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Friday, December 11, 2009

Challenge 7x7 has entered it's 7th and final month which means on Sunday I am tackling the Kurrawa the D'bah and back 50km run.
I have to admit I am a little scared about this one as I have not been running or riding well lately. Something to do with a serious case of burn-out I suppose.
This will be the 5th consecutive year that I have run the K2D and every year so far I have gone faster than the year before. Given my loss of mojo I have serious doubts about my ability to continue this trend on Sunday. My only chance is to run my smartest 50km ever. The past couple of years I haven't really run this race too smart and have gone out a bit too hard early on. Mind you it's hard not to when Rebekah Keat is beside me, half wheeling me the whole time!
Bek is always into me for not eating enough but that's difficult when she is pushing me so hard. This year she is in Canberra for the Half Ironman so I will run my own pace and have Ben, Gus and The Zebra making sure I get plenty of food along the way. Then if everything goes well, I have worked out that I may just be able to sneak in a fraction faster than last year. Fingers crossed.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Big Ride - Including Rainbow Ride

Having never cycled two days in a row, never cycled this sort of distance, and being NOT particularly good at climbing, my November leg of Challenge 7x7 had quite a few unknowns.

Fortunately Ben was there yet again to to take on this challenge with me. Also thanks to Brendon, James and Phil I had a few familiar faces around me for this epic ride.

Click on the image below to see the map and notes.

The Rainbow Ride section of this was tough for me but very rewarding. I thoroughly recommend it to anyone. I should have known I was in for it just from the ride up to the start line at Byron Lighthouse. I don't think my heart rate has ever before hit 180 bpm just getting to the start line of an event!

As we rolled back into Main Beach on Sunday afternoon, Ben and I both were experiencing serious hunger. So before we went home we rode our bikes straight into one of the local Thai restaurants for a much needed feed. Its amazing how some food, a swim in the pool and a beer can make all the pain go away.

As tough as it was, that was a seriously rewarding challenge. Next up is my Birthday run, the Kurrawa to Duranbah and back 50km run in the heat on December 13th. Would love to see you out on the course somewhere, or better still enter the 25km or 50km event yourself!

Friday, October 16, 2009

2009 Gold Coast Half Ironman – The Hard Way

Challenge 7x7 rolled into October with the 2009 Gold Coast Half Ironman event. A 1.9km swim, 90km cycle and a 21.1km run was the task for the day and plenty of lessons were learned……. the hard way.

This was only my second triathlon ever, the first being the same event last year. When I wrote the story of my 2008 Gold Coast Half Ironman ironically I titled it "Things Can Only Get Better". Well little did I know how very wrong I could be. Clearly I have a lot to learn when it comes to long distance triathlons, actually probably any triathlons for that matter.

I thought I was reasonably well prepared for this one. I had taken it easy in the Byron Marathon and felt quite fresh, certainly better than I had before the Brisbane Marathon anyway. I had even been for 6 or 7 swimming training sessions in the lead up to this and was confident I could smash my swim time from last year. Actually I worked out that in total I should be able to take 15 minutes off my 5hrs 45min time from last year. After all I had done this before so I knew everything there was to know about triathlon right. Wrong.

Heading up to the start line I was so well organized and the fear of death from last year was replaced by full on excitement about the day ahead. The swim, the bike, the run, the distance, none of it scared me; there was no part of me that even considered I may not be able to pull it off.

Bang, off we went, the swim was under way. I had hoped to do the swim in around 42min which was still very slow but would have been a big improvement on last year's 48min saga. My plan was to find some feet and just keep following those as long as I could. No worries I thought, she'll be right mate then something completely unexpected occurred. My chest tightened up, I couldn't breathe, bugger me I was having a full on panic attack! I had to stop and do breaststroke and even then it felt like my heart rate was maxing out. I thought to myself this was going to look really stupid if I dog paddle over to the rocks and get out after only a couple of hundred metres.

So I was left behind but I started to calm down and was able to get back on with the job. Things improved quickly then and I felt like I had reached the turnaround point much easier than last year. I was stoked, this felt great until of course I rounded the buoy and started heading back, INTO the current that had carried me so far. Still, nothing was going to dent my spirits now and I grafted away on a mission back to the harbour.

