Craig Jeffrey

I got to Tidal River for the start of the 100km rather ridiculously early – at about 4.45am! I waited around in the dark for a while and then wandered over to the check in where the race organiser, Paul Ashton, was just setting up.

We were soon huddled by the start line and Paul was giving us some final words of encouragement. He said he’d marked the first 200 metres of the course, but then got bored – “after that it’s up to you.”

It was a relief to start running and I soon found myself crossing the Tidal River bridge in the dark and setting out on the 20km first loop, encompassing the Lilly Pilly Trail and Mount Bishop. I was in the lead but was soon joined by two runners - Dylan and Cody - and we chatted as the first few kilometres spun by. As I climbed Mount Bishop, I realised I was no longer in the lead – I think a few runners had taken a shortcut! In any case, this was one of the many stunning parts of the course. The sun was just beginning to rise, and a hardy photographer was on the top already snapping pictures of runners!

I loved the descent of Mount Bishop – the first part a little bit gnarly but then very gentle and runnable. We came out onto the Tidal River road and started running along the road to Picnic Bay. I was still in the lead at this stage and running alongside Dylan, who was very relaxed. I knew Dylan would probably run a bit faster than me, so I was prepared to let him take off at some point.

Picnic Bay, Squeaky Beach, Pillar Point, we ticked off these landmarks. It was so stunningly beautiful there was little to think about apart from the scenery – now bathed in morning sunlight – and making sure I kept my fluids up. Dylan had taken off on the climb out of Picnic Bay, so I was back on my own.

I picked up a few things at Tidal River and then began the ascent on the road to Mount Oberon carpark. It all felt very controlled and I ran almost this entire section, chatting occasionally to the 44km runners who had started just before I got back to Tidal River.

The descent from the carpark was really fun, and it was difficult to remember that I was in a 100km run and not a half marathon! In hindsight, I should have backed off a bit more on that section. I got to Telegraph junction and the only aid station. 500 metres after leaving I remembered I’d left my phone at the aid station – so that was an extra 1km of running I didn’t need!

The next section to Waterloo Bay was amazing. Extremely runnable – mixture of nicely groomed single track and boardwalks. It all felt amazingly easy, until I fell over, but that was thankfully my only tumble of the 100km.

It was rather laborious running on Waterloo Beach where the sand was quite soft. What a place, though – incredible white sand and an amazing quality to the light…the sun was becoming quite strong by now.

The 10km from Waterloo Beach to the lighthouse is where the run really starts to feel serious. The path up from the beach is steep and difficult to run. Once up, the path was quite overgrown – in a couple of sections I could only see about 3 feet in front of me. I had some great conversations with 44km and 60km runners on this section, who also ‘kept me honest’, moving well between running and fast walking. At one point I saw a very lively green snake, but it seemed preoccupied.

I soon got to the out and back path to the Lighthouse. The Lighthouse was ethereal, rising up through the mist. It was so beautiful I felt almost lifted out of the run (or perhaps that was the ‘runners high’ kicking in!)

I touched the lighthouse door and filled my water flasks. I high-fived Cody on the way back – who looked like he was out on a light training jog, he was so relaxed!

I was still feeling fine on the lovely run back towards the Roaring Meg campsite, but a routine effort to have a gel had me throwing up on the path. This was a bit of a surprise and I realised that my stomach was not in a good place. I was pleased with my navigation though and found the small path off the 4WD track that leads to Roaring Meg campsite. I had nice run down to South Point and then – about 1km into the climb back – saw Cody and Dylan. Dylan must have taken a wrong turn. They both looked really good, so I was expecting them to pass me in the next few kms, but it was still a good feeling to be mid-race and leading.  

