A Travellerspoint blog

Great Ocean Road Marathon 2014 - a runner's musings!

semi-overcast 21 °C

The Great Ocean Road Marathon : I picked up the pace. I was running backwards along the course, desperately trying to get to the starting line on time after sleeping in. Ahead of me was a line of very serious marathon runners, crouching and holding their stopwatches; behind that were hundreds of others competitors hopping and stretching and adjusting their earphones. Media people focussed large zoom lenses on the starting line. I braced for the sound of the starting gun, and the inevitable headline “local idiot takes out 3 internationals in the first 0.3 seconds of the Great Ocean Road Marathon”


Over the years I have ridden, driven, swum, bushwalked and taken eco-tours along the Great Ocean Road. So when the Great Ocean Road Marathon started up about ten years ago, I couldn’t resist the challenge. Instead of being a flat circuitous urban course, this one went all the way from Lorne to Apollo Bay, along some stunning (and mountainous) terrain. Every year I entered the date of the Great Ocean Road marathon in my calendar. Most years I wouldn’t even get as far as putting on a pair of running shoes. But on my 42nd birthday in late February this year, I decided it was now or never.

My first training run was a half-marathon - I adopted a crash or crash through approach. My theory was given the frailness of my leg joints, and time constraints, I would probably enter the marathon under-prepared. If I could complete a half-marathon on no training at all, then maybe I could complete a marathon after some training. The week after I recovered from the half-marathon I began a regular programme running shorter distances every couple of days. In the end I had three months of preparation (if I include the two weeks I rested after an inevitable calf injury)


I did make it to the starting line, and I took off with the throng. There were plenty of light-framed young and sinewy runners. But there were many others who didn’t fit the marathon stereotype - old and young, male and female, tall and short. There was a diversity of accessories including hats, backpacks, utility belts and earphones. One guy took off in bare feet, (with a pair of runners tied by the shoelaces to his waist).

I felt fairly comfortable in the first 5km, and focussed on trying not to trip over other people. The first drink station, near Cumberland River, was arranged so that runners could snatch a cup of sports drink, scoff it down and deposit the cup in a bin down the road without missing a stride. I chose to stop at every drink station and celebrate the fact that I had survived another 5km. Normally I am famished by mid-morning, but I managed to survive all day on the jelly beans, sports drinks and bananas provided.

As I recommenced a guy pushing his pram hurtled past me. He must have had to start at the back of the field and wait for the crowds to thin out before making his move. I was confident I would make up time on him later when he was changing a nappy, but I never saw him again. The “barefoot runner” overtook me, although I noticed he was now wearing shoes.

Having a crowd surrounding me certainly made it easier to keep going. On my regular, solitary training runs, the brain had constantly played tricks, trying to convince me that I would be better off stopping or going back to bed. On that particular day there were people running with me everywhere I looked; running along the picturesque Great Ocean Road seemed the most natural thing in the world.

After Cumberland River we embarked on the first serious climb. Mt Defiance was aptly named, probably because the war veterans who built the Great Ocean Road had to hack into its near vertical cliffs with their picks. I felt okay on the ascent, but struggled coming back down. My legs thumped and jarred every time they struck the road. Many people around me, shaking their arms and loosening on the downhill but I was worried that if I tried an extravagant movement I would end up sprawled on the bitumen.


The next 5 kilometres to Separation Creek, and the 5 kilometres after that to Kennett River were flat or undulating. The constant pounding on my legs was taking its toll, but I was travelling within myself. Near Kennett River I went through a timing station which said I had completed the half-marathon in under two hours - not much slower than my training runs. I announced to the people around me that we were on target for a four hour marathon, but they laughed at me in a slightly unnerving way.

Beyond Kennett River we tackled the two biggest climbs of the day, including 3 kilometres of road ascending Cape Patton. I found the ups and downs equally unpleasant, but I managed to keep running. At the 30km mark, Cape Patton is the spiritual half-way point of the marathon. It marks the end of the rugged forested cliffs, and the beginning of the rolling cleared hills leading into Apollo Bay. In marathon terms it was the the half way point for effort - the last twelve kilometres are just as hard as the first thirty. For me it was the start of a voyage into the unknown, as I had never previously run further than 26km.


According to a previous participant, the course after Cape Patton was either downhill or flat. That was patently untrue. Never trust the memories of delirious marathon runners. The hills enveloping Smythes and Von Muellers Creek were not of the same order as Mt Defiance or Cape Patton, but they were too much for me. I swapped my hobbling uphill running gait for a steady walk, and probably didn’t lose too much time anyway.