Even though I was happy with my progress I was still sane enough to realise that more waves of swimmers should have come over the top of me by now. I looked up and there they were a continual line of swimmers about 20m or so off to my right. Yes once again I had decided to swim my own course, otherwise known as off course. I should never bother trying to get back on course as this same thing seems to keep happening anyway. My subconscious was on my side though working to keep my spirits high as around the fourth time I looked up to find the rest of the competitors swimming a completely different course to me, I convinced myself that I was actually on course and everyone else was lost. I don't know where that came from but whatever helps hey.

I didn't feel too good coming out of the swim and as it turned out later, Therese assured me that I didn't look too good coming out of the swim either. That was ok though because now I was on the bike it was time to start reeling some people in.

After only a minute or so on the bike I realised that I had forgotten my Megaburn bar and banana which were supposed to be a major part of my fuel supply for the 90km cycle leg. Feeling bullet-proof at the time, I stupidly opted out of going back to get the goodies and settled on having a breakfast of carbohydrate gels and sports drinks.

The first 60km of the bike went well, I was grinding away nicely and very happy with my progress. However I was rapidly losing my appetite for carbo gels and sugar drinks and I was hanging for something solid to chew on. I managed to force one more gel down before my stomach decided to close its doors completely. From then on sips of sports drink and water were all that I could manage to squeeze through the cracks and even at that my stomach was protesting loudly.

With fading energy and strengthening winds the final 20km on the bike was much slower and I really started to feel weak. I never thought I would say this but I was actually looking forward to getting off my bike!

Back in the cool shade in transition was the food that I had missed so much. The thought of heading back out into the heat for the 21km run leg was a little daunting and in retrospect I wish I had just lay down for a few minutes and taken the time to feed myself well. Rush, rush though for some reason I was in a hurry to get back out there. I managed to force half a banana down and shuffled out of transition a little dazed and weary. After about 500m I realised I had forgotten to attach my all important race bib which gave me visions of being disqualified from a race in which I was coming next to last anyway. There was no turning back though. I kept telling myself that if they tried to DQ me I would refuse to get off the course.

After the first 7km loop I decided to put my mind at ease and head back into transition for my bib. My body was in no condition for scaling fences and my mind was definitely sharp enough for explaining to race officials why I had become so off course. Negotiations over and I was back on course, shuffling along. So far just the thought of eating a carbo gel made me feel sick so I was just chugging along on empty. Cramping up and feeling drained but still with 7km to go I decided that I had to eat something so a gel it was. I didn't like it, but I had to do it and unfortunately within another kilometre I was bent over on the side of the road throwing my heart up.

Strangely enough this series of uncontrollable dry retches was the precursor to my feeling the best I had in the whole run. Knowing that I only had 4 or 5 km to run and that I had no chance of catching any of my mates, I felt more comfortable just cruising to the finish.

I don't know if I finished happy but I certainly was happy to finish. Another challenge done and several more lessons learned. I am happy to admit there is a lot more to these triathlons than just swimming, running and riding. You have to put it all together on the day and there are obviously many mistakes that a novice like me can make. Falling into the traps can make you pay big time and pain will happily become your companion for the day. What I hoped would be a 51/2 hour journey turned into a 6 hour saga leaving me with a feeling of unfinished business. This experience definitely motivates me to do more of these triathlons in a bid to finally get one right. Hopefully I don't have to wait a whole year again for the next one.

Big thanks again of course to the wonderful Fossy. Geordie and Leigh of course were right there to lend their support again and make sure I was rewarded with a beer at the finish. Thanks also to Megaburn for providing me with the Ammo and Bars that help me along.

Next event is a 300km round trip ride which will include the Rainbow Ride. No swimming so bring it on!

Friday, October 2, 2009


Byron Bay put on perfect conditions for the inaugural First Sun Marathon which was the September event for this Challenge 7x7 series. Needing a marathon for September, I thought it was time we organized our own marathon and what better place to do it than Byron Bay. So with the help of my mate and Byron Bay local, JP, the First Sun Marathon was born and we hope it will become an annual event.

Once again Ben volunteered to run this one with me and he also suggested that we cycle to Byron the day before. We had a stiff southerly wind in our face for the 100km ride but this just added to the adventure and I think the ride worked well to loosen me up.

