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Sept 1999 - Glasshouse 50mile/80km Trail Run Reportby Sean Greenhill
"If you run on the road, we will disqualify you. This is a TRAIL race."
Race Director Ian Javes showed that this was a run for hardcore trail junkies only on a chilly Saturday morning, his voice coming out of a grey twilight. A dry chuckle came from the throats of a few of the 12 Hundred Mile and 11 Fifty Mile starters, breaking the ice. I was surprised- I was nowhere near as nervous as I thought I would be a few minutes before my first attempt at a Fifty Mile. Within a couple of minutes, the hundred mile starters were off, trotting slowly across the oval at the Glasshouse Mountains Sportsground. In fifteen more minutes, it would be my turn.
I had left work about 7pm on Wednesday night, and from there drove to Scone on the first night, and did the rest of the haul on Thursday. My mother had, a few weeks before, offered to chauffeur me- until then I had planned to catch a bus then train- there was no way I was going to drive after running 80K. On the Friday, I had walked almost as far as the second Checkpoint and back, all of which was on a dirt track alongside Glasshouse Mountains Road. I ended up with a bad sunburn, so on Friday night I found a hotel teatowel and pinned it to my cap so it draped over my neck. That night there was a dinner at the Sportsground for runners, which coincided with a fairly noisy rodeo. I spotted the Tillers (Kevin was doing the Fifty Mile, Dawn was doing the 55K), and met Melanie Jonker, plus Carol La Plant from the US. Paul Every, who has run for Australia in several World 100K Championships and won the 3 day Canberra Ultra Triathlon, was also there. His recent training had been "Cities Marathon a month ago, an Ironman a fortnight ago, and that's it."
In the chill of Saturday morning, I was at the Sportsground around 4.45 for my medical check, which consisted of recording my weight, blood pressure and pulse and writing them on a medical tag which I wore around my wrist. Checkpoint Five, visited three times during the Fifty Mile loop (and thus six times by Hundred Mile runners) involves a medical check where these same details are recorded again and compared to the pre race numbers. If you lose two kilos, they hold you at the station until you hydrate enough to regain the lost weight. Amongst the Hundred Mile starters were two Striders who tied for first place in last years Fifty Mile, Mike Ward and Martin Fryer.
At 5.45, the eleven Fifty Mile starters were off, with the Hundred Mile relay teams. I ran to checkpoint two with Poh Suan Neumann, who has done a number of the Glasshouse runs and spent most of the time trying to convince me to run next years Comrades. She found it hard to comprehend I wasn't interested! After checkpoint ne, which was on the roadside track, we ran through the silent town of Beerburrum then up the slope of Mount Beerburrum. Fifty Milers run halfway up (where checkpoint two is) and Hundred Milers run to the top. Kevin Tiller came charging town the other way like a bull at a gate, then a few minutes later came Mike and Martin. I walked down Beerburrum to protect my ITB and Poh Suan slowly drew away. Behind me I had Melanie Jonker and Hundred Miler Kerrie Hall. Both were walking, so I was the last runner.
After checkpoint two we ran through a series of pine plantations, winding our way through on a series of logging roads. The surface was fairly flat here. The sun was out, but there was not yet a hint of how hot the day was to become. I entered checkpoint three, refilled one of my three bottles with water and another with Gatorade, took two GUs and set off for the next stretch, through some scrubby bush. Twenty metres down the track I saw a red car ahead. "What? Checkpoint four already?" No, it was actually a car that had been stolen, dumped here in the bush and stripped clean. I stepped around it and a few minutes later reemerged onto logging roads. From here I could see the bizarre monoliths of almost all the Glasshouse Mountains, actually the remains of extinct volcanoes. Some of them seemed so far away it was intimidating to think I would be running around them before the day was done. I went through checkpoint four, about 20K into the race. It was staffed by the same two crew as checkpoint one. I refilled my bottles, grabbed a handful of jelly babies and headed onto a fire trail.
Checkpoint five, the medical check, was at a lookout atop a ridge. After following some twisting fire road, I was running toward a high ridge with a turret atop it. That looks like the checkpoint, I thought, then added, "geez, that's pretty high". After a while, the fire trail became a quite technical path, with sections of mud, eroded ruts, very steep and sudden up and downs. It seemed we were winding round the ridge, not going up it. Though this section was mostly shaded, a few open sections brought the heat down on my back. It reminded me of climbing the Pluviometer in 30C during this years Six Foot Track. After some rugged climbing I emerged onto a gravel road and the roofs of checkpoint five were on my right. I ran over and stood on the scales.
I had been running for about three and a half hours, and drunk six 800ml bottles of fluid, but had already lost a kilo. I refilled my bottles, took two packs of potato chips from my drop bag, and set off toward the "Goat Track" which leads to checkpoint six. This is very technical running, in some spots almost a bush bash. I had some minor cramps on the sudden downhills, so I walked most of this section. By the time I emerged on a road and jogged down to six, I had drunk two and a bit bottles of fluid. In the station (crewed by four cadets) I spent a few minutes joking with a relay team member. I probably joked too much, because I took the wrong way out of the checkpoint- there is one leading towards an out and back with seven en route, and another back to five which the runners take after returning to six. I took this latter and ran for about ten minutes before realising my error. On the way back I passed Paul Every, who had already done the out and back. He pointed the right way to go. I had lost twenty minutes, and passed Kerrie Hall on the way out. A number of runners were coming back to me, including Bill Thompson, Carol, Mike and Martin. This was a long, hot technical stretch, seven kilometres in dry heat that was becoming stifling. About a kilometre short of the checkpoint, I saw a familiar figure.
