The day and the night we didn’t run 100 miles

I was informed I needed to tell the tale of the day and the night we didn’t run 100 miles.

Dave Kennedy organises a few races; the 47km Six Inch Trail Marathon (this year with a half marathon alternative), Lark Hill 50km and 100km Dusk till Dawn trail ultramarathon and the Waterous Trail on Foot 50 mile and 100 mile trail ultramarathon, otherwise known as the WTF50 and WTF100 race. Yes, that acronym works in a number of appropriate ways.

Lark Hill is a short loop course, and as such doesn’t need too many volunteers, but WTF and Six Inch require a number of volunteers to operate. When WTF was an unofficial, unsupported race it actually ran on the Waterous Loop Trail south of Dwellingup near Waroona, but now it is run as an official race it is restricted to a stretch of trail from Jarrahdale to Dwellingup. The 50 milers run a point to point from Jarrahdale to Dwellingup and the 100 milers run an out and back from Dwellingup, to Jarrahdale and return. The 100 milers are allowed pacers for the return journey. One day we may be able to return to the classic WTF course, but the new one does allow for far easier setup of aid stations and controls.

In 2014 Jeremy and I and our friend Colin helped Frank Chauveau, Andrew Shugg and another fellow run the North Dandalup Dam aid station for WTF. The torrential rain earlier in the day meant that the practically endless supply of tea and coffee we had was quite welcome to the returning 100 mile runners. Jeremy had made soup but we experienced a massive container fail which made it inedible, so were restricted to providing countless peanut butter or Vegemite sandwiches, lollies and crisps. After the final runner had left North Dandalup we broke down camp and Jeremy and I went home very early on the Sunday morning, ideas brewing in our heads of how to do it better next year.

Earlier this year Dave contacted us and asked if we would be willing to run the North Dandalup aid station for the 2015 running of the race and we immediately said yes. We put the call out for other parkrunners to come and help on the day. We had a few parkrunners taking part in the 50 mile race and the 100 mile race, so along with parkrunners who would be pacing we had a number of takers.

The weekend before the race I scooted through Coles buying supplies. We’d contemplated getting an inverter installed in the Captiva (we had one in the Camry, it’s good for car rallies too), but Jeremy had calculated the voltage required to power a coffee machine and decided that it wouldn’t work as well as we’d hoped. We had to pick up a few things from the local camping store after parkrun and Jeremy found a propane powered coffee percolator and for half price at that. We picked it up and a kettle to replace our old dodgy billy. At Coles I bought coffee for the percolator, peanut butter, Vegemite, and a few gluten free things because I knew one of the runners was coeliac. Another parkrunner, Cassie was going to bring vegan gluten free pumpkin soup so we didn’t need to make any. Last year we’d noticed a lot of the runners were vegan or avoided food with dairy in it; apparently dairy takes more effort to digest, so vegan soup was the way to go. I’d done what I did in 2014 and bought over seven kilos of Allens race car lollies (they make you go faster) for WTF, the Blerch run as well as all my training for Six Inch and the race but after the physio’s big no regarding running I was determined to unload what was left after Blerch at WTF. Everyone would be offered race car lollies. We also had a bunch of things from our pantry and I’d bought some pears and loaves of bread too. Andrew Shugg knew he wouldn’t be able to come until later in the morning so he’d dropped off 10 kilos of bananas and a kilo of chocolate coated coffee beans to me at work on Friday afternoon.

Jeremy and I rocked up at the dam at 7.58am, with a couple of cars of supporters in the carpark waiting for the first runners. The first group due to arrive would be the thirty four 50 mile runners coming in in dribs and drabs from Jarrahdale towards Dwellingup at their approximate 30 km mark. Once they were all through we would see the first of the fourteen 100 milers heading from Dwellingup towards Jarrahdale at their 55km mark. We would have a break from around 2pm through to about 8pm when the 100 milers would start to arrive at about the 116km mark on their return from Jarrahdale towards Dwellingup and the finish line.

