Kokoda a team adventure

Kokoda challenge.

Whilst staying in the Gold Coast, with our dear friends Ben and Darcelle Malby, Ben asked Kerry if he wanted to join a 96km team. I suggested to Darc’ that we should have a team for the 48km. It would be Darcy’s first ultra. What better way to do it than with a couple of girlfriends to cheer you on?

We had a less than good lead in to race day, all of us suffering with a nasty cold, and Darc was also having some niggly injury issues. Time however, waits for no man (or woman). All of a sudden race day was here. We cheered the boys off on their 7am start and then we waited. It’s quite strange starting a race at 1pm but that’s when the 48km Kokoda starts. The day was a warm Queensland Winter’s day, 23 degrees, and 1mm of rain was predicted for the early evening.

I was waiting for the boys to come through the Numinbah cp before we started. Their crew were all set up and ready for them. We assembled at the start line, team photo, ‘we shall remember them’ spoken and the bugle played. I held back a tear and then we set off. We headed for the front of the pack, running and chatting. I didn’t say anything but my soleus muscles were feeling super tight and stiff and we started climbing, it was warm but high-fiving the 96km runners who were coming towards us kept us entertained and was also a good reminder that we were only just starting out, these people had already been going for over 6 hours. The team were better than me on the uphills, my soleus didn’t enjoy it but I felt amazing on the downhill. I was worried about the day ahead if that’s how they felt now but knew better than to focus on that and carried on. I heard a whistle behind me and Kerry and his team had caught up to us. It was so good seeing him. When you’re on the trails your loved ones are often on your mind and it’s such a relief to see them. We hugged and kissed and some guys behind us joked asking if we’d just met.

First cp, buzzing! Excited to see all of the amazing volunteers. We thank you’ed our way through there and started climbing the hill into army land. This was one of two of the big ‘kahunas’. All I’ll say about this is it wasn’t that fun. It was hot and hard. We began to pass the youth teams who had started at 11am. I felt for them. There were very grouchy kids complaining, dragging their heels and their bags and very patient support teachers encouraging them. I didn’t envy them at all. I did however think ‘how awesome to see teens out on the trails’.

One thing that struck me was how supportive they were. From almost every team the kids would offer some support or cheers ‘you’re doing so well’ ‘well done’ ‘looking great’ there was real camaraderie and an appreciation for what we were all doing.





Finally, we hit the top of the hill and were instantly rewarded with an amazing view of the Gold Coast and a photographer to snap us there. It was beautiful up on army land. The hill was green and grassy and a big chunk of red dirt and a small tree marked the crest. A cool breeze took the heat from the hill climb away and we hit another cp. At this stage the boys team weren’t great. We were gutted to see our buddy Ben M suffering with GI issues and the other Ben D was battling cramps. I felt so sorry for them. They’d both been so excited about this race and it wasn’t panning out well for them. It’s a funny thing as if there was trail karma they’d have had amazing races. They’re both super lovely guys and are very caring runners. They’ve both run with me and when I’ve been hot or tired and they’ve chatted and looked after me. I wished they were having a better day.

Down off the hill, we headed and were treated to a beautiful rolling downhill single trail and lush tropical rainforest. I was conscious Darc was finding the downhills tough (with her sore adductor) but we walked the flatter sections or waited and gave her a chance to catch up. I was very wary of running downhills differently as I’d ‘swept’ one of our training camp runs before, and altered my pace/gait to do it which ended up with a strange swelling and pain in the lower leg. I didn’t want a repeat of this. Anyway, I absolutely loved this section through army land and the youth teams we were passing were getting chirpier and chirpier. Lots of happy conversations and laughter.

We went through some more checkpoints and started to feel some rain drops. This is the rain that was predicted. All of a sudden, thunder and lightning and big old fat rain started bucketing down on us. We hit the next cp and re-layered standing beside a gas heater. It was awesome. The boys caught up with us here and we spoke to Ben D. He was suffering with cramps, had been for the past 50km and he wanted to pull out. They were walking from here. Again. I felt for him.

We continued and the weather continued to deteriorate as we progressed. The night had slipped in, more thunder, and heavy rain bore down on us and lightning lit up the night sky. The climb out of army land is super steep and it was a real grind. We pushed our way up the hill and the rain came down even harder. We hit some single track and some bottlenecks. The terrain had flattened out and I was freezing. I was desperate for my thermal layer which was at the next aid station. I was almost crying following some very slow teens through the single track. Shivering and telling myself not long until I get my thermal. We came out of the single track and started running. A climb up to Syd Duncan aid station and there was my thermal. I stripped off and Kyle kindly helped dress me. Everyone was shivering and huddled under the shelters that were there. Here the boys decided to call it a day. Ben was cold and not moving. He looked so broken. Kerry and Daryl would have had to wait for another 96km team to come along and agree to have them join them. They were both soaked and cold and called it a day as their team was done. They wanted to start and finish it together but it wasn’t to be. I felt for them too as they were both capable but luck wasn’t on their side that day.

After a long time at Syd Duncan we got moving again. Running, running, trying to warm up.

