By Shane Hutton
It has been a week since the longest training run of my running career to date. 190km of The Goldfields track. This was supposed to be all 210km of the trail but due to some self preservation & crawling along at 4km hour for some period the decision was made to finish the run in Ballarat a mere 20km short of the summit of Mount Buninyong. Here is my recount on a multi day unsupported adventure.
I packed my Salomon Slab12 to the brim on Fri even managed to get a 3ltr bladder squeezed in there. I packed it on the chair and made sure ( well I hoped) I had enough food within easy access. Once it was full I picked it up for the first time HOLY CRAP this thing is heavy. I put it on the scales & it tipped a lazy 6.2kg wow how am I going to run 210km with this????
I put on my thermal long johns a long sleeve top and my Montane Minimus jacket & strolled down to my train station wearing my pack. So in 500mtr I realized 6.2kg is a lot hahahaha I am glad I was wearing all these clothes to the train as there was no more room in the pack. I jumped on the train receiving a lot of strange looks & met my partner in crime Michael Collins at Southern Cross station. After laughing at each other looking stupid at the station for a few minutes we boarded our Vline train headed to Bendigo.
We arrived in Bendigo walked out of the station & were greeted by the marking the start to The Goldfields Track hmmmmm well that was easy. Thought it would take a bit more searching than that.. We found our Motel checked in laughed some more about what the hell we were about to undertake oh & the fact we had to go to the pub for dinner in all our running gear.
Amazingly enough there was a convenience shop just down the road that was open 24 hours a day.. Woooo we ordered a bacon & egg roll for 4.30am Sat Now that was a stroke of luck. We went back had a parma for dinner & were tucked up in bed ready for our 4 am alarm and around 3 degrees brrrr chilly.
Picking up my backpack was a shock although It felt comfy on my back & shoulders. We started our watches & GPS spot tracker this is it we are off. We quickly made our way out of Bendigo & to the first official part of track our first yellow post marked Goldfields Track :) Now this is exciting. I was running at a fairly relaxed pace just trying to soak it all in.
It was hard for us to talk to each other with the 3ltr bladder in the pack it made a lot of sloshing noises so quite quickly we were running in silence sometimes in single file sometimes side by side. We made it out of town quickly and into the single tracks of the forest. It was fantastic I was struggling with the weight of my pack but was also constantly reminding myself to just take it all in.
As much as I hate the cliché this run was about the journey not the destination. It was about seeing if we could run back to back long days and be self sufficient. we had a goal of making it to Daylesford 120km on the first day & Mt Buninyong on the second 90km. After 2 hours of running the sun slowly peaked over the horizon It was great to see and an absolutely spectacular sunrise as you would expect out in the country. We had been running along following the aqueduct for a while by this point. The aqueduct leads you almost all the way into Castlemaine which would be our first break hopefully for lunch.
As we ran along I noticed MC getting faster & faster and looking at his watch continually. He was in a hurry. The only other person to have run the GDT unsupported had done this first section in 6 hours, MC wanted to do it in 5. I ran along for a while still struggling with the weight of my pack trying to keep up with MC before I decided to address the situation.
Today was the same day The North Face 100km race was on and we have a lot of friends doing it. This race attracts 1000 competitors & I have run in it once. It has this wonderful set-up where if you are not a lead runner you get stuck in a bottle neck 5km in and are reduced to a staggered run / walk, this part of the race sucks. I decided that in order for my point to be effective I would use The North Face as my reference point.
I got up to MC & told him if I wanted a race I would of gone to TNF. Lets slow it down a bit, we are here to enjoy the scenery & test ourselves over the next 2 days. Who cares if we make it to Castlemaine in 5 hours or 10 as long as we can back up tomorrow & get some running in. We laughed about how everyone would be enjoying the bottle neck at TNF and here we were just the 2 of us and 120km of trail :)
We had perfect weather it was mild a bit overcast but no rain in sight perfect. We ran along & were surprised with the amount of elevation we seemed to be getting. We climbed to the summit of Mt Alexandra I stopped countless times on the run just to enjoy the silence & the fact we were really doing this. Very strange this project had been in mind for around 12 months now and here we were finally doing it..
I reigned MC back a few more times before I think he got my point :) The countryside was so diverse one minute you were in granite boulder fields then you were in pine plantations then it was tea tree and soft beach sand. Fantastic We made it into Castlemaine in 7hrs 30 odd minutes & decided a pie and coke was in order.
We got the most expensive pie of our lives $8 bloody hell if we could be bothered we would go somewhere else but we have just run 59km hahaha. We ate the pie drank our coke and went next door to the supermarket filled up our 3 litre bladders and walked our way out of town. Again following an old Aqueduct.
Now I am not sure if it was the coke or the $8 pie but I was off. Finally I had found my running legs wooohoooo MC & I had traded places he was having a few difficulties & I felt great. We followed the old Aqueduct trail along for quite some time it was great fairly flat and twisting & turning all over the place. Some of the best single trail we had come across yet. Fantastic Probably would enjoy it more if we didn`t have 60+ km in the legs but oh well.
We climbed and descended our way along until it started to get dark then we stopped for another short break to get our lights on our heads and some warm clothes on. Again the scenery just continually changing from forest to shale and granite boulders. At around the 90km mark for some reason we started to talk about whether we thought we could push on & go straight through......
We had a bit of a time constraint regarding pick ups or possible train timetables from Ballarat. It`s funny because for around 5km we discussed the pro`s & con`s of going all night. Could we do it ?? Would we slow down too much & be reduced to crawling?? If we stop & rest as planned we could seize up & not be able to move in the morning???
