The Great North Walk is a 250 km walking track that runs between Sydney and Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia. It was opened in the Australian Bicentennial year of 1988 and passes through some of Australia's most outstanding scenery.
The Great North Walk 100s (GNW100s), organized by the Terrigal Trotters running club for the first time in 2005, are two simultaneous trail races, a 100 Mile and a 100 Kilometre, along The Great North Walk south from Teralba on Lake Macquarie. The 100 Kilometre race will finish at Yarramalong in the scenic Yarramalong Valley and the 100 Mile at Patonga on spectacular Broken Bay. Although the route is primarily on foot tracks and fire-trails, it does include some minor back roads. There is more than 6,200 metres (20,000ft) of ascent (and descent) in the 100 Mile and 3,800 metres (12,500ft) of ascent in the 100 Kilometre.
Both races will start at 6:00am on Saturday, 13 September 2014. There will be cut-off times at Checkpoints en route and the overall time limits will be 22 hours for the 100 Kilometre and 36 hours for the 100 Mile.
Yes, it's actually a hiking route all the way from north Newcastle back down to Sydney! I have read accounts of hikers taking about a week doing the whole 250km route leisurely. But this GNW100s is not your neighborhood hike. Take the option of either 100km (103km to be exact) to be finished in 22 hours or the more challenging 100miles (175km to be exact) in 36 hours. Sounds easy but there are mighty elevation thrown in too. About 3,800m elevation gain for the 100km category and 6,100m elevation gain for the 100 miles. This ultra trail itself has been giving loads of pleasure to ultra runners since 2005.
I'm not exactly new to GNW having tried hard to complete the 100 miler last year. But i failed. The weather last year was so stingy hot (40C) that as many of 50% of the runners dropped out at CP2 (50km). I managed to continue on from CP2 but the heatstroke/dehydration coupled with minimal trail experience brought me to my knees at CP4 (103km). Left with just half an hour on the cut off time, I decided to throw in the towel as the remainder of the journey would not be easy either given the state I was in, read exhaustion, tiredness, etc. The good thing is, you are still accorded a 100km finisher though even if you failed to complete the 100 miler.
So this year, 2014, I wanted to complete this unfinished business. Badly. Last year I had the company of Shine who completed the 100 miler. This year, fortunately, Seow Ping from Hong Kong took the bite and went into the 100km challenge. Well a travel companion is better than none I suppose.
Seow Ping and I goofing around in the car. Well need to keep sane before the race. We arrived on the Friday morning before. Something I'd not recommend given the long haul flight and were a good rest is a necessity. Her parents were nice enough to pick us up from the Sydney airport and have a quick brunch before parting ways.
The starting point is in a town called Teralba. Accessible by train from Central Sydney which takes about 2.5 hours to get there. Trains are scheduled every half an hour. Quite a scenic ride into the country side along the way. But mostly i dozed on and off in the train itself. By the time we got into Teralba was late 6pm and the darkness has already begun to descend. It gets bright around 6am here and the dark around 6pm from what's left of the winter season here.
Hailed a cab and got to Warner's At The Bay hotel, the official one where most would hold up for the night. We went for a bit of shopping for the ultra and a quick dinner before heading back to freshen up, complete the packing for the drop bags and carry on bag and called it a night.
The ups and downs for both 100km and 100miler. Daunting eh? Granted it doesn't have extremely long ascends of 1,000m but these short ascends can be quite steep and furious to say the least.
The overall map. All the way from north down to south. The actual GNW trail actually starts in Newcastle and ends at the Sydney cove. One thing to note for this ultra is the 'minimal' number of water stations/checkpoints. There are only 4 for the 100km and 6 for the 100miler. So do expect a distance of between 20 to 29km between checkpoints! So you need to be very self sufficient, specially with water.
Last year I got caught out from CP1 to CP2 (28 to 52km) where the sun really was blazing hot. Carried only 1.5litre of water which wasn't enough. This year, although being moved from the traditional November (summer) to September (end of winter) I didn't want to take any chances due to the long distances in between. I made sure I have 3 litres of water with me between checkpoints. Which meant that was already a 3kg weight I had.
Coupled by the mandatory items of top and bottom wool thermal wear, reflective safety vest, analogue compass, printed out detailed maps and detailed directions, rainproof/windproof jacket, etc ... the total weight of my backpack came to at least 4kg! And I had to carry that for the total 175km, which is the actual distance.The shortest distance between checkpoints was 22km and the longest was 29km. So all in all, it's quite a self supported ultra.
The 6 checkpoints. There were 2 unmanned water stations which was a blessing to ensure we don't run out of water. Water stations were well stocked and manned. Foods includes water melon, bananas, lollies, chocolates, Hammer gels, biscuits, bread with nutella, boiled potatoes, soup etc. Hydration includes water and Hammer Heed drinks. To me all of which is more than enough. The rest is left to your own self to manage. Suck it up ok.
