Category Archives: Oxfam Trailwalker

Oxfam Trailwalker 2013 – So inspiring!

Do you know a recipe for inspiration? I do:

Walkers on the track

Inspiring walkers

Take 1,100 walkers attempting to travel 100km within 48 hours.

Patience is a virtue for support crews

Patient support crews

Add 1,300 patient people willing to be support crew for the weekend.

A volunteer taking a well-earned break

A volunteer taking a well-earned break

And 600 generous volunteers.

A gorgeous place to spend the weekend

A gorgeous place to spend the weekend

Mix them all up in the Australian country side.

Oxfam Trailwalker

Oxfam Trailwalker

And you have the Oxfam Trailwalker Brisbane.

At 88km the team were no longer walking normally

My team of walkers at 88km (notice the strange walking styles that have developed as a result of the exertion – the girls did have bags but the support crew were carrying them when we took this photo at the CP)

This weekend, I had the privilege of supporting my sister and brother-in-law, and their friends who completed the challenging 100km Oxfam Trailwalker Brisbane in 32hrs 28mins. Like most teams on the course, team Take a Hike had an epic time on the course.

Walkers mking progressOne of the challenging things about the Brisbane Trailwalker is that there are no support crews or spectators anywhere on the course until checkpoint 3, which is 45km into the event. The start line is at the top of Mt Glorious, a place too small to accommodate spectators, so teams are totally alone from the time they are dropped off at registration at the foot of the mountain until they are already tired and in pain almost half-way through the event.

My team arrived at checkpoint 3 at about 6:30pm (10 hours after they started the walk) already hurting. Three members of the team had pretty bad blisters and my sister had sustained a shin injury. After getting some food into their systems, they all visited the podiatrist and physio tents to get patched up.

A lovely spot to camp

A lovely spot to camp

The Brisbane event continues to be a relatively self-sufficient affair. After teams leave checkpoint 3, they don’t see their support crews again until checkpoint 5, which is 76km into the walk. For our team, that meant a long walk through the night.

As support crew, we set up camp at the Bellbird Grove checkpoint in the shelter of some trees as close to registration as possible while staying out of the hectic floodlit area where teams were coming, resting and going. The other support crew team member and I slept about five hours in our tents before getting up to meet the team as they came in.

my sister taking a sleep stop

my sister taking a sleep stop

The tents gave our team a chance to get a few hours sleep out of the cold dawn air. It certainly seemed to help a bit to improve spirits and get them moving again.

My sister's feet at 76km

My sister’s feet at 76km

Unfortunately, there was nothing we support crew could do to help ease the team’s blisters and strained muscles. But the volunteer podiatrists and physios certainly did a great job patching them up so that we could focus on feeding, watering and encouraging the team.

Some support crews were creative

Some support crews were creative

Another creative support crew

Another creative support crew

Over the course of the weekend, there were so many sights and colours that caught my attention. These two photos are just some of the many I took … I could fill a whole album with the little things that inspired me over the weekend.

Take a Hike finishing the walk

Take a Hike finishing the walk

But ultimately, it was about my team, who all finished the walk together at 4:58pm on Saturday evening after leaving the start line at 8:30am on Friday morning. My brother-in-law did finish but he’s hidden behind my sister in this photo. There was not stopping at the finish line because they were (understandably) too wrecked to want to pose.

Personally, support crewing for Take a Hike was such a fantastic inspirational experience. I had been feeling flat after pushing myself in so many races and events since February. I was feeling a bit lost for goals for the second half of 2013. But the Oxfam Trailwalker is always guaranteed to inspire me (that’s why I have been involved here in Brisbane for the past three years). It’s my annual fix of ‘what’s possible for me?’.

I miss long distance trail running. I love it so much and wanted so badly to be out on the course. I don’t get that with many other sports. So my goal is to run the North Face 100 in May 2014, and to complete a 50km and 45km trail ultra in October and November this year as preparation. I was unable to fulfill my NF100 dream in 2013 due to injury in 2012. But this time I am going to be more sensible in my approach. The Brisbane Marathon in August is my first step to the NF100. I don’t want to run fast, I just want to be out on the course.

