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Chasing Crocs at the Unreasonable East 100 mile run

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

My legs burned like someone was holding matches to my skin – all I wanted to do was scratch my legs up and down to soothe the burning, itchy feeling. I groaned and rolled over to check the time. I had slept 3hours – My body definitely needed more than that. After running 185kms, for 49hours I needed sleep to recover. I tried to stand up and using the side of the bed to hold onto I shuffled to the door. I gingerly stood upright, letting the feet get used to holding my body weight again and with one hand on the wall to guide and steady me I made my way into the kitchen. My first aid kit was still sitting open on the bench, its contents sprawled out everywhere. I found my ‘drug bag’ and popped an antihistamine in my mouth washing it down with some warm water from the tap. My eyes were wide open, I was buzzing with energy – how was this possible after such a long run? I started to count the amount of caffeine I had taken over the prior three days and realised that my body was likely still jacked up high on caffeine, which would explain why I couldn’t sleep. I sat on the couch and did a bit of a check-in with the body; the feet were swollen, hot and hurt, the legs burned and itched with over 30 leech bites running from the sock line up to the short line; my body does not respond well to leeches and they had already swollen with red circles around them and some were already oozing things that I didn’t want to look at. Later that day the chemist would physically recoil at the site of them as I begged for relief. I checked in with the joints; everything felt good. All my muscles felt good with no aches or pains, my shoulders and core felt 100%. This was also not normal – I usually have a sore core and back / shoulders post a long run. I smiled to myself and remembered all the hard work that I had put in with strength work, as well as running and knew that it had paid off. I hobbled back to bed to raise my legs up and scrolled through the photos of my run, soaking up every moment once again.

Training is never 100% leading into a run and I had had some bumps along the way; work travel always makes training difficult and a head cold three weeks out had me struggling to get out of bed as well as worried about the amount of phlegm on my lungs. With an early taper forced upon me, I could only trust in my training and relax before race day. Hubby was the only one coming to crew and it had been a while since he had that pleasure so any nerves about the run were more about his capacity to crew, over potentially three days, and not fall asleep or get lost along the way. He didn’t want to look at maps, or talk about the course until closer to the date so he didn’t forget so I started a list for him and relaxed instead. Work was a chaotic distraction leading up to the race and as we boarded a flight to Cairns, I was feeling very relaxed. We hit the ground running, picked up the hire car and headed to the supermarket for a trolley load of running food. We loaded up on Coke, ginger beer, lollies, white bread, vegemite, noodles and some alcohol-free beer for Hubby. I had a short shake out run along the foreshore and agreed it was much warmer than Melbourne’s winter up here but didn’t let the heat worry me. I couldn’t control the weather, so I had to just manage my reaction to it. I refused to say ‘it’s hot’, even to myself.

It was a quiet night at the local pub with a steak sandwich and water and an early night to bed – tomorrow was race day.

Race day however started at 7pm! I slept in as much as I could and ate a hearty breakfast before we went for a drive and checked out the first few aid station locations. We had a salty lunch of chicken and chips and I guzzled water to get hydrated. I attempted an afternoon nap but I was sick of waiting and just wanted to get out there on this beautiful course. We packed up the car and drove up to Kuranda, about 45mins away to the start line. Kuranda is a beautiful town nestled in the rainforest and overlooking the ocean below. It was cooler than we expected it to be at check in and once I had all my gear checked and had my race bib and tracker, I changed into a long sleeve top to start the run. This would also protect my arms as I had just had a race briefing that warned us of snakes, and crocodiles, but also Gympie-Gympie which is a plant in far north Qld (FNQ) that also wants to kill you! We were taught how to use the SOS button on our tracker in case we came into contact with this plant or tried to hug a croc. With time to spare before we started, we drove up to the service station to grab a last-minute coffee. The first of my many caffeine hits to occur over the next few days. As the sun disappeared over the mountain range head torches were turned on and the count down to the start was called.

We were off.

