Great Southern Endurance Run – 100 Mile 2019 Report

Great Southern Endurance Run (GSER100) – 100 Mile

  • Location: Harrietville, Victoria, Australia
  • Time: 45:41:12
  • Overall Place: 25/61
  • Full Results

To finish off my first year of ultramarathon running I thought it’d be a good idea to take on one of the worlds toughest 100 milers, the GSER100, let’s just say it probably wasn’t the smartest idea. The GSER100 takes you across the Victorian Alps, up and over some of Victorias highest peaks such as Mount Speculation, Mount St Bernard, Mount Selwyn, The Viking & Mount Despair just to name a few. The course also spans across numerous trails, tracks and roads such as the No Track Trail, Bon Accord Spur and Great Alpine Road. Originally the 2019 version of the course was supposed to take place from Bright to Mount Buller however due to severe snowy conditions the amazing course marking team were unable to safely mark the whole course safely and in time for the event, as a result the course changed to an up and back 173km course from Harrietville to Mount Speculation, and back. Some would argue that although this shortened the course by 10km it actually made it harder due to having to cross the rugged, steep terrain that is, The Viking. As a whole the 100 mile course was a total of 173km long with a total accent of 11,109m and total descent of 10,144m.

To give you a little background on myself in August 2019 the furthest I’d ever ran was 20km. In September 2019 I decided I’d give the Surf Coast Century 100km a go as my first ultramarathon and I managed to finish in 12 hours and 30 minutes, a month later I completed the GOW 100s 100km (although it was changed to 80km due to tides) in 10 hours and 20 minutes and 5 days prior to the GSER100 I competed in the Marysville Marathon Festival 50km which I finished in 5 hours and 20 minutes. So that was 3 prior races but I was hooked, in hindsight entering the GSER100 probably wasn’t the smartest idea with my lack of experience however being young and naive I did anyway. The GSER100 would be my first 100 miler.

Flash forward to Friday the 15th of November, 4:30am and I found myself with my amazing crew (dad and little brother) on the starting line of what would be one of the hardest and best experiences of my life. I had no idea how long the race would take me, I didn’t know if I could run more than 100km, I didn’t know what would happen if I didn’t sleep for a potential of 50+ hours, I didn’t know if my back and shins would last as they’ve been causing me some grief, I didn’t know what would happen to my legs after 11,000+ metres of ascent and 10,000m of descent, I’d never ran in the mountains, all I knew was I had to get to point A to B and back, I had my support crew backing me and life would go on. So 5am hit and off we went, from the start I was having a blast in my own world, going at a pace that felt comfortable to me. Making the way up Bon Accord Spur was a great way to start the race the track was well defined and majority of it was runnable (besides a few of the steeper uphill sections) and once over the ridge the views were amazing and I couldn’t help but take a few photos and back shots of my fellow competitors.

Eventually I made my way off the track and onto The Great Alpine Road, I was happy to get a bit of road running in however after about 10 minutes my persistent runners knee and shins splints started to flare up. I was getting worried, I wasn’t even 20km into the race and they were already starting to become irritated however as another 10 minutes passed I noticed they weren’t getting any worse so I took that as a positive and continued on. After a good stretch of running on The Great Alpine Road which had some awesome views I arrived at the the first aid station, excited to see my crew (family) and resupply on some of my energy bars, there was one problem they weren’t there. Turns out I was going much faster than anticipated. As I said up top I’m a complete newbie when it comes to ultra running and so was my crew. We assumed that I’d be going the estimated “normal” pace and that meant it’d take me around 5 and 1/2 hours to get to the first aid station. Instead it took me somewhere between 3 and 4 and as a result I missed my crew. It didn’t really bother me though, I was making good time, was feeling good (besides the knee and shins) and I made sure I grabbed some extra lollies on the go for the next leg of the race.

The next leg was from Mount Saint Bernard to Selwyn Creek Road and was the first part of the course where you had to look around for the markings, with that being said it wasn’t difficult and I want to congratulate the course marking crew who did a superb job. In my opinion it would be a harder to mark the course than actually running the course! As I ran across The Twins I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face, it was such a beautiful area with stunning views and I was surrounded by excited, positive runners. I had a few chats to different runners throughout this part of the course but their names are escaping me but thank you, all of you made the experience such an enjoyable one, if you could call it that.

