Glow Worm Trail Marathon


Strava data – course map, elevation profile, splits, etc.

ANU Tri/Friends contingent (Brad Carron-Arthur)

ANU Tri/Friends contingent (Brad Carron-Arthur)

I carpooled up to Newnes for the weekend with a solid Canberra crew – ANU Triathlon club plus one of our local heroes, Rob Walter. We were all pretty stoked for a relaxing weekend away from work/mobile reception/the real world in this beautiful area.

Not a bad place to spend the weekend (Michelle Welch)

Not a bad place to spend the weekend (Michelle Welch)

The marathon course is basically a 20km out and back through Pipeline Pass, followed by a 20km “lollipop” circuit through the glow worm tunnel (same as the half marathon course). I ran the marathon in 2013 (10th place in 4h10m) and have been a vocal advocate of the first half – it’s muddy, steep, rocky and a lot of crazy fun. Whereas I didn’t have such fond memories of the second half – it’s flatter, less technical and provides an opportunity for faster road runners to dominate – i.e. a world of pain! This year I aimed to keep a bit more in the tank so I wouldn’t struggle quite so much on the second half.

6am start crew "warming up" (Brad Carron-Arthur)

6am start crew “warming up” (Brad Carron-Arthur)

In 2014, Sean and Mel implemented an elite wave start, 2 hours before the main wave. Hopefully this would avoid congestion and high-speed head-on collisions coming up and down the menacing Pipeline Pass track. This worked well, however it did mean a 6am start in the dark for anyone who wanted a shot at a podium spot. It turned out to be pretty awesome running under Ay-up floodlights and seeing the sunrise light up the cliffs near the 10km turnaround.

Andy Lee and Mark Green led us up the first major climb and began to descend sensibly. Sensing an opportunity to make up some “bonus time”, Rob Walter and I took the lead and barreled down the hill like crazy orienteering/rogaining people – there was a wee bit of slipping and sliding. Normally I train in thinner, less protective shoes (e.g. Helios, Anakonda), but chose to race in the La Sportiva Bushido – they have a pretty solid rock plate and studs so I was able to pretty much crash my feet down wherever instead of having to pick and choose my foot landings (which is usually a good habit but can cost some speed in a race situation). Rob and I took comfort in the fact that we were only racing 40km, while our mates Paul Cuthbert and John Power were smashing out 12/24hours worth of laps around an athletics track in Sydney.

Brad crossing the river (Michelle Welch)

Brad crossing the river (Michelle Welch)

Crossing the start/finish line at the halfway mark, I had a small gap over Rob, closely followed by Andy and Mark (we could all see each other). This year we had the privilege of crossing the river using the stepping stones instead of having to plunge through a knee deep river like in 2013!

I was a little bit apprehensive about the final 20km that I struggled on last year. We began the gradual douche grade climb towards the glow worm tunnel and Mark cruised past me. It felt like we were both conserving a bit, but he continued to pull away slowly. I just hoped that any time he made on the uphill could be caught up on the downhill return. We were still motivated to keep pushing the pace by the threat of Alex Matthews pulling a Six Foot Track and mowing us down on the second half of the course.

Approaching the tunnel (Aurora Images)

Approaching the tunnel (Aurora Images)

As we turned in towards the gully housing the tunnel, Andy was closing in on me from behind and I could no longer see Mark, which was a bit of a concern. However, I was still feeling ok and whipped out my trusty lightweight torch ready to power walk through the glow worm tunnel. To be honest I didn’t even attempt to appreciate the glow worms. I was just trying to avoid dunking my feet in a puddle or rolling an ankle while I picked a safe line through the tunnel. Should probably go back some time while I’m not racing!

Escaping the tunnel (Brad Carron-Arthur)

Escaping the tunnel (Brad Carron-Arthur)

After the tunnel we’re allowed to run again, and there is a sharp little pinch (I hiked this bit, sorry Titou!) before a steep downhill fire trail for 1-2km heading into the 32km aid station. I hit the downhill aggressively and could see Mark ahead swiping a cup of water from the aid station. There was no longer any sight of Andy or Rob immediately behind.

The final 8km was possibly the most intense racing I have ever done. I was smashing myself on the gentle decline, trying desperately to make contact with Mark. He was always within sight and the gap seemed to be closing at a snail’s pace. I didn’t know if there would be enough distance left to catch him at this rate, or if I could even keep this pace up – I was huffing and puffing like a 5000m race. Every little gully with those tiny sets of stairs was a painful pinch as we tried to hold/take the lead. Thanks to all the people who we passed in the opposite direction for forgiving our lack of friendly greetings and also for the sneaky “hurry up, you can get him!”

With about 3km to go, we were side by side. I really wanted to tuck in behind Mark, but I figured that would be a sign of weakness and reveal how wrecked I was, so I ducked in front and tried to keep pushing the pace. I think Mark must have been hurting as much as I was, because this move opened up a small but stable gap (maybe 50m) that held through to the finish. I was just starting to cramp up and was incredibly grateful to hit the finish line just in time.

