October 08, 2006

Roger's Trailwalker Summary

It's taken a while, but here's a summary of my trailwalking experience.

Start to checkpoint 1 - Hunter's Hill to Lane Cove (11kms)
We queued up early at the start line ready for the 8.30am start so were at the front of the pack. The weather was looking good. Coffees before the start hit the spot nicely.

At 8.30 we were off! We jogged the first kilometre or so to stay near the front of the pack before merging from the streets to the bush track. This worked really well and our pace was faster than planned for the first section, which was mostly easy, flat walking.

Checkpoint 1 to checkpoint 2 - Lane Cove to Thornleigh (13kms)
After a short break at checkpoint 1, replenishing energy supplies with breakfast bars and oranges, we set off for checkpoint 2 at Thornleigh.

A few small ups and downs on this section kept the walking interesting. It was nice a cool down in the valley. At the end of this section we hit the first real climb of the walk, heading up from the valley to Thornleigh. This got the heart working heading into the checkpoint.

We completed this section right on planned pace and at the checkpoint our support team was waiting with sandwiches and drinks for lunch. Felt quite hungry so the sandwiches were perfect!

Checkpoint 2 to checkpoint 3 - Thornleigh to Hornsby (9kms)
The first couple of kms were on the streets of Thornleigh crossing over Pennant Hills Rd and the northern railway line before heading back into the bush down to the Berowra Creek valley, and around the back of Westleigh to Hornsby.

Had plenty of energy during this section and spirits were high. I really enjoyed this section of the trail. There are some nice spots walking above and below cliff lines and some nice scenic views looking out over the trees.

During this section, my lower shins just above the ankles started to feel a little sore, which was a bit of a concern with such a long way still to go.

We reached the Hornsby checkpoint on scheduled time and met our support team for a short break, replenishing ourselves with snacks and drinks, and collecting our torches as it would be getting dark during the next stage.

Checkpoint 3 to checkpoint 4 - Hornsby to Crosslands (16kms)
This section can be easily subdivided into two equal subsections, split by Galston Gorge. It starts with a slight climb on firetrail over a saddle then back down to Berowra Creek. The trail then basically follows the creek before reaching a historic steel army bridge across the creek. From here, the firetrail heads up a rather lengthy climb to the top of the ridge before a very steep descent down to Galston Gorge.

From Galston Gorge, there is a medium climb up from the valley before flattening out for a few kms, then descending back down to Berowra Creek with the last five kilometres proceeding along the river flats. This is the first time-warp section, it seems to go on forever before reaching Crosslands.

It was dark by the time we reached Crosslands, so the torches were in full use. This stage mostly went fairly well, though it was a pity we got stuck behind a large band of slower walkers between Galston Gorge and Crosslands, which slowed our pace and was a little frustrating. The trail was mostly narrow so difficult to pass.

We were looking forward to our dinner of soup and bread at Crosslands, which is about half way. Energy levels definitely needed some topping up.

Checkpoint 4 to checkpoint 5 - Crosslands to Berowra (6kms)
The first half of this section was fairly flat following Berowra Ck, however, the second half involved two climbs up to Berowra, the first of 150m long and steep before a flatter section of firetrail followed by the final 75m climb.

Legs were starting to feel a little tired during the climbing, however, was going ok. Flick fell behind a little and we waited for her at the top of the first climb. It then started to drizzle which was a little unpleasant and the temperature was quite cool, so I got a little cold there. Flick was having trouble with blisters at this point.

Of note was the crazy guy carrying his stereo system on his shoulder tuned to a popular Sydney radio station. Quite an effort carrying that thing!

It was good to arrive at the Berowra community hall and get out of the light rain. The hall was very crowded and chaotic though. I probably needed to eat something here to top up the energy but all I could really manage was a few pieces of chocolate. Flick had lined up two massage therapists for us here which was really great as the legs were feeling a bit sore by now!

Flick decided to stop walking at this point as her blisters were too bad to consider walking another 45kms, so from this point, it was just Al, Bride and myself continuing.