After about 2-3 hours I made my way to the second checkpoint at Selwyn Creek Road and I was very happy to see my crew waiting for me, cheering me on as I ran in. It’s such an awesome feeling to see your crew and the amazing aid station staff and medics as you run in. Here I had a bit of a laugh about my crew missing the first checkpoint and restored my food and water stores in my pack. I was also handed an “electrolyte mix” from my little brother which was actually my high stimulant caffeine mix for when I was tired but unknowingly I guzzled down nearly 250mg of caffeine thinking it was a Powerade mix, at least it was refreshing. After about a 10 minute stop I head off, I was way in front of my estimated time, I was faster than the fast estimation that Mountain Sports was predicting for the GSER100 participants. I was stoked, riding a high of endorphins, excitement, positive energy and caffeine! At this point I also ran into Chris, an ultra runner I met whilst doing the Surf Coast Century. Chris is a ripper bloke and awesome ultra runner. We ran together for a good 1-2 hours, this was the 11th ultra Chris ran in 2019, an inspiring effort and it was awesome to hear about his past races and his hope to run Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji. He also developed a 2020 mountain ultra itinerary for me which includes Bogong2Hotham (Jan), Hut2Hut (Feb), Razorback (Mar) and Buffalo Stampede (Apr). Sadly I’ve already booked the Two Bays Trail 56km for January and I’m climbing Aconcagua in February, however Razorback and Buffalo Stampede aren’t off the table. Eventually though I started to slow down and Chris head off, just like the Surf Coast Century, it was great whilst it lasted and Chris ended up running an awesome race finishing before dark on Saturday, so congratulations Chris. Eventually though I made my way to the third aid station, Riley’s Hut. There I was greeted by once again amazing aid station crew, medics and food! I made sure I stayed for a good 10 mins to get down my pre-made almond butter and wholegrain sandwich from my drop bag and ate a few good portions of fruit cake. At this point I was still ahead of the estimated fast time but was starting to feel it so I really wanted to make sure I replenished my energy stores the best I could. Little did I know leaving Riley’s Hut that I was about to run what would be the hardest part of the course, up and around The Viking and Mount Speculation.

This is the part where everything came crashing down, my inexperience with the rugged, technical terrain and my inexperience with navigation really slowed me down. Also my energy levels were constantly declining all whilst climbing up The Viking and throwing myself over fallen down trees. I do want to give another shoutout to Hunter, Hunter was a constant shining light on the course, a funny, friendly, relaxed and experienced bloke. I climbed most of The Viking with Hunter and he kept me going forward when I was really struggling. We had a good chat for at least an hour or so whilst we climbed The Viking, eventually though Hunter head off in front however I would later see his shining ball of light twice, once at the top of Mount Speculation and again back at Rileys Hut as he sat and ate some noodles.

Once on the summit of The Viking I made my way down by myself, this included going down the notorious ladder which was a cool experience. Then the fallen trees came into the picture, the hardest decisions I had to make whilst running the course was to go under, over or around the trees. Most of the time it as over with the glorifying technique of falling on the tree, putting my stomach on the tree and then slowly moving my legs up and over, pretty much like a seal. It was also here where I was passed by the leader of the race on his return, Joseph Dorph, what a legend, he looked strong as he went past, hats off to Joseph coming back to the GSER100 smashing his previous time and taking home the win. Eventually night started to settle in and my headlamp went on, this was also the part were I came pretty close to getting lost. I was only around 5km away from the Mount Speculation aid station but I just seemed to struggle to find the course marking amongst the shrub that was cutting through my shins and lower legs. Luckily after making a few phone calls and having a good look on my navigational watch I made my way back to the track and ran into a fellow runner, thank god. This turned out to be perhaps the best part of the race, this runner, another Tom (a previous GSER100 finisher) would become my nighttime companion. Tom and I made our way all the way to Mount Speculation aid station, to the summit of Mount Speculation, back down to the aid station, we then refuelled and restocked at Mount Speculation aid station. Again I want to give a massive shoutout to the aid station crew, absolutely amazing! The positive energy was contagious, the music pumping, lights shining, abundance of food including toasted cheese sandwiches, donuts, soup and so much more. Seeing their cheery faces whilst they themselves were tired was such a motivating factor, a heaven in hell in the middle the night. So thank you, after at least 20 minutes here Tom and I set off together. In the middle of the night Tom and I were doing well and making good time. As Tom got tired I took the lead and pushed the pace, as the terrain got more technical Tom took the lead and I followed. We chatted throughout the night, ran together, hiked together, climbed together, were patient with each other. I could’ve of asked a better way to get through the night. We worked as a team and got up and over The Viking, there were times when I was slow as my lack of experience with the technical track showed and there was times when Tom was slow as he half dozed off!! Half running, half sleeping, it was inspiring to see him push through the forever calling enemy which was sleep. Eventually the moon went away and the sun began to rise, I couldn’t believe it we made it up Mount Speculation and up and over The Viking, all during the night. We finally decided to part ways as we got to the dirt road around the next aid station which was Riley’s Hut, although throughout the day we’d constantly pass each other until Tom eventually completely took off, never to be seen again.

