|Runners line up for the start of the 2009 Coast to Kosci|
on the beach at Twofold Bay.
Not all of my most memorable running experiences have been when I was running. In 2009, I was asked by my friend, Carl, to be part of his support crew for the 240km race from the Coast to Kosciusko - sea level near Eden on the NSW south coast to the top of Australia's highest mountain, Kosciusko, 2228m. Carl is a character and a well-performed distance runner, so it promised to be an entertaining few days, and I wasn't let down. I wrote the article below about our shared adventure for the Terrigal Trotters newsletter.
CREWING FOR CARL
When I volunteered to join Steve as support crew for Carl in this year’s Coast to Kosciusko Ultramarathon, I thought we would be in for an entertaining weekend….and I wasn’t disappointed.
|Carl motoring early in the race. |
There was more fun the night before the run when Carl smeared Friar’s Balsam over his feet prior to taping them for the run and then managed to pick up every bit of grit and dust on the floor of our cabin with those parts of his feet not covered by tape.
After the pre-race briefing and dinner we only managed only a few hours sleep before the 3:45am alarm and our short drive to the beach for the 5:30am start, backlit by a beautiful sunrise over Twofold Bay. Carl’s shoe coverings were a big hit and served the useful purpose of preventing him going off with the leaders and thus starting conservatively. When we next saw the runners, after about 15km, Carl had moved through to 7th place in the field of 27 after being last onto the road. He looked good and confident, although so did everybody else.
|Climbing away from the coast. |
The first major climb of the event occurred at about 55km when the road ascended 600 metres over a distance of 7km. With the adrenalin pumping, and Jo only 7 minutes ahead after a toilet stop, Carl tried to run the whole climb and came unstuck with a kilometre to go and had to walk. Incredibly, Jo powered the whole way up and then proceeded to run away from the field for the remainder of the race, finishing 5 hours and 26 minutes ahead of the next runner.
|Crossing the high plains. |
|Steve following Carl on the bike. |
We had a bike rack on the back of my Nissan which was articulated so that, with some effort, it could be swung out to enable the rear doors to be opened without unloading the bikes. The fridge, shoes and drinks (Carl had brought enough sports drink and bottled water to supply every competitor in the race……and their support crews) all had to be accessed via the rear doors. We soon learned that the act of closing the door and replacing the bike rack was a signal to Carl to ask for something that required everything to be opened again. You might ask why we didn’t make this stuff accessible via the side doors? The answer was Carl had also brought two huge crates of food, including a round watermelon the size and weight of a bowling ball, most of which we returned to his home after the race, unused and unopened. Carl pretty much lived on energy/breakfast drinks the whole way.
|Carl still looking good. |
Since midday, either Steve or I had accompanied Carl on a mountain bike, carrying drinks and snacks and offering words of encouragement……or dropping back when we had enough conversation. As the night wore on this became more necessary as Carl’s mood became more pessimistic and he became more tired. I had to keep finding things to talk about and occasionally shouting at him to get back onto the road. Once he came to an abrupt stop, telling me that he had seen a couch on the road in front of him!
|The sun sets on the high plains. |
|Steve following Carl on the last stretch to the summit|
Carl’s pace was slowing again, he was feeling nauseous, and hugely fatigued. We tried to keep him going in the hope that the rising sun would revive his spirits. A low point was reached about 8am when the toe pain and fatigue became too much for him and he stopped to change his shoes. He became disoriented and distraught and could not stand up without losing his balance. At this precise moment, Phil caught and passed us. Even though he must also have been exhausted, he could see Carl was in a bad way and enquired whether he or his crew could do anything to help. We politely declined and encouraged Carl to begin walking again, with us walking either side for a short way in order to catch him if he fell. It was heart-wrenching to see his pain and fatigue, but we knew how much he had invested to get this far and how much he would regret it if he didn’t continue.
|Carl at the summit of Kosciusko. |
He showed great spirit and, as we climbed above the tree line in the Alps on a beautiful clear day, we even got an occasional glimpse of Phil far ahead, and felt we were holding him to a 2km lead. But, we also got sore necks from looking round to see if we were being caught from behind. We soon heard that the first woman, Pam, was gaining on us, although we could not pick her out on the road.
|Descending Kosciusko. |
|The end. |
Second place was a just reward for Carl’s Herculean effort. Steve and I felt privileged to witness the guts and determination he showed in dragging himself back from the depths of despair after such a good start, to achieve such a great result.