Checkpoint 5 to checkpoint 6 - Berowra to Apple Tree Bay (9kms)
We were now into the late night walking and I was starting to feel quite tired. This section started with a descent from Berowra down to Cowan Ck, before following Cowan Ck south to Apple Tree Bay.

My torch battery was a bit weak so I was having a little trouble making out the details on the track. This caused me to stumble a few times, and it was taking some effort attempting to focus on the trail. There was no more rain though which was good.

I think I should have eaten more at Berowra as by the time we reached Apple Tree Bay I felt exhausted. I felt very cold and just wanted to sleep. Al and Bride were keen to move on however I needed a little more time to recover some energy. A hot cup of tea and a muffin picked me up a bit and I was ready to move on to the next section.

Checkpoint 6 to checkpoint 7 - Apple Tree Bay to St Ives (11kms)
On leaving Apple Tree Bay we picked up a couple of walkers from another team as their other two team members had been unable to continue. It was good being able to chat to them along the way to help stay awake in the early hours of the morning.

I was now feeling a little more energised and Al had lent me a head torch which certainly made the walking a lot easier than with the torch I had been using previously.

It was a good feeling to reach the checkpoint at St Ives after some steep climbing up from Cowan Ck.

Checkpoint 7 to checkpoint 8 - St Ives to Davidson Park (17kms)
We left St Ives with a couple of hours until dawn facing the longest stage of the event. I was not enjoying the downhill sections as my lower shins, particularly the right, were feeling very sore and every downhill step was painful. Tiredness was now also a major factor having been up nearly 24hours. It was feeling a little dreamlike especially as the first 8kms or so of this stage were all firetrail which seems to go on and on.

We eventually reached the Cascades, a beautiful rock platform at a creek junction, and had a short rest here. The dawn had broken just before this point, so it was good to be walking in daylight again. Al and Bride were keen to get going so left about 5 mins before me. So for the rest of this stage I was walking by myself, although there were plenty of other teams around.

There are a few tricky points along this section of track with some steep and cliffy sections dropping off into Middle Harbour Creek. With about 5kms to go, I came across a team who were recovering from one of their team members sliding down a steep slope into the creek after stepping off the track! Al and Bride mentioned later that they had helped fish this hapless walker out of the creek before continuing on.

The last couple of kilometres of this stage are a timewarp of flat firetrail walking along the now wide Middle Harbour Creek. It was good to finally reach the checkpoint at Davidson Park for some rest and refueling, and now with only the last stage to conquer, a mere 8kms left.

Checkpoint 8 to checkpoint 9 - Davidson Park to Frenchs Forest (8kms)
Finally on to the last stage. My legs were very stiff leaving the checkpoint and it was a few hundred metres of walking before they loosened up a bit. I was unable to keep up with the pace of Al and Bride so completed the entire stage walking on my own, which I didn't mind too much as I was just able to pace myself to the finish.

This last stage is very scenic as the trail winds around Middle Harbour into Bantry Bay before climbing up to Forestville, then down the gully and across an amazing natural rock bridge across the creek, before the final climb up to the finish.

My legs were very sore by now and I was feeling very tired, but as the distance left got to within single digits, I was feeling much better.

Eventually I made it to the finish and met up with Al and Bride and we crossed the finish line together. What an awesome feeling! I felt very emotional as it had taken all my energy to reach the finish. It had been no easy task and the determination required was huge. We finished in 26 and a half hours, 6 hours better than our previous effort two years before.

We then celebrated with some champagne before heading home for some well earned rest!

September 03, 2006

Washup: a few words on my Trailwalker experience

Half-way, 11pm, it's raining, this must be Berowra!

It's been a week since Trailwalker and that's enough time to sort through and make sense of all the emotions, experiences and aches and pains of the event. During the event, although I was blogging live from my cameraphone, I was trying to tell the story with pictures, which means many of our supporters are probably still in the dark about how it all went!

So for the benefit of those who haven't had a chance to chat to one of the Glutes this week and get a debrief in person, here's a summary from my perspective. I've also asked Flick, Bride and Rog to take some time to give us their impressions too, so stay tuned for that in days to come.

