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Road To OxFam Trailwalker

June 22, 2015
by

Your team has to walk 100 km in a limited time – usually 48 hours – in all weather and across some rough terrain. You must work together to all complete the distance within the time. It’s a true test of teamwork and determination and for those that make it the sense of achievement is immense. Here’s the story of how a Striders team tackled this monster race – and lived to tell the tale.

This journey began October last year when Tony Banfield approached me and asked if I was still interested in doing the Oxfam run in 2015. This was something that was on my bucket list. We recruited Ryan Moore next to join us and after a couple of changes and some time later we recruited our fourth member, Andrew Russell-Clarke (he was a repeat offender of Oxfam runs). We also needed to organise our support crew who would help resupply and give us encouragement at our check points. Beth Lehman, Tanya Wehl, Peter Wilkes put their hands up without hesitation.

Our training began on the trails up around Mount Glorious and Mount Nebo. The training was hard at first as mountain trails are a lot harder to run on than road surfaces, especially with the steep inclines and descents, creek crossings, loose surfaces, uneven ground all while carrying packs with our supplies for training.

Running with Ryan and Tony in the early months you get to know them fairly well. I know not to run behind Tony when he does his angry koala impressions or calls out, “fire in the hole”. I know that Ryan can complete a training run and NOT say at the end of it, “that was fun!” Our weekends consisted of running before the sun was up through to running at night and even into the early hours of the morning. Some runs kept us out on the trails for up to 8 hours. Our training runs also extended out to Bunyaville forest, Jinker Track trails, Clear Mountain and Mount Coottha. Running on trails also has other hazards which can include trips and falls and rolled ankles. You quickly learn to run not looking where you are heading but instead where your foot is next going to land as to avoid loose rocks and sticks which caused me on too many occasions to roll an ankle. By the end of our training Ryan had perfected the ‘tuck and roll’ when falling (because he fell more than anyone else) where Tony still preferred the ‘fall and splat’ method. On another occasion, Tony tried piercing his ear with a thorn from a Waitawhile vine; on the return journey he tried again to inflict injury on himself by getting hooked on the same vine.

Carrying enough water is essential. We found this out on one training outing one summers day (36 degrees), when we ran out of water with 8km still left to go. On another training run, as we were running through the grass, Tony was running beside me and he pointed and called “snake” right where I was about to place my foot. Looking down I could see the jaws of a giant serpent beneath my feet as I leapt like a gazelle and screamed like a girl to get away, only to stop about 20m away and turn to see Tony giggling and saying it was only a tree snake. On another occasion when we were doing a night run in the mountains down to Enoggera reservoir, the spiders must have got word that there were idiot runners on the trail that night and sent out warnings to stop them at all cost. With webs strung out across the trails at head height the whole way – we now had a new hazard to watch out for. I am sure I heard Ryan shriek that night as a large spider landed on his back.

In the later months Andrew joined our team and his dog Wagner who would often accompany us on our runs of 30km or more. I am still trying to work out how Andrew has the ability to run like a giraffe without his feet hardly touching the ground. I am sure he still hasn’t worn out his first pair of running shoes he has ever bought. After 8 months of training and hundreds of hours on the trails we were now ready to conquer the Oxfam 100 in a goal time of 15 hours. In the last few training sessions the challenge was to learn to slow our pace down so we weren’t going to burn out before we finish and if all went to plan we would still achieve our time goal.

RACE DAY!

The day started by meeting at Tony’s place at 3:30am, picking up Ryan and then heading to The Gap to pick up Andrew, registering our team at Bellbird Grove and then being bussed to the start about 40 minutes away at Mount Glorious. The weather was fine and temperatures were going to be perfect for running through the day. We were all packed with gels and electrolytes and other supplements to get us through to our first support crew checkpoint 45 km away. We were also able to pick up some food at other checkpoints if we needed. The adventure began at 7am and we were the first team out heading along the trail. We were passed by another couple of teams but then regained one place and had a back and forth tussle with the other team for the lead. As we were nearing checkpoint 1, someone had switched around the arrow directions of where to go sending ourselves and the other team down the wrong trail for a couple of hundred metres before it was realised we were going the wrong way. After about 10 minutes we got our bearings right and headed towards the checkpoint. We were the first team in and quickly continued on. By the time we reached checkpoint 2 we were in second position. Again we quickly passed through, topped up with water and were on our way.

