Sitting in the oversized lap-counting tent quite early on the morning of the race I was struck by the calmness of the steady stream of athletes approaching to pick up their race numbers for the 24-hour journey they were about to endure. They all looked fit, but each person clearly had a different strength or quality they were about to share with their fellow runners, helpers and lap-counters.
The weather was clear and crisp, landscape seeming to reflect the anticipation, pulsating energy and curiosity as we all entered the unknown realm of our future. Before any of us really had time to take stock the whistle had blown and the runners were loping around the track in a mixed display of dynamism, grace and quiet achievement.
The venue was the perfect location for this race. The facilities offered the runners and helpers everything they could possibly need. The track was in perfect condition, the scenery was beautiful and serene and the cooking and bathroom facilities were comprehensive. All we had to do now was run and count laps.
Of the 35 brave souls that entered the 24-hour race, 7 of them were women. A fact I was quite pleased to see. Another fact that really should be noted was the results. No less than four of these women placed in the top 10 of the race. Allison Lilley, the 2012 Women's 24 Hour Ultra Marathon Champion ran 192.168 kilometres. This is one of the best performances by a woman in Australian running history and placed her third overall. She was followed by Cassie Smith, whose 181.479 kilometres and overall 5th place was another amazing achievement. Larissa Tichon cheerfully ran her way into third place by attaining her pre-determined goal of 180 kilometres. Michelle Thompson's power race walk took her to 9th place overall with a total of 174.896 kilometres. It was delightful to see the talent Australian women have to offer this great sport.
The men's 2012 24 Hour National Ultra Marathon Championship was won by Mike Canty, an ex track runner who gracefully completed 210.892 kilometres. He looked very fresh for the duration of the race and saved the outer signs of the physical toll the race took on him for the moment everyone was watching as he came up to receive his trophy. Hope you're feeling better soon!
Trevor Allen and Justin Scholz battled it out for second and third. Trevor coming in with 193.410 kilometres, closely followed by Justin with 190.660 kilometres. Paul Wright, Phill Le Marinel and Jason Murphy rounded out the top ten finishers by running in excess of 168 kilometres. Phill also won the prize for being the most polite runner on the track.
Now it's time to get creative. Take your shoes and socks off, run down to the end of the street and back and then keep running for another 23 hours and 59 minutes or until you have covered 166.444 kilometres. This is what Rob Knowles did. In the process he broke two world records (pending verification) and raised nearly $10,000 for charity. No pun intended, what a feat!
At midday on the Saturday, the 24-hour runners were joined by around 20 6-hour runners. In the planning stages of the race this seemed like a great idea. However as the field took off it became clear that we were in for an edge of the seat nail-biting experience. For about three hours Ben Malby and Raymond Wareham treated us with a demonstration of the boundless capacity of human endurance and speed as they practically sprinted around the track. The pace was serious and the lap counting tent was sent into a concentration frenzy. Is it shallow to complain about having a sore neck and wrist from keeping up with counting their laps?
In the end it was the steady level gait of Gary Mullins that took line honours in the 6-hour by running an impressive 72.290 kilometres. He was followed by Kevin Muller (67.367km) and Peter Mullins (62.338) who as well as coming third overall won the 50-59 age category. Fighting illness, Keith â€˜Buzzâ€™ Hong still managed to run 62.071 kilometres and came in fourth overall. Ray James came in fifth running 61.822 kilometres and narrowly missed out on breaking the world record for his age.
In the women's race Denise Maguire dominated the race from the beginning and crossed the line with 60.430 kilometres. She was followed by Sharon Blair (51.707) and Angela Mcilwain (50.941).
With the excitement of the 6-hour race receding, the 24-hour runners were nearing their half way mark. By now there was a tangible rhythm to the race as all the various components seemed to be functioning just how they should be. The food was coming out regularly and was delicious and nourishing, the coffee machine opened up just in time for the evening shift, and the lap counters had finally worked out how to calculate a split, much to the relief of the lap counting captain.
The weather had held up until this point and we had been treated by a clear, sunny, cool day. However, as the darkness descended on the track the warmth seem to literally be sucked out of the air, only to be left with what seemed like a giant freezer. We all scrambled for anything that could ward off the unrelenting chill.
It was at this point that the 12-hour runners took to the track. We were very fortunate to have Martin Fryer, a much loved and respected ultra running champion offer us his services for the weekend. He was an enormous help during the challenges of the concurrent day races and we were comforted to know he would be there for the 12-hour. In the evening Michael 'Slowmo' Bedward, local Sydney running identity also arrived to count laps throughout the night.
Agnieszka Flak led the women out and never really lost a beat over the next 12 hours. Her performance of 112.747 kilometres saw her taking line honours in the womenâ€™s category and fourth outright. It was a fantastic run. She was followed by a very pink and very cheerful Sarah-Jane Marshall (85.067) and a very consistent Cathie Wiltshire (75.699).
Adrian Horvath loped around the track with an effortless grace that reminded one of a river casually making its way to somewhere. He won the men's category with 129.477 kilometres. He was followed by the focused and determined Rick Cooke, in a none too shabby 123.514 kilometres. Wayne Botha came in third with another high mileage result (117.521).
Paul Every, the ultra-marathon veteran, also cracked the hundred kilometre mark. Having run with Paul before, it was nice to see him do his thing with the poise and cheer of the dedicated long-distance runner.
The weekend was filled with a myriad of wonderful experiences for anyone who was lucky enough to be there. I have heard many wonderful stories and hope the memories inspire everyone to come back again next year.
Niboddhri Ward, Race Director