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Sept 1999 - Glasshouse 100 mile Trail Run Report

Sept 1999 - Glasshouse 100 mile Trail Run Report

by Martin Fryer
It’s hard to write a race report about the first event that you did not finish (DNF). Nevertheless, the experience of participating in this truly unique Australian event, with its share of amazing scenery and gutsy human performances, is worth recounting.

A Unique Event

The Glasshouse Trail 100 is the only 100 mile trail event held in Australia - it has been held in the Glasshouse Mountains, inland from the Sunshine Coast in QLD, annually since 1996 by race director Ian Javes, a legendary Aussie ultra runner in his own right. Just think of running/walking approximately 4 marathons, or 5.3 StaRs, or 1.8 Comrades, or sixteen 10K’s in a row, all on trail, and you have an idea of the scale of the event. The race covers about 80 km of undulating trail in a loop form, and is normally held on the last weekend in September. Ultra competitors may attempt one loop (50 miles/80 km) or two loops (100 miles/161 km). A shorter ultra is held over 55 km on the Saturday, with 12 km and 27 km events also run on the Sunday morning. Trail running of this magnitude is relatively young in Australia, as shown by the small number of entrants and an even smaller number of successful finishers of the 100 mile event - 0/5 in 1996, 3/8 in 1997, 4/12 in 1998, and 6/11 in 1999. The Sydney Striders connection with this race started in 1997 when Mike Ward completed the 58 km event and Kevin Tiller did about 60 km or so of the 100 miler event in stinking hot conditions. In 1998 I talked Mike into entering the 50 mile event with me as I had wanted to step up in distance from my previous longest trail race (Brindabella Classic, 56 km). Much to our delight, we won the 1998 50 mile event in 9h 48min as a result of carefully controlled run/walk, as well as a bit of luck by having had the really good runners enter the longer or shorter events. This year the Striders entrants were Dawn Tiller (55 km), Sean Greenhill & Kevin Tiller (50 mile), and Mike Ward and myself (100 mile). Even though we were both undertrained for an event this long, Mike and I mutually encouraged each other to enter the big one - Why? - because we had completed and enjoyed the 100 km Trailwalker in May - because it was there - because we were too slow to run any short distances at any decent pace - and, like most trail ultras - because it is a great way of flushing the concerns of the rat race out of your system.

