far to go!!??
Ok, maybe there’s a way back. Run 1 minute, walk for 30 seconds. Painful, but got through it, up to 5 minutes run, 1 minute walk. That’s ok too. I make the end of the 3rd lap, 76k. Geoff and Donna give me a lot of encouragement and an assortment of food. Some banana, cake and lollies, I can’t eat that!! I force the food in, along with my drinks. The last lap has started, ok, stopping to walk doesn’t work, I’ll have to keep running (shuffling). I think I need some Japanese slippers!! Get to 80k. It’s hot, my prepared drink is hot from sitting on the table in the sun, but I force it down. The stomach cramps kick in, but only last a few minutes, worth the pain if the drink helps. There’s food on the tables, I can’t face it, I feel sick already. Finally 85k comes up. Still I’m shuffling. My mind starts playing games again. 15k, I can’t do it, too far, even 1k is too far. Concentrate I say to myself. I’m now over 6.5hours. Still a chance for a sub 8 hour if I keep going.
I feel like I’m in slow motion, any minute now Sandra and the other Aussies are going to fly past, everyone else will as well!! Just ‘finish’. 10 more k’s of relentless pain, I reach 95k. I actually now think I’m going to make it. 96, 97, 98, seems like an eternity between each marker, a hill, then 99. An Italian has just passed me, so what I say to myself. He stops for a drink, maybe I can get him yet. I pass, he looks as bad as I feel. Into the finish straight, 100m to go, I’ve the Italian, and see the best sight in my life, THE FINISH. I cross in 7:46:06, in 80th spot. My emotions change from sheer exhaustion to a mixture of sheer relief and elation, I’ve done it!! The sense of achievement, relief and everything else almost overwhelms me. I’ve never felt anything like it.
Geoff says the others are struggling but going well. Sandra crosses in 8:19, a great achievement, her first run over 60k’s. 142nd outright and 20th women. Geoff says the attrition rate in the event has been high but the three other Australians are still going. David and Rudi have a ‘sprint’ for the line together and cross in 9:13. Paul is really doing it hard but he keeps going and finishes in 9:41. All five Australians have finished, a great team effort.
Taking part in this event was an amazing experience and has further heightened my respect for ultramarathoning and the athletes who compete. It was a privilege and an honour to represent Australia at the Ultra world championships, an unforgettable experience.
Who knows, maybe next year...
Notes: Our Brazilian mate Dama ran 6:37 and came 8th outright!! The winning time was 6:24 for men (Great Britain), and 7:33 for women (Belgium). A Kenyan 2:14 marathoner ran and bombed out.