Running through the rainforest of Kuranda in the dark was beautiful. I had a big smile plastered on my face as we ducked and weaved through vines down the track. I was too scared to let any hanging vines touch my body after hearing about the killer plants living in FNQ. We popped out of the bush to a stunning view of the lights of Cairns and I stopped to take a photo and soak it up. I was finally here! A large owl took off a tree branch and I caught it in my headtorch, smiling at the beauty of it.

Bats whizzed over our heads and we continued down and down to the first aid station. I caught up with three women in front and we chatted about where we were from and stuck together through a short section of suburbia. I realised about 1km out from the first aid station that I was travelling far too fast with these women and I needed to make sure I was not going to burn myself out running too hard too early. I pulled back and came into Aid#1 (Glenoma - 18.07kms) as they were leaving. I topped up my water and had a quick bite, not overly hungry and waved to Jarrad as I headed straight out. The station was manned by a family with three young girls and they asked for my music request on the way out. I asked for John Farnham (of course) and they had ‘The Voice’ booming from their speakers and danced around me as I headed out in the dark. I may even have done a pirouette for them. Energy levels were high.

I cursed the footpath as I continued on, waiting eagerly for the trails to come. I then told myself off for cursing the road, “it’s all part of the adventure Jaq” I said aloud. As I turned the corner, I saw a pipeline running over the creek. I stopped and looked at it, “am I meant to walk over that’ I thought and the little pink flag on the other side gave me my answer. I tentatively put one foot in front of the other and gaining some confidence, started to walk over it quickly, breathing a sigh of relief at the other end.

Soon it was time to hit the single trail and climb; I was full of joy when I saw the track; technical and single and just the way I like it. We had a few kilometres of climbing and I was suddenly hit with the feeling of being inside a sauna. I couldn’t breathe and sweat dripped off my body. I would take a few steps and then stop and try and breathe and then keep going. I started to feel very nauseous and woozy. “Already”, I thought to myself. It’s far too early to be feeling like this!

I popped out on the road, knowing I was almost at the aid station and focussed on just moving. I came into the aid station at Copperlode and saw Hubby, asking straight away for ginger beer and a new shirt. 30.87kms done. I sat down and caught my breath, telling him how sick I felt. I got solid food into me, guzzled ginger beer and felt fresh in a clean shirt. I headed out, crossing the dam wall and climbing over the gate before hitting the 4WD track towards Davies Creek Aid station. After a few kms I could feel the ginger beer had worked its magic and my stomach settled, I had cooled down and I was feeling good again. I enjoyed the easy track for the next 22kms, settling into the dark night and squealing with laughter at cane toads dancing across the track in my torch light.

Hubby was ready for me at the next aid station, 53.27kms in, cooking up mashed potato and had my fresh shirt and hat ready for the new day. I didn’t stay long and headed out, excited for the rising sun. As I climbed under some barbed wire fencing, I realised that I had forgotten the suncream. Rookie error! I bumbled down some mountain bike track, feeling dizzy from the back and forth motion of the track but loving the colour of the red dirt. It was warm and sticky but I was drinking really well and eating well and feeling good. The track however, I found boring. I was getting sick of the 4WD track and as I approached Emerald Creek I cried out in joy. The icy cold water felt amazing on my legs and I followed the deepest line possible across the river – relishing the cold water coming over my knees. My soggy shoes trod up the path beside the waterfalls until I reached the top and I smiled at the falls, taking a quick pic before heading back down again. Another climb under some barbed wire fencing and I was in the next aid station, Emerald Falls. This was being managed by a family with small children and after running 70.87kms I was almost taken out by a tonka truck on the floor. I collapsed in a chair disclaiming how hungry I was and one of the volunteers whipped me up a toasted cheese sandwich with a side of watermelon. It was delicious and I didn’t want to leave! I knew that the next section would be tough -10kms of road to Powerlines. I pulled out my spare phone, loaded up with audiobooks and popped in the headphones to kill the boredom of the road.

Plodding along, it was hot and dusty and I focussed on moving and drinking.

