Adam Darwin – GNW 2016 Race Report

So this is not as much a race report as notes to myself on what I did right and wrong to hit my target, so it’s going to be an epic!  The big aim was sub 30, same as last year, the miracle time was 28:30 (always got to have a miracle time) and I beat them both! You can’t blag a miler; months of quality training beforehand are needed to hit your goal time. So with that in mind I tweaked my training program from last year’s disappointment.  My training is worked around my family life and work responsibilities, to find a balance is tricky and it requires a very understanding partner, so massive props to Nicky for this.

Monday – Run to and from work (14k)
Tuesday – Hills + run to and from work (27k)
Wednesday – Cycle to and from work (14k) + Intervals (10k)
Thursday – Run to and from work (14k)
Friday – Cycle to and from work (14k)
Saturday – Long trail run somewhere between 30 and 50k
Sunday – Family day

My changes from last year were intervals instead of stairs and doing all my training at a higher intensity.  Run’s to and from work where turned into tempo efforts rather than cruising, and my Saturday runs were long and not so slow (mainly due to the quality of my training partners rather than actual choice!).  This obviously had the desired effect, so I think I will stick to this plan in future.

Training had gone really well, a few niggles, but no major injuries, my commute running was a couple of minutes quicker than in the past and my long runs were substantially quicker.  I did the CP ultra 100 last year which was a mistake, leaving me tired and injured.  This year I did the 50, hit a great time which included a 3:44 marathon, a 10 minute pb, and so gave me great confidence coming into the race.

After a pre-race pizza with Joe, Mike McG and Kath, I retired to my hotel room.  Last year I wore ankle supports, which was a big mistake, as they tore apart the tops of my ankles which hurt like hell in the last 75 and really inhibited my climbing. No such mistake this year, I did some cautionary taping of them to help protect from rolling and then crashed out at about 9:30 getting pretty decent nights sleep until being awoken by my 3:45 alarm clock. Onwards to Teralba for cp bag drops, rego and weigh in (80.3kgs) and then it was just a matter of waiting till the race started at 6.  Hugs all round to my fellow running friends, who I knew would all go well (and would probably be the last I see of them) and to the start line.

Joe and I had decided we run better together than apart so planned to stick it out until one of us wasn’t going to make sub 30.  Last year I was looking for no quicker than 6 minute ks on the flats, this year 5.45s, plus however fast comfortable felt on the downhills. The first section has road and a bit of bush and some more road till you hit the servo station near Heaton’s gap about 15ks in.

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We got here feeling good, but unsure of how we were going as hadn’t noted any benchmark from last year.  The climb seemed pretty comfortable and we we’re running well within ourselves. There’s a tricky section that follows the climb through a rainforest.  Easy to get lost, roll an ankle and is pretty slow.  We’d discussed technical sections before and decided that we’d take them very easy as we knew there was plenty more runnable sections in the race which we could get the time back in, so we stuck to this plan.  Here we met Kathryn Austin, she’s had some great podium results and was a name in the possible winners so were worried we’d gone out way too fast, but she assured us she wasn’t running to a fast time due to other races she’d done.   Safely through the rainforest I’d totally forgotten about the brutal climb out, but we charged through and ran on to hit CP1 in 3:56, 10 minutes quicker than last year and 4 minutes ahead of schedule, pretty much perfect, a 2 minute refuel and we were off again.

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Section 2 is probably the easiest section in the race, a bit of tricky trail, a bit of good trail and a load of road.  We caught up with Jess Siegle on the trails, she told us she was looking for 31 or so hours, so we went past her and looked to kick on at the road.  Usually the road into Congewai is a hot messy slug fest, this year it was a windy messy slugfest.  I walked more of this than I expected as the wind was so strong in parts I felt I was wasting energy.  Joe, an eminently better road runner than me headed off a couple of minutes in front.  This was also a conscious move as I’m a bit stronger on the big climbs and we knew there was one coming up after this checkpoint.  We made it to CP2 in 2:49, 13 mins quicker than last year and 11 mins ahead of schedule.  7 mins to do a gear check, weigh in and refuel then back out again.