Daytime thoughts

Eleven off us set off at 5:30 am on the Saturday morning for what was going to be a long day at the office. I love the lack of urgency of these starts compared to traditional races - we all set off at a very slow pace with no one keen to lead for the first couple of hundred metres. Most of the field soon left Mike and I behind, with only the 2 walkers left following us. We were joined by a tall, lanky guy from Perth who introduced himself as Geoff, whose running experiences had included completing the Marathon des Sables in the Sahara. He stuck with us and chatted - we assumed a leisurely pace and before long we were climbing the steep track to the top of Mt Beerburrum. We saw the leaders coming back down the same track - Graham Medill (winner of this event in 1997 &1998), followed by Paul Every (Australian 100km representative, entering for the first time), and several others were in front of us. We caught up to and chatted with Carol La Plante, an American veteran of many 100 milers who had liked the experience of Glasshouse so much last year she came back for more! These people are definitely not right in the head. Carole headed off into the distance, though we were to catch up with her and Kevin Tiller (running the 50 miler which started 15 min later) just before station 3 at 16K. From here to the first medical check (station 5) it is mostly pretty easy going on undulating, wide dirt roads. It was already starting to get much warmer than the previous year’s race - Mike and I were a bit concerned. One last climb along a narrow bit of track and the four of us made Station 5 (27km) at around 3.25 hours. Everyone passed their medical checks (body weight, heart rate, blood pressure) - like last year I actually put on a kilo or so from the start, reflecting my efforts to stay well hydrated. From here you head out towards the far end of the loop, firstly through a nasty, roller coaster section known as the “Goat track” which had many steep, slippery sections (which we were not looking forward to seeing again that night). With well controlled run/walking we breezed through station 6 and made station 7 in good time, seeing Dawn Tiller heading back the other way with a pack of male competitors in tow. The 5.3 km loop back to station 7 allowed us to take our waist packs off, which felt heavenly and made us realise the effect of the extra weight we had been carrying. Kevin dropped off from our group during this loop and we picked up another US runner, Jordan (50 mile competitor), to our group. He stayed with us a while but also dropped - we heard later in the day that he finished in pretty bad shape and required a few hours of oxygen and icing down to revive. We finished this sun-exposed loop, having completed a little over our first marathon (43.2 km) in a personal worsts of 5h37min. That’s another great thing about these races - you set a string of PW’s! It was really hot now (probably low 30’s, with extra radiant heat from the dirt road surfaces) and while we (Geoff, Mike and I) were moving steadily we were extending the walking stretches dramatically and drinking a lot of fluid (roughly 1.5 litres per hour for me, half water, half isosport). Medical checks back at station 5 were OK - we tried to pack down some sandwiches, fruit, peanuts, and whatever else we could stomach. The next section is a long loop around Mt Beerwah which starts on a fire road but soon ends up on a steep, uneven trail through rainforest. We all started to feel pretty fatigued through this section. Like last year, we passed several people here (one was a Japanese woman in the 100 miler who had got lost and also had a bad fall, another guy in the 50 miler was wandering along with one of the soles of his shoes blown out). This year and last year there seemed to be a fairly reproducible “wall” that occurs here (roughly 60 km) which requires some getting through. We made station 8 (on the far side of the mountain) - 62.7 km at 8h14min. From here back to station 5 we were walking a lot but at least making progress- Mike was feeling quite bad and sensibly encouraged us not to push too hard. His next medical check was a bad one - he had a very weak pulse, low blood pressure, and had a bad headache - he looked like he was not going to continue. The medics gave him some ice to cool down, and with our encouragement and a decent break he courageously pushed on. A nice long downhill stretch (which we walked) and eventually we were all able to put in a few short runs here and there - I mean really short - one of us would say “let’s run to the second tree up there” (50m away) and the rest would grudgingly follow. At the end of these stretches our legs were feeling really heavy, and a dull, soreness in the quads was pretty much continuous. At the last station (with 4.6km to go to the end of our first lap) we were lifted by the adrenaline and anticipation of getting back to the Start. I was pleased with our discipline - I had planned for about 11h30min for the first loop and the 3 of us finished the first loop (80 km) in 11:12. After medical checks we ate some baked potatoes, had a shower,changed into our night gear and picked up night backpacks - a total leisurely stop of about 40 min. We were shocked to see Graham Medill (last year’s winner) leave 5 min before us. He had been held there for a good hour and a half because of medical concerns - the heat had taken its toll. We set off at an elapsed time of 12h, which was about 5:30 pm, giving us about half an hour before nightfall.

