GNW: Sydney to Newcastle FKT 2021
(Distances mentioned are based on the original mapped distances. The actual run distance ended up 10km longer than what the maps calculated. The route used was the current route, no temporary deviations in place. But there are newer course changes)
The original plan had been to fly to WA and race Delirious WEST as the first race in a crack at the Triple Crown (3 Two Hundred Mile races in a calendar year). But COVID restrictions brought that plan to a halt and after discussing it with Julie Brock, we both had the same backup plan. GNW!!
The run took place on the same weekend that Delirious WEST was originally planned and I wanted to do South to North (Sydney to Newcastle) because that’s the way the bushwalkers hike, it’s the way I first hiked it in 2006 and I really don’t like the giant steps in the southern section so wanted to get them out of the way early.
So the plan was made! Mum and I met Julie and Dave (Julie’s partner and support crew) at the Obelisk at Macquarie Place just before 3am, for some photos and general nerves before Dave did the official countdown and to cheers from the crowd of two plus the guy asleep on the bench (who did not cheer). We were off. A cruisy jog down to Circular Quay, touch Wharf #5, then turn around and run back to the cars parked on Pitt St. For an exciting 600m start (it was probably less). And now we’re driving.
The GNW is interesting because there’s two major water crossings. The first being Sydney Harbour. And it doesn’t really matter how you get across it. Ferry, water taxi. Or in our case car. Dave & Julie took a slightly faster route to Woolwich and were already there when we arrived after about 20-25mins of driving. All good. A quick toilet stop, tap the ferry wharf at Woolwich and I was off onto the streets of Sydney.
This part I navigated by watch map & the GNW markers on poles. I’d built the map I was using on my watch based on the original GNW maps mum had (from 1993), the WildWalks website & previous FKT attempts. So it was reasonably solid. But there was a risk some parts might be outdated. Overall following the course wasn’t too difficult and an entire summer of sprinting at high speed following orienteering maps, I felt like I could manage this! Julie had warned me about one part, where the course has been slightly extended due to a house being built and conveniently this is also where I caught up to her and her pacer Joasia.
Lots of spiders, what may have been nice views if it was light, and city bush stretches between and around houses. The morning was pleasant and the running was easy. Only one mistake where the pole was sitting at a fork, with a road on the left and a dirt road on the right of it. I took the dirt…. That turned out to be a driveway. If that 100m was the only mistake I made. I was going to be fine.
I climbed up to Thornleigh Oval (27kms) a little while after sunrise to find mum there. And it was a quick refuel. Drop off the headlamp, get the cap. Get some more food and water. Photos and I was off.
The day was starting to warm up as I approached Galston Gorge (43km) and could Woot from the track I was descending across to mum at the carpark on the other side of the bridge…. It still took another 5 minutes to get to her by climbing down, then climbing back up the other side. Mum had also found another runner. David who was out for his morning run from Crosslands to Galston Gorge and back. This was great! I could now kidnap a pacer. We left there chatting cause I’d been running for hours and was getting bored. And he was planning to do Lakes 100, which I’d recently run around on and was also keen to do in July. This made for a pleasant jog into Crosslands (49km). More refueling, mostly using Tailwind, Baby Food & Special K smoothies. The last time I’d run this next section was while Rogaining with a previous FKT holder Kirrily Dear. So that made for some nice memories. Mostly of her overheating, but I enjoyed it.
The day was definitely starting to cook and I spent a couple of minutes in one of the creeks cooling off. This may become a problem, it was only mid-morning. A cruise on down into Berowra Waters (55km). I got a lot more sunscreen, water, drinks, Tailwind, and a cool towel. Basically anything I could use to keep my temperature down. Mum was off to pickup an ice block and some ice before the next stop at Cowan.
I’ve gotta say Berowra Waters to Cowan is one of the more frustrating sections. It’s mostly unrunnable and just so up and down, with giant steps and not a section I run just for fun too often. Coming up to Cowan (62km) I was concerned…. The heat was hitting, I was cooking and in a few more K’s I was going to hit firetrail. I gobbled on ice, the ice block, more sunscreen, re-soaked the cool towel (which was working great and pretty much just kept me covered in water), shoved some ice in my crop top and set off across the road and train station for the descent to Jerusalem Bay.
Now this is a nice section! An enjoyable descent to one of the prettiest parts of the course. The bay had a few swimmers and boats on that day. Mostly across the other side at the jumping rock. I really liked the look of it. The thought of having a nice swim to cool off. Soooo inviting. But not today!
