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Sept 2002 - Glasshouse 100mile Trail Reportby Sean Greenhill
"We are advancing constantly!" - General George S Patton (George C Scott), "Patton"
Flashback to September 2001. I was sitting at checkpoint 5, 110km into the Glasshouse Trail 100 Mile, and my race was over. I'd been nauseous and unable to eat since early that morning, and eventually unable to drink either, and my race had shut down here. That was my second DNF at this race, and I'd half jokingly started calling my efforts here "head butting a brick wall"....
This year I tried to adopt a very laid-back attitude. I'd done the training, I'd brought the equipment, I couldn't change the weather.... in short, there was nothing to worry about, it'd just work out however.
The 100 had the most starters ever.... 18, including a large number of Fat Assers. We assembled at the Cobb'n'Co before 5am Saturday for our medicals. I weighed in at 88kgs and lined up with Lawrence Mead - our plan, after two DNFs each, was to run together the whole way.
We took off and ran down bitumen road towards the looming bulk of Tibrogargan silhouetted against the twilight sky. It wasn't a cool morning- the forecast was for the temperature to reach the low 30s and I was dressed lightly in a Cannibal sleeveless cycling jersey, which I prefer in hot weather as the front zips open almost all the way to enable a lot of cooling. On my feet, a double pair of Ironman Coolmax socks and NB 1220 running shoes. I had agonised over whether to wear them, or NB 805 trail runners. I stashed these latter in my drop bag for checkpoint five, where I could access them frequently.
At the front were Kelvin Marshall, Kieron Thompson and Brian Evans with Ian Wright and Jan Herrmann bringing up the second pack. Lawrence and I strode out after that with Graham Medill, Roger Guard and Lyn Lewis not far behind. They passed us on the ascent of Mt Beerburrum. It was interesting to see Lyn running- she's one of the strongest uphill movers I've seen, and out in the open country around checkpoints 3 and 4 we'd catch her on the flats only for her to motor past on the uphills, moving with excellent economy.
In the open country, on gravelly fire roads, distant peaks of Glasshouse visible through a haze, the heat was already making itself felt, and I was chugging bottle after bottle- I usually filled them with water only, sometimes with dilute sports drink, and at night also mixed up coke and water in my bottles in a 50/50 ratio. During the day I also popped a Succeed! electrolyte cap on the hour, and every two or three hours at night.
The section climbing from four to five we shared a little while with Dusan Hora, before he went ahead. I was wondering where all the 50 mile runners were- last year we'd met them coming down from Mt Beerburrum, but this year we saw no one except for relay runners! The first part of the four- five section is long and monotonous through interminable corridors of pines that just seem to go one and on before finally climbing towards the lookout, then describing a precipitous rollercoaster for 15 minutes with very sharp, short climbs and falls on eroded 4WD track. We ran into checkpoint 5 for the first time after 3.5 hours, the same pace as last year. Indeed, our pace for the first loop this year would never be a few minutes from what I did last year.
The medical elicited a surprise- my weight had gone from 88kgs to 93! The medical guy started laughing. I'd drunk 8 800ml bottles before getting here, so had established a weight "buffer" that might be important later on when it got seriously hot. I grabbed salt'n'vinegar ships and a tin of creamed rice from my drop bag, half an egg sandwich from the aid station, ate it down quickly, and we were off. I relied almost exclusively on the food in my drop bags during this race- I ate only two sandwiches the whole run, preferring the creamed rice, chips, muesli bars, cheese sticks and Sustagen I'd arranged myself.
The Goat Track down to six wasn't too bad compared to what I recalled from other years. More eroded gullies to negotiate, but they seemed nastier last year... then a steady slog up Hennessey's Hill, weaving in and out of fallen trees, before emerging onto dirt road and jogging into six. 6.5km of particularly gnarly terrain had taken us an hour, which wasn't bad going in our book.