I was happy to come into Powerlines Aid and see Hubby on the side of the road with the esky ready for me. 80.97kms done. My feet felt like they were on fire. I sat down and plopped my feet into the ice in the bottom of the esky and squealed with joy and pain simultaneously. Jarrad laughed at me, drinking the alcohol-free beer from the esky to make room for my feet. I changed my shirt, my shorts and my undies, even brushed my teeth and felt like a new woman.

Some Coke and new shoes and socks and I was very fresh! I wasn’t going to see Hubby now for a while – he wasn’t allowed to come to the next aid station and I told him to skip the next two and go home and get some sleep as he would need to be alert for the final few sections. I knew the aid stations were well manned and had heaps of food so I would be fine.

I also knew that I had some beautiful technical single track coming up soon but the next 23kms took me all along 4WD track and I cursed the race director for so much road. I wanted to get into the next aid station before dark but as the sun started to drop, I thought I might not. I got out my head torch as the scenery around me changed to jungle-like vines and rainforest and I loved the change. I held my head torch in my hand refusing to turn it on until I made it to the next aid station and as the rain started to come down, I decided it was heavy enough to put on my rain coat. The temperature dropped a lot and I was cold and tired coming into Varch Creek Aid station. 104.02kms done. Manned by one guy, he wrapped me in a blanket, and fed me a concoction of rice, beans and chicken with corn chips. It was great – I thought about stopping longer as the rain bucketed around our tent but I decided to keep moving and stay warm so headed out for what we were told was the most technical section. It was dark, very wet and I was leaving this tiny safe gazebo in the middle of nowhere to venture into the unknown. I checked my phone to message Hubby but I had not had reception for pretty much the whole course so I didn’t expect any now. Sure enough, the phone blinked SOS at me.

I was so excited for this section – technical and single track gets my adrenalin pumping – even more so in the dark and the rain. I clambered over fallen trees, jumped over creeks, sloshed in puddles and loved it. I came across another runner and we decided to stick together for this tricky bit. After about 10kms my body was very cold, I was shaking and my bottom lip was dithering. I knew this was dangerous territory for me as I had been pulled from a run with hypothermia before. As we came into the Turtle Rock aid station, 119.57kms, wet, cold and shaking I was really worried my race was coming to an end and I was scared about my symptoms.

The aid stations volunteers were incredible. They stripped jackets off their own bodies and wrapped me in them. They pulled out space blankets and wrapped me up like a burrito. They fed me soup and coffee and refused to let me leave until I had stopped shaking. When I could talk again, I joked about catching hypothermia in FNQ. The volunteers also had a large salt shaker and poured it over my legs and feet and I noticed that my legs were covered in blood from multiple leech bites. I hadn’t even noticed most of them attaching to my legs and sucking out my blood. The blood poured my shaking legs and I didn’t even care. I could worry about that later!

Another runner had her crew was waiting for her in the station and she gave me some dry clothes, including her own rain coat so that I could be warm and dry the next section. I told her to keep her own rain coat but she wouldn’t hear of it. I could have cried at her kindness. I gave her my wet gear and cursed myself for telling Hubby to skip these aid stations. He had all my dry and warm clothing in the car with him! The aid station volunteers told me I should get reception as I climbed Turtle Rock in the next section so I could shoot off a message. We left the aid station in much higher spirits than we had come in!

I turned my phone up so I would hear as soon as I had reception and we started the climb up to Turtle Rock, our head torches sweeping over charred bush from a recent fire. I stopped in my tracks when my phone started beeping and quickly sent off a text to Hubby telling him ‘Change of plans – I think I need you at Davies Creek Aid for some dry clothes’. He was up and responded immediately, ‘I am on my way’. I was so bloody grateful for that message and also knowing I had him out here. Sometimes I prefer to run screwed (no crew) because it means you don’t have to worry about anyone but yourself out there and it’s easier to keep going when you don’t have an easy ride out of there. I was glad he wasn’t at Turtle Rock as it would have been too easy to get in the warm car and not leave – but I was equally glad I would be seeing his face at the next aid station.

