Great Ocean Walk 100km 2016

The Great Ocean Walk 100km (GOW100) chewed me up and spat me out. I went into this race deliberately low on training kilometres to ensure I arrived at the start healthy. I wondered if I was under done, but better than being over done. I believed I had done my due diligence and had a good idea on what the course was like. I went in with the plan to respect the distance and course. Turns out I was way off. This is how the day unfolded.

Start Apollo Bay to CP1 Blanket Bay 0-20km

In contrast the the lead up weather we were lucky to have mild conditions with some slight winds. A rarity in the area. First light reached as we assembled around the starting anchor. I made sure I could hear Andy give his final pre-race words. Inadvertently this put me at the front of field as everyone else assembled behind. The countdown began and no one moved forward. I'd commented to my family that I wouldn't go out crazy fast like I've seen others do.

Go...

Cruising over the grass, across the road and onto the gravel trail. Making a conscious effort to keep the running as easy as I could the opening kilometre felt awesome. A quick head count of those in front had me sitting in 9th position. That probably was not a good idea, but it seemed to take more effort to run slower. Soon enough we were on the trail proper. A little bit of mud, sand and hills. It was warmer than I anticipated and I took the opportunity of the first steep grade to take off my jacket and stow it in my pack. It was also a good way to separate myself from the truly fast runners and the temptation to stick with them.

As the kilometres were ticked off the trail got better and better. The climbs got longer, but nothing was crazy steep. I ran the short climbs, and hiked the longer hills, and felt awesome on the downhills. I got to run a good portion of this with another runner, Deb, who was taking a crazy amount of photos along the way. The scenery was spectacular so it seemed like a good idea.

The first 20km were over before I knew it. I was feeling good, the pace felt comfortable, my split had me on track for my pre-race goals. There was a nagging thought at the back of my mind that I was going too fast, but it really did feel like it took more effort when I tried running slower. Into the the first checkpoint, no need to add anything to my supplies, I had enough with me. My awesome support crew were here dishing out some enthusiastic encouragement.

CP1 Blanket Bay to CP2 Aire River 20-42km

My energy level was high. I really felt like my nutrition and hydration was on point. Drink to thirst works on the proviso you really do know how to listen to your body. There is less overall climbing in this section than the up to the first checkpoint, but I found the climbs here harder on the legs. A series of shorter, but steeper up and downs with some extra technicality thrown in over touch steps and rocks smashed my legs a lot more than I wanted. I started to feel the telltale stiffness and resultant heavier foot landings that comes from this in the latter portion of this section. It was clear if I kept up my current style of running my legs were going to stage a massive rebellion in the not too distant future. Nowhere near halfway and I was having to work a way to manage some damage control. Maybe if I'm smart now then I can have a good second half? Hopefully I hadn't done too much damage.

So the decision was made. Back it off. The plan went like this..

  • Walk up all hills even if they seem runnable
  • Have the flats (not that there were any) feel crazy easy, feel like a shuffle not a run
  • Keep a high cadence, short stride with forward lean to reduce impact on the downhill


I didn't feel any better doing this, but importantly my legs didn't seem to feel worse. It was a system that I struggled to apply as my body kept wanting to go faster. This section felt longer, but soon a came to the long flowing downhill (with switchbacks) leading down to Aire River. On this descent I could feel tightness increasing through my gluteus and hamstrings. That wasn't a good indicator for me. Off the hill, there's a small flat run in soft sand leading to the bridge over the river. My support crew told me afterwards I was the only one they saw run that bit. They thought it was a good sign I was running strong. With hindsight it was an indicator of my lack of appreciation for the terrain. Over the wooden bridge and my spirits were lifted. I'd seen so many photos of this bridge when researching the race and it felt amazing to run over it. I came in here slightly slower than my pre-race goals. A quick refill of water and a changeover of nutrition from my drop bag and I was through this 2nd checkpoint without any wasted time.

CP2 Aire River to CP3 Johanna Beach 42-55km

Only 13km for this bit. In studying splits of others from previous years I noticed those who ran this section relatively fast tended to blow up in the later stages. Even before the race started I already had in my head to take this section easy. Now that I was in damage control mode I definitely had to take it easy. Turns out this only 13km section is tougher than it looks on paper. I kept up my 3-point plan that I followed into Aire River, but I was struggling to reduce the impact of the downhill running. With plenty of stone steps on the descents I felt like I was just bashing down hard on each one. This was carrying over and affecting my power on the uphill (even for hiking up them), plus my agility was reduced due to the tightness which sucked out so much pace on anything half-technical. The course was chewing me up and was making taking it easy somewhat of an abstract concept.