Congratulations to Take a Hike and all the other teams who started the Oxfam Trailwalker Brisbane 2013. Whatever happened while you were out on the course, whether you finished or withdrew, it takes great courage to attempt something so far out of the ordinary. You, your support crews and the volunteers are all so inspiring.

Exercising restraint

Restraint is not my forte. When I tell people that I back impulse control, they laugh. Perhaps they think I am joking.

Two days ago, I heard of an Oxfam Trailwaker team who are desperate for two people to join them walking 100km in 24-30 hours in 10 days time. Having walked the event twice before, I know it’s not an easy undertaking. In fact, it’s pretty epic.

I said “hi, we’ve never met before but I’ll join you”. Impulsive? Much?

Yesterday mentioned this to my physio while he was digging his elbows into my back and legs. He laughed. I think he thought I was joking. Besides, he knows better than to tell me “no” because that’d be like waving a red flag to a bull.

After my session, he came out to tell me it concerned him to think I might try this major undertaking on a whim without specific training. He’s never expressed concern about my crazy ideas before.

So I am doing through one thing that comes most unnaturally to me: I am exercising restraint and have told the team “sorry, I have been advised not to walk and am taking the advice on this one occasion”.

The real clincher was the risk of injury so close to my Great North Walk adventure. And the fun I will have as support crew foy sister’s team. 

Oxfam Trailwalker Brisbane – Day 2

Welcome to Checkpoint 6 – 88km down and only 12 to go

Checkpoint 6 felt like a big children’s picnic when I arrived just before 1pm to start my third and final shift at the Oxfam Trailwalker Brisbane. Clusters of families and friends had set up chairs, blankets, eskies and tables all around the edges of the park. They were all in various stages of support-crew life: waiting for teams to arrive, putting their own needs aside to look after their teams, or packing up to cart their bundles of heavy gear back to their cars. Men kicked footballs to boys, toddlers waddled around under the watchful eyes of their parents and the few teenagers who had been dragged along sat with their heads down listening to their iPods.

I was rostered on for an eight-hour shift as an assistant checkpoint coordinator. My main role would be to sign volunteers into their shifts and make sure they were happy. We had a team of 15-20 Oxfam volunteers and numerous health volunteers, such as podiatrists, physios and first aid. The Oxfam volunteers were all allocated to a range of roles. These included:

  • trail marshals who stood at trail intersections and road crossings to both guide walkers and cheer them on
  • parking marshals who helped support crews getting their cars in and out of the loading zone and carparking spaces efficiently; our team of parking marshals also helped tired support crews carry boxes and bags
  • check-in and check-out operators who used laptops to log teams’ in and out of the checkpoint, which also helped keep Event Control and the internet followers appraised of teams’ movements
  • checkpoint coordinator who was responsible for the whole checkpoint; a busy role
  • a communications officer who was responsible for using a two-way radio to keep in contact with trail marshals, parking marshals and other people as necessary
  • checkpoint support who we asked to greet all the teams as they arrived at the checkpoint and cheer them in from the checkpoint gate, about 100m from the check-in desk.
We had a fantastic team of volunteers at our checkpoint and we all worked together to make sure walkers and their support crews had the best possible experience at this, the last checkpoint at 88km into a 100km epic.

Stirring the Gu with a massive paddle

I didn’t have a dull moment during my shift. I did everything from mixing big tubs of sports drink and filling water containers to carrying chairs to trail marshal locations and delivering chocolates to volunteers within walking distance of the checkpoint. As day turned to night, the walkers and their support crews arriving at our checkpoint needed more support because it was so tough to walk into the second night. We set up light wands to help walkers find the trail out of the path and torches to help support crews navigate their entry to the park. Volunteers greeted each team as they exited the trail and walked with them all the way to the check-in desk, encouraging everyone to clap for them as they ended the second-last leg of the walk. We had a walker who needed a taxi and another team of walkers who needed  a lift to the finish line; we helped both sort their rides out. Everyone in our volunteer shift went over and above our position descriptions, and hopefully they found the experience as rewarding and enjoyable as I did.

