Look backwards to where we have come. We are anonymous. No one knows our pathway more than they know our future. A sodden trail leading upwards, substituting the sparse understory of the lower forest for a non-existent canopy. Frozen, white fingers mimicking the silent stags guarding the history of this forest. Tarkine. Our Tarkine.
The buttons of the Buttongrass dance a silent tango, intimate and yet rarely touching. That’s where we belong… intimately a part of Tarkine’s waltz. Observing without touching, admiring without desiring. Tarkine. Our Tarkine.
Opposites attract. Light rain feeds the vegetation whilst we shrug deeper into our jackets. Grey undergrowth to grey skies on grey alpine soils. Red raincoats a reminder of our differences. Tarkine. Our Tarkine.
Roads dug through deep culverts, winding us from one sensory overload to another. A white bridge spanning a rusted river, jade moss clinging to its edges like the silvery mist clinging to the ridgelines. Once again, we look to the white stags spreading their fingers towards an inconspicuous sky. If we could take flight like the Currawongs we wouldn’t need the roads. Tarkine. Our Tarkine.
Her peat soils hide her wealth. Gold, tin, iron and more. She produces beauty so heightened we often rip off her surface to expose her emotions. Inevitably she will bleed her pain into the surrounding waterways as slurry is dug from her heart, feeding outside investments. Tarkine. Our wounded Tarkine.
She cannot hide. Vast Myrtles a true giveaway of her affluence. She cannot escape. Let her beauty not face the fate of the Thylacine and Tarkine people. Tarkine. Our trapped Tarkine.
Flick off the leech, swat the marsh fly, wave away the mosquito and wash the mud off down spinning drains. We barely belong here but we are Tarkine’s caretakers. Stave off those bearing down on our Tarkine! Wave them away like an insect. Tarkine. Our Tarkine.
If we can learn to run we can learn to say no. Say no to her helplessness.
If we can learn to speak we can learn to say yes. Say yes to her protection.
Without a voice, she needs our help. Stand up for her freedom like we avidly protect our own.
Tarkine. Let her become your Tarkine.
It was 3pm in the afternoon and I found myself lying on my single wooden bed atop rough wooden floors in the hostel. I rarely lie down in the middle of the afternoon but I found that it is what you sometimes need when you are so emotionally challenged by your environment. Graham and I visited Nepal for the first time, there to hand out running shoes to the children and villagers living in Batase, some 35km outside of Kathmandu over imposing mountain foothills. This assortment of secondhand shoes had been collected by members of our Find Your Feet community and it was an honour to deliver them to the village.
On embarking on this trip I had a vision of mountains, monasteries, prayer flags and wild spaces. I guess that is the Nepal we see clearly in the photographs and yes, it is there for sure. In fact, we spent two nights living in a Buddhist monastery rarely visited by Western travellers. From here we ran into the national parks protected by the Nepalese army, ducked beneath prayer flags stretching across the trail, and even encountered a leopard. But the real Nepal, the one where most people live, is either in Kathmandu or in the outlying villages perched on the sides of the foothills. In Kathmandu the air pollution and dust rising off the congested untarmaced roads is so heavy that I found myself wrapping a scarf over my nose and mouth. It is so hard to think clearly about the imposing Stupa in front of you when you are finding it hard to breathe. Furthermore, the destruction of the earthquake that struck the region just two years previously is still hugely apparent, with cracks extending down buildings and rubble piled amongst the rubbish-strewn sidewalks. Further out into the countryside and the air becomes cleaner. However, the rubbish strewn through the beautiful national parks and farmlands hurt my heart. Added to this were buildings after buildings, and thus livelihoods after livelihoods, destroyed by the earthquake.
Over the course of the week, we ran and hiked through national parks and villages, experiencing a side to Nepal mostly overlooked by most Western travellers to this country. Then at night we would return to Batase and eat with the local children living in this hostel, children who had left their homes as orphans or as ‘one-too-many’ in their families. Dinner was cooked on an open fire in a corrugated iron shed, built as a replacement to the original stone and thatch buildings that crumpled with the tremors of mighty earthquakes. We would eat standing outside under the stars or with a light mizzly rain falling, chatting to fellow travellers or volunteers working in the village whilst the children babbled away over their rice & dhal inside the tin shed.
