I left it a little late to build up for this race due to sickness, recovering toes from kicking a tree root and a holiday. All that said, though, I did have a good 4 week block where I could get in some good miles so I decided to go for it and register for the race. I'd either make it through the training or break something. Nothing like 50/50 odds!
I spent the 4 week block training on the course, which was really valuable as the GNW is poorly marked in sections, plus I love exploring new areas so it was totally worth it. Thankfully I made it through the training relatively injury free. I only had a pair of tight soleus muscles that needed a little needling to fix, which was great considering the training load.
The morning of the race I was feeling pretty bloody good but a little nervous as this was my second 100km race. I kept wondering if my first race was just lucky or I do really have the legs for ultra running. Guess I was about to find out!
The gun fired at 6am on Patonga beach and we were off and racing. Running across the sand I was already having a giggle at how tough this would be running back along the beach in the final kilometre. Across the beach I made the climb up the first mountain and onto some fire trails where I settled in to a 5:30 pace and had a chat with a few other runners. Heading for CP1/Girrakool @ 25km, I was feeling in pretty good shape. I hit the checkpoint just over 3hrs which was really good. I was one of the first few runners at the checkpoint so I was thinking I must be somewhere in the top 10. As usual, my awesome support crew, a.k.a. Dad and Mum, were there with everything I needed to resupply and push me out.
The second leg was down the opposite side of Piles Creek and under Mooney Mooney bridge with a long gentle climb up to Reservoir Road. I really like this section of the trail as it's super pretty along the creek and the climb isn't aggressive but it does wear you down as it keeps going for a while. The turn around point was about 14km from CP1 and took about 2hrs.
Making my way back to Girrakool and CP2 I saw Melissa who yelled at me, "you're winning! You're actually in the lead! Run!!". I was a little surprised to hear those words. I thought for sure a few other runners were ahead but apparently it was three 50M runners and the lead 100M runner. I was now about 42km into the race and allegedly in the lead. It was such a weird but great feeling to be in the lead so I thought to myself, I'm just going to keep a solid pace and hold on for as long as I can.
Aside from a little crash along Piles Creek I made it back to CP2/Girrakool @ 54km in one piece, a few minutes under 7hrs. There was a good amount of cheering coming into the checkpoint, which is normal but when I was standing on the weigh-in I heard "here's Jeff Pond, our 100km current leader" I was blown away. I was actually in the lead! Things were now serious that I officially was in the lead so I got out of the weigh-in as quick as I could and headed to my support crew where my awesome friends were also waiting. I wasn't expecting to see them until the finish so it was such a lift to see them at half way. A quick repack and a few photos I was on my way again, still in the lead!
Heading out of CP2 I saw I had around a 5 minute lead on second place. He was close but I had a little room so I just kept pushing. I maintained pretty good speed back though the technical section along Piles Creek before hitting the fire trail to Mount Wondabyne. The rocky fire trail sections were starting to take a toll on my feet. I smashed a rock into the back of my heel and I'm pretty sure it felt like a blood blister but no chance of looking until the finish.
After Mount Wondabyne I made a right down Rocky Ponds fire trail and just kept pushing as hard as I could but these rocky fire trails were hard and slow in my little Vibrams. I knew I had a few kilometres of fire trail before it turned into the goat track from hell for about 7km before CP3. Now, on the goat track, the sun was falling and it did create an awesome view across to the Hawksbury Bridge and Brooklyn. I took just enough time to snap a photo before moving on. The trail through here is also referred to as the "Hobbit Trail" as only a hobbit could move fast along it. Me being over 6' I spent most of the time hunched over trying not to trip over. This was a very tough and slow section so I was happy to make the final descent into Little Wobby and stop at CP3/Rec Centre @ 80km. I hit CP3 at 11hrs 14mins which I was really happy with, however, I was feeling so trashed from a strong pace, trying to keep the lead, and some really technical terrain.
The volunteers at CP3 were incredible. I was offered everything from soup to spaghetti bolognese! I thankfully declined all offerings and asked for my water to be filled as quickly as possible so I could keep moving, which they gracefully did. On my way back out of CP3 I saw the fella trying to chase me down and boy did he look fresh. I puffed myself up and smiled as much as I could to try and portray an image I was feeling way better than I actually was. In any case, I was no further in front now than I was at CP2. My only thought now was throw everything I can at this just hang on!
At the top of the steep climb our of CP3 I saw Melissa again stopped to get her headlamp and hi-vis vest on. I stopped and did the same. She was still surprised to see me in the lead and gave a great word of encouragement. Something along the lines of run!! Don't you dare stop running!! So that's what I did.
Thankfully the way out of the hobbit trail was better than the way in. It was weird running through there in darkness as it's such a dense trail and I got lost a couple times. Now finally out onto the fire trail again I was able to pick up the pace on some of the flatter sections. I was actually moving pretty good considering. Looks like that Pilates work was paying off!
Now with 5km to go I was getting close to the lookout up the top of Patonga. There was a couple headlamps behind me but I was fairly sure they were 50M runners but paranoia was enough to make me keep pushing regardless. I started the final descent to Patonga beach and man my legs were so cooked. I had to step so carefully as everything was trashed and threatening to cramp. When I hit the beach and a few hundred metres to go there were no headlamps behind me and I knew I had the win! The feeling was something I may never experience again so I just ran as fast as I could toward the finish line. I saw my dear friends cheering and their kids ran out to help me across the line where I ended up collapsing, completely exhausted. I did it, I actually held the lead from about 35km to the finish line!
My friends helped me stand up and hobble across to the finisher's area where I sat and drank some cold coke. My body was craving coke so bad, which is funny because I almost never drink it. Roughly 30mins later second place crossed the line. I stood up and gave him a hug and we both had a good laugh about how hard the final 20km was and how fresh we thought each other looked at CP3.
Such an awesome day that I will never forget and such a blessing to have shared it with people I care so deeply about.
Race day stats: