Updated: May 16
With smoke in the air and reports that conditions will worsen on the weekend Matty Griggs is considering the postponement of his first running event, Griggsy’s Garage Ultra (GGU). The GGU is Canberra’s first last one standing (LOS) event. The format follows that of Lazarus Lake’s Big Dog’s Backyard Ultra. For each lap you have 1 hour. If you’re not standing on the start line on the hour, your race is over. The loop is 6.8km (to give you 100 miles if you make it 24hrs) which starts and ends at Matty’s garage in Torrens and includes a 250m ascent of Mt. Taylor. All runners are at all times in equal last position. Everyone who doesn’t win gets a DNF.
On Thursday before the scheduled race, there is a break in the smog from nearby bushfires and a plan is hatched. The GGU is cancelled but we will take advantage of the relatively clear air to test out the loop and the format in a version of the event made for a weeknight. Everyone is invited but just three of us, Matty, Aaron and me turn up to take on four laps of the course starting at 8:30pm. As per the GGU, laps start at precisely one hour intervals. Other rules will be made up and implemented without warning.
Lap one we stick together mostly. Somebody says “New rule: First to the top does three pull-ups on the trig marker.” Glutton for punishment that I am, it’s me.
Lap one is dispached in 45mins. This means fifteen minutes of waiting before the next lap. After the first lap there’s not a whole lot to do, maybe have a drink. We stand at Matty’s gate ready to go and on the dot of 9:30 we’re off. The conversation turns to potential rules: the leader has to carry something inconvenient, the slowest runner has to wear something rediculous, if the leader finishes their lap in under 45 minutes they can choose who carries the inconvenient thing next lap.
It’s not possible to take the lead in this race but I want to try out a quicker pace. The idea is to get a sense of whether it’s better to have more time or less time between laps. I leave Matty and Aaron behind and - not forgetting the pull-ups on the trig - I’m back at the garage in just over 41 minutes. When Matty and Aaron get back Matty hands me a hammer. “New rule: since you dropped the hammer on that lap, you have to carry one for the next” This time we’re all taking on calories because we’re going to need them. It’s also warm so a good drink is in order.
At 10:30pm we’re out the gate again. I’ve got a hammer in my hand. I figure there’s
enough ambient light about so I don’t bother with my head light. At some point I think “I wonder how far I can get on ambient light” When we’re at the top of Mt. Taylor I just tell myself to keep my toes up. I’ve always liked running in the moonlight.
This lap is a bit slower, but we’re all back in about 51 minutes. I can put the hammer down now. Matty says to me, “new rule: wear the pink running wig for the last lap”. What’s a running wig? Well, it’s a wig one wears while running, of course.
On the way up to Mt. Taylor reserve we pass a discarded plastic bollard and I figure that since I’ve been the recipient to all the “rules” so far it’s time for me to dish one out. “Hey, Matty” I say, “New rule: carry that bollard”. He complies, and then proceeds to relate an interminable monologue of terrible dick jokes for the remainder of the lap. The mini-GGU weeknight edition is over at 12:21am. Matty goes to bed. Aaron and I bgguer off home.
GGU part II
Matty puts up a call out on Facebook to see who wants to do a GGU on January 25. The call still has an air of ‘training run’ about it, but it’s to be taken as LOS. While the mini-GGU was limited to 4 laps, this time has no official time or distance limits.
The start time is 6:30pm. Participants are (in alphabetical order):
Andy (Long time BBQ stakes participant and veteran marathoner),
Bretty (2 time C2K finisher, 2 time Kowen Moonlighter winner etc),
Matty (Griggsy, RD),
Maly (Walking machine, multiple ultra finisher without ever breaking into a run),
Mikey (24hr track veteran, Airforce veteran),
Mutti (trail runner, marathoner, parkrunner),
Stevey (24hr track, C2K, the only one among us to have run a LOS event).
Matty has used his RD discretion to supply participants with a “finisher’s prize” of a quality beer from Capital Breweing Company. Runners can drink their beveridge as soon as they give up.
We set out on lap one at 6:30. It’s still sunny and warm so it’s going to be a while before the conditions are good for running.
Lap 1: Mutti, Bretty, and Maly are uncertain of the route so I hang back to make sure they all stay on course. Due to Maly’s slower pace he’ll take a direct route up and down Mt. Taylor totalling 4km. The rest of us circle around the base to the switchbacks on the north flank of the hill. I make sure Maly finds his trail head, then push ahead to make sure Mutti and Bretty find the switchbacks, as Andy, Mikey and Matty take the lead. Maly gets to the summit just as our group of three arrives, then heroically swings himself up onto the top of the trig to stare out at the view like the last man on Earth.
Now for the descent. I stick with Mutti and Bretty down the shitty bitumen stretch so they know where to veer off to the right through the obstacle course, then right again on to run along the levee back to the water tower. Back at Griggsy's Garage Stevey is there now ready to have a go. He says he’ll do 4 laps. Bretty is done. He came for one lap and that’s what he did. Mutti, too. She's excited to hook into her refreshing quitter's ale. Unfortunately in the hurry for the rest of us to be ready and standing at the gate for the 7:30 departure, she somehow gets locked out of the house and has to wait for us to get back before she can grab her prize from the fridge. When I get back I show Mutti where the house key is. She grabs her finisher’s prize and opens it immediately.
Lap 2: Unsure if I’ll need a headlight I carry it with me, but the lap is completed in daylight. Maly gets back a little later than the rest of us and says two laps is enough. He’s happy to sit there and drink his beer. My shoes are not providing me with much protection on the rocky descent so I swap them for a new pair of Altra MT Kings that I brought as a backup. It’s my first time in a pair of these and I’m excited to test them out.
