Writing race reports after properly long runs easily turns into an exercise in self-indulgence. Let’s face it, there’s a reason the whole world’s eyes turn to watch Usain Bolt run for 9.5 seconds but generally glaze over when runners talk about feeling a second or third wind at the second rising of the sun.
So, Coast2Kosci 2014, short version – ran smooth, hobbled a bit, got wet, how fun was that?!
Coast2Kosci 2014, longer version.
It would be fun to one time read a race report where somebody really complained about their crew. Something along the lines of, “these guys couldn’t tell a sports drink from a ginger biscuit. I called them Team Guantanamo because they frequently blasted loud noise at me and wouldn’t pass the water, choosing instead to leave me in uncomfortable positions when all I wanted to do was go to the toilet.” This is not that report.
If you’re going to run 240km alongside 49 of the most committed endurance runners in Australia on the first weekend in December, it’s helpful to have at least one person on the crew who knows what that distance feels like. It’s even better if they’ve done the same race themselves. To have 3 such runners on your crew, and for each of them to be a great mate (or girlfriend… or course recordholder) is ridiculously fortunate.
Dave Clear, Rob Mason, Jess Baker – you legends, thank you.
Starting line, Boydtown Beach 5:30am Friday 5/12/14
Like a joke that’s only funny to a handful of people, you just had to be there. It’s like a family reunion for ultrarunners, in the middle of almost nowhere and before the sun has even had a coffee. Random.
Let’s just say that I was next to Andrew Tuckey before the countdown finished and it looked like he didn’t mean to be standing still again anytime soon.
As we cruised through the bush I found myself ticking it over next to Pam Muston which was a nice way to start the day. Pam’s tough as nails. I took a photo of her toe in 2011 when she podiumed and it looked like a big red beer can. She trains by cutting lawns… big ones. She dropped some wisdom bombs on me early and I happily absorbed their insightful goodness.
“Day’s too short to waste having a whinge,” she beamed. Okay, I’m paraphrasing. But it’s ultra. That I can even remember that we had a conversation is a healthy sign. I wondered how wasting a day having a whinge might later apply to running with exploded organs and made a small promise to have an ironic giggle if that happened.
Our strides went in different directions after a while but this would be the longest I’d run with someone for the whole race. Jumping aboard the Shabadabadoodoo-AdamConnor-Bendall Express, conversation took an early turn toward the weird and wonderful subject matter that distance runners come up with after hours in the wilderness. With barely 20km yet done we were ahead of schedule and the laughter was contagious.
Justin Scholz declared his ambition to run the whole way from Jindabyne to Charlotte Pass and trotted off chirpily around this point too. Having previously managed that only in training on fresh legs myself, I suspected he’d do it after 184km, while quietly wishing the same for myself.
Big Jack, 56 – 63km, around 1pm
Big Jack’s the first proper marker for the day, a time to check in with your body and make sure everything’s still limber. If you can’t go comfortably up a long hill at this point in the run, you’re going to have an interesting weekend hereafter. We were still on the climb when the first rain started to kick in. It took the edge off the humidity. Even though the day hadn’t been too hot, the air had been thick with an expectation of storms. It was the kind of casual soup that has all your running gear wet in the first hour from sweat.
There was an unhurried change from trail shoes (Challenger ATR) to Hoka OneOne Bondi 4s at the top of the hill. Barely 30 hours before the race, I’d arrived back in Sydney on a weather-delayed flight from Melbourne and driven a 200km round trip in the middle of the night to pick up a set of these newly arrived bad boys. Conveniently, crewman Rob had the same size feet as me and had broken them in while I was running – not that they needed it. The softness was like strapping on baby hovercraft made of panda. Headphones in, away we went again.
This section’s great with heaps of open running, plenty of rolling gravelly road that snakes its way over the next rise and off into the middle distance.
The rain just got heavier and heavier over the next couple of hours. At about 80km, crossing the Monaro Highway, I got to see my mate Lisa Spink out on course at the road crossing as well as Race Director Paul Every, both there to keep us safe. We had a great chuckle, Lisa properly forecasting that the nastier conditions got the more fun I’d be having. It’s nice to feel understood!