I was now struggling on the hills and on the flat. My legs felt like rocks and were difficult to lift. I was doing a Cliff Young shuffle, but without his pace. The sun came out for the first time, and it was soon annoyingly hot. I alternated between looking down at my feet and peering in the distance for that elusive 35km drinks station which took an eternity to finally appear.

I knew I couldn’t stop at the drinks station for too long, or I would never recommence. There were helpers at two tables yelling out “sports drink!”, “water!” but I couldn’t work out which drink was at which table. I had one drink from each and I couldn’t even taste the difference. I didn’t want to get dehydrated, but if anything I was bloated with liquid.


The turning point came for me at the 37km mark. I had been shuffling along for a while longer, and I actually thought I was getting close to the finish line. Seeing “37km” painted on the road was a reality check for me. But knowing I had exactly 5km to go unlocked something inside me. The weight in my legs lifted, and I managed a fairly fluid jog. I no longer worried about re-injuring my fragile calves - I could limp to the line from here!

I was still running when I reached the 42km “marathon” mark. I was greeted by a strip across the road, and an electronic timing display. Technically the race finished 3km later in Apollo Bay. But clearly for me, and for many others, this was the finish line we had been waiting for. I watched as a line of people up ahead crossed the line and slowed to a walk. I too found it very difficult to keep running, although in the end I decided to get things over with more quickly.

Running a marathon along a car-free and majestic Great Ocean road was an unforgettable experience, but now it was time to rejoin the crowds and civilisation we had left behind in Lorne four and a half hours earlier. Each runner in the raggedy bunch approaching the official Apollo Bay finish line would have had their own story of preparation (probably more rigorous than mine), set-backs, pain barriers surmounted, mind games overcome and overwhelming gratification. We didn’t look impressive, but the crowds cheered enthusiastically. They must must have guessed some our stories too.


Posted by CDMS 04:44 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Geelong - birthday bash and back home!

After 16,000 kilometres, five months and two gas bottle changes, we arrived back home – or very close to home. Our house was still rented out so we backed the caravan into our next door neighbour’s driveway.
The girls had missed family and school friends, but they probably missed next door neighbours Eva and Ruby most of all. Eva was the same age as Skyla, Ruby was the same age as Melody and they were all inseparable when we were home (except for the times they had to be separated). We had tried staying in contact by phone, Skype and email, but none of these were all that effective for the girls so there was huge excitement when the all reunited. Ceridwyn and I were excited to see the parents Joe and Thea but couldn’t quite match the intensity of the children.
We soon got down to business as Thea and Joe had kindly agreed to host Melody’s birthday party the next day. With adults (and a few vaguely helpful children) the preparations went very smoothly. We had plenty of time for chatting and for the first time Ceridwyn got to bed well before 1am on the night before a child’s birthday party.

Unfortunately Melody spent the next few days quite confused. After the emotion of the homecoming on the 22nd , her birthday party on the 23rd, her real birthday on the 24th and then Christmas on the 25th she really didn’t know what day it was. On the 24th we opened a few early Christmas presents and Melody was still waiting for more people to arrive for her party.

The modern trend is to hold children’s birthday at an external venue (indoor playground, Scottish restaurant, water play park, roller rink) and / or spend a lot of money on jumping castles, clowns and costumes. We have remained in the old school of birthday parties at home with traditional games (although have conceded to the modern practice of putting a prize in every layer of the pass the parcel). This time we even bought a piñata rather than spend night after night with balloons, torn up newspaper and murky flour and water. But the same spirit was there, and Ceridwyn was the star, providing storytelling, music and facilitation.

We were back home, surrounded by friends, laughter and a garden that was a lot nicer than ours. We certainly hope that for the girls the trip has made lasting impressions, has opened their eyes to other ways of living, to the vast open spaces in central Australia, the crowded communal chaotic way of life in Bali and much more. We will watch and wait with interest in the coming months as they incorporate fragments and memories of faraway places into their regular life in Geelong.

There wasn't time to reflect on our journey properly, as we still had to return to Melbourne for Christmas (and Skyla's waitressing gig), and organise somewhere to stay for a month until the six month lease of our house expired. But that is a story for another day...


Posted by CDMS 14:13 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Melbourne to Brisbane Ranges

We were due to leave my parents’ on Tuesday, and this was also the day my parents looked after Henry. While we were packing the girls kept Henry highly amused, and for the first time ever Henry refused to go down for his lunchtime nap. We all hopped in the car to show Henry we were leaving, and hoped that might help. The car didn’t start once more and we all hopped out again.