Lap 3: As we head up the greenspace ally to the nature reserve the sun disappears over the horizon. Headlights go on as we make our way around to the zigzags. On the descent MT Kings provide good protection, but they’re heavier and hotter than I had expected.
Lap 4: Steve and I are moving well. The others are behind. That’s the thing about this race: no matter what you’re in equal last place with everybody else so just go at your own pace (as long as you finish the loop in an hour). My feet are running a bit hot and I’m worried about blisters now so once back at the house I take them off to apply Vas and put the Superiors back on instead.
Lap 5: It’s hot and sweaty, and the dried sweat on my skin is starting to cause friction in sensitive places. The night view from Mt. Taylor over the city to Black Mountain is classic. I never get tired of it. If we push on til daylight, we’ll be seeing that view at all hours tonight. Literally. Back at the house we’re waiting for Mikey and Andy. It’s too soon to quit so we assume this is strategy. As the clock winds down Matty, Stevey and I are standing at the gates ready to head out on lap 6. Suddenly a headlamp is coming towards us.
With one second to spare Mikey touches the gate. “Let’s go!” we say. He turns and comes with us, but this was not a strategic move. He's ranting something about getting lost. I’m terrible at navigation, but the idea of getting lost on such a short and simple course is totally beyond me (a skill they teach in the Airforce?). Within 100 meters he crumbles. Getting lost has blown his confidence so he chooses to turn back for an early DNF. You’ve gotta be tougher than that at the GGU.
About a kilometer into the lap we find Andy shuffling along the footpath. The GGU course has worn him down. He's capable of going further, but the hills have tested him. He’ll finish his lap late and accept his DNF. Now we’re down to three (Stevey being a lap short). The rest of the loop is smooth and uneventful. Steve has run well, but he’s now finished what he came to do. He grabs his prize and goes home.
Lap 6: Now it’s just Matty and me. We push on over Mt. Taylor summit and at midnight we’re on the descent. When we get back to Griggsy's Garage Mikey is still there lying down awkwardly on outdoor furniture. "I can't believe I pulled out after 5 laps" he says, "I feel fuckin' nauseous". He doesn't want to go home because, he says, "If I go home now my wife and kids'll make fun of me". Ok, Mikey.
Lap 7: 1.4kms into this lap we claim the first marathon completed on Australia day. We’ve outrun all the Hottest 100 backyard barbeques on the edge of the reserve. Having spent those hours outside, making ourselves stronger instead of drinking too much beer and half-listening to music other people like, we can count ourselves winners. There are still a few drunk and noisy stragglers, but most have gone to bed or passed out. We’re out there, pushing on past the marathon.
The effort is starting to show itself in pains, niggles,chafe and soreness which make this lap feel like a low point in the progression. An iota of doubt creeps in, but I feel alert and I’m far from ready to tap out. By now I’ve nearly tripped a couple of times and rolled an ankle a couple of times. The Superiors aren’t giving me much protection.
Lap 8: I Change back to MT Kings to protect my feet on the rocky descent.
Lap 9: It’s too hot. Matty and I both ditch the t-shirts.
Lap 10: Very aware of chafing now. Running without a t-shirt means I’m cooler, but now I have underarm chafe to match my inner thigh and butt-crack chafe. The conversation during these early morning laps is essentially a verbal staring competition. Just say the most shocking or disgusting thing that comes to mind and see who blinks first.
Lap 11: Now that we’ve done ten, we have to do twelve. That’s just how it is. Dawn is arriving now and we spot movement ahead on the trail. Matty says, “is that a human”. I couldn’t be sure. Matty’s sight is better than mine and my eyes are more than capable of playing tricks. We’re moving faster than the visage in the landscape, and before taking a left onto the zigzags we are able to confirm that yes it is an early-rising human. After a couple of switchbacks I see another human taking photos of the morning light over Canberra. We approach and when I look again there’s only a tree stump. Despite some pretty evil chafe-pain, we move well enough to make it back with seven minutes to spare. The Vas won't help much now, but for one more lap I can grit my teeth.
Lap 12: With the sun up now Matty and I are both feeling pretty satisfied with our efforts. It's not so often that mediocre ultrarunners like us make an opportunity to run right through the night. Usually that is left for races only. So Lap 12 will be our last for this GGU. Of course it will only count if it’s completed within an hour, so we keep the pace on where we can. At the summit trig marker I’m tempted to forego my pull-ups, but for the sake of completeness I do the last 3 for a total of 36. Matty and Elli get back at 6:23am. Since neither of us will go out for another lap we both DNF. But we have completed an 80km night training run, something that will be very valuable to both of us in our up-coming races.
Again failure. All runners DNF. For a GGU to be complete we need one runner who can complete one lap more than any other runner. For GGU part II all the runners had a number of laps in mind, which is no way to run a LOS event. If you reach your goal and somebody else is still running, they will beat you. We had some good runners this time, but no-one prepared to challenge Matty and I, and a battle between the two of us is something we’re saving for Mirim Wurnit in June. My second crack at Neverest and Matty's chance to go big at the 24hr track are both coming up in March. So we put this GGU down as a solid training run, instead of wrecking ourselves by continuing long into the next day. There’s other stuff I have to do this weekend. First I have to get myself home and walk a dog, which I do very gingerly.
Already there’s a plan for a GGU part III on February 15. The epic of the GGU continues.