Lisa was surrogate Diane this year, Diane being the other half of the RD team. This was the first C2K Di hadn’t been on course for and she was greatly missed. The team did an awesome job, though, and all the first-timers probably didn’t know what they were missing. Di, we hope you’re there in 2015! We all know it wouldn’t be Coast2Kosci without your work behind the scenes all year. And Lisa, you better be there again in 2015 too, running or event producing – great job!
Weather, rather than distance, became the guideline for courses of action at this point. Rather than going on to The Dead Tree, the next significant marker and perhaps 15km further on at 103km, we ran through the edge of the storm and then changed shoes and socks again.
This was because it was still early in the piece. The one thing that you can’t run without is good feet. Only on races of 15 hours or longer do you see how they can really come apart. The skin gets wet and wrinkles as it absorbs plain water that crosses the tissues, attracted by the body’s natural salts. If the skin dries out in a still wet environment, it stays wrinkled and twisted, deformed and inelastic. The sensation of running on these becomes like a burning torture with every step. Even when the guts and quads are good to go, this is a joy-crusher and best avoided.
Switching into dry socks and dry shoes, the plan was to let the skin dry out and properly treat it before hitting the next storm front. I also switched in a fresh canula for insulin delivery as the heavy downpour had made the current one begin to look for a way out.
Checking the weather maps as we continued to make good progress, the crew came back with news that sounded like we were in for a 10-hour deluge right through to Jindabyne overnight. It made me feel happy to know that we were all up for it. There wasn’t a sign of dread from the team.
A quick snap at The Dead Tree with the crew and some great mates – Jane & Blue Dog – we left Adam Connor behind making race weight in a ditch, which was a much more respectful body movement than the putz who peed on the tree. The Dead Tree is a monument to Aussie ultra, and to everyone who has fought the long fight. I’m not much for relics or religious symbols, but The Dead Tree’s definitely no place for an ignorant wiz. Crews, take note. And runners, school your support, please.
Snowy River Way, 107km, about 6:30pm
Light was still good as we hit the long stretch of sealed road and headed left. We’d been getting updates from internet and other crews throughout the afternoon, and knew that Andrew Tuckey had gone through here with a solid lead over the front runners almost 4 hours earlier. Even knowing the guy’s a quality runner and committed to his training with form to burn, it was hard to imagine that someone could put away over 100km in 9 hours and still have a full tank for the 140km ahead. Just incredible.
Keeping moving while the rain held off, we only made it another few km before the fat droplets started. The crew pulled off to the left and I crossed over. Ushering me into the back seat, they copped a drenching while I got stuck into the foot situation. Everything was healthy, the plan to run dry had worked perfectly, but now we were expecting a full night of rain through both the major checkpoints between here and the 200km mark.
Taping the balls of the feet with Leukoplast Athlete tape (recommended for anyone looking at footcare), I took the unusual step of spraying Blistop all over to set up a layer of artificial skin, then swiped Gurney Goo onto the toe webbings, tape, and most likely friction areas before socking up, lubing up, changing into the awesome European Hoka athlete top that had been a special gift from a friend, chucking on the AyUps and heading back into the filth. Poor crew were soaked by this point I’m sure but never mentioned it. They were just glad to get the smell of new shoes out of the car, as they’d been dedicatedly driving along with them in front of the car heater to get them dry for me. Legends.
There was a conga line of runners on the road ahead now, which was a good sign that the first few hours of night would definitely not get dull.
Making good steady pace and focussing on a quicker turnover rather than sliding into the ultra shuffle, time and kms ticked over. Soon it was 8:30 and time for a pacer to join the fun. Jess jumped into the mix and as we ran together we put together some time goals. Dalgety – the 147km mark – by 12:30 seemed a reasonable goal. Coast2Kosci laughs at plans. There’s absolutely no point fixating on time goals early on because they’ll thrill or disappoint without any real value. The run is long enough with that much still to happen that running to feel is key for the first 100-150km. A ballpark time for major markers is handy, but everything really happens after Dalgety, and most of that after Jindabyne.
Another legend of Australian ultramarathon, both as a runner and race director, Andy Hewat, aka Whippet, had checked in with me in his role as both race medic and friend as we ran past Rocky Hall, 6 hours in at the 50km mark.