The hike out of Jerusalem Bay is a killer! It’s split into sections and you think you’re at the top after each section (you’re not). Then it drops down to a creek, for a final climb before it’s up onto the fire trails around the dam.
The fire trails were as unpleasant as expected. Just past midday sun, with the temperature a bit over 30, and humid. I had a brief stop in the dam to re-soak the towel, my cap and my shirt before the final push and steep descent down the concrete path (which the bushwalkers still refuse to do and persist on using the old track) into Brooklyn (76km). Mum was there along with Jo & Troy who were waiting for Julie to come in.
It was nice seeing some other people. I refueled on ice, more ice, cool drinks, and took Tailwind with me. It was getting hard to get food in with the heat. Mum walked me down to the public wharf where my ride across the Hawkesbury was waiting. This was the last time I would see mum until Saturday morning, as she needed sleep before she could support crew up in the Watagans.
What was going to be the Gidley Party Boat, was actually the Gidley Pirate Boat. Lisa, Adam and their son Mason had all dressed for the occasion. There were sea shanties playing and I was being runnernapped by pirates!
The ride around to Patonga was exciting! The boat was launching off the waves, so I was screaming, clinging on and eating a zooper dooper. We pulled into Patonga and I re-sorted my gear (my watch needed charging after being used for mapping in Sydney, so it had a battery pack and was now dangling off my pack strap) and then I was off running down the beach. Meanwhile Mason who’d clearly also gotten hot was jumping off the boat into the water. I was jealous.
The hike out of Patonga was as scenic as ever, then it’s onto the Warrah Trig road at the top, another hot and toasty firetrail. I crossed Patonga Drive (80km) and was greeted by my new support crew Kel and a surprise supporter Amy who was cheering. Another Zooper Dooper, lots and lots of water to refill + anything else I could get in, or would keep me cool.
Originally I wasn’t going to have a pacer for this next section, but it was also one of the longer and tougher sections. So I was very grateful when Kel offered to join me. Then we were off. Things started to go downhill at about the same time it got dark. I’d pushed too hard through the heat and I was paying for it now. I couldn’t get food in. I was feeling weak and tired. I stopped a few times and just layed down, trying desperately to pull it back together. This was going to be a very very long night. Fortunately Kel was patient and kept me moving when I needed to be, and let me stop when I needed to stop.
It was a relief to make it to the old Mooney Mooney Bridge (105km) where I could hear the sounds of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” blaring from the Happy Hour aid station setup by Lisa, Liz & Lisa’s daughter Tahlia. They were fully into it. All the food was available, music, drinks…. All of it!
I got more water, some snacks, but I was struggling too much to get in real food. So the snacks were mostly energy drinks and anything liquid and cool. From here Lisa joined me on the next section, starting with a walk/run down Karool Rd where there was a run in with a Funnel Web where I mostly just screamed nonsensically for Lisa to move…. Everyone was fine.
On the climb up past the Reservoirs we had Firthy track us down, he was waiting for me at Somersby, but had got impatient so set off to find us. We got into the end of Robinson Rd, Somersby (117km) sometime late in the night, things were vague. But we were greeted by Liz, Tahlia & Katy
I had a laydown for a few minutes and then the whole group set off down the road, with Lisa driving to the next aid station. Even Tahlia briefly ran with us. Somewhere on this next stage I vowed to never run again, declared that I was never running GNW again and seriously considered impaling Firthy with my running pole (I can’t quite remember why). I was a tad messy coming into the end of Kilkenny Rd, Somersby (122.5km).
Fortunately the others seemed to really really enjoy my pain. As we farewelled Liz & Lisa. Katy, Firthy and I descended to Palm Grove and leeches. So many leeches (this was pretty much the rest of the run, leeches!). I hate leeches. They freak me out, so every single support crew bag had Bushmans in it, I wasn’t going to get them. But because it was so wet a few still managed to get on my shoes.
The next few hours were hell for me. I was trashed without being able to get food in, and being fatigued from a day of running. It was a run/walk along the trails with Katy & Firthy keeping up the energy. They also made me comfy when I had a couple of lay downs for 5mins on a space blanket (purely to protect me from the leeches). Katy even did leech guard duty. On the final hike out of Dead Horse Gully I slipped off a rock while looking at a frog, and it was just lucky that Katy who was behind me grabbed my shorts and I kind of ended up wedged against the rock. Fortunately no injuries, besides a couple of bruises. That one could have ended very badly.