Men's marathon podium with Mark Green and Andy Lee (Mountain Sports)

Men’s marathon podium with Mark Green and Andy Lee (Mountain Sports)

Andy followed us in a few mins later, and Rob came in for 4th. It was a mixed bag of results for my ANU Triathlon teammates, with some withdrawals due to sickness and injury, but also some awesome times that were well ahead of goal pace. Pretty sure we’ll all be back next year with more friends!

Chill with Gill at the finish (Jack Chenoweth)

Chill with Gill at the finish (Jack Chenoweth)

My La Sportiva teammate Gill Fowler had a win in the Mystery Mountain Dash on Saturday then backed it up with a marathon win on Sunday. However her greatest achievement was navigating through the 800m pitch black glow worm tunnel without a torch, after her ayups fell out of the bag during the first half!

Thanks to Sean and Mel at Mountain Sports for setting up this event in such a great location and to La Sportiva/Hammer/Camelbak/any other event sponsors.


Official website

Nutrition: 1 gel every 30mins until the tunnel, ~1.5L water, cup of coke at the final aid station


Geoquest Adventure Race


Since Wilson’s Prom I’ve been building towards the Mountain Designs Geoquest Half, a 24hr team adventure race with navigation, mountain biking, kayaking and running. All male or all female teams are allowed to enter but the emphasis is on the premier (mixed) category. A few leadup events included winning the 6hr NSWRA Gibraltar Rocks rogaine with David Baldwin and practicing some night navigation with my teammate Oliver Johns at the ACTRA 5hr Kowen Forest night rogaine. This was Oli’s longest run to date, and here we were a bit scared to see Seb Dunne and co. training for the Geoquest Full (48hr version) by MTBing for a few hours out to Kowen, smashing the rogaine, then MTBing home!

Keith Conley, Tom Brazier, Sarah Buckerfield, Oliver Johns

IB Bandits – Keith Conley, Tom Brazier, Sarah Buckerfield, Oliver Johns

Keith Conley is an AR veteran but the rest of our team were newbies. We had a pretty solid grounding in at least one discipline (Sarah – orienteering, Oli – MTB, me – trail running) but predicted we might struggle with kayaking and transitions. One of our strengths is navigation, with all 4 team members being individually competent.

studying the maps

course release – almost wetting our pants

During the course release on Friday arvo, we almost wet ourselves with excitement at the prospect of the relay orienteering leg, predicting that we could make some big gains against other teams with only 1 or 2 navigators. Soon after that, I nearly wet myself with fear when we heard about a swimming leg – fortunately only 2 members had to complete this and I was spared by my friends.

course overview

course overview

Studying the maps and marking our course went pretty much to plan (with Keith developing a severe stress headache!) and our rough time estimates predicted that we would be racing to finish by sunrise on Sunday! Em and I helped the team to relax by sharing some of our Tinder conversations with the locals. GPS data of our course route.

rough time estimates

rough time estimates

Saturday 08:00-08:53, split rogaine/swim in pairs

map for split leg swim/rogaine

map for split leg swim/rogaine

This leg would spread the field out a bit to avoid the certain chaos of an inexperienced MTB peloton! The key strategic decision was to figure out how to maximise time efficiency using two separate pairs of people to complete the swim and collect a few checkpoints – hopefully with both pairs finishing around the same time. Keith and Oli nailed the swim and checkpoint C while Sarah and I grabbed the others in a clockwise loop (plus shortcut across the creek and barefoot run into transition). We finished just 3 mins after the lads and were first team to complete this leg, woohoo!

08:53-10:54, sandy MTB

small contact patches of tyre surface area made it tough going through the sand for Oli

small contact patches of tyre surface made it tough going through the sand for Oli

The first MTB leg looked straight forward on the map. We were in the lead pack of 3 or 4 teams and shared a bit of drafting on the first section of road. Then we hit the sand and chaos ensued. This was not really a skill that many of us had practiced or mastered. We soon figured out that it helped to just relax into the drifting and just keep spinning an easy gear – if you stopped pedaling you would dig in and fall. Next we experienced a highly unexpected mechanical problem – Keith’s pedal simply fell out of the crank. Upon inspection, the thread inside the crank had almost rubbed flat, so there was barely anything there to screw the pedal back into. We jammed it in as best we could and limped through to the next transition.

10:54-12:41, trek to South West Rocks

Straightforward team trek with a bit of single track, hill climbing, headland views and a few km along the beach to finish.

12:41-13:09, orienteering relay

This was awesome fun. Our whole team can nav confidently, and it was a nice change-up to a more intense tempo. While our teammates did their legs, the wait provided vital preparation time for the next 3 legs without support crew contact – we needed MTBs, head torches/bike lights, running shoes, inflatable pack rafts, paddles, 7hours food/water. This translated to really heavy bags.

