24 November 2010

GNW100 Race Report

Funny. When we joned this race, we never read or thought that
it is the toughest 100-mile race in Australia until we received this.

I don't know where to begin. The last two weeks have been an extraordinary learning experience for me in terms of running, life, friends and self in no particular order. This blog entry will never be able capture every detail of the race experience. It is only hoped that one of you will try and  finish a 100-mile race to experience it and understand the journey.


For race results, click here.

For race statistics, it can be found here. It seems only 48% finished.

Here is a brief description of the race:

The Great North Walk is a 250 km walking track that runs between Sydney and Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia. It was opened in the Australian Bicentennial year of 1988 and passes through some of Australia's most outstanding scenery.

The Great North Walk 100s (GNW100s), organized by the Terrigal Trotters running club for the first time in 2005, are two simultaneous trail races, a 100 Mile and a 100 Kilometre, along The Great North Walk south from Teralba on Lake Macquarie. The 100 Kilometre race will finish at Yarramalong in the scenic Yarramalong Valley and the 100 Mile at Patonga on spectacular Broken Bay. Although the route is primarily on foot tracks and fire-trails, it does include some minor back roads. There is more than 6,200 metres (20,000ft) of ascent (and descent) in the 100 Mile and 3,800 metres (12,500ft) of ascent in the 100 Kilometre.

The elevation profile is quite hilly and can be found here. I wanted to paste the actual profile but my limited blogging experience proves a huge hindrance. As you can see, the distance is roughly 174 kilometers and no wonder the cut-off time is 36 hours! 


Don and I chose The Great North Walk 100-mile race for several reasons. One is because it is the nearest to the Philippines. It saves on airfare, I guess. It is no secret that we have been looking for a 100-mile race early this year after several 100K races behind us. Unfortunately, we have yet to have one in our country. It helped as well to have great friends who live and work in Sydney. Thus, a big and warm gratitude to Santy and his wife Lou, Vic and wife Angie and their families. They are the kindest and most generous couples/friends around. Despite their hectic schedules, they graciously shared their time and resources with us. I cannot thank them enough.

En route to Sydney Opera at 9PM from left: Lanie (wife), me, Vic, Santy and Lou.
Angie taking the picture.

good friends from left: Vic, Santy, Angie, Lou and Don


Coming into this race was riddled with worries. For one, I accidentally rolled my ankle the Monday before the race at the office while walking upstairs (of all places!). I mean I have trained in some of the most uneven terrain without a problem only to sprain my ankle in the most unlikely place. Better be careful next time. The worst of all was being afflicted with conjunctivitis (sore or red eyes) just days before the race! It sure did dawn on me if this was life's way of telling me not to proceed with the race.

I had no choice but to manage things as they came along. It was a relief to pass through the local airport's immigration but I was sick worried that I might not make it through Sydney's immigration or custom.   

Santy, me and Don before dinner at I'm Angus resto
where for the first time, I tasted Kangaroo's meat.

We arrived early on Wednesday that was 3 days before the race. We figured it would help us "acclimate". As it turned out, the weather was just like here in the Philippines. It was hot and it stayed the same even during the race to the detriment of other runners. As soon as we landed, we toured the neighboring beaches (Bondi, Congee and Maroubra) and malls. Very nice. The plan to do a short easy run was set aside in lieu of sightseeing. We figured all those walking would be a good way to loosen things up. Food was great too. I missed fish and chips.


On Friday, we stayed in a hotel called Warners at the Bay around 7KM drive to Teralba - start of the race. It did not help a bit that the hotel is near a store selling over 800 kinds of beers! Don and I had to muster enough courage to resist the temptation. Okay okay. I have to confess and had 1 beer before dozing off.

As soon as we checked in, we drove off to check out the place of the start (Teralba) and bought things we need at a nearby supermarket.

It took me several hours to prepare my stuff as I had to sort out what should go into my drop bags at which checkpoints (six in total). Don and I would have to be self-sufficient. No pacer and no crew.