Taking a rare break … it only lasted long enough to take this photo

While last night I saw the first and third teams move through checkpoints 5 and 6, tonight’s walkers were going through an entirely different experience than those teams out the front had. The first three teams to the finish spent last night at home in bed and had today to recover. But the teams walking through our checkpoint last night had been out on their feet for between 27 and 35 hours with still 12km to walk. While many would have had a short sleep at a checkpoint last night, they would have been on their feet for most of those 27-35 hours.

Two walkers at our checkpoint had a story that amazed us all. They had arrived from the UK two weeks ago to live in Australia. After they arrived, someone they met here told them he needed an extra two walkers for his team; did they want to fill the spots. The team was to be the local man from Brisbane, the man and woman from the UK, and a woman from Canberra (I think the Brits said she was Russian, but might have my teams mixed up). A few days ago, the man from Brisbane came down with malaria and had to withdraw, leaving the remaining 3 walkers with no support crew because the now ill former teammate had organised the support crew. The three of them made it all the way to checkpoint 6 while carrying all their own food, clothing and water for the entire walk; they had huge packs. At checkpoint 6, the woman from Canberra continued while the Brits stayed behind and took her gear so she could finish with a light pack. They had no transport, no money and no contacts they could call on. Another support crew agreed to take them to the finish line to watch their team mate finish the 100km walk. We kept the disappointed Brits company; they were disappointed and falling asleep in their chairs. But I believe they should not be disappointed. Most teams will have walked with 5-7kg on their backs and support crews to feed them. These three walkers did it all on their own carrying what looked like about 15kg of gear. They achieved an amazing feat.

I left the Oxfam Trailwalker Brisbane at about 9:45pm last night. I had an amazing two days working with fantastic people, both Oxfam staff and volunteers. It was a fantastic experience about all that’s good in society and humanity. I can’t speak highly enough of the Oxfam staff who put this amazing event together. Hundreds of volunteers cumulatively gave up thousands of hours of their time to not only support the walkers but also support other volunteers who were supporting the walkers (for example, event couriers, catering crews, IT support and trail markers didn’t cheer on the walkers; they helped make sure other volunteers could do that effectively). Hundreds  of people gave up time to be support crews for their friends, families and colleagues who were undertaking the challenge of walking. About 1,400 people had the courage to toe the start line to give this epic adventure a go. And thousands of people donated over a million dollars to support Oxfam’s work.

I know a lot of people today say that the world has become a bad place. I know that our media focus on the crime and cruelty in the world. But the reality is that people today are as kind, generous and decent as we’ve ever been. Events like these are graphic proof of that fact.

Oxfam Trailwalker Brisbane – Day 1

Flashing my light sabre while helping park cars at Registration

The Oxfam Trailwalker Brisbane weekend is finally here. Walking the 100km from Mt Glorious to Mt Cootha changed my life 12 months ago, so this year I am volunteering. I signed up for three shifts totally 19 hours plus 5 hours travel time to and from home over the course of the 48 hour event and completed the first two shifts yesterday. I am just one of the hundreds of volunteers who are filling over 500 shifts needed to help Oxfam run the event. And I am having a fantastic time.

It was cold and dark when I arrived for my first shift as a bus marshall at the registration area at Bellbird Grove. At 6am Bellbird Grove was a hive of activity. Support crews dropped off their teams. Teams moved around with  nervous excitement as they registered, made final gear adjustments and boarded the buses that would take them up the mountains to the start line at Mt Glorious.

My role was to manage the flow of cars in a small section of the carpark that we were using as an overflow when buses blocked the road as they reversed along the narrow road into the bus parking area. To achieve my goal, I got to use a light sabre (a baton with red flashing lights) to guide the traffic. I also had to use my most friendly smile to ask people not to leave their cars parked in the overflow carpark due to it being needed to manage the flow. It was easy and fun to play with the light sabre and talk with the support crews and teams.

After three hours my shift was over. The sun had risen, all the walkers were delivered safely to the start line and we could all breath a big sigh of relief that everything had gone well with this complex registration and parking puzzle.

Loading bollards in the van at Checkpoint 5

At 2pm, after a few hours of rest, relaxation and geocaching (I found 10 caches, bringing my total to 200), I reported for my second shift at the Oxfam Trailwalker Brisbane Event Control Centre at The Gap. I was rostered on as an event courier for an eight hour shift.