JP mapped out a spectacular course which kept us mostly on the beach and out of the way of traffic. We started just after sunrise at Byron's famous lighthouse and ran down onto Tallow Beach which provided beautiful scenery and a relaxed atmosphere, setting the scene for what has to be one of the most picturesque marathons around.

Ben and I were joined by Therese and our mate Rachael for the first half, while JP and another mate Jo drove ahead to set up our drink stations. Now any race organizers out there wanting some tips on setting up drink stations I suggest you give JP a call as his service was first class. His esky full of chilled goodies was just what we needed on this warm day.

Heading over Broken Head the trees brought some welcome shade from the sun however that hill seemed to be much longer than I remembered so we were pretty glad to get over the top of it. After this it was on to Seven Mile Beach and down to Lennox Surf Club, our turn around point. JP and Jo who planned to run the return leg with us decided to take off early to give us a target to chase down. Therese and Rachael took over the drinks job, while Ben and I set out to reel in the two red Noodle Box singlets up ahead in the distance.

We picked up our pace by a whole minute per kilometer as we aimed to negative split this one in a big way. This meant increased effort of course which was ok along the beach but once we hit Broken Head again the pain really started to kick in. Once again this hill turned out to be longer than I expected but I really wanted to push as hard as I could as I was determined that we would catch JP and Jo by the top. Finally just at the summit we got them but then they took off down the other side to maintain a little lead on us.

Back down to the beach for the final leg back to Byron, eventually we caught JP and Jo. Not for long though as Ben's stomach turned on him and he had to stop for a spew. Nowhere to hide on a sparse open beach, he just had to let it rip in full view of everybody. Trying to chase down those red singlets started to seem like the impossible dream but as we got back to Tallow Beach we had them and they weren't getting away this time.

Cruising towards the finish line in front of Byron Surf Club it became apparent that we were going to be just over a kilometre short of the marathon so we had to add in a second lap around the surf club, back up towards the lighthouse road and then back to the eventual finish line at the surf club. As we crossed the line together, Ben and I were both crowned Byron Bay marathon champions! We received our medals at an official ceremony held at the Beach Hotel where it was announced that we were also First Sun Marathon record holders with a time of 4:05:51.

As it turned out Therese and Rachael were crowned champions of the Byron to Lennox leg of the First Sun Marathon and JP and Jo were crowned champions of the Lennox to Byron leg. Every participant on the day is now the current champion and record holder of their particular event. How's that for customer satisfaction.

Thanks to Megaburn for supplying my Ammo which was the official drink of the First Sun Marathon. Corronas courtesy of Jo and Espresso Martinis courtesy of Rachael were the official post marathon drinks. Big thanks to official organisers JP, BC, Marley and Hayden. Thanks also to our supporters Moni, Marieke, Gareth Jan and Chris.

Next challenge is Gold Coast Half Ironman, a 1.9km swim, 90km cycle and 21.1km run. Bring it on. Don't forget to get to my Everyday Hero pages to donate money to SIDS and Kids and the Garvan Institute

Thanks for your support.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Brisbane Marathon - Legless

Often when I mentioned to people that I was going to do the Brisbane Marathon I was met with negative responses along the lines of "yuk, what a terrible place to do a marathon". I found this surprising as I did the Brisbane Marathon last year and I didn't remember coming away thinking that it was a terrible course, so I thought that I would take note this year.

Despite having completed a tough Half-Ironman Triathlon last weekend, once again our mate Ben volunteered to join me for yet another leg of Challenge 7x7 . On Saturday night we had our own little carbo-loading pasta party and preparation ritual. The smorgasbord of sport on TV made it difficult to get an early night but reluctantly we managed to shut it all down in time to get a decent rest before our 4am departure the next morning.

The plan was to have a crack at going under 3hrs 30min again but deep down I knew this was going to be a difficult task. Having had minimal opportunities to train following the Gold Coast Marathon and Kokoda Challenge in July my legs still felt heavy and weak. On our Saturday morning ride I was faced with the reality that I was nowhere near full strength. Regardless of this I thought there was no harm in giving a sub 3:30 a go anyway, so off we went sitting on about 4 minute 50 seconds per km pace.