So I was doing well, I’d definitely lost some time due to getting lost a few times and just being slower on the more technical parts of the track but I was still looking at a potential 6pm finish. However I’d fallen on my hip overnight and it was only getting worse and worse. Luckily at this stage I was still able to run although this would change later on. I reached Riley’s Hut aid station alone, only just separating from Tom however as I ran into the aid station I was greeted by two very friendly faces, Hunter and you guessed it Tom!! It was awesome to see them both, it was amusing to see Hunter with a big smile on his face, sitting down getting down some noodles!! I ran into hunter at the top of Mount Speculation as he was taking a quick nap, he was always bright and cheerful, such a legend. Although the seats were calling me at Rileys Hut aid station I wanted to move on quickly so I grabbed some food from my drop bag and set off, eating whilst walking. At this point I was really hoping to get back before 6pm so I could hopefully get in a good meal and celebrate finishing that night, it was ambitious but possible. My hip though put an end to that plan.

The more I ran throughout the day the worse the hip got, eventually I began to limp, then running began to get really difficult and hiking up hills also became quite difficult but in my mind there was only one way and that was forward. So I staggered back the way I came, mostly by myself, coming across Tom on occasion. Going from Rileys Hut to Selwyn Creek Road aid station was perhaps the hardest part of the course for me mentally, as I became increasingly exhausted, tired and sore I began to realise this may be a late night for me and accepting that I’d be running at night for a second time was mentally draining. I staggered on though, with the thought of seeing my family and crew at Selwyn Creek aid station keeping me alive. Then after hours of struggle I made it to Selwyn Creek aid station and it was a site to be seen. Seeing my brother, my dad and Stuart (my crew members) and hearing their words of encouragement after nearly 24 hours was a huge motivator. It was at this aid station though were my body started to show it was breaking down. I’d been wearing wet socks for pretty much the whole duration of the run, as a result my feet were messed up and blistered. My hip was really getting bad and I couldn’t run for any longer than a couple minutes and I was flat out exhausted. I was scared to sit down because I thought if I did I wouldn’t be able to get up however the medics wanted me to sit down and check out my feet. This was the best thing I could’ve done, the medics did an amazing job of strapping my feet without them I may not have finished. Also sitting down allowed me to gain some energy back. I stuffed down food, pancakes and maple syrup, watermelon and almond butter wholegrain sandwiches although I was never satisfied. I also guzzled down litres of water and “electrolyte” mix which was the famous stimulant powder my awesome little brother mixed up for me, all whilst my feet dried out a little bit. I was also informed I may not be allowed to continue because of my feet which was both terrifying and stirring, it would give me the opportunity to stop without actually pulling out however it would also mean I wouldn’t finish, which in my mind wasn’t an option, not now. Luckily they allowed me to continue.

It was hard to warm back up and get moving again however I managed, although very slowly. My hip was very painful at this stage so I divided a pattern. Run for 20 steps, hike as fast as I could for as long as I could then run 20 steps and repeat. This worked until I got to descending The Twins which was very steep and hard to navigate with a bad hip. I did though, all be it very slowly. Eventually I found myself at the last aid station at Mount Saint Bernard, where I was greeted by my family and amazing aid station crew for the last time. I sat down again and was given some hot potatoes with salt and butter (delicious) whilst the medics checked out my hip. My dad also gave me some Panadol and anti-inflammatories which I asked for, which was a big mistake and a massive no-no, a very dangerous move on my part but I totally forgot about the risks and my dad being new to the sport had no idea of the potential consequence of permanent kidney damage. It is what it is though and after about 15 minutes I set off for the final leg of the race.