When I arrived at the Event Control Centre I was greeted by Steven, who was part of my Trailwalker team last year. We were total strangers before the event and haven’t seen each other since though we have had some email contact (our not seeing each other is merely a feature of us only having met as part of the walk – not any negative reason). It was fantastic to catch up with him for an hour or so at the beginning of my shift while things were quiet.

Laying out the bollards leading out of Checkpoint 5

Things didn’t get busy until about an hour into my shift but then I got to go out and do a few different jobs. My first task was to travel to Checkpoint 5 (Bellbird Grove) where a pile of bollards and bases awaited us. The other event courier, R, I was rostered to work with and I had to put the bollards together and then place them along a 2km section of road that the walkers would be walking down towards the end of the event. Each bollard weighed about 7kg so it was a good physical job. R drove as I placed the bollards out of the back of the van. We also turned on some generators to ensure there would be light for participants and support crews after the sun set.

While we were at Checkpoint 5 we saw the first team check in, suck down some gels and sports drinks then leave again. They were running and had covered 73.3km of the walk, starting at 7:30am. It was only about 4pm. They would go on to complete the whole 100km event in 11hours 54minutes. It was impressive to see the team running out of the checkpoint. This is a benefit of volunteering at an event like this; it’s one of the only ways I will see the front-runners.

The volunteer meals were pretty good last night

After laying out the bollards we returned to the Event Control Centre to pick up the volunteer meal deliveries. R took a load on his own while I teamed up with G who was in the event catering crew. We loaded up 28 meals and set off to deliver them to the trail marshals working on the final two sections of the course. It took us about two hours to make all our stops. We then delivered the left-over meals to the finish line and Checkpoint 6 so that trail marshals heading onto the course later in the night could enjoy some meals.

While at Checkpoint 6 we took our meal break and enjoyed the vegetarian spring rolls and carrot cake. The food was delicious and fresh. We also had the pleasure of watching the third-placed team pass through the checkpoint. It was clear that they were starting to suffer but they still looked incredibly strong as they went through their checkpoint routine. Their support crew had everything set up professionally so the walkers / runners could just grab their nutrition off the table, rub on extra anti-chafing ointments and head back out onto the course. We could hear the support crew encouraging their team, urging them on so that they didn’t stay too long at the checkpoint and lose momentum before the final 12km push.

Back at the Event Control Centre, my final task for the night was to drop one of the Oxfam employees back at his hotel. He’d been on his feet all day, probably for more than 12 hours, and was clearly exhausted. It’s great that Oxfam are able to use event drivers to drive their staff ‘home’ so that they don’t risk accident or injury with tired drivers trying to navigate in an unfamiliar city (Oxfam’s offices are in Melbourne).

I had a magnificent day as an Oxfam Trailwalker volunteer. By the time I went home I had given 11 hours plus 2.5 hours traveling time to Oxfam. And I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. I will be leaving home again in the next hour for my third shift as an assistance checkpoint coordinator at the busy Checkpoint 6 from 1pm-9pm.

What a difference a year can make

On 1 June 2012 it will be exactly 12 months since I found myself sitting in a psychologist’s office struggling with anxiety and certain unhealthy compulsive behaviours. My life has changed beyond my wildest imagining and I am proud of the work I have done to achieve these changes.

30 May 2011: Unfit with a rounder shape

One year ago I was unfit and starting to settle into a heavier, rounder body. I didn’t like being unfit and was starting to make sure I was sitting in photos or only shot with head and shoulders. But I didn’t know how to change my life. The grip of anxiety had frozen me. I put all my energy into my insecurities, and escaped my pain through compulsive masturbation and hours wasted online.

June 2011: Oxfam Trailwalker Brisbane – a life changing event

When the psychologist first suggested I put my energy into some sort of sport I dismissed the suggestion. I had no excuse to justify my dismissing her sensible suggestion but such was my state of mind at the time. Fortunately, I had entered the Oxfam Trailwalker Brisbane; a 100km walk to raise money for charity. I was seriously undertrained but with the help of three fantastic team mates and some determination I made it all the way in just under 33 hours. I stopped engaging in the compulsive behaviour almost immediately after completing Trailwalker.