Fortunately I never usually have toilet problems in marathons but Brisbane Marathon last year did see me get into trouble early on. Well bugger me, on exactly the same part of the course as last year my stomach started to twist and cramp like crazy. Suddenly there I was, straight back at the scene of last year's disaster, re-living the nightmare. To make matters worse there was not a scrap of toilet paper, just what you need on those explosive toilet stops. I was wishing Brisbane Council had Kenny on the job, I know he would never have allowed that to happen!

Back out on the course again, a couple of minutes down but feeling heaps better. Ben had waited to help get me back up to the 3:30 group, or was it because he was still a little sore after last week's half-ironman. So off we went, making good time again, we caught them somewhere around 15km. Therese was meeting us at different points along the course with re-loads of Ammo to keep us hydrated which we really appreciated as it was quite hot out there and it's always great to see a familiar face along the way.

As we progressed through this first lap I couldn't help but think to myself that this was a beautiful course. Starting and finishing at Southbank, the marathon runs two laps of a course which, apart from a short loop around the Botanical Gardens, pretty much runs along (or over) the Brisbane River the whole way. While there may have been a variety of interesting surfaces, the course was fun, interesting and never boring. The drink stations were another highlight, full of extremely enthusiastic volunteers it was like there was a fancy-dress party going on at all of them. People having a good time along the course really add to the marathon experience for me and there was certainly plenty of this in Brisbane so thanks to everyone out there.

We went through the first half in 1hr 45min and I knew then it was going to be impossible to go under 3:30. Although we were making ok pace I was uncomfortable the whole way, it had been a struggle right from the start. My legs felt empty, there was no bounce in my calves and quads, and I had no power. It was strange because I wasn't struggling with breathing or out of control heart rate. I just couldn't seem to make my legs work hard enough to get my heart rate up.

As my legs weakened, so did my mental ability to push myself. At first we decided we were going for a sub 3:35 time, then sub 3:40 and then I was just thinking to myself "surely this won't blow out to over 4 hours, I hope". I was running way to slow for Ben and he had to take off with about 6km to go. I was trying as hard as I could but my legs were protesting in a big way. I think I was pretty close to experiencing strike action in the 'legs department' and I had no chance of convincing them to work any harder.

The graph below illustrates this well as it shows quite a difference in my heart rate from this Brisbane Marathon (pink line) and the Gold Coast Marathon (blue line) which I ran just 7 weeks earlier. In the Gold Coast Marathon my heart rate was more consistent and steadily rose to sit at around 180bpm for the last 10km. Whereas in Brisbane my heart rate was more erratic for the last 10km I struggled to get it over 160bpm apart from a burst in the last few hundred which I put on in a vain attempt to get myself a decent looking photo!

I finally finished around 3hrs 56min (compared with 3hrs 29min at the Gold Coast) feeling like I definitely deserved that finishers medal this time. Challenge 7x7 is proving to be a very tough assignment and I have to admit I am a little scared of the prospect of running another marathon in 2 weeks time. These marathons hurt like hell and doing them so close together is really pushing my limits. I don't have the luxury of being able to train many hours per week, I get time for my Saturday morning ride and just 1 to 3 short runs per week, and otherwise I work. So to those of you who are reading this blog and appreciate the efforts that I am putting in to support SIDS and Kids and The Garvan Institute, PLEASE, PLEASE help me support them by clicking on the links at the top right of this page and making a donation. Even if it is a couple of dollars these worthy charities deserve all the support we can give. After all, both of them work toward improving life for all of us.

Many thanks to:

  • Therese and Ben for giving me such awesome support throughout Challenge 7x7.
  • Megaburn for keeping me well fuelled.
  • The organizers and volunteers of the Brisbane Marathon. They did a great job in difficult circumstances. I will definitely be back and recommend this as one to tick off your marathon list. Whether you do the full, half or whatever, the finish down Little Stanley St will send shivers up your spine.

Please donate to The Garvan Institute and SIDS and Kids through my Everyday Hero web pages. It is safe and easy to do.

Next Challenge is The First Sun Marathon in Byron Bay on September 12. Don't bother searching online for it, it is being developed by The Zebra and Rhino and is in its infancy. If you want to know any details just email us at . Look forward to seeing you there at the finish!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Kokoda Challenge - Surprise addition to Challenge 7x7

Last Wednesday night, still basking in the glory of my marathon PB, I settled down on the couch to watch the final State of Origin (rugby league) game when I noticed there was a text message on my phone. The message read:

“Hey Mark, I hope you and Therese are well! I was wondering if you are interested in doing the Kokoda Challenge this weekend with a good mate of mine who is down a team member. Let me know if you are interested and I'll give him your details.....”

