Tuesday, March 27, 2007

When things go not so well ....

Thanks to Gayle whom I did the Trailwalker Ultra with last Friday , I might follow up later with a reflective piece but enjoy the read as it goes from positive to .....

Oxfam Trailwalker is the world’s greatest team challenge. And it’s also one of the toughest. The challenge is to get your team of four across 100km of Australian bush in less than 48 hours – and, collectively, to raise at least $1,000 to help to overcome poverty and suffering around the world.
On the morning of the 23rd of March, 2007 the team known as Dragmoe 151 – compromising of Owen Evans, David Rogers, Mal James and Gayle McKellar set out to complete the 100kms in an aggressive time of 15hrs. All the training in the preceding months showed it was something we could achieve but with no time for any unforseen problems – there were no contingencies built into the schedule. The race was going to prove to be of physical and mental endurance as well as an emotional, frustration and heartbreaking conclusion for us all.

The first challenge to face all 630 teams competing on the day was the extreme weather conditions where it was predicted to be a scorching 35 degrees. History was going to be made today as the temperatures soared to 37.5 degrees, the hottest March day since 1965 and a women’s team called the Dashing Divas were the first to cross the finish line in 10hrs and 44 mins. A woman’s team had finally knocked off the reigning men’s team from Sydney – The Groin Sprains.

The event started in Jells Park Mt Waverley and completes at Wesburn Park 100km’s later. Officially 592 teams began the challenge divided into start times of 7:00am, 8:30am and 10:00am. Before the event had even begun 8 walkers had pulled out. This was to set the scene for the rest of the day. Between the start and finish are 8 mandatory checkpoints each complete team of 4 must register in and out of. The course winds through some of Victoria’s most scenic national parks and trail ways.

Friday morning 6:00am and registration for the teams began. Jells park tea-house was alive with many competitors, support crews and event organizers watching the starting clock tick down to the 7:00am start. Before we knew it the official team photo was taken, our hydration backs were filled with food and drink and as all teams huddled together at the starting point the 10 second countdown began, we were off and running.

With an overnight low of 25 degrees Dragmoe got off to a very good start. Mal was a new team member and new to the race in Melbourne. He had competed in Oxfam’s organised in Hong Kong and Sydney but never Melbourne. The first checkpoint from Jells Park to Churchill National Park is 10.5km’s of relatively flat terrain which allows for some good running. The GPS actually registers 12.5km’s and on the day we were able to complete this distance in a PB time of 1hr 29 mins compared to last years effort of 1hr 36 mins. We were all pumped with such a great result.

Checkpoint 2 is a hilly 9.5km’s into Lysterfield Lake Park which winds past the Commonwealth Games mountain bike course. The sun was now well in the sky and beating down on all the 7:00am starter teams. We joked around that today was probably going to be the hottest day on record – little did any of us know what we were going to be facing in a few hours time. Lysterfield came and went in a time of 1hr 15 mins and we were sitting around 57th place overall. Pretty much where we were same time last year. This is where Dragmoe would begin the attack on the rest of the field as we began to gain back places as we headed for the hills of the Dandenong's.

After filling our water bladders and our stomachs with some quick food we were off on a 15.5km trek from Lysterfield up through Birdsland National Park, Belgrave and onto the 1000 steps at Ferntree Gully. We had barely covered 30km’s and disaster was about to strike. By now it was over 30 degrees and Mal was starting to feel the effects of the hot weather. As we came into Belgrave, our amazing support crew of Kathryn and Andrew showered us with cold water to cool down our bodies. Mal continued suffering from nausea, stomach and legs cramps.

At Ferntree Gully we were faced with the news that they had closed the checkpoint to Olinda due to Total Fire Ban restrictions and they were not letting anyone cross the Dandenongs. This was disappointing to all teams involved but in hindsight was a saving grace due to the extreme heat everyone was enduring. No one could have survived those 1000 steps under those conditions. We were driven to Olinda Football club where we took another 1hr to allow Mal to rest and we discussed team tactics.

