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Sept 2001 - Glasshouse 100 mile Trail Run Report

Sept 2001 - Glasshouse 100 mile Trail Run Report

by Carol La Plante

The 2001 Glasshouse Trail Runs were held on the weekend of September 29-30 in Queensland, Australia. In addition to the 100 miler, a 50 mile and 55K are held on Saturday, followed by 27K and 12K races on Sunday. The shorter races get the most entrants, but the ultras have a loyal following of runners, crew and volunteers who return every year. Phil Brown and I are certainly among them, as this was our fourth year. In addition to being very well organized, challenging events with spectacular scenery, part of the attraction is also that there are surprisingly few trail ultras in Australia, with Glasshouse the only hundred miler. Hundred mile competitors Kevin Tiller and Sean Greenhill were trying to organize a hundred mile race in the Blue Mountains east of Sydney, but recent devastating fires in the area have put those plans on hold for 2002.

Getting to the race was complicated by the collapse of Ansett, the principal inland air carrier, just two weeks before. For people coming from Sydney, where our flight from the U.S. landed, that meant a 700 mile drive north to get to the Glasshouse Mountains, and people coming from Melbourne faced a daunting 1500 mile drive. Nonetheless, most of the runners got to the start. My friend and part time pacer, Kevin Cassidy, braved the drive from Melbourne and filmed an excellent videotape documentary of the hundred mile run.

During our long drive up to Glasshouse, people expressed sympathy to us as Americans about the recent terrorist attacks. Australian English gets harder to understand, however, the further away from Sydney you go. In one small town I collided with a man in a store. We apologized, he discovered we were Americans, and in language that I barely understood, he seemed apologize again. I replied with a dismissive laugh that it was nothing. Only later, I pieced together that what he was offering condolences about the World Trade Center.

Near the end of the second day's drive, I noticed in a guidebook that a town with mineral hot springs was nearby. A nice soak after so much driving sounded dandy. The town, Moree, featured a huge spa, with three Olympic sized pools, two with geyser water at 104 and 100 degrees and the third at swimming temperature of about 80. The hot pools were crowded, with people speaking Russian, Hungarian, Polish, Greek, but no English. We learned that tourists, mainly Slavic, come from all over Australia, and beyond, to spend a week or two at these pools, where they soak, gossip and relax from morning to night. We found the spa delightful and returned the next morning for additional soaking. We guessed, correctly, that most people at the race would be unaware of this pocket of eastern European culture.

Unfortunately we came away from Moree with more than a pleasant memory. The next day's drive brought us to Toowomba, which was in the midst of its annual spring garden competition, a major civic event where the city is adorned in acres of floral displays and homeowners spend months priming their gardens to peak for this week. We ended the day touring spectacular gardens, but I felt weak and generally miserable. At dinner, I realized that I was suffering from food poisoning, which I apparently got in Moree, and had it bad. This was the Thursday before the race.

Despite being still sick when we arrived at the Glasshouse Mountains, the next morning, I was thrilled to see again the dark crooked silhouettes of the massive volcanic peaks that are these mountains. The race headquarters was in a new location, called the Teamsters Hall of Fame, which I supposed was a union hall. Instead, we followed a dusty country road to the address and discovered that "Teamsters" referred to horse drawn coaches. There were historic coaches housed in a huge garage and numerous horses in the surrounding corrals. Steve, the proprietor, holds a Guinness record for driving a coach with the most horses. He drives Cobb & Co. coaches, which, he explained, the Australians modeled on the American Wells Fargo stage coaches, but were built bigger and stronger to travel long distances over rough terrain during the Australian gold rush in the 1860's.

We returned to the Teamsters Hall that evening for the medical check-in and pre-race banquet, a delicious buffet lovingly prepared by assistant RD Bill Thompson's wife Jane and aid station captain Gwen Malcolm, with other volunteers. It was great to see the returning runners: local ultra legends, Hardrock veteran Bill Thompson and Kerrie Hall, who was last years' 100 mile women's winner; Sydney runners Kevin Tiller, whose Cool Running website is the nerve center for Australian ultrarunning, and Sean Greenhill, young and determined, a gentle giant who trained hard after blisters caused him to withdraw late in the race last year, and elite racer Kelvin Marshall. Last year's winner Paul Every did not show, probably tired after completing the 4,000 kilometer (2500 miles) Trans Australia Footrace from Perth on the west coast across the fiery interior to Canberra on the east coast. Paul's his close competitor in the 100 last year, Martin Fryer, opted for the 50 miler this year.

There were also new people in the race. Most credentialed was Jonathan Worswick, an English Aussie transplant recently returned to Sydney after living in the U.S. for two years where he had many spectacular ultra finishes, including 5th at Hardrock in 2001 and 3rd at Massanutten in 2000. His main competition appeared to be Kieron Thompson, a fast marathoner who had placed 2nd at the 50K race in the Glasshouse mountains the previous May, but had never attempted 100 miles. Another fast runner who looked like a contender was Lawrence Meade. A 23 year old Irishman, Mark Holley, was working his way around Australia and entered the 100 as an adventure. Phillipa Bolt, the third competitor on the women's field, looked very fit and was trying her first 100 after completing the 50 last year, followed by the 28K the next day.