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Section 3 is probably the toughest section in the race, hottest part of the day, 2 tough climbs and plenty of smaller ones. Last year when I left here I was all over the show, unable to run I walked to the start of the communication tower climb.  This year I was much better able to run the runnable parts and power up the climb.  I met up with Joe at the top and we kicked on to the second climb.  We death marched up the second climb and kicked on again knowing that we were heading towards the basin in daylight, which was a massive boost.  At this point I cramped. I was running with something called hotshot, a drink of chilli and spices created by a noble winning neuroscientist to cure cramps, smashed it down, cramps went and then kicked on.  The run into the basin is technical and again we’d decided to power walk in and out of here, knowing that there’s some good running later on.  Here we saw Adrian and Tim heading back out, which was a welcome boost, and they were both looking great. We got to CP3 in 4:32, 30 mins quicker than last year and 28 mins ahead of schedule.  4 mins to refuel and have a quick chat with Dr Anne, and we were off again.

Section 4 kicks off with technical trail out of the basin, followed by a big climb up, once done there’s some good trail running to be had, followed by a long road section which climbs gradually for about 11k.  I was running a bit slower than I thought I should be, I was worried we’d gone too hard in the first hundred, my legs were really feeling it and I was wishing I’d only entered the 100k.  We got to CP4 in 3:24, 20 mins quicker than last year and 11 mins ahead of schedule.  CP 4 was a hive of activity, with Nicky, Bex, Doug, Lou and countless others buzzing around.  Matt and Ruth grabbed our bags and took them off for the gear check, filled up bottles, etc. I had decided to change shoes and socks here.  I did the first hundred in Hokas and although being very comfortable and cushioned the toe box is a bit of a crush and my right little toe was looking pretty horrible with a massive blister on top.  I lanced wiped and applied a compeed, put some anti-blister powder on my feet, fresh socks on and the new version of Altra Olympus with decent grip.  The wide toe box was a blessed relief so leaves me wondering whether I should have worn them for the whole race. 15 minutes later we were out of there with Matt and Ruth leading the way.

After a few k’s into section 5 we got lost!  Missed a discrete left hand turn and headed 1.5k down a massive hill.  We hit a field and swiftly realised this was wrong so trudged back up to where we should have gone.  25 mins wasted, but not the end of the world, from now on Matt and Ruth would check the directions! Further on I realised a couple of things.  1 I’d forgotten to ask anyone to top up my bladder, and 2 more importantly I’d forgotten to reapply my sports slick.  Fortunately I had a tiny glide on me, so I let the others go ahead and liberally applied to any sore areas. The section proved fairly uneventful we headed across dead horse creek without any problems, run the bits we could, walked the technical bits and arrived at CP5 5:30, 18mins quicker than last year, but 15 mins behind our target.  I wasn’t worried as I knew without the misdirection we would have been ahead of target and I still felt like I had some running left in me. 7 minutes here and we were off.

Joe left cp5 a couple of minutes before me as Matt was faffing around, but there’s a good couple of k of road before you hit the bush again and we quickly caught Joe.  I was feeling good and ran off ahead with Matt, waiting for Joe and Ruth at the trailhead.  It was at this point that Joe said he was struggling and suggested I go off ahead without him.  I gave it a bit of thought, and said I’d rather finish sub 30 with you than 30 mins quicker without.  Plus there was plenty of time left to up the pace if it looked like sub 30 was slipping away.  The technical descent that has caused me so much pain in previous years wasn’t too bad, I was able to move my legs at a reasonable cadence, and the big drops weren’t hurting too much.  We reached the mooney mooney creek crossing and after a couple of minutes working out how to cross without getting wet, we hit the trail towards the next checkpoint.  My little toe was starting to cause me issues again, and I knew I would need a few minutes treating it, so upped the pace to put a couple of minutes between me and Joe.  Joe’s not one to get left behind if he can avoid it though and came belting back towards us.  We hit CP6 in 2:47, 26 mins quicker than last year and 2 mins behind our target. I feel a quicker time in this section is definitely possible, but Joe was struggling so we didn’t push too hard on the technical trail.  I spent 12 mins at this checkpoint, longer than I would normally, but I drained, dried and cleaned my little toe, reapplying compeed and a plaster on top for a bit more cushioning.