As we headed up more 4WD track towards Davies Creek I started to see all sorts of things in the shadows around me. A man was lying in the middle of the track wearing prison stripes – I shook that immediately as a hallucination and started to wonder what the shape was – a log, or a tree or a rock. I saw aliens in the bushes, and crocodiles on the road. I saw a bus drive past me; which I later found out was actually a real bus. I knew I needed to shake off the fatigue so as I finally rounded the corner back into Davies Creek Aid station (133.80kms done) I said to Hubby, “I need 20mins”. He had a surprise for me in the car; a cold cheeseburger and chips, and in the darkness of the car, with the seat all the way back, all you could hear was my moans of delight as I devoured the cheeseburger. Hubby woke me after 20mins and I groaned as I put my feet back down. They burned so bad. “I am going to ask the medic to tape them” I told him and hobbled over to the medic tent. The medic was incredible. He told me that I had trench foot on both feet which is where the skin on the balls of my feet had split. He effectively taped the split back together and taped my ankles all whilst cracking jokes, while I lay back in the chair dozing wrapped in blankets. Once done it was back out there and on my way back to Copperlode Aid. I was on the home stretch, with over 130kms done. Just an ultra-marathon (50kms +) to go!

The sun rose as I left Davies Creek Aid for my second sunrise of the event. I was in good spirits, having overcome hypothermic symptoms, having inhaled a cheeseburger and had a nap. I was really enjoying being a part of the whole thing. I relished in the scenery, in the chats with my fellow runner, and in the endless road that would take us back to the dam. Every corner we turned we looked through the trees for the dam, every noise we heard we thought was the aid station. Every gate we gingerly climbed over or under we cursed. Finally, we rounded the corner and saw the dam wall and picked up the pace. I came into the aid station all smiles; hubby caught me as I walked in and said the medic had called ahead worried about my feet and the medic at this station was planning to soak them and re-tape them. Having medic’s call ahead about you is concerning and I started to worry my feet were worse than I had been told. I very soon had my feet in ice cream buckets (yep, I will never look at the ice cream shop the same way again – we had a heap of their buckets donated to soak feet and they were the perfect size and shape), I ate soup and corn chips as the medic dried my feet, including in between my toes and had me cackling with laughter with our stories of hallucinations. She taped my feet and I am pretty sure she sprinkled some magic powder over them because when I put fresh socks and new (bigger) shoes on I felt like a new woman. I ran out of that aid station; feeling fresh and almost luxurious after having sat on an actual toilet for the first time in days. 152.15kms were done.

I ran down the bitumen road as if it was the start of a marathon and very quickly was stripped down to a t-shirt which felt amazing. It was warm, with a breeze in my face, and despite the hardness of the road under my feet I was surrounded by absolute beauty. I was experiencing pure joy as we veered off the road onto some single trail that resembled being in the middle of a jungle. Vines caught me as I ducked under them and I actually caught myself laughing out aloud as I slid down the steep track. I popped back out onto the road before a lookout and stopped to pat a little dog who was very happy to see me. I couldn’t believe that I could even bend down to pat a dog after running over 150kms but I was literally on a high. My feet decided to ruin the party by burning up and complaining; the balls of my feet stretched and moaned with every step. “Feet” I said “perhaps your pain and suffering is part of my journey on this adventure, and if that’s the case then I accept that this is part of my journey”. I repeated this to them three times and not long after I couldn’t feel them anymore. They seemed to accept that they were a part of the journey too and this whole magnificent body was in it together and together it would pull me through. My mind danced between absolute joy and absolute admiration for what this body was doing. I was so bloody proud of my body and yet cautious – we were not done yet.

I came into the next aid station, Engineers Park, 168.75kms, with a big smile on my face. Hubby threw me a sandwich which I devoured whilst cracking jokes. I lay on the beautiful grass and had a stretch before popping up with energy, ready to finish the last section. I knew that there was a tough downhill to come and I was keen to get it done before nightfall. Whilst I was keen to finish, a part of me didn’t want the adventure to end however and I battled these thoughts as I went through suburbia to climb Mt Lumley. By the time I hit the summit I thought the track was much easier that I had been told. I looked down over Cairns and could smell the finish. The sun started to drop and I pulled out my head torch as I came to the dreaded downhill. They were not joking about this section. I tried to dig my poles into the long grass on either side and slowly, toe by toe, inch down the track but I knew it was pointless. I pulled my poles in, sat on my bum and slid down the mud, using my poles to flick rocks out of the way as I went down. I laughed at myself as I slid down the mud, looking out over Cairns airport watching the planes come in and out. This was fun!