The children and villagers of Batase are blessed. Whilst life is tough it could be a whole lot tougher. They have people like us with prosperity who care for them. They have shelter and livelihoods and prospects. They can receive some form of education. However, many in the surrounding villages and towns are not so lucky. That is the hardest part and why I closed my eyes at 3pm on my single bed to ‘comprehend’.
Whilst our trip to Nepal raised the question of ‘How can we do more?’, it also made me realise that we need to really, really appreciate and protect what we have here in Tasmania and Australia. We need to stand proud of our natural landscapes and make sure that we protect them with fierce determination. What we have here in Australia is unique but it will need all the help that we can provide to ensure it remains beautiful for our children, and their children and every living species that relies on it.
Here is a further reflection of what we travelled with to help you with packing for your own third-world travels. Please note, Graham and I were able to avoid all sickness despite not drinking one bottle of bottled water. Instead, we used the Cambelbak All Clear UV Purifier which lasted the entire time on one USB charge. We also took our jetboil and our own utensils so that we didn’t have to risk picking up germs from communal kitchen arrangements. Finally, we avoided eating anything fresh and all meat products. The only fresh food we had in our time in Nepal were bananas which are safer to eat due to their skins.
What I wouldn’t leave Australia without:
What wasn’t essential but I was stoked to have with me:
Foods to avoid sickness:
What we ate lots of:
Further tips for not getting sick
A recap of the World Orienteering Championships, Scotland
Elite athletes are constantly asked to focus on routines in the lead up to competitions. These include when to arrive, how much to train, when to sleep, what to eat, how to execute your race strategies and what to do for recovery. However, I have come to learn that routines cannot and should not dictate how you approach orienteering races. This year’s World Orienteering Championships once again reiterated that for me.
This was my seventh World Championships and I felt somewhat like Nanny Hanny of the team. Through previous years I had established a routine of approximately a 2-3 week preparation in the relevant terrain. During this phase I would base in the country I would be competing in and switch from physical preparation to striving for a comprehensive understanding of the regions forests and how these are represented on the maps.
Due to the tight schedule of coaching and racing, this year I only had 3 days in Scotland. When the races began rolling around I could feel the doubt creeping in, ‘was this long enough?’
The significance of routines
Given I only visited two Scottish forest maps and one local sprint map in the lead up to this championships, I knew that I could not approach the races in the same way. Normally I have felt relatively confident in the competition’s terrains and try to attack the courses both physically and technically. With understanding of the terrain comes a readiness to take more risks. That is, understanding a terrain can help de-risk the more risky racing decisions. Examples of such decisions are selecting a faster but more difficult route choice or starting the race with more speed.
New routines require new racing strategies
The limited technical preparation for Scotland left me feeling shaky. The few days prior to the races starting rolled around in a frenzy of visiting maps, washing clothes, shopping for food, preparing meals, team meetings and then collapsing into bed at the end of the day. This does sound exhausting doesn’t it? Despite best intentions, there was little time for reviewing old maps and studying potential courses. I did my best but I never felt it was enough.
Then suddenly the races were on me and I found myself standing on the start line of the Sprint Qualification. The race was shaky. Decisions were rushed, an alleyway missed. A few lapses of concentration but I found the finish.
Driving home from the event the lights went off, ‘What had just happened?’… Then they came back on again. In a moment of revelation I realized that my racing routines had to change. I was not as well prepared as I usually am. The focus on physical routines had to switch. I turned off the attack button and hit the caution one instead. My new approach of arriving just in time to race required a new routine for racing.
Sprinting with caution
I stole a glance at the back of my hand. Only minutes earlier I had written two words - cautious underdog. These words symbolized my new strategy and cautiouswas at the foundation of my new routine.
I picked up my map with reservations. How tough would this course be? The qualification and sprint relay had been filled with surprises. New fences and barricades; unexpected spectator passages and hidden fence crossings. The traps had been numerous and I had fallen for quite a few already.
So I started slow. I didn’t race to the start triangle nor attack the first control. I paused frequently to check my directions and ensure that no traps had been set. The atmosphere was amazing and spectators seemed to appreciate the novelty of Australians racing in their hometown. But their cheers were also distractions so I took the next couple of controls equally safe, aiming for the larger features and avoiding the narrow, twisting and more intricate alleyways. I used multiple features as attack points and avoided running at a speed that made reading the map difficult.