Isn't it funny how just one message, one decision, one moment can change your life. Kokoda Challenge is a cross-country endurance event where teams of 4 trek through a 96km course of rugged terrain and climbs totaling 5000m. It is something I had wanted to do for years and here was my opportunity. I couldn't believe it, this opportunity pops up bang in the middle of Challenge 7x7, like a little present from the gods of pain and suffering.

For a moment I considered the implications. I felt I had recovered well from the marathon 2 weeks prior. Brisbane Marathon was still 5 weeks away so I wouldn't be jeopardising Challenge 7x7. The 1st Birthday party of Beatrix (our goddaughter) didn't start until lunch time on Sunday so it was possible that, if the team was fast enough, I would still make it to the celebration. So I replied that I was interested and waited for a phone call from the team leader, Simon.

After a few minutes Simon called and told me they were looking at completing the race in under 20 hours. Not only would I make Beatrix's party, but if all went according to plan I would even get a few hours sleep before. Just like that, I was booked in to take on Kokoda Challenge in three days time! Excited, I felt like Charlie having just found my golden ticket to Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory.

Saturday came around quickly and before I knew it I was on the start line, quickly getting to know my team members Simon (team leader), Rod and Justin, as well as Jason who would be our support man for the event. Simon and Rod had completed Kokoda Challenge last year and their experience would would prove to be an invaluable resource that we drew on repeatedly throughout the day. Having not achieved the result they were hoping for last year, the boys were keen to go under 20 hours this year. Although to their credit they did complete last year's Kokoda Challenge as a whole team of 4 which is the ultimate goal of this event and something most teams fail to achieve.

We got off to an excellent start. A good steady jogging pace saw us get in front of the masses and avoid getting caught up at the bottle-necks that can occur in the first half of the course. The plan was to run the flat sections and walk the hills, continually consume fluids and fast energy foods (bananas, carbohydrate gels and energy bars) along the way, and eat something more substantial (e.g. ham sandwiches) at the 5 major checkpoints. We hit our first checkpoint well ahead of schedule and it soon became apparent that Jason was a very good choice for support man. He had us set up like professionals with chairs and our respective gear tubs all set out for us to quickly re-fuel, re-load and get on our way. We planned to minimise time spent at checkpoints and Jason's approach certainly helped us achieve this.

By the time we hit the second major checkpoint, Polly's Kitchen (35km), our spirits were soaring. Having stuck to the plan of running flats and walking hills we felt good physically and were an hour ahead of schedule. Simon and Rod made sure we stayed well hydrated with their regular calls of “DRINKING!” and despite not really having an appetite we managed to keep well nourished with regular bites to eat. Justin kept us entertained with some hilarious one-liners that made me laugh so hard that walking on uneven surfaces became dangerous. Surprise, surprise my good mates, Geordie and Leigh who always seem to pop up in support when I do these crazy things appeared again, out in the middle of nowhere and armed with a bag of Vaseline, chocolates and lollies to keep me going.

Within minutes of setting out from Polly's, there we were, faced with another one of these ridiculous hills. In fact I don't know if they could even be classified as 'hills', the term 'not-quite-a-wall' is probably a more appropriate description. Never the less we eventually summited another not-quite-a-wall and strangely enough I felt like I was getting stronger and stronger with every one of these beasts that we conquered. Anyone who has completed this course will tell you that coming down these hills can be as tough as going up them and it was descending from this summit that our team first ran into strife, big strife. Simon, Rodney and Justin all sustained knee injuries within minutes of each other. From the way that their knees were giving way I had serious concerns but the three of them all remained positive and determined to push on. Each of them was forced to adopt an altered gait pattern which enabled them to manage for the time being. Of course Justin kept coming out with a string of funny comments which helped. I don't think it slowed us down much as we still maintained a good pace as we hobbled into Numinbah Environment Centre for a rushed knee strapping attempt