For this race, I trained to drink only plain water + electrolyte capsules. For fuel, it would be just Snickers chocolate bars, some gels and full-cream milk in tetra packs. Milk and choco bars are great combo. That was it and I would just help myself with what was on the table at every checkpoint where the slices of fresh fruits (watermelon, banana, etc.) were absolutely refreshing.


(All photos with GNW100 logo are courtesy of Mr. Craig Gavin)

We arrived around 4:45AM and the weather was suprisingly just okay. We were expecting it would be cold. This somehow gave a glimpse of how unusually hot it would be for the next 36 hours. Don and I made a last minute adjustment. We could sense the subtle excitement and anxiety in the air. For us, it would be the total feeling of not knowing what was in store for us especially after the 100KM mark. We had not seen even any part of the course and would be a total stranger to this race.

Race Director Dave Byrnes on briefing

Race director David Byrnes briefed us on what we should particularly take notice of during the race and acknowledged us "overseas" runners - 1 from USA, 1 from Singapore and 2 from Philippines. He made it clear of the mandatory gear check at Checkpoint 2. We requested two of my kindest friends, Santy and Vic to look for some of the minor items we needed for the night. We agreed to meet up at Checkpoint 1 where I had to wait for 40 minutes. Lost time but no worries.

Registration was easy and a breeze. All runners received their GNW official shirt, a tote bag, and a Tyvek wristband (no race bib). For 100 miler, it was color green and for 100KM, orange.

We hardly heard the word "GO!" but as soon as runners in front of us moved on, we started to go as well. I muttered to myself that the best way to approach this race was by breaking the course down into checkpoints. That said, it would still be a loooong journey ahead of us.



Going to Checkpoint 1 was a breeze at 4 hours plus change. I thought I ran faster than I should. Nothing significant except I met Andy Bowen and Philip Murphy with whom I had been emailing before the race for inputs. Nice chaps and very helpful. Very strong and experienced runners as well. No doubt. Australian ultrarunners are some of the most friendly and laid back.

After reaching Checkpoint 2, I felt my quads started to feel the stresses caused by the endless up and down hills. I purposely saved at least 1 hour and a half to my total time because a GNW veteran runner (sorry mate, I forgot your name) told me I would be needing extra time to reach the unmanned water station after Checkpoint 6. He was bloody right! More on this later. This is also the part where Don was not allowed to continue because of RHABDOMYLOSIS. I was sad to hear that and had to ask my friend Santy to pick him up. Santy and wife had so much trouble trying to reach Don even as they got lost. Our thanks again.

By this time, I had to remind myself of the importance of constant and regular intake of fluids, electrolytes and fuel. The weather had not improved a bit. In a while it would get dark.

Heat victim?


The longest checkpoint and we had to reach it before 11PM when it was dark already. We ran through rainforests, hills, and more hills and creeks where leeches lurked and ready to leap onto runners' shoes. I had some and they were annoying as I had to stop to remove them. Some sucked onto my shoes with such tenacity. Next time, if there is, I would spray insect repellant.

The effect of being up all day started to take its toll on me. Hotspots on my feet were beginning to concern me. The last thing I wanted was a blister with around 100KMs to go. I got lost too several times as I had difficulty looking for these "little man" signs, as RD Dave put it.

"Litlle man" sign

As soon as I entered the Checkpoint station, someone shouted out my name. It was Don who hitched a ride with one of the runners' crew. Problem was Santy and Lou were enroute to pick him up there which by the time Santy reached the place, everyone would have gone after the cut-off time. The solution was for me to call Santy as soon I reached to a higher ground. I lost some lead time now.


This is the second most difficult part of course for me because of sleepiness aggaravated by cold weather and not enough sleep days before the race. All runners had to reach CP4 on or before 4AM. As you can imagine, we had to run through the night where cold breeze blew from here and there. At one point, I saw a log which looked like a bed to me. I almost laid down because I could hardly keep my eyes open! Only shame kept me going because it was right beside the trail course. The last thing I wanted are leeches feasting on me, fellow runners seeing a Filipino runner sprawled on the ground and God knows what lurked in the dark.