Before long it felt like I had survived the first section of buildings and I found myself reading ahead towards some areas of the course that spanned parks and small lakes. I changed gear and lifted my speed by a notch as linear features had become more abundant.
Through this section I was solely focused on taking time to plan my route choices and executing a perfect exit from the controls. Once I was heading in the right direction I lifted the speed, but never to a point where I felt out of control. I was determined not to let my alarm bells ring. But on reentering the buildings I was reminded of the dangers and cut my speed back to cruise mode.
Again I looked for the safe lines. Where there were none, I just trotted my way through the narrow spaces, ensuring that at every intersection I knew what direction I was taking next. I felt safe, calm and like an underdog. I saw spectators but they no longer took any of my concentration.
Leaping over a fence I refolded my map and was surprised to see that the entire remainder of the course was now in flat parkland. It felt somewhat reminiscent of the last part of the 2006 Sprint Final in Denmark. I knew what I had to do. Stay strong and use the excellent visibility to pick straight lines. Exit directions became my focus. I found that once I exited cleanly from the control and looked up, I could almost see the next control in front of me. Here I began to feel like I was finally tapping into some of my fitness and speed.
New routines required
Crossing the line I had absolutely no idea of how I had gone. But in my heart I knew that was the best I could have done and it was the most magical feeling. Only later did I find out that I had achieved a podium finish and fifth position.
Driving home from this event I knew I had found my new routine and one that suited a limited preparation in the terrain. Whilst not ideal to arrive so soon before the competition started, it was suddenly ok to not know everything about the terrain so long as I recognized that my old routines needed to be put aside. My new routine of cautiousness and calmness felt appropriate and with every race I ran with this new understanding.
I am sure this is why the week unfolded in the way it did. The transition from sprint racing to the forest was hard and my first race in the middle distance started shakily. But you learn from mistakes and each day I tried to execute my routines with 5% more perfection. I’d say to myself, ‘just 5% better today Han… just 5%’. On the finish line it often felt like 20%.
Recovery routines change too
The recovery from this World Championships will be new and different too. The immense focus and concentration has taken a different toll on my body. My head feels like someone has blown into my ears and filled it up with air. The body feels lethargic and dragging my suitcase through the airport concourse is enough training for the day.
Over the last 8 days I have completed 6 races. I put more focus into how I raced each of these events than ever before. The new approach of 100% concentration from start to finish resulted in a body that holistically feels exhausted. And given that this is the same amount of races I have done in the past 5 months I shouldn’t be surprised.
Therefore, I am setting no expectations on how long it will take me to recover. If I bounce back in a couple of day’s time then great. But if it takes a week or two then I am content with that. After all, it is critical to recover optimally so that the mind, body and spirit all have a chance to become even stronger for next time… whatever that will be. As always, lessons will be learnt.
The Scottish experience
I have amazing memories of Scotland. I loved the landscape and the beautiful people. Amidst lochs and tales of the Lochness Monster, you can live like a princess. In the eyes of the locals, from orienteering volunteers to the petrol pump man, my name is ‘Love’ (sounded more like Luv). Furthermore, up there in the far north there was an overall sense of tranquility and remoteness. The week was busy and I didn’t get a chance to experience much of the Scottish traditions. I never ventured beyond laughing at the Aussie’s wariness of their deep-fried haggis, driving the small laneways to events, and my first experience of wearing a midgiehead-net.
Despite my advancing age and being the Nana on the Australian Team, this year I feel like I opened new doors. I learnt that flexible routines and recognizing weak links in your preparation could become your greatest strengths. Whilst I am proud of running for Australia and the results I achieved, I am more proud of how I got there. I am now excited to share this revelation with others so they too can enjoy that amazing feeling that comes with the perfect run. After all, as runners and orienteers, isn’t that what we all strive for?
Interview post race with ABC Radio (see link below).
Returning to the Junior World Orienteering Championships as a coach was a fascinating experience. The pre-camp training sessions, long days in the starting quarantines and grappling with appropriate words of encouragement for my athletes post-race were some of the challenges. I can confidently say that the two-week Bulgarian experience increased my coaching knowledge and skills. However, added to this came a huge personal revelation that highlighted the difference between youth and adulthood.
