Tuesday October 6th, 2020 – Prelude
Our arrival in Murray Bridge set the tone. The journey ahead would require us to adapt to whatever situation presented. Problem number one? The trail head was a construction site and the sign that signifies the start of the Lavender Federation Trail was gone! A quick scout about and we found that we could start at the edge of the construction site 150m further along.
After checking into our accommodation and having a quick nap, it was time to meet up with the other runners at the Murray Bridge Hotel. My Crew Chief Andrew and I were greeted by the always energetic Michelle Hanlin. She was part of the Irrational South 200 Mile Race that was originally scheduled to be run in June 2020, got postponed to October then subsequently was cancelled due to Covid-19 restrictions. She’d given up her entire week just to support and be a part of this incredible experience. The fact that she’s a Registered Nurse was a welcome comfort too.
Once inside we met Sarah and Heather. Sarah is your typical ultra endurance athlete, completely unassuming and with a steady quiet temperament. I soon found out she was more than prepared, having already run the entire trail fast-pack style only a month or so earlier. Heather is part of Shaun Kaesler’s family (Shaun IS Ultra Series WA and put’s on many ultra-running events around Australia, currently setting up the Triple Crown-Under of 200 Mile events) and is also a Registered Nurse. She’s here to crew for Sarah but is also available to help the other runners with her wealth of experience. We feel very lucky and privileged to have such amazing support for our run, especially seeing as it is no longer and “proper” event. As it turns out Sarah is also a Registered Nurse. My pre-run nerves are building but are slightly tempered knowing by the company we’re in.
Soon Tash arrives with her partner Simon. Tash is also an experienced ultra-runner and is bubbling over with excitement as she sit down at our table. Like the rest of us she just wants to get out and get moving while Simon seems a little nervous. Turns out he’s never crewed for an ultra-marathon before. I guess this will be a pretty steep learning curve for him!
Last to arrive is Tamas. He and his family are full of jokes and excitement! The 200 Mile challenge is a reward to himself for finishing his University studies. Us ultra-runners are a completely normal bunch, aren’t we?
We enjoy each others company over dinner, sharing old running stories and plans for what we having facing us over the next few days. Not long after sunset we say our goodbyes and head off to our accommodation for an early night. Ready to meet at the start of the trail tomorrow morning at 7am.
Wednesday October 7th, 2020 – Day 1 – Wet, Wild and Extreme
Everyone gathered at the start area and it was wonderful to have my wife Charlie, the kids and Travis’s parents Heather and Murray there to see us off. It was interesting in that I didn’t have a huge bundle of nervousness in my gut. It all felt like heading out for a regular run with some new friends. Michelle assumed the starting duties and in typical Shaun Keasler fashion set us going with a “shoey”! The four of us set off into the cool morning with some light drizzle that I was hoping would clear as the day warmed up. We were all still getting to know each other and jogged along together full of conversation as we left the town of Murray Bridge and worked our way along Rocky Gully Creek to Kinchina National Park. It was as we skirted Monarto Safari Park that I was all of a sudden alone. It felt like we’d spread apart mid-conversation without even knowing it! I soon realised that the rain and cold wasn’t going anywhere so got out my “emergency” wind breaker from my pack. After passing Monarto I got a surprise as the family, Heather and Murray and decided to hang around and cheer us through one of the road junctions. After this the running rhythm settled in and the routine began, have an energy gel every hour and be sure to keep drinking – a mix of straight water and Infinit GoFar liquid nutrition in each bottle. This was what I practised in training and I was hoping would be able to fuel me for a large part of the 200 mile.
First checkpoint I stopped for a quick systems check with Andy and heading off from there met up and ran along with Sarah. It was great to have some company as my first buddy runner wouldn’t be joining me until the evening. The first morning was a mix of fire trails and single tracks that wound their way in between paddocks. As the day wore on we started to cross more and more paddocks and the signposts often started to say “walkers follow fence”. Sarah and I arrived and Bondleigh Road together after a pretty uneventful first 40km and I was happy to see my crew had grown by one with the arrival of Ryley and his beloved transit van Rosie. Andrew whipped me up his first of many sandwiches toasted in the frying pan which was exactly what I was craving. By now it was pretty obvious that the cold and rain was here to stay so I got my proper wet weather gear on a headed off. In what would become a bit of a pattern, just after leaving my crew I had some minor navigational difficulties but with no more than 100m deviation I was back on track. The excitement of seeing people seems to be a hazard when it comes to keeping an eye on the trail markers!