I was hallucinating too as I imagined all sorts of wild things like animal sounds which I mistook for mountain lions ready to have me as their meal or the stupid imagination that someone was stalking me. At some points, I had to turn around and direct my flashlights to check if no one was following me. It could be Dracula you know :). So I swore to take a 15-minute nap as soon as I reached CP4 which to my suprise never happened. Everytime I reached the succeeding CPs all sleepines disappeared. Weird.

At 2AM, I reached CP4. I was glad to see Don and Santy and to know that I still had the 2-hour margin. The veggie soup was nice even though it tasted bland. So I added salt in it. In all CPs, I only ate the familiar food - fruits (watermelon, banana, etc) nuts, gels, Coke and milk. No sports drink.

Some 100-mile runners opted to finish at this point and it was not an encouraging sight. They were nice enough to wish us 100-milers a bon voyage so to speak.


As soon as I left, I realized the next 70 or so kilometers would be totally new to me. I figured the morning sun would give me a boost to help me tackle the course one step at a time. My continuing mantras for this race were "relentless forward progress", "race management", "for the Philippines". I think a runner going to a 100-mile race has to have some sense of pride in him. You have to represent someone or something other than or bigger than oneself. 

Anyway, there I was hiking, walking and running with shot quads. They were so shot I could no longer feel any pain. My calves and feet were too. The only thing that consoled me was no cramps at all. Not even once. Perhaps, I managed my electrolytes intake really carefully and on time.

Going to Checkpoint 5 was a bit disheartening because I lost a few turns and had to bother RD Dave for directions. (I cannot say this enough but RD Dave had been and is probably one of the most helpful, patient RD out there.)  My lead time was slowly getting shorter. I started to lose interest in the beautiful and scenic course of GNW100 because I was so hell bent on finishing the race.

I caught up to Grant Campbell whom I thought was way ahead of me. He was not feeling well because of blisters. We were the last runners before the CP5 staff and volunteers started to pack up. I made it clear to Grant that WE would both finish this race since CP6 was only 17.8KM and that we were almost there.  Sort of rubbing off the confidence on him. I went ahead and missed a turn. By the time I came to a particular section, I chanced upon Grant who was sitting. It seemed he was losing interest to move on and figured maybe this was a good time to run together. We did. We almost ran the entire section and it was a huge relief to be with someone after long hours of being alone. We had to reach CP6 before 1PM.


Grant and I had started to feel the hot and humid condition. It was noontime. We barely made it as we got to CP6 with 20 or so minutes to spare. I kept telling the helpful, kind and patient staff and volunteers that I would finish this race because I did not come or travel to another continent for nothing.

This was where I met Kim Cook - the pacer of one of the runners who dropped out yesterday. I was told RD Dave requested him to offer to pace me since I kept getting lost. I agreed and it was the best decision I made. Kim is 50+ years old and finished GNW 100-mile race 2x and the 100KM once. He is a local too (I think) and knows the place way better than I do. With Kim, I told Grant that we could make the 25.4KM in 5 hours which sounded easy but not at all. We left CP6 at eactly 1PM.


We had exactly 5 hours to cover 25.4KM but the route would be the hardest so far because of 1) we were bloody tired 2) hot and humid weather 3) hungry 4) legs were like marshmallows - soft and numb (imagine the cumulative impact of carrying a minimum load of 3.5 kilos all throughout the race), 5) very technical section, etcetera. Even a few feet of climb made me so weak and had to stop for a few seconds to catch my breath. Downhill running was still manageable though and this was where I recovered the lost time going uphills. I had too or all would be lost.

Grant and his pacer-friend ran with us for several minutes and until Kim and I saw them no more. I saw Grant at the finish line where he DNFed. It was sad to know because he could have made it.

Our immediate concern now was how to reach the unmanned water station before the cut-off at 3PM. The distance was like almost 13KM and it should be reached on or before 2PM. We had a mere 2 hours. It was on top of a hill. Actually several hills.