Nighttime thoughts/Rednecks & fireworks

Pretty close to nightfall we saw Kevin (without a torch) heading the other way, and sometime after that, Sean - we were pleased that our fellow Striders would successfully complete their 50 miler efforts. We walked pretty briskly through to station 3 with no running at all - that heavy legged feeling didn’t look like it was going to go away - the 3 of us all had headaches by this time and each took a Nurofen tablet. Mike was looking pretty green again - we all had a bit of vege soup and soldiered on. It was nice to be in the cool of the night - we were also fortunate to have a full moon, which allowed us to switch our torches off on sections of the dirt roads. The night quiet was suddenly punctuated by the sound of a really loud dune buggy which was obviously getting closer to us and was full of people in a Saturday night mood. We got off the road, turned our torches off, and like the heroes that we were, stood still (slightly crouched) hoping the hell that we wouldn’t get harrassed and used as entertainment. As someone pointed out to me later - that probably wasn’t such a good move as we probably did a good impersonation of frightened kangaroos and could have made excellent spotlighting targets! We made station 4 (100.2km) at 15h16 min - a landmark for Mike and I, as our previous longest distance covered was 100 km. We also heard that Graham Medill had pulled out of the race there - so obviously some people were feeling even worse than us. It was a one foot after the other procession to station 5 - Mike was fading badly and we were all a bit rough. Our malaise was interrupted by what sounded like a gunshot, really close by, and we were suddenly awake. We instinctively laid low, imagining some pissed redneck wandering the trail with a shotgun. After a cautious few minutes another shot rang out - but this time I noticed, above the trees, some colourful fireworks being let off from higher up on the mountain - not something you tend to expect at this time and place. We made it to station 5 in a sorry state - Mike was gone - his blood pressure reading was 70/30 and he was withdrawn from the race - 105.8km in 16h41min - a PB distance for him and a heroic effort. The dreaded under-foot blisters had come to haunt me - so I burst them and placed Compeed pads on them. Geoff and I had a longish break and set off into the night for the loop out to 7 and back. For some reason the heaviness had left my legs and I felt good. We walked briskly (even jogged a little) and were making adequate progress at around 5-5.5 km/h over varied terrain for the next 3.5 h or so - with the full moon and mist around the mountains making for an ethereal experience. The return loop from 7 (122.5 km onwards) was my downfall. I started getting light headed and wobbly - Geoff thoughtfully stopped several times to see if I was OK. I was hoping that this would just be another “wall” to pass through but neither food, drink or rest was helping. To make things worse, the blister pads I had put on had obviously made things worse and it was becoming painful to even walk downhills without losing form.The next couple of hours were an eternity of dizziness and foot pain and seizing quads - it was clear that I was slowing to a pace that wasn’t even a decent walk. Approaching station 5 I made that hardest of decisions - to withdraw on the basis of my only pre-race withdrawal criterion - loss of form that might lead to long-term injury. I had come 133.6km in 22h 24min- only 27km to go -but it might as well have been 100. I wished Geoff well - he went on to finish 3rd in 28:37, followed 12 min later by Bill Thompson, the local custard apple farmer who walked the whole way (he is a fast walker), and had a few stubbies of Guinness en route to boot! Carole La Plante, a veteran of many tough 100 mile races in the US, was last to make it within the 30 hr cutoff (29:08). Paul Every won the event in 23:28 after getting lost for half an hour or so in the early hours of the morning.

Final thoughts

It’s no fun having your first DNF but I guess if you’ve never have had one then maybe you’ve never really pushed to your limits. Its easy for me to sit back now and regret my decision - these are the tough decisions to make - there is certainly a fine line here between bravery and stupidity. What could I have done better to ensure success? Heat adaptation might have helped - most of my training in the ACT in winter was at low humidity and 0-13°C - a bit different to 95% humidity and 30°C plus. Certainly more preparation mileage (>100 km/week) would have helped - I only averaged about 80-90 km/week in training for the race. The 3 long run/walks I did in training during the 2 months prior (50-60 km in 5.5-6.5 h, 8 min run/2 min walk) were helpful and appropriate - you do a mighty lot of walking in this type of event unless you are truly elite. The blisters are a sore point though - I had never had problems with them (up to 100 km) previously. Putting Compeed pads on them caused much worse blisters along their boundary than the original blisters. Maybe the old housewive’s trick of treating feet with metho might help? I did wear ankle gaiters to keep dirt out, and changed shoes and socks several times during the race, but this obviously didn’t work.

I love ultra events like this for many reasons - most of all because they attract a great, friendly bunch of competitors (not like those irritable 10K whippets) that truly respect each other - there is a great sense of camaraderie. Also, the top placings in these events can be quite unpredictable as anyone can have a bad day (or night) due to a multiplicity of potential factors (blisters, hydration, food, falls, getting lost, just plain stuffed). The race is a great leveller across age groups and abilities - patience is critical - the finish times of the walkers show you that if you are a brisk walker you can finish under or close to the 30h cutoff. This raises an issue for any runner considering doing this race - determining what type of run/walk ratio you are comfortable with, allowing for the attrition effect of sheer mileage.

Thanks must go to the organisers, aid station volunteers, and medical staff for putting on a first class event. Ian Javes hinted that this event might not be held again due to increased insurance liability requirements - this would be a great loss for Australian trail running. If this event is held in the future I would encourage more runners to participate in this event as the start/finish of vacation at the Sunshine Coast or other parts of QLD.

Martin Fryer
Canberra, Australia

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