Still, it is a bit chilly. Edging into a patch of sun I glance around at the group clustered on the road behind the start line. This isn’t anything like the chilled-out country race I was expecting. There are no old grizzled bearded blokes in bonds singlets and footy shorts like you’d see at Willy to Billy or King of the Mountain. Everyone here looks like they’ve just stepped out of a Paddy Pallin shopping spree. Brand-new brightly coloured minimalist trail running shoes, expensive hydration packs strapped on tight, and knee-length triathlete-style compression socks. Serious.
Marty Rooke says hi, he’s looking fit. At ease too, this is his local track. I have no idea what’s in store. A few of the other Hurts boys are floating around too, I say g’day to Shane, Chalky, Perso, Glen, Kanser. Dr Skins is standing beside me fiddling with his multiple iphone running apps. The organisers call out for us to grab a partner and start in pairs at 5 second intervals.
It’s a fast start down the road for a couple of hundred metres, then straight onto a bush track that has everyone reduced to a walk. This isn’t so bad. Up to the cliff tops then it’s straight back down through a gnarly, barely discernible trail, winding steeply downhill between roots and rocks with thick vines looping across the track at perfect tripping level. The Palm Jungle. What a shithole.
I’m trying not to die. There’s a hooting and hollering, “Coming past!” Dr Skins behind me responds firmly with, “No. You’re not”. There’s no getting past on this trail without taking everyone over the edge. A minute later there’s some space to pull aside and we let the guy pass. There are three of them and they basically freefall through the forest and are gone in an eyeblink. They’re either amazing trail runners, or utter morons. We don’t see their broken corpses by the trail later on, so I guess it’s the former.
Out of the jungle into beautiful open heathland. Finally we can run! Actually, no. The trail is a 10 centimetre wide gully formed from erosion, crisscrossed with crevices and rocks, all completely invisible with the heathgrass growing over it. Oh boy, this is ankle breaking territory. I slow my pace. Skins goes past and is soon out of sight. I tiptoe along.
On it goes, down to Burning Palms beach and a run over the soft sand. Someone mentioned there’d be a beach on this run. That was pretty short, glad it’s over early. I don’t realise at this point that we’ll be running over another 5 or 6 beaches before we get to the finish… Up and over the huge uneven bush stairs of the next headland, then straight back down the other side.
I count off the beaches and headlands. South Era Beach, North Era Headland, Little Garie Beach, regular sized Garie Beach. Bugger me we’re not even at 10km yet and my legs are already knackered. And I haven’t even had a chance to run!
Aid station at Garie. There’s Dave Kane grabbing a drink. We run together along the sand and I try to match his pace. At some point before this, Glen went past me like I was standing still. Dr Skins is out of sight now. Both Marty and Perso started in front of me so I don’t expect to see them until after the finish line.
Up and over the headland north of Garie, Dave and I follow a line of other boys at a badly marked intersection, all staying right on the cliff edge. Until the trail disappears completely and we’re swaying on the precipice a hundred metres above the Pacific. We all look at each other. Fuck. Nothing to do but backtrack. At least I caught up with Dr Skins.
Back on track. A long section of slightly downhill metal grating along the high plateau. Nice. We’re running freely now, big smiles, 3.30 pace. This is more like it. We start passing the people previously behind us. The ones who didn’t get lost. Dr Skins eases past a girl who does a double-take, “Didn’t you pass me earlier?” Disgusted, he doesn’t reply.
The pace is so high that once we hit actual trail again, I start to lose it. I trip, windmill my arms through the air and recover. Immediately trip again, then a third time in a row. The smell of ozone and blood in my nose. I must look like I’m having some kind of spasm. The guys behind me are laughing. I recover. Then straight away trip a fourth time and go down. Here we go.
Once I’ve pulled my self together, the trial continues to open up and feeling good that at least there’s still a bit of running possible here. Tricky though. Skins goes down, bangs his knee hard. Later on I hear Kanser go down. “You ok?” “Yeah yeah”. Turns out his Garmin took the brunt of that one, smashed to smithereens. He stops to check the damage and I drop him. Drop Dr Skins too, he looks smashed.
At least there’s no more headlands for a while, but this trail just goes on and on. Wattamolla aid station, 16.5km, I grab and try to eat a jelly baby. Spit it out after one chew. Keep running while it’s still runnable.
Back to more cliff tops, back to more beaches. Dr Skins flies past me on a double-caffeine-Gu-chew-induced kick with music pumping on his earphones. Where the hell did he come from? I try to hang on but he loses me.
Between Little Marley and Big Marley some bastards had switched the signage at a T-intersection and the guys in front of me have gone off track. They’re coming out of the bushes as I hit the junction and yell to me that we need to go right. That’s a bonus. I find out later that a lot of the leaders had gone kilometres out of their way. Poor bastards.
The track starts to get runnable again and thankfully my legs are able to open up. Dr Skins’s caffeine-induced frenzy finally takes its toll and I manage to catch him. Dave Kane has recovered from his Garmin-shattering fall and goes around me. He’s clearly happy to be able to run, so I attempt to stick to him.
Final aid station and a sharp right onto a crazy soft sand bush track. Dave and I assume it must only be about 2km to the finish, and it looks runnable, so we go for it. Not much fun through the soft sand, but we manage to hold off the guys right on our heels and put some time into them. Suddenly we’re out onto Jibbon beach and it’s beautiful. Solid hard sand too, and a line of guys in front of us all struggling, so we up the pace and pick them off one by one.
It’s over 29km on my watch so the finish must be at the end of this beach. It’s a 29km race right? We only ran a couple of hundred metres out of our way on that wrong turn, it must be ending right here. Apparently not. Well maybe it’s down the road a little bit? Ok just around this next corner.
There’s a bit of carnage here. Blokes are sprawled over the grass, most of them washing blood off their legs from multiple falls and scratches. Body Mechanic physio Mark Green is grimacing as he ices a nasty swelling on his ankle. He hasn’t had a long run in over a year and he still ran 2.46. Marty strolls over, looking like he’s just had a brisk walk around the block.
Perso is also annoying fresh. Damn, both those guys smashed me by 10 minutes!
No TB or Tucks up front this year, but some solid performances by some of the Hurts boys:
Glen Sauer 10th in 2.43.04
Perso 16th in 2.44.34
Marty Rooke 18th in 2.45.07
Mike Race 35th in 2.54.55
Dave Kane 36th in 2.55.09
Frik Dreyer 46th in 2:59:29 (20min pb)
Dr Skins 49th in 3.00.34
Chalky 68th in 3.06.51
Craig Berger 78th in 3:09:49
Shane 85th in 3.11.33