Going there was the most difficult part of my journey. It was very hard because of the terrain and the weather was not helping a bit. The constant ups and downs were unbelievably unforgiving. The hills are stone which radiated heat from below adding to the unfavorable condition This is the only ultra where I came to my lowest of lows. For a few minutes, I was trailing behind Kim and wanted to open my mouth just to shout " I surrender". I almost did but for some unknown reasons, it never came out of my mouth. I prayed a lot too and thought of the people who prayed for me and were expecting me to finish the race. Again, I said to myself "I did not come here for nothing". Despite this feeling of dejection, I regularly took my fluid and fuel intake. It became a second nature by now. After a while, that overwhelming negative feeling passed away and I had a strange feeling that I was reborn and became stronger inside. 

We made it to the unmanned water station barely in a nick of time. The hope to finish bouyed up as we had 3 hours to cover 13 or so kilometers. I rejoiced for a while but realized it was still premature.

We slowed down for a while and later on, chanced upon a female runner in trouble. It was, what appeared to us, as heat stroke. We had to help her and brought her to the nearest 4WD track where Dave and his paramedic picked her up. We moved on and had to run every now and then. My legs were numb now and my feet battered and could manage to run the downhills but not uphills. I was too exhausted.


Kim called my attention to the beach below the hill we were on. It was a sight to look at! Just for assurance, we bombed the downhill going to the beach in like 6 minute or less pace per kilometer. I did not mind the pain. I was almost there and made sure I would cross the finish line within the cut-off time.

Running on the beach was surreal. It felt unreal after all the running in the forest and on mountains. The sight of the finish tent was unbelievably uplifting. As soon they saw us, the wonderful staff and volunteers started to toll the bell. It felt like I was a battered boat coming out of a storm onto a beach. I heard clapping and shouting. It was paradise.

Finish Line

I raised Kim's hand in victory who later on gave me a beer right after the race. Thanks mate! He had to let me go to kiss the small statue as the symbolic finish line and claim the most-coveted medal. I finished in 35:51. I knew I was forever changed. It is true then that you would know yourself far far better after a 100-mile race.

Runners, volunteers and staff were very helpful and friendly. It felt like I was a part of a family. Amazing people.

After dipping in the sea to cool off, I was asked by one of the runners whether to return next year. My answer was "please don't ask me now" because I was too exhausted to which one of the runners quipped "a safe answer for yes". We chuckled.

So in the next few days, the medal was always with me and was holding it like it is a treasure of significant sentimental value and rightly so.

That guy in yellow jersey is Grant Campbell

Patonga Beach
finish mark/statue

symbolic crossing of the finish line. it is a tradition.

One of the amazing staff

me with Tooney beer courtesy of Kim Cook and wifey

check out the shirt. free advertisement for pure-Pinoy ultra. I know I looked s#$t :)

Thank you RD Dave for being kind, helpful and supportive.
I cannot thank you and Mr. Kim Cook enough!
The same thing goes to your selfless and kind volunteers and staff. Amazing folks.



  1. Amazing and inspiring Attorney!

    Congratulations! You indeed represent us Pinoys =)

  2. Unbelievably the best. Congratulations!

  3. awesome accomplishment! congrats & thanks for advertising our BDM 102/151. you made a history in the said race!

  4. I met you on the run a few times, Kevin is my name I was running wiht you at the same time as Grant a few times.
    So happy to clap you across the line.
    Will see you next year at the start line again.

  5. Tin, thanks.

    Vener, join the BDM151 next year.

    BR, thanks and may I suggest making BDM151 to a full 100-miler. It is about time.

    Hi Kevin. Yeah, I remember now. Thanks mate! I hope you are doing well now.

  6. Congratulations Jonnifer on a fantastic achievement. I am a 3 time finisher myself and this year's race was the toughest I have done by far. You certainly picked a good year. Hope the recovery goes well and you are able to come back again. Cheers Glenn

  7. idol talaga!!! congrats.

  8. WOW achievement! very inspiring. congratulations tol.:)

  9. Thank you Horrie, Isko and tol Fe :)

  10. Congrats Jon! Great run and inspiring write-up! Am still dreaming of running a 100-miler!

  11. Hey Simon, you would have a 100-miler had UTMB not been cancelled this year.

    If you are planning to come back in 2011, I can join you. UTMB is also in my wish list :) It'll be a blast.

