The Washpool World Heritage Trail Run offered runners of all abilities an opportunity to explore the World Heritage listed Washpool and Gibralter Range National Parks. Runners could chose from 9km, 25km and 50km trail running events, depending on their abilities and intentions. Thirty-one intrepid adventurers chose to run the 50km option.
I was going to run the 50km event but had to withdraw due to injury so I decided, instead, to make the 450km (280 miles) trek each way to volunteer at the on-course aid stations for the 50km runners. I’m glad I did because the event was a fantastic opportunity to spend time in a beautiful part of the world and to be part of such a wonderful event.
For most runners and volunteers, the event started with an overnight camp at Mulligans Hut campsite. With a large area available for campers, this represented a unique opportunity to spend time with other runners and their families outside the usual race environment. It also allowed runners to relax in the lead up to their chosen event, rather than having to leave home early to drive anywhere.
A lot of preparation goes into an event like this. Beyond the acceptance of entry fees and scheduling of the event, the race director also has to negotiate access to the course and camping facilities, set up the course signage and remember to bring equipment for every possible eventuality. In this case, Washpool National Park is a remote wilderness area in which about half the 50km course was inaccessible by car and in which there is no mobile phone coverage. To make matters more challenging, the area is currently experiencing a heat wave with daytime temperatures reaching in excess of 35’C (95’F). This makes the provision of water and other fluids at aid stations even more important.
The event is held in October to make the most of the wildflower season. Washpool is blessed with an array of native Australian plants that burst into flower in the spring. While the blooms were slightly subdued this year due to a lack of rain, the area still had plenty of white, purple, yellow, orange and red flowers.
As a checkpoint volunteer, I worked with the fabulous J, who is also an ultra runner who came to volunteer for the day, and K, who was a spectator who happened to have a campervan that was the perfect size to throw our mountain of gear into. Our first task was to take everything out to the 9.5km mark where we set up CP1. With a long 28km stretch of trail between CP1 and CP2, many runners had requested drop bags.
As this was our first stint as ultra marathon CP volunteers, J and I didn’t have any real plan about what to do until we arrived. But then it all became very natural to us: we set up the food and hydration table on one side of the track and lined all the drop bags on the other so that everyone had easy access to their gear. It seemed to work well when the runners arrived shortly after we set up.
After the final runner left CP1, we loaded K’s campervan and transported everything down to CP2, just 10km down the road but a long hot 28km run for the runners. We had plenty of time to set up the food and hydration table, and to line all the drop bags up in the shade of the trees. J, K and I then settled in to get to know each other a little better to pass the time.
While the first few runners cleared CP2 quickly, most of the field needed some assistance here to fill drink bottles and hydropacks. At times, we could focus all our attention on a single runner while there were also times when we would be moving between 5-6 runners at a time. It was a privilege to see the full field make their way through the checkpoint and to be part of their personal journeys.
And then, one-by-one, they all left us to continue the final leg of their adventures. All we could do was hope they had taken on enough water, food and encouragement to help them reach the finish line, 15-17km away.
Thank you to Greg and TRAQ for putting on the event, and allowing me to be part of it in my own small way. And thank you to the runners who were so friendly and cheerful despite the obvious fatigue you were experiencing after so many hours out in the hot sun. I learned a lot from each of you and know that my experience as a volunteer will improve my abilities as a runner.