Joe had set out 5 mins earlier as he knew I was feeling stronger than him, and after leaving the checkpoint I faffed around with my bag putting things away (it was now daylight) and getting things out, so wasted a further 5 mins.  It took a while to get my legs going again and it was fairly slow getting to the suspension bridge.  I was still feeling strong for the climbs though, and we headed up towards the peaks, that are scattered along this section.  This really is a beautiful section and the views are stunning, I made sure to look up occasionally and appreciate it.  I was surprised that it took us almost an hour to catch up with Joe, but he told us that Ruth had been cracking the whip to get him running.  I still had a surprising amount of running left in my legs and so we all worked together on keeping Joe going as quickly as he could.  He really was very impressive, you could see the pain etched on his face for the last few hours, but he was pushing himself to the limit to keep up.  We finally neared Patonga road, and got a big lift from Rossco cheering us on.  Over the road, bit of trail then up to the trig and we were charging along. Over the trig we went and at the end of the single track down to the beach Matt did the Haka for us, which really gets the adrenalin going even if you’re not a kiwi.  I was feeling strong and was determined to drag Joe with me so we kicked on over the beach. To the sound of ringing bells we grabbed the wives and kids and ran on to kiss the post marking the end of a fantastic journey.  Last section done in 4:34 1 hour 36 mins quicker than last year and 41 mins quicker than our target, bringing us in at 28:23, BOOM!.

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Great North Walk 100 Miles – September 2016

Pre Race:

I had a pretty good lead up to this race with good results at Motatapu 51k, Wicklow Way 51k, Mount Solitary & UTA 100k and training had gone well.  I had a couple of niggles (ITB pain even while resting) and a slight bout of pneumonia a few weeks before but usually a couple of weeks of tapering sorts me out. A weight of expectation is something I’m trying to learn to deal with and get my head around. Having driven up with Rocco the day before and getting there in the early evening there was a bit of time to get the gear unpacked and ready for take-off the next morning.

We arrived at the start and checked in, collected arm tags, did the mandatory gear check, weighed in (57.9kg), dropped off the checkpoint bags and said hello to all the other crazies we know 🙂 ! Not long after the Race Briefing we were lining up and ready to go.

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NRG Starters Photo 2016

Start to CP1 Forest (Distance 28.6k) – 2015 Time – 3:48 – 2016 Time – 3:30

It was a misty and drizzly start to the day but it was cool so that was good. I started with 500ml of water in my pack & 2 x 600ml water bottles at the front. I ran most of this section with the training crew: Robyn, Tim, Adrian & Kath out in front. It’s always nice to run with my training buddies to settle the nerves at the start of a long race.

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Heatons Gap – 17k

We chatted as we made our way to Heaton Gap and up the first Communications Tower climb of the day. Near the top of the climb the guys disappeared out in front so I ran happily along the fire trails on the way to CP1 on my own. Coming into CP1 I was happy to see that Tim & Robyn were just leaving meaning I wasn’t that far behind. On all the climbs (and there is a lot of climbing in this first section) I noticed that my shoes were feeling very loose so once I was in the CP I told Rocco I needed to tighten the laces, I tried to bend down to do that and got an awful cramp in my hips, I tried again, same thing, argh. Rocco sorted the laces out and I had a quick sit down, a swap of my water bottles & gels and I was off. I couldn’t feel the cramp when I was running so I have no idea what that was! Time in CP: 2mins

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Coming into CP1 – 28.6k

CP1 to CP2 Congewai School (Distance 23.9k (52.5k Total)) – 2015 Time – 2:51 – 2016 Time – 2:44

I ran most of this leg on my own, apart from a few guys that passed me. I actually really enjoy this section because it’s very runnable and there are no major climbs in it.  I did make one mistake though when I reached a junction, I had missed the arrow to tell me to go right and decided to go left (my thinking was that there was a sign to a lookout to the right so that didn’t sound right, why would you go to a lookout?!) – I’m the lonely black line in the map below.