A longish descent with plenty of rough steps led down to beach. My legs just wouldn't function properly and it took so long to work my way down. Eventually down to the bottom and out stretched the long Johanna Beach. This was soft, soft sand on a camber. Even with making use of the footprints left by other runners my feet sunk deep. I couldn't run, there was no power in my legs, but it was the tightness that was the main limiter. Relentless forward progress... despite walking this section, I wasn't stopping.

Mixing it with some other runners helped. It was good to see those running weren't going a whole lot faster than me. That helped. Chatting with those who have done the race before all said the race doesn't start until after the 55km checkpoint after Johanna Beach. That hurt my brain, I was already feeling like I had did at the end of my previous 100km race at the Surfcoast Century a few years ago, how could the harder part still be ahead of me? Then because I like my value for money I added an extra kilometre or so to this beach section along with a couple other runners as we missed the exit point. How I have no idea, I thought we were being conscientious in looking for it. A few others after us missed it too.


Finally we found our way into the checkpoint. The support here was phenomenal from everyone, other runners, volunteers, race officials, spectators and my family. It was needed. Before the race I had worded up my support crew that I might take a little extra time at this checkpoint to make sure I had all my gear, nutrition and water because it led into the longest and hardest part of the course. I hadn't banked on feeling so smashed. So I put a clock on myself, got some solid food and sat down. My legs were only becoming less functional the more I moved. Maybe getting 10 or so minutes off them would allow them to function a little better.


CP3 Johanna Beach to CP4 The Gables 55-80km

That was first time I'd ever sat down for recovery during a race. The pacing chart was now thrown away in my mind, it was definitely not valid as I'd fallen off the bottom of it. Straight out of the checkpoint and we're greeted with 6km worth of solid climbing. This was a good thing as it allowed a long time where I could focus on just hiking which provided some welcome relief from the pounding running would give. The climb was social as I made my up with Erika and Ann. The company helped.

What goes up must come down. A long descent, but my legs were feeling a lot better now. Also the gradient wasn't quite as steep as in the last couple of sections, and it was all fire trail. That suits me well and I was able to run with some reasonable form making sure not to push hard. The rest back at the checkpoint seemed to have worked. Maybe 8km into this section I was wondering why everyone was warning me these 25km were so hard. I reasoned that maybe they liked the more technical stuff and the longer, but not quite as steep hills weren't to their liking. Whatever, best not get carried away. Looks like I had clawed a bit of my race back.

The remainder has been described as hill after hill. I'd been told nothing was overly long, just that they were sharp climbs. Didn't sound so bad, and I'd developed an image of steep coastal rollers in my mind before the race. After becoming more accustomed to the terrain the hard way during the day I was sure they'd be a bit harder than first imagined...

...turns out I really had no idea. The hills were steep, steep, steep... even if I came into this section fresh I don't think I could have run up most them. One after the other smashed my legs both on the up and down. In no other race had I felt this smashed before. I was happy I could keep moving. Each step up required so much concentration, but I forced my legs to push through a solid range of motion. They protested more and more, but I kept going. The down hills were brutal. I was too far into the race to try and worry about saving myself. I knew my ability to run down could go at any point, so while I could, I did. As a result I got to run most of the descents, I did have trouble when it got extra steep and technical, so chose to err on the side of not falling off the side of a cliff. The GOW100 was giving me a massive lesson and it was beating it into me. I'd been enjoying the spectacular views earlier, now I was swearing at the stupid friggin' majestic landscapes, wild seas and colossal coastline.

Hill after hill, and my body and mind felt like it was falling into some sort of abyss. I'd lost any sense of where I was in the race, but knew I was following the course. My brain was limited now very limited in what it could focus on. Still able to keep tabs on my nutrition and hydration meant that seemed to be on track surprisingly. My head found some solace in the small rhythm of maintaining movement forward, hike the hills and run the down hill, there was no flat. I was back to being chewed up by the course. Then it seemed I was suddenly spat out, covered in the saliva of the GOW100 at checkpoint 4. As it looks like I covered these last 25km better than the previous two sections when compared to my pre-race split predictions. As a result I caught my crew by surprise as they were arriving at exactly the same time.

Beware the chair... I don't think I was capable of standing as I staggered into a chair. The weather had changed, the wind was icy and cold now. I had pushed myself and now my body rebelled. Just enough brain power made me put a time limit on sitting. Then my support crew and amazing volunteers at The Gables checkpoint did everything they could to help me. Some warmer clothes, head torch ready, food, coke and a blanket to keep me warm. I was asked plenty of questions and I'm sure most of which was to assess if I was safe to continue out for the final 20km.