Soon after was the climb up to the high point of Day 1 – Mount Beevor. I’m sure the views from there must be spectacular but I was totally fogged in through this section. Just after summiting Ryley joined me, he’d run from further up the trail and it was great to come into the next checkpoint together. Another quick stop just to top up food and fluids and then on to the dinner stop for Day 1. Through this section I was joined by Sarah and Tash. Some of the local livestock were giving us the evil eye and even charged towards us a few times! We were thankful that the were on the other side of the barbed wire fences. The continual moving through paddocks meant our feet were totally soaked and as the sun started to set it was going from cold to very cold!! After a trying 75km we were all thankful to come in for a rest at Tungkillo where all the crews had set up under the shelter at the local community centre. Pretty much just a notice board, tin roof, toilet block and some post office boxes. My gluten free mac-and-cheese tasted great and it was definitely time to rug up as the weather conditions were getting worse. It was then I noticed I couldn’t find my waterproof pants. Luckily Ryley had an extra pair, the only problem being they were “youth” size. A little bit of a tight fit around my thighs! Hahaha!!!
We were all wondering where Tamas was but it seemed he’d gotten lost a couple of times and wouldn’t get to Tungkillo for quite a while. As planned Ryley joined me for the night session and we set off into the rain. The next few hours were tough! Constantly following fence-lines in paddocks, having to be extra careful through the wet long grasses, watching out for rocks and holes and trying to keep moving without getting too cold. At the next checkpoint near Springton (approx. 100km in) Ryley left me for a while so the guys could shuffle around the vehicles and have Rosie at the planned stop point for the night at Kyneton. I trudged on through the driving wind and rain, hoping to be on trails and tracks bit more but it jest felt like endless paddocks. I got a shock after stepping off one fence stile to find I was in a paddock full of cows. Their eyes glowing in the light of my head torch while the stood and started at me. Luckily these ones weren’t as frisky and they left me to walk on by without any worry. Eventually just after popping out onto a dirt road Ryley joined me again and we continued on it the driving wind and rain. By this stage I’d already gone further than I ever had before in one push. Trying to get to Kyneton which would have been a full 127km from the start. It was around this time I had my first negative moment where I told Ryley that I was fine to keep moving but the wet and cold was beginning to wear on me mentally. I wanted to be dry and warm. Around 4am the wind got even stronger and was howling through the trees. I was getting concerned for our safety thinking trees might begin to fall and branches could start flying. We came to signpost that marked Kyneton as being 7km away which at our current pace would have taken at least another hour. It was at this point we decided that was enough for Day 1 and we put the call in for Andy to come and pick us up. It was a wild ride just for him to get us but I was so thankful to get into Rosie, change into some dry clothes and get a couple of hours sleep.
Day 1 Summary: Murray Bridge to (almost) Kyneton – 7am to 4am – 118km distance – 2,847m elevation gain – 2,386m elevation loss – cold, wet and glad to see the end of it.
Thursday October 8th, 2020 – Day 2 – The Struggle Is Real
My alarm went off at around 7am and the first thing I noticed was the sound of the wind and rain still beating down outside the van. It was just after sunrise and the plan was to get up and moving as soon as possible. My mind however had different thoughts! This was definitely my mental low point of the entire project. After being so wet and miserable at the end of Day 1 I could not handle the thought of going out into it again. This was a completely new experience for me only having around 2.5 hours sleep and expecting my body to get moving again. I rode out the negative thoughts for a while until I heard movement in the front of the van. Ryley was waking up and so I called out to him, messaged Andrew and we got down to business of having some breakfast. We found a nearby place that had some shelter and cooked up some bacon and eggs. Crew Chief and Chef extraordinaire Andrew once again excelling! Michelle and Heather had found us by this time and we found out that the girls had both gotten some sleep and pushed on ahead. Tamas however had not had a great time the day before, not being able to find his drop bag in the darkness and rain, and abandoned his effort. (He would return on Friday and run from Eudunda to Clare.) Hearing that the girls had pushed on gave me a burst and after a slow start to the day headed back to the point where we finished Day 1.
