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Sept 1999 - Glasshouse 100 mile Trail Run Reportby Carol La Plante
The 1999 running of the Glasshouse 100, on September 25, saw ten people start the 100 miler plus four relay teams. A little later the same day, twelve people started the 50 miler and twelve more started the 55K. Speedster events of 37K and 12K were held the next day. The course goes over and around volcanic peaks, about an hour’s drive north of Brisbane.
On the Thursday before the race, Phil and I arrived back at the Glasshouse Mountains Motel, our home for the race last year, after spending several days driving north from Sydney by way of the Hunter Valley, a picturesque vineyard area, a sort of Napa valley with kangaroos, some tame. After enjoying everything about the Glasshouse 100 last year, we were eager to return to Queensland, to run again among the majestic volcanic peaks of the Glasshouse Mountains.
One of the usual entries in the hundred miler is bush walker Bill Thompson, a local custard apple farmer. Shortly after I arrived, his wife, Jane, came over with a bouquet of native flowers and a meal sized custard apple, its dimpled green skin holding a glistening white luscious fruit. Jane updated me on race news, and said that there would definitely be pasta at the pre-race banquet, alluding to a snide remark I’d made the previous year that the only carbos available were potatoes served on the side of steak.
On Friday evening we arrived at the sports ground where the race starts and finishes, and found that the pre-race dinner had been displaced from the clubhouse by a rodeo scheduled for the sports ground that evening. Undaunted by being aced out of the building, race director Ian Javes, Bill and Jane Thompson and other helpers set up tables in a corner of the sports ground under the starry sky on this warm, perfumed night and catered a feast for about fifty runners and crew. Jane provided heaping bowls of pasta with sumptuous homemade sauces. The Thompsons also provided bowls of their creamy sweet custard apple fruit, as well as fresh orange juice.
We sat on the grass feasting and trading stories, ignoring the bright lights and noise of the rodeo. There were new faces and returning runners, such as Kevin Tiller who had tried the 100 two years ago and was in the 50 miler this time, and Paul Every, who was running his first 100 miler. Paul, 26, was a snake-handler at a Sydney zoo and resembled a young Buffalo Bill, with long blond curls and a goatee. He had taken the bus to the race from Sydney and hitchhiked from the bus stop in the neighboring town of Beerwah, planning to camp at the sports ground that night. When he asked me for advice on how to run a 100 miler, I assumed he was in over his head. He then told me that he’d done a 100K on a track in a phenomenal time, as well as completing the Spartathalon. I told him to watch for ribbons, advice that, if heeded, might have saved him an hour.
Local walker Kerrie Hall, who completed the 100 miler last year slightly over the time limit of 30 hours, was back and looking lean and strong, planning to improve her time by running some sections this year. To compliment her very buffed appearance, she sported long designer fingernails, looking like an Aussie Flo Jo. Kerrie greeted me with a powerful hug, tossing me in the air. Fellow walker Melanie Jonker returned for the 50 miler, after winning it last year, radiating confidence after many successful races in the interim. The third woman in the 100 was Kumi Kato, who had run well at Comrades and was enthusiastically ready to try her first 100.
At 5:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, first light, the runners assembled for the start. There was a sobering speech by Ian Javes that the race was in danger of being cancelled due to a local government edict requiring millions of dollars of insurance next year. The reason for the insurance was supremely screwy bureaucratic logic and foreshadowed the ecological disaster that would appear on the race course. The race runs through national park lands where motor bikes and all terrain vehicles are prohibited on trails. Despite the prohibition, these vehicles now tear up the trails, seemingly with impunity. There was a concern raised that the illegal users of the trails might collide with the runners, thus the race management was told to obtain sufficient insurance to pay for claims arising from the government’s failure to keep the illegal users away, including potential injury claims by the illegal users. Go figure.
We were also told that the day would be unseasonably hot, with temperatures in the high 80’s. I had run Vermont with record heat just two months ago, so I was less concerned than the Australians, who were just emerging from an extremely cold, wet winter. With the definitive Go! from Ian, we were off, amid final whispers of , “Good luck, mate”.
I ran with Graham Medill, who has won the race every year that anyone finished, and Paul Every, whose stories about his other recent races, such as the Ironman Triathlon, let us know that he was a serious competitor. I felt strong in the sparkling dawn, after a long taper, but knew that a chronic leg injury would soon catch up. I eased off the pace and was passed by 100 milers Rainer Neumann and Kumi Kato, running swiftly, then by a scattering of 50 mile runners.
