Gayle Cowling

This would be my 4th year taking on the 60km event at Wilson’s Prom or fondly known as “The Prom” to the locals. Last year had been a disaster for me with a dislocated ankle and a self-rescue out of Sealers Cove. Twelve months later and only a couple of long distance runs under my belt, I was facing both a physical and mental challenge. I was anxious, nervous, really worried about the conditions and whether mentally I could get through it unscathed with no injury.

The weather was scheduled to be windy and rainy with a high of around 15 degrees, the weather man was not wrong. Strong rain came in from every direction as we lined up for our pre-race briefing and roll call at 5:45am for a 6:00am start. It did not let up as all the participants were dressed in wet weather gear for the battle ahead as Paul Ashton – the race director – counted us down to the start. At 6:00am we were off and it was pitch dark. All that could be seen was the vast number of head lamps following each other showering a little bit of light around us.

We started the run at Tidal River and headed out on the intensely long trudge up Telegraph Road to Mt Oberon. A gale force head wind and rain on the ascent was at times forcing me backwards. Nick drove by in the comfort of his car with the window wound down to encourage me to keep moving forward. I can tell you I was not exactly happy about it. As I got to the carpark I stopped for mere seconds to run over to Nick and give him one last kiss as it would be many hours before I crossed that finish line to see him again. I was just thinking get me into the trees for some cover and protection from the wind and rain.

I was now on single track with no runners around me at all heading towards Sealers Cove. All I can remember was how dark it was and being out there alone cautious of every step I was taking. It was still very dark heading over Windy Saddle and the mud was over ankle deep and slippery. I was very tentative on this section and as I passed the area I had fallen and dislocated my left ankle the year before I did have a slight feeling of Thank God I got through that section.

The trail began to wind downhill and before long it turned into board walk just a couple of kilometres out from Sealers. There had been quite a bit of damage with trees down and a section of the board walk was completely unpassable, forcing us into deep mud and water. Even the chicken wire on the board walk did not prevent slipping over.

Dawn was just starting to break and I noticed that it was after 7:30am as I came out on to the beach at Sealers Cove. The rain had eased and the sun was trying to push its’ way through the dark grey clouds with little success. I was happy to get the lamp off my head and think about taking my rain jacket off as I was starting to get quite warm. Maybe we would get a reprieve from the weather for just a little while. At least till I got across Waterloo Bay and my climb up to the lighthouse.

There was one runner ahead of me on this section as we came to our first water crossing. She choose to take her shoes and socks off whilst I just ploughed through the knee deep water of orange and brown hues. At least it removed all the mud I had acquired along the track.

I had just completed about 13kms of the course and began to start the climb out and around to Refuge Cove. There were some great views back towards Sealers and around the headlands of Horn Point into Smith Cove even though there were dark threatening clouds. But this meant we were exposed to the elements of mother nature and the wind through the trees. It was going to be a long way from a walk in the park for The Prom today.

The ankle deep mud did not let up through this section but I hit the beach at Refuge Cove and walked through the soft yellow sand only to realise that there was a path on higher ground I could have taken to bypass it. This is where the lead pack of men in the 44km event came running past me as they all looked my way climbing out of the beach. Well it was a nice moment for me to capture anyway!!!

The next 2.3kms was the long climb to Kersop Peak. As I got to the peak, a runner was standing there having a rest. We introduced each other and Ian then joined me for some company as it does get pretty lonely out there after a while. We chatted about our experience in previous Prom runs and other areas we did our trail run training. It was good to find he was a Victorian and lived close to the Dandenong’s. He told me to check out Glasgow track for a tough climb of 400 metres of elevation over 900 metres. Nice. I immediately thought this could be a candidate for Everesting. Our next destination was a nice descent into North Waterloo and Little Waterloo Bay. I love this area of The Prom – the scenery is stunning regardless of the weather she throws at you. I can always be guaranteed that it will take my breath away and I could just stand there and look at it for hours.