His parting words then were, “it’s all about the night”. As we ran now into the proper black darkness, I hoped that the sleep disruption practise of staying awake and sleeping little in San Francisco 3 weeks before, caffeine resensitisation detox, and generally juicy feeling I had now would all work in our favour over the unpredictable hours ahead.
Seeing the short documentary of crewman Rob’s race the previous year had also been a good gee-up. Astoundingly, Rob had hit Dalgety as night fell at just before 9pm, on his way to a ballistic 28:21 finish. Watching Rob’s video, it was amazing to see just how well he kept moving for almost the entirety of his race. I’d had the same inspiration pacing Jess the year before with Nikolay Nikolaev, the Bulgarian Painkiller, when she had set the women’s course record by moving smoothly and running consistently well for almost the entire run.
Running through a full 24-hour day and beyond, whatever the distance, is daunting. That’s a given. It’s only when you let that sense of dread or anxiety creep in and displace that sense of why you’re doing it in the first place – because it’s extreme, awesome, challenging and exciting fun with good mates – that the idea of the distance, rather than just the physical impact of the distance itself, becomes an additionally fatiguing weight to try to carry on an increasingly brittle body. Long story short – no brain, less pain!
Before we knew it, we were in amongst it. We seemed to be passing someone new every half hour. Rob had been packed into the back seat with instructions to sleep but decided that if he wasn’t running water, Tailwind, or Red Bull across the road to us, then he should probably be cheering. As much as Dave Graham would have probably appreciated another offsider, with his own crewman working solo (unbelievable!), I was glad to have all 3 of my support in the mix. It was kind of funny to get a drive by every 20 minutes or so, with some big excited kid shouting, “woohoo, yeah! This is wi-cked!” When he gave up trying to sleep because he was too excited, he’d come leaping across the road bearing a torch and hydration and confer with Jess while I just ran on, trying to make her work a bit harder to catch me up each time. Catching me up is no effort for Jess, but the idea kept me entertained.
Brick went by. A good mate, he cheered “you’re flying”. I wanted to run with him but also knew that when the legs feel good, it’s time to go. Unbelievably, we soon ran up to Jo Blake too. This was surreal. Jo is an utter bloody ultra legend and set the longest standing course record on Coast2Kosci. Even as we ran briefly with him it was clear that he wasn’t having his best day, he said so himself. But it felt like passing Kilian. Even if Kilian was blindfolded and missing a leg, catching him on a run would still be an OMG moment. We ran by Annabel Hepworth next, another of Aussie ultra’s larger-than-life characters.
By now I’d asked Jess to handle communications. It felt like I was quickly losing the brain cell necessary to run and talk at all. Even between the two of us running together alone in the dark, if I couldn’t process conversation without it feeling like an effort, it all came down to one signifying word, “zone”. Shorthand for “in the zone” this meant, “thanks so much for sacrificing your weekend to be out here on this awesome adventure with me. I’m really sorry to ask for total silence but the simple act of listening or thinking about anything other than the next step or next mouthful right now is crippling my ability to stay IN THE ZONE”. I’m pretty sure at some point I was running with a big strand of drool out one side of my mouth but who cared – we were running.
Dalgety, 147km, in around 12:15, out about 10 minutes and a bunch of lube later.
At Dalgety it was great to again see our mates Graham and Marie. Her race had been scuttled by pneumonia so together they’d jumped on board as event support, simply magnifying the already brilliant event team.
Another surprise at Dalgety was Andrew Layson from Berowra Bushrunners. This guy has had a cracking year, putting on a tonne of pace and stamina and bagging himself a seriously strong Great North Walk 100-miler. Again, a runner I wouldn’t have expected to see much after Eden but like many, the wet conditions had probably caused a bit of chafing misery. Rob jumped in to pace me after Jess’ turbo section and we caught up to Andrew working uncomfortably a few km later.
Rob sprayed enthusiasm all over me as we ticked over more miles. It was hard not to smile, but at the same time his experience also told him when to run with me in silent solidarity. When are you ever in the middle of nowhere with a mate making sure you’re fed and watered as you run peacefully toward a distant unknowable goal under a stormy night sky? Love C2K!