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Ooops!

Anyway once I reached the end of the trail there was remnants of a campsite and the trail ended, I took out the directions but couldn’t figure out the last landmark I’d seen so it was a bit useless. I turned back and when I got back to the junction I waited for another runner to come. He showed me the GNW post with the arrow on it, d’oh! I was running well through the forest-y bit that I love (where the bathtub is – yes there is a bathtub in the middle of the forest) and there was a guy with a stick moving slowly, I slowed to see if he was ok or needed anything, he said he was just hoping the road was coming up soon. After the big descent it was time to put on the high-vis and hit the road section into Congewai. As I crossed the stile there was a few people there cheering so I did a little cheer only to realise that they were cheering at the guy behind me, he he. The run along the road was ok, not too hot thankfully. I noticed a pink pack in front and realised it was another lady, it took me a while to pass her but I gave her a quick hello as I went by – she must have passed me when I’d got lost. I was much more prepared for the commotion of the CP this time, got weighed, Rocco had the chair ready so we replaced my water bottles with 1 water & 1 powerade & Rocco put some more water in the bladder. I was feeling good and said hello to a few familiar faces including Tim’s mum. I replaced my gels and took some m&m’s/jelly beans for the journey. Rocco told me that as long as I could keep my head this happy until the 100k mark he would get me the rest of the way, so that was the focus – “Keep my mind happy”. I ran over to the gear check and showed Melissa all my gear. After a bit of faffing trying to check out it was time to go. Time in CP: 6mins

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On the way into CP2 – 54k

CP2 to CP3 The Basin (Distance 29.1k (81.6k Total)) – 2015 Time – 4:58 – 2016 Time – 3:51

As I ran out of the CP I noticed Joe Ward in front of me, I shouted at him to stop running away from me… and so began the first of almost 50k running together.

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Clearly very excited to be running with this champ 🙂

We saw Phil Murphy on his way to the CP just as we turned off the road up towards the Communications Tower. I remembered from last year how hard this section was and how I was second guessing every step I took cause I hadn’t trained on it before. Soon enough we met Tim, Robyn & Adrian. Robyn was out in front and we weren’t far behind. Tim was having a dizzy spell so told us to go ahead. And so started the long slog up to the Communications Tower, luckily for me between myself, Adrian/Joe/Grant the time ticked away and we were high fiving at the top in what seemed like no time. The chatting continued along Caban’s road and I was having a great time, the energy was very positive and the stories were flowing. Somewhere along here my shoes started to feel a bit tight when I mentioned this to Joe he said we’d sort it before the big climb. As we made our way up along the fence line we noticed Michael Dalgarno up ahead. Once we go to the bottom of the climb I sat down as Joe & Grant both took a foot each and loosened my laces (eh talk about being spoiled – thank you gents!). We headed up the big, horrible rocky climb and I showed them the spot where I’d left a Chantelle-sized dent in the ground after falling over during training! We were motoring nicely when we came across Michael who was doing it tough, we tried some offer some encouragement as we went by. I cannot believe I missed the Bar Trail turn off last year – it looked so obvious this time around. As we made our way towards the Basin Joe stopped us briefly to show us his favourite spot on the course down by the water. Along here I said to Joe that ideally I would leave the CP with him, he thankfully was good with that idea (massive relief!). I remember the run from the sign to the Basin being ENDLESS last year, well this year Grant & I skipped along after Joe who was obviously very excited to get to the CP and leaving us in his wake. Joe had 5mins or less in mind for this CP, that was ok with me. We arrived to lots of cheers and checked in, I sat in the seat Rocco had put out, briefly chatted to him & Ann, cheered Robyn as she left, swapped water bottles/gels, collected watch charger, took some banana & crackers & all of a sudden it was time to go. Time in CP: 3mins

