COAST TO KOSCIUSZKO – 2015
In December 2015, Shmick had two teams entered at the 240km Coast to Kosciuszko run from Eden to the summit of Mt Kosciuszko. Shaun Mulholland was crewed by Mick Thwaites, Shaun Kaesler and Nicole MulHolland while Rob Donkersloot was crewed by Liz Bennett, Alexis Oosterhoff, Simon Bonnick and Bryn Donkersloot. Unfortunately Shaun had to withdraw well into the race at 203km whilst running amongst the leaders suffering from hypothermia. Rob summitted and finished the race in 38:00.
Race Report by Rob
As I stood on the beach at Eden on December 11 2015 waiting for the start of the 240km Coast to Kosciuszko race, I felt so chilled, no anxiety, no worry. My only concern was that I was so chilled, was it a good sign, or a bad sign?
Three months earlier I had started working with Mick Thwaites and Martin Fryer as my new coaches, and their approach had been quite different to what I had been used to. Firstly the program included much more focus on walking, with one or two sessions a week looking purely on improving walking pace. And secondly, there was a lot of work on getting ready mentally for the race that involved nightly meditation, and removing any negatives and stress from my life in the weeks leading up to the race.
Usually I have a crew briefing the night before race start where I run through what I like and what I don’t, what to do when things go wrong etc. This time I had decided to send all of my crew members a briefing document on this two weeks before, so I would not have to revisit the potential negatives again before race day. I was somewhat dubious any of this would make a difference, but as I stood on the beach at the start line, I reflected how this level of calmness I felt could only have been a result of the work I had done on my mental preparation.
As I write this it’s easy to reflect on why my 2015 C2K experience was so much better than 2013. This year I had about the best crew you could hope for: five time C2K crew veteran Liz Bennett, my son and 2013 crewbie Bryn Donkersloot, West Aussie training mates and 100 miler veterans Simon Bonnick and Alexis Oosterhoff, and leading international trail running champ Scotty Hawker. I had joked that having Scotty as part of the crew felt like showing up with Michael Jordan as a ring-in at a local D grade basketball game. Scotty had run his first trail ultra at the Kep Ultra race I organise in Perth, and had gone on to do great things, we have remained friends ever since.
The other thing that made a difference was that I had crewed for Mick Thwaites when he finished third at Coast to Kosci in 2014, and then at Badwater in July. A lot of the organisation and planning things Mick and I had done for those races I was able to implement for this race, those little things worked.
Just before the start I walked over to Shmick team mate and close friend Shaun Mullholland and wished him all the best for his race, Shaun is a lot quicker than I am, and I knew he would be putting it all on the line.
The first section to Towomba at 23km really set the scene for the whole race. I felt great, ran the flats and downs, and walked every hill, passing quite a few whose walking pace wasn’t as quick as what I had developed over the last months. My pace was quicker than planned, but I wasn’t pushing at all, so was fine in arriving at Towomba 20 minutes early of my A goal, which caught the first crew shift of Liz and Bryn a little bit by surprise. I grabbed a gel (one of just two gels I had the whole race), plus my handheld and ran straight through on my way to Rocky Hall, the 50km mark.
51 years earlier my father had taught me as a five year old to play chess. This had an interesting effect on the rest of my life, I tend to think at least five moves ahead. This can be both good and bad, and in ultra running it doesn’t help me remain in a calm reflective state, rather I worry about what is going to happen ahead. On the Monday before the race I had to spoken to coach Martin, and he had told me that whenever negative thoughts came into my head, to look around and immerse myself in the environment I was running through, and to be thankful for the opportunity I was experiencing. I did this a few times on the way to Rocky Hall, marvelling at the rural landscape, bubbling river and gentle hills. Low and behold it worked, bringing me back to the magical present, rather than to the uncertain future. Eight kilometres before Rocky Hall I passed the marathon mark in 4:53.
At the base of Big Jack, a 6km, seriously steep hill come mountain I picked up Bryn for this short section where pacers were allowed. I loved this climb, it just doesn’t get any better than to share this experience of climbing through majestic rain forest with my son.
Once you get to the top of Big Jack, the landscape changes dramatically from rain forest to dry flat farmlands. As well, the weather changed with a very strong head wind that would play a part of the next three or four hours. The worst was the early afternoon run into Cathcart where it was not worth running at all, as pushing into the wind just used too much energy. Luckily I could walk at a decent clip, and the wind really didn’t affect my pace strategy much at all.
The Cathcart store sits on a highway in the middle of no-where at the 70km mark of the race, and Coast to Kosci day is their busiest day of trade for the year. This is where the first crew shift change took place, with Liz and Bryn leaving me to drive to the holiday home in Jindabyne to get some sleep before catching up with me again early the next morning. Not before however giving me a full pit stop service…the chair was out, I was refueled with an ice-cream from the shop while one crew member attended to my feet, and the other applied sunscreen.
The next 37km are run on the Monaro Plains, and it’s one of my favorite parts of the course. A group of five or so runners had formed including myself, Marie Doke, “Blue Dog” Wayne Gregory, Kristy Lovegove and Jason Wheeler. We seemed to piggy back for quite some time, running within 500 metres or so of each other, and after a while Jason and I ran quite a few kilometres together until he stopped for foot surgery performed by race medic Billy Pearce. I really enjoy meeting new people during a race like that, makes the kilometres fly.