All day we had done a great job of sticking together as a team. Disappointingly we watched teams all around us disintegrate through lack of team work and inability to accept that you are only as fast as your slowest member. If you are pushing on, way in front of your slowest member, you are not helping them at all. Time is lost and energy is wasted as the person left behind becomes pissed-off that they are not part of the team and you are pissed-off that this person is slowing you down. In actual fact it is YOU who are slowing the team down as you have forgotten that it is NOT about you, it is about the TEAM. I knew this well because I had made this mistake in a similar event a few years prior, during which we had someone pull out half way. It occurred to me afterward that had I acted differently in this situation we may have been able to complete that event as a full team. You learn a great deal about yourself in these events and I was glad to have another opportunity to rectify this mistake. Today the ANZAC spirit was alive and strong in our team and it felt great to be a part of.

Through the half way point we continued to be on good pace, still running the flats and walking the hills. Coming up to 50km we had one more hill to get over before we came down into our next major checkpoint, Numinbah Hall. Until this point I had felt great. Sure I had some soreness in my patella tendons left over from the marathon and the occasional calf cramp going down hill, issues I was used to dealing with. I can't quite remember where, but somewhere in that last few k's down to Numinbah Hall, I really started to feel the pinch. I was feeling cramps up under my ribs and every step suddenly felt much more difficult. Fortunately we were not far from our next opportunity to take a quick break and re-fuel. The boys needed to do a more thorough job of taping their knees also, so we were all looking forward to getting to this stop. The added bonus was that we were still 40 minutes ahead of schedule and would arrive at this checkpoint still with a little daylight left.

Unfortunately for me the trouble didn't stop here though. When we got to this checkpoint our gear was all laid out perfectly again but I just couldn't seem to concentrate. It seemed like such an easy task; feed, re-pack my Camelbak and change into some warmer gear. The problem was I just couldn't seem to function properly, instead of just focusing on one job at a time I seemed to be attempting everything at once. Simon was asking me for advice on how he should tape his knee and I remember at the time just not being able to think clearly. I was fumbling through my box, making a big mess and not achieving anything. All of a sudden the boys were ready to go, whereas I wasn't dressed, my gear was out everywhere and I had only managed to eat 1/3 of what I had intended to eat that stop. I really felt like I needed more time at this checkpoint but there was no way I was going to succumb to that as I felt privileged to be given the opportunity to come on this adventure and there was no way I was going to let my team mates down. Each of us was battling some little trouble anyway, so hopefully I could pull myself together out on the track. Jason and Simon's parents rallied to help me get packed and sent me on my way.

As soon as we started running again I was faced with the realisation that when they named this the Kokoda Challenge, they weren't using the word 'challenge' lightly. The cramps under my ribs returned and I felt terrible. I just kept telling myself to be patient, eventually I will push through this. The next 15km became a painful blur. By the time we hit the climb up Lower Beachmont I was convinced that there was no way I was going to be able to finish this. I was in absolute hell. I was doing it tougher than I had ever done before and I was thinking “even if I make it to the next checkpoint, I still have another 5hrs of this hell to go”. The fact that I was in trouble became obvious and my team mates supported me well through this. They stayed with me, making sure I didn't get too far behind and Justin kept the funny stories coming, the laughter intensified the pain under my ribs but this was small cost for the help that it gave. At one point I just had to stop for a few minutes to get a gel into me and catch my breath as my body and mind were on the verge of complete shutdown. Many times this day and night I spared a thought for the soldiers on the Kokoda Trail and imagined how tough it must have been for them going through all this and so much more while at the same time dodging bullets and living with the very real fear of never making it home alive

The carbs definitely helped and a short time later we discovered that we were much closer to our next major checkpoint than we had thought. Then the major turning point came with good news at Black Shoot, we were still on schedule and were in about 16th place! My eyes lit up, my pain halved and all of a sudden I started to feel stronger. At this point the track seemed to flatten out for a while, giving us all some welcome recovery time. The 'not-quite-a-wall' at 'Cow Pad' was just as tough as the others, but our mindset had improved drastically and it seemed more manageable now. We cruised up to Jason and Carly at the next major checkpoint with renewed confidence, spurred on by the cheers of the welcoming crowd.

