Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Frankston to Portsea - race report

Sitting in the dining room of the Sandy Hotel on race eve, it was somewhat of a surprise to have Lois Wishart serving up the grilled fish and vegetables. Lois was one of our more prolific marathoners during the eighties and nineties and ran the Frankston to Portsea in 1992. When I suggested she front up the next morning, she scoffed despite the fact that she still looked as fit as ever. Despite not having run competitively for years, she confided that she was still knocking out 80 kilometres a week along with 100 kilometres of cycling!! Should she ever decide on a comeback, a swag of veterans prizes await.

I’d been wondering how many runners would forget about the end of daylight savings and roll up an hour early but the deserted car park at the start put paid to such assumptions. In the space of 20 minutes, runners arrived from a variety of directions and we were about to get underway in the morning stillness when I realised that three of our intrepid runners were still car shuffling back from Portsea planting “special” drinks along the way. They arrived in a cloud of dust to the screeching of tyres resulting in a slightly delayed start. With Peter Gray heading off early [5am], 18 runners hit the highway to Portsea at 7:12am. Kelvin Marshall was an understandable absentee given the lame and embarrassing performance of his beloved Richmond Football Team the previous night. He was more likely to have been preparing for a swan dive off the Westgate Bridge.

The early stages proved uneventful with the notable highlight being the spontaneous appearance of a couple of rogues in the form of Kon Butko and Ross Shilston. These two shady characters are the original pioneers from 1973. Put simply, we wouldn’t be here if not for their hasty decision to trek down the Nepean Highway all those years ago. Mike Wheatley, Mal Grimmett, Peter Bignell and Dan Thompson formed a quartet at the front of the field and it appeared that Mike and Mal would repeat their “Leyland Brothers” effort of 2003. By 10km, Peter had surged ahead dazzlingly gaining his Andy Warhol 15 minutes of fame. A large flock of ducks fossicking studiously amongst the roadside appeared most unperturbed by the passing runners. Brendan Mason provided a dimension of comic relief when he went in search of his “planted drinks” at 10km. Proving fruitless, it eventually dawned on the absent minded sod that they were actually another 5km down the road! All I could hope was that he doesn’t experience any “missed” drinks when he tackles the dessert sands of the Marathon des Sables in a weeks time. A committed “gadget freak”, Brendan was journeying down the highway with a variety of electronic gadgets strapped to his body. There was the wiz bang GPS, computerised map printer, light dissecting meter, runner comfort gizmo, lung volume reader and podcast recorder. I didn’t bother to ask, but his back pocket undoubtedly contained a pop-up combination dishwasher/clothes dryer/ironing board!

Former Race Director from the eighties and nineties, Dennis Smith, made an appearance on his bike exclaiming loudly with a distinctly bewildered expression “Gee, you guys must have started late”. Poor Dennis had forgotten the end of daylight savings. His loss of memory would be on a par with the Australian Wheat Board executives giving evidence at the inquiry into secret kick backs paid to Saddam Hussein.Approaching halfway on the road into Dromana, things were starting to take shape. A consistent Australian 100km representative on numerous occasions, Mike Wheatley established a substantial lead over Mal Grimmett and Peter Bignell with first time ultra runners, Shane Pettingill and Dan Thompson doing well. Also well to the fore was Steve Hyde. Further back, Warren Holst, Brendan Mason, John Dodson, Garry Wise, Bruce Salisbury and Ben Cotter were all within sight of each other.

Dromana was where I awkwardly dived into a Licensed Grocers to snap up a couple of bottles of wine for our respective winners. “We can’t sell alcohol until 10am, it’s the law” snapped the dull but attractive sales girl in the most brittle of tones. Settling for a Diet Coke for myself, the wine purchasing had to wait until later which proved to be somewhat of a close call given Mike’s cracking and inexhaustible pace.Driving back towards the tail of the field, I found Richard McCormick wondering if he was on the correct course while Andrew Herman and Richard Arney remained close together. Ernie Hartley, who drives the fastest milk cart in the west, bailed me up to refill his water bottle which he quickly jabbed back into his waste belt. Further back, our sole female runner, Alissa Jones, and perennial ultra walker, Brian Glover, were travelling steadily.