More food from the aid station at six; then down a steep hill, following logging roads through State Forest until emerging at a Pineapple plantation, which we skirted for a while before re entering the forest. I recalled that last year Jonathan Worswick was already running back towards me when I arrived here; steaming through en route to his course record of 17 hours (after which he'd joked the course was too flat). I asked Lawrence when he supposed we'd see the leaders coming back this year; the conclusion was, if we didn't see them very soon after leaving the pineapples, it'd be a very poor show indeed.
Well, it must have been a poor show because we slogged for quite a while through the State Forests before we saw Kelvin and Kieron running back towards us. We laid into them with abuse, asking what sort of "victorious" pace this was, and reminding Kieron that we'd see him in 90km or so, just like at the Katoomba - Mittagong Fat Ass a month before where we'd caught him 15k from the end.
I was still feeling chirpy when we ran into seven and bantered with the staff there, including Bill Thompson's wife Jane. But the mood went away when we saw Jan reclining in a folding chair, with face flushed and suffering badly from the heat. Lawrence and I encouraged him to get up and walk with us for a while. He agreed, rose slowly, and started walking, while we dumped our packs- we'd come back here in 4.5km. Jan took about a dozen strides before slumping to his haunches and puking up a couple of mouthfuls of coke, then a second, heavier spray. That was it. he walked back and sat down again. We urged him not to drop, but to get up and walk with Ian, Tony or Bill, then set out on the pine forest loop that would bring us back to seven.
A few minutes later, jogging along, I thought about what I'd said, and mentioned to Lawrence, another cricket aficionado, that telling Jan to wait for Ian, Tony or Bill made it sound like I was talking about the Channel Nine commentary team. We did a succession of Billy Birmingham impersonations all the way back to seven, although I was starting to feel the heat badly myself.
We arrived back at seven to find that Jan had got up and left after us; we collected our packs and ran back to six, passing Carol La Plant's husband Phil Brown en route- he was running the fifty mile himself. We'd seen a fifty mile runner at last! I really battled up the last uphill to the aid station. Lawrence urged me on, he wasn't feeling the conditions too badly. I skipped solid food and took a Sustagen from my drop bag, then we climbed a looooong uphill through the pines, reaching the top overlooking Mt Beerwah, and Lawrence started comparing the profile of Beerwah to other peaks he'd either climbed in NZ, or read about. He thought Makalu in the Himalaya, or Tasman in NZ, both bore a good likeness, and recalled a few of his climbs. I was monosyllabic; really stuffed from the heat, and jogged slowly along the undulating, exposed logging road back into five. Lawrence would run when I wanted to walk; he was doing a good job of dragging me along when I didn't feel good enough to drive myself into action.
About a mile before the aid station, we saw someone really moving towards the aid station. When we arrived, we found it was Kieron, who had already left (Kelvin was just arriving) after doing the section to Mt Beerwah and back. We calculated that Kieron might run not much more than eight hours for the first loop and wondered if he might have a go at Jonathan's course record. My weight was back to 91, still good, so we set off on the rough, crappy section to eight, on the far side of Beerwah.
Last year this had been a loop right round the mountain- out to eight via the gullied section we were now on, then return via a good dirt road that made for pleasant running between several properties. This year it was an out'n'back amongst the gullies which we weren't happy about. It took us about an hour to negotiate the 5.5km, during which we'd seen a few 100 runners coming back to us- Brian Evans (who looked crap), the "Toowoomba Boys" Graham and Roger, and Lyn. Then, back to five along the same route.
I did a little foot care back at five- rubbing more hydropel into my feet (which felt fine, but I wanted to be proactive). There was a documentary crew there making a film of the race, and they insisted on filming my foot care work, including a few comments such as "that doesn't look good!" which had me biting back some furious retort. My weight was still 91, so after we split a bottle of Cascade, we headed off back to base, arriving there after 11.58 hours running.
