Trials and tribulations of the KSR trail running team.
4 men + 1 epic race = 4 stories to tell. KSR entered the 2013 Kokoda Challenge with 3 simple goals (in order of importance):
1. Finish as a team as 4
2. Win the race
3. Finish in under 12 hours and 30 minutes
All 3 of these goals were achieved when Caine, Ben, Dan and Dave crossed the finish line in first place after a 12:24:25 journey over 96km with 5000m of vertical gain/loss and 12 creek crossings. In a 2 part series each team member will give their perspective on the amazing day.
In the words of ‘Hannibal’ Smith out of the A-Team – I love it when a plan comes together!
The Kokoda Challenge is a tough 96km team running/walking event in the Gold Coast Hinterland, Queensland, Australia. Climbing and descending 5000 vertical metres, it explores the ranges of steep sided hills that provide a striking backdrop to the sandy beaches the Gold Coast is more famous for.
We started at dawn to a rousing bugle call and minutes silence where I focussed on trying to quieten my mind from the million and one things that had been buzzing around it, and concentrated on bringing my attention to the present moment, feeling my feet on the ground, sensing the strength I had in my legs from many hundreds of hours training, relaxing my breathing, and soaking up the nervous excited atmosphere. Before we knew it chorus of rifle fire signalled the start and we were underway.
My role in the team was as pacesetter for the day, basically ensuring that we ran in such a way that none of the team started suffering too early. I had picked a section of uphill trail after 45km as our focus. I knew that if we could get to this point and still feel strong enough to run this climb then we could finish well. If we got to the same point and one of the team was struggling then the second half of the run would be a suffer-fest and we could easily drop many hours.
Right from the gun we were in the lead and after the first 100m of the first climb we didn’t see any other teams all day. This meant that the race really was ours to lose! We quickly settled into a nice rhythm and constantly checked with each other that the early kilometres were very easy. “How are you feeling?”, “Does everyone feel super-easy?”, “Slow down the pace boys!”, “Is everyone remembering to drink and eat?” were some of the many things we continually fired at each other, making sure we stayed focussed on not going out too hard.
We hit our first crew checkpoint at Polly’s Kitchen feeling good and had a super-slick 2 minute stop. This set the scene for the whole day with our experienced crew making sure we had everything we needed to grab and go and not waste time at the checkpoints.
We made it to our 45km hill all feeling good and agreed that the early pacing had been spot on. We were slightly ahead of our projected 12hr 30min splits at this stage but the pace was good and everyone was running well.
The first signs that the second half of the race would be a battle happened on the long climb up to the ‘Army land’ checkpoint at 60km when Dan started to experience bad cramping in his calves. He was still moving well and had plenty of spring in his step but had to stop quite often to stretch. This could very easily have spelt disaster for the team as every stop was an opportunity to waste valuable seconds. Seconds quickly become minutes and hours in an ultra-event! We dealt with it by carrying on moving at a slower pace every time someone wanted to stop – whether for a stretch, to use the toilet, remove stones from shoe etc. This meant that at no point did the whole team actually stop moving, but that forward progress was always occurring. It also meant that the person who stopped was under no pressure to ‘catch-up’ because the others were actually moving slowly enough to easily catch. This tactic worked a charm and despite Dan’s severe cramping we managed to maintain a good forward momentum. It is testament to Dan’s mental and physical toughness that he was able to continue in this manner right to the finish, with the team hitting its splits all the way to our finish in 12:24. Job done!
As with any event of this magnitude the four of us had an awesome team supporting us the whole way. In no particular order I would like to thank:
Delina and Matt, for their exceptional crewing and for chasing my kids around at the finish, and…
Caroline and Greg, for their awesome crewing, we could not have done it without the four of you.
Caine, Ben and Dan. What a great bunch of blokes. Each of you showed your strength and weren’t afraid to share your weakness on the day. We truly worked together as a team and achieved everything we set out to.
Wayne. Thank you for supporting us in this endeavour, I hope we can continue the partnership in the future.
Max and Sally at Barefootinc for the Inov-8 Trail Roc 245 shoes and Ultraspire Omega hydration pack. All of my gear for the day was faultless and I cannot thank you enough for your support over the years. Check out their site for the best running gear on the planet.
Amanda, Harry and Owen. You are the light, my inspiration. It was great to share the finish with you all.
Mateship, Endurance, Courage and Sacrifice are the 4 core values that bind KSR together and all 4 of these qualities were called upon to get the team across the line of the Kokoda Challenge.
Mateship: One might think that after 12 hours and 24 minutes that 4 blokes would have run out of things to say to each other, but the chatter never ceased throughout the day. Admittedly I occasionally played the role of “fun police” with suggestions that if you are struggling to tell a story in-between panting breaths up a steep climb then perhaps the story could wait until we reached the summit! However, it was that social aspect that made the day all the more rewarding.
Endurance: This one is obvious. Covering 96km on foot with 5000m elevation gain will test the physical endurance of anybody! Really, what’s more important is mental endurance. One moment that exemplified this for me was during the longest climb of the course up into Army land. By this stage the Jim Stillman Cup (an event in which groups of High School students cover the second half of the course) had set off, and so our team was gradually passing the kids up the long steep climb. My hat goes off to all of the student ambitious enough to take on the challenge as I certainly never took on any physical challenges that great when I was that age, but as you would expect, as the climb went on there were more kids starting to grumble and inquiring with wavering enthusiasm as to when summit would be reached. Then up ahead I hear one of the kids excitedly exclaim as they looked at their watch, “Wow, we’ve only been climbing for 30 minutes. That’s not that bad!” and then proceed to pick up their pace a little. Perhaps that kid was fitter than those around them or perhaps not. Regardless I know for sure that it was a similar positive mind frame that was reinforced by my team mates that gave me the mental endurance to stay strong for the entire day.
Courage: No one on our team showed more courage than Dan did. For the last 40km he was battling cramps and would be lucky to make it a few hundred meters before needing to temporarily stretch out a seized up muscle. I distinctly remember that around the 80km mark as we descended a steep section, Dan’s calf suddenly cramped badly, followed by his hamstring, causing him to crash to the ground. Being the closest, Dave attempted to fulfil Dan’s desperate request to stretch out his calf, but in the process of bending over Dave’s hamstrings also began to seize up, requiring Caine to rush to Dan’s aid. As I looked on, knowing full well that we would be seeing our crew within a few kilometres, I could not help but doubt whether Dan would be beside us during the final leg. Clearly I should have never doubted his extreme courage as once we resumed running Dan did not utter a single negative thought and I felt somewhat guilty for doubting him.
Sacrifice: I would like to thank my team mates for the sacrifices they made to make the day run so smoothly. In particular our team captain, Caine, who has poured many hours into forming and organising the team. A massive thank-you goes to our crew, who did a fantastic job out there looking after us and thank-you to all the officials and volunteers who made the event possible. Of course, our race wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Kokoda Spirit trekking company and we might have been running nude without Ron Hill Down Under and Compressport providing fantastic gear for the team to run in! Finally, the support we have received from the wider community has been fantastic and we hope that you continue to follow our journeys!
KSR would also like to thank SOK images for all the images in this post. Any teams that haven’t already should check out their team photos at the SOK images website.