Also present at the banquet was a member of the local government, Anna Grosskreutz, who gives out the awards each year and has been a major supporter of the race. Phil Brown and I came to Queensland this year with the notion that we wanted to get married there, as my parents had. The legal obstacles, however, seemed to be both mysterious and insurmountable. I mentioned this to Anna, and her eyes twinkled as she announced that she was licensed to perform marriages, she would be happy to marry us, and she knew ways around the legal restrictions. In fact, she suggested, why not do it at the nearby Australia Zoo, home of her friends, TV's Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin and his wife Terri? Phil initially had misgivings about our wedding being a media event, but I was thrilled and spent the rest of the banquet making plans with Anna.

The next morning, the run started from the Teamsters Hall at 5. The 50 miler started at 5:30, the 5 hundred mile relay teams started at 5:45 and the 55K runners started at 8. I started off with the lead pack, going out at an easy pace. The morning light bathed the Glasshouse peaks in pink and gold. I felt strong, and pleasantly light, but soon discovered that the effects of the food poisoning were not over. I ran as best I could, and in a couple of hours the symptoms finally subsided.

The course generally follows a 50 mile clover leaf, up and around the Glasshouse Mountains, through eucalyptus forests and pineapple plantations, on the edge of the tropical rain forest. The unique Australian wildlife distinguishes this race. Big snakes, likely to be extremely poisonous, occasionally appear on the trail, a real adrenalin rush. There are large monitor lizards, called goannas, that waddle inefficiently down the trail then streak up trees, and would similarly use their sharp claws to climb up a person, if cornered. The trees are inhabited by stout white kookaburras, with feathers like fur and a call that sounds like the chatter of chimpanzees, by whip birds whose call whistles across the rain forest, ending in a snap, and by flocks of exquisitely colored parrots. Kangaroos crash through the bush and bound across the trails, as do their smaller cousins, the curious wallabies. Koalas are said to be in the vicinity, but I have never seen one in the wild, nor have most Australians, since these animals sleep all day high up in the tops of the special eucalyptus trees whose delicate shoots provide the koalas' only source of food.

The first lap is about 5 miles longer than the 2nd and includes a steep climb to the top of one of the Glasshouse peaks that is not repeated. The turnaround is at the sports ground where the race finishes. Runners seem to linger there before heading back out. Darkness falls swiftly by 6 p.m. I got in to the turnaround, cleared the medical check and saw Sean Greenhill trying to find food to settle his upset stomach. Feeling good, I headed out with Kevin Cassidy pacing me, trying to cover as much ground as possible before dark.

By the 2nd aid station, Phil met us as usual with my personal selection of aid in the trunk of our rented Toyota and Kevin retired to continue videotaping the race. Running alone at night was exhilarating. The trails were littered with big glistening cane toads, a nonnative species that is overrunning Queensland and killing would-be predators with a toxin that it squirts out of its cheeks. At aid station 4, Phil looked ashen and announced that he could not bear to look at the food in the trunk. He was becoming as sick as I had been. We agreed that he would leave the car unlocked at aid station 5, which is the center of the clover leaf, and get a ride back to the motel.

On the way to aid station 5, there is one of several sections of "goat track," treacherous steep downhills with deeply rutted unstable clay and loose rocks. I was slowly negotiating my way down this nasty stretch when Sean passed me and kindly waited to light my way through the most difficult part. Sean got to 5, about mile 68, slightly ahead of me, but to my surprise never checked out, again succumbing to blisters. I got aid from the Toyota, feeling a little alone and worried about Phil, enjoyed delicious soup at the aid station, and departed quickly, to deal with another tough section of goat track on the way to aid station 6. When I got there, the very sleepy but cordial volunteer told me that the indomitable Kerrie Hall had dropped and that Sean Greenhill and Kevin Tiller were also out. Kerrie is one of the toughest runners I know, and she had never before dropped out of an ultra. After a long loop I returned to this aid station and learned that only Bill Thompson and I were left on the course, there were 3 finishers and the rest had dropped.

I returned to the central aid station at 5 and headed out on the last loop of the clover leaf. As the sun rose I was again negotiating goat track around the base of Beerwah, a towering black Glasshouse peak surrounded by rain forest. Bill Thompson passed me, with in sprightly walk, looking fresh and happy. I learned later that he had enjoyed fried eggs, bacon and champagne at the turn around. Kevin Cassidy met me where the trail crossed a road, having driven the Toyota from 5, allowing me to change shirts and drop my flashlight. He reported that Phil was still very sick.

It was then about 16 miles to the finish, and fast, fresh runners in the 28K ran past me, yelling encouragement. One gave me a colorful gummy worm that was quite good. Kevin succeeded in rounding up Phil to appear at the last aid station. I happily jogged along the road to the sports ground, past a billboard for Australia Zoo showing Steve Irwin with a croc in a headlock. Crossing the sports ground to the finish line, I blew a kiss to everyone.

The most amazing performance was by Jonathan Worswick, who went through the first 50 in about 7:50 and finished in a huge course record of 17:43. Kieron Thompson ran the 3rd fastest time ever on the course, in 20:43, a strong showing on his first hundred. Kelvin Marshall finished 3rd, improving his previous time by more than 3 hours, in 22:34. Bill Thompson set a PR at 28:04, and I finished happily at 28:27.

Four days later, Phil Brown and I were married at the Australia Zoo by Anna Grosskreutz, with Terri Irwin and many people from the race attending. Jane Thompson made a delicate bouquet for me from native flowers, including orchids that grow in the Glasshouse Mountains. Kerrie Hall looked very pretty dressed up, although still suffering from the foot injury that forced her out of the race. Former winner of Angeles Crest, Shiela Hunter, who now lives in Queensland, took digital photos of the ceremony and the guests, including a wallaby that stood near us.

Carol La Plante
California, USA

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