Bulgaria: Bed bugs & blooms
Bulgaria is a new travel destination but with extensive racing experiences in neighbouring countries I was forewarned of its challenges. Small things like excessive supplies of cabbage the night before a race and temperamental water supplies could be among the simple trials. Easy to overlook were the stray dogs ruling the streets, horse & carts, bed bugs and dozens of Russian-built Cruella Deville-inspired hotels crumbling post-communism.
On arrival in Borovets, the alpine ski resort one-hour north of the capital Sofia, 2900m peaks overawed this excitable mountain goat. No amount of stray dogs or scary looking gondolas would bar my path. After a short bug-infested sleep I slipped onto the shady spruce-shrouded trails and began the large 1600m ascent towards the skyline. After an hour of climbing (and just a little stress about how late I might be for breakfast) I was rewarded with blooming alpine meadows and literally hundreds of butterflies. I have later heard that this is a hot destination for butterfly ‘twitchers’. Never fear, exhilaration ensured I was back for breakfast on time and my coaching responsibilities took over.
Pre-competition: Lessons on adulthood
The pre-JWOC camp rushed past in a blur of control flags out, control flags in. We trained alongside the New Zealand team and enjoyed the usual happy trans-Tasman banter. The athletes performed exceptionally in the eroded gullies of the middle distance maps and heavily vegetated long distance terrain. On many occasions they put me back in my box when I was misplaced and they were still perfectly in control. If it gave them additional confidence then I was only too happy to be lost!
Just prior to the commencement of the races we held a birthday party for one of our New Zealand athletes. She had turned twenty, the same age I was when I won the Junior World Long Distance and shortly after the Senior World Title in the Sprint Distance. These achievements are still bounced around and I have never really stopped to consider the circumstances under which they were achieved. Watching this athlete blow out her birthday candles and receive presents of Bulgarian pool floaties highlighted just how different 20 and 28 years of age is. I couldn’t help but realize that at some point we all transition from childhood to adulthood and begin to accept responsibility for all of our actions and words. I can now honestly say that at the age of twenty I was still a child. At twenty-eight I am an adult and now I am ready for that role. At what age the switch occurred I cannot say but I am eager to fulfill big shoes again.
JWOC – a little more than golden
I loved my role as coach of the Junior World Orienteering Team in Bulgaria. Aside from being outside all day every day, the most rewarding aspect of the job was watching athletes rise to the challenge of international competition. Under difficult conditions from the weather gods and Bulgarian Way, our athletes performed exceptionally. A huge highlight was observing our senior men and women walk away at the end of the week with heads held high. They had learnt from their younger years and applied the teachings to their 2014 races. Well-deserved results are the most rewarding! Our best Australian results were five top-20 finishes and if we take a little credit for our kiwi friends, a gold medal and two more podium places.
Conclusion – back to the real winter
In the involved process of preparing for my own World Senior Championships in the Dolomite mountains and ensuring our junior athletes were ready to perform, I had spent little time thinking about what it would actually feel like to return to JWOC and on the other side of the crowd barriers. Despite some strong emotional moments as I grappled with a changing of the ages, I loved every part of coaching at the international level. Without fail, returning home to negative temperatures is the rude awakening you never want. But warming me from the inside are fond memories of all that was achieved in the last six weeks and dreams of bigger things to come… I may have my ‘athlete’ shoes and ‘coaching’ hat on as I say this!
Darkness hides our fears; at least I hope I am not alone in this apprehension. Head torch beams bounce through the awakening dawn. Car headlights sweep into the Waldheim car park. A slip of light filters from under the toilet door. The runner’s pack in front of me is constantly adjusted – tightened, loosened, shifted – its owner awaiting the beginning of the role call. It is race day. And the bright dawn has snuck up on us whilst we fuss.
It is the 2nd February 2013 and our mob of forty-nine race entrants has a place in history. We are the 33rd cohort of fussing runners to pose on the tip of boardwalk snaking away from Waldheim in a southerly direction towards Lake St Clair, the deepest lake in Australia. Turning back twenty years and the synopsis still stands true.