Not long after we arrived we had our two gazebo tents set up. We put the walls up on the newer blue tent, while the already fairly wrecked green tent was parked alongside. I threw all the solar powered lights we had brought with us on top of the Captiva to sit in the sun and charge – we’d gone a bit nuts at Bunnings the night before, having intended on buying a cheap rechargeable light we realised the Christmas decorations were already on sale. Belle Kennedy, Dave’s wife, arrived with the 50 miler drop bags for ours and a few aid stations further up the trail. Belle set off and soon Dave arrived with the 100 miler drop bags, a table, a general supplies box and I’d estimate about 90 litres of water. We marvelled over how little and how much some of the runners had in their drop bags. It ran the gamut of a single ziplock bag containing smaller baggies of Tailwind powder for water bladder refills plus a couple of gel packets, to sizable backpacks containing replacement pairs of shoes, rounds of sandwiches, fruit and nut mix, muesli bars, lollies and bottles of water.

There was a reasonable group of supporters at the aid station when the first 50 mile runner, Nathan Fawkes flew in and out, followed by Roni Kauri a minute later, and Richard Gould a minute after that. Runners came in in small waves, you could see that some were running together, others had been together previously and remained fairly close to one another on the trail. Tracy Hudson helped out while she waited for Scott Bunny, her partner to come in, we asked her to help keep the check in time sheet of the runners as they arrived, and to yell the bib numbers down to where we were so we could have the runner’s drop bag ready for them. We operated swiftly – some runners came in so keyed up and nervous, fumbling with clips and seals on water bladders. We’d gently detach their hydration packs from their hands so we could fill the packs, handing the runner their drop bag supplies to fiddle with instead. Some runners sat down, and tried to concentrate on what they wanted to carry with them to the next aid station, others daren’t sit down for fear of never wanting to stand up again. Andrew Shugg and Alicia Harris arrived armed with further supplies to help out as the day wore on and the heat and sun grew more intense. Instead of just offering it we started insisting that runners apply sun cream, while some were sternly informed that they shouldn’t have that much fluid left in their pack after over 2 hours trail running.

Once we were clear of 50 milers the 100 milers began to come in. Richard Avery was first. Dave Kennedy had answered his telephone just as he got out of the bus at the aid station earlier that morning, so we already knew that Richard and parkrunner Crystal Shiu had accidentally missed the out and back to the Oakley Dam aid station; nicknamed Treasure Island because Ben and Shirley Treasure were running it. That explained part of the 30 minutes he appeared to have on Ben Harris, Alicia’s husband who arrived at North Dandalup in second place. Because of the out and back nature of the course, Richard and Crystal would not be disqualified, but instead would have to run the Oakley Dam out and back twice on their return journey. It’s reportedly a terrible hill in and out of the Oakley Dam, so running that twice when you knew you were only 17 km from the finish line would be particular agony.

Along with runners coming into the aid station we had crew and supporters arriving as well. Chris Neilon and Sarah San were crewing for Ron Mcglinn, and later that evening were going to be pacing for him as well. Frank Chauveau came to visit, as he was going to pace Ron from Del Park Road onwards to the finish. Crew and supporters would pop in, chat waiting for their runner, and then when they’d seen them off they’d head off in their cars to the next aid station.

To our delight, Crystal came into North Dandalup Dam aid station in third position and as first female. Her nutrition strategy was notable – Crystal had found individual meat pies on sale at Coles because of the AFL finals season, so she had cooked them on Friday night, refrigerating them to later load her drop bags. When she left North Dandalup on the way to the Kingsbury Road aid station we rescued the second pie from her drop bag and threw it in the esky we had stuffed with our personal provisions – ultra runners regularly have gut issues after running long distances, and we didn’t want to risk Crystal developing salmonella too.

Alexis Oosterhof came in with Glen Smetherham, then Wayne McMurtrie with Simon Bonnick. Rachel Evans came in two minutes after them as second female, then Ron Mcglinn, then Mick Hearn, Harmony Waite and lastly Nhung Wawatai and Carl Matol. Once Carl had left it was the start of the long break before the return. Andrew, Jeremy, Alicia and I rearranged the contents of the tents, putting things back into the shade, moving the 50 miler supplies completely out of the way, rearranging the 100 miler drop bags ready for the return and stringing the solar powered rope light and lanterns.

