Conquering Coburg

My first 24 hour event

Fairplay, Goodwill and Sportsmanship


In 1989 I decided to get into Ultra-Marathons. I became bored with the normal Marathon and decided to challenge the feat of time and distance. I was also drawn by the accomplishments of "Ordinary people doing extraordinary things" in the Westfield Run.

Early in 1990 I ran in a 12hr race in Canberra and covered 73.5km. I was more than happy with my performance. Two weeks later I ran in the Coburg 24hr race. As I was to find out later it was a bad move for a novice. I pulled out of the race after seven and a half hours and only completing 50km. Knee problems and a weak heart!

I then crewed for John Breit in the 1990 Westfield and was quite overawed by his magnificent effort. After that instead of training harder I placed Ultra-Marathon running in the "Too-hard basket" and it faded into oblivion.

During the next couple of years I married and my wife had a beautiful daughter. I also joined the computer age and started developing my writing passion. (I haven't had anything published yet, but the "Westfield Book" will be the first). It irked me that a book on the Westfield Run had never been published. I was determined to rectify that situation when I left the Tropics.

In 1996 we were posted to RAAF Base Wagga. I started thinking about the past and realised that I wasn't happy with walking away from Ultra Marathoning six years ago. Was I going to be one of life's great "Gunnas" that would walk away from the hard things in life?

I started jogging again and researching the Westfield Book. Towards the end of last year I decided to resume my Ultra Career and set myself to run in the Coburg 24hr Run in 1997. I was going to be there when the Gun went off after twenty four hours and I was going to have one hundred kilometres beside my name. Harold Stephens Athletics Track was not going to own me anymore!

I started training. My main aim was to increase the mileage every week. I didn't do any cross training, but I got a 44km six hour run and numerous half marathons under my belt. My brain was in gear and focused towards the event.

I assembled a crew that included my wife and best friend, Belinda, ex Westfield runner, John Breit( John had promised me after his 1990 run that he would return the favour one day) and mate, Shaun Chipman.

Belinda and I drove down to Melbourne the day before the race. We left our four year old, Rugrat, Laura, with best friends, Lisa and Michael for the weekend. Hopefully they would still be our best friends by the end of the weekend!

We got to the track and set up the tent. We then had a chat with Race Organiser, Gordon Burrowes. He gave us the exciting news that there would be five ex-Westfield runners in the event. They included Yiannis Kouros, Kevin Mansell, Ron Hill, Peter Gray and Helen Stangar. Was Yiannis going to beat the 300km goal? That would really be something to tell the grandchildren!

The day of the race dawned. I went for a walk to Williamstown Beach and psyched up with Tina Turner, Dead Poets Society, Chariots of Fire and Forest Gump on the walkman. We got to the track about 9 o clock and started organising ourselves. There was also going to be a 24hr relay race on which would make it more interesting.

Kevin Mansell and Ron Hill came and saw me before the race. Ron had a box full of information on the Westfield for me which was most appreciated. It was also great to meet Kevin after the help he had given me via Australia Post and Telecom.

It was now five minutes to midday and everyone was gathered around the starting line. The butterflies were now in my stomach! I relaxed myself and concentrated on the game plan of twenty minutes running and ten minutes walking. The starting gun went off and we were away.

The next three hours went by. I was moving well and had twenty four kilometres under my belt. I was getting lots of food and drinks from my great crew and was having the time of my life. It was about three o clock when I saw that a couple of other runners were starting to suffer in the warm conditions and I slowed down to a walk for the next couple of hours. I had plenty of time to get the score on the board.

The clock continued to click over. It was about five and a quarter hours when I went through the Marathon stage. I was going great! Night was starting to creep up on us and I was back into the run/walk pattern. I kept plodding on and by the six and a half hour mark I had fifty kilometres on the Board.(Yes there is a lot of cricket talk being used).

It was time for a Massage and meal break. I stopped at the Lap Scorers tent and my crew took me inside to the Massage table. I must say at this stage that my crew were magnificent during the whole twenty four hours. They looked after me during the whole race, gave me lots of food and drinks, knew what to say and knew what not to say! What more could a runner want!

Back to the story; I had a massage, the crew checked my feet and I had a lovely feed of mashed spud and peas. Half an hour later and I was back on my feet and heading out to the track. The plan was to have seventy kilometres up by midnight. I started walking again, but it wasn't too long before I had a slow jog going.

Kouros at this stage was well on schedule to beat his own World record. The spirit and camaraderie amongst the runners was evident from the start of the race. I must particularly thank Kevin and Ron for your kind words on encouragement throughout the race, Peter Gray for walking five laps with me on the Sunday morning, all the walkers for your help, all the Ultra runners for your words of encouragement. I think at one stage everyone on and off the track were passing words of encouragement to me. Thanks!

I kept running, but unfortunately it wasn't long, before my left foot started to hurt like anything! It happened right outside the Lap scorers tent and I was immediately reduced to a walk. John kept telling me every lap to forget the pain and focus on other areas. I think I felt like telling John where to put his pain, but I realised that he had been through ten times as much in his running career. The hours ticked by and I even started putting in the occasional lap of running.

It was just before eleven o clock at night when I brought up the seventy kilometres. It was announced over the Public Address system just past eleven that I had beaten my Personal best of seventy two kilometres. Wrong! It was seventy three and a half kilometres I had to beat. Oh well, I kept on going and it wasn't too long before I had actually beaten my personal best. It was all unknown territory from now!