July 2011: Second bike training session with a bit of a belly bulge

The next morning I decided that I was sick of being unfit. I had been fit most of my life, only letting myself go when the Black Dog and anxiety took hold of me about five years earlier. So I had something to draw on when deciding how to get fit and what to expect. I started looking for events to use as motivation; I knew I wouldn’t train if I didn’t have a specific goal. I had been a triathlete as a teenager so, after considering a range of other sports, I decided I wanted to get back into triathlon.

But there was a barrier for me: men have a bulge in their cycling shorts and triathlon suits. I felt subhuman because, as a transgender man, my body doesn’t look like that of biological men. I felt like I was somehow wrong and less worthy than others. And, while I knew other people wouldn’t say anything about my body, I felt it was abnormal and freakish. I had a conversation with the psychologist about this and then went away to think about it further myself. It was a huge achievement for me to buy a pair of speedos, cycling shorts and a triathlon suit; and a bigger achievement for me to wear them in public.

August 2011: Wivenhoe Dam Triathlon – My first triathlon in 14 years

One month later I completed my first triathlon in 14 years; the Wivenhoe Dam Triathlon. All I wanted to do was make it to the finish line in one piece. August is the coldest month of the year here in Brisbane and an icy wind was blowing on the rainy day. The water temperature was somewhere between 16’C and 19’C. I didn’t (and still don’t) have a wetsuit, so the swim was painfully cold. But I gutted it out and proved to myself that I can do anything. The furthest I’d swum in training was 400m in a whole session but the swim leg was 750m. The furthest I’d cycled in training was 12km but the cycle leg was 20km. The furthest I’d run in training was 3km but the run leg was 5km. And I made it! In a respectable time of 1:24:59. Words can’t describe the way I felt that afternoon.

September 2011: Rainbow Beach Triathlon

A few weeks later I raced the Rainbow Beach Double Triathlon. I raced a sprint distance triathlon (750m swim, 20km cycle, 5km run) on Saturday afternoon and then backed up to do it all again on Sunday morning. It was a real physical challenge for me but at least I had increased my training so that I was now able to complete these distances in training (just). I had also stopped seeing the psychologist on 31 August because I had worked through some important personal issues relating to my body image and being transgender. I completed both races that weekend; again in the respectable times of 1:15:31 and 1:19:38.

October 2011: Agnes Water Triathlon – The belly is getting smaller

In October I traveled six hours north to Agnes Water to participate in the sprint distance triathlon there. I’d set myself a goal to participate in a triathlon every month for the whole season. I didn’t have any time goals; I just wanted to complete the courses with a smile on my face. I thoroughly enjoyed both the race and my five days camping at Agnes Water. My time for the event was 1:11:33.

November 2011: Rainbow Beach Trail Ultra – This event opened so many possibilities

I couldn’t find any triathlons that piqued my interest in November so I entered the Rainbow Beach Trail Ultra (nominally 43km but my course was 45km). It was important to me to keep up my momentum and the idea of running to the Double Island Point lighthouse intrigued me enough to give this event a try. I had only joined the Brisbane Bayside Runners and Walkers club about a month earlier and had increased my training runs from 4-5km to 7-8km. I entered the event just 10 days before race day after I had completed a 15km club training run. One week before the race I did an 18km training run and then spent a week eating well in the hope it would enable me to complete the race.

The Rainbow Beach Trail Ultra was an extreme event for me. It was longer than I’d ever contemplated running before and I only had 10 days to get used to the idea. I ran as much of the course as I could but allowed myself to walk up all the hills and to walk when I hit the wall. Somehow I managed to complete the event in 7:30. It was a long day out on my feet in the sand but it was worth it. All the barriers I had built for myself were shattered that day – I realised that I could enter any event that took my fancy because I have the determination to finish. After the Rainbow Beach Trail Ultra I started expanding my training and racing experiences.

December 2011 – Toorbull Triathlon
(Image copyright The Run Inn Brisbane)

In December I traveled to Toorbull where I completed my fourth triathlon in five months. I was starting to feel stronger on the course and was not regularly training longer distances than the 750m swim, 24km cycle and 5km run that the race involved. I finished strong in 1:25:13 on a hot summer day. I was now training 5-6 days a week and had cemented my new positive outlook on life. I was a changed man.