First up, massive thanks to our supporters, both the financial supporters and the hard-core loonies who met us at checkpoints, fed, watered, rubbed and inspired us to keep going to the next checkpoint. Fund-raising support keeps coming even after the event (if you haven't already donated, we're accepting sponsorship donations right through until 25 September, you can do it online here.) Supporters making donations immediately before, during and after the event have so far lifted our total donations from $2,000 to $2,760! Big, sweaty thanks then to Stephen Lowe, Erika Andrade, Rodesca Dionisio, Penny Gray, James Cooper, Suzanne Walsham, Tyswan Slater, David Dew, Aaron Quirk, Jane Dawson, Jessie Mahjouri, Helen Brady, Katrina Dawson and Mark Hudson. That's an extraordinary average of $40 per donor in that time, and includes several $100 donations. Oxfam can use that $700 to start vegetable gardens for seven poverty-stricken villages in South Africa and train the families there to plant and grow their own sustainable, healthy food. Here's some other ways the money can be used.

The hard-core loonies who helped us at checkpoints included Helen and Norm (Rog's stoic parents fronting up for a second year as the Soup Nazis), Nick the Native Guide (who brought with him two wonderful massage therapist friends of Flick's to rub us into bliss at Berowra), Zoe King, the Super Trooper, who with Nick and Flick stuck with us through a long, dark and rainy night and early morning, and Carol and Graham, in-laws of mine, who helped out on the Friday afternoon. Youse are all legends!

Thanks also to all the friends who logged-in to the blog during the event and left words of encouragement in the comments section of each post. We were able to read them, though not respond, during the event, and it was great to know you were watching out for us!

6.00am, short stop at Cascades, 30km to go!

Now, to the event itself. I'll begin at the end: I crossed the line feeling good, like I had enough petrol in my tank to go another 25-50km. Later, when the excitement of finishing wore off, I was mentally very tired and desperately needed to sleep, but physically I felt relatively good, and the following day I woke up without muscle pain or significant stiffness - I've been more sore after one game of basketball. Why? Well, I have the benefit of experience, having done Trailwalker once before, I knew how to prepare myself physically and mentally. I was able to time my peak, so I'd have enough left in the tank for a big push to the finish. And I had a combination of socks, shoes and foot lotion that I'd proven before would allow me to walk 100km without blisters, and that formula came through for me once again.

That's not to say it was all beer and skittles! Far from it. The new course takes you from sea level at Berowra Waters to the Pacific Highway in one massive climb of 225m in 6km and then back down another 225m the other side of the ridge to Apple Tree Bay, and we hit that horrendous climb right about midnight, when your brain is saying "lie down and sleep, you fool!" while it was also seriously chilly, windy and rainy. That was much harder than last time. It was no surprise that Flick made the brave decision to retire from the event at the top of this hill - it was only surprising that she'd made it this far, on determination alone, as her feet were a mass of painful blisters the size of 50c coins. Flick really showed us how strong she could be in gritting her teeth and getting on with it, when she could have easily pulled out 25km earlier. She then proceeded to tag along with the support crew all night, when she would have been forgiven for retiring to a hot bath and bed. Full marks for effort!

One thing hasn't changed from last time: the amazing difference an iPod can make when it's just before dawn, you're knackered, and your whole body goes from zombie to dancing queen as soon as you hear one of your favourite songs. Just like last time, I loaded up my iPod with my all-time favourite songs, and I basically boogied my way from St Ives to the finish. Even the dreaded 'time warp' section along the river before Davidson Park, where the river bends just seem to stretch on and on forever, seemed to be just a great excuse to wave my hands, jiggle my hips, and sing loudly and tunelessly along with the morning bird chorus, much to the horror of other trailwalkers (but believe me, by that point, you're past caring about embarassing yourself.)

As for my other two team mates, Rog and Bride, they were both stronger than me, and it took all my wits and dirty tricks to keep up with them, such as reciting, "It's not a race!" every time they took off faster than I could keep up!

