Wednesday, 16 September 2015

Hounslow Classic Part 4 - A Pacer's Tale Part 4 - GNW100 September 2015

This is a blog post where worlds collide.  A continuation of "A Pacer's Tale" (now available a box set) and "Hounslow Classic 2015".  As the final part of my training for the Hounslow Classic in October I was hoping to have long hit out by pacing a 100mile competitor in the GNW100's for the 75km stretch from Yarramalong to Patonga.  Having paced the last three years at the GNW100s - Australia's Toughest Trail Race -  I wanted to do so again, but at a slightly less cracking pace than previously.  A complete stranger called Greg Brown posted on Facebook that he was thinking about using a pacer. After a bit of snooping about his previous times being in the 33-36 hour range, I offered my services. He accepted, and suddenly I had a blind date for GNW 2015.

GNW100 2015 

As if offering to run 75km with a complete stranger wasn't challenge enough, I succumbed to the dubious charms of Gavin Markey as well, and agreed to crew him for the first 100km of his 100 mile run. I am such an easy date.  Give me free Tailwind and I'm yours baby.

Gav, Jeff (both entered in the 100 mile event) and I headed to the start on Friday night. Bed time at 8.30 (except I had a book to read and the radio to listen to the footy so stayed up until 9.30). 4.30am Saturday 12 September dawned (almost) and saw me bouncing out of bed, downing coffees as Gav and Jeff nervously rubbed mysterious lotions all over their bodies, assembled their gear (because having repacked everything a thousand times already was clearly not enough), then we were off to the start line. I managed to meet up Greg Brown and at least put a face to the name. Andrew Layson (my last years GNW dancing partner) was so incredibly happy to see me. However, just as I was soaking up the love, as he asked if I was pacing and had all my mandatory gear, because in his repacking efforts he had repacked his whistle and compass right out of his pack. I ran off to grab the missing items with his sobs of gratitude ringing in my ears.

See how happy every looks before the race starts.  Gav putting on a pretend scared face - a touch prophetic as it turns out.  Andrew to my left looking sad as he summons up the nerve to ask me for race gear.
Suddenly, with all the legendary lack of pretense that I have heard about, the race simply and quietly began.  I didn't even notice.  I love this event. So no fuss.

I arrived at CP1 and went through the plan Gav had carefully prepared. At the appointed time I stood exactly where Gav had marked on the map, little eskie of drinks by my side, peak hat and sunnies in hand. So it was a surprise when he arrived a complete mess, sat in a chair and he went to sleep. Mmmm....I think I missed this bit in his race plan.....

After an hour he woke up looking like a man who was still suffering from the flu attempting to run a long way, really fast, on a hot day – which was precisely the case. He bravely (?) decided to give the next leg a crack. Off he set, but at CP2 he arrived and went straight to the check in table and had his race bands cut off. His second DNF (did not finish) in four starts. What a tough race.

At CP2 I got to help a few friends get through the check point.  My overwhelming impression of the check points and aid stations was how unbelievably organised everything is, and how friendly all the volunteers were.  No runner arrived and was ignored.  Everyone got the royal treatment, and it was an honour to add my own small bit.  Greg arrived during my time here, and he looked in great shape (for an ultra runner) as we got him sorted before he choofed off again.  It was at this time I discovered that he was running the race with a koala strapped to his pack.  An interesting man Greg Brown.
a man and his koala
We set off to Yarramalong, Check Point 4, where the 100km race ends. With Gav out, suddenly I was re-organising who was to get my gear to various points along the way. This eventually turned out to be a mess, but more on that later.

sitting and relaxing with all my friends at Yarramalong
eventually I found me some friends to share the cold with
Jeff arrived by car at CP4, another DNF. By now the spreadsheet of runners and times was littered with runners pulling out. The first really hot day of spring was creating mayhem. I found a lovely concrete step to sleep on, but there were a few annoying pests that kept me awake.  In the end I huddled up in the cold and had a lovely time relaxing and chatting.  As runner after runner arrived, many were describing how hard it had been, and reporting that my runner Greg seemed to be getting slower. As midnight approached, I began to suspect that he would never arrive, and if he did he may drop out also. It was becoming decidedly cold - a big change from the days heat and an extra challenge for all the 100 milers. In fact I had almost convinced myself that my day was done and it was all over, when Greg arrived. He wasn't sure about going on, but as he sat and ate and drank, he decided to at least start off. I couldn't decide if this was a good or bad thing, but he was going to try and I was behind him 100%.