I remember this part of the race the most vividly out of the whole 45 hours. I hadn’t slept since starting the race and hallucinations started to become the normal. The painkillers also started to do their thing and I was able to make some good time, hiking at a really fast pace along The Great Alpine Road. I remember the flashing lights on the road turn from people back into flashing lights, I remember constantly hearing people talk behind me only to turn around to find no-one, imaginary cars were parked on the side of the road as if half of the car was dangling off the edge of the cliffs. I also remember starting to get cold, this would be the only time I put on my fleece jacket, the weird part was soon I stopped I was warm but when I went going again I got cold, it was a little concerning. But I moved on, at a good pace too and eventually made my way to The Razorback Ridge, I should also mention I went straight passed it at first as it was dark and I found it a little difficult to see the turn off. Nonetheless I made it to the ridge and this is where things got weird. All of a sudden, almost instantly I had a huge rush of euphoria and my hip pain disappeared, I found myself running as if I was starting the race again, I was killing it. I even starting singing to myself, I don’t remember what but I just felt so good. This lasted all along Razorback ridge and down most of Bon Accord Spur and before I knew it I only had 5km left. It was around here though I was hit by a wall, it started with a hallucination, a man in a puffy red jacket with his arms crossed on the side of the track, I knew it wasn’t real but it was creepy as hell and brought me back to reality. My hip once again became painful and I ran into another problem. Soon as I drank something I had to pee and had no control, I couldn’t hold my bladder. I’d drink then literally 10 seconds later would pee, so I decided to stop drinking. So I had 5km to go, was hallucinating like crazy and my hip was killing me but I could still run a little, so like always that what I did. I ran past tents, bins, camping equipment and imaginary men, I just had to keep going I was nearly done. I was also passed at some point by a fellow female competitor, it was great to see someone who was real even though 10 minutes later I started wondering if she was an hallucination. She was in fact real though and I was nearly done, after what felt like an eternity I found myself on a road, I was off the track, I was nearly done. Not before one more hallucination, as I ran a man in a reflective orange vest was in front of me, I was catching him, I assumed he was leading me to the finish line however he stopped and kneeled like he was a photographer about to take a photo of me, then when I caught him he transformed into glowing neon lights!! It was a crazy experience, I didn’t really care at the time though I was just happy to be on a road. I ran and then ran some more and then I saw it, the finish line. I did it, it was 02:41 in the morning, I’d been running for 45 hours, 41 minutes and 12 seconds but somehow, someone who had never ran in the mountains and who had only been running ultras for 3 months finished one of the hardest 100 milers on the planet.

I want to take this last paragraph to thank everyone, from Sean Greenhill (The Race Director), the aid station and sweeper volunteers, the course markers and the medic staff for putting on an amazing event. Everyone was so positive and helpful and as a runner I felt I could trust each and everyone one of you with my own safety and my gear. It must be such a burden to put on a massive event like the GSER100 but everyone worked together to make the experience a magical one that I will never forget. If I could I would individually thank every single staff and volunteer in person, I was so impressed. I would also like to thank my crew (my dad, little brother and Stuart) you guys were always there for me, doing your best to suit my needs. We were all inexperienced but managed to get through and finish the race, to me this is more of a team event rather than an individual race. I lastly want to mention what happened to me post race, I was hospitalised with rhabdomyolysis (the breakdown of muscle which then heads off into the bloodstream and can cause kidney failure), it was lucky the event had such good medics who advised I go to hospital otherwise I could have had permanent kidney damage. The reason I want to bring this to everyones attention is it’s a bit of a warning message. I believe I got it so badly for a few reasons and I want others to avoid the mistakes I made. Mistake #1 Don’t take anti-inflammatories, Mistake #2 Don’t run another ultra 5 days prior to such as huge event like the GSER100, Mistake #3 Make sure you have properly conditioned your muscles for your upcoming race and #4 Don’t stop drinking fluids. There all pretty obvious but there mistakes I made which I believe contributed to me getting rhabdomyolysis so bad which prevented me from attending the following days presentations and lunch, which I really regret.

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