All the way through training and the first 15 hours of the event, Rog has been a bundle of physical energy - running the flat bits, the downhill bits, and even some of the uphill bits, and always the first to jump up from a rest break and take off. Maybe this time he peaked a little early, burned up too much too soon, and wore himself out a bit, as he definitely slowed down towards the end. Nonetheless, the hint of emotion in his usually inscrutable expression as he approached the finishing line was really inspiring to see, and he knocked more than four hours off his previous time for the event, which is not to be sneezed at.

Doing Trailwalker with Bride showed me a little of the stone-hard competitive edge I'd heard of but never witnessed in our friendship and physio/client relationship. There's always a little drama and a lot of communication in Bride's life, not all of it of her own making, and it's quite spooky to see all that just get folded up and put neatly away when the going gets tough and Bride needs to get going.

Early in the event I thought I'd spice things up a bit by getting all macho about my hill-climbing ability; saying something like, "I rule these hills, you lot are just visitors." Well, you should have seen the clean pair of heels on Bride the next time the trail started up hill! Her dust had risen and fallen again by the time I caught up with her, there was no way I'd be quick enough to eat it. On the last checkpoint, I tested my luck again and made a cheeky remark once again. She didn't say anything, but the steely glint in her eye would have cut mild steel at a hundred yards. It seemed like she was going to do her best to make me eat my words.

Only my prior experience and 41 years of experience in cunning subterfuge allowed me to slip away from her at the beginning of the last stage, but you should have heard me swearing my head off when, with 2km to go to the finish, I looked back down a steep bouldered slope and saw this blonde flash jog out of the bush and start up the hill - she'd been able to make up heaps of time on me, and if I hadn't happened to look back just then she'd have been past me and away before I knew what was happening. Who the hell runs the last 2km of a 100km walk? Tough-as-nails Bride King does, that's who.

I had a split second to make a vital decision: should I be a team player, let her catch up, try to stay with her to the finish line, but risk being left behind, or give it everything I had, and try and run the last 2km myself, and bugger the team? It only took a millisecond to decide: bugger the team!

She was, is, and always will be, the strongest runner. But psychology was on my side - I knew where she was, but she hadn't seen me yet. I was able to stay far enough ahead on the open sections to keep myself out of sight, and slow down and take a breather on the sections where the track ahead was hidden, so that she wasn't able to get me in her sights and set herself a goal. For the past 30km we'd both been passing walker after walker, and she knew I hated running at the best of times. Sooner or later, she figured, if she kept running, she'd catch up with me too. But not if I put everything I had into staying out of her sight! I've never run so hard in my life! I escaped by the skin of my teeth, crossing the line just ahead.

It had been an undeclared contest - she never actually said, "let's race the last bit" - and the whole thing may well have been a figment of my fatigued imagination. Frankly, I don't feel entirely comfortable that I chose to compete with my own team when the Trailwalker is all about the team completing the trail together, it feels a bit of a ratty thing to do. I really, really hope she wasn't running to catch up and cross the line together, but I'm frankly scared to ask, now I know how tough she is!

UPDATE: My worst fears realised: Bride has let me know that actually, she wasn't racing me, she was just trying to catch up so we could cross the finish line as a team. The race was all in my fatigued tiny mind, and I was really just racing my own ego. Sorry Bride, if I wasn't in the grip of my own little hallucination I would have been happy to wait up!

Anyway, we reformed the team again as Rog approached, so that Rog, Bride and I crossed and officially finished (a yellow 'Withdrawing Team Member' form standing in for Flick) in 26 hours, 36 minutes, placing us 193rd out of 441 teams, and a very pleasing result it was too. It would have been great to cross the line with an actual Flick and not a yellow paper form in her place, but I'm sure she'll be back next year or the year after, and she'll be blister free.

Thanks for reading, thanks for your support, and I'll go away and not bother you again until this time next year!

- alan

(Oh, if you're interested, here's some more photos.)

August 29, 2006

Help! Bride is chasing me!

Running Man
Originally uploaded by Oxfam Trailwalker.

Running the last bit to try and stay ahead of Bride... it WAS a race!

Update: it WASN'T a race, actually. It was all in my fatigued little mind. Bride was just running to catch up so we could cross over together as a team. I am more than a bit ashamed of myself.