a little pest
a big pest
 As we left CP4 we slogged up Bumble Hill. This hill was deliberately put here to convince the 100 mile racers, that if they weren't completely sure they are crazy, then this seals the deal. The entire way Greg wasn't sure he could continue; but as I was about to spend nearly 17 hours discovering, the man had a thousand reasons to give up, somehow always managed to find that 0.5% little bit extra to just go a tiny bit further. The man ain't fast, but he may well be the toughest dude I have ever run (and walked) with. He just keeps going. So many ultra runners talk about relentless forward progress, but this man was walking the walk.  One painful step at a time.
entering Check Point 5 at Somersby after a beautiful golden sunrise
We crawled to Somersby (Check Point 5). Climbing hills took forever, but unlike most runners, he never once complained that “my quads are shot”. Every decline and flat stretch I heard those stumpy legs behind me wind up and I stood back to let him lead, and he kept this going all the way to Patonga. In the meanwhile, he kept outlining all the reasons why he was going to stop at Somersby. He was convinced that we would miss the cut off time. However, the gang at CP5 politely told him that he was way under the cut off, and gently encouraged him to shut the F#$% Up, get his stuff ready, and piss off to Mooney Mooney (Check Point 6). Never ever try and drop out at CP5 Somersby. We obliged, and we left CP5 to the delightful sounds of the pair of us singing a duet of Elvis songs. Viva Patonga !!

I suspect drug testing may become mandatory after Greg went from staggering cripple, to blasting down the 17.8km to Mooney Mooney in 3 hours 10. An amazing effort that put us well under the cut off.  The power of the sun kicked in and woke us both up. We took a thoroughly delightful break to eat, drink, slip slop slap sunblock, top up our drinks, then head off.  I had my extra secret weopon of home baked ANZAC slice (cooked by the lovely Cait) in a zip bag with a bit of salty, like a chewy salty caramel treat. mmmmmmmmm......

It is one of life's great injustices that the runners who spend the longest time in the sun on the first day, then need to repeat the dose again the next day. As we left CP6 on our last leg to the finish, it was just on 10.30 and the hottest part of the day. As we did the big climb up from Piles Creek I was trying to find shade for Greg to sit in. We had a few breaks, but he mostly just kept grinding away. Despite everything so clearly hurting as we climbed, he soldiered on. This stretch has so many stretches of sandstone shelf that reflects the heat back relentlessly, but he would not stop.  In previous years there was an extra water stop along the way, but it had been removed this year, and carrying the extra litre or so of water really hurt.

After the big climb, I felt that in reality my pacing effort was over.  All the big climbs were done, and we were going to definitely finish even if we had to walk it in. Along this last 15km stretch we both began micro sleeping and the occasional weave to the side. Sleep bunnies were hopping around in my head, and we both began thinking that all the sticks were snakes. I eventually became so oblivious that when Greg yelled “Rob a snake” I didn't care that I had in fact just trodden on a real live snake. I was more concerned with the small men I kept seeing hiding under bushes, and wondering why Greg was wearing a monks cowl. He was hearing imaginary voices, but so was I, so that was all good. He couldn't hear my imaginary phone ringing though. 

At Warrah Trig, 2.5km to go, Greg took the lead and we trotted down to the finish. To the end he was strong downhill.  I have never been so tired in my life and the relief was overwhelming. I have absolutely no idea how back of the pack runners not only run so far, but keep on going way after all the elites are tucked up in bed after a few beers. It is altogether another kind of brave and crazy.
descending down to Patonga

To return to an earlier theme, I soon realised that in all the confusion of my friends DNF'ing, my finish line drop bag was not at the finish. I had no ride and no money. As if it had not been interesting enough of a weekend, my day ended with having to ask Greg for money and a ride to Woy Woy station. Greg's lovely wife allowed my stinking carcass into her lovely clean car, and whisked me away and the job was done.  All that was left was trying not to fall asleep on the train and wake up in Penrith.  The lovely Cait had already been supportive enough without a call to pick me up from somewhere in the western suburbs.  By the time I made it to bed I had been awake 41 hours straight. 

As a training run for Hounslow, I definitely got my money's worth. Distance, sleep deprivation, time on my feet, heat training, effort, suffering, mental training, hydration and nutrition plans – this effort had everything and more. Not to mention the absolute inspiration of running with Greg. 34:54 for 100 miles.  I got me a real schooling in being tough. In 2 weeks he runs 100km in Canberra as part of his effort to run 12 Ultra in 12 months, and next year is running from the bottom of Tasmania to the top of Cape York as “the fat old bloke runs 5,500km”. Totally inspiring.

Bring on Hounslow !!

1 comment:

  1. You dear Robbie are the Pacer of 2015! AND the only Bushrunner that made it to Patonga. Tough as guts you are.
    Oh and thanks for supporting Gav and his man cold (not flu!)