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Wilsons Promontory National Park offers Australia’s most spectacular Ultra ’The ‘Prom 100’ – only to be attempted by experienced trail runners with good navigation skills. Sounds promising (apart from the navigation part), perfect for what we were looking for. We needed a 100km to get Jack a qualifier for the You Yangs 100 miler and this ticked all the right box’s. The run, promoted as a run not a race is all on single tracks, fire trails and beaches. It is a self supported run, one that you are completely responsible for in terms of your own safety, there are no aid stations, no real track markings and no medals. Just a chocolate Freddo Frog when you cross the line!
We booked an Airbnb house supposably five minutes from the gate, Jack and I thought it was great until we realised on our drive towards the race headquarters the day before, that from the gate it was another forty minutes to the start line. Mentally I was already thinking “one less hours sleep”.
Having never been to this area of Victoria before but hearing so much about it, I wasn’t fully prepared for how breathtaking it actually was.
Meeting Paul Ashton The RD, he quite casually asked us wether we had all the required mandatory gear, Jack and I said that we did and he just nodded and said ‘okay’ as he handed us our race bibs. There were no bag checks at the start line, but was there going to be any during the actual race? The mandatory gear was quite an extensive list. I’m guessing everyone or at least the ones that hadn’t run a Running Wild event were probably thinking the same as Jack and I, do we really need all of it? I didn’t want any extra weight , but really a pair of long thermal pants? Depending on tidal movements it may be necessary to wade across creeks…okay maybe I’ll take everything. Don’t won’t a DNF because of a failed gear check.
Jack and I decided to take Paul’s advice and drop a bag of supplies at the Telegraph Track junction. We needed a run to blow out the cobwebs from the big drive and looked at our maps and worked out that it should be around a 4km run to that point and wether we needed the extra food it would be just good to have it there, just in case. We headed out from Telegraph car park down towards the junction (Thank god I took my head torch), it ended up being a 14km return trip but as it turns out a real life saver during the race.
4am start, kettle on toast down. Cereal bowls out on the table with mixed oats and fruit ready to go from the night before. Down our breakfast with a cup of green tea and as always have the last minute scramble. Headphones check, bibs, gels, filled water packs, phones check.
We drive there around 5am heading through Wilsons Prom National Park with a gut full of nervous energy and mentally going through the very loose race plan. First goal was to finish. Second was not to get lost and third was to finish in the top ten.
After a quick briefing we were off. Only after about 500 meters I realised I didn’t need the waterproof jacket and stripped that off as Jack and I very easily ran our first climb up from Tidal River to Saddle Car Park. It was great, the sun was just coming up and we hit our first single track down from the top of the climb, down towards Sealers cove. The environment around as was just mind blowing, sheer cliffs on our right and a vast wave of bushland to our left. We ran on top of the tree line as we descended and then rose up rocky switch backs that seemed like they were just carved out of the side of the mountain by giant winds. A very spectacular setting as the sun was making its way up.
On our way down it was very hard to get a pace on, jumping from rock over tree stumps to uneven wet rubble. Once we hit the bottom it was only then when we hit our first sub 6km along the wooden boardwalk. Early days but I soon realise my unofficial loose finish time might be slightly harder to get now.
We arrive at Sealers Cove and are just spoilt with the vision of perfect white sand, soft rolling waves and a sky streaked with pinks and light blues. We followed another runner to the end of the cove and found a single track that took the line of the coast towards Refuge cove. In my head I was just thinking how lucky we were to be on the right track because it was actually really quite hard to stay on the right tracks. As long as I could hit those course marks and get on the right path I decided it was a real win for me. Having gone off course in a past ultra (Buffalo Stampede 2014) I really didn’t want to get lost or loose time on this one.
From Refuge Bay, which was also just spectacular, we continued on until another small climb were Jack was starting to slightly fall behind. I told him I was going to push on and ill see him soon. I found myself in a good rhythm, hiking the small climbs and cruising down to probably the best beach on course, which was Little Waterloo Bay..wow just amazing. At this point, I slowed down and passed a guy (Matt Yarlett) who had a paper map out trying to find his way out off the beach onto the right segment. I asked him if he knew partly because I couldn’t be bothered pulling my map out of my backpack and secondly not really trusting my poor sense of direction. At this point Jack and another runner (Matt Hosking) had caught up. After a brief discussion we found our way onto the right track towards Telegraph Track junction for our first Hole punch (the only way to loosely track and check in runners at certain checkpoints).
From there Matt and I got into a real steady pace, swapping questions about how we began running, kids etc. Just a great time in the race where I felt strong and was happy how my nutrition and hydration was going. Matt and I headed to the checkpoint that divided roaring Meg and south point. This turned out to be a very important part in the race for certain people. Matt was really low on water but after a brief discussion we decided to push on down to south point instead of going down to the stream and filling up there.