It took a few minutes to get me legs moving again but I was actually quite surprised that I felt pretty good once I’d been going for about 15 minutes or so. I even started jogging where the terrain allowed it – jogging through the paddocks was really difficult with the wet grasses and weeds anywhere up to knee high. Once through the paddocks the trail followed some dirt road for quite a while and my crew met me a couple of extra times to check in. It was during this morning section that I started to notice a slight pain in my left shin, not somewhere that I’d felt and kind of pain or discomfort before. At the next stop I alerted my crew to this while at the same time was pleasantly surprised that another one of my crew, Neil, had arrived. I wasn’t expecting him until late Friday! He’d dropped past just to do some daytime running with me. We set off into the cold, yes it was still very cold on Day 2, but I was starting to slow down quite a bit. My shin wasn’t happy and running didn’t feel good. I did get into a running gait from time to time but it was real slow going. My feet were also swollen and sore from the beating they’d taken as well as being soaking wet for nigh on 24 hours. Every time I put weight on them after stopping the soles of my feet got extreme pins and needles. The tingles darting all the way up through my body. Due to all of this we didn’t stop for lunch until around 3pm or so, not far from Moculta. It was a long stop as Ryley taped up my shin in an attempt to stop the pain from getting any worse.
Neil and I continued to the next major checkpoint goal which was where the Lavender Federation Trail crosses the Sturt Highway. We were getting really close about 6pm when the trail took a diversion. This happens often on this particular trail, heading directly towards the next town or major intersection and then diverting off in seemingly the wrong direction. I assumed it was going to be just another “walkers follow fence” around the edge of a paddock so was gobsmacked when the landscape opened up into a spectacular gorge with towering grey stone walls and a small lake at the base. This slowed us down considerably as we approached the highway crossing, not only because of the rocky terrain but there were a few navigation issues as the trail went straight through the gorge! It was more a case of search for the next trail marker and choose your own line as there was no discernible trail to follow. Just before sunset we met up with the rest of the crew and Randell was there to join me for the Thursday night sections.
The next section started off relatively smoothly and we were expecting to get through it in not much more than three hours. Randell and I settled into a decent rhythm for a couple of hours, me pushing a steady hiking pace and using my poles to reduce the impact on my left leg. It was an unusual night in that we saw very few animals. There were wombat burrows literally everywhere in the paddocks were were traversing but it really felt like just Randell and I out there. Thankfully the clouds had cleared and we got the first good look at the beautiful stars and Mars even shone bright as it rose over the horizon.
Suddenly at around 9pm or so the landscape changed from dirt and grasses to be extremely rocky. We soon realised we were headed along Pine Creek which is bounded with spectacular rock formations that would be amazing to see if we had been there during the day! The rock outcrops and cliffs force the trail to cross from one side of the creek to the other repeatedly and it slowed us down dramatically. I was already struggling and on this terrain it took 2 hours to cover just 6 kilometres. Eventually we exited onto a dirt road and finished with a long uphill drag to Dutton. The crew were ready and waiting and we had a very late dinner at around 11:30pm.
In preparation for this project I’d tried not to memorise too much in the way of distance points and landmarks along the way but I knew the next section was going to take us over Leakes Pass. Andrew and I had come out to mark spots for the crew team to provide aid and knowing this was coming up I let the crew know what my thoughts were. I had worked out that next section at our current speed was going to take much longer than originally expected and would probably not be completed until sunrise, with little or no possibility of crew access should something go wrong. I presented two options to my crew and asked them to choose for me. I trusted Andrew, Ryley and Randell would make the right call. The options I presented were to load up on caffeine and continue on through the night, expecting to rendezvous with the crew on the other side of Leakes Pass at breakfast time, or, to call an end to Day 2 and try to get an extended sleep and hope that I’d wake up with my shin in a better state. It didn’t take long to decide. We were turning in for the night. Rest was needed and the hope was to start early and have a big day Friday. Thursday had been long, slow and painful. Friday was going to be a better day…
Day 2 Summary: Kyneton to Dutton – 9:45am to 11:30pm – 52.5km – 772m elevation gain – 900m elevation loss – a hard day out on the trail.