And of course the volunteers were a gem. Always so helpful and raring to give you that pick me up to continue on. Even the medics were on alert taking in your weight at CP 2, 4 and 6 to ensure your weight do not dip (or increase) within the 5% boundary. If it did, you're courting trouble with your health. Nothing I can fault with the volunteers, medics and even the support team. So very helpful. In fact sometimes too helpful lol. At a few checkpoints, the volunteers insisted in taking my bottles to help me fill up with I was reluctant as I could do that myself. They insisted. And insisted. I relented lol.
The good part is you can have a drop bag at all the 6 checkpoints. I decided to go with a drop bag at CP 2 (50km), 4 (100km) and 6 (150km) only. Generally a change of socks and at the CP4 drop bag a change of fresh clothes. Usual food/hydration supplies in each bag.
Unfortunately, I didn't have a good night's sleep at all. Tossing and turning every hour. I attribute it to the jitters i have with this ultra. You'd think I'd be so used to such ultras now huh? The other thing was my niggling sore throat and flu that came back to haunt me again and again in the past month. DNS was on my mind though. 100 miles is no joke with that bloody sore throat and flu bugging me.
Morning 3am came and the alarm went off. I was groggy but decided to just suck it up and see how what I'd go. Hey! No try won't know ok. Although I am being cautious about my health all the time.
Last selfie of Seow Ping and I at the starting line, waiting for the time to come. We got to the starting point about a 10 mins ride by cab. Got your race kit, and dropped off our drop bags and finishing line bag.
No bibs given, back to old school. Wrist bands for both hands. On my left bib no and name and on my right, my weight taken at various checkpoints. Simple and it works. At each checkpoint your check in time and check out time take by the marshals.
After a simple race briefing by the Race Director, Dave Brynes, we were left off. It was a cooling 20ish degree or slightly less. Not that cold really and once we started moving, it was just lovely weather to run.
The first 6 kilometers were just roads heading up. Above is crossing the railway bridge above to the other side. Reflective jackets are mandatory when you are running on roads no matter what the time of day is. And again mandatory after 5pm till 7am the next morning.
And the the road went upwards. Gradually sloping higher and higher before we reach the trail head detour. I was generally just running at a comfy pace for my engine to warm up.
Off into the start of the trail head. Volunteers and marshals there to ensure we don't get lost. Something to note. This ultra trail has no markers put up. You will need to rely on the detailed maps and directions that you've printed out and follow those little green posts that says 'The Great North Walk'. Yes, there are changes one could have gotten lost. Or like me, get a GPS and load in the gpx file and then follow the bread crumbs!
It was still going up but quite easy terrain to run on. Those eucalyptus trees around were rather soothing to run past. Perhaps a koala or two were on those trees. Didn't have time to spot them though.
More ups running across electrical pylons. Most ultras I've been does run through them somewhat.
And more ups hehe. I think you get the idea here. The only way is ... UP!
Path becomes narrower but quite a joy to run on. Surface is a bit soft so it was kind on the legs too.
There were some parts where we'd get off the trails and back onto roads for a bit before heading back into the adjoining trails.
You'll see a few of these telecom towers typically built on top of peaks. Means ... yeah head up to peaks many times.
I got into CP1 in about 4 hours and 11 minutes which was a comfy pace. Refilled, ate some potatoes and went off. Stayed for about 5 mins max really. Thanks to Seivland Poh for this picture. Ignore that muffin top ya.
From thereon to CP2 I kinda stopped taking pictures. Tiring ok!!! I got into CP2 with a time of 7 hours and 27 mins covering 52.5km. This was with quite a bit of heat but not as bad as the year before. Stayed a bit longer here to hydrate and eat and to cool off. It was already 1+pm when I got here and the sun was still high up.
CP2 to CP3 involved more climbs in the hot sun which many of us took it lighter to ensure we keep things in check overall. There were climbs over closed gates that keeps the livestock in. Also we had to dabble with electric fences lol. Was curious though to throw a stick at it and see if it ... zaps like in the movies. Hmm.... after the climbs, the trails went on a rolling roller coaster up and down trails. Runnable if you are up for it. The day got cooler as the sun began to set. Out came the headlamps and reflective vests too. To CP3 means going back into the denser forest/jungle similar to what we have here in Nuang - from camp lolo to pacat kinda terrain. Can't run much here just have to be careful not to fall down being slippery and all.
Then onward bound to CP4 (103km) with a distance of 29km. Quite a long one and since it was night, I was trying as hard to fight the sleepiness. As I double back from the Basin, I met up with Seow Ping and she was doing well. From the Basin into the dense jungle took quite a while before the last 10km or so opened up to tarmac roads. My left quads gave me issues here. Not sure why and I don't think it was a case of insufficient salts although I made sure I replenish them hourly.