  12. Congrats Jon!! You are a true warrior..and without doubt a hero and inspiration !!...Willy Yao

  13. Hey Jon, As I've told you already mate that was a fantastic inspiring run. I've also just checked out your split times, and that last section was unbelievable. You did it faster than Beth who came second and a nearly an hour quicker than me - I don't know how you could have run so hard in that heat with 150kms in your legs!

    Had you been saving something special for a big finish, or did you take some secret tonic!!

    Great stuff, looking forward to running with you again,

  14. Thanks Uncle Willy! You're still one of my idols :)

    Hey Andy, nothing special or secret tonic. I have discovered something in me during the last section of the race which would not be possible if I did not experience such mixed emotions of urgency, desperation, hardship, pain and pressure. It is the will to survive. The unwavering will to finish. All of us have that in us except only trying circumstances will bring us to it face to face.

    Thanks mate. I hope to see you in 2011! :)

  15. Hi Jon
    It was a pleasure to pace you in that last section. You just kept surprising me in how much effort you were able to put in on those hills. Congrats on your result and look forward to catching up in 2011.


  16. Congratulations.....what a feat! simply WOW

  17. Hi Kim. I owe it all to you. You were very patient while pacing and I sensed you were also having your own share of difficulty in the heat and humidity. I learned something from you on how to pace properly and what attitude to take. Valuable lessons. Thanks a lot. Yeah, crossing my fingers for 2011:)

    Anu, thanks. I will see you this Sunday for the QCIM marathon. Goodluck!

  18. Congrats....truly an amazing story of perseverance and undying spirit. So proud of you.

  19. Looking at the results I was amazed that no one broke 24 hours, then I looked at the elevation profile and saw that it's actually a 108.5 miler. Those crazy Australians! Because of the nature of the trails, races here will usually be slightly under or slightly more than the advertised distances and it's probably the same all over but that is a big difference - wow. They should have just called it a 108 mile race no? Haha but you survived it! Jon with all of my experience I've never run 108 miles, the closest I got was 104 and that was because I got lost. Come to think of it, since you also got lost you probably went much further than 108.

    A note about sleepiness you should take caffeine to combat it, falling asleep on your feet sucks. It happened to me once when I miscalculated a drop bag and had my caffeinated gels further along on the course than I wanted. Caffeine is your friend in small doses consistent doses.

    Congratulations on your finish Jon, great job on pushing through past the 100k mark. It happens in races here too where a 100 miler has a 100k option, many 100 mile runners just opt out and get a 100k finish instead. A couple of races I know are now getting rid of the 100k option just for this reason. You did great keeping the fluid and nutrition going, great job on that. I'm reading this at work, about 10:30 AM here in San Francisco and my heart is racing, all pumped up reading your report. I can relate to some of the things that you went through and I've been trying to imagine what it would have been like. I definitely know the heat and exhaustion of the "second day". Well what more is there to say, damn good job keeping one foot in front of the other.

    Looking forward to seeing what you could do at BDM 160 km now that you have this perspective and experience. As you said you will never be the same. Hope the recovery is going well.

  20. Hi Rick. I hope all is well with you.

    Yeah, what can I say. Pretty tough race. I think the first 100-miler will always be that difficult. They were things I could not control (weather, etc.)during the race. So I focused on those that I could, i.e. pace, fluid and fuel. It only made sense.

    The distance past 100K mark is a mind game. I saw runners opted to stop at 100K aid station even if, it seemed, with no injury while others just simply quit. So how do we explain that?

    Anwyay, thanks for the comment and advise on the caffeine. So the next time you post your own race report on a succesful 100-miler, this time I can certainly relate :)

    P.S. By the way, the mantra "pain management" came from you. Cheers.

  21. A riveting account. A hundred-miler plus your strong marathon finish yesterday plus your marathon finals next Sunday, equals a legend.

  22. Thank you Billy and no need for flattery. Haha.

    Hey congrats on another marathon finish. I saw you during the race, all smiles. You are enjoying running marathons, aren't you? Good attitude. Cheers.