CP4 The Gables to Finish 12 Apostles 80-100km

Reaching the limit at about 18 minutes of rest meant it was time to get moving. Staying in that chair any longer would probably had led me to deciding I wasn't capable of finishing. Pack on, standing up, I was made to confirm with someone that I alright to go on, and then I was off...

...I was told the next day that my start for the final section was excruciating to watch. A crazy slow awkward wide stance shuffle that didn't really resemble walking was my exit. It didn't inspire confidence in those around me. On a better note, after about 200m I loosened up and was able to run. The food was kicking in, my legs felt destroyed, but somehow I was able to make them move pretty well. These hills were quite gentle compared to everything else. In fact they were quite runnable and I took the opportunity. I was even able to run most of the up hill, just hiked some of the steeper bits. I know I was smiling.

After a while the ground under foot became a bit more uneven, with a few extra twists thrown into the trail. Not to mention all the fallen trees. The weather in the week leading up had been severe, and it is a testament to Parks Victoria to all the fallen tree they had obviously removed, but my rhythm was being destroyed with climbing over or around tree after tree here. Here my legs began to lock up. Another runner came caught me, Kate and we ran to together for a bit. At roughly 90km we hit an outcrop of land which should give us a view of the Twelve Apostles, unfortunately the sea mist was so thick that the famous stacks of rock couldn't be seen.

On and on I went, but I was getting slower and slower. My guts were starting to protest and my intake was reduced. Somehow my body felt like it had just enough energy, but it looks like my legs were just beginning to fail. They had definitely gone past any conditioning I'd achieved in training. Slower and slower still. I think the hills became a bit steeper, but I could be wrong. I knew I was less than 10km out, surely I could make that. Just run....nope...power hike then.

The sun was over being awake and decided to abandon me, so my world was within the beam of my headlamp. We go through a small dirt road section past the Gellibrand River Camp Ground and then head up into the final trail section. It was here I was greeted by Mark who has run every single year at the GOW100. I'd seen him a few times during the day and he was always so positive. It took a mentor style role and talked me through what I needed to do for the remaining 7km. It was exactly what I needed. He sped off (speed is now a completely relative term).

Rock, sand, sand, rock, up, down, sand... over and over. Why is walking so bloody hard? Why am I now vomiting every time I attempt to run? Why do I need my hands to assist going down steps? I must be less than 5km out, but I'm not sure. Wow, that black mass shimmering to my left is the ocean, that's cool. That must mean I'm close. Yay! I can see lights up ahead, that must be the finish... but why do they also seem so far away? At least I just head straight towards them. Oh for f*ck sake, why won't this trail go straight, don't they know a straight line is the shortest distance?

Stumble, walk, stumble, kind-of-walk, attempt to run, vomit, walk, vomit... oh shit, I'm sure that's someone under a thermal blanket up ahead. It was, one runner, at about 97km in had his leg skewered by a tree branch. He was already getting assistance, was wrapped up in a couple of thermal blankets and more help was on the way. After making sure they had everything needed, my job was to confirm his position with those heading along the trail. Maybe 1km further along I came across the help running out to him. That's a tough way for him to end his race, and so close to the finish.

Now I could hear cars, and see some moving headlights. That must be the Great Ocean Road, which means I'm close. Then I hear a familiar voice. My brother-in-law, Al was here, "Only 1500m to go!" That should have been the right thing to say, but I had in my head I was less than 1km out. I must have given him a look, because he looked like he was ducking for cover. Through the tunnel under the road, then up into the Twelve Apostle Car Park. I'm directed into the final 300m and I want to hug the volunteer because that is the best news ever. Follow the witches hats and there it is the finish. My Dad comes and greets me, for some reason I remember Brett's comment of taking off the reflective vest for the finish line photo and I pass that to my dad. Then I'm done, crossing that line in 16:13:36. The next day one of the many awesome volunteers pointed out the contrast in how I looked. He was worried about me at 80km, but said I looked so content and happy at the end. And I was. That was definitely the hardest race I have ever been in.

Thanks to Al for the little video...

video
Aftermath

The little things were a challenge the next day...

video

Links:
Great Ocean Walk 100km
Trails+ -for their race videos and other awesome races.


Comments

  1. Cripes, that's one tough race Jason!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks Simon, hardest race I've done so far.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wow, 16 hours. That's a long day! Good to see you've bounced back well from it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was indeed a very long day, but worth it, it's an awesome event.

      Delete

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