I still felt a little clumsy and disorientated at this checkpoint which was probably made worse by the dark and cold of the night. Just doing strange things like replacing my head lamp batteries with the old ones I had just taken out. Consciously I knew I was doing these things but did them anyway, it was a really weird experience that is difficult to explain rationally. Fortunately I was feeling stronger than I had for a while and my head was in a good space so off I charged, ham sandwich in hand

The 2 ambulances that rushed passed us as we headed up to the infamous Hell-Fire Pass were an ominous sign that we still had some seriously challenging moments ahead. For a team with 3 people carrying knee injuries it was the downhill sections that caused us the most trouble. Looking down from the top of this long, steep, slippery section all we could do was laugh. This is where we most needed a video camera as I reckon we must have looked like a bunch of 80 year old cartoon characters, each of us adopting some bizarre strategy of getting down this slope. Every step was excruciatingly painful and the descent seemed to go on forever. Our mood remained good though as we made jokes about how we must have looked. Every time our feet would slide out from under us busts of laughter could be heard followed by calls of "oh great save mate". Despite the pain this was actually a really enjoyable time for our team as we were able to experience this whole part of the course to ourselves, in our own little world for a while.

Of course, when you are out in the mountains, what goes down must go up and soon enough we found ourselves on yet another not-quite-a-wall. By now though we knew the worst was behind us so our spirits were high and it became a matter of powering up to finish strong. We hit the final checkpoint on Beaudesert-Nerang Road full of enthusiasm. My thoughts of not finishing were far behind me now as we constantly discussed what finish time we could achieve and what position we were in. There was no stopping at this last checkpoint, we were on fire. The plan was to grab what we needed to eat and keep on moving, eating on the go. I must have been feeling better as, for the first time in the whole race, I managed to down 2 of my ham sandwiches. Yes, you read that correctly, now I am calling it a 'race'. It was no longer an event, now that I knew we were in good position, my competitive streak came out, the mongrel was back and I WANTED TO RACE!

Not home yet though, it wouldn't be Kokoda Challenge without another couple of those not-quite-walls to get over. Then finally the 10km to the finish was more forgiving and we just had to maintain a fast walking pace to reach our goal of finishing in under 20hrs. I started to feel like I could jog again but with 3 injured knees in the team that was never going to happen. Talk was flowing about what position we could finish and whether we would make our time. My appetite came back sooner than I hoped making me dream of a nice, hot, well filled pizza or hamburger. Oh yeah, I was going to be doing some serious eating the rest of this weekend. I felt like a dog on a leash, just hanging to get to that finish line. As they had the whole way, Simon and Rod did a great job of keeping us all together for this last leg.

In the last 5km 3 teams blew past us and there was just nothing we could do about it. We were over the moon with how things had turned out and nothing could upset us. A full team, loaded with satisfaction and pride, we passed under the big guns that marked the finish line in 19 hours and 57 minutes, achieving our goal of sub 20 hours. Our 16th place finish was just a phenomenal feeling and the icing on the cake of the best event I have ever been a part of. Things didn't always go our way, many times our plans looked like they could be completely derailed, but you have to expect that in this type of event. It boils down to how you, as a team deal with these things that determines your success. Fortunately this time we were able to deal with these moments without compromising our goal.

There is so much to gain from this Kokoda Challenge as it tests you in ways that you could never imagine. In completing this mission your mental and physical barriers will be completely obliterated, then the realisation that you are capable of far more than you previously thought becomes inescapable. Your teamwork abilities will be completely exposed and you will not only learn so much about how to work as a team, but will also discover the awesome power of teamwork in enabling you to achieve things you could never do on your own. There is no way I could have achieved what we did on my own, it would have taken me many more hours to complete this as an individual. I have been a part of teams, successful and unsuccessful, all my life but never before have I experienced the effects of teamwork so profoundly.

I urge everyone to have a go at Kokoda Challenge. I honestly believe the world would be an even better place if we all did something like this from time to time. You don't have to race for a sub 20 hour finish, the challenge has different meaning to different people. I guarantee you stand to gain more from taking part in this one event than you could in years normal living. It will put things into perspective, simplify your life and empower you in so many ways. It is impossible to really understand what I mean here until you actually do something like this, so get off your butt, form your team and start preparing for YOUR Kokoda Challenge.