I was very low on water at this stage and was looking desperately for creeks to get a refill. No luck on the way back from South Point. Back at Roaring Meg there was a table of campers. “Er, could I possibly have some water?” The campers were extremely kind and understanding, refilling my flasks, then one said “Hi Craig, It’s Lilli one of the graduate students in the School – I was at the seminar you gave on Thursday.” I hadn’t seen anyone except for Dylan and Cody for 15km, so this was really weird. We laughed about the coincidence and I ran on.

Cody and Dylan passed me pretty soon after Roaring Meg. I was still moving okay, but not really sure how to get enough nutrition – I didn’t have enough Tailwind to rely only on fluids, and even fluids were challenging to keep down at this stage. I stayed pretty close to both of them until we got back to Telegraph junction aid station, but the wheels slightly came off at that stop. I tried drinking water, but it immediately came straight back up. The volunteers were very kind, one pointing out, “You’ll need to take it a bit easier.” There was nothing to do but fill my flasks and get running again, hoping my stomach would settle down. Cody ran quickly ahead, and I wasn’t to see him again during the race. I also watched Dylan slowly accelerate away from me.

Damage limitation was the phrase that ran through my head now. I had 40km still to run and it was hot and I had only drunk about a litre in the last two hours. I realised that I had let my heart rate get too high on several sections since Waterloo Beach – a silly mistake. On the positive side, I knew all the tracks I had to run and there was no chance of getting lost.

I experimented with swirling water around my mouth and this seemed okay. I then tentatively had a few sips, and that was alright too. I felt like I was having to make a series of complex triangular adjustments between speed, water intake, and nausea.

The few kilometres back up the road to the Oberon carpark was slow and almost solid walking, but I was still in awe of being in such beautiful surroundings. On the road back to Tidal River I managed to pick up speed again. I had practiced this section a few weeks earlier and easily ran sub 4min kms. Now I was running 5.15 kms and even that felt like overdoing it.

Back at Tidal River I took stock. I had run 80km and had 20km to go. I had probably only drunk 1.5 litres in the hot sun over a four-hour period. I felt pretty tired. I muttered something to someone about pulling out. “What’s the point?” he said. “You’re miles ahead of the others.” Well, I think I was third, but it was true that I’d run the first 80km pretty quickly. In fact, I was surprised to find out it was 2.40pm – not even mid-afternoon and there was only 20km to go. I could shuffle it and still be back before dark and my target time of sub-12 hours.

So: no more talk about quitting. Pretty soon I was back on the Lilli Pilli track - very much on my own now because there were no 44km or 60km runners doing this section. I actually found I was moving really well, and the nausea had largely gone. I walked a bit on the climb up to Mount Bishop and met Dylan – who was only about 10 mins ahead of me. On the climb down I met another runner who I guess must be about 10 mins behind me. It was time to start accelerating a bit. I was soon back on the Picnic Bay road.

On the descent to Picnic Bay, I saw our car, and this was a huge pick-me-up: My family and our friends – who had come down for the weekend - were all on Picnic Beach. They ran alongside me for a while (the only time in the run that I actually goy my feet wet!)

As I climbed out of Picnic Bay, I couldn’t resist looking back for the other runner behind me. I couldn’t see anyone. I felt hydrated now and very comfortable. Weirdly, I didn’t want the run to end! Enjoyed the run along Squeaky Beach and out to Pillar Point, and then there is a beautiful last mile along the river – must be one of the best ends to a long trail run anywhere. Back across the bridge and I could hear people shouting. It was amazing to see my family and friends and very nice to stop.

I finished in 11 hours and 19 minutes and in third place, so very pleased, especially since I had managed to find a way to dig myself out of another mid-race hole (seems to be a common theme of my 100km runs).

Wilson’s Prom is an amazing run – an incredible way to see gorgeous pristine bush and beaches, and amazingly relaxed, friendly and low-key. The organisation and volunteers were terrific, and - as ever – the people I met on the trails were very friendly and generous. Congratulations to Cody and Dylan who blasted the course (and I think Cody was very close to the course record), and to all the runners. And thanks to Paul for hosting the event!