CP3 to CP4 Yarramalong (Distance 22.1k (103.7k Total)) – 2015 Time – 3:03 – 2016 Time – 2:42

I was so happy to be running this section in the daylight & Joe reckoned we’d make it to the road in daylight too so I was delighted. On the run back to the Basin turnoff we caught up to Robyn and ran with her for a while. As we turned up the climb at the turnoff we came across a runner that had gone the wrong way coming down the steps and pointed him in the right direction. It wasn’t long before we lost Robyn & Grant on one of the climbs. Just after one of the junctions Joe said he had an issue with his quads so we slowed only slightly and even though he was doing it tough he persevered and in no time he was back on form. Once we got to the road we put on the hi-vis’s & head torches. We knew it was going to be a LONG 11k but I was delighted to have company. Along this section I got a really bad stitch in my side that no amount of big breaths in/out was helping L Joe said he’d stick with me and I was so glad. I tried taking a piece of grass and holding it to my side (it has worked in the past!) but it didn’t work this time. So I resorted to a trot, bend, and repeat strategy with a few arms up in the air moments to see if that’d help – it didn’t and I can confirm it’s very difficult to run with your hands in the air! Joe & I were counting down the km’s, only problem I was counting down to 100k joe was counting down to 103k, so when I said we only had approx. 3k to go it meant we actually had 6k to go, sorry Joe! Along here we met a couple of supporters that had bottles of water, we used the water to put over our heads and it was an amazing surprise and pepped us right up. Counting the km’s was getting annoying so we decided to stop doing that and have some quiet time. Once we seen the first signs of houses we knew we were close and did some very uncoordinated high-five/low-fives J. As we ran into the CP it was amazing and unexpected to see the clock with a 12 on it, we had gotten to 103k in 12:58mins.

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CP4 – 103k with Joe in 12hrs 58mins

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We checked in and Rocco took my pack from me to do the mandatory gear check, I got weighed & had gained .9 of a kilo so I had to get my blood pressure checked & chat to the medic, all was good and he let me go (putting on weight can be an early sign of hyponatremia – basically I was drinking too much). I sat down for a few mins and it was so great to see James, all the pacers and supporters. I tried in vain to put a blister plaster on my foot before getting pissed off with it and throwing it away. I replaced my water bottles/gels and was ready to go! Rocco & I took off to cheers and then I could feel something hurting my foot so we stopped and fixed that before setting off. Time in CP: 11mins.

CP4 to CP5 Somersby (Distance 28.4k (132.1k Total)) – 2015 Time – 5:19 – 2016 Time – 4:47

After walking up bumble hill we started running once we got into the bush, I told Rocco I was feeling great and the legs were in great shape. He was full of stories about the day and I could barely get a word in edge ways. We passed Joe & his pacer and made our way to the road. Rocco led the way & we almost missed the turn off under the power lines (we had a chuckle at this cause Rocco had just said not long before that that he wouldn’t get me lost). When we got onto the road along the farms Joe & his pacer passed us again. It was somewhere on this section that my left quad started to tighten up (something that’s never happened before). Initially I was ok to run through it but as the section continued it became harder to push through it. At one point on one of the switchbacks Rocco said he seen a frog (I have a major frog phobia!), I let out a massive scream and jumped around the place while hyperventilating, Rocco didn’t know what to make of it, oops. We did a lot of walking on the way to the checkpoint: over the creek, past the chicken sheds & all along the road to the CP. Frustrating but necessary. When we got into the CP there was lots of familiar faces, I went into the hall to see if I could find anyone to massage the quad, there was nobody there to look at it, boo. Somebody got their hands on some voltaren gel from Adrian’s crew and James rubbed it into the quad, we put a knee support over the gel on the quad, had some soup (yum!), replaced water/gels, put on thermal tops (I think!) and we were ready to go. While I was in the CP I noticed the lady I had seen along Congewai road come in & go. Time in CP: 9mins.

