Contributed by Mark Avery, AURA member (NSW)

COAST TO KOSCIUSZKO 240km, EDEN NSW, 2-4 Dec 2022

I really don’t know where to start with this race report. Because the real ‘start line’ was years ago.

A few years back I interviewed a number of ultra running legends as part of my 21 half marathons in 21 days. One of the last quick fire questions was asking what their favourite race was to which they all replied Coast to Kosci. A 240km run from the beach to Australia’s highest peak. And so a seed was planted.

So here I was a number of years later packing up a car to the brim full of stuff I might need for this next adventure. In which you could expect anything.

The 6hr journey down was pretty cruisy with the only notable moment happening when my mum left her coffee on the roof as we left the petrol station – lucky it was still upright; maybe a sign of good luck to come?

Registration was next to where we were staying in Eden right on the beach front, and excitement and nerves were starting to build as I first bumped into Barry Keem, Mark Firth, Toby Steele, Rene and started to mingle with other C2K virgins like myself and C2K legends such as Jane Trumper.

As it was an iconic Aussie race I had to smash down a chicken parmi before wandering back to meet Troy and Abbas who had just arrived so we could quickly go over the race rules, directions and check we had all the mandatory gear. I can confirm after a few hundred Whatsapp messages in the lead up they had bought enough hi-vis vests and red flashing lights. We were good to go.

Although I slept terrible that night. I had hot and cold sweats throughout and finally got up around 3.45am and had to have a quick shower to wake myself up.

I nervously put my gear on, checked it a dozen times before we all walked a few hundred metres along the beach to the start line with the sun rising over our shoulders.

I excitedly said hello to a number of runners before a quick video call with dad Tony back in the UK where he gave me his usual pointers of catching a bus instead. And not forgetting a final pep talk from coach Joe Ward whilst walking down to touch the sea, making sure not to get our feet wet.

We had a magical Welcome to Country and I gave the family a quick kiss before the countdown started…and then we were off running up the beach and through the smoke from the ceremony which was to protect us on our travels to the top.

Welcome to Country.

I started off running with Luke Thompson, an absolute legend who I met at the 24hr track event back in July, and was very grateful to spend a big chunk of the race with him. We cruised along chatting and slowly the group grew with people dipping in and out and sharing a few kms with Andy Heyden and the well-deserved winner Rob Mason.

And then my mind started to wander and I drifted off on my own. Running into Towamba was like a cyclist in the Tour de France coming into a small town with everyone out on the streets cheering. The friendly faces and cheering hit you like a wall of positivity and I immediately choked up. This was something else.

For this first 24km you have to run on your own, but it’s at this checkpoint that my support crew could join me, and this would be the start of them leapfrogging ahead every 5kms or so in the car…all the way up to Mt Kosci.

I was running quite comfortably and I thought I was pacing myself well on the rolling hills but the heat crept up on me and by the 52km checkpoint at Rocky Hall I was already starting to overheat. The crew got some ice and put it in a buff around my neck, sunscreen was reapplied, water bottles filled and I set off a bit slower to try and keep on top of it.

The ice cooled me down a bit just before Cow Bell Trail but as soon as we went on the trail my heart rate soared again and it was back to overheating. I needed to start running a bit more sensibly but felt as though I needed to keep pushing. Rookie error.

Cow Bell Trail was hell. The usual route up the road was changed this year due to damage. I found it really hot and hard work on the trails and if it wasn’t for Abbas pacing me and encouraging me it would have taken a lot longer (we were allowed a pacer just for this section until later in the race).

The trail finally ended and we were back on the road headed to the Cathcart Store checkpoint at 71km. As I ran in Greg joked about running around the cone and kissing it. I did as I was just happy to be there in one piece. Popped into Cathcart Store and got an ice lolly. Heaven.

After kissing the family again and leaving the checkpoint after about 1km the crew came alongside me in the car and asked whether I wanted anything.

“Another ice lolly?” I said, more as a question than a request.

“Yep. Back in a minute,” they replied without hesitating.

