Journey to 100 Miles - PART 7 - GSER Race Report

So…after 5 years of dreaming of toeing the line at the Great Southern Endurance Run 100 Miler in the Victorian Alps, I finally got there.

No race cancellations, life plans or pandemics would get in the way this time!

The lead up had been near perfect – great training with great mates & no niggles. You couldn’t ask for much more.

Me & my pacer Andrew Moore on the start line.

We got underway in light rain at 6am on Friday the 11th & enjoyed an easy 7kms to the base of Mt Feathertop – from there the course goes straight up into the clouds, climbing just under 2,000 meters.

There was plenty of snow on top of Mt Feathertop still & the winds were strong & bitterly cold – luckily, it’s just a quick up & back from the summit & we were out of there.

On top of Mt Feathertop.

From there it was relatively easy running to Blowhard Hut (29kms) where I saw my crew (Glenda & Andrew) briefly & had a quick hashbrown & coffee.

Coming in to Blowhard Hut aid station.

Leaving Blowhard Hut, we had a short section of single trail which led us out onto the Great Alpine Road for some welcome downhill, before sending us off towards Mt Bernard & The Twins.

The weather was pretty good at this stage & things went smoothly through to Mt Murray aid station & then Selwyn Creek Road aid station (51kms) where I would meet my Crew Chief Glenda, (my beautiful, long-suffering wife) & my pacer Andrew Moore (Moorey).

I arrived around 4:30pm feeling great & looked around for my crew, but they were nowhere to be seen. No one had seen them, so I decided to use the time to have a toasted cheese sandwich & some coffee & to organise my gear for the next push. After 20 minutes they still hadn’t arrived & after checking my phone I realised that Glenda had been trying to call me.

I called her back & found out that they had become bogged enroute to the aid station after trying a different (shorter) way to the aid station. Andrew was driving & is an experienced offroad driver with a four-wheel drive vehicle, but the weather was not playing nicely. We made the decision that I would take off & that Andrew would run from the car to the aid station (around 3kms) & then continue through to catch up to me. Glenda & Phil (who was also with them) would hike to the aid station & seek assistance. I spent around 30 minutes in total at the aid station but left with plenty of energy & it took Andrew 1.5 hours to finally catch up. I’m told he received a standing ovation as he tore through the aid station at threshold pace, hot on my heels!

After arriving at the aid station Glenda explained to the volunteers what had happened, & two extremely kind gentlemen said they’d drive down to the stranded vehicle & carry out a recovery operation. After 3 hours they returned triumphant, which meant Glenda could drive back to Harrietville (in the dark) for some much-needed rest.

Meanwhile Andrew & I were forging ahead to Van Dammes Saddle aid station 76kms into the race.

From here it was time to do the 20km out & back to the summit of The Viking – we expected this to take around 4 hours in total.

The weather had definitely started to turn for the worst & as we started to run into faster runners coming back from The Viking we knew this was going to be much tougher than we thought.

We heard about markings that were impossible to find & trails that were so slippery that they had become death traps. We crossed paths with Rowan Cassidy, a mate also from Brisbane, who said it had taken him 3 hours to complete 10kms. We knew that meant it would take us a least 4 hours, since Rowan is a much faster runner than me! He wasn’t wrong – poles were almost useless, the only way to get up the mountain (cliff face) was to pull yourself up by grabbing onto grass, shrubs & trees. We took one wrong turn, but quickly corrected our mistake. Others were not so lucky – we met one runner who had been wandering for 5 hours, lost his poles & run out of water. Andrew gave him a long drink out of one of his flasks, but we knew he wouldn’t finish.

We finally made it to the summit & had a very short break. Coming down was going to be a nightmare. The only way to get down safely was to slide on your bum through the muddy channels, using your hands as rudders (brakes) & hoping you didn’t shoot off into the darkness below.

I had one nasty fall where I used my face to slow me down on a rock, but miraculously I wasn’t hurt at all.

We finally got down off the mountain as dawn was breaking & continued back to Van Dammes Saddle (97kms) – it had taken us around 8 hours to travel 20kms!

We were frozen to the core & both stripped off & changed into thermal tops & bottoms, as well as fresh socks, and in my case fresh shoes as well.

As is often the case though, we hadn’t been going long when the sun came out & it was stinking hot, which meant we had to strip off again & get back into shorts & shirts/singlets.

This is a long section (25kms), but we finally made it back to Selwyn Creek Road (122kms) where we met Glenda again (the right road up had been less challenging!), and we enjoyed another toasted cheese sandwich & coffee. It was great to see a familiar face & at least I knew this time Glenda could drive back down in daylight.