The midnight change around was effected and I had completed seventy six kilometres. Time for a another major massage break! The next hour and a half is something of a blur. I know that I fainted twice and was feeling very nauseous.

I had a massage and my crew managed to get a bit more food into me. John also suggested that I have a shower as well. I wasn't too keen on the idea. I didn't relish the thought of getting warm, getting cold and then having to get warm again. I was soon under the shower and YELP! It was freezing cold! My wife heard outside and told me later that she did think about whether to let me go on with the race. One of the relay runners was having a warm shower and he gave it up for me straight away. Thanks mate, if you ever read this story.

After the shower, I was dressed and sat back down to have some more feed. My feet were now a mess and there was a mild debate going on in the background. I think there were about three different methods of blister removal being discussed. I went with the padding method as recommended by the St John's officials. My reasoning was that I had yet to experience the joys of suturing.( that joy can be left for another time) and my Mum was a St John's member for years and I have the highest regard for their training.

I was also thinking about pulling out. I rationalised that I had already beaten one goal and I could come back another day. I looked at the time and worked out that it was half past one in the morning. I said to myself that it was time to make a decision. I had plenty of time to get the hundred kilometres up. I think I stunned everyone when I asked to be helped up and to get out on the track. I dug into my heart and got back out there.

My wife told me later that just about everyone on the track expected me to pull out. I think I amazed myself when I started limping around. John kept telling me to watch my posture and to pick up my feet. It was dam hard! I now knew what the Hot Coal Walkers go through. But their pain only lasts for twenty seconds! The next few hours were a blur. I know that I called for the Walkman and serenaded the track with a combination of U2 (Sunday Bloody Sunday), Midnight Oil( King of the Mountain) and Priscilla ( No more ........ Abba!). I was told by my wife and Glenda Mansell in daylight hours that my singing left a lot to be desired! The music helped me to pick up my pace anyway.

I came in for a ten minute break at four o clock and then a twenty minute break at six o clock. I think I needed about two kilometres an hour to bring up my hundred. I still wasn't confident though. I had another break at quarter past seven and only need four more kilometres. It was now an obtainable goal. I got back out about seven thirty and only had ten laps to travel.

Belinda was in the lap scoring tent. Each time I went past her she would call out how many laps to go. I could almost feel her love reaching out towards me. I would have to bite my bottom lip and stop myself from crying. During those laps I was thinking a lot of things. The past was driving me on. I was even drawing on Kevin Mansell's hero quote from one of the Westfield Runs. "I finally found my hero in life. It was me." Ten became nine, nine became eight, eight became seven etc.

It seemed like an eternity but I was soon on the last lap. I felt like screaming for joy to the whole world. I was on the back straight and I looked next to me and Kevin Mansell was walking along side me. Kevin had sprinted around the track to join me and help me bring up my milestone. Kevin: You are a champion sportsman and champion human. If more sportsmen and women showed that humanity in the commercial sports they would be worth following again. Thanks Kev!

I crossed the hundred kilometre mark at about 8.40 am and a big cheer went up from my fantastic crew, the lapscorers and Kevin. It felt great. I had finally conquered my own body and soul. I was on top of the world! It was announced on the PA system. I kept plodding around towards our crew tent and soaked up the great feeling. I was getting congratulations from fellow runners, spectators and the few supporters that were there. I got around to our tent and immediately lied down in the car. I was going to have a sleep and get back up for the last hour .

I was lying down and could not wind down. I kept hearing the runners come past and my body was still in a state of perpetual motion. I think a few of the runners even asked if I was coming back out. It was half an hour later when I decided that it was time to keep going. We would repad my blisters and then take it lap by lap. I got down to the finish line and then headed inside to redo my feet. Unfortunately it took a bit longer than what was anticipated and the tiredness started to kick in. I was almost ready to say that enough was enough. My feet eventually got fixed. I dug into the last little bit of my energy reserves and got back out there.

I was moving very slowly when I got back out onto the track, but the time seemed to be flying. I was doing two laps at a time and having a break. It was now quarter past eleven. I got back out onto the track and kept hobbling around.

The minutes were ticking over. It felt as though a sense of relief was starting to develop over the whole track. It was now fifteen minutes to midday and John was carrying a deck chair with him. I was wondering why was he carrying a chair. The reasons soon became obvious! The whole crew joined me for my last lap. The seconds were counted down and I even started to run again. The gun went off and it felt great. John put the chair down and told me to sit. We were all hugging each other and crying. It was fantastic. I had finally achieved! 103.3km In my own mind I had finally arrived as an Ultra Marathoner. I have a lot more to learn, but the sport is going to see me around for quite a few years.

Thanks once again to my crew of Belinda, Shaun and John. I think my wife is definitely hooked on the friendship side that was so evident during the race. Shaun, you can do anything you set your mind to. John is now undergoing a Degree in Winemaking. I know that he will be a success in his new chosen vocation in life, after what he achieved in Ultra Marathoning.

I must make mention of the Walkers at this stage. They walked all the way through the race and did some incredible distances. How do you do it?

Thanks to all the Ultra runners, especially Kev and Ron. Thanks to the relay runners for your support. Thanks to the Little Athletics team. You guys and girls were great to watch. Thanks for the encouragement from everyone by the Track. Especially the official from the Little Aths team that walked with me for half a lap. Thankyou to Gordon Burrowes. It was a great event. Thanks Yiannis for your kind words after the race. I'm sorry that you did not get the three hundred kilometres. I hope that I am privileged enough to be on the same track when you do break the Barrier  

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