‘It began in the chill half-light of a Tasmanian dawn. Forty other people will attest that we huddled on the fringe of a Myrtle rainforest, our runners’ pinks and greens and blues incongruous in that ancient landscape. A ribbon of wet boardwalk leading away across the button grass plain gave our group focus and was about to give it purpose.’ – Nigel Davies, 1993
With a maximum of fifty runners, entering the event has become somewhat of a computer game. Be seated at your computer on the count of midnight when entries open and cross your fingers and toes that you are the quickest touch-typist. A two-finger typist will join the impatient list of runners on the waiting list.
It is amazing to think of this event as being so popular when you sift back through the history books and early runner’s reports:
‘The trail was mostly just bog, which seemed like fun for the first two hours or so, but after that it started to get to me, as everything, and I mean everything, was full of mud by then’ - Max Bogenhuber, 1987
‘Rarely does the runner see any of this. For you the primary colour is black. It is in the mud that you can't take your eyes off, in the snakes you hope not to see. It is the colour of the leeches, of mosquitoes as large as march flies. At times it is the colour of your thoughts.’ John Ayliffy, 1992,
‘The race notes suggested gaiters as an option but we discovered they're obligatory; for the button grass will tear the hairs off your legs and the mud will suck your shoes off’ – David Sill, 1992
Running along the icy boardwalks, rounding the corners gingerly in fear of upending into the button grass beds beneath me, I try not to think of how far there is to go. In shorter races it is easily possible to trick the mind into a game of ‘Just around the next corner… only a couple more hills to the finish… up and over and down the other side…’. But to think in this manor may leave one weeping on the trackside at Pelion Hut with the wombats and leeches singing – ‘another one stuck in the mud’. Instead I focus on the hill beneath me and the track winding past hanging lakes and up the sharp ridgeline towards Kitchen Hut. As I relax into the environment I find a sense of tranquility. Feet cover the ground in a mindless manner; I slot into a rhythm behind the leading males, and change the station on my mental remote control to the Sunrise Channel over Cradle Cirque.
Despite heavy skies above, I am grateful for the relatively dry trails and the board walks protecting me from the perilous mud once recorded. I am secretly proud that I have snuck through Waterfall Valley and Waldheim huts before any of the tent’s occupants have begun their morning routines. By Pine Forest Moor a couple are traipsing along in full wet-weather gear and towering rucksacks. Not for the first time in history, I appear to be the only one smiling. As Bob Frost, 1999, stated,
‘This is a true wilderness area through mountains, marsh and thick forest. There are many lost souls along the Overland Track…’
Descending into Frog Flats at approximately 30km into the race, I am gazing into every mud puddle with trepidation. The night before my best friend and Cradle Mountain Hut’s guide, Ciara, had carefully described the large sodden mess that awaited me in the area. Each time my foot squelched and slipped into another hole I thought, ‘this must be the puddle she warned me about!’ It was only when I found myself sucked into the middle of thick bog did I realize these were just the preludes.
‘This length of trail is covered in tree roots and the rain had turned the earth to mud that I would sink ankle deep in. Some runners had talked about stepping in mud, stepping out and leaving a shoe behind. I could now appreciate what they meant. Runners passed as I slogged downhill; on my left was a steep embankment to the Forth River; on my right a steep grade upwards covered in tangled rainforest.’ - Sean Greenhill, 2002
Having survived the sucking hollows of Frog Flats I felt like I was dancing as I skirted Pelion Plains. Out of the mist loomed Pelion West and Mt Ossa, Tasmania’s two highest peaks. My progress was slightly different to that of the early explores to the area. Exactly 57 years earlier, pioneer Keith Ernest endured a slow and painful crawl through sections of sharp, prickly Richea scoparia to summit these two mountains that dwarf the plains. He later described these as ‘The Giants of the Reserve’.
Part of the beauty of this run lies outside of the natural sights and rather with the bag of jelly lollies held out in greeting by the beaming officials on the course. Perhaps it’s the Tasmanian connection but their enthusiasm and delight at my muddy appearance was infectious. Retracing historical footsteps, I pranced away from Pelion Hut with an extra bounce and a mouth full of jubes. Some before me hadn’t felt quite so good-humored.