We spent the next evening at Boar Gully Campground in the Brisbane Ranges National Park. The forest always comes alive just after rain – the plants glistened, the smell of eucalyptus was in the air, and bird calls rang out through the clear air. We were impressed with the campground and surrounds, particularly as they were close to our home. The sites were numbered and we noted down two that would work well together for a group gathering (3 and 4)


Wednesday dawned crisp and clear, and it was hard to leave the forest. But there was a birthday party to prepare for, and we needed to complete the last leg of our journey …

Posted by CDMS 14:06 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

Reunions in Melbourne

We reached Melbourne in time for two social engagements on the weekend before Christmas. First we pulled up in the caravan outside my parents’ house, and the girls sprinted down the driveway yelling “Grandma! Papa!” There were hugs all around and we talked about caravans and camping and contraband coffee as the girls tried to sit on laps and jump around at the same time. My parents were due to host the family Christmas, and Skyla was appointed the waitress so she began drawing up a menu list and asking about guests.
The next day we were reunited with my brother Tim, his wife Brigid and their son Henry before they left for Christmas in Brisbane. Once again we all hugged and called out and babbled about bits of our trip. It was great to see everyone, but we couldn’t leave the present opening ceremony too long.

Papa spent most of his afternoon undoing clips from Henry’s presents

Papa spent most of his afternoon undoing clips from Henry’s presents

Reading corner with the cousins

Reading corner with the cousins

Story time with papa will never be the same now that he has his iPad

Story time with papa will never be the same now that he has his iPad

After a barbecue lunch, catching up with my brother’s family in Canada on Skype, and seeing Aunts Gabrielle and Mare in person we set off in the afternoon to my yearly Christmas dinner with old uni friends. Or we would have set off, except that for the first time in the entire journey, the car wouldn’t start. Luckily we had a replacement car (mum and dad’s!)

Our yearly catchups with friends from university used to be sedate affairs, but now they are raucous gatherings with hordes of children running in every direction. Few of us are game to host the catchups any more due to the space required, and this time the dreaded event occurred – it rained constantly. Jo and Corey did a fantastic job of hosting and finding indoor spaces for us all. When Jerome and Kayla and Joel arrived from Albury we had almost a full set of the original friends that had come together twenty years earlier!


Posted by CDMS 14:05 Comments (0)

Albury to Warby-Ovens National Park

We had only stayed at Lake Hume for three nights, but the caravan seemed to be in disarray. By the time we packed up and bought supplies at Thurgoona it was after lunch. We were looking to stay in a bush setting somewhere close to the Hume Highway between Albury and Melbourne, and picked out the Warby Ranges near Wangarratta. We carefully drove down the highway with locusts slamming into the car from almost every direction. We possibly should have stopped, or put a grille on the car, but none of us wanted to open the door.
The car nearly overheated getting to the top of the Warby Ranges for the first camping ground, which was closed due to wet weather. The second camping ground, simply labelled “The Camp”, was a great spot, in perfect condition – possibly because the turnoff was almost impossible to find.
We were in the Killawarra Forest, now part of the Warby-Ovens National Park. The forest was red ironbark and grey box, of a type which once extended through much of inland Victoria, New South Wales and southern Queensland. Unfortunately box ironbark forest was always the first cleared, as it was valuable for faming. Box-ironbark forests aren’t as spectacular as mountain forests or rainforest, and it is only very recently that the few remaining patches have been incorporated into National Parks.
This particular forest was hardly “wilderness” (if such a term exists in a country that has been inhabited for tens of thousands of years). During the depression in the 1930s unemployed men were employed to build roads and cut timber for railways sleepers and fencing in the Killawarra forest. During World War II camps housed up to 40 Italian “aliens” who cut wood for charcoal and firewood. After the war the land was used for post and pole cutting, firewood collection and grazing. Most of the trees are young regrowth, but the understorey abounds with plants and wildlife.
We shared the campsite with another couple who weren't the average retired grey nomads. They had an offroad caravan, and spent a lot of time in beautiful places off the beaten track. They had enough solar panels (and a generator) to be self-sufficient in power, and rarely stayed at the regular tourist venues.They had been moving around the mountainous north-east of Victoria, where they had seen a lot of wild and gushing rivers. They had shifted from the high country for a few days because locals had predicted a cold snap, heavy rain and snow. That seemed unlikely to me as I blinked in the bright sunshine, but I did say that we had brought rain to every place on the east coast of Australia we had visited.

In the morning we went for a nature walk, before a cold wind sprang up and the rain came down in buckets. We packed up the caravan in the rain, which is a lot easier than packing up a tent in the rain. Heavy rain continued and visibility was poor on the drive to Melbourne, although at least we didn’t have to worry about locusts.

Posted by CDMS 23:56 Archived in Australia Comments (0)

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