This was great we had gone from doing 210km with a stop to now thinking we were a possibility of going straight through. Then BANG we hit the 100km WALL hahahaha. It`s interesting what happens when you have only run 3x 100km races and 1 x 100 miler You hit 100km & your body says no more I am done. hahahaha We quickly changed our tune & decided a rest would be the best option & whatever happens on day 2 happens.
It didn`t help that the final 20km into Daylesford was some of the best technical single trail we had seen since we started. There was some steep rocky stuff. You run along the edge of what seems like a huge cliff. Probably because we had headlamps on at this point & you couldn`t see the bottom you run along this for around 10km then hit the sign to the Lake wooooohoooo a couple more k`s and we were there
When we got within 45min of Daylesford I gave my mate a call to order us pizzas & a coke. He then met us at the boat house at the lake and we jumped in his car to his place. Thankfully it was not far from the lake. It was around 10.30pm when we got there. We sat down ate pizza, talked had showers & hit the sack around 12.30.
It was a very restless sleep I even jumped out of bed at 1.45 thinking I had slept in & started to get ready to run until I worked out the real time hahahahahaha. I was wide awake by 3.30am & it turns out MC was as well. We should of just got up & started running then. We got up at 4.15 did some stretches packed our bags, rugged up & for some reason felt totally ready for the second day.
We left my mates place & jogged the short distance ( 2km) back to where we were picked up from re set our watches & started a slow jog out of there. I was feeling great could not believe it I guess the slow pace on the sat had done the trick. The quads were feeling a little worse for wear as we had a total of 3000mtr elevation on sat. But all in all feeling good.
Again counting down the time for the sunrise. This is something I always look forward to catching the first glimpse as it peaks over the horizon just gives that special feeling. We ran on feeling good & enjoying the ever changing scenery Quietly confident that we had done the hard part, getting started on the second day :)
The sun came up & again a beautiful sunrise as we were in the Wombat state forest. We had one moment when we felt we had gone wrong so got out the etrex gps and yep sure enough we missed a turn. It`s what happens when you get a little complacent or over confident hehehe We walked back up the hill lucky for us only around 500mtr found the right turn & went that way.
We ran along some of the best single track so far it was windy & just small ups & downs perfect great terrain. Unfortunately this is where it popped out onto a road. Arghhhh a road?? What is this strange thing & much to our delight it was an 8km stretch of STRAIGHT road. So boring It lead us all the way to Dean. Once we got off this part it returned to some sweet trails.
It was about this time that we had been trying to figure out what time we would be arriving in Ballarat knowing we had to go 20km out to Mt Buninyong & potentially back to catch the train. Once again we were back to racing the clock, something I had really wanted to avoid. Back to the ol North face comment :)
Mc put an idea to me that if we missed going into Creswick for lunch we could save 30min or more getting us to Ballarat quicker. Now there is one thing I am not a big fan of... Missing out on my FOOD especially since around 20km in I was thinking about lunch & a coke hmmmmmmmmmmmmm I was not happy with this suggestion at all.
After cruising along for another 5 or so k`s I told MC that if we were going to miss lunch I was sitting down to eat some rice I had left and take a load off for 5min. I was pretty disappointed to think I was going to miss lunch. So we stopped sat down ate some rice took a load off & then got going again.
We ran on for sometime before we saw the turnoff to Creswick. It seemed to take a lot longer than it was supposed to. We got I reckon within 800mtr of the town turned our backs on it & headed off toward Ballarat. That was a tough call but once the decision was made it was made.
The sun was shinning and it was starting to get a little warm. It must of hit about 12 degrees hahaha. By this point we were continually commenting on how amazing the trail was so well marked and easy to follow it was great. I think we got the handheld GPS out only a couple of times. We had expected the trail to be roughly marked & be struggling along but it was quite the opposite.
And then it happened just like that...... Around 15-20km from Ballarat MC`s ankle decided it had had enough. It swelled up and he could hardly lift it or put weight on it. We limped along for a while doing a fair bit of walking. We sat down a few times in the hope that the short break would fix it but it wasn`t to be.
We came across some prospectors who were very keen to show us there gold & find out where we had come from. The looks on their faces when we said Bendigo hahaha priceless. They started to tell us that prospecting was a lot of work for little reward Then we told them we were running for 2 days with no reward hehehe except the pain we were feeling in our bodies. :)
I was super excited we have gone from Bendigo to Ballarat 190km this was crazy. We limped along at approx 4km an hr very slow going. Whilst Mc struggled with his ankle I struggled with the decision to go on alone to Mt Buninyong??? It was only 20km past Ballarat.... A big part of me thought we started as a team & I would like to finish as a team. There was also the thought of damaging my knee more ( I have had a niggle for the last few weeks ) After all this was just a training run.
MC battled on & even contemplated walking to Mt Buninyong hehehe at 4km an hour. He is a stubborn bloke. At around 4km out of Ballarat we both decided that the train station would literally be the end of the line for us. I also had to think about The Around The bay charity run I am doing, this is far more important to me than the GDT. After what seemed like an eternity we finally got there 36hours & 9min after we left Bendigo we had made 190km
I was thrilled it did not matter that we did not get to Buninyong we had a huge back to back run & smashed ourselves in the process. What a weekend. We went to the nearest pub & ordered 2 big steaks with chips to eat whilst we waited for the 7pm train home.
In summary The Goldfields Track was amazing. So well marked and easy to follow. My only concern would be water. There was no water to speak of on the trail. You have to make it last until the towns. Having the train at either end is the best thing ever you don`t need a car shuffle or a lift makes it easy.
Yes I will be back to complete this run. I may do it supported, unsupported, with a group or solo. That is yet to be determined. As for now this run has taught me many valuable lessons Most of all it`s about the JOURNEY :) We can do anything we put our minds to!
Shane's an ultra runner and La Sportiva Ambassador, with a taste for adventure, always up for a new and different challenge.