Another creek crossing and a soaking of the feet as the surf pushed up the white clean sand. I just loved it but I knew I still had to get across Waterloo Bay before the storm clouds would hit with a vengeance. I was resisting the urge to put my rain jacket back on for as long as I could. We emerged onto Waterloo Bay and yet another soaking of the feet but the wind had subsided and I had a chance of running quite a bit of the beach. I headed off with Ian behind me but soon found he had drifted back a little bit.

I persevered along the reasonably firm white sand so running was easier than I had expected. I did enjoy the waves crashing onto the sand, catching my shoes and surrounding my ankles as I was not able to get out of the way in time. This was part of the adventure of trail running. I could see a few runners in the distance along the beach so I had some targets to aim for on the long steady climb up to the lighthouse.

This was going to be far from my best effort on this course but I had decided long before the race it was about just about completing it with no injury this time. Ankles in tack and keeping my head in the right space. The sign post at the end of the beach indicated 8.5kms to the lighthouse, up, up and more up. By now, the weather had turned and the rain had started to fall again. I reached another runner who had stopped to put on his wet weather gear but I still resisted the urge and pushed on. After climbing over many fallen trees and slipping over more than once through a mud soaked forest, I emerged on the edge of the coast to see my first glimpse of the lighthouse.

The 800 metre climb to the lighthouse is steep and it was on this section a number runners were making their return trip to the Roaring Meg turnoff. I headed to the lighthouse door, took my pics and filled up my water bladder. I got a signal on my phone to quickly send an SMS to Nick to let him know that I was only 38kms into the run and I was very slow but still going steady – no personal records would be achieved today.

On my way back down from the lighthouse I saw Ian heading in – I had gained about 1.5kms on him. We high fived each other, said great job and I kept on moving. Just before coming into Roaring Meg campground, the 100km lead runner came through followed closely by Dan Beard – another high five and words of encouragement as we passed each other on the single bush track.

Across the bridge and through the campsite onto Telegraph track I was not surprised to see it had turned into its own little stream. Water was flowing the entire length and I had given up any hope of keeping my feet dry. In my mind I was through the toughest part of the course and heading back to Tidal River and the finish line. It was great to see a few more 100km runners coming my way and I felt I was getting closer to civilisation. The end of Telegraph Track takes you along the fire track road which is a nice winding down hill run for three or four kilometres passing the Half Way Hut. There were a few more runners battling the uphill climb and all I could do was tell them they were all doing an amazing job. I had the easy part of running down.

Before I knew it I had reached the intersection and checkpoint where the 44km participants were coming onto the track. I was greeted by a group of volunteers who took a quick photo, filled me up on chocolate and sent me on my way. I was now less than 10 kilometres from the finish line and looking forward to a hot shower and a hot cup of coffee.

The next three kilometres was a soft sandy four wheel drive trail that headed across to Oberon Bay. Emerging onto Oberon Bay the wind had eased and so had the rain. Mt Oberon was shrouded in dark cloud and another storm was brewing. Three more beach crossings of sand to go – yippee. I now had less than 8.5kms to the finish line and I had a target of nine hours to achieve it.

The climb up and around to Little Oberon Bay was wet and slippery over the boulders but I pushed on taking in the breathtaking views of aqua green water and dark grey clouds looming over head.

The Prom never ceases to amaze me regardless of the weather. The end of Oberon Bay was my final creek crossing of Tidal River – one last soaking of the shoes and socks but it had all been worth it.

The descent into and climb out of Little Oberon Bay was tough as the sand was deep and soft. I was glad to see the end of it as I headed up along the cliff tops to Norman Point. I knew it was not far now – less than three kilometres to the finish and the clock was ticking by quickly. I stopped to take a few photos of Little Oberon – it cost me in the end.

I descended onto the beach at Norman Bay – it was great hard runnable sand and I had a fellow runner with me pushing me along. As we hit the sand he hurt his hamstring and pulled back – I pushed on counting down the minutes to try and beat nine hours.

The beach was just that little bit too long and as I ran up through the last exit off the Norman beach into Tidal River I was greeted by cheers as I ran into the finish line, 3 leech bites and 9hrs and 1 minute later. It had been a really tough day in the office but it had been worth every minute of it.