Coming into Selwyn Creek Road aid station (2nd time).

Toasted cheese sandwich time.

Super pacer Andrew Moore.

We had plenty of time & we were told that it would take us at least 8 hours to get back to Blowhard Hut. (144kms).

However, we were feeling great & decided to push the pace. We got to Mt Murray aid station in no time & covered most of The Twins before the weather turned really, really bad. It got dark & we had driving rain & very close to whiteout conditions.

We had been joined by a number of 50 Mile runners by this stage who all appeared to be struggling to trail find. I must admit that after 40 plus hours of no sleep I was second guessing our location as well. Fortunately, Andrew had no doubts about where we were & he constantly forged ahead, leading the way not only for me, but others who were struggling to find the trail.

It’s a miracle that we made it off Mt Bernard – the trails were so slippery that I fell down multiple times every 20 meters or so & you just couldn't see anything ahead of you. It was only that I was able to follow Andrew’s lead that we finally made it off the mountain.

From there we were soon back on the Great Alpine Road climbing & we put the hammer down hard – we agreed that we would only grab a snack on our way through the aid station & would continue to push hard through the 17kms to the finish. We started to dream of the finishing chute in Harrietville, somewhere between 44-46 hours race time, which meant we had made up an hour in that previous section!

We saw Glenda drive past on her way to the aid station & then she called me – I could tell something was wrong, although she didn’t tell me straight away. She had a conversation with the aid station volunteers & then called me back – the race was over! All competitors who hadn’t made it to Blowhard Hut (144kms) by 9:30pm were being pulled from the course & were unable to continue. A massive storm cell was approaching & a huge landslide on the final descent to Harrietville had prompted the race directors to make this devasting call.

I couldn’t believe it – after all these years I was 17kms from my dream of completing not only the GSER Miler, but my first Miler ever. Andrew & I discussed whether we could run back to Harrietville on the road (25kms) or even just run around in circles until we got the 100 mile distance.

The volunteers said the storm was bringing 100km an hour winds & that we needed to take as many runners as we could in our car & get off the mountain ASAP. I was angry, but I knew we had to take the expert advice. As we drove back down, I saw that the road narrowed & had no shoulders, and then we saw a big stag watching us as we passed – he looked as angry as me!

I realised that we made the right decision.

A week on I’m still disappointed – there are no real physical scars from the race, but the mental scars run deep. I was awarded an “inclement weather finish” as the race directors said they knew I would have finished well within cut-off of 51 hours, but I still feel like I didn’t finish & I still haven’t run 100 miles. It was a race of many firsts however – in a single push, the most distance, vertical ascent & most time spent on the trails.

As always, I am so lucky to have amazing support around me. Glenda has always been my crew chief & this race tested her crewing to the absolute limits of endurance, but she just kept on problem solving & pushing ahead. Her endless positivity always rubs off on those around her & I’m the luckiest man alive to have her by my side through life & these crazy adventures.

Then there was Moorey – having run UTA 100K only a few weeks earlier, he jumped in to run 110kms with me over some of the toughest terrain there is – the fact that we fell short of that distance is no fault of his. In fact, without him we may not have even got that far. He never complained once & never gave up pushing us on to the finish. His cheerful nature no doubt helped many runners along the way that he took the time to chat with. He is one of the world’s true gentlemen & I'm so glad that I get to help him out with pacing duties when he runs the Delirious West 200 Miler in February 2023.

Enjoying some rehydration time!

I’ll very briefly touch on gear & nutrition choices – they were all documented in previous blogs with links for more information.

Everything worked – no issues with fuelling or blisters or chaffing. No nausea or energy crashes. No issues with anything, other than an act of God that ended the race prematurely.

The amazing 100 Mile finisher's blanket!

Despite the disappointment, I'd like to call out the dedication & amazing work from Matt & Megan, co-race directors of GSER. They live & breathe this event & work tirelessly to stage an incredible race for runners looking for something really different & special.

The volunteers they have assembled around them are second to none. The support & kindness we received at all the aid stations was world class, along with some of the best banter around! You only have to reflect on the bogged car rescue to really see what I mean!

If you are considering signing up for this event then don't hesitate - it may very well change your life! 

Meanwhile, I still need to complete 100 Mile distance, so I’ve entered the Brisbane Trail Ultra 100 Miler that will happen in July 2023.

Wish me luck!! 😂

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