January 2012: My first half marathon

In January I made a snap decision to turn up at a local half-marathon and run it. I hadn’t specifically trained for it because I hadn’t planned to race the event. I literally turned up on the day and entered. And then I finished the race in 2:10:57 on a stinking hot and humid day. I had now broken another mental barrier for me; the long road running race. It helped me feel like a proper runner. I felt proud of myself when I crossed the finish line; a new sensation that I had been working on accepting since my first visit to the psychologist.

February 2012: Making the outdoors a normal part of life again

By February I had started to expand my exercise regime to include more off-road exploration. Training ceased to be an activity that I did merely to lose weight or complete triathlons, it was now a normal part of life. I started exploring different ways to exercise that allowed me to enjoy the outdoors again like I had when I was growing up.

I also completed my first Olympic distance triathlon (1,500m swim, 40km cycle, 10km run) at Kingscliff. My goal was to finish within 3:00 and I achieved it when I finished in 2:25:53. I almost cried when I finished because I was so amazed at the change in my life. I had gone from struggling to get through the day to living an healthy active outdoor lifestyle.

March 2012: I smashed a half marathon

In March I made another break through. I smashed the Twilight Half Marathon in a time of 1:46:33. I had all these mental limitations set out about the pace I’d need to run to complete the half marathon. I figured that I would struggle to make two hours but once I got going I put all my doubts aside and found myself pushing hard.

April 2012: Sailing the Whitsundays

April was a month of change. During March I had started to train much harder and had lost touch with the real reason I got involved in sport. I was fatigued and had developed a bad attitude. The attitude was a result of me forgetting to be myself; I’d got caught up in the part of triathlon culture I don’t enjoy. See, there is an element of triathlon that is focused on results and single-minded intense training. I was starting to train twice a day and was trying to ‘make every session count’. And it took it’s toll.

While I was away for the Julia Creek Triathlon I found myself again. Two weeks away on my motorbike, a fun tough race at Julia Creek and a day sailing on the Whitsundays brought me back to earth. I decided to focus on bushwalking, mountain biking and enjoying myself. I decided to get out every day into the outdoors for the fun of the outdoors, not for the training. The biggest influence on this was my day sailing on the Whitsundays.

May 2012: Adventure Race Australia

The Adventure Race Australia last weekend best summarises my transformation from internet addict to outdoor athlete. Not only that, but I am much happier today. I am no longer gripped by anxiety or depression. I am no longer paralysed by insecurity. I am me. I have come a long way. And I’m proud of my journey here.

It’s been a big year. An important year in my life. One that has led to positive changes. In the next 12 months I hope to maintain those changes. I no longer have to improve my fitness because I am where I want to be. I’m fit enough to tackle any physical challenge and know I have the determination to achieve it. And I am determined not to go back to where I was 12 months ago.  I want to keep smiling 🙂

Volunteering at Oxfam Trailwalker Brisbane 2012

The Oxfam Trailwalker Brisbane 2011 was an important event for me because it got me back into training. No, I didn’t train properly before the event but afterwards I decided to become a triathlete.

This year I can’t fit the Trailwalker into my race schedule so I decided to nominate as a volunteer. I was so excited today when Oxfam’s volunteer coordinator phoned me to invite me to assist on Friday and Saturday afternoons / nights as:

  • event courier on Friday afternoon / night
  • assistant checkpoint coordinator on Saturday afternoon / night.

Each role is described on the Oxfam Trailwalker Brisbane website.

The event is being held from Friday to Sunday 15-17 June 2012. I’m really quite excited at the opportunity to be involved in such a wonderful event and to see it from a whole new perspective. Besides, I love being part of the behind-the-scenes team. I got my first taste as a backstage crew member in high school for the Rock Eistedford and love being triathlon technical official. I think it’s the unique combination of teamwork, invisibility, atmosphere and joys of getting front row seats to the event that keeps me coming back for more.

Bring on Oxfam Trailwalker Brisbane 2012. It’s going to be a brilliant weekend. Good luck to all the teams walking this year. I’ll be cheering for you from the sidelines.