Looking up at the wall next to the computer desk here is a little note with my goals for the year on it. They include things like using wikis more in the classroom to running sub 90 minutes for a half-marathon. The other main ‘sporting’ goal is to run a marathon. I probably won’t achieve that this year as I expanded on it, readjusting it a little. This happened early in April when I agreed to join a team for
So, last Friday 500 teams of 4, including ours, set out from Brooklyn on the Hawkesbury river in Sydney and made their way to Mosman (on beautiful Sydney Harbour) along 100km of bush track, fire trail and a bit of bitumen. The idea is to raise funds for the work that Oxfam does in 26 countries around the world; and, it’s always good to readjust your goals to challenge yourself further.
Here are my reflections on the 20 hours and 19 minutes it took our team to complete the 100km…
Looking back on things, it is mental strength (some may call it obstinacy) which will get you through. Those who can control their own mind and harness all that lies within will always get further. I knew that before, but in terms of personal experience, I know have proof. Breaking down your goals into manageable bite size pieces is paramount. Looking at all that you want to achieve can sometimes be daunting, but breaking it down into smaller pieces will enable you to get there in the end; one step at a time.
We began at 7am under a cloudless sky – the forecast was for possible coastal showers so the fantastic weather we had on the day was a relief. The first kilometer or so of the course was on the road and we spent this running at a fairly decent pace; the plan being to stay up near the front until we got to the spot where the course winds up a narrow staircase and onto the fire trail. The plan worked and we had room to move all the way to the first checkpoint at the 14km mark. We spent 3 minutes at this checkpoint, during which I ate a banana and one of the best peanut butter sandwiches I have ever eaten. It seems that some foods taste a whole lot better during an endurance event. The cup-a-soup I had later that evening was also beautiful, yet when I tried one a few days previously I had trouble finishing it; until I needed it, it was truly horrible!
Between Checkpoint 1 (C1) and 2 (C2) lay another 14km and some of the most beautiful bushland and views around. The ridges and valleys between Cowan and Berowra are great for bushwalking! It’s also our backyard. The team are all from Berowra and we knew the terrain well but the terrain didn’t know that, or care. By the time we got to Berowra (C2) my right knee was starting to cause some discomfort. Berowra was the first checkpoint where support crews were allowed access and so we were able to access our personal supplies and restock on powerade, gels and whatever else we had set aside. Being from Berowra also meant that we had quite a few supporters around; including my wife, our daughter and a teammate’s children. This lifted spirits and helped us on our way to
The trail to C4 was fiddly with lots of tree roots to avoid tripping over. Mind you a couple of the large sandstone rocks across and beside the trail provided the perfect place to lie down to try and manipulate the nerve in my leg from the spot where it was pinching and providing flashes of pain down the side of the knee. There were other interesting things along the Gibberagong track. A massive goanna was spotted as we ran past one point and at another point my mind was distacted from the pain by a couple of big and quite beautiful Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos. These birds make an amazing sound, quite surreal in that situation. The weirdest thing was passing a young guy in T-shirt, jeans and a pair of thongs – and of course earphones in his ears. I can remember wondering where he was going and from where he had come. Still, these are the things that help keep you occupied as you travel 100km.
After a relatively quiet couple of sections, the trail from C4 to C5 (9km) was one of the busiest. At one point there were 4 or 5 teams weaving along after each other; one of which provided their own karaoke playlist – Their “Grease” medley was my favourite! Walking with other teams not only provided some entertainment value but talking with others and getting their perspective on things (their goals and so on) was refreshing. St.Ives Showground was the next checkpoint and 58.5km into the course. It was here we got changed into our nighttime gear – already it was getting quite cold and darkness was on its way. The feeling of putting on a clean shirt, socks and long skins was something I’ll always remember. A bit weird having memories about putting on clean clothes, but this sort of event will do that to you. A new perspective on things is often needed in life. The picture on the front of the trailwalker map book shows a young girl carrying 2 large buckets full of water through a field – that is the reality for many people around the world. Compared to most, we have it so easy here in Oz. There were several points along the rest of the trail when I wanted to complain about the pain in my legs and used this image to help me through.
We left C5 with headtorches and warm clothing ready to take on the last 41.5km. Our support crew was doing a fantastic job in keeping us well fed and positive. We eventually crossed the line as a team of 4 but in reality there were 6 people in the team and without the extra 2, we could not have got as far. On top of that, the support of the volunteers cheering us into each checkpoint and on nearby corners was also enormous and massively appreciated. Thank you all organisers and volunteers! Loved those peanut butter sandwiches!
