Race Report: Sri Chinmoy 24 & 12 Hour Races, Blacktown Sports Park, 14/15 June 2014
It was my great pleasure this year to step up from being a helper at the two previous editions of this event to being the Race Director. It wasn’t a hard decision as it is a Race Director’s dream to have such an experienced and joyful group of volunteers to work with as the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team (SCMT) and such a wonderful mixture of runners to serve that spanned an experience spectrum from complete newbie to National Team level, and that came from near (Sydney) and far (Western Australia and New Zealand).
I have already had feedback from many runners telling me about how the enthusiastic support by members of the SCMT and their provision of such an outstanding selection of tasty food (some runners were asking for the recipes) helped them to achieve something special in their chosen events.
24 Hour Race
After the traditional minute of silence to contemplate the journey ahead (and to be grateful for all that had helped them get to the start line!) the 24h runners enthusiastically embarked on their mission on a slightly wet track after some steady overnight rain. Thankfully, the weather cleared to perfect running conditions for the rest of the race and the performances matched this accordingly.
A fine standard was set in the Men’s 24h race with 5 entrants finishing over the 200K mark, 11 exceeding 100 miles and 24 entrants exceeding 100 K. The early race lead moved from John Power to Kevin Muller but eventually New Zealander Bryan McCorkingdale (M60-69) prevailed with a perfectly paced race that reflected his strength and experience.
Serial ultramarathon racer Kevin Muller completed over 220K in this race only one week after coming 2nd in the Gold Coast 100K race!
Experienced C2K campaigner and keen trail runner Kevin Heaton showed his class with 216K on his 24h track debut, displaying great restraint to walk extra periods early in the race when he was ahead of schedule.
A very determined and focused Robert Knowles stuck to a brutally tight schedule in the last 6 hours of the race in an attempt to get his 24h Guinness Book of Records barefoot title back (the existing record was around 211K), which required a barefoot PB of over 30K. The provisional results (212.210K) suggest that he may have just sneaked in a new record, which is a phenomenal achievement.
Matt Chamberlain was one big ear-to-ear smile as he celebrated breaking 200K while Chris Knowles had a superb run to make the nervous 190’s. Adam Connor, Geoff Last, Darren Kime and Colin Brooks also ran very brave and determined races (with some impressive new PBs in there) to break the famous 100 mile target.
Whilst a recently injured and underprepared Justin Scholz might have been disappointed with missing the walking records he was going for, the rest of the runners and helpers were simply amazed that he could yet again walk well over 100 miles in 24 hours on a bad day!
Trevor Allen, Steve Domonkos, Dean Metcalf and Kurt Topper all ran a credible 150K plus, each fighting their own personal battles to make it into this challenging distance range.
The effervescent Geoff Tomlins finished his very first 24 Hour Race with a very tidy 143K despite an early foot injury, some extreme chafing and some extended breaks. He gave a fantastic interview at the awards ceremony that was colorful and full of pithy wisdom. Joining him in the 140’s were excellent runs by Charbel Sandroussi, Anyce “Kip” Melham (a long time participant of this event and previous winner), and a very mellow and contemplative Billy Pearce, who was using this race as a training run for the Adelaide 6 Day Race later this year.
For some runners and walkers this year it just wasn’t meant to be but they had the courage to start, to do their best on the day, and remained in good spirits throughout: Michael Thompson fought blisters, Mal Gamble was not quite healed from a soleus injury and Jo Blake’s conscience as a dad got the better of him in the mid afternoon as he snuck off for quite a few hours to see one of his sons’ football matches before returning to the track, but eventually retiring later on. Visiting New Zealander Andrew Shelley was hoping for his Centurion walk debut but unfortunately things didn’t go his way - I have no doubt he will be back even more determined to get it right. A number of walkers and run/walkers, including the inimitable Louis Commins, Robert Osborne and Graeme Thompson performed admirably, and the ever popular Greg Finlay finished on 114K with a “blistering” last lap after a race plagued by blisters!
It was wonderful to see the return of previous Australian 24 Hour representative, Meredith Quinlan, to the winner’s podium with one of her typical steady paced races, a very strong finish, and yet another final result in the 210 to 220K range. Meredith has been spending more time on the mountain bike recently but decided to return to the track to remember just how fun these events can be!
Like Kevin Muller, Annabel Hepworth is a serial ultramarathon racer who also achieves amazing results week after week with almost no recovery in between. She displayed incredible strength and resilience to run over 180K in what she believed to be quite a cathartic race for her, having started the race with many things weighing heavily on her mind but finishing with a beautiful smile and an open heart.
Third place went to Jade Crim, who had a blinder of a race, finishing with 157km thanks to her mighty perseverance and the help of a very supportive and animated crew while fourth place went to the ever smiling New Zealander Heather Andrews who attained an excellent 135K in style.