Somewhere between here and the top of Hell Fire we passed a house with a sign that said ‘free refreshments for Kokoda trail participants’. I nearly cried at these people’s kindness, I blinked and breathed deeply to avoid tears. It reminded me of one of the really amazing things about these events. People really want to see you succeed. The guys crewing had been absolutely amazing, the volunteers were also absolutely amazing and here some random homeowners had stocked up and were dedicating their evening to nourishing these kokoda-ites. How very, very, cool.

Hellfire! Yeah baby! We’d run this a couple of weeks prior with Ben and Darc and I was looking forward to the downhill. I would say easy kms but hellfire isn’t an easy downhill. There were people slipping and stopping and freaking out heading down there. Jake and I rolled it and then slowed to a walk to let the others catch up. We came across a school group who had a very uptight teacher and two teenage boys who were in drenched soaking HOODIES and they were shivering. We made one take his hoody off, I wrung it out and we wrapped him in Fridja’s space blanket. He said ‘I feel so much warmer already’. The other boy Jake propped under his shoulder and walked him to the next cp. We went ahead to alert the medics that there were a couple of hypothermic looking kids and a stressed out teacher.

Here was Clagiraba, a big crewing checkpoint and all the lovely people we cared about were there. I was rapt to see Lionel and his dad and a warm fire to stand beside. My shorts were still sodden, stuck to me, and I wanted to keep moving but the team were re-clothing and refueling and rehydrating. We also managed to pick up a two person team who needed some buddies to adopt them so that they could finish. This cp was a pretty slow turn around and when we left there a lot later I was shivering. Luckily we were straight into a hill and we soon warmed up, Fridja and I took a layer off and I could see my Le Bent thermal layer steaming. It reinforced the need for quality gear. It was warm and wicked away all of the moisture. I was keeping a close eye on the watch as I knew that this was getting close to the marathon mark and I wanted to acknowledge it for Darc, her first marathon distance! At the top of Mount Nathan we hit it. The view here at this marathon distance was a view out over the glittering Gold Coast. The skyscrapers and city sprawled below us and multicoloured lights shone. It’s an image I have ingrained in my mind. I wish I’d had a good camera to capture it, but it would be hard to do that justice. We continued on through really thick soupy fog. I put my headlamp to flood and we headed down and into Nerang. The home stretch. We crossed a road, traffic had been stopped just for us. I blew the road workers and the cars a whole heap of kisses and waved at them. Around here Jake got pretty over it. His knee was sore and he wasn’t feeling great. It had been a long day. He soldiered on though and we hiked hard up that last big hill. 

At the final cp with 4kms to go we were met by the friendliest giggliest woman. She was dressed up in a minion costume and Fridja and I gave her a massive hug, we told her how blimmin awesome she was, took us a selfie and then she told me that there was a pig on a spit up there. I got super excited WOW, that is a crazy thing to have at a checkpoint. Needless to say I lost it laughing when I was treated to this little beauty.

Poor old Jake hurled up his guts here. A few short words and he hopped up and we put the race to bed. We ran across the finish line as a team and I’m pretty sure our smiles were a mile wide.

I’m so proud of each and every one of my teammates, thank you for the big day we shared together. A team race really is a big challenge.

Darcelle ran further than she had ever run. She showed that she has a real mental toughness and stickability. I’m so pleased for her.

Jake also spent the longest he ever has on his feet, he helped out others on the trails and was really great company.

Fridja, is one of the most positive people I know. She is so strong and upbeat, she’s a real ‘get it done’er.

We placed 4th 4 person team in the 48 (actually 54km) event. We were never out for a field position, completion was the goal but it was pretty darn cool to be at the front end of the field!

Kokoda Challenge was a real adventure for so many reasons. It’s a day I won’t forget for a long time!


The learnings:

-Teams races are hard!

-Train together, strategize together. Plan your stoppages before the race. We got fairly caught up at checkpoints and before you know it 10 minutes or more has passed. In a race which has regular checkpoints it means a lot of time gets lost to stoppages.

-Start well hydrated, keep hydrated.

-Compulsory gear is almost never enough. Don’t be afraid of carrying extra layers, a change of clothes, or having them in drop bags.

-Keep the fuel going in, little and often.

-Have lots of options when it comes to fuel, you never know what you will feel like. I loved having real food.

-Keep moving, even if it is slowly.

-Run in all weathers. If the race becomes a mud bath you’ll be au fait with running in those conditions.

-Hilly races = poles, I reckon I was one of about 2% of people who didn’t have poles.

-Keep positive, to start with I’d worried about my legs and coping with the distance but I warmed into it and was great.

-Keep positive, saying thank you to all of the volunteers, swapping hello’s and laughs with others on the trail helps you to enjoy your day so much more.

-If you can have crew, have them, they will be a highlight to look forward to. People love helping others, it gives them a chance to shine too.

-Before you start have your ‘why do I want this?!’ ready for when things are feeling tough. My ‘why’ for Kokoda was I really want to see Darc across that finish line. I also really wanted to complete a team’s race.

-Make sure you have done the training, it makes the day so much more fun knowing you can do it!