Update from David Morgan – The Wilsons Prom 100 8 January 2021 One of Australia’s foremost natural treasures, Wilsons Promontory National Park is a magical wilderness of great natural beauty. Wilsons Promontory National Park is many things to many people: a rite of passage camping location, a haven for hikers, an uncluttered wave for surfers – and an extraordinary venue for a 60km run. Most of all, Victoria’s most popular national park, jutting into Bass Strait at Australia’s southernmost tip, 225-kilometres southeast of Melbourne, is an unspoiled natural paradise. The park covers 50,500 hectares of diverse habitat – from temperate rainforest to mangrove, heathlands and forested peaks – supporting around half of Victoria’s bird species: 272 species have been recorded. The wildlife is just as diverse, with more than 30 species of native animals roaming the park, including echidna, hairy-nosed wombat, eastern pygmy-possum and long-nosed potoroo. Visitors rarely have to wait long to see eastern grey kangaroos, emus, swamp wallabies, black cockatoos and eagles. In the face of the many difficulties 2020 has presented, it’s great to discover another new destination in our own backyard. If you’ve never been to the Prom, as it’s fondly known to Victorians, it’s a must A national park in some form since 1898, Wilsons Promontory was only accessible by boat prior to the 1930s, when a road was constructed to Tidal River. Situated within the park, Tidal River is home to camping and cabin accommodation and a general store. Through its remote coastal bushland trails the area offers pristine beaches, spectacular views and giant granite rock formations rising from wild landscapes. Thanks to the Prom’s remoteness and my late plans, I secured the last two rooms accommodation at Fish Creek Hotel, which gave us a 4.30am departure for the Wilsons Prom 100, which offers runners 48, 60, 80 and 100km run loops. More importantly, this classic Art Deco pub provided our evening meal – great Parma – and comfortable bed to catch some last opportunity shut-eye. From Fish Creek it’s 78kms to Tidal River for registration and some last-minute preparation. It feels unbelievable that it’s been more than 12-months since I stormed through the boroughs of New York to cross the finish line of not only an iconic marathon, but only my second race at the 42.2km distance. “It feels unbelievable that it’s been more than 12-months since I stormed through the boroughs of New York to cross the finish line of not only an iconic marathon, but only my second race at the 42.2km distance. I’m now here, ready to run further than I’ve ever ran before.” With winds blowing through the campsite, and participants emerging from every direction, the start is near. Since the onset of Covid-19, social distancing is the new theme, and it’s a quick brief before the countdowns begin in waves, for what will undoubtedly be a long day. We’re off – until after just 100-metres a departing gust blows my hat off, so back I go. While someone kindly grabs the rogue hat, this turns out to be the first of additional ground cover today. No matter, another turn in the right direction and I’m back on track. Settling into a comfortable pace, I’m quickly back towards the front group. Constantly paranoid of my body’s ability for the day as the winds blow and my heart rate rises, I’m doing okay – I think. Though wearing trail shoes, running on the sealed road is comfortable enough as we collectively climb towards Mount Oberon and Telegraph Saddle. Why are the steepest sections always near the start of a race, I ponder? At the end of the road an unassuming trail entrance welcomes us to both a change in gradient and a magical and utterly beautiful natural environment within the park. The trail is relatively dry, but demands attention to avoid some slippery sections, branches, and the odd rock that threatens to stub one’s foot. But, having momentum, and now moving downhill, I increase my pace and move to the front. Still feeling good, check. As I come to a fork in the trail where a boardwalk begins, I have another realisation – I’ve not read the course, unless a brief glance at the map counts, and I’m unsure of the direction I’m supposed to run in. Shouldn’t there be some clues somewhere? It’s got to be the boardwalk! I run on, increasing my pace with a more accommodating footing across relatively flat terrain. Some distance in, and I can’t hear other runners. Where’s that bloody map on my phone? Then a couple of fellow runners start closing in, and that’s good enough for me. Off and running. The boardwalk finishes at Sealers Cove, and I stop as I hit the beach, a long and glorious sweep of golden sands. Which way? Examining footprints in the sand, it’s confirmed by the two runners behind me who have noticed my hesitation. “Follow the footprints,” they shout. The sun starts to rise, and I try capturing the moment, enjoying the beautiful surroundings. I decide to tuck in behind the other two gents and spend less time concerned with orientation. Alone on Sealers Cove beach, the three of us jog to our first river crossing. Here a well-positioned photographer points us to the easiest path to cross. At the briefing, runners have been warned about this crossing and the high tide that awaits. Wading across, water above my waist, this starts to feel like an adventure run. Out the water I feel sand in my now wet, heavy trail shoes. Unsure what to do with my now sloshing shoes, I look to the others for any tips. Nothing. Up the riverbank into a camp we go, before the terrain again climbs and the trail becomes somewhat overgrown. Ouch … a stick hits me square in the eye. As my eye waters, the sun seems brighter and the trail less obvious. I slow down only briefly, but even so lose touch with my navigation runners in front. Before long I arrive at a jumble of huge granite rocks, which has incredible views of crystal-clear water and coastal cliffs beyond. But which way now? I stop and look around. I’ve lost the track. This is usually my cue to take a photo, but it’s too sweaty to open the screen. Thankfully, a new group of three runners come into sight. I watch as the lead runner checks his GPS watch, looks around, changes direction and picks up the trail. So that’s how it’s done. Henceforth I’ll follow these gents I think. I pop in the middle as their three become four. Small conversation and a steady pace means kilometres tick over with ease – and, well, some effort. How convenient, if the run could be as consistent as this. But that old chestnut presents itself again – a fork in the path. This time two of us go one way, two the other. I opt to follow the guy with the GPS, but even that’s throwing up some doubt as we part ways with the other two runners. Crossing a river, we run into a camp, and it’s the campers who point us in the direction of the elusive trail. We take off, though not at my pace and, soon enough, distance is between us after I stop to fill my drink bottle at a small stream. On I press, once again in the company of yours truly. After a while I came across some hikers and enquire – any runners been through?’ A welcome response, “you’re the seventh.” I gain some confidence and press on. The sun is warming up and the serenity is perfect. As I drop down onto the beach at Waterloo Bay I see old mate with the GPS in the distance, and know I’m on course. Beach running can be taxing, and this is one of the longest sandy stretches of the run. Thirty kilometres under my belt in just over three hours; I’m on track. But I wasn’t expecting what came before me. “The second big hill of this run, and a steep climb from the beach. I stubbornly force myself forward, determined to run. The previous weeks injuries return with a vengeance – I crashed my bicycle at speed after the carbon handlebars randomly sheared off causing concussion and a decent impact with the road. All week I’d tried recovery, trying everything from massages, osteopath, Epson salt baths and plenty of running to hopefully loosen up.” It catches up with me at the Prom: my hip aches, muscles are contracted, breath shortened, and a sense of fatigue grabs me. I feel dizzy, and start to walk. Trying to run forward, I stumble, then walk, then stumble again. I’m in pain, and the trail is more overgrown than before. My positivity is clouded in setbacks. A runner overtakes, and I can’t even fall into step momentarily. It’s steep, and feels a never-ending climb to the bluff between the bay and the Lighthouse. As I run out into open ground, there’s a sealed path, which I assume runs up to the Prom’s legendary lighthouse. Three runners come running down. “Where do I go?” I ask. “To the lighthouse!,” they shout as they run past. It’s steep. I walk in quiet discomfort. Between 1853 and 1859 convicts laboured on an isolated, windswept bluff at Wilsons Promontory, using local granite to build the lighthouse, which looms 90-metres above Bass Strait’s storm-tossed seas. In the 1800s and early 1900s supplies were delivered to this far-flung outpost by ship every six months. These days it’s still so secluded supplies are brought in by helicopter only twice a year. The Prom’s light-station commands almost 360-degree views of Bass Strait and several rocky islands, heart-stirring panoramas that were once only the realm of light keepers’ and their families. A new group of three runners arrive and I ask for directions. The first guy doesn’t know and the others seem uncertain. But I have to keep moving and make my way down. I’m joined by a runner who has a general idea, and together we search for a trial. I look at the map and conclude I’m travelling the opposite direction than I initially read it, yet my phone has no service – which equals no “live’’ map of the area. Again we find a path forward … if only my legs would oblige. I struggle to hold a consistent pace, but my hip function is somewhat deteriorating. I try to pressed harder and refuse my painful reality. We’re left with two options to progress to Roaring Meg. After both going down the vehicle access, we decide it had to be a side trail, and backtrack. How am I not lost? Holding out, though not keeping up, I reach the 42.2 km marathon distance in 5 hours, 27 minutes. I run as fast as I can, testing a new theory – I figure if I can get my heart rate down, miraculously the pain will ease and I’ll go faster. But this untested theory fails. I check the hip – it’s agony. The argument to go slow is deafening. After reaching an access road, it’s downhill running to the only aid station of the run at 50km. Surely this might enable freedom of movement through my hip and now-stiff legs? The results are past disappointing – now I can’t run downhill either. Jarring, aching and stiff, the slow motion of my progress allows time to suffer. Running, or hobbling, can really just be a succession of small falls one tries to avoid before launching, or stumbling, into the next falling motion. At an embarrassing pace I approach the aid station, trying not to appear like I need an immediate emergency evacuation. I think I can crawl the last 10km. A half banana is the first real food since I started, and the volunteers are encouraging – “Enjoy the rest of your run,” they smile. As I walk off, the irony hits me … I’m walking! 150-meters forward there’s a turn to the left, I’m told. Best I try that running thing again. Telegraph Track junction to Oberon Bay adds its share of loose sand to run, or stumble, across. “While I’m motivated to finish, I constantly monitor my less-than-perfect-performance. Runners pass who are, well, running, and I have another attempt to throw myself forward from my stumbles.” With the pain a constant, I think about the positives of the last 10km, including getting off loose sand tracks. Enroute back to Tidal River, I look out to the sparkling ocean all over again. I watch a lone surfer, hikers and explorers going about their day in this wilderness wonderland. A swimmer, a couple out walking, a group of youths. This place has something for everyone, even a tired ex-runner making his way home. Of course I can’t find the carpark where the finish line has been set up when I enter the vast Tidal River campgrounds. When I finally find the finish line, I see a familiar face – Jimmy. How lucky I am to have a good friend. I’m sure the pain hides a little disappointment. “Oh well, at least you did it,” he says. To all those who have not wavered in their support for the 7×7 Challenge – thank you. If you want to support David, please donate here By the numbers… Date: 12th December, 2020 Start: 6.00am Distance: 60.83km Elevation Gain: 1,901m Duration 8:26:06 Finished 19th overall. 3997km ran this year 101km ran this week 107km ran last week Strava activity: https://www.strava.com/activities/4460537214 Considering the challenge: “Come down and run Australia’s best costal marathon and enjoy an event that offers – great scenery, great people and a great run.” – Paul Ashton, Race Director.