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October 2000 - Glasshouse 100 mile Trail Run Reportby Sean Greenhill
I think Bill Thompson described it best. The morning after his own DNF at the Glasshouse Trail 100, at the awards brunch, he had leaned over and said, "don't you hate it when you feel fine the day after?" I nodded in agreement, because not long before Tony Howes, who I had run with for the last 5 hours of my own non finish, had crossed the line in just under 29 hours and in good shape. My legs felt fine, no stiffness, soreness or fatigue, and I wondered what might have been, if my feet had stayed in the same shape.
On the evening of Friday October 6, runners had gathered at the Glasshouse Mountains Sportsground for the pre race dinner and briefing. Paul Every, last years winner, was there after a last minute entry, as were two American visitors, Carol La Plant (a 2 time finisher) and Charlie Dermody, who had apparently run several sub 24 hour efforts and seemed a likely rival for overall honours with Paul. Another who I suspected could take line honours was fellow Sydney Strider Martin Fryer, co winner of the 50 mile event here two years ago. He had DNFd in the 100 last year but had had an excellent build up this year, with some fine results in shorter ultras.
Bill Thompson, 2 time finisher in this 100, Assitant Race Director to Ian Javes, and finisher of the epic Hardrock 100 this year, did the course briefing. Roughly speaking, the course described the shape of a clover leaf, starting at the Sportsground, following a trail alonngside Glasshouse Mountains Road until passing through the town of Beerburrum, then winding through bush and pine plantations to Lookout 589 (checkpoint 5), from where runners described an out and back, then from the Lookout again a loop around Mt Beerwah, then back on a separate route to Glasshouse Mountains Road and back to the Sportsground. That was 50 Miles, then runners doing the 100 did the course again. Apparently this had been the driest spring in Queensland since World War 2, and as a result the course was bone dry, dusty and eroded enough for Bill to describe some sections as "interesting". Martin and I exchanged glances at that word and smiled, while a few other runners chuckled, wondering to themselves what exactly "interesting" meant.
In the pre dawn gloom the next morning, 100 and 50 mile runners, relay team members, crews, relatives, friends were gathered at the Sportsground. I had my medical check while munching on some toast- weight 89.7 kilos, pulse 80, blood pressure 150/90- seemed I was more nervous than I felt. In the week before I had, at times, been comsumed by terror at the thought of what I was undertaking, but on the morning I felt pretty good. I thought of all the lonely long runs I had done in May, June, July and August, the times where I had done double sessions 4 or 5 days a week; the 102 mile week I ran in mid July. I had done the preparation, realistically I could be no fitter.
Last year the start had been proceeded by a speech from Ian Javes and start line photos of competitors. This year it was more hurried- Ian ran down to the oval calling "100 Mile runners start in 5 minutes!", did a roll call of the 15 starters, then sent the runners off with "ready, set, GO!" We trotted out of the Sportsground , passed under Glasshouse Mountains Road, then along the track towards Beerburrum. I fell in quickly with an amiable academic from Brisbane named Tony Howes; I had seen his name in results for several of the shorter Glasshouse Trail runs, and two years ago he had attempted the 100 and DNFd. Tony and I took our pace very easily, and ahead of us Kerrie Hall had run off with some faster guys. Kerrie had walked the entire 100 in each of the past two years but had both times missed the final 30 hour cutoff by less than 15 minutes. This year she had trained as a runner in order to get the job done.
The sky was clear and a spectacular sunrise was creeping over the farms that lined the roadside. Tony remarked that we had paid a lot, so we deserved the same quality sunrise tomorrow morning. The forecast for the day was 26 C, but it would turn out much hotter. In any case, I was already drinking plenty; by the time we reached checkpoint 1, 4.5km in, I had already emptied one of my three 800ml bottles. We ran on through the bush, through the silent town of Beerburrum, then swung onto the path that would take us to the 278m summit of Mt Beerburrum, a treat that had been added to the course for the first loop only. 50 mile runners had to run halfway up. Pushing upwards steadily on the sealed path, Tony fell back as we passed through rainforest and reached the dry, sparesely vegetated upper slopes. The lead runners came back down, first Rainer Neumann of Brisbane (2nd place last year) then Martin, Charlie and Paul all close together. As he passed, Paul advised the view from the top was tremendous, and so it was, looking out across farmland to the sea, coloured a fantastic orange by the rising run.