It was a relief coming out onto Cherry Lane at the top of Bumble Hill (138.5km) to find Tim & Kel there waiting and with Watermelon (Katy’s idea). I laid down for a bit, ate watermelon, had some hydralite which I fell asleep while drinking for a few mins. But then I started to feel a bit better. I got a Special K smoothie into me and I was “ok”. The sun was just starting to come up and it was time to get this show back on the road.
Farewelling Katy and Firthy. Tim joined me for the journey down Bumble Hill, as always it’s a nice run down, not particularly steep for the size of the mountain. Just cruisy down. We got into Yarramalong (146km) not long after sunrise and I found mum there along with my next pacer Detta.
Kel who was meant to be there was actually a little further down the road, but she came looking for us (fortunately Yarramalong now has phone reception). Mum had brought some leftover fried rice with her, and that was perfect. I needed real food, I had gone too long without decent calories. So the rice was a tasty, salty wholesome meal.
Tim, Detta and I set off down Yarramalong Rd. This was a section I was dreading. It’s 11km’s of road. Mostly flat, and incredibly boring. Detta was on a bike and as always was incredibly chatty. So with the both of them and me feeling much better, the road, which, while still bad, wasn’t the living hell I’d feared it would be. I was also impressed with how well Detta managed to ride that slow. I mean she could ride at walking pace…. Impressive!
Mum and Kel were waiting for us at Cedar Brush (157km). Where I had some more fried rice, then it was some serious shoe spraying before I headed off into the Watagans with Kel by my side. The next part wasn’t too bad, apart from the leeches. I’ve never minded the hike up from Cedar Brush, it kind of just meanders up. There’s also some good frog spots on the way.
It had been raining lightly throughout the morning, but now it started to rain really heavy. So Kel and I were both soaked when we came out onto Walkers Ridge Rd (162km). More gear and shoe spraying for the next section with it’s deep gullies.
The only good part about the rain is that at least I wasn’t hot, nor particularly cold. It was a good temperature. But hours of rain does get tedious. Conversations went from the nice sound of the rain in the rainforest sections, to what caves it would be nice to sit in if I wasn’t running. Then leeches. Unsurprisingly we only saw 3 other hikers all morning, and surprisingly they knew exactly what I was up to.
The rain slowed down on the horrible descent down to Watagan Creek Road (173.5km) for some leech removal (I’d gotten two on my hands which weren’t sprayed). Mum, Tim & Ben were waiting for us there and I enjoyed frankfurts with tomato sauce. Re-geared my stuff and set off with Ben, who was primarily being used as cow bait.
The bull was eyeing us off as we walked down through the paddock that makes up part of the GNW course. I was 100% ready to abandon Ben and roll under the fence into the next paddock if that bull moved! Fortunately it just eyed us, and in the next paddock the cows were elsewhere.
A nice hike up to Flat Rock, while I charged my watch again (this should be the last charge). And then walk/run the ridgeway along the top. I’d started to see things by now so was convinced that I could see the radio tower up ahead. Ben confirmed that, yes, there was a building…. There wasn’t a building. The building came eventually then it was a descent down the track that had a new diversion in place. Easy as to follow and didn’t seem any longer.
Coming out onto Congewai Rd (185.5km). Liz was there ready to pace the next section, along with mum and Lisa came driving past getting ready to pace the section after this just while I was snacking on more Frankfurts. Ben meanwhile was headed back over the mountain to his car (he made it back past the bull in one piece).
Liz and I walked/ran down the road, with mum driving up alongside to heckle at one stage that the slight climb I was hiking up was not really that steep. Coming up to the other end of Congewai Rd (191km). I had some more food and a surprise pacer showed up to join Lisa and I. Dave who’d recently moved up not too far from this section. So not only could he pace, he could also navigate!
I quite like the hike up to Barraba. I guess like the last few big hikes. They’re big, they’re long, but they’re not unpleasant, they meander their way up to the top of the mountain, no big steps. Just meandering climbing paths. Dave was great, I just had to follow along. The leeches were fine once we hit George’s Rd and Dave really really likes George’s Rd. Overall a nice section with some light rain and it got dark not too long before we got into Old Forestry HQ (207km)
Dave had to rush back home so he could head back into Congewai and pickup Julie for his next round of pacing. Mum fed me some mexican rice, while I geared up for what is the most technical section of the whole run, it was dark, wet, and this was going to be rough.
Lisa and I set out from Old HQ. A few km’s of easy jogging, then it was into The Jungle! Lisa had never been in The Jungle before so this was definitely going to be an experience. The Jungle was the worst that i’ve ever seen it. It was muddy, super slippery, leeches everywhere and with the rain all the water crossings were under water. No stepping stones tonight. Navigation was tricky. I had to stay completely switched on, the trails are vague to start with, so with fatigue, darkness and everything wet and flooded made it quite a challenge. But it at least kept me awake.