Friday October 9th, 2020 – Day 3 – Not What The Doctor Ordered
After a decent sleep of 5 hours I gingerly got out of my bed. The pins and needles in my feet returned with a vengeance and I slowly made my way to the one and only shower I would have throughout the event. My ankles felt stiff and almost locked as I trudged along. It was then I noticed dark bands around my ankles, particularly on my left leg. I’d never gone this far so wasn’t really sure what to make of it. I told Andy what was happening then continued on to the shower. What happened next is something I’ll never forget. My feet were sticking to the floor of the shower. I felt like a gecko with suction cup feet! All these weird sensations in my legs made for an “interesting” experience in the shower. We gathered everything together and got ready for breakfast. The aim was to get moving sooner rather than later and after the best bacon and eggs ever (thanks Andy!), Randell and I hit the road. We were on our way to Leakes Lookout which promised to be a highlight of the trail. Being careful with my feet and ankles it took quite a while to warm up but we did eventually settle into a pretty good rhythm. We were all in good spirits, just being mindful of my left leg in case it got any worse.
The steep climb up to Leakes Lookout wasn’t particularly long but the reward at the top was exceptional. Not only did I feel so good that I jogged a few sections but the view was 360 degrees right across the main grazing and crop lands in South Australia. After a few minutes at the top, where we almost got blown away with the wind, we set off on the descent over the back to Leakes Pass. After a slow but steady couple of kilometres I noticed that the left ankle was beginning to swell. The angles I needed to place my feet to go down the steep and rocky track were not agreeing with my legs. By the time we got the the dirt road I was getting really concerned. The bruising was getting darker and I was losing mobility in the lower part of my left leg. I was seriously worried that I may have to end the journey when I met up with Ryley and Andrew just a few kilometres down the road. My pace dropped right off to just under 4 kilometres per hour and we eventually made it to the checkpoint at around 12:30pm. I’d phoned ahead to Andy and asked if he could get either Michelle or Heather to come and assess my leg. Michelle had, had to return to Adelaide for work commitment but Heather was on her way. It would be a while before she could get to where we were so I lay down and put my legs straight up in the air. Ryley massaged the swelling gently and we tried to get some of the fluid build up to ease. Very quickly the swelling did reduce but it was still extremely painful and we weren’t sure what to do. I had thoughts of being told that I couldn’t continue and how I would have to come back and finish the job in a few weeks once my injury had healed. While we were waiting, I got a surprise when Travis’s Murray and (the other) Heather arrived to see how I was going. Probably not the best time for them to see me! I could see they were worried but I’d promised them I wouldn’t do anything to permanently injure myself trying to get the 200 miles done.
While we continued to wait for (Registered Nurse) Heather to arrive, a local farmer came past in his ute and stopped to ask if we were doing the Lavender Federation Trail. Andy explained that we were doing it for charity and we’d started in Murray Bridge just two days earlier. He must have been suitably impressed with the cause he promptly pulled out wallet and donated $50 on the spot. That’s it, I thought, unless Heather says I MUST stop there is no way I’m going to stay in this spot one minute longer than I need to! Finally Heather arrived and she checked me over. After quite a few pushes, prods and pokes she advised that I was able to continue as long as I could as it didn’t get an worse and that I could manage the pain. She also helped put some (so called) light compression socks on over my toe-socks. This in itself as a major undertaking as not only was it super painful to get over my sore feet but I’m extremely ticklish. What a combination of sensations! Ryley had to hold my legs down while Heather did her thing.