The race – and it’s still really a race against the course, and a race to finish – starts at Dalgety. The rolling section to Jindabyne at the 184km mark is mostly downhill, but the next beasty climb is lying in wait at 162km, the bottom of the Biloka Range. We hit this beast just after 3:30am. Dave jumped out to go up with me and Jess and Rob drove to the top of the hill, only a few km but likely an hour away. This was also where the first proper batch of sleep monsters made their move. Suddenly you’re taking 15 minutes to travel one lousy kilometre, and you’re zigzagging enough that your pacer’s role isn’t just to lug your drinks, but to keep you from waltzing into the road.
There are definitely moments going up Biloka when it all feels a bit challenging. The angle of the climb and the weak progress of the feet collide, bringing the runner to a near-standstill. You hover, halfway into the next pace, thinking “I could just stop here”, before reminding yourself that this will only take a lot longer if you do. However badly time dragged on, eventually we were over the lip and moving with a bit less zombie. Rob jumped back in and we had a great moment or several.
“Rob, I reckon I should have a lie down. Just 10 minutes. What do you think?”
“Well, yeah, you could do that. What do you reckon 10 minutes is going to do for you?”
“(pause)…. F___ all?”
And that’s how he got me through the first great Should I Have A Liedown Crisis of C2K 2014. Thanks Rob!
As it does on long stuff, the Tired Crisis soon made way for the Heave Crisis. I’d made it close to 24 hours on just concentrated Tailwind flavourless sports drink and water, with regular packets of Vespa amino concentrate, a couple of gels, and some Red Bull. Everything had been perfect except for one earlier patch of belly slosh. Now, from the effort, time on feet, fatigue, I had that feeling that I might want a throw-up reset. The trouble with that is that you never know what’s on the other side. It may be a perfectly balanced stomach, ready to start afresh. Or it might just be more of the same, and that can be disastrous, especially with 70km still to go.
As I zigzagged off over the side of the road again, Rob went to have a chat to the crew and I nearly took care of business myself with a quickfire finger down the throat. Before I could act, Jess saved the day by yelling out “cheese & crackers!”
It’s not the leading edge of sports nutrition, it’s barely even food. I suspect they’ll survive a nuclear war, but damned if a Le Snak didn’t save my life. Thank you plastic cheese!
With something to work on other than itself, my stomach settled back down and we could get on with the business off feeling like Jindabyne was still a bloody long way away.
Coming over the long hill down into Jindabyne, hopes of seeing sunrise from the other side of the lake had evaporated but without having been too attached to them it didn’t feel like any real loss. Instead we had a very short and underwhelming party at the top of the hill, acknowledging the beauty of the view laid out below us and feeling pretty good to be where we were by daybreak. Pounding down the hill, it was time for another toilet stop, the final lube (get it done!) and a shoe change.
Rob pulled out some unexpected surgical skills when I unsheathed an unexpected blister. A clear sack had formed around a callous of hardened skin under one little toe, like a nasty pearl around a grain of unwanted sand. I’d long since given up trying to exercise any judgment, with crew making the basic decisions around eating and drinking and now minor surgery. Like a speedy podiatrist, Rob had it drained and dressed in no time. We put it away under a fresh pair of socks and now the Cliftons. Superstitiously and practically, it was the same set of everything I’d had on my feet when I’d had my best training run of the year from this same location to Charlotte Pass, 38km away up 30km of hill climbing – exactly what we had to get done now.
We hit the checkpoint and headed downhill to Thredbo River. Jess ran with me while Rob and Dave went in search of hot chips. Even when you can only get about 10 of these down on a long run, it’s still a complete breakfast.
We crossed paths briefly with Trevor Allen, a multiple finisher and Australian rep known for his pacing. At least once, Trevor has won the first 50km only to later end up passed out in the street at Dalgety. But he can run. Not having seen him in action before, I thought his tactic of bursting about 80 metres ahead up a solid climb then dropping to a walk, and repeating, would bring him undone. But soon I forgot about whatever he was doing, needing to apply all my focus to my own progress. The only motivation now was the sporadic smell of extremely ripe roadkill, which only eases when you push on through and past it. Aussie roads are really rough on native wildlife, but hilly ones are worse. Don’t believe me? Hike from Jindy to Charlotte…
The climb to Perisher is tough on the legs, no doubting it. But it’s even tougher on the head if you’re not ready for its endlessness. Again, we stayed positive. There could have been more running on this section but we still put in good rundowns on the friendly inclines and a good bit of the flat. The climbs started to really add up, but it was the weather that smashed us again. Getting into Smiggins, the rain was coming down like buckets and bathtubs were being dumped on us. Rob rated the rain as pretty heavy once he could see it bouncing above knee level. I felt the temperature of my feet plunge close to freezing as tiny bullets of hail pelted us and the overall air temp seemed also to drop sharply.