We emerged filthy from The Jungle at Heatons Lookout (215km) a couple of hours later. A cold wind was howling at Heatons. So I didn’t stay long, just enough time to have more rice & refuel my gear. Lisa headed off and Pren joined in the fun. She was an expert on this next part of the course. Exactly what I needed. Also I’d only run with her once before so there was plenty to talk about.
A fairly slow descent to Heatons Gap (219km). A quick stop (more for moral support than actual gear). And onto the rolling trails with the Wakefield descent which I always forget how long it is. By now I was tired. Like really tired. It was late in the night and I’d had maybe 10 minutes actual sleep since Friday morning.
Mum was setup at Wakefield Tennis Club (228km). I agreed with mum that it was indeed the creepiest aid station to setup at. It was a shuffle run/hike up the climbs from Wakefield to Teralba. The hard surface was really rough on the souls of my feet which felt tender. Teralba train station (234km) where Pren tried her first ever Revvie (not a fan) and I hit the “fancy gels” the Maurten Gels who’s caffeine has worked for me in the past.
More painful road and bike track. My poor feet! Into Warners Bay (240km). Which is a pretty dead location in the early hours of the morning. Only a couple of ferals out and about. Energy drinks and I was off again. This next section is really vague. Pren basically ran in front, and I know I laid down once for 60 seconds. But mostly I was just following the light. I am so glad Pren knew the way. The mess of trails and tight turns would have been incredibly hard for me to do alone.
Coming into Charlestown (247km). Tim and Kel were back and they’d brought sparklers! The world was weird for me. I was out of it. I took another fancy gel, there were photos. I followed Pren’s light down to Yuelerbah Carpark (250km). Where it was light enough’ish to ditch the headlamp and put on my cap. Fortunately Tim left his headlamp on and lit the path up for me in the more overgrown sections as we crossed Owls & Possums territory heading for the beach.
This whole section I was struggling to know where I was, all I knew was that I had to run. The re
st was weird. I wasn’t completely in my body. I was very very confused. Then we hit the sand. The sun was still coming up and my brain told me I was at Cosy Corner on the Bibbulmun Track and this was a run leg. So I pointed down the beach and started running. It was running time! This happens during all of the ultras at some stage. My legs go from, I can’t do this. To, we run, we run fast, we run now! I go with it. There’s a focus and I can run very fast like this. So the sand was quick. We did end up in a rockpool? I don’t really know. Anyway I was in the water at one point as we made our way around to Merewether beach. More running up to mum who was now joined by the Gidleys and I’m pretty sure I saw Duncan (who I’ve run with at Owls & Possums) at Dixon Park (256km).
A shirt change, no more gear needed now it was only 4kms to go! I said I was going to run most of this, and we took off. I hiked one big hill, but the rest was as flat out as I could run. Luckily Pren and occasionally Tim was navigating. With Tim, Pren and Kel all stopping me from getting run over. A final sprint across the road, and with mum directing me to the new sign I was finished (260km). There was cheering from mum, the Gidleys, my cousin (who happened to be in Newcastle that day) and her friend, plus a few Wooters who’d been tracking my progress. It was great. I was very relieved to be finished. Plus, a new FKT!!! 52:36!
52:36 - Female FKT Great North Walk (270km)
3 * Coast Runners Shops Shirts + Wooters Shirt
ThermaTech shorts (I wish I knew what model these are I love them, but can’t find them to buy another pair)
Lasportiva Bushido shoes
Injinji Original Weight socks, Mini Crew
3 Buffs (Bibbulmun, Hume and Hovell, Terrigal Trotters)
Ferei HL40 Headlamp
Ultimate Direction Adventure Vesta 5.0
Leki Micro Trail Race poles
2ltr Ultimate Direction bladder
4 * 250ml Salomon Soft Flasks (for the Tailwind, on rotation)
Elastoplast Cooling Towel
Bushmans Heavy Duty
Spot 3 Tracker
Invisible Zinc sunscreen
Baby Food (Fruit custards, breakfast ones, fruit ones)
Special K Smoothie sachets
Tailwind (Green Tea Flavour)
Mixed chocolates & Lollies
Zooper Doopers & Icy Poles
Soft Drinks (Ginger Beer, Passiona, Mountain Dew, Coke)
Energy Drinks (Whatever was on special)
Mums Fried Rice
Instant Mexican Rice
Frankfurts & Tomato Sauce
Maurten Caffeine Gels
Watermelon & Grapes
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