Result.

Having a well deserved ice lolly.

This next stretch of road included lots of ice in the hat and on the back of the neck to try and cool down. Although the continuous rolling hills were doing as much to counteract this as they could. The scenery was breathtaking as I continued to plod on towards the next checkpoint at 108km along Snowy River and chatting with the legend Nikki Wynd gave me strength.

As always I could hear Vicki, Mum and the kids before I could see them at the checkpoint due to the cow bells they were ringing to welcome and say hello to runners – there is no better sound. I ran down the road, gave them all a kiss to recharge, and set off downhill for a change.

And as I started to descend, with the hypnotic sound of a number of huge wind turbines slowly whirring behind me, the sun slowly started to set and I changed into my long sleeved fleece. Shortly after that I got the headtorch and reflective vest out of the car, and at 15hrs into the race I was now allowed a pacer and Abbas jumped out of the car to kick things off.

Lots of people passed me on this stretch including Allicia Heron and Joe who had been hot on my heels for a while. “Go Alicia!” I said hugging them both before they took off….giving me just enough time to make it back to the side of the road to projectile vomit exorcist style.

The next few hours were very dark. Both literally and figuratively. This was the worst I’d felt during a run. And it lasted for hours! I was bent over feeling sick when an official car pulled alongside us.

“Are you Mark?”

“Yes.”

“Your support car has broken down, we’re just trying to fix it.”

“Oh, okay.”

The day seemed to be going from bad to worse to very, very worse.

Although…they did have some ginger chews that I was told would help settle my stomach.

Threw one in my mouth…and chewed in anticipation…before projectile vomiting everywhere again. Oh well.

Ten minutes or so later our support crew vehicle had been jump started and was back alongside us. So at least the gods weren’t completely against us.

The next checkpoint at 149km was at Dalgety Hall and I was feeling pretty miserable. It was around 1am as we were approaching I saw Vicki and the kids! They had stayed up at the checkpoint to try and lift my spirits, which it did.

I shuffled into the hall to use the bathroom and the warmth hit me like a warm hug. I went to the toilet and got out of there as soon as possible as per the advice from previous runners…

Beware the Chair – if you sit down you might not want to get back up and carry on.

It was Troy’s turn to pace and within a few metres the little buzz of the checkpoint was fading into the distance behind us and we were running into the cold mist along Snowy River Way. With Troy drinking a cup of tea. As you do.

As we were running I turned as I could hear something behind us and Troy said there was a herd of cows chasing us in the field. Although this actually happened I had to check as this was the start of the hallucinations. I was so exhausted my body was starting to shut down and I was falling asleep while running. I tried to fight it but after saying hello to 2 badgers sitting upright on a bench outside a school (not there at all) my crew decided I needed a power nap.

I woke up feeling a bit more alert but still couldn’t keep anything down.

The sleep running and hallucinations were cues for me to have another power nap.

“Is that a pug?” I asked.

“Nope, it’s a mound of grass,” Cindy replied.

I felt like I was Alice in Wonderland going down the rabbit hole.

We repeated this power nap, sleep run routine for hours.

Big climb up Beloka Hill with Abbas. Troy stopped half way up the hill, popped the boot, and as we were on a hill everything fell out spilling out onto the side. I can’t remember whether we all laughed or cried. Especially as it happened a few more times after that! I thought I would try a piece of chocolate and as it touched my lips I was violently sick again. I turned around…looked up, the sky was now full of stars.

A moment of peace amongst the chaos.

Cindy jumped out to pace me as we started to approach Jindabyne. As we started the approach the sun started to come up…a new day.

“You need to try and eat or drink something, is there anything you fancy?”

“Chocolate milk,” I murmured like a toddler.

Troy and Abbas set off in the car in search of this chocolate elixir whilst Cindy showed me messages from my Dad, John, Melanie Warman, Rebecca Lennon, Chris Anderson, Katherine Galvin and Gus Worland to make me laugh and lift my spirits.

They returned shortly with the prize and I had a small sip to test my stomach. And a few more. And a few more. I was keeping it down. It was heaven.