At 2.30pm Alicia headed off to meet Ben at the next aid station and Andrew set off back to Perth. I settled in with a book and Jeremy tried to snooze for a bit in the back of the Captiva. After a while Randy van Poecke arrived, he was going to pace Harmony Waite into North Dandalup so he parked his car at the dam and Harmony’s crew Sasha Silk took him to the aid station where his pacing duties would start. Cassie and Connor Hughes arrived with soup and more supplies. We had a four litre thermos pump pot filled with boiling water, and when we made a pot of coffee we’d decant it into a thermos to keep warm. Two people in the end of the fifty miler group had welcomed a cup of tea but we knew the bulk of that business would be at night, so we refilled both thermoses. As the evening wore on more and more people would arrive; Grant Langford and Dan Baldwin turned up, Ben Harris was going to be paced into North Dandalup by Richard Back where Grant would take over and eventually Dan would take over from Grant, taking Ben into Dwellingup. Abdul-Raouf Mohamed-Isa arrived, he was going to pace Harmony after Randy’s stint had finished. Karen Hagen was pacing Rachel Evans the fifty kilometres from North Dandalup to the finish line and Ben Oxwell was doing the same for Alexis Oosterhof. Todd Panietz was dropped off; he was going to be pacing Nhung Wawatai from North Dandalup.

I imagine it’s difficult if you’re pacing – you only wear your running kit because you don’t want to have to leave clothes behind at an aid station, so you have to try and time your arrival at the aid station to not freeze your proverbials off waiting for your runner, but not so late that you get panicked and stressed trying to be ready – you have to be the calm, sensible one in the partnership. The only problem was the wind started picking up at the aid station. Several times the green and blue tents weren’t actually standing on the bitumen carpark of the dam, they were airborne with only the tie down ropes keeping them from sailing away. The blue tent was lashed to the Captiva and to trees, with bundles of 1.5L water bottles standing on ropes where we had nothing to lash them to. The small fold up barbeque was being hugged by pacers patiently waiting for their runners. Worried about that much manmade fabric near white hot coals we started chucking the pacers of runners not expected for a few more hours into random cars to get them out of the wind, promising either to wake them at a specific time or that we’d give them as much warning as we could when their runner arrived.

During the break before the return of the 100 milers we’d worked out the sweet spot for mobile coverage at North Dandalup. The aid station itself was in a blackspot, but if you walked towards Dwellingup at the other end of the dam wall there was coverage and if you walked towards Jarrahdale there was a signpost behind the Armco railing on the road around the side of the dam that roughly marked where coverage started. While it was still light to see we hung a pink glow stick from the signpost so when it was dark we’d know where we had to walk to in order to get a connection, because during the night we’d be keeping an Aid Station Communications Facebook group up to date with arrival times, the state of runners and whether anyone had had to withdraw from the race. In the quiet period before runners started arriving we’d wander up and down the road towards Jarrahdale looking for the telltale glow of headlamps in the distance.

Rachel and Andie Walsh arrived around 8pm with even more supplies – honestly, we had so much food we were hoping for a sudden swarm of teenagers with hollow legs or tapeworm. It turns out ultrarunners eat less than parkrunners. We were advised that Carl Matol had withdrawn, as had Richard Avery, which put Ben Harris in first place. Not long into the night the green gazebo tent was dismantled – the frame was fairly knackered when we started the day, the wind didn’t help it any and had there been a skip bin at the Dam carpark like last year at the end of proceedings it would have been bundled in there instead of back into the car.