After several miles the course makes a steep ascent to the peak of one of the Glasshouse mountains, where we catch the view, slap the base of the lookout tower and head back down. The course then meanders through pineapple fields and eucalyptus forests around the mountains. The day grew bright and hot. Catching up with three men in the race, I mentioned waking up at 4 a.m. to the sound of someone repeatedly trying to start a very noisy car. A tall, thin 100 mile runner, Geoff Blyth, a school teacher from Perth, fessed up, “You mean, who was that idiot! My wife suggested that I should toot the horn as well, since we woke everyone up.” Geoff had flown across the country and found a really cheap hire (rental) car which, he discovered, ran only grudgingly. Kevin Tiller, the Aussie ultrarunning website master, was in this merry group, and we trotted over the dusty red clay trails listening to tales of runs in his native England and the U.S.
I began to feel the leg injury that I’d had since Vermont, and the temperature was rising as we ran down exposed fire roads, so I dropped back, the guys kindly waiting at one turn to make sure I didn’t miss the ribbon. After an aid station, the course wound through tall forest with steep climbs and rocky descents. The combination of heavy rain and motorbikes created ruts two feet deep in the hilly trails, runnable only by a mountain goat. The distant rumble of motorcycles was punctuated by the whistle of the whip bird, the piercing sound of a whip circling then snapping loudly across the forest.
The course is laid out vaguely in the shape of a clover leaf, with the road to the start/finish back at the sports ground being the stem. The main aid station is a central fire lookout on a hill amid the peaks, and is reached three times on each 50 mile segment. A taipan, the most poisonous snake in the world and common in Queensland, was reportedly discovered in the outhouse at the lookout.
I left the lookout the first time and trotted down the trail to a rough steep section known as the goat track, which goes through rain forest. Here, two foot long giant lizards, called goannas, shimmied up the tall trees and parrots screeched overhead. The trail then crossed a road and drifted through forest and pineapple fields.
The next section was an out-and-back of about ten miles. I was surprised how close we all were, with no one either way ahead or way behind. In another ten miles the course ascended to the lookout on a long gentle uphill where, ahead of me, was Kevin Tiller, looking sunburned and heat-stressed, his read hair pale in comparison to his red skin.
After the lookout, the next loop of the clover leaf went around the circumference of a massive mountain, Beerwah, through a shadowy rainforest reputed to have been a gathering place for spirits of the Aborigines. Again, the steep single track trail was deeply rutted by illegal vehicles, and here the mud was still so wet that the footing was precarious. I passed a woman in the 55K, clad in a delicate pink ensemble, as she tenuously picked her way down the slopes. She doubted her ability to even finish this stretch. I reminded her that she had no choice.
Leaving the rainforest, the course followed a fireroad past macadamia orchards and pawpaw (papaya) trees before winding back to the lookout for the third time. Finally, on the way back to the start/finish, I was surprised to catch Kumi Kato, who was injured and would quit at the turnaround.
My feet were developing painful blisters from the heat and humidity. When I arrived at the sports ground, I ministered to my feet, then, looking around, I was astonished to see everyone who had been ahead of me in the 100, except for Paul Every, lounging, eating and drinking, apparently uncertain that they even wanted to go out for the second fifty. “What are YOU doing here?” I demanded incredulously of perennial winner Graham Medill. He had arrived several hours ago, showered, napped and eaten, still feeling the effects of a recent flu. Perhaps goaded by suggestion that they looked ridiculous standing around in the early evening, the men trudged off in little groups across the field to embark on the second loop.
I had just changed socks when the last group of three left, and Phil said I could catch them, so off I went on the second lap. In the fast descending dark I encountered Kumi Kato then Kevin Tiller on their way in, then the resolute walkers, Bill Thompson, followed by Kerrie Hall.
The night was clear with brilliant stars. The woods were alive with toads, mostly huge cane toads who barely budged their glistening pale mass to get out of my path. Cane toads are one of many non-native species that taken over the land from the relatively defenseless native species. Other non-native species include feral cats that now number hundreds of thousands and have wiped out many species of birds, and feral pigs and rabbits that destroy forest and agricultural land.
My blisters were becoming quite painful, but at each aid station I was told that the three guys were just ahead and I thought it would be fun to go with them. At an aid station about 15 miles from the sports ground, I was told that Graham Medill had dropped, in very debilitated condition.
The rutted single track on the way to the lookout was particularly irritating, as I stumbled along in the dead of night. Suddenly, I heard a faint pop! then the sky was filled with shimmering red chrysanthemum fireworks. The rocket came from the direction of the main aid station at the lookout. After several minutes, there was another rocket, then several more intermittently, with long intervals in between. I supposed that this was an extremely neat way of announcing the arrival of each runner at the lookout. It was magnificent. I later learned that the fireworks were unrelated to the race and illegal, as well as hazardous.