Soon I was at the 100km mark and Simon, Alexis and Scotty had setup for a celebration as I went through in 13:01, half an hour inside the Kep Ultra cutoff time, even though my maths on the course at the time wasn’t that strong, and I told the crew I had just missed it.
Not long afterwards I turned onto Snowy River Way and some kilometres later the 8:30pm time came up where a pacer could join me for the rest of the race. The first out of the blocks was Scotty, and we ran together through the evening to Dalgety. We hadn’t chatted for a long time so we had a lot to catchup on, so much so that a crew member from another runner commented we sounded like two drunks walking home from the pub!
The pace was nice and steady, meeting targets and I felt strong, resulting in me not having to go into the Dalgety Hall aid station, rather a quick weigh-in and I just kept moving forwards.
I was still well ahead of schedule, so Bryn and Liz hadn’t yet arrived at Dalgety when we ran through there for the changeover; this happened a few kilometres further down the road, with Liz taking over pacer duties from Scotty.
The hundred mile mark came up and I ran through in 22:22, a hundred miler PB by over two hours. I had my sub 24 hour miler that had alluded me for so long.
The big climb at Beloka came up, and that is one tough hill to get up, especially the first few hundred metres where the camber is about as challenging as the grade. Once we got to the top the sun had started to come up and I was able to start running again, something I hadn’t been able to do past Beloka in 2013 because of blister issues.Next stop was Jindabyne, and here I had requested a bacon and egg roll on the crew sheet. I could tell the way Liz and Bryn were whispering that something wasn’t right, and it wasn’t long before they had to come clean and tell me they couldn’t get a bacon and egg roll at 7:15am. I guess it was my fault, I shouldn’t have been nearly an hour ahead of schedule.
The climb from the 190km point at Thredo River to Perisher is the longest and most relentless in the race. Mick had given me a targeted pace of 9:50 for this section, and I had humored him when I saw it. In 2013 my pace had been 15:39 pace. I still felt remarkably strong walking these hills and managed to finish with an average of 11:00 pace. I chatted to Mick again about it afterwards and he reminded me that others like Jane Trumper had done 9:50 previously, so a fair call I guess. During this section another crew change happened and I was very happy to see my bacon and egg roll (with mandatory tomato sauce) delivered by the guys from Jindabyne. Yum!
I had been wondering at what time I would see my Shmick brother Shaun Mullholland come down from the mountain after what I had hoped had been about a 30 hour finish. I reckoned it would be some time before Perisher, so I was happy to see a car pull up and Mick Thwaites jump out. My joy soon changed to devastation as Mick told me Shaun had pulled out of the race just a little way ahead of where I was, after succumbing to hypothermia near Jindabyne. Looking over at the car I could see Shaun wasn’t well, and I worried about his well-being. Luckily Shaun had made pretty well a full recovery by the next morning.
While the walking was still strong, my quads had decided enough was enough, and from Perisher running became pretty well impossible for the last 30km to the finish.
The section from Charlotte Pass became a bit of a slogfest, with everything hurting, mainly quads and feet, and the longer we went the slower the pace got, but eventually the summit loomed, and the team was able to celebrate that magic moment at the top.
A few kilometres earlier we had passed Coast to Kosci legend Jo Blake as we he went down and I went up. As we started our descent I joked to the crew “lets catch Jo”, which at that time was about as improbable as winning the race.
At the summit, a chilly wind had started to blow and I had become cold very quickly, I donned my snow jacket, snow hat and snow gloves for the descent, and still never truly got warm. It shows you how quickly this hypothermia thing can come on and how careful you need to be.
On the way down I had the ultra runner’s lean on, and was staggering a bit so had Bryn on one side of me, and Simon on the other to push me back into a straight line to stop me falling off the mountain.
The time between kilometre track markers was taking a take a long time, and I wasn’t surprised another race legend Kevin Heaton came past me just before the finish. Would I have taken Jo Blake and Kevin Heaton being the two runners listed ahead of me on the results sheet? Hell yeah!
A little way before the finish we came across a Team Shmick hat lying on the trail by itself, my putty brain was trying to compute this oddity when Mick Thwaites jumped out of hiding. He had come up from Jindabyne to be part of my finish, moon boot and all, terrific! I was able to mount a final little run to the finish line to finish in 38:00:02. Am I concerned about those three seconds that would have got me a sub 38? Not for a moment. I am extremely happy with that result, and hour faster than the race time goal my coaches suggested, and hour slower than my personal A goal.
Sometimes you are lucky enough to have your “perfect race.” Coast to Kosci 2015 was that perfect race.
I owe huge thanks to my crew, my coaches Mick Thwaites & Martin Fryer, my Team Shmick team mates Shaun Kaesler and Shaun Mullholland and to the race organisers Paul and Diane and volunteers. It’s an amazing event every ultra runner should experience at least once in their lifetime. It doesn’t get any better than this.Rob Donkersloot