Coming down the mountain we passed some of the 50 mile leaders, who had started half an hour behind. Two friends of mine, Adam Barron, the 50 mile second place last year, and Darryl Chrisp, a fellow Sydney Strider, were doing their half climb of the mountain. Further down the path I passed Kevin Cassidy, who was going to pace me that night. Kevin has retired from ultras, but still edits Ultra Mag, and had his camera out for some photos to go in the next edition.
Darryl and Adam passed me quickly enough as we left Beerburrum and cut through plantations. However I did start to make ground on Carol LaPlant, who I could see ahead of me mixing up walking and running on the gentle undulations that the logging trails passed over. I caught her just as we reached checkpoint 3, and we trudged together though sand covered trails before emerging on more logging roads. She urged me to go ahead, which I was reluctant to do- she has a hell of a lot more experience in these things than me, so I figured hanging out with her may have been a smart thing to do. However, I left her and caught up to Kerrie, only to have Carol pass the two of us on the next downhill. Then she walked the next uphill and Kerrie and I passed her; Carol ran past again on the next downhill, and this process was repeated through most of the long slog through pine plantations to checkpoint 4, where the trail crosses Woodford- Beerburrum Road. I set off along the trail as it climbed shallowly towards the ridge topped by Lookout 589 and checkpoint 5. I was walking most of these slopes and was soon caught by fellow 100 runner John Stanley, a stocky, affable local. After traversing some badly eroded, steeply rising and falling trail, John, Kerrie and I climbed across a slope of recently burned forest and came out on road just down from the lookout. Bill and Ian had marked the course particularly well; we had had no problems navigating this difficult section.
By now the heat was starting to beat down and the early morning breeze had died away. All my bottles were empty, but I was sweating profusely and wondering if I could "make the weight" at the medical. My blood pressure and pulse were fine, but my weight had dropped somewhat to 89.0kg. The medicos advised John and Kerrie to delay their departure until they had drunk more fluid, but I was okay to leave. However, I spent a little too long fooling around with the food and drink in my drop bag and left after John and Tony (who had arrived just after us). I munched down several packets of potato chips and sipped my bottles, two of which and diluted sportsdrink and the third filled with So Good. The next section was the notorious Goat Track, a badly eroded, steep trail cutting through rainforest. The slope would rise steeply enough to require one's hands, then drop so suddenly you were in danger of losing your footing and sliding to the bottom of the slope. THe trail then jagged hard right and ascended through bush along Hennessy's Hill, the trail of which was festooned with large fallen trees to keep trail bikers away. I slipped and fell on one loose section, but eventually emerged onto dirt road and trotted down to checkpoint 6. Last year this station had been perched above a dense, mature pinr plantation, but now it looked over a rolling moonscape after logging activities had removed the trees. I was dismayed- less shelter from the sun.
The out and back section to checkpoint seven was long and boring, a descent over rough tracks to a madadamia plantation, where Paul Every came speeding past me in the lead. Then through more bush until we finally emerged onto another dirt road just down from 7. I had passed Martin (in second place), Rainer, Charlie, Adam, Darryl and others, who were all coming back towards me. I ate some sandwiches at 7, refilled my bottles and set out on a 4.5km square through more pine plantations that would finish back at 7. Last year I had walked all of this section due to the fierce heat. I was faster this year, but still walked a lot of it. My energy had drained away and I felt flat and bored by the continouous pines. I trotted slowly back into 7 feeling ill; I had drunk two litres of fluid in just 4.5km, but the sweat was pouring off me and I could see no other way to keep my weight up. I picked another sandwich, but had to fight to keep just one bite down and tossed the rest of the sandwich away. Kerrie walked up behind me just as Bill Thompson jauntily strode past us the other way, heading out to 7 with his backpack slung over one arm. Kerrie asked if she could stay with me a while, which I was happy about. We didn't run back to six, but strode briskly, almost being knocked down by some trailbikers while crossing the madcadamia plantation. Pushing back into the bush, we saw Carol walking down towards us, a LONG way behind. She explained that she had had blood pressure problems at the first medical and had lain down in the caravan there for an hour and a half. Kerrie and I climbed the hill back to 6, where Carol's husband Phil asked how were were. "Hot and bored," I replied as I tipped water over my head to cool off.