13:09-16:04, MTB with 700m pack rafting

inflatables 2

It didn’t look this graceful during the race

The best laid plans didn’t help us on the pack rafting. We used a setup based on the photo above, with the front person using their hands to paddle in a backsculling movement while the forward facing person used a modified kayak stroke. Oli and I were concerned about our bike cleats pinching a hole in the raft so had our feet precariously nestled on each other’s inner thighs – gotta trust your teammates! We could hear a slow leak in our boat so we set off quickly, aiming to reach the other side before too much air spilled out. We were hoping this was an internal leak between the two layers of the boat. Our paddling setup was too speedy for Keith and Sarah, whose bikes were pretty much falling off their boat, so we had to hang on to an oyster pole and wait for them to avoid violating the 100m team separation rule. We bungee corded my PFD to their boat and grunted it out against the wind/current. Our paddling position was limited by the bikes and made for an inefficient, shoulder only paddle stroke – slow going and extreme fatigue in such small muscle groups.

16:04-18:44, Way Way rogaine

We arrived just before sunset in equal 2nd with Keith’s brother’s team – GuRus! Sarah’s nav made short work of the first two checkpoints with a pack of 7 people in tow behind her, then our two teams diverged to collect different 3rd checkpoints. We bumped into fellow Canberrans Bear Hunt, who were only 2 CPs behind us and mowing their way through the field (as per their race strategy).

After a dense bush bash for our 3rd CP, we were coincidentally reunited with GuRus on the way into our 4th and final CP – we just couldn’t get away from each other! Our 2.5hr rogaine effort would turn out to be a significant advantage over the majority of teams and we left Way Way picnic area in equal 1st.

18:44-20:13, MTB hills

Oli’s prowess of riding with no hands while re-folding the map and placing it back in the map board saved us some crucial seconds on this leg. A couple of minor distractions and we were out of the forest and back on the road, getting our pace line on as we headed into Scotts Head.

20:13-21:57, car shuttle

Quick little car shuttle with our awesome support driver Em Cheyne! We were planning to nap in the car but we were ahead of schedule and buzzing so nobody really felt like sleeping. There was panic at the kayak start as we were the first team to arrive and the volunteers were not aware of the location of the paddles that we were supposed to use! A bit of a hunt around and the crisis was averted as we located a trailer containing the stash of paddles.

21:57-00:20, kayak

We rugged up for this leg as it was pretty cold. By this point it seemed a safe bet (barring any disasters) that the race for line honours was between us and GuRus, as we reached the halfway portage point together. We pulled away slightly on the second half but ended up together again at the final transition area.

00:20-02:35, beach trek

dunes satellite

satellite image for final beach trek

A quick change into dry clothes, shot of coffee each and we were on to the final leg. Keith’s ankle had been getting progressively worse all day and at this point any attempt at running 3km on roads sent stabbing pains through his leg. So we walked towards the beach and watched GuRus run ahead. The only CP on this leg was located in a sand bowl (pic above) and we were approaching from the East-West track on the northern edge of the map. We marched through the dunes and overtook GuRus, leading them into the final checkpoint.

finish line with GuRus

finish line with GuRus

Once we crashed through the scrubby dunes, ready for the final 6km beachfront stretch, we had a friendly chat with GuRus and came to a mutual agreement about the finish proceedings. There was a beautiful lightning storm flashing just off the coast as we made our final approach to Hat Head and crossed the line at 2:35am Sunday morning, beating the sunrise by a good few hours! GuRus followed us in 10mins later for 2nd place, and our mates Bear Hunt would also make it in before sunrise for 3rd place in mixed!


Official results

GPS Tracker Replay

Gigantic thank you to our support crew (/photographers/chefs/mechanics/medics/physios/drivers/legends) of Em Cheyne and Geoff Conley. We now realise how intensive support crewing is for an AR, I think it’s a safe bet that their job was much tougher than actually running the race!

The race HQ was in Crescent Head, which was so amazing that Sarah had to take advantage of the surf on Sunday morning, Oli practiced his bike skills and I did some recovery/exploring.

Presentations with world champs and Geo Full winners, Seagate

Presentations with world champs and Geo Full winners, Seagate

All the AR people were super friendly, and seemed excited to have some fresh/young blood  checking out their sport. We also got to meet Seagate (world champions) who won the full race during a Sydney pit stop on their way back to NZ after winning Expedition Africa. These guys are freakishly tough but still basically seem like normal people! Adventure racing seems to involve complex logistics, heaps of organisation and is fairly expensive, but I’ve got to say I’m hooked. Our team is looking at the Wildside AR (5 day race!) near Newcastle in October. Glow worm next weekend!

$400 fine!!!

$400 fine!!!

Public service announcement – on the way home during the Monday public holiday, we were smacked with a $400 fine for obscuring our number plate with our bike rack (despite last minute home made attempt for once-off bike rack use). No demerit points but hefty penalty, watch out!