CP5 to CP6 Mooney Mooney (Distance 17.8k (149.9k Total)) – 2015 Time – 3:14 – 2016 Time – 2:46

We headed out of the CP and could see Joe & his pacer just in front. The quad was feeling normal again & I was thinking that the voltaren gel was a miracle cure, I was able to run again and we eventually caught up to Joe & his pacer & had a quick chat. About an hour into the section I told Rocco the quad was starting to hurt again & it was at about 60% of the earlier pain. He said we should keep trying to run while it was good so that’s what we did. I’d give regular updates, it’s at 70% now, it’s at 80% now… The technical downhills/rocky trails were a nightmare again but I hobbled along. The run along the river was frustrating cause I knew I should be running a bit better than I was but the quad was now at 90% pain & would really hurt sometimes when I ran on it. We could hear the freeway which meant we were getting close to the CP, once we got out onto the gravel Rocco took control and said we should run so we shuffled along there as much as I could. The new route the CP was a pain in the ass, and the walk up to the CP was just cruel. The volunteers here was brilliant, so upbeat and offering all sorts of yummy foods, I opted for soup again. I got weighed (56.4kg – 2kg) & had some soup and had a quick chat with James & all the supporters/pacers from the other guys’ crews. Time in CP: 7mins.

CP6 to Finish Patonga (Distance 25.4k (175.1k Total)) – 2015 Time – 4:44 – 2016 Time – 4:51

Setting off from CP6 is a toughie, you know you are so close to finishing but there is still a good few climbs ahead and lots of runnable (?!) sections. Last year it was bright when I started out on this section and this year it was still dark and the sun didn’t start to come up until we were up on the moon rocks. Rocco was breaking the run up into sections to make it a bit more achievable and keeping me updated on expected finish times if we keep going at this pace/if we try shuffling. We leapfrogged a bit with Tim/pacer Sam before they took off & Adrian/pacer Dani also passed us along this section. I was doing what I could and slowly getting there. We power walked on the flat fire trails and every now and again Rocco would get me to shuffle, we were getting there – not as quickly as I would have liked but I was doing my best. Seeing the Trig was such a relief, it means you’re nearly there but it also means lots of stone steps and a quick (?!) descent. Rocco said it’s just 5 more minutes and for some reason I clung to those words for dear life and repeated them over and over and over all the way to the finish line. The emotions took hold as we got the beach and I couldn’t contain the tears. The noise of those cowbells as you hit the beach is unreal and kissing the finishers post is a massive feeling of relief/joy/pride/happiness.

Another GNW done, 25hrs 49mins – a PB of 3hrs 1min. Post Race thoughts, why did I do this race for a second time, I must be mad! It is easy to see why it is Australia’s toughest trail ultra but I got it done. I’d be lying to say I wasn’t disappointed that I didn’t place but you do what you can do on the day(s). I finished 4th lady & 11th overall and I can happily say that I am the 9th fastest lady ever over this course 🙂

Thank you to James for always letting me do these crazy things, I’m lucky to have you in my corner & seeing you at the CP’s always perks me up. Thank you to Rocco for supporting as well as pacing me for the full 75k and listening to far too much crying, I couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you to Tim, Robyn, Adrian, Kath, Joe & Adam D, Adam C – I’m lucky to have had you guys to train with. Thank you to Joe Ward for sharing part of the experience with me, I loved every minute of running with you. Thank you to everyone else for the support on FaceBook & to those that I saw out there, whether it be supporters, pacers, other runners – we are lucky to have such a great community around us.

Over & out!

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Kissing the famous GNW Finishers Post – 175k


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