When I hit the bottom, it was time for the footpath. My phone beeped with a beautiful message of support from Hubby telling me I was almost there and how proud he was. I teared up as I realised how close I was. I was tempted to drop into the pub as I went past, hearing the Saturday night crowds arrive and get ready for dinner, but I pushed on, running along footpath until I was veered into the creek path. Running along this path with the water almost lapping at my feet I passed a warning sign for crocodiles. It was dark, the water was close to the path and there were a lot of noises coming from said water. With my sleep deprived state, suddenly everything was a crocodile.

I was alone, and pretty much succumb to the fact that I would die by crocodile in the final km’s of the run. The head torch was turned up high and my head was sweeping side to side at every noise. I didn’t notice the light rain as I came out of the creek and into town, running through the botanical gardens, more crocodile warning signs, and into the final km of the run. Fireworks went off overhead as the Cairns local show celebrated and Hubby messaged me to say they even had fireworks for my finish. Now I was hallucinating Hubby – popping out of the bush in his cream hoodie to surprise me. ‘Why is he going to jump out at me’ I thought ‘does he think that’s funny’. Then I would shake my head as I realised it was just a light pole, or a tree branch.

I heard the finish before I saw it. I heard the cheers and the claps and couldn’t make out any of the shapes except for the big finish line arch. Part of me didn’t want to stop, I was running so well, I felt so good and was loving every step. Parts of my body screamed otherwise to me, telling me to bloody well stop so they could rest. A run like this is usually a battle between body and mind; but this time the mind and body were on the same team, working together to overcome and battle the pain of being on my feet for so long but also remind me of the joy of being alone in the bush, solo in nature, away from ‘reception’ and the world around me. They teamed up to give me the experience of it all and I was both proud and grateful. As I came into the finish line to Hubby’s exhausted face, and cheering mates around me I whispered down to my body ‘thankyou’ and sent another upwards to Dad’s angel, who had whispered to me in the wind throughout the whole run.

Wrapping my arms around Hubby, and then the race director I was given a medal around my neck, a cold beer and told I was 4th female. A bonus to an incredible adventure that I had just experienced.

As I lay back on the bed smiling, the recovery begins. The body feels great, the mind is overjoyed and now it’s a week of lying on the beach, lying by the pool, eating, drinking and soaking it up. It will take time for the leech bites to settle down, it will take about 3 days for my appetite to return, it will take a few days before I put shoes on again. It will take a lifetime to take away the memories.

In 49hrs, 25 mins, I endured:

  • 184.2 kms

  • +5437m elevation

  • 44hrs 33mins of moving time

  • 0 crocodiles (officially – I have a photo of a ‘log’ that I dispute is a large croc but yet to be confirmed)

  • 1 kangaroo

  • 1 owl

  • 1 eagle

  • 1 dead snake

  • 1million cane toads (at least!)

  • 8 bananas

  • 1L of ginger beer

  • 500ml Coke

  • Endless litres of water

  • 3 pairs of shoes

  • 5 tops

  • 4 pairs of socks

  • 20mins of sleep

  • Lots of pain....

  • and so much joy

My crew endured:

  • 10.5hours of driving

  • 1 booze bus (zero phew!)

  • 5hrs sleep

  • 3 rabbits

  • 10 bandicoots

  • 0 crocodiles

  • 1 hungry runner 😊

Before and After pic:

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2 comentarios

Wow Jaq!....What an awesome story of courage and strength of mind and body - What a milestone, what an achievement, what an inspiration. You are amazing! (Anna W)

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What an EPIC achievement! In every photo you are smiling. I am in awe.

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