While all this was going on Randell had to head back to Adelaide so Ryley decided he’d join me for the next section and see how I was going to go over the next section. The transformation was immediate! I still couldn’t run but my comfort level improved and we got into a great hiking rhythm almost immediately. The swelling in my lower legs went down so much I had to tighten up my shoes a few times. After about 5km Heather and Heather and Murray met us at a road crossing and could see how well I was now moving. I certainly wasn’t going as fast as I would like but I was moving! The next few kilometres were full of smiles and good times as I also got visits from my wife and kids, my parents, some other friends and their young boys (Ari is the cutest little 3 year old) and my next run-buddy Marcus. After some banter, laughs and all round good fun but the side of Eudunda Road, Ryley, Marcus and I set off. Literally straight through some wheat fields! It was a bit weird just to be trudging through someone’s crop but that’s where the trail markers took us. As the sun was getting lower in the sky we also spotted a wombat. It was great to see one out in the wild. Especially after all the burrows Randell and I had seen the night before. The next check in with Andrew wasn’t far off as we wanted to keep an eye on my injury, making sure it wasn’t getting any worse. By the time the sun was setting around 7pm I was moving well but the pain was draining my energy considerably. Unfortunately with all he stopping and starting we’d only managed to cover about 38km during daylight hours. So much for a big day on Friday!
Marcus and I hiked on, I did try to jog a couple of times but I couldn’t get into a running gait without sharp pains shooting up through my left shin. It was slow but steady progress until we got to Eudunda around 9pm for dinner. Andy again excelled, adding bacon to tonight’s mac-and-cheese dinner. Neil and his wife Erika were there too and Michelle made another one of her superstar appearances. It was great to see them all and my hunger was satiated with all sorts of extra gluten free treats they’d all picked up on their way up from Adelaide. In case I haven’t mentioned it already my crew and support for this run were absolutely amazing. I was well looked after. Some time with my feet up and a change into multiple layers to stave off the cold and Marcus and I were off.
I knew the section of trail from Eudunda to Clare was the newest part of the trail so I was looking forward to some fresh and different trails after all the paddock crossing. By this time we’d covered 200km and it felt like well over half was bashing across paddocks and long grass. However, my optimism for a new fresh trail was crushed as soon as we left the bitumen of Eudunda. The trail markers sent us along the edge of an old railway where there was grass and weed up over waist height and rocks, holes, dirt mounds and even sheets of corrugated iron strewn all over the place. It was so ridiculous we couldn’t help but laugh as we forced our way through. After what felt like forever, it was only a couple of hours we finally met up with Andrew for a check in. I was struggling as the continual pain in my leg was draining my energy and I was getting tired. Marcus and I hardened in our resolve to try to get to Point Inspiration at the end of a long section along Scenic Road which was a pretty decent dirt road. Just before we got to Scenic Road I had my first bad feeling in my gut. I needed “to go” and it needed to be done immediately! The things that happen out on the trail are definitely not always pretty. I cleaned myself up and got moving again. Battling tiredness and wanting to just keep moving. Eventually I lost the battle of will and stopped only a couple of kilometres down Scenic Road. I was leaning on my poles for support and asked Marcus to call Andy. We resolved that I’d elevate my feet, have something to eat and see if I would get a second wind. Almost immediately I started to fall asleep so we once again decided to call it a night and see if I could get 2 or 3 hours sleep.
This is where my meticulous planning completely fell apart. We were in the middle of nowhere at the top of a ridge and Ryley had gone back to Adelaide with Rosie and the extra bed in the back. Andrew was also in need of rest so we dropped of Marcus at his car and we went all the way to Clare where Charlie and the family were staying. Long story short, I got about an hours sleep in the car, 2 hours sleep at the house and by the time we got back to restart where we stopped at 3am, seven and a half hours had passed….
Day 3 Summary: Dutton to somewhere on Scenic Road – 8am to 3am – 53.5km – 1,233m elevation gain – 1,061m elevation loss – a mix of epic highs with the lowest of lows: ecstatic, painful, energised, exhausted.
Saturday October 10th, 2020 – Day 4 – Keep it going for Travis
After 2 hours sleep (with my legs in the air) I was greeted by Williem who let out the comment of the year, “Oh you sped up and finished already, well done.” A quick breakfast was followed by a needed check in with Heather to ensure that I had the all clear to continue. The pain was still constant but she needed to check that swelling wasn’t moving to other parts of my legs. This would indicate I may have DVT and would have to go to hospital. Thankfully she gave me the all clear and Andrew and I headed back to the trail. I had an extra buddy runner in Bec who’d come up from Adelaide to join in the fun!
