Wednesday, August 29, 2012

70 years in the making.

August 30 1942 my great uncle Thomas Harold "Butch" Bisset died in the arms of his brother Stan, after being badly wounded the previous day by Japanese machine gun fire, just above the village of Isurava, along the Kokoda Track.
Butch Bisset (2nd from left) in PNG 1942
August 30 2005, myself, along with 15 other family members walked the Kokoda Track and installed a plaque adjacent Cons Rock, near the site where Butch died 63 years earlier.
The plaque adjacent Cons Rock where we installed the plaque in 2005.
One night during that trek, while sitting around the campfire, Papuan runners started filtering through the campsite, stopping briefly to fill water bottles before disappearing again into the night. Each runner was wearing a red bib, carrying minimal gear and using a small handheld flashlight to light their path. We gathered that this was a race along The Track and on arrival a few days later in Kokoda learnt that this was the first edition of the Kokoda Challenge race, put on by Kokoda Trekking. I wouldn't have described myself as a "Runner" back then (i'd actually spent the previous 4 months backpacking around Europe and was weighing in close to 105kg), but the Kokoda Track and the Kokoda Challenge planted a seed in mind, that one day i'd like to do this race.
Me and John Hunt, the first winner of the Kokoda Challenge, after i finished my trek in 2005. John memorably came through our campsite during the race sporting one shoe. When one of our party exclaimed that John had lost a shoe, he calmly replied "No, i found one", then trotted off into the night.
Years passed, I started running (not through my ambition to complete the Kokoda Challenge) and the idea of heading back to Kokoda had got lost a little, obscured by the countless other races available to run. Then, mid July this year, I receive an email from Damon Goerke asking if i'd be interested in joining him and a couple other guys to head across and run the Kokoda Challenge. The timing of Damons email couldn't have been more impeccable as i'd been lacking a touch of motivation due to a niggling knee injury, winter weather and an inability to decide on which races I wanted to do for the rest of the year. Kokoda was the inspiration I needed. I signed up and started making trips out to the Dandenongs to run (hike) up the steepest hills i could find.

The actual event itself (including the days leading up to and following) made the Kokoda Challenge one of the most enjoyable and rewarding races (or things for that matter) that I have ever done. The hospitality shown to the international runners by our Papuan hosts was humbling and it was great hanging out and sharing laughs with the local and international runners alike.

I'm not going to go into a blow-by-blow account of the race itself but will touch on a few points.

  • This is without a doubt the hardest race i've ever done. 7500m+ of ascent and decent on the most technical trails i've ever run in brutal heat and humidity. There is rarely an easy step in the whole 96km.
  • The first climb, from Kokoda Village to Kokoda Gap, is the most uncomfortable and miserable I have ever been while running. It took about 5 hours of hands on knees hiking in stifling heat, my legs burning, feeling like i wanted to puke. All I could think about was how was I going to finish this race and that Dave Eadie is kidding himself if he thinks i'm a good climber.
  • After I got up over Kokoda Gap I got myself back together in the slightly cooler conditions and more runnable terrain. From this point on I loved the race and felt strong all day. I've never felt more switched on in race. I just broke the race down into having 7 more climbs to get over and counted them down as I ticked them off.
  • Running through the Villages alongside all the local kids was awesome.
  • Navigation is not a strong point. I already knew this but getting lost 3 times and wasting a good 45 mins reinforced this. It didn't really bother me though as it was totally expected.
  • Nutrition was key. After struggling up the first climb, I took the time to get my nutrition back on track and from then felt strong all day. Shotz Gels every half hour (36 total) and multiple bananas at every checkpoint. The real key though was that I started dropping Shotz Electrolyte tabs in my hydration bladder (in addition to a s-cap every half hour). These got me drinking more and kept my stomach settled for the rest of the race.
  • Thank you to the local who gave me a cold can of coke in Efogi. Best coke ever.
  • Checkpoint services extended to shoe customisation thanks to a local and his knife. I had a couple lugs shaved down that were causing a bit of irritation on the ball of my left foot. Whole process took less than a minute from asking.
  • Given the local runners don't really train (they only walk the track for work a handful of times a year then go for a couple of runs, if any at all, leading up to the race) they are remarkable athletes.
Horace Yauga understandably being helped after crossing the line in 2nd place. Horace went straight through the last 2 aid stations without eating to distance himself from me and ensure 2nd place. Gutsy Competitor. 
  • The care shown by the locals for the international runners that were struggling is amazing. They would walk with and keep the international runners company for as long as it took. I'm sure there is more than one runner that will never forget this kindness.
  • I want to do this race again. I've never been so psyched after finishing a race to do it again the next year. I had previously wanted to do the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc next year, but now i'm thinking i'd rather head back to PNG.
Walking under the arch at Owens Corner. I dare say not for the last time.
Kokoda was a running experience like no other i've had. If hard mountainous races and cultural and historical experiences are your thing, I can't recommend the Kokoda Challenge enough. All the international runners couldn't stop commenting how hard the race is, yet we all felt a touch of guilt at making such comments given the manner in which we crossed the track compared to those who did so 70 years prior. While there were some great performances at this years Kokoda Challenge, in comparison our achievements are pretty insignificant.

Shattered but happy to have another well earned coke in front of me. I think the smile says it all.


  1. Well done Chris on your awesome effort and completing the run remembering your Great Uncle would have been so special, thank you for putting your experience in writing for us all to read.

    My wife's Grandpa (Dudley Warhurst) fought alongside Butch and Stan in the Middle East and on the Kokoda Track and often speaks of his time on the Track, unfortunately his health is not the best at the moment but we're all hoping for the best and he's a fighter. My wife and I would love to get across to PNG to experience the Track but can't say we'd be running it!

  2. Wow mate, great report and that track sounds unbelievably tough. Great running and well done, full respect mate all round!

  3. Thanks for sharing this info with us in which there is the description about several facts. Please keep updating us with your views.

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