Coast to Kosciuszko race begins tomorrow

Posted on December 6, 2007 by



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THE concept of Australia’s most agonising race arose, like most bad ideas, because of alcohol.

Several years back, four runners shared a few beers at The Orient Hotel in The Rocks. They also shared an addiction (running long distances without rest) and an affliction, because in Australia, ultra-running had become almost invisible; their curious sport lacked a marquee event.

The next hours of drinking and dreaming led to something called the Coast to Kosciuszko – a race that, beginning tomorrow, will send 20 participants on a 246km journey from a beach in Eden to the pinnacle of Mt Kosciuszko. The runners will climb, all told, 2229m. They’ll sweat and see snow. Many will hallucinate from exhaustion. Some will run for two days straight, with no rest – and those are just the ones who do well.

The C2K is now in its fourth year, but this is its first year as a sanctioned event. In 2004, the inaugural year, the race consisted of just four guys running for the heck of it. Three finished. One needed 60 hours. Since then, after three years, only 10 individuals – and only one female – have finished the course.

As those folks have learned, reaching Australia’s highest point on foot requires two important things: athleticism and masochism.

“You’ll have dark moments,” said Phil Murphy.

“About two or three in the morning,” said Martin Fryer. “The wee hours. You just want to stop. I have even fallen asleep while running, a few times,” said Tim Turner.

Motivation takes all sorts of forms. Some run for its simplicity. Some run for the sense of achievement. Some run because it brings them to a meditative zen.

But the original motivation, back at The Orient, was far more logistical: Paul Every, now the race director, lamented that Australia lacked a long run that captured the imagination.

From 1983 to 1991, the Sydney to Melbourne ultra-marathon created a golden age in this country for endurance running — with special help from the unlikely inaugural winner Cliff Young, then a 61-year-old potato farmer.

But after that race folded, excluding some hype during a trans-continental race in 2001, “ultra-running completely disappeared from the sphere of public consciousness, even among runners,” Every said.

So the four talked over their beers. They imagined a race that included an iconic Australian element – thus, the beach starting point – and a literal high – thus, the mountain.

That night, when Every suggested a run to the top of Mt Kosciuszko, those listening – Sean Greenhill, David Criniti and Kevin Tiller – nodded in agreement. Later they began to explore the possibilities by studying topographical and road maps.

The criteria for distance? Find something impossible then subtract a couple of miles.

The first three years, all unofficial runs, confirmed the event’s difficulty. Still, knowledge of the C2K is limited to a group of runners country-wide who know one another and all exchange details of their races and injuries and training regimens on a niche running website.

Even as a sanctioned race, the C2K has no marketing budget and no sponsors. Each runner receives help from a one or two-person support crew, but the race attracts no spectators. In previous years, there hasn’t even been a trophy. Just swollen knees, bloodied toenails and a long drive home.

The C2K is run largely on road surfaces, not trails. Its participants can be described, charitably, as obsessive or addictive. Queenslander Lindsay Phillips, in the race for the first time, says he can’t walk away from his car without walking back to check the locked doors.

“If you look up OCD in the dictionary you’ll see a picture of an ultra-runner,” Phillips said.

Murphy began running when he broke a smoking addiction; he finished the 2006 race in 35hr 50min.