Marcus, Bec and I set into a good rhythm under glorious sunshine. By far the best weather we’d had since starting. After a couple of hours ticking over at 5 kilometres per hour wet finally got to Point Inspiration where Neil joined us and Marcus had to leave us. It was so great having friends with me through this time as there was still 100km to go and I’d already been through so much. Luckily the next few hours were pretty straight forward, the only blip having to watch out for a medium sized brown snake that slithered away from us in the late morning sun. After about 17km Bec had to leave us, she’d forgotten her trail shoes and the the flat soled leather fashion shoes she was wearing weren’t doing particularly well on the dirt, rocks and weeds.
Neil and I had earmarked Webb Gap as a big climb we’d have to get over around the middle of the day so we stopped for lunch just as we approached. Once again my family were there to cheer us on as well as my good friends Simon and Gill with their boys Stirling and Ari. This was a welcome distraction as the young boys were running around and asking the unlimited questions that toddlers always ask. Adequately refuelled we headed up over Webb Gap, to say we were underwhelmed is an understatement. What looked epic on the map was a much shorted climb than the ones we often train on in the hills around Adelaide. Finally we were chalking up a win! Our fast hiking pace continued, only being slowed when the trail got really gnarly and difficult to follow.
At 35km covered for the day we stopped for dinner at Waterloo and got a surprise visit from Michelle, Heather and Sarah while we ate. Sarah had finished her 200 mile adventure earlier in the afternoon. It was so great to see her and it gave me extra resolve to push on. Shortly after I announced my intention that we would push on to Mintaro tonight NO MATTER WHAT! I even had a can of Red Bull with dinner and was absolutely buzzing when we got moving. Neil and I settled into our rhythm. Pushing out about 4.5 kilometres per hour consistently across the varying terrain. I did try to run a few times but was completely unsuccessful. The pain was immediate and sharp. Hiking fast was working so there was no point trying to change it. Onwards, onwards, towards we pushed. Getting ever closer to our target of Mintaro. Just as we were getting close around 3am the trail took one of its regular diversions that seem to tease you instead of going straight into the town. We thought is was just going to be around some dirt rounds so pushed on. But then all of a sudden the trail markers posted to a fence stile. We were going back into some paddocks again! It could have been a demoralising moment but much like I had with Marcus the night before we couldn’t help but laugh. Laugh with a few expletives dropped in that is! Finally we got to Mintaro and chalked up another win. I hadn’t run all day but had managed to get 63.5km done. More than either Thursday or Friday. And there was only about 40km left to go tomorrow. Travis’s birthday had been a good day.
Day 4 Summary: (Somewhere on) Scenic Road to Mintaro – 10:30am to 3:45am – 63.5km – 749m elevation gain – 928m elevation loss – the day started thinking it was all over and finished knowing the end was within reach.
Sunday October 11th, 2020 – Day 5 – Full of Surprises
I think Charlie was more excited than anyone that we were getting close the the finish and was completely wired on the last night! She hardly slept a at all and woke me up at 7am on the dot. I’d told the guys I wanted to be back in Mintaro and moving by 8:30am at the latest. By now my want to finish the 200 miles quickly had gone and all that mattered was getting it done. Starting at 8:30am would give me plenty of time to get to the finish in Clare during daylight and we put into place the plan to be done by 6pm. I set off from Mintaro Tennis Club at 8:31am and did my usual morning check-in on social media to let everyone at home know I was in good spirits and looking forward to the last day of the adventure. Neil was a few minutes behind me and my leg was feeling good so I tried a little jog. It felt good! However I didn’t want to push things too much so settled into a solid hiking rhythm. Neil was soon by my side and we set off towards the last big peak we needed to go over – Mount Horrocks. It was a beautiful Sunday morning with the sun shining and just a gentle breeze in the air and after a few kilometres of dirt road we entered the paddocks that would take us over the summit. The morning was flying by and before we knew it we were heading back down the other side of the hill. We didn’t know it at the time but we’d also crossed the last of the paddocks. On the gentle descent I revealed to Neil that I’d successfully tried running earlier in the day. It was time to really give it crack and we set into a good pace. Well, good pace for someone injured and with close to 300km in the legs over the last few days! I don’t think either of us could believe it. Instead of hiking along at 5km/h or less we were running at 7km/h and faster!