It was at this point were the three leaders past us coming up from the south check point. Matt asked ‘Beardy’ (eventual 2nd placer) who was looking super fresh, about water and he just shook his head saying that it was ‘Pretty slim pickings’ down there. The descent down was enjoyable, a nice single track all the way down to Australia’s most southern point (if your not counting Tasmania which I am certainly am). A great view of the red stained rocks looking over cliffs to the beautiful ocean. I took a chance to drop some hydrolytes into my pocket water bottles and chomped on a hammer bar. Matt was looking a little shabby at this point and spilt quite a bit of his electrolyte’s onto the ground. At this point the other Matt Hosking came running down and the eventual 80km 3rd placer also joined us. Both Matts and I took off together, which I loved and was thankful for to have company that could help. Help with pacing, company but more importantly directions.
I led the new formed team up the decent towards roaring Meg (I kept thinking where the hell is Jack?). From there we all reared left and headed down to the stream to fill up our water, Matt was out and I was super close to having none so it was a welcome sight to see a stream. Matt both let us drink from his water on the way up and without this I could of felt a lot worse. Matt dropped off the pace at that point and for the first time in the race I was alone.
I headed up to the Telegraph junction and literally gave out a big cry of relief as I could see the plastic sealed container Jack and I had left there the night before in the dark! But it had already been opened and food had been taken out. How did Jack get in front? Did I miss him at some point of passing? No something was not right. Later found out that a couple of runners including Jack had gone straight to roaring meg and missed the entire decent down to south point and back. I ate a orange and sucked a gel down and filled my bottles with Gatorade. To be honest without this point of refuelling it would have been quite a different story. I drew a sign with a stick for Matt and left a gel and some orange wrapped in glad wrap for him (later finding out he never saw it and eventually bonked, we saw him as we were driving back to our place still running the course hours later).
From here the third placed 80k runner joined me and together we ran and chatted all the way to the lighthouse, which was spectacular with a cheeky steep sharp climb up. I filled up more water there and continued on solo, hiking the small undulating climbs towards Little Waterloo Bay again. I must say at this point I was mentally trying to accept that the approach of walking some or as it turns out a lot of the course was okay and that I felt good and trusted my training to keep my forward momentum.
I reached the bay via the coast track and walked along just enjoying the moment at this point, the third 80km placer caught me again and I asked him for direction to get back, which he helped me with so I decided to go ahead full with a new confidence of making it back to Tidal river to the 80km point.
As searching for the exit off the beach there were two men and as I approached started clapping and informed me I was in Seventh position, which made me feel great. I knew if I kept going I was going to be top ten so from there I made the conscious decision to up the pace and just enjoy the moment.
I ran towards Telegraph junction again and then headed towards Oberon bay. A vast decollate beach with no one else in sight, I felt pretty good and just concentrated on keeping it together and moving forward. I found my way down to Tidal river back to race head quarters and passed through the start point (80km in).
I went to re-stock my gels and ate some banana and taped one foot up where I was starting to get a blister. It may have been from the wet sea water but most probably making the decision of wearing a brand new pair of Hokas!
Paul the RD asked me if I was done? Thinking I was a 80km runner and I told him no I was a 100km runner. He then told me to “bugger off then” and with a smile on my face I headed towards the 20km loop that will finish off this crazy ultra.
Night was setting and I was quite excited at this point after getting an encouraging phone call from my wife and her sister telling me how proud they were (just such a wonderful boost).
With the head torch on and the headphones in, I made my way up Mt. Bishop (elevation gain at this point was around 3000 meters) so the legs were getting slightly heavy.
I saw some head torches approaching down and low and behold it was Jack! He asked me what had happened and I told him nothing I have ran the whole course and he must of missed a part clearly if he was in front now. With a quick joke we passed each other and I continued on up hoping I could catch them on my way down. There was a glow stick hanging from the tree to signify the top and from there I pushed downward.
At the base of the mountain I got a bit lost not knowing wether to continue up towards Picnic bay via the road or was there a track to lead me there (I had lost my only map on the decent down, must’ve fell out of my bag).
I called a few emergency numbers on my phone and eventually Paul called back and just said to head down to Picnic bay and follow that to the end and if I couldn’t find the trail off the beach then to just sit there and wait, he said there were quite a few runners behind you. I just thought that I didn’t want to be caught by anyone and wanted to get back, so I continued on down the beach as the most wonderful lightning started, flashing across the bay and lighting up the night and the black ocean it sat above. It was such a fitting ending to the most memorable run, after feeling down and lost my body somehow found another gear as I ran up above the beach onto the track that lead me back to the finish line. The big La-sportiva sign and timer were glowing red and just in front of me another runner was there! We crossed the line seconds apart and he mentioned to me if I was the guy on the beach, he must of done the old Scott Jurek and turned his head torch off because I couldn’t see anyone anywhere back then.
Wow what a run, ended up with the time 13hrs 45mins and in seventh position which I was over the moon about. Jack was at the finish line and we both laughed at how he tried to DNF himself and Paul didn’t really give it much air time.
Jack and I both agreed that is was a harder run than the Buffalo stampede ultra but in hindsight I’m not quite sure. They were both extremely different but I would say if you’re after a run that pushes the limits and without any outside help then this is the one. Fuelling was paramount and you really needed to know when and where to stock up and time your eating and drinking. The weather was perfect that day but being slightly warm and overcast I just needed to drink so much water!
Must return to do it again and take less go pro videos and pics and really give it a nudge now that I know the course. Great feeling just to finish and to accomplish another challenging Ultra course.