The first glow on the road from Jarrahdale appeared and Ben flew towards the aid station with Richard Back. Cassie Hughes had changed into a Spiro the Dragon onesie she’d found on sale – she was probably the warmest dressed person at the aid station. When Ben arrived at North Dandalup he saw Spiro the Dragon ahead in his headlamp light; for a second he thought he was hallucinating. Cassie ran into the aid station with him and Richard, and at Ben’s request used an app on her phone to calculate pace required for certain finish times. After a quick conversation and some refuelling Ben was ushered out again with Grant Langford alongside. It had been so good to see him come in, to see that he was physically fairly OK and his spirits were high.

We had to wait an hour before Alexis Oosterhof came in, with Glen Smetherham eight minutes later. Last year the general plan was to run down towards the runner arriving at the aid station, greet them, find out who it was – all you can see is a glow and perhaps a faint body shape – and then sprint back into the aid station to pick out their drop bag, prepare their drinks order and any food request they had made before they came in themselves. That process seemed to work OK last year, so this year we did it again. We’d brought in Alexis then Glen and then I went back out to the coverage point to report their safe arrival – you’d post an update, but you’d lose coverage before it had completely uploaded. It was two days shy of a full moon, so you could see a fair way down the road without a headlamp, and I was standing by the Armco railing generally swearing at my telephone’s ability to have full service or no service whatsoever with no in between when a flash from the direction of Jarrahdale caught my eye. It wasn’t a headlamp, it was a stripe, like a Zorro sword flash at about chest height. I saw it again, and then I was certain I could pick out the shape of shoulders, steadily moving down the road, so I started running towards it as I switched on my headlamp – it was Wayne McMurtrie in stealth mode, enjoying running in by moonlight. I got his requests and belted back to the aid station, which was about when I remembered agreeing with the physiotherapist about no running for a month. Oh well, in for a penny, in for a pound.

We had another hours wait for Crystal to come in – we’d walk up and down the road, talk with the pacers waiting at the aid station and then head back up the road to wait for the next runner. Once Crystal came in, four minutes later Ron Mcglinn came in too with Chris Neilon. Ron and Chris had been in darkness because Ron had accidentally brought the wrong headlamp and it had died 15 km from the aid station, so to keep it going Sarah swiped the entire supply of AAA batteries we had on hand. Crystal was going through a low patch when she arrived at the aid station; she wasn’t the bubbly Crystal we knew; she was shivering so we threw our massive blanket towel (think Barry White sized cloak made of towelling) around her and fed her. Chris’s pacing stint with Ron had finished at North Dandalup and Sarah was taking over, so Chris immediately said he was going to run alongside Crystal until she got to where her pacer was meeting her at Whitakers Mill. When I’d put a headlamp on earlier that evening I’d picked out my small low powered one because anything more seemed overkill at the aid station, so I still had free my best headlamp. I loaned it to Chris because I knew that he may have to turn around at Whitakers and run back by himself to North Dandalup, and he’d need the brighter light.

Our next customer was Mick Hearn. He was going through an exceedingly low patch, and Cassie was trying to get him to stay a little longer at the aid station so we could look after him while Jeremy asked advice of Rob Donkersloot via the Facebook group. When Jeremy came back with the news that Nhung Wawatai had had to withdraw at Kingsbury, Mick had just left heading to Del Park Road. Todd Panietz was supposed to be pacing Nhung from North Dandalup so we woke him up from the car he’d tucked away in, explained that Nhung had had to withdraw and that we were worried about Mick. We asked whether he would be willing to head up the track and pace Mick until at least Del Park Road and he immediately agreed.

In the meantime Rachel Evans had arrived. I’d run up to greet her, with “We’d like to welcome you to North Dandalup Aid Station, we trust you’ll have a pleasant stay”. She had amazingly high spirits, and was stupendously pleased we had hot coffee and tea, and that the soup was pumpkin. I belted back into the aid station with her drink order and someone sped off to get Karen Hagen out of the car she had been sheltering in. Rachel sat down on a camping chair next to the barbeque and Karen came up to greet her, Rachel practically hugging her own knees exclaiming “I’ve never run so far in my life!” She was absolutely buzzing with happy energy, and Karen soon had her eating soup and drinking and readying herself for the next stage. After Rachel and Karen had left, Rachel’s previous pacer grabbed a coffee before she headed off in her car and said that soup flavour had been a long discussion as they ran; Rachel knew that we had soup at the aid station but not the flavour so they had been discussing the various merits of different soups for quite some distance. Anything to pass the time.