Soon we were coming to the public dirt road where Charlie and Williem had come out to meet us. They were just as shocked to see how well we were moving and Charlie let out a scream of encouragement. Andy and the crew were just down the road but I was feeling so good I didn’t want to stop so just ran on by. Andy followed and found us as we went through Watervale for a quick bottle changeover. From here we followed the Riesling Trail and we went from seeing no-one to having to dodge cyclists and walkers everywhere. But I didn’t mind, I was running and apart from a couple of walk breaks to keep cool pretty much pushed all the way past Pentwortham. Soon I saw a familiar face coming towards us and then a huge cheer, it was Tamas. He’d come out to support and before we knew it we came to a trail junction and there was a huge crowd of people. My family, Charlie, Juliette and Williem, Neil’s wife Erika, Andrew, Michelle, Heather, Tamas’s family and even Sarah and Tash who’d finished the trail the day before. Everyone was there and it was so amazing to see them all. I didn’t want to stop for too long and lose momentum but it was important to elevate my leg and minimise swelling. So I stopped and lapped up the party atmosphere. Michelle had even bought a gluten-free potato pie from a local bakery for me. It took me a second to warm up to eating it but once I started it was gone in about 30 seconds! A quick systems check and barrage well wishes from the party crew and we were off.
Time for another trail diversion through Spring Gully Conservation Park. This was it. The very last section of climbing before heading back toward Clare and the finish. There were some beautiful trails in the park but the varied terrain was tough on my injury and it was starting to swell up again. None the less we were making great time and it was becoming clear that we’d finish well before 6pm. At the final exit from the park we had one last crew stop where I was hoping to elevate my leg one last time before pushing through to the finish. But there was another surprise. Heather and Murray had come back up from Adelaide. It was too much for them to be there if I finished on Saturday, Travis’s birthday, but they felt strong enough to come and cheer me in on the Sunday. It was so inspiring to see their strength so I carried that with me as we got moving for one last time. It was back to dirt roads now and we settled into a jog / walk rhythm, doing a lot more jogging than I ever expected after all there trouble of the previous three days. I actually started to get very emotional at this time, thinking of my lost friend Travis and the good memories of him that I’ll cherish forever. I’m not sure if Neil noticed but I was quietly crying as we ran. Soon there was some welcome distraction when Marcus joined us, followed by Ryley and the group of four ran and joked together as we approached Clare. They’d both parked there cars at the finish and informed us there was less than 5km to go.
The trails and dirt roads made way for bitumen and then we were right in the heart of Clare. Running together along a parkland path until finally we made a right turn towards the actual finish. I could see the actual finish. Marcus waved and soon there was cheering, bells ringing and all sorts of hooting a hollering to be heard. As we entered Pinks Reserve and the northern trail-head of the Lavender Federation Trail we even got a showering of champagne to run through! I’ve experienced the elation of finishing an ultra-marathon numerous times but this was beyond anything I’ve experienced or could ever imagine. It was done. We made it. I embraced Charlie. Then the kids. Then Andrew. Then Travis’s parents. The emotions spilled over and the realisation that this crazy project had raised well beyond our $10,000 target hit home. It was a only a few moments later that I saw just how many friends had made the journey up from Adelaide to celebrate with us. I finally sat down and Charlie cut me free from the compression socks that I’d put on two days ago. My poor, abused feet were free or restriction and and my mind could finally relax from the singular focus on relentless forward progress.
It was after a few minutes of quiet reflection that I got chatting with everyone, having a couple of glasses of bubbles and even forcing down a protein shake to get the recovery started. My friends didn’t really know how to react and I think they were all shocked when I stood up to walk around and mingle.
The experience I had is so difficult to put into words. It feels like the best thing I’ve ever done, sharing it with my crew and family makes it even more special and knowing that we raised much needed funds for AnglicareSA and Beyond Blue is amazing. Looking back, I think the biggest part of it is the number of people who have told me they’ve since had important conversations about mental health with their friends. Prior to the run I didn’t feel the awareness part of the project was as important as the other aspects but now I think it is the essential part. Getting out of my comfort zone and pushing on in the face of adversity got people talking to each other. As humans that is what we need to maintain our mental health. The contact, love and appreciation of others. The realisation that we are all worthy of receiving that affection. That no matter how dark times can get, there is always someone to share with and who can help you through.