Back on the open fireroad, the full moon was so bright that I could run long sections without turning on my flashlight. In a forested section, Phil ran out from the aid station a mile or so to meet me, and announced that he’d just encountered a porcupine with a long pink snout. What he described was an echidna, a rare native ant eater.
My progress was slow, and on the final loop around Mt. Beerwah in the steep rutted trails I misjudged a narrow ridge to be solid when it was very soft orange mud. Instantly, my feet were encased in mud, over my ankles. Although there were only about 12 miles left, the mud was intolerable, weighing down my feet and enflaming my blisters. Phil then came running down the trail. “This is awesome!” he enthused, as the early morning sunlight sparkled through the forest and illuminated the black slopes of Mt. Beerwah. “I hate this,” I snapped, indicating the mud covering my shoes, but immediately realizing that he was right, the day was indeed beautiful. I ordered Phil to run back to the car and drive as close to the trail as possible, so that I could change shoes. He was disappointed because he had wanted to run this pretty section with me.
As I changed shoes on a fire road, I was amazed to see Bill Thompson approaching, walking jauntily at a very fast pace. By the time my foot care was done, he was out of sight. I arrived finally at an aid station staffed by cadets, unenthusiastic teenagers in full military camouflage, supervised by a few similarly attired adults. One officious, plump teenager handed me a cup of soup and huffed that Phil, “was insufferable -- he must have asked me to get soup ready for you three times!” I looked him in the eye and replied, “Beats being sent to East Timor, doesn’t it?” After a silence, there was a nervous laugh from the supervisor. The Australian involvement in East Timor was a very raw nerve.
On the final stretch back to the lookout, I limped along a flat fire road in the growing heat of the early morning sun. Suddenly, fresh, strong runners in the 37K race came speeding past me. One of the leaders, seeing my decrepit condition, paused to offer gentle encouragement in a lilting Queensland accent, “Have a go, mate! You be right.” As I did my best to run along, his kind words were a mantra.
Returning for the last time to the lookout, Phil ran out to meet me. “You won’t believe this,” he said, pointing into the great tent of the aid station. Bill Thompson was finishing a breakfast of ham and eggs, with a side of Guinness. His wife had fried the food in an iron skillet on a burner at the aid station, and he ate with gusto. To my added surprise, and joy, Shelia Hunter, who had been part of the ultra scene in southern California ten years ago, volunteered to pace me for the last 12K back to the sports ground.
We took off quickly, as Bill enjoyed his repast. Shelia was a perfect pacer, urging without nagging or demanding the impossible. I was so exhausted and sore that not a lot was possible.
We soon passed the runners assembled for the start of the 12K race. They cheered loudly, yelling, “WELL done!” and “Good on ya!” My eyes were filled with tears. Last year also, I had passed the start of the 12K and the runners had cheered, but this time the greetings were more personal. Among those cheering loudest were Graham Medill and his wife Philippa, both bubbling with enthusiasm despite his disappointing run.
Shelia, an Englishwoman married to an Australian, regaled me with tales of adapting to life in Queensland. As 12K runners passed, they joined in our conversation, laughing at our jokes about life in Oz. I mentioned that cane toads were everywhere at night, and was told me that the toads are such a pest that school children are encouraged to catch them, then the toads are executed by placing them in a freezer for 72 hours. “What?” I replied, “You mean you open up your freezer to get a meat pie, and a toad jumps out at you?” The trick, I was informed by a passing runner, is to put the toad in a plastic bag.
Looking over my shoulder, I saw the invincible Bill striding along quickly, gaining on me. He looked fresh, strong and resolute. He passed me, then Shelia and I picked up the pace into a run, or more of a run, and passed him, then again after a bit he passed me, and again we passed him, until finally he passed me and I was too tired to do anything about it.
We chatted and ran, and in the last miles ran faster, inspired by the familiar sight of roadside stores on the way to the sports ground, Veccio’s produce stand, then the Mathilda convenience store, signifying that the end was very near. Finally, the sports field was across the road, people were cheering, we ran through an underpass, across the field, and under a wooden arch that displayed the FINISH banner and timing clock. The finish was sweet, albeit slow.
Postscript - insurance for the 2000 race has been obtained. The race will be October 7-8, allowing time to watch the Olympics then come up to Glasshouse. And the invincible Bill Thompson will have more time to recover from his first attempt at Hardrock.
Carol La Plante California, USA
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