Oxfam Finish Line

“Keep going guys, we really are so close now. That bloke running with his dog says we are 5km from the finish… and it’s all down hill!”

It was now 5.30am Saturday morning and Brent was leading us along a *still* dark and winding forest path somewhere in Mt Coot-tha Forest Park. We had been going now for 21 hours straight. Sleep deprivation, leg muscles worked to the limit, and 12 hours of continuous darkness were beginning to fight back. 

No Chafe Neanderthals

We are Team ‘No Chafe Neanderthals’. Nick, Steve, Paul and Brent.  This is our 3rd time taking part in the Brisbane Oxfam Trailwalker event – a 48 hour adventure covering 100km from Mt Glorious to Mt Coot-tha. We also took part in 2015 and 2017…one year recovery and one year to prepare for the next challenge! Even with all that previous experience though, it is still a daunting event. We all live close to Samford Village so no excuses for getting plenty of practise out on the many trails… here is my race report!

Oxfam Trailwalker is Australia’s original charity team endurance event, the first one was in Sydney in 1999 (it all started in Hong Kong back in 1981). Today the event takes place in 11 countries round the world; and over 250,000 people have taken part raising $165 million for Oxfam who “work with local communities to help them create their own sustainable solutions to poverty”. As their website says, despite the enormity of the challenge, just about anyone can walk the 55km or 100km distances, it all comes down to sufficient training and right mental attitude. I will add here, also the right shoes and lots of nourishing food to keep the spirits up! 

Training

We signed up quite late this time, only committing in mid-January, and so we had to be disciplined in our training strategy. We aimed towards a group session each month building up our training with progressively longer distances, as well as weekly 10 and 20km walks and runs in pairs and individually.  With everyone so busy however, juggling that often tricky family/ work life balance, we only managed one training session all together in late March. We walked 2 laps of Enoggera Reservoir starting just before 7.30pm: 21.5km in 4 hours and 3 mins and dark all the way. It felt really good to bond as a group and also pass the 20km mark in our training.

Fast forward to early June and with just 3 weeks ago, Paul, Steve and I tackled our longest training session 43kms in 8 hrs 46mins around Lake Manchester, mostly in the dark again (are you seeing a theme here!), and despite this being our 5th time on this route, YES we did lose our way …..but only briefly! Meanwhile Brent was continuing with his Gold Coast marathon training, building up an impressive number of kms every week.

On the start line!

June 21st and it’s the morning of Event Day! Our start time is in the 2nd wave 8.30am. The 140 teams have been split into 2 groups to save the congestion of a mass start of 560 walkers. We have to register at Bellbird Grove Recreation area off Mt Nebo Road by 7am, and then all competitors are transported by bus up to the start line at Maiala picnic ground on Mount Glorious. I board the bus with a funny yet familiar feeling in my stomach – a mix of pre-race nerves and the prospect of a 45 minute bus journey along some very windy mountain roads. On a more positive note, we are all super grateful that the weather has cleared (after heavy rain last weekend) and it promises to be a fine day and night.

Everyone gathers in the car park below the start line gantry and we watch the countdown clock with trepidation. Quick visit to the toilet, final kit check – headtorch, extra top, sandwiches, bananas, laminated map (my OCD coming through here) water bladder full – tick. Helen Szoke, Oxfam CEO, gives a short welcome speech, an Aboriginal Elder says a few words…everyone together: 10, 9, 8... yikes here we go again… 3, 2, 1. We are off!!

Down, down, down…Up, up, up.

Stages 1 and 2 are the steepest of the whole course, so we are all tested in the very first few hours of the day. After leaving Mount Glorious road 5 minutes from the start, we follow a wide fire trail through the cool and lush rainforest with steep banks of moss on either side, down to a creek deep in the valley. As we trek past giant tropical leaves, everyone is chatting in their groups, and – after months of training and planning – enjoying the feeling of finally getting underway. By about the 10km mark however, the trail heads steeply back up towards the first checkpoint at Dundas Road. Relaxed banter is soon replaced with much sweating and puffing.

Our strategy is simple: walk as quick as we can and take the shortest breaks we can at each of the 6 Checkpoints. CP 1 at 15.5km is brief – we stop for just a few minutes to refill water and grab a jam sandwich. It’s then almost a mirror repeat for stage 2 – the trail heads down, down, down to a creek and back up, up, up to CP2 Hammermeister Road. This time though the ascent is even steeper. We pass quite a few teams at this point – encouraged that all our training is paying off when it counts.