Progressing through Rosebud, I managed to track down the early starting Peter Gray. Expressing surprise that it had taken so long for anyone to catch him, it became obvious that he was another victim of the “forgotten daylight savings bug” with his actual starting time being 4am! Peter is Australia’s most prolific ultra runner with 187 races under his belt over a period of 20 years. The only thing as recognisable around the ultra circles is his decidedly unmistakeable van. Sadly, Peter’s van died on the return trip from Red Rocks the previous weekend and was now sitting in an Armidale mechanics shop awaiting a new engine, “I’ll pick it up in July when I go to the Gold Coast Marathon” he stated optimistically.

Passing the Rosebud Sunday Market at 35km, Brendan Mason’s and Richard McCormick’s respective families understandably abandoned their gasping sweaty husbands/fathers for the infinitely more inviting and exciting prospect of snaring a bargain or two at the trash and treasure stalls. Young Rory Mason was over the moon with his attractively priced “new” book titled “Boys Own 1968”! An absolute steal at one dollar, I mused as to the cutting edge technology it may have featured. Perhaps some tin model racing cars or a replica Gene Autrey gun holster!

Feeling the need for some lunch, I snuck into a road side milk bar near Rye where a large bright sign enthusiastically encouraged all to purchase a particular brand of lollipops for 99 cents each or three for three dollars! Pointing out the mathematical distortion to the cheery faced but somewhat dishevelled shop owner, he seemed quite bemused. “People have been snapping them up three at a time all week”, he mumbled. Strange creatures, we humans!

Mike Wheatley charged through the polished and attractive streetscapes of Sorrento with haste and again stopped the watch under four hours as he stole into Portsea. Just as he regularly pumps out 100km races under eight hours, his consistency over this course is outstanding. Mal Grimmett also ran a superbly judged race for second with first timer, Dan Thompson, impressive in third. I managed to find a couple of voice mail messages as runners started emerging over the final hill into the finish. Alissa Jones had called it a day suffering the after effects of flu but the second message was of a substantially urgent tone. Brian Glover’s wife had managed to flatten the battery of her car, a fact to which Brian was oblivious. With the help of a phone from a nearby resident and the RACV, she finally got going but not before Brian had gone two hours without a drink. Unfortunate circumstances is the only way to describe his dehydration and resultant DNF.

Warren Holst arrived at the finish via the back seat of his family car having suffered an injury while Andrew Herman called it a day at the marathon point having recorded a qualifying time for the Comrades Marathon. All others made it to the gates of the Portsea National Park to receive the traditional blocks of chocolate and mirrors. “The mirrors are bigger this year” observed Mal Grimmett. “That’s for our bigger heads” laughed Peter Bignell. Richard Arney wore an expression that strongly suggested the satisfaction of finishing his first ultra would be deep and lasting.Steve Hyde dished up the days most memorable entertainment. Intensely gratified with his 5:14 P.B., he stretched out exuberantly on the grass, sunk a large drink, towelled off the perspiration, engaged in a chat and sought some warmer clothes. He then expressed surprise with his time, “But My Watch Says 5:20” he grumbled in a confused tone. After much discussion and lamenting at the “poor’ quality of his newly purchased watch, he suddenly looked rather sheepish. Poor Steve had neglected to hit the stop button and the minutes were still happily ticking away! After a 55km run, I guess a degree of brain deadening can be forgiven.

As the day moved into mid afternoon, the gathering of runners and crew at the finish started shrinking with amazing rapidity. My untiring assistant, Sandra, started piling runners into her car with Peter Gray remaining to fill my one spare seat back to Frankston. The sight of pre season football games amongst the local parks as we made the return journey was a gentle reminder of the change of seasons as Peter’s accounts of his incredible ultra career provided absorbing conversation material.Finally sorting through the paperwork upon returning home, it appears that I have finished in the red again but so be it. With such questionable accounting skills, I could probably sack myself without any fear of unfair dismissal recriminations thanks to John Howard’s new Industrial Relations laws.

Without question, we’ll be back in 2007.

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