Now the rest of this run was fuelled purely on chocolate milk. Thanks chocolate milk. Let’s always be friends and never fall out.

We ran down the hill into Jindy to the next checkpoint at the caravan park at 185km where Vicki, Mum and the kids were waiting. And things were starting to change. Despair was turning into hope.

A quick toilet stop at the garage and the family set us off on way to start the long climb. I was power walking up the hill with Troy when a huge kangaroo came out of nowhere and stopped to look at us before bouncing across the road. There were no cars around, just the sound of the birds in the bush. We both looked at each other in awe…and then ruined it by wondering what would have happened if a car had come round the corner and covered us in kangaroo.

The next 30kms or so the crew were pacing me in rotation, pumping music out of the car, and feeding me chocolate milk. We were in a party mood. And this party mood was amplified by the amazing Julie Wallace and Hannah who were pumping the tunes and sending positivity out of the window of their race vehicle.

We approached the Perisher checkpoint at 214km feeling strong. The crew were getting a bit excited and drove up the road to see what was going on. They came back down and told me I was 19th and we were really close and if I went a bit harder there was a possibility of making the top 10. They were lying; we weren’t close but it was the kick up the bum I needed and after smashing a few Revvies Energy Strips it was go time. For the first time in 150km I felt good again so I thought I would give it a good nudge and finish strong after running behind another Aussie legend Grant Maughan for so long.

I powered up to the checkpoint at Charlottes Pass at 224km and was determined to continue strong to the top. And I probably wouldn’t have gone so fast if I knew how far it was! I thought it was 9km there and back whereas it was 18km. Oops.

What an achievement!

I continued up and hugged runners I had shared some kms with over the previous 220 odd kms – Joe, Luke, Allicia and Martin Fryer, John Yoon, Nikki, Jenny Morris and Alan Wheat – some going up and some down.

Troy and myself had to leave Abbas and Cindy behind for the last climb as they weren’t wearing the right shoes and had no grip in the snow. We finally made it up to the top of Australia for a photo…in our t-shirts and shorts. Gold.

Was pretty cooked on the way down and stopped a few times to put snow in my cap to cool me down. And just when I thought we had a few more kms to go…the finish line magically appeared from around the corner to my relief and we ran across the line to the sight of Vicki, Mum and the kids.

I couldn’t believe it and was struck with a mixture of relief and pure joy, hoping that I wasn’t dreaming and wasn’t still asleep in the car back on Snowy River Way! I think I hugged Mickey Campbell and Gregory Wallace the race directors a million times saying how much I Ioved Coast to Kosci. I was like a happy drunk at the end of the night.

And there it is. A 242km finish back at Charlottes Pass for an 11th placed finish in 34 hours 13 minutes.

We all celebrated, had a few sips of beer at the finish line, and jumped in the car to head to our accommodation in Jindy. We all had a shower and everyone seemed to just pass out around the apartment. It was like the after scene from a battle. After an hour or so I was woken up to the sound of “Anyone want pizza?!” from Vicki. Hell yes.

Like the day after a huge party we sat around the apartment living room feeling exhausted, dehydrated, eating pizza and telling stories of the last 34 hours and 13 minutes.

And that’s where most runs finish. But not C2K. The presentation the next day is the icing on top of the cake where all the runners, crew and supporters meet up. Listening to all the stories of how people had got to C2K, battled C2K, and conquered C2K was amazing. At Coast to Kosci, first timers get presented with an Akubra hat. Mickey and Greg kicked off my intro talking about their first encounters with my team. Vicki offering to buy Greg a drink, Mum telling them it was a stupid event, and other funny stories along the way. I was presented with my hat…and I was now officially a C2K finisher and more importantly part of the C2K family.

And that was that. We said goodbye, jumped into the car, and the crew shook their cowbells out of the window to everyone for the last time.

For now at least.

Featured Picture: Mark Avery (centre) surrounded by his family and crew at the 2022 C2K. Photograph – Supplied. 

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