We trudged down a long steep hill, then ascended a long steep rise with the sun beating down on our backs. Kerrie produced a string of insults describing this hill that I think they heard back at the Sportsground, then we walked along the top of a ridge, dropped down another slope and headed back along rolling dirt roads back to 5. All of this was in the open and in the full glare of the sun, and we could only manage to run the final few metres into 5. Kerrie had her medical first and set off, I said I'd catch up after my own medical. My weight was stable at 89 kilos, as was my blood pressure and pulse. I was, however, too nauseous to eat; I just refilled my bottles and jogged down the dirt road after Kerrie. Martin Fryer was coming back the other way after doing the loop around Beerwah, and he also came up with some colurful insults to describe the course. This was not what I needed to hear, but I rejoined Kerrie and we headed once again into the bush, heading out towards the imposing, deformed pyramid of Mt Beerwah.
This section is meant to be 9km long, but its the longest 9km I know of. A mixture of badly eroded, winding, unstable trails that rise and fall steeply, we were sliding on the dust of the trail like it was some kind of bizarre escalator. Still, the trail was well marked, but the constant twisting to get a foothold started to create a blister on my right heel. I usually don't get blisters, and this would be a hint of what would happen to me later.
It took the two of us a long, long time to reach the dirt road on the far side of Beerwah, and we walked down the road past farms and over a few hills to checkpoint 8. I still felt tired and listless, but on the way around Mt Beerwah I had started to think of a big bottle of coke, so when I reached 8 I asked them to fill one bottle with coke and I drank almost the whole thing right away. My energy levels were restored within minutes. For the rest of my run I had one bottle filled with coke, another with milk or So Good, and the third with sportsdrink, and my energy levels were high and consistent right till the end of my run.
From 8 we headed down the dirt road and turned right onto Judds Road, another dirt road that passed through properties and came out just down from 5. Kevin Cassidy drove past in his car, got out and took a photo of the two of us with the imposing stone finger of Crookneck behind.
Back at 5 I was surprised to see Tony Howes resting in a chair shaded by the medical caravan. After my medical (weight back up to 90.5, blood pressure and pulse okay) I munched some sandwiches (my stomach had come good again) and asked what he was up to. He explained that he had been fatigued and had rested there for around 40 minutes. Before I set off after Kerrie (who had already vanished down the road heading back to 1 and the Glasshouse Mountains Road), I told Tony to "beware the chair" or he'd never get going again.
Running after Kerrie, first on bitumen road then on dirt, I felt fantastic, even though I had 70km in my legs. The sun was lowering, a breeze had picked up and the heat no longer bothered me. With each step I ran stronger and taller, and was convinced right there that I was going to finish as long as I could keep it together during the night. Kerrie and I alternated walking and running the trails, climbed the hunkered ridge of Tibberoowuccum (where I had fallen during the 50 Mile last year after being caught in the darkness without a torch) and were heading comfortably down to 1 when Tony ran up behind us. Despite the pain in my right heel and a few hot spots forming on the ball of my left foot, I was now in excellent spirits; if the three of us could work together, the finish seemed to be ours. We ran down next to the road and arrived at the Sportsground in 12.21 hours, a long way ahead of my 50 Mile finish time of ast year of 14.06. After another medical (everything stable; I pointed out to the medicos that I had started running to lose weight and to be told now that losing weight was not on was terribly unfair) and some food, we headed out again to begin the second loop. I was running strong; I was fresh, the sun was setting but we had our torches to light the way. A light started to come towards us; it was fellow 100 mile entrant John Lindsay completing his own loop perhaps 30 minutes behind us. We slowed to a fast, brisk walk; Tony said that he planned to walk almost the whole second loop except for some of the smoother downhills, and I resolved to keep with him.
Idly, I wondered where Bill Thompson was; surely he was pushing the cutoff close. Just after this thought passed through my head he came out of the night grinning like a demented phantom; his bright blue eyes shone and he gave us a cheery "G'day" and trotted on towards the Sportsground. Bill's splits when he finished were usually something remarkable like 13.5/14.5, so I assumed he was in good shape and on schedule.
My feet were starting to bother me, however. The hot spots on the ball of my left foot had become full blown blisters; something which had never really bothered me before (but then I had never done this distance before) and more hot spots were forming on the ball of my right foot and left heel. I was still striding easily enough with my two companions through the cooling, breezy night, however.