It was still hot, so when I changed shirts I put on a Mountain Equipment coolmax t shirt which was almost as cool as the Cannibal jersey. As it happened, Lawrence was also wearing such a t shirt! We collected our lights as Carol came in not far behind us, and we all three set off together. My mother Gayl and sister Deborah had turned up at base to get ready for support duties at night, and I informed them that a pizza at three would be most appreciated. Then Lawrence, Carol and I set off together, although Carol was behind us when we reached one. We saw Jan en route, his shirt crusted white with salt, and told him we'd leave pizza at three for him.
Checkpoint two (Mt Beerburrum) isn't there on the second loop, so we headed right out towards three, along the gravelly fire roads. This rough surface started to affect my feet as a few hot spots flared up on the ball of my right foot. In the end I started powerwalking to minimise the possibility of kicking any more stones. Luckily I could powerwalk at a pace not too far off Lawrence's running. When we got to three my poor mood was not helped by the fact that there was no support crew. We had got there a bit earlier than I told them, so we figured we'd meet them at four and left a message for Jan to that effect. Lawrence produced from his pack an array of medical tape and bandages and strapped my feet up to insulate the hot spots (good thing he's a nurse by trade). Then we headed off on the sandy trail to four.
Our mood wasn't good on the three-four leg as bad memories came back for both of us- two years ago I'd death marched through here with badly blistered feet en route to a DNF at four. Last year Lawrence had similarly death marched through here with a bad ITB injury to also DNF at four. When we arrived there, there was still no sign of the support crew! After much cursing, we headed up into the pines with another message for Jan- surely the crew would be at five? Lawrence joked that he'd yet to see any pizza from the Greenhills- referring to the finish of the Twelve Foot Track in August, as well as this event. At least we were able to get a final score from the AFL Grand final and an update on the NRL Preliminary Final from the radio at this checkpoint.
If the leg from four to five was a patience-tester by day, it was interminable at night. We'd just look at our watches, estimate how much longer we'd have to spend in the corridors of pines, and mutter under our breath. The gullies presented little trouble and we arrived at five at about 10pm (after Kieron had already come through en route to Mt Beerwah).
Weight was still okay, so Lawrence raided the medical stores here for some better quality tape and put together a "bombproof" taping job for my feet. I changed into wool Mountain Designs hiking socks (great cushioning but not a good sock to wear in the sun) and swapped my NB 1220s for NB 805 trail shoes. I hadn't done a long run in these shoes but it was only 54km to go- and I could switch back if needed.
The crew was here with pizza! Seemed they'd had some navigational issues... but all was forgiven as we washed the pizza down with another Cascade as Jan loomed out of the darkness, having come good once the sun set and caught us up. He also indulged in pizza and Cascade and the three of us set off together, although Jan was clearly in excellent form and we encouraged him to go ahead. Reluctantly he did so.
The goat track didn't present the problems at night we feared; and Lawrence's taping job held up superbly in the gullies and slogging up Hennessey's Hill. Little was said as we drifted into six sometime before midnight. Sitting down, eating, I did the maths, turned to Lawrence and committed a faux pas that I regularly seem to do in these things- estimate how much there was still to go. At the Katoomba- Mittagong we'd crossed the Wollondilly River and I started talking about how we still had eight or ten hours to go. Lawrence's response then had been to tell me to shut up; now I muttered that we had "eleven hours to run another Six Foot Track". Lawrence grimaced and groaned wearily "I wish you hadn't said that!"
Heading along the pineapple plantation, there was a procession coming back at us - Kelvin Marshall, then a couple of minutes later Ian Wright, and Lyn Lewis and her pacer five minutes after him. Looked like there could be a battle for second place, and we started getting ambitious as Graham Medill wasn't too far in front, apparently, as we entered seven and set off for the short loop. When he came in he'd asked for a shotgun; it was the only way he'd win this year! Out on the loop, I did the maths again and figured we were looking at a 28 hour finish. That had me worried because attrition, a fall or a really bad patch might put us close to the cutoffs, and I urged Lawrence onwards. He had been stronger during the day when the heat was at its worst, now I was moving better, so I'd trot ahead in the hope it'd drag Lawrence along like he'd run ahead and pulled me along during the day.
