My first international race was Kokoda ultra in 2012, I had little jungle know-how and was way under prepared for the wilds of PNG. It was an amazing experience that helped shape me as a long-distance trail runner. Since then I have tried many times to replicate my PNG adventure with little success.
When the opportunity arose a few years later to once again take on the Kokoda Track but this time over 3 days, I didn’t even think before saying “shit yeah, I’m in!”
Fast forward 12 months to 24th July 2018 and I find myself standing on a familiar patch of grass on top of a mountain with a number of other nervous runners. The view from Owers Corner (Start of the race ) was both breathtaking and intimidating. Beads of sweat were running down our faces, it was hot and humid already – PERFECT. The excitement was high amongst the group as we descended into the thick jungle below, knowing that the next three days were going to test us in every way possible.
I was not sure how this race was going to pan out as I was coming off the back of shoulder surgery and had been spending many late nights at uni. I’m a big advocate for the train less, race more theory, I had done very little of either in the lead up. To be honest I was content to be back in the jungle. It wasn’t long before I found myself taking on the first significant climb with no one to talk to. I was feeling good, the shoulder wasn’t causing too much discomfort yet. I allowed the mind to wonder and within minutes I agreed to give the previous years winning time a crack because let’s face it, pushing hard and testing limits is fun.
I finished day 1 completely spent but happy, as I knew it would be the hardest. Day 1 of a multi day event always seems to be the hardest for me. The rest of the afternoon was spent hanging out at camp, congratulating competitors as they came in and of course soaking up the jungle life and hanging out with our PNG locals.
Day 2 was the biggest day in terms of duration and intensity (42km leg and 3000m of elevation gain)
There was some big climbing to be done ascending to the highest point on the track to Mount Bellamy (2200m above seas level). Then onwards to our camp at Templetons #1 Campsite where we would spend the 2nd night.
Other runners came in around late arvo to early evening, some quite exhausted and glad to be at camp and others quite jubilant ready and wanting to tackle day 3!
That night was cold at camp with a bright clear night. Because I had decided to pack small toys for the village kids instead of a sleeping mat I was quite cold and the sleep was not so great but hey, I have no regrets at all , especially handing out the toys to the local kids throughout the 3 days. Just seeing their faces light up with joy and smiles and appreciating the small gifts was worth it! On paper day 3 looked the easiest as there was only 1 climb within the first few kms then all downhill to the finish. With a few days of climbing mountains in my legs, not much sleep and a pair of shoes that were struggling to stay together the downhill run home was hard with plenty technical and gnarly sections that would make even the most experienced trail runners struggle with.
I finally came into Kokoda with an accumulative time of 17.02, 9 minutes quicker than the time I was chasing and coming away with the win.
The locals and Kokoda Ultra Marathon crew immediately thrusted a cold can of Coke and pack of Twisties into my hand and at that point I thought to myself – “shit that was tough and thank god that was over!”
While recovering and cheering the other runners on as they finished, I couldn’t help but constantly think back on my 3 days conquering the track and the epic experience I had just been apart of. It’s then decided I knew I would be back again in the future. The Kokoda Ultra Marathon is truly a rewarding multi day event that will not only test your physical and mental capabilities but also it’s a fantastic opportunity to experience everything the Kokoda Track stands for, both with its people and history. I highly recommend it for any serious , fit and seasoned ultra runner!