Fifth and sixth places went to two delightful visitors from Brisbane: both Cassie Smith and Subala Kamalan had tough races but both triumphed with very credible distances of 123K and 100K, respectively.
12 Hour Race
The start of the 12 Hour race at 10 pm brought a new wave of energy to the track which certainly helped the 24 h participants to enter their second half with renewed vigour.
So far in 2014 Canberra’s Paul Cuthbert has completed two tough trail ultras (North Face 100K and 168K Ultra Trail Mt Fuji in Japan) but decided to broaden his experience and have a go at the 12 Hour, which he won (supported by his lovely family) on debut with over 116K on a much less forgiving surface. I’m sure Paul is looking forward to once again making the podium in the upcoming Canberra 101K trail race in September.
Second place went to a smiling and stylish James Sylvester whose positive attitude led him to a smart 111.6 km, while 3rd and 4th was a close contest between Matt Menegazzo’s 104K and Mark Northcott, who was very happy to break 100k with 15 minutes to go and power on to 103K.
Another Paul with a strong trail ultra heritage, Paul Shoemark, ran a courageous 98 K to fall just short of the century. Rob Howarth also had the century goal but entered at short notice, had a strong start and recovered at the end after a mid race slump to finish with a very respectable 88km on debut.
Stromlo 12 Hour regular and stalwart Saul Richardson once again surpassed 80K while Australian champion racewalker and Coburg 24 Hour race director, Tim Erickson, had a hard day at the office and unfortunately fell well short of the remarkable records that he had set in the previous edition of this event.
One of the truly inspirational performances of this event that went under the radar involved Greg Smith. This race was the icing on the cake for Greg after a remarkable journey in the last 6 months including abstention from alcohol, losing 20 kg of bodyweight and raising almost $6000 for the Australian Missing Person’s register. Cheered on by coach Gary Mullins and a very enthusiastic crew Greg exceeded his wildest expectations by walking 65K!
Legendary vets ultrarunner Ron Schwebel set an absolutely cracking pace in his brave attempt to break the M60 50K record but the brutal pace proved too much in the cool conditions and cramping unfortunately forced him to retire early.
Bernadette Benson came into this race with a mission to go hard and take a lot of records home and she did this and more. In a gritty and extremely focused display of strength, grace and determination she covered over 133K to take out first outright place as well as setting new records including the Canadian W45 6hr record, the AUS and CAN W45 100k records, and the AUS and CAN Open 12 hr records for W45. Her speech at the awards ceremony was memorable, perfectly capturing her own success and disappointment, giving honest and gracious thanks to those who helped, and bringing all runners into her victory, by explaining how she had watched others going through their own tough times and drew on the strength and courage they all showed.
Cambewarra’s Sabina Hamaty is always a glowing presence on the track and she not only fulfilled her aim of just running for pure joy (rather than competitively) but also just happened to run a very good distance of over 108K for second place.
Third place went to Helen McDonald who, like many others, made a very successful transition from trail to track with an impressive 98K on debut, while Rebecca Horsburgh surprised herself my walking an amazing 68K on very little preparation Cathie Wiltshire (Cool Running’s Gadfly) didn’t have a great run for her in terms of kms but was delighted to achieve 64K and a bonus sprint finish after carrying a back injury for the last 12 months.
Overall, the event was a great success, thanks to the runners, crew, volunteers and the support of the race sponsors (Shotz Sports nutrition Australia for the best electrolyte, gels and bars around; Blisterprevention.com.au for ENGO patches and superb education materials, and Highly Tuned Athletes for Video recording of the event as well as their race packs and great offers on specialist electronic gear that is highly sought by ultra runners).
An absolute standout aspect was the incredible atmosphere at the track created by the crews, most notably the luminous Sarah Jane Marshall and her colleague Gordon Plunkett who not only crewed for their 7 runners but catered to any other orphans throughout the race with an energy that was absolutely infectious.
What is most gratifying for a Race Director after the sleep deprivation has worn off is the realisation that all of the runners, crews and volunteers that were present last weekend have had their lives changed forever - none of us will ever be the same. A shared journey of determination, grace, enthusiasm, poise, courage, gratitude, joy and love and an absolute understanding of what it means to be part of the true universal oneness of humanity.
I do hope we see everyone again next year but in the meantime I will leave you with two quotes from Gordon Plunkett’s crewing report posted on Cool Running Australia which capture some of my feelings in a nutshell:
“One thing I love about this sport is some people you have never met but after a quick hello and 24hrs of pain you know them very well and remain friends for a very long time”.
“Sharing this from another side was just awesome; helping runners to achieve their running goals is very rewarding”.
Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team
19 June 2014