Snapped from the simple focus of going forward, I looked up ahead to see Rob running back and forth across the flooding road in his shorts and big wet jacket, from the car to a roadside shelter and then to the building where a number of the support vehicles for the surrounding tourism industries were sheltered. He came running back and ushered us in to the building after finding out what gear I wanted. It was time for fleeces, gloves and Goretex, definitely.
The lobby we ducked into had a grill floor, like a ski locker. A woman named Sue (thank you Sue, you’re our hero) came out to make sure we were okay. As Jess and Dave told her what we were all doing – running 240km – her jaw dropped. As much as she thought we were frickin’ crazy to be running in this storm, she was in awe that runners were currently out on course and running such a long way.
As nice as it was to be inside and warm and dry, we also knew that time was passing and that the longer we were comfortable the harder it would be to get out again. Even the rainpants got deployed, mainly for the sake of keeping some body warmth. If you want to put on something that’s not conducive to running, try rainpants.
It would later turn out that we copped Perisher’s average monthly December rainfall in just one afternoon. This really was the one point in the run when I’m ashamed to admit that I thought, “I hope it’s the short course”. The Short Course is the version of Coast2Kosci where you get stopped at the Charlotte Pass carpark before you can ascend Mt Kosciuszko and return to the finish line, 9km each way. While 222km is still a long way, when you’ve come so far, nobody wants to be told it’s over before they have visited the summit.
As we crested the lip of Perisher Valley, a lightning bolt hit the top of Mt Perisher and seemed to dance across it for 3 seconds before fading sharply.
Going to the highest point on the landscape in this? Yeah baby!
I’d had a bit of a twanging right hamstring since 160km and even now with long gentle downhills, my lack of pace was getting on my nerves a bit. The camber of the road on C2K is actually pretty tough on the body. There are long sections where it’s almost impossible to find a flat line. If at the same time you’re trying to cycle through different muscle combinations by changing your gait slightly to rest the body parts that have worked hardest, even on a smooth rolling section of the course it can be hard to make constant progress. But steady progress and a finish is better than getting out of touch with what your body needs and smashing it to pieces. Finishers’ cars were coming back past us at this point. One way in, one way out, it’s a strange parade to the summit as the finishing times can spread across anything from 15 to 22 hours.
Now just a few km to Charlotte, Brendan Davies and his crew drove past us. After a gutsy sub-7 100 in Qatar just a couple of weeks beforehand, he’d taken his place on the start line and given it a crack but just not had the run of his life. Still, he’d gutsed it out and even with a 2-hour nap bagged a low 30-hour finish most ultrarunners would eat their shorts for, and done it with massive heart.
The procession continued as Charlotte got closer and closer until finally there were no more bends and we were there. Normally, this section of the race is an opportunity to appreciate fantastic Scottish scenery, with sparkling brooks and low-lying tundra, you half expect to see a whiskey distillery with a slowly turning waterwheel. But not this time. By virtue of pounding rain, it had been a pretty focussed affair. Now in the tent at the finish line, we regrouped and prepared for our final effort. Dave Graham had come in off the course having just finished and looked about as close to not smiling as I’ve ever seen him. “Yeah,” he confirmed Andy Hewat’s warnings just outside the medical tent, “it’s pretty cold up there”. Gratefully I borrowed a pair of Andy’s overpants, switched into trail shoes, and we were off and racing. Well, walking purposefully at least. It was just after 1:30 and we had less than 3 hours to hit our 35-hour time goal.
Charlotte Pass 222km, about 1:30 Saturday afternoon
I’d had a blood sugar of about 3.0 in the carpark which Jess took as an opportunity to feed me a 100mg caffeine gel. I’d been staying away from caffeine as I just didn’t want anything setting my guts off again, but this cunningly fired gel got me back in The Zone. Then she stuffed more cheese and potato chip sandwiches in my face. And another Red Bull.
