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Coast to Kosciusko

Runners line up for the start of the 2009 Coast to Kosci
on the beach at Twofold Bay.
For my training today, I ran the same local "garbage run" 10km course that I suffered through last week (see Benchmarks).  I still felt tired and sore from Monday's long run and my expectations for the run were low.  The first couple of kilometres matched those expectations but as I warmed up I felt better and managed to run all of the way, including up the Avoca Steps, which I hadn't managed a week ago.  My time was slow by historical standards, but better than last week.  Maybe I'm getting fitter.

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.

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.

The fun started when we stopped by the beach south of Eden where the race would start the next day and Carl realised that he would have to negotiate 100 metres of soft sand before reaching the road.  The solution was two garbage bags, one on each foot over his shoes for the brief sand run the next day.  Effective, but not particularly sartorially elegant.

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.

By the marathon mark, passed in 4:02, Carl had moved into 2nd place, a steady 12 minutes behind Jo in the lead. Carl thought that Jo was the clear race favourite and was happy to be so close.  We were stopping every four kilometres to resupply Carl on the run and enjoying the breezy sunny day in the quiet rural valley.

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.

Carl then settled into an even pace across the rolling high plains along dusty back roads, gradually increasing his lead over those behind him whilst losing ground to Jo.  Despite some nausea, which disappeared when he stopped taking the Succeed tablets recommended by Darrel (thanks, Darrel!) everything seemed to be going swimmingly and, after 12 hours, Carl seemed to be destined for a clear second place.

Steve following Carl on the bike.

Then we reached the end of the gravel road and almost immediately Carl began to have trouble on the camber with his infamous toes.  The pace slowed and the stops became more frequent.  “Imelda” had brought along a large crate overflowing with shoes and Steve and I now seemed doomed to try every pair on Carl in an effort to relieve foot pain.  One pair lasted only 10 metres before Carl returned to the car to change them and others wouldn’t have lasted much longer if we hadn’t adopted a selective deafness approach to change requests.
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.

Despite the severe pain from his toes and great fatigue, Carl soldiered on, running almost all of the time, but his confidence was taking a hit.  As night fell we got Carl’s night gear ready to wear.  Steve was very impressed with Carl’s two headlamps, both in their original unopened packaging and needing to be assembled, with price labels of, respectively, $5 and $15 (no expense spared!).  We were both impressed that it took three attempts to get the “right” reflective vest (pinning his race number on at each attempt).  We suspect there are a few workers at the place Carl works trying to find their safety gear!

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.

Around midnight, at the base of the major climb over the Beloka Range we set up a comfy bed for Carl beside the road and insisted he have a 15 minute sleep.  He claims he didn’t actually fall asleep, but seemed dead to us, and his mood was definitely better as he set off up the hill.  We were pretty sure we were being caught from behind by this time, but still hadn’t seen any closing runners' lights.  We crossed the Beloka Range in the small hours beneath brilliant starry skies and Carl picked up some momentum as we descended towards Jindabyne.  Paul, the Race Director, passed us in his vehicle and told us Phil was about 3km behind us with another two runners in the next 5km after that.

Steve following Carl on the last stretch to the summit
of Kosciusko.

Carl just kept on running all of the “downs” and “flats” and most of the “ups”, and I felt we were holding our own, although Phil’s support vehicle kept on catching up to us and then stopping to wait for him.  We skirted a slumbering Jindabyne just before dawn and set out on the steady climb to Kosciusko, about 50km away.

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 managed to stay upright and, after a few hundred metres, regained his focus.  In another couple of kilometres, we even managed to encourage him to run some of the “flats” and “downs”.  At this stage, I think Carl had accepted he wasn’t going to catch Phil and his focus switched to holding onto his third place.  We were sure that there were a number of runners within 10km behind, all moving faster than Carl.

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.

We were still at Charlotte Pass when Pam’s crew arrived, confirming that they were close behind, but Carl could smell the end now (he “only” had to run the 8.2km to the summit of Kosciusko and then return to Charlotte Pass to finish).  He looked stronger than for some time, and set off along the rough trail with Steve and I following on mountain bikes.  After a couple of kilometres we met a runner (not in the race) coming the other way who said that Phil was only a kilometre in front.  Carl’s competitive juices began pumping and he ran up the steep trail virtually non-stop to the hut 2km from the summit where we had to leave the mountain bikes.  We persuaded him to pop a couple of Nurofen to help deal with the toe pain on the forthcoming descent, and he set off running up the last bit of the trail to the summit with Steve and I, in our biking gear, in hot pursuit on foot with camera and drinks.

The end.

We still hadn’t seen Phil or his crew and wondered whether we had somehow missed them.  Then, just as we came into view of the summit cairn, there they were coming the other way.  Phil was still running, but had some problems and didn’t seem up to defending his second place.  A kilometre later, just after crossing a small snowfield on the trail, Carl overtook him and raced away towards the finish, opening up a gap of 17 minutes, to finish in 31 hours and 27 minutes.  On that last section, he seemed to be running as well as he had the whole race.

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.

Free food

Garden of the Gods, Colorado Springs.

In a recent post, Las Vegas Marathon, I wrote about how my then wife, Barb, and I unexpectedly won quite a large amount of money in that 1986 race.  Three months earlier, in the space of a week, we had smaller, but no less welcome, successes in two fun runs.

Although still September, a cold front moved through on a bleak Saturday as we drove into Colorado Springs with the intention of running in the El Paso Chiropractic Association 5 Miles race the next morning.  We camped at nearby at Manitou Springs and went for an evening run in light snow through the nearby awe-inspiring Garden of the Gods park.  A cold night followed, with the temperature dropping to 22°F, and we woke to a snowy white world.  Our first challenge was the drive to the start at Palmer Park on the empty ice-covered roads.  We slid in slow motion all the way to the bottom of one hill, lucky to avoid hitting anything along the way.

Palmer Park, Colorado Springs.

The adverse weather impacted the race turnout and there were only about 40 entrants in bitterly cold weather.  I was the only person running in shorts, with everyone else more appropriately dressed for the weather, when we set off following a lead car.  On a largely snow-covered hilly road course with icy corners and descents, I won easily (24:33, short course) after attacking the last slippery descent, and surviving, while my nearest rivals took a more circumspect approach.  Barb was first in the women's division, and we each won a dinner for two at a local restaurant.  We had been planning to drive to Denver straight after the race, but negotiated to have one of the dinners that night, handed the other prize back, and hung around until evening to enjoy our prize.  Being on a very tight travelling budget, this was the first time we had eaten at a restaurant in six months on the road, and the quality four-course meal was much appreciated.

Wildcat Hills, Nebraska.

The following Saturday, while visiting Scottsbluff, Nebraska, we found out about the Wildcat Hills 5 Mile Race to be held in the nearby Wildcat Hills the following morning.  We entered the race at a local sports shop, and that night slept in our campervan parked near the start point for the race.  We were woken the next morning by the sound of car doors slamming as competitors arrived.  The field was again small, and I won overall (26:22) after a hard-fought race with a guy who had driven 200 miles from Denver for the event, while Barb was just pipped by his girlfriend in the women's division.  We were a little disappointed to find the prizes were medals, but then my name was drawn in the competitor raffle, and I won a Pizza Hut voucher for their store back in Scottsbluff.  We drove back into town, ordered our pizzas, and then headed west on the highway across the prairie eating our pizzas and dribbling melted cheese from broad smiles.

Yesterday's long run aggravated my chronic right knee and Achilles tendon injuries and I limited my exercise this morning to a 5km walk around Copa.