By 2pm we have passed through CP 2 at 28.3km (another quick fuel and water only pit stop) and it’s mostly all downhill from here to Checkpoint 3 at the southern end of Lake Manchester. We are all feeling in very good spirits. It’s been a beautiful day with warm sunshine and blue skies, and we are soon enjoying some stunning afternoon sunshine that highlights the rugged escarpments all around us covered in hundreds of eucalyptus and gum trees. Lots of birdsong. This really is a special place.

Lamb stew

It’s now almost 5pm and the sun is starting to set. A hot meal and some rest is now foremost in our minds. CP3 and our scheduled dinner stop is just 5km away. Despite tired legs and sore feet, we get a surge of energy and start to salivate over the promised hot lamb stew waiting for us! Including training walks, this is our 6th time walking round Lake Manchester. This time though it’s different; we are seeing the lake in daylight for the first time. We all high five each other and take some photos. Such a good feeling and testimony to our high consistent average pace of 5kmh over the past 9 hours.

CP3 appears like a mirage out of a field. We have walked 45.7km and are welcomed by our fabulous support crew. This year is special too, as Heather and my 2 girls have made the 2-hour round trip to Lake Manchester to support me – love my family. Within 5 minutes we are sitting in sleeping bags, feet up with a steaming bowl of stew. Rarely has anything tasted so good! Chocolate brownies follow for dessert (the more calories the better) and we each grab 15 minutes of total rest. I change all my clothing including undies and feel refreshed and ready for the long night ahead.

Night walk

Almost 1 hour exactly since we arrived at CP3, and after hugs and handshakes of encouragement, we head back out onto the now dark and much cooler trail; headtorches, gloves, beanies, thermal tops, spare shoes, chocolate snacks – tick. We all feel recharged and ready to tackle the 15 infamous creek crossings that flow out of Lake Manchester. It soon becomes apparent, however, that the recent lack of rains across the region has dried up the creeks and we barely get a splash of water on our shoes (compared to 2015 when we had to wade through cold knee-deep water). This is good news and we start the long night section at a good pace. We join a few other teams and walk together for a while chatting and sharing our stories. One girl has a speaker in her backpack and plays some dodgy dance music. Although it’s fun for a while, I am happy to return back to the silence of the bush.

A couple of long hills lead us away from the Lake and up along more wide fire trails through to CP4 Scrub Road at 63.1km. It’s 10.05pm and we are 2 hours ahead of our goal time – fantastic! Here we enjoy 5-star service from the volunteers with coffee brought to us, along with water refills, fruit cake, chocolate, heaters and blankets; it’s hard to leave this all behind but we keep focused and stay only 12 minutes.

Midnight. We are about half way to the next stop and starting to all feel increasingly fatigued. It’s 15.5 hours since we left the start line, and we should all be tucked up in bed by now. We are buoyed up by Steve reminding us that Nikki and Maureen will be waiting for us at CP5 – now only 7km away – with homemade meat pies! We distract ourselves from the relentless walking by playing the Name Game. After a few rounds I am banned from being allowed to use any of my school friends’ names… miserable lot! The moon shines through the canopy above and for a few minutes walking uphill towards Mt Nebo I turn off my headtorch. It feels good to allow my eyes to adjust to some natural light for a change. Just before we reach the road, we are entertained by a short stretch of extremely steep and technical trail, so steep and precarious – especially in the dark after 75km of walking – that Oxfam have provided ropes to hang on to almost like abseiling. It would be fun if our feet didn’t hurt so much.  

75km mark

The last 2 km to CP5 is down a road finishing back at Bellbird Grove (we have done a full circle since drop off yesterday morning). 2 years ago, we re-named it Hellbird Grove, but the smiling faces of Nikki and Maureen waiting for us this time, and the aforementioned meat pies (seriously they tasted out of this world) banished any negative thoughts for now. 19 minutes of very welcome rest and a hearty feed and we walk back up the same 2km of tarmac with another new level of energy; the end is starting to come into, albeit still distant, view.

The final official checkpoint at Enoggera Dam – CP6 – arrives just 90 minutes later, only 6.7km from CP5. We decide to only pass through this one with a quick refill of water, anxious not to lose any more momentum. It’s now 3.15am and the 4 of us are all feeling the effects of the last 84.3km. Time to dig deep, push on and get to the end. If we can just keep going, and no one falls over, we will smash our previous time!