Just outside of C5 another member of the Berowra Bush Runners club, which we were representing, joined us on the trail for a while, again providing us with a welcome distraction and some updates on things in the real world. By the time David left us to make his way back home it was well and truly dark. Our night training run a couple of weeks prior to the event had been done with a full moon. This time there was virtually no moon and once we descended beneath suburbia, even though it wasn’t far away, it was very dark. Walking at night is a weird thing. There are times when time moves really quickly but then later it seems to stop. You are never really sure where you are or what is around you. I have been along that section of trail 3 times now, yet have no idea of the surrounding scenery. I know the sounds and smells of that area but do not know what it looks like. I like that how it is.
C6 was 70.5km into the course and knowing there were only 2 checkpoints after this one was a positive. We were starting to need positives and a call to our support crew prior to arriving at the checkpoint provided further incentive to reach C6. They had cheese and bacon rolls! You can only eat so much rice in one day. Fatty bread sounded pretty good to me. Coming out of C6 there were a lot of downhill sections, mainly on roads and paved fire trails. It was here I took the Trailwalker experience to a new level. The pain in my shins was quite severe and at its worst going downhill; so why not go uphill whilst going downhill? Walking backwards helped quite a bit and despite concern that I might fall over (fair enough – darkness, fatigue, etc), I persisted with this normally bizarre habit for most of the remaining road downhill sections of the course.
The 10km from C6 to C7 was mainly flat, but tricky – rocky overhangs, creek crossings (at least the tide had gone out when we passed) and fallen trees provided a bit of an obstacle course. This section also seemed, at least to me, the longest section of the course. As I wrote above, at times when walking in the dark the passage of time simply stagnates, and here beside the inner reaches of Middle Harbour, time (in my world) seemed to almost stop (yet I still moved through it). This section went on and on and on … But, we did make it to
From C7 to C8 was the shortest section of trail at 7.5km and was much better than anticipated. On the 2 occasions I had done this section previously I had face planted and rolled my ankles; I did not have good memories of this section. Maybe that, and the fact I was taking more care than usual, helped. C8 was the last checkpoint and a huge landmark for us all. We spent more time there than we anticipated but at that stage it didn’t really matter. Barring major injury, we were going to make it and that’s all that mattered; besides the heaters in the tent’s checkpoint were really nice!
From now our goal was close and we were buoyed by the fact that there was only really 3.5km of bush trail left, though pretty rugged trail. We were pretty much ‘over’ (sick of) bush trail by then. After that it was mostly roads and pathways. So along these roads we walked; one step at a time, until the final cruel obstacle greeted us a kilometer from the end. After 99km someone had decided to build a staircase (it had probably been there for a while), a seemingly endless staircase. On either side of the staircase was a fence and there were signs telling you that shooting on or over this land is an offense under the crimes act. Reading that was a weird experience. Further on a sign read “500m to the finish”; I began to count my steps, 1,2,3,4,5… I’m not quite sure how far I got but it was at some point that I realized I had moved ahead of the rest of the team and so slowed down to re-group. Several minutes later we crossed the finish line and the feeling of elation, mixed with fatigue, pain and all the rest, was simply amazing. Euphoria indeed!
So, as I sit here in PJs that I have been in for a day and a half, looking down at feet that do not look like mine, but which can move a little more normally than this morning, what have I learnt from all of this? Do I want to do it again?
- Challenge yourself beyond what you think you are actually capable.
- Aim high but when it becomes overwhelming, break it down Checkpoint to Checkpoint, step by step, one little thing at a time.
- Enjoy it while it’s there. Enjoy your challenge – take in some of the scenery on the way. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Remember, a good (or not so good) rendition of the Grease soundtrack can do wonders to lift your spirits - Thanks go to The Bustin’ Strutters team for that reminder.
- Every now and then, put things back into perspective. You may be doing it tough but someone is always doing it tougher.
- Plan! The old adage it true – "Failing to plan is planning to fail”.
If you’ve made it this far into this post, I hope you enjoyed my ramblings. We are still raising funds for Oxfam and if you are now inspired to sponsor us (despite us having already finished), please do so at the following link: Berowra Bush Runners Too. Well done team!!