When Kevin Tiller gets into trouble while running, his head goes down so you just see his red hair, his shoulders hunch right up, and his little legs shuffle along doggedly, slowly but surely. Hundred Mile finisher Geoffrey Blyth did a good impersonation of this posture on Sunday at the post race lunch, and I saw it coming towards me now. Kevin said he wasn't feeling too good suddenly, and we stood and talked for a good five minutes before I left for seven. At that checkpoint a grabbed a handful of sandwiches, refilled my three bottles and was off for a 4K loop around a pine plantation that ended with a return to seven and then back to six. Within a few minutes of leaving seven I was walking. With no shelter on the logging roads, the heat (it was now after 12pm) almost stopped me dead. I walked that section, and shuffled back into seven declaring it was the toughest part of the course. Returning along the 7K section to checkpoint six, I ran most of the way, drinking constantly. After leaving six to return to five, we ran along more logging roads without shelter, and I was walking along again. I didn't feel tired, just darned hot and generally "stuff this lark". At five, I had covered roughly fifty kilometres and my weight had gone up by half a kilo. I was pleased I was hydrating properly, but as I was changing my socks Rainer Neumann, Poh Suan's husband who was doing the Hundred, came in having done the next section, a long loop around Mount Beerwah. He was really feeling the heat and remarked "I'll finish the loop, then talk to the doctors down there to see if there is any point going on."
Heading out towards Beerwah (and checkpoint eight which is on the far side) I passed Mike, Martin and Geoffrey trudging up the forest road towards me. "Gentlemen," I hailed, "what's it like?" "Christ, don't ask!"came the reply. I asked if there was any shelter, and was told there was. I thought the loop after seven was the toughest point until now, but the section around Beerwah to eight actually was. This was another section of technical trails with lots of suden ups and downs and seemed to head away from Beerwah as much as it was heading towards it. Supposedly this was 8K, but I was thinking, "Christ, how long can 8K be???", especially given the fierce heat which was now penetrating the trees. After a while I emerged onto a dirt road. "This must be eight up here," I thought, but it kept going until I finally shuffled into the checkpoint with quads trashed from the constant elevation change and feeling a bit irritable with things. I was told Kevin was an hour and a half ahead, so he must have staged quite a recovery. By now it was four thirty and the shadows were drawing long. I left eight and started trudging slowly down the road, making no effort to increase my pace. I was sitting on the side of the road emptying stones from my shoes when Kerrie Hall came by. With her help, encouragement and occasional beration, we did the seven kilometres back to five just as the sun set. From here, it's a run back down the ridge (about 7K) to checkpoint one, then the 4K back to the Sportsground for the fifty miles. The Hundred Milers had to do it all again. Kerrie had her medical check first then set out with a torch.
I had mine, then rummaged through my drop bag for the torch I KNEW I had put in there the night before. After a few minutes, I realised I was looking like a fool in front of the staff, so with a "righto" I grabbed my bottles and charged out, my legs feeling 200% better than they did after eight (I later found the torch buried at the bottom of the bag). I was able to follow the fire road we were on quite well at first, then the twilight vanished and the moonlight (it was a full moon) started playing visual tricks, lighting up tree trunks in a similar way to the white marking tape Ian used on the course. The clouds started to move in and I had real trouble finding the way. On a technical section climbing over a ridge in almost pitch darkness I fell and slid. I made a few right guesses at trail junctions, and in the distance I could hear the traffic of Glasshouse Mountains Road but it never seemed to get closer. Combined with the tricks of the moonlight, it made for a terrifying and disorienting experience for someone who has never even run a trail at night with a torch. Eventually, charging down a fire trail at full speed, I caught up with Kerrie and her torch again. From there it was about a kilometre to one, and we turned onto the roadside track at a fast walk for the haul in.
Kerrie kept checking my watch for the cutoff which Ian had for the Hundred Milers to commence the second loop, and with a few minutes to go, coming down the road on the opposite side to the Sportsground, she loaned me her torch and took off in a sprint. She made the cutoff with a couple of minutes to spare, and went on to do the Hundred in just a few minutes over 30 hours. Meanwhile, I ran slowly opposite the ground towards the undepass at the far end. I muttered out loud, "Jesus, I'm going to finish,", and as I crossed under the road and headed back along the oval fence I shed a tear or two. Then I trotted under the finish gate in a time of 14.06.56 and was directed to a chair for my final medical. I ate some bananas, talked to my mother and the staff, and thanked Ian for all his effort. Then I left for the motel, suddenly almost unable to walk any more.
The next day I felt surprisingly good- my ankles were sore and I had a few king sized blisters, but the legs were pretty good. At the awards lunch, it turned out Kevin finished in 13.04 or so, Melanie in 14.46 odd. Dawn Tiller won the 55K women's, just a few minutes behind the lead man. Paul Every won the Hundred Mile, the first man to do the course in under 24 hours. Rainer Neumann was second and Geoffrey Blyth third. Winner of the Hundred for the last two years Graham Medill dropped out, as did Mike Ward (going into the medical for the first time on the second loop, his blood pressure had dropped suddenly and he pulled the pin) and Martin Fryer also dropped after about 130K. Six from twelve did the Hundred. Hopefully next year it might be me.
Ian also outlined that the race was having difficulty the the relevant Government authorities, having decreed in future it must be insured for $100 million. This "would kill the race," he said. It's a race that needs all the support in terms of lobbying and attendance it can get. Ian puts in a hell of a lot of work to make sure it's run properly, and the course is extremely scenic, touring through the mountains. Running around the mountains, rather than over them, is a nice touch that adds considerably to the scenery, and there are still enough climbs to appeal to the mountain goats out there. As Australia's only trail Hundred Mile, it's a benchmark in this country's ultrarunning, and there will be more and more international entrants if it survives. Next year, put one of the Glasshouse Trail runs on your calendar.
Sean has also written the following articles that are published on CoolRunning Australia :
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