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Women Shine & Endure at Colac

Women Shine & Endure at Colac

by Tony Rafferty

April 1999
Recorded in the annals of six-day ultramarathon history at Colac, Victoria, are among many outstanding achievements, two performances which remain in the minds of the local population and news media.

Hundreds of people, excited school children and three busloads of Greek supporters from Geelong, gathered round the tree-lined 400-metre track at Memorial Square, Colac in 1984, when Yiannis Kouros from Tripoli completed 1023.2km to win Australia's first international six-day race. Five years later encouraged by fellow competitors, support crews, scores of spectators and curious shoppers, fleet-footed Bryan Smith became only the second person in the race's thirteen-event history to break the 1000km mark when he logged 1002km to win in 1989.

Lost in the fervor of these grand accomplishments were feats of physical endurance, examples of mental strength, displays of willpower and competitive attitude from women athletes in the Colac races. Indeed, in the first event, gaining sixth place and holding off an imposing challenge from New Yorker Donna Hudson, Eleanor (Adams) Robinson became the first woman to break the 800km barrier smashing Edith Couhe's 760km world record attained a few weeks earlier at La Rochelle in France.

Bloodied feet from burst blisters caused Hudson much pain which hindered her attempt to contest Robinson's 806km total. Seemingly happy with seventh position and 775.6km Hudson promised to compete again. (Severe muscle soreness forced her to retire from the event the following year. A year later she ran 785.2km into seventh place.) Robinson's superb deeds continued when she appeared at Colac in four more events. Etched in the memories of competitors, media and local residents, the challenge in 1989 from New Zealander, Sandra Barwick, in a bid to release Robinson's hold on the world record prevails as one of the eminent six-day personal contests in ultramarathon history. Motivated by Robinson's achievements Barwick entered the race with an ambition to exceed 800km. Her determination, concentration and attention to detail demonstrated to onlookers that Robinson's well-known, never-say-die track temperament would have to be at its peak.

The friendly rivalry showed everyone that great things can be achieved with a resolute tenacity to endure to the finish. Robinson -dignified, often smiling - showed no visible stress when she placed third behind Maurice Taylor and winner Bryan Smith, to break her personal best total with a staggering 866.8km. Barwick with graceful running form, upright stance, and blonde hair whisked by the breeze, acknowledged spirited applause when she crossed the finish line only six kilometres behind to claim fourth spot.

The world-class feats of Eleanor Robinson and Sandra Barwick cast a shadow upon record-breaking achievements produced by a number of other female competitors.

Despite murky conditions in 1992 - a rain-sodden track which developed into a quagmire - Georgina McConnell suffering an injured knee rewrote the record books with 677.2km and broke six Australian records to claim sixth place. The undaunted spirit of Dawn Parris buoyed by 614.8km to earn 11th spot gained worthy six-day race experience for the Melbourne ultrarunner.

McConnell and Parris returned in 1995 greeted by a hard bumpy energy-sapping surface. "It was like running on concrete," said McConnell. Her precise, rhythmical, energy-conserving running form yielded 699.2km - a world (50 to 54) age record - to win eighth position just 2.4km behind Peter Gray in seventh place. Despite 19th spot at 5am on the first day, at the finish line Parris noticably tired but as always graceful under duress, achieved ninth position, 22 kilometres behind McConnell.

A competitor in the Veteran World Games in Melbourne and Australian representative in the 100km World Challenge in Belgium, Sandra Kerr demonstrated in 1994, during her first visit to the Colac circuit, the benefits of strict discipline and foward planning when as a newcomer to six-day racing she generated 580km to merit a place on the Australian top-ten ranking list for women.

After an impressive effort in the 1987 Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Run when she became the first woman to cross the finish line, Cynthia Cameron the following year showed stoic resistence to blustery wind, hot humid conditions and occasional heavy rain to take 11th place with 738km just 1.6km behind Pat Farmer. New Zealander Sue Andrews, often humorous with a generally relaxed demeanor arrived in Colac in 1988 focused on achieving a personal best. (The previous year she gained 15th place and totalled 538km.) With well-planned race tactics Andrews in one of the race 5 most competitive fields ran 701.2km for 13th spot. Merrilyn Tate in 1989 arrived in the town just a few days after a four-day mountain climb. With aspirations to average 100km a day for the duration of the race Tate struggled through the final stages to record 492.4km and 13th person to cross the finish line.

Alvira Janosi 5 536.4km total last year - (a big improvement from the previous two years when unsuccessful in breaking the 500km mark) - encouraged her to make plans for future visits to Memorial Square. Women athletes throughout the history of the Australian Six-Day Race at Colac inspired everyone with examples of dedication, desire, discipline - and steadfast belief in their ability to achieve great heights in one of the world's most gruelling sports.

We look foward to this year's race and the anticipation of performances that challenge the stellar deeds of past events.

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