We were in and out of seven quickly and pushed hard back to six passing Carol and then Bill en route. Bill was dubious he'd finish; I doubted either of them would make the cut. We made up ten minutes in spite of Lawrence falling at one point. It seemed to affect him as his knees started to give him chronic pain from then on; between six and five I was able to keep ahead despite suffering a couple of bad hypoglycaemic episodes, where my vision blurred and balance suffered as blood sugar crashed. A couple of pulls on a condensed milk tube helped but we blew our ten minute buffer; we'd hoped to get back to five by 4am but didn't make it till 4.15. I'd mentioned to Lawrence that my feet needed another taping job; he barked "Sean, get your shoes off!" as he strapped up his knees to take some pressure off his joints. He was a bit downbeat and urged me to go ahead; he was very doubtful about his ability to finish.
So I set off alone at about 4.30am towards the crappiest section of trail on the course and with about 137km in my legs. Despite stumbling a few times when my LED light didn't pick up trail features adequately in the gathering twilight, I was able to do that section in about 45 minutes. I saw Jan and Graham coming back; Jan urged me to get a stick for support on the sharp downhills; I picked a couple up and it worked quite well. I jogged into eight to see a very happy crew. I handed my light back as it was bright enough not to need it. I turned to go and Lawrence came running in, newly resurrected. We headed back into the gullies together again and made reasonable time, although the last steep uphill took a fair bit out of both of us. I made it to the top ahead of Lawrence just as Bill came running down at pace; he was in brighter spirits now than three hours earlier. He looked at Lawrence and said "it's hard work this, isn't it?" Lawrence could do nothing but laugh and reply "funny you say that, Bill..."
I passed Carol just before five, with Phil having assumed support duties after running the fifty mile the day before. I gave her my sticks as I knew her feet were a real mess.
Thirteen km to go! We set off together at 6.30am knowing it was in the bag. We jogged on bitumen for a little while, past the lookout, then headed onto a forestry road sloping steeply down. This downhill stuffed Lawrence's knees up again and he told me to run ahead while he walked it in. I was reluctant; we'd done this much together and had been a good team at Twelve Foot Track and Katoomba- Mittagong. But he pointed out that I needed to aim for my best possible performance in case I didn't return; so I ran ahead, up the nasty ridge that indicated halfway to one; and powerwalked into the last checkpoint at 8am. 4.5km to go; I could walk it in and break 28 hours if I wanted. A mix of jogging and walking saw me past Bill's farm, past the Log Cabin Caravan Park and past the Matilda Roadhouse. I chewed my lower lip to hold back tears as Ian Javes' voice boomed over the sportsground PA. He outlined my previous history here (two DNFs) and congratulated me as a crowd of runners due to leave shortly for the 12km race lined the final approach to the finish line. I gave a few high fives and joyously crossed the line for my first 100 mile finish in 27 hours 39 minutes.
Jan Herrmann and Kelvin Marshall were first to shake my hand; before I could turn to my mum and sister the medical lady asked me to come over for a weight check. I joked this was one hell of an anticlimax, did the check and headed for the showers. Lawrence finished about an hour later. Bill came in after 29.26 and Carol not long after; her feet were a real mess and I just did not know how she finished the way they were. She certainly has as much mongrel as any runner I know.
Ian wants to change the format for next year; one loop around the Glasshouse Mountains and a second loop through the bush to finish at Caloundra Beach; also an earlier date, perhaps late August, to escape the hot spring weather. Very tempting- I'd definitely like to come back next year and improve my time- the fabled sub-24 barrier if possible.
Sean has also written the following articles that are published on CoolRunning Australia :
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