‘There was no race organisation on this most dangerous of runs and those 'officials' we did meet were all afflicted with the 'Tasmanian Disease': they lie, they lie! "How far to the Gap? "…'About twenty minutes - and then it's duck-board all the way". It was an hour-twenty - and then there was a kilometer of boards in thirty or so.’ – David Sill, 1992
Passing through Kio Ora Hut I delve into the Du Cane Myrtle forests. This is my heaven and the flat, technical trails bring out the child within me. Minutes later I glimpse a flash of white through the trees, which slowly melds into the unmistakable outline of ultra sensation, Matt Cooper. Talking was unnecessary as we fall into rhythm together; his only comment being – ‘what a magical playground’. Whilst Coops came and went like a magical aura, we arrived at Narcissus together in grateful companionship and still in time for lunch.
There is something superbly delicious about the offer of a cup of coke when you are standing there in a stupor looking at a perfectly laid out feast. It was not until researching this article did I realize just how lucky I was to receive such a luxurious greeting from the race organisers.
‘It took us thirteen and a half hours to arrive at Narcissus, Lake St Clair, to find we'd failed to reach the cutoff point and anybody official had gone home. So we got to use the mandatory survival gear and ended up sleeping the night in a plastic bag, temperature outside 2C. Meanwhile, our three wives and John's teenage children spent restless nights haunted by their earlier experience of the Race Organiser cheerfully greeting them with the ominous news: “Aren't you the wives of those three blokes from Sydney who are lost in the mountains ?”' – David Sill, 1992
The lake. Ask any Cradle Mountain Ultra runner what is the toughest section of the course and the answer is always the lake.
"The last bit was soul-destroying. I'm sure that everyone felt that when you get to the lake at Narcissus Hut you've broken the back of it and you know you're going to finish. But it breaks your heart. It's torture made worse by the fact that when you leave the hut there's nearly a kilometer of duckboard but it comes to a dead-end! And then there was the darkness.” – Steve Nordish, 1992
Perhaps it was the Coke but my recollection of this perilous section of trail is that of entertainment. The mini ups and winding downs; the curving flats and fallen trees to surmount; gob-smacked walkers darting out of your path; and finally the wide, groomed pathways of the Watersmeet where should you wish to, you can take in the botanical names of the plants you have been darting past for 82km. Unlikely!
You can almost smell the finish as you try and yet fail to run elegantly over the smoothest, flattest section of the entire race. Even had our running technique suggest class, our muddy, salt-crusted appearance was a complete giveaway of our exploits. It is with 300m to go one well-dressed teenager cruising the other way queried, ‘Are you in a race? How far?’… What do you say?
No matter who you are or what time you have run, by the time you reach Cynthia Bay the idea of this event being a race has long since passed. What remains is a deep sense of camaraderie – with yourself and your accomplishment, your running comrades, and the organisers themselves.
‘With around 300 meters to go, I take off like a scalded cat, surprising myself how strong I feel. I cross the finish line, and Bob says "you made it just under 15 hours". I say "how much exactly", and he replies "14 hours, 59 minutes and 27 seconds". I think that's pretty neat.’ – John Lindsay, 2003
Sleep is hard to come by post-race. The ache of muscles you never knew existed and a stomach sitting like a loaded barge from a sugar overload makes for a restless night. Yet despite the weariness there is a joy in crawling from under the covers, sipping tea, and then shuffling across the car park of the Derwent Tavern to mingle with runners at the presentations. Whilst winners do grin and Rob Walter and I collect our certificates, through the sharing of stories and applauding all finishers, we celebrate the accomplishment of forty-nine pairs of feet and 4018km travelled together.
Coming to the end of my creative juices and wondering how to conclude an article on an event that still lives fiercely inside me, an email flashes up on my screen. Distracted I absent-mindedly open it to find a new post on the Cool Running Australia blog. It reads:
‘My first time for the CMR this year and it was awwwwwesome. I've never really run as relaxed as I did in this event: stopping to take photos and video etc. This was so special that I was often wanting to just stand still and inhale the awesome. (if it weren't for the cut offs at Pelion and Narcissus I probably would have). HUGE thanks to all the organisers and volunteers - what an incredible event you put on.Thank you thank you thank you!... Applause… I hope to one day return! May be see a few of you again?’ – ‘Chaneebear’, 2013
This story is now concluded.
These articles are a collection of my writing. If you have feedback or questions, would love to hear from you!