Cassie got a message from Nhung Wawatai trying to find someone who could pick up Natalie Cushion, the pacer who had brought Nhung into Kingsbury. Natalie’s car was back in Jarrahdale but there was a dearth of seats and Natalie was slowly turning blue from cold. Jeremy was free to collect her, except for the fact that the Captiva had the blue tent lashed to it, keeping it grounded. Earlier that evening we’d chucked Abdul-Raouf in the back of the Captiva to have a snooze on the air mattress; we knew that Harmony would be a while, so Jeremy borrowed Abdul’s car. Just before Jeremy disappeared off down the road towards Jarrahdale, he stopped to tell me where he was going. I said to him I was starting to worry about Simon Bonnick – on the last run through he’d come in with Wayne McMurtrie with Rachel Evans just behind, so he was at least two hours behind Wayne and looking to be a fair way behind Rachel. He’s an experienced trail runner, and the only person we know to have run the Six Inch course twice in 24 hours, but we were getting concerned. As I came into the Aid Station I said the same to Cassie and she agreed. We had heard from other runners that he’d stayed at the last aid station for 30 minutes, so we decided that we’d start worrying if we considered him 45 minutes ‘late’, only to look at the check in time sheet and realise that he’d just hit 45 minutes. Around this time Rachel and Andie Walsh headed home.

Jeremy drove into the Kingsbury aid station and pulled up next to Nhung and Natalie, wound down the window and asked “Did anyone call for an Uber?” Nhung was pretty broken up at this point, but even she laughed. Natalie leapt into the car and Jeremy took her to Jarrahdale. The only real issue was that Jeremy didn’t know where the aid station had been located, because by then it had been pulled down, also it was dark and they were coming from a different direction. Once Natalie’s car had been located, Jeremy headed back to North Dandalup.

Cassie was out on the dam road with Sasha Silk, Harmony’s crew. They’d been watching this headlamp move towards the aid station for a while, it was slow going, and we thought it was probably Simon Bonnick. Once he got a bit closer we headed out to see him in. Simon was a bit gutted; physically he knew he couldn’t carry on to the finish – his right calf muscle was in a permanent knot, but mentally he was ready to keep going. He said he would stay for 30 minutes while he decided. We sat him down in the aid station and he ate and drank while Grant Lewis came in seven minutes later and then Harmony arrived with Randy seven minutes after that. Once Harmony had headed into the aid station I reported in her arrival and started retrieving the glow sticks that we’d put out along the road from Jarrahdale.

Once we’d seen Grant and Harmony out off to Del Park Road, Sasha started to pack up Harmony’s gear and Simon asked Randy if he could give him a lift as he was going to withdraw from the race. Jeremy arrived back with Abdul’s car and gave the keys to Sasha to take to Del Park Road for Abdul. We started dismantling the aid station, and all energy disappeared at this point. We were all exhausted, and out of Jeremy, Cassie, Connor and I, 16 year old Connor was the only person suited to being up this late. I suddenly felt like those tired runners looking at their drop bags trying to decide what to carry on the next stage – we looked at the pile of food, supplies, bottles of water and general mess and couldn’t work out where to start. We started picking out Dave’s supplies and packing them away, and then boxing up the drop bags that had not already been collected by supporters.

We wouldn’t have room in the Captiva for Dave’s equipment and our own – it was already a game of Tetris with just our stuff. Jeremy had wandered down the road to the coverage point to ask Dave where he wanted the gear to be stashed, but he hadn’t had a reply. I suggested we bung it all in the disabled toilet – it had a door that properly closed and it wouldn’t take much wind to blow everything all away if it was just left by itself outside.

At 2 am the four of us finished Tetrising our cars, piled in and started driving back to Perth.

We’ll see you at North Dandalup next year.

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