Checkpoint 2 doesn't exist on the second loop; after leaving 1 (we were in high spirits and full of food) you have to press right through to 3. Kerrie met her pacer in Beerburrum and started running hard, leaving Tony and I behind. We were walking fast in the bright moonlight; the sun had gone but the moon shone brightly enough that we didn't need our torches to see the trail. We resolved to stick together until the end, but every time I trod on stones or rough spots the pain in my feet was getting worse and I wondered what would happen on the twisting, treacherous footing of the goat track and the Beerwah loop. For the time being, I was keeping a steady pace with Tony, even when we ran the downhills, but just a few metres down the trail after leaving 3 I put my left foot down and a bolt of pain shot through my leg; a jet of warm fluid sprayed out between my first and second toes. I lurched reflexively, my foot came down at a different angle on the burst blister and brought a new jolt of pain. I staggered for several steps, stopped and called out to Tony. Then I took an experimental step, then another. I could keep walking, though the pain was now severe in my left foot and my right was blistering up fast to match it.
I fell in around ten metres behind Tony, though going at the same pace, and started to think about what lay in store for me ahead. I fell into a dark frame of mind for a while; then I looked at the heavily forested surroundings and called ahead to Tony "I thought the trail to 4 was open, not through the bush." "I've been thinking the same thing," he replied, "and we seem to be too far to the right." We debated this for a few minutes then turned back. Apart from my feet, I felt fit and full of energy, and thought the 100 finish was still on. Sure enough, we found the tape and signage marking the turnoff we had absent mindedly missed in the dark, and turned onto the right trail.
We pushed on through the night, torches lit only occasionally for confidence; otherwise the moon showed us the way. My feet were degenerating rapidly and a few tears welled up in my eyes; not just from the pain (though that was bad enough, believe me, worse than I had ever felt) but also frustration that the rest of me felt so good and fit but a few square inches of tissue were threatening to shut down my race. Just as the two of us reached a glowstick marking a corner of the course, a cramp gripped my right hamstring- no doubt a result of altered mechanics- and I knew I was going to inujure myself if I kept going on in the shape I was in. And the Goat Track couldn't be traversed in this state. I stopped in the darkness, hands on knees, and contemplated the impnding end of my run. Tony had stopped a few metres up the trail and thoughtfully shone his torch back at me to check how I was. "I think I've had it," I told him; then after a few slow steps told him to go on. "Tell them at 4 that I'm going to come in and drop out." He nodded and set off into the darkness and towards his own finish in just under 29 hours.
The rest of my trek through the darkness to 4 took an eternity, walking a few steps, then pausing till the pain went away, then walking again. Eventually I staggered into checkpoint 4, after 101km and 16 hours 44 minutes (a real slow down after doing 80km in 12.21) sat down, and announced my race was over. Before long Kevin Cassidy came driving out of the darkness to pick me up and drive me back to my motel. I don't think there could have been better company to have right after the death than him. Once I got to the shower at the motel, I couldn't remove my shoes, my feet were too swollen. After unlacing them I prised them off to reveal a bloody mess that had once been my left sock; my blisters weren't large but very deep and vivid purple; evidently they had bled quite a bit. THe right foot hadn't bled but looked pretty bad as well.
After a solid sleep. I was fine the next day, apart from my feet; I arrived at the Sportsground just after Tony had completed his run, which I reacted to with mixed feelings; Tony had done and excellent job and revenged his previous DNF; but I looked at him, thought of how good I felt and figured that I should have been sitting right there next to him getting the finisher's medical. Kerrie had come in a few minutes earlier, third time lucky.
The story up at the front sounded dramatic. Paul had been at checkpoint 8 on the second loop when Martin came running in after, in his own words, "going animalistic" on the treacherous Beerwah loop. Paul had apparently thrown down his sandwich and headed straight out into the night; hurried through the last medical (determined to leave before Martin arrived) and completed the last section from 1 to the finish in 32 minutes in the dark and after 157km; on the first loop it took him 30 flat. He won in a new course record of 20.31; Martin came in in 20.58. When I saw Martin at the brunch the next day, I shook his hand and the compliments came forth from my mouth- "outstanding, fabulous," I enthused. 8 of the 15 starters in the 100 had finished, the best strike rate so far, in tough conditions. Personally, I tried to rationalise away my own DNF, but ultimately it's another year of hard training and focus until I can come back next year and get it done properly.
Sean has also written the following articles that are published on CoolRunning Australia :
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