All seemed to be back on track as we put on clean team shirts and set out to Silvan Reservoir for checkpoint 5. Mal seemed to have found his second wind and was rearing to go and tackle 8.5km’s of undulating hills. Another PB was set as we completed the stage in 1hr 10 mins and we started to make out way up the leader board, now we were sitting in approximately 34th place and quite excited that we were going to reach our target. We surprised Andrew as we came into Silvan 10 to 20 minutes earlier than expected. I also think we surprised ourselves. Check in and out was very quick but we all took the opportunity to soak our hats in cold water to cool our bodies down.

We were now experiencing about 37 degrees and all feeling the effects. Silvan to Mt Evelyn was our next checkpoint – the shortest of them all of only 5km’s but it was a tough terrain to navigate. It took us just under an hour to complete. Our entrance into Mt Evelyn was starting to show signs of fatigue, heat exhaustion, de-hydration and body soreness on all of us. Check-in placed us in 35th position and I was getting excited about what our potential result would be. We were at the 59km mark – over half way.

The real challenge was about to begin, the dreaded 30km’s of flat straight Warburton Trail from Mt Evelyn through to Woori Yallock primary school then on to Millwarra Primary School at Millgrove. This is where our running/walking training was going to kick in and we were going to start to blitz the rest of the field. After some short jogging spurts and a quiz game to keep our minds active it was quite clear the energy levels were beginning to drop and the team was struggling to maintain the pace in the heat. Mal had another set back and the nausea and leg cramps had returned with a vengeance. This is where we finally stopped and he conceded that he could not continue. Andrew was called to pick up Mal from the course and drive him to a first aid station at Woori Yallock where he received treatment, he was in a serious way.

Owen remained with Mal as Dave and I continued along the course to arrive at checkpoint 7 some nearly 3hrs later. With 5 km’s to go Dave started to also suffer severe leg cramping and our pace slowed to nearly a crawl. I had not realised how bad Dave was until he started to vomit and he collapsed in immense pain 100 metres from checkpoint 7. His legs stopped functioning, he could no longer walk, he was experiencing sever cramping throughout both his legs. This is where the fear and anguish set in as I witnessed distressed bodies trying to deal with what they had endured during the day. We carried Dave to the check in point and stood proud as a team of four as we checked in for the last time having reached the 76km mark. We were now in 29th place.

Half an hour later we retired Dragmoe from the Oxfam event as Dave received medical attention for the next 3hrs. Woori Yallock Primary School was like a disaster zone, bodies had fallen everywhere and St John’s ambulance had to call in emergency paramedics to treat the sever cases. IV drips, oxygen and hyperthermia blankets were common place.

At checkpoint 7 we were the first team to retire to be followed by 196 other people that night. Checkpoint 8 at Millwarra was no better with 100 people suffering from the conditions of the day.

All in all 53 teams and 539 people retired from the event.
We would like to thank everyone who encouraged and supported us leading up to the event.

Our fantastic support crew of Kathryn, Lora and Andrew who dealt with our bad tempers, our unreasonable demands at each checkpoint and our utter disappointment and heartache at having to retire.


Anonymous said...

Mal....must you continue to torture yourself like this? We have watch you for years taking your pictures and filming away with bombs going off around you and bullets flying. This, you told us, you gladly did to show us our great good Military boys. We could understand that. But now..you run until your legs fall off and you need emergency medical attention. This we don't get. No wonder we love you! That was one heck of a vacation we'd say! Thanks and SALUTE!

21stCenturyMom said...

Duuuude! I think that's the proper 21st Century comment.

I'm glad you and your teammates survived that event. My hat is especially off to Wonderwoman (Gayle) who seems to be the only one who didn't succumb to the heat.

Anonymous said...

Wow this is your idea of a fun holiday and rest and relaxation away from work????

Widescreen said...


You climb my back fence, walk through my backyard and don't even bother to say 'Hi'