My lack of food intake over the preceding 3-4 hours had my crew a little concerned, so they’d resorted to clever manoeuvres like walking beside me eating the food themselves, “Gee these chips are tasty. Wow these ginger snaps are great. This Red Bull’s so refreshing.” It was smart crewing – thanks guys.
As a mountain biker in full safety gear came the other way, I straightfaced asked, “Can we please borrow your bike?” Somewhat startled, he gurned us and blurted, “No!” He hurtled past us into the mist, never to be seen again, but for about 10 minutes we laughed our way through a series of questions that had only one answer.
“Excuse me, do you like monosyllabic words?”
“The opposite of ‘off’ spelt backwards is…”
“Do you think sarcasm is suitable for use in public?”
Meanwhile Dave had blasted ahead of the pack, leading to his being named ‘Norman’. Oh yes, it was all very professional on our way to the summit.
When we’d come through here last year, a freak snowfall the night before had meant deep snowdrifts covering the trail 4km from the top amounted to 8km of thick snow to run through and across. There was none of that this year, just rain and cold and hearty adventurers like Phil Murphy coming past us on their final return looking like they’d been somewhat traumatised by the whole thing. Dave Graham not smiley? Spud looking tired? What the hell was going on up there?
Soon we saw Trevor again, on his way back down and looking strong, then Jared the American and Sam Weir, no longer rocking the trademark tri suit – or maybe he’d just had to throw survival gear over it.
Boom, summit – yes! With just the 4 of us, we had to take turns being in the obligatory plinth photo. After sitting on it for the photo in 2012 I was determined to stand on it this time round. This was not as easy as it might have been, and I definitely had mental pictures of falling off it playing in my head, to an ironic laugh track and golf claps. Pulling off rainpants and passing them to the guys it was time to take whatever was left and run with it. Nikolay had sent the message that if I could still stand up at Charlotte then I hadn’t gone hard enough.
Even though it felt fast, I’m pretty sure we didn’t get much over 8km/h until the final couple of kilometres. Here, we turned 800m intervals into 400m intervals, then 200s, then who knows what. Rob kindly said he couldn’t keep up with me but I’m sure that’s just because I’d dumped all my gear on him to carry. Last year we’d raced down here with Jess and she’d blown me up on her way to chasing down Julia Fatton’s course record. I don’t know what I was chasing but I just wanted us to get there as soon as possible. Always one bend more, always a little further. Then a frickin’ 4-wheel drive sitting right up our butts, which would later turn out to be a hypothermia evacuee. Thanks Jane! A high 5 with the awesome Lisa Spink again and then wild animal noises as I tried to fire up for just a couple more minutes to hit that feted finish line.
Jess and Rob only told me later in the tent that it was a 34:48 finish – stoked! I’d wanted to go better than the 35:12 from Sakura Michi in April. Even though Sakura Michi is a 250km run, it doesn’t have the degree of climb or temperature variability that makes C2K a more physically tough run. Then again, C2K doesn’t have 2,000 cherry blossoms in bloom or 1,000 of the most awesome Japanese race volunteers you could ever meet :). I was bouncing off the walls just a bit with happiness, so much so that I didn’t realize the meeting I bounced into under the trunk of Brett Saxon’s van was a serious one, as Paul and the event team conferred over safety concerns and how best to manage the worsening conditions.
Coast2Kosci is Australia’s most audacious ultramarathon. In an age of social emasculation as The Lucky Country becomes The OH&S Country, with character and common sense being replaced by social conservatism and over-regulation, it’s not only wonderful but necessary that this race continues in its current form. It’s tough but proper that the race directors need to not only consider runner safety but event conservation when they make decisions to close the course, as they had to this year and as they have previously. Especially when there is a National Parks directive to follow – even though it never makes it easier on event staff or runners – there simply isn’t room for push and pull over what happens next. Michael Mcgrath and all the other event staff did a top job managing the event with the best possible outcomes in mind.
Congratulations to all runners and crews and especially, thank you to all of you – Paul, Diane, Lisa, Andrew, Keith, Brett, Nick, David, Michael, and everyone I’ve missed – your sacrificed time and effort throughout the year and especially closer to race time, makes our experience as runners and crew an incomparable one. We hope you all go away from Coast2Kosci with an indelible and unique experience that you can also rate as unquestionably worth it.
See you next year!