4.30am. 20 hours since the start line. We walk in silence now – Steve and Brent with headphones listening to some motivating tunes. Paul and I just lost in our own heads. I am behind Steve and try to stay focused on the trail ahead. I am feeling so tired and delirious though with a sore left knee (super tight quads) that I am struggling to walk in a straight line and actually stay awake. A cold wind blows past. It must be only about 5 degrees. I rub my hands together to create some warmth and think about having breakfast back at home sometime later today with Heather and the girls.  Seeing daylight would be a welcome sight too, but that is still a while off. This is the shortest day of the year after all.

Final big push!

5.30am. We are at about the 92km mark and somewhere in The Gap, walking past sleeping houses. Perhaps some people are getting up for work around now. We have still not even gone to bed.  The trail takes a turn back into the bush and up towards Mt Coot-tha Look Out. We start to feel excited that the end really is close now. One final big uphill push along the winding Honeyeater Track and we pop out just below the summit car park. A smiling Oxfam volunteer points towards another trail across the road. We see the Channel 9 TV tower above us and just then pass that man running with his dog…5km to go and it’s all downhill!

6.52am THE FINISH LINE! Suddenly we have done it. The last 3 km seem to go on forever. Despite this, our general level of exhaustion and various body parts in pain, we even manage to jog a bit in the final 30 minutes. We pass a volunteer sitting on a rock grinning at us – “well done lads, just 500 yards to go”…we can hear the generators at the finish line and all stop to regroup so we can walk the final bit together. Our kids run out to greet us with 50 yards to go, and lead us over the finish line.  22 hours 22 minutes since we started yesterday morning. Wow! 1 hour and 34 minutes quicker than last time. Incredible! Truly an epic experience from start to finish. I lie down on the grass and stretch my very tight glutes. Quick check of the feet – overall not bad considering – one small blister on my right baby toe. Out of the corner of my eye I see my kids playing tag with their friends. Normally I might go and join in. I think I’ll pass this time! THE END.

Event stats:

  • Distance: 102km walked from Mt Glorious to Mt Coot-tha.
  • Time: 22 hour 22 mins (94 mins quicker than 2 years ago!)
  • Position: 7th/141 teams 
  • Avge speed: 4.6kmh
  • Descent: 1743m Ascent: 1296m
  • Calories used: 6049 Kj
  • Drinks: approx 6-7 litres water, 1 coffee
  • Food: Lamb stew, beef pie, 4 energy bars, 5 apples, 5 bananas, 3 jam sandwiches, fruitcake, choc, lollies for emergency sugar! 
  • Training kilometres walked: 336 (January to June)
  • Fundraising: $4625 (thank you everyone)

Post-race reflections

A huge thank you to our epic support crew: Heather, Nikki Marie, Andrea, Tammy, Barry and Maureen, plus of course the Banner boys and the Ellson girls. 

Thanks Oxfam; this really is the most fabulous event – we even received a special commemorative medal this year (2019 is the 20th anniversary of Trailwalker in Australia) and I value saying I am part of it. The organisation that goes into putting on an event of this size is truly mind boggling – from State Emergency Service, Park wardens, St John’s Ambulance, physios, podiatrists and massage therapists, to the full time Oxfam crew. In total 500 volunteers help out so thanks to you all.

I am so very proud of what we have achieved again this year and must end this report with a big shout out to my team mates Paul, Steve and Brent!! You guys are superstars and I feel privileged to be part of such an awesome team. 

‘No Chafe Neanderthals’ will be back…!

Feeling inspired?

If you are thinking about entering the next Oxfam Trailwalker 55km or 100km event, or a similar endurance walk, and would like some help planning your training and event day strategy (including kit and nutrition), please send a message to nick@nickellson.com.au

2 thoughts on “Oxfam Trailwalker race report”

  1. Brilliant inspiring report. Makes me wonder again about doing the UK trailwalker with you Nick and our other brother Max and 1 other.

    Incredible time. How could you beat it?

    I’m now in training, starting with the name game!

  2. Thanks James! Really glad you enjoyed reading it and that you feel inspired yourself. Our time this year will be hard to beat unless we run quite a bit of the flat and downhill sections and reduce our time at the checkpoints… both hard tasks. I am definitely up for Trailwalker UK in the next few years!

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