Day 5 Summary: Mintaro to Clare – 8:30am to 4:45pm – 40.3km – 672m elevation gain – 668m elevation loss – got it done with help from my friends.
Some facts and figures:
Funds raised – $11,658 (as of October 20, 2020)
Total distance – 327.88km (203.74 miles)
Total duration – 4 days 9 hours 45 minutes
Moving time – 69 hours 4 minutes 22 seconds
Sleep – 12 hours (approximately)
Elevation gain – 6273m
Step count – 376,695
Gels consumed – 40 (mix of UniVed, Maurten, Pure and Spring Energy brands)
Liquid nutrition – Infinit GoFar approx 30 to 40 servings
Meals – 5x breakfast, 4x lunch (plus a pie on the last day), 4x dinner, 3x midnight snack
Snacks – bananas, snickers bars, chocolate brownies, lollies, mashed potatoes, chips, corn chips, nuts
Blisters – 2 – a huge one on the side of my right heel and the tiniest one under my right big toe
Injuries – 1 – muscles and tendons in lower left leg. Thankfully already beginning to heal
Memories made – Countless
Thank you to the following people for making this possible:
Andrew Monks – my crew chief and, through his business City Shelving, the major sponsor of the project. He was always there with anything I needed to keep me moving forward, be it a joke, some food, medical kit or dealing with my sweaty running gear! I know his presence was also appreciated by others out on the trail, his gentle and kind nature always a highlight.
Ryley Smithson, Neil Scrimgeour, Randell Taylor and Marcus Staker – my crew and buddy/safety runners who did such an amazing job of keeping me safe, motivated and on course for the four and a half days we were out there. These extreme ultra running adventures are only possible with a team to support you and we’ll share these memories for ever. Special mention to Rebecca Hunt who made a surprise appearance on Day 4. Even though she forgot to bring here trail running shoes!
Charlie O’Brien – my wife and number one supporter. Not only did she have to endure seeing me put myself through some gruelling situations but she supported me with the countless hours of training throughout 2020. Even when I’d set off for training runs at midnight and not get home until sunrise. Oh, and she’s the best at cheering me in to an aid station or finish line and capturing the moments in videos and photos.
Heather and Murray – two beautiful people who have endured so much with the loss of their son, and my great friend, Travis. It meant so much to have your blessing and support for this project. To see you there at the start in Murray Bridge was more than enough but to see you a few times out on course and then at the finish in Clare was special beyond anything I can put into words. It will always be hard for you but your strength is inspiring to so many.
Sarah Jones, Tash Sekulic, Tamas Lorincz – the other runners crazy enough to take on the Lavender Federation Trail even though the Irrational South 200 Mile Race had to be cancelled for 2020. You all inspired me and made me believe it was possible, despite my own moments of doubt.
Michelle Hanlin, Heather Kaesler and the other support crews – you gave up so much of your own time to help others realise their goals and dreams. Heather, in particular thank you for assessing and helping treat my injury when I still had 150km to go and Michelle, thanks for all the laughs and extra gluten free goodies from the local bakeries I didn’t get a chance to visit personally!
Andy Phanthapangna from Apeirogon and Glenn Fuller from Full Hammer for providing website services and team apparel respectively. Both made it so much easier to get our message out there and communicate effectively.
Shaun Kaesler – for coming up with the original Irrational South 200 Mile Race idea that sparked this whole thing off. It was our discussions on the Runner Trucker Podcast that got my mind thinking of putting together this project in the first place. Your positive attitude to life is infectious, keep doing what you do!
All my family, friends and even strangers who have supported me, my team or 200 Miles For Travis in any way throughout 2020. Every kind word, gesture, donation, thumbs up, cheer, smile or encouragement is valued and, no matter how small, contributed to our amazing fund raising result.
No doubt I will have forgotten someone or some thing and I apologise if I have.
Finally if you’re reading this I also want to THANK YOU! The main focus of 200 Miles For Travis has always been to raise awareness about mental health, suicide and the impact on the community. Please share the message that everyone’s mental health is important and we need to be open and honest and have the conversations we often avoid because they are difficult.
You are awesome
You are special
You are worthy
Tim “Bos” O’Brien.