It was tight, and when I ran (or tried to run), it just stiffens up badly and sore. Damn. Tried to stretch it but to no avail. So where I could I walked, and jogged some. I was sleepy now. Every now and then there would be a runner passing you but I hardly cared. Decided to listen to my MP3 and that somehow did work keeping the sleepiness away. Fine. I had to sing out loud sometimes to my favourite tune so excuse the singing ya.
The last 10km road was a bit weird. We passed ranches all around, and could see many homes there. In front of each home they have a weird setup of scarecrows. There's scarecrow statues, props and what not and even signs depicting what that setup was. It was freaky for me cause it was at night and seeing those 'things' in such a mock up made my imagination go a bit haywire! I sometimes though I saw errr ... things that go bump in the night lol.
Still, persistent I was and finally made it to CP4 after 18 hours 26 mins for 103km, woohoo! A far cry better than last year's for 21 hours and 30mins! The same place I DNF-ed last year too. Took a much longer break here. Changed into fresh gear, top and bottom. Had more soup and Sievland Poh was a real darling serving me here yet again!
CP4 to CP5 was about 28km away and another long one. It was again back to more climbs of 350m and a few of them littered along the way. Trails became slightly easier to walk/run if one still have the energy. Didn't see anyone in front or at the back for a long time now and it was a lot of alone time on the trails.Sometimes when you're presented with so much climbs after completing a 100km distance, you just don't want to think anymore but just put one leg in front of the other, and keep on repeating that. The more you think ahead, the more frustrated one can be so keep it to small manageable goals from now on. Keep thinking about the finishing line and how glorious your finishing would be! Ok snap out of it ... focus or else you'd fall off the sides of the cliff!
Finally daybreak came at around 5.30am and I was just happy seeing daylight and the sun slowly peaking out. The last couple of hours were running in some foggy environment which was difficult at times. It got much colder in the last leg and I had a long sleeve Columbia top on top of my compression top. That's all. Didn't require the need of a jacket at all.
Finally I got back onto the road, and after a few more km or turning here and there, I came to CP5, km 132 with a time of 25hours 20mins. It was a smaller checkpoint here. Rested, rehydrated, refilled ... you know the drill by now. Had soup again to warm up the stomach and off I went. It was more roads rolling up and down before heading back into the trail head.
From CP5 to CP6 was essentially downhill so to speak but it wasn't all downhill. Some small bumps here and there and I manage to get my legs running again every now and then. Another 18km before reaching CP6, quite manageable since it was daytime already. The last part before reaching CP6 on the Old Princess highway was incredible. We passed this overhanging road/bridge over the ridge/river above us which span for a 100m or so! Quite awesome really as I was all the way down there by the river. But it's music to my ears when i hear vehicles from afar and I know the checkpoint won't be too far when there's roads involved.
Got into CP6, km 150 with a time of 29 hour and 8 mins. Time for the home stretch of 25km. Umm .. but 25km is still a long way to go with this weary, tired and exhausted body. Did the same drill and had more soup before strutting on for the home run.
The sun was getting hotter. Hotter than the day before. It stings. It does. Luckily there's an unmanned water station 9km away. But to get to that 9km took an eternity. There were few peaks of 200+m here to climb. Steep too. Took everything out of me to make these peaks in the hot blazing sun.
So I had to turn on my turbo mode where I could and tried to run as much where I could to make up time. I somewhat underestimated the timing and I was lucky I made it before the cut off time. That 9km alone took like 2 hours to get to! After refilling water at the unmanned stations, I hurried on for fear of not making the cut off. Even the last 5km wasn't spared of nasty surprises of more steep climbs and downhills! It went on and on and you could see the sea already thinking the end is near.
Nah, more km to be done before finally the last drop onto the beach. You could hear a bell being rung from far away. Customary when the organiser's spots a runner coming down onto the beach for the final 200m run on the beach! And with that gusto of wind, I trudge onto the sandy beach. Never mind it was tougher to run on the sand either cause the end ... is near.
Overall a very good experienced with my 2nd 100miler ultra after UTMF in April. Am happy I've conquered it this time bringing with me more experience and persistence. After all, 35 hours on the roads with just your legs is already a crazy thing to do and no mere mortal would even think of doing it!
Overall well managed and planned ultra. Checkpoints were well stocked and volunteers were more than helpful at all times. Enjoyed the wholesome experience being touted as one of the toughest ultra trail in Australia!
This is ultra no 12 for 2014 and a total of 37. Combined with a total of 48 full marathon, to date I've accomplished a total of 85 marathons. Hope to hit the magical 100 mark by next year!