Many thanks to:

  • Simon, Rodney and Justin. I couldn't have hoped for a better bunch of blokes to have as team mates. Thanks for giving me this opportunity.
  • Jason for absolutely nailing the job of team support. He was there at every checkpoint and had it set up beautifully.
  • Carly and Simon's parents for helping me through my confusion and their middle of the night encouragement.
  • Geordie and Leigh for being some of my best mates in the world.
  • Therese for her tolerance, love and ham sandwiches.
  • Megaburn for their bars and Ammo that kept me going when my stomach was rejecting everything else.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Challenge 3 - Gold Coast Marathon

Challenge 3, the Gold Coast Marathon is complete and this time there were plenty of reasons to celebrate. With so many friends and clients entered it was always going to be an exciting occasion and with perfect weather and thousands of fantastic supporters lining the whole course it turned out to be one of my most enjoyable marathon days ever.

Given the pace I had been running prior to marathon day I expected that I would be looking at time around 3:35:00 but that wasn't going to stop me from having a crack at a sub 3:30. If I could achieve this I would, for the first time, after 10 years and 21 marathons finally beat my time from my first marathon (3:31).

Once again I was joined by my ever reliable mate Ben Steele (one of the best team players you will ever come across) who has been there for every challenge so far. Not realising that the gun had gone we had to make a quick dash to the start and weave through some serious traffic to get contact with the green balloons that represented the sub 3:30 pace group.

We settled in to a comfortable pace however with so many runners on the course it was impossible to maintain a good rhythm. Near 10km in, frustration led me to surge ahead in search of fresh air which caused my heart rate to rise to around 170bpm, but I was much more comfortable with some free space. After losing a minute in the first 5km we were about three minutes ahead of schedule by 21km, so we were making good time and despite my heart rate creeping up around 175bpm I felt pretty good. By the time we hit 30km my heart rate hit 180bpm and now I knew I had a war on my hands, as if I was going to go sub 3:30 I was going to have to maintain this intensity for another 12km. It was also about this time that my stomach started to protest and my apetite for carbo gels and electrolyte drink drastically diminished. I was going to have to force the carbs and fluids in and hope for the best. Doubts started to creep in as I thought to myself "I can't hold 180bpm for 12km on a good day, let alone after just running 30km". I questioned whether it was possible, but I wanted this sub 3:30 like you wouldn't believe and if I could just hang on, it was mine. "Go Rhino" the supporters lining the course were giving continual support all day which helps so much and I was soaking it up every time I heard the call. At 35km I had my last gel and bottle of Ammo, this combination allowed me to maintain such a high intensity so far and I hoped it was enough to get me to the finish in time. "Come on Barrett" I was saying to myself constantly pushing, I was giving it everything I had. I started searching deep, asking myself "how hard could I fight if I was fighting for my life", "how hard does dad (who suffers Parkinson's Disease) have to fight to get through some days.......but he doesn't have a choice.........well neither do I if I want to achieve my goal". With 5km to go a man I met recently, Marc, spotted me and offered me some fuel which typified the great support along the course this year, but I was passed eating, I just needed to finish. One minute Ben was there with me, then he wasn't, then he was, then he wasn't, I'm sure during this he was going through his own battles also. Push push push, every step took all the concentration I had. In the last couple of kilometers the crowd on the road side got thicker and louder. "Come on Rhino, you can still go under 3:30 I heard someone scream, I surged again (later realising this last few hundred metres my heart rate was around 185), I gave it everything and with seconds to spare crossed the finish line in a time of 2:29:49. After 10 years and 21 marathons I have finally beaten the time from my first marathon. Now that, my friends, is an amazing feeling.

Therese took more than 20 minutes off her marathon PB to bring our mate Sam (marathon debut) home in a gutsy 4:17 which I thought was a phenomenal effort. As I mentioned earlier, the icing on the cake for me was the number of friends and clients participating in the different events. So thanks to all of you as you really did make it such a special day.

Thanks also has to go to:
  • Our awesome mate Geordie, who spent the whole day riding around the course getting video footage and carrying any supplies we may have needed.
  • Southport Runners and Walkers Club for being such a warm and friendly crew to go for a run with and putting on an awesome spread on Sunday.
  • Megaburn because their bars and Ammo get me through these things.
  • Bek Keat (and her Saturday bunch) for inspiring me and pushing me beyond my limits.
Next Challenge is Brisbane Marathon. That's if someone doesn't try to throw an extra challenge at me earlier............