We headed out towards Lake Manchester which was 45km from the start and this is when fatigue began to set in. It was a welcome sight to see our support crew standing there when we finally arrived at checkpoint 3. We had a short break as we stopped to get our supplies. As we left to continue on we saw the third place team arriving. The next section was a real struggle as not only fatigue started to affect some of us but injuries were starting to creep in which slowed our progress. I was concerned that this would effect our finishing time of 15 hours and not keep us in second position. Determined we pushed on at a slightly slower pace. Gels and other supplements were becoming harder to stomach at this stage but I knew I had to persist on with them; painkillers also became my friend. Checkpoint 4 was almost 62km in, the furthest I have ever run/walk continuously. Knowing we had come this far, nothing was going to stop us from finishing! Pain or not we were determined to get through and still hopefully reach our goal time. As we left the checkpoint to continue we passed the team in third position, who were on their way in and closing on us. The run to checkpoint 5 was mind over matter, just keep going, just keep pushing and keep the negative thoughts out. We arrived in the dark with our headlamps on greeted by our support crew plus Clodagh and her family. A quick restock of supplies and we were on our way again.

With 24km to go, we continued on in the dark down towards Enoggera reservoir and onto Corra-Mulling Park. Again, injury slowed us down a little, but I kept pushing the guys to work through it. The pain would last less than a couple of hours but coming in at 15 hours or better and finishing in second position would be in their minds for a lot longer. At Corra-Mulling Park we were greeted by our support crew and the volunteers of Oxfam. We quickly resupplied ourselves for the last 12.2km to the finish. Tanya now joined us for the last leg as our fifth runner. This year Oxfam introduced a new rule that allows one of the support crew to finish with the team. We needed to push on hard to reach our goal time and we knew team 3 was probably closing in. The pace quickened as we could smell victory. Tanya encouraged the guys to keep moving on through the pain. The last section had some road running in it and some locals had set up a marque on the footpath with a BBQ and ‘finishing ribbon’ going across the road. They offered us a BBQ sausage as we went through, which I graciously accepted as supplements had been my only nutritional source all day – that snag tasted so good! As we crossed the road to enter Mount Cootha we were informed by a traffic volunteer that team 3 was close behind us. This made me panic even more, not wanting to be beaten at the finish line.

As we ascended to the top of the mountain, knowing it was only about 1800m to the finish I knew we would not be beaten. Upon reaching the bottom, we grouped together and crossed the finishing line as a team. We were welcomed by our support crew, families and volunteers. We had beaten our goal time by 18 minutes and finished in second place! We had cold beverages and pizza to celebrate our success.

The day was made successful by a fantastic, determined team and an amazing support crew who gave up their time for our team. Without them there would have been no us. Mission accomplished, tick it off the bucket list! Thanks to everyone that made donations to our team fundraising. Thank you also to everyone who followed us on Facebook and supported us.

Anyone considering doing a 100km event like this, I would say go for it! But first take into consideration if you’re serious about the event; the many hours of training you will need to do for it and how this will effect time you won’t be spending with family and loved ones. If you ask me if I were to do an event like this again, I would say give me a couple of months to think about it first and maybe enjoy some weekend sleep in’s and some of the other things I have missed doing over the last 8 months. I know I will miss some of the early morning runs up in the mountains seeing the sunrise and running through the early morning fog/clouds and am sure before too long I will want to go back to try and capture some of these moments on a leisurely run for a few hours. Anyone want to join me?

Nigel Small

One Comment leave one →
  1. Corne permalink
    June 22, 2015 5:38 pm

    Great read Nigel, thanks for sharing the experience

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