23 Aug 2011
Updated Dec 22, 2010... Cape-to-Cape in Western Australia
Two Aussies Set New Record for the Ages
Full moon solar eclipse, first in almost four centuries to fall on Winter/Summer solstice, witnessed amazing human feat: More than three marathons' back-to-back through rough coastal terrain
FROM HAIKU, MAUI (HAWAII)
Cape-to-Cape in Western Australia
Two Aussies Set New Record for the Ages
Full moon solar eclipse, first in almost four centuries to fall on Winter/Summer solstice, witnessed amazing human feat: More than three marathons' back-to-back through rough coastal terrain
HAIKU, Maui, Dec 22 - When reporters asked Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to scale the world's highest peak in the Himalayas, what drove him to do it, he replied, "because it was there."
That was 57 years ago (on May 29, 1953, at the age of 33, Hillary and Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers known to have reached the summit of Mount Everest). Yet I still remember it as if were yesterday. Super-human efforts tend to have lasting effects on people. That's what this story is about... a super-human effort to achieve something that's never been done before.
Two middle-aged Aussies (left photo) did something on Dec 21 that no other human of any age has done in recorded history. Andrew Cohen, 52, and Michael Baldock, 41, ran, walked (barefoot at times), sloshed (through water), hiked and scraped their way for 130km from Cape Leeuwin to Cape Naturaliste in Western Australia (see map - right). That's 81 miles, or the equivalent of more than three marathons. And they did it non-stop in 19 hours.
"It was quite a day," Andrew told me in an email within hours of crossing the finish line. "I have run a few tough events but this dwarfed them all. The Capes region did not give up the record easily. I have aches on my aches! But a life time of extraordinary memories."
"Oh, Andrew, I am SO PROUD of you two, " I replied. "I had tears in my eyes when I read your message. This is a victory for indomitable human spirit, not just the two of you. It's for the world and for the ages."
"We had a unique alignment of planets in terms of knowledge, skill, willing friends and relatives, conditions," Andrew explained modestly. "Anyone without ALL that would be very ill-advised even to start."
Preparation Was Everything
Start? You don't just wake up one morning and start climbing Mount Everest. Or running Cape-to-Cape for 81 miles. You wake up with an impossible dream. And then you start thinking what it would take to make it possible. Then you share it with someone you trust, hoping they won't consider you a raving lunatic. You train. You investigate. You compete in lesser events to test your stamina. You invite other people to your dream. There are a million little steps you have to take before you show up at the starting line of an impossible dream.
(You can see Michael [left] and Andrew [right] at the first rest stop, 21km (13 miles) into the run at Cosy Corner Rd, also marked on the map below left).
"It was quite a 'military expedition'," he said in his email to me. "In the weeks before the run, one of the drivers and I had covered every road and track between Caves Rd and the coast to see where we could get to and how long it would take. From that we worked out (based on projected run times) how the cars would leapfrog each other to get ahead of us and set up for the next shots."
Still there were surprises.
"Someone shot an albatross, as we couldn't buy a good, hard stretch of beach (like we had experienced in our training runs)," Andrew said. "Notwithstanding a very low tide in the morning, all the beaches (and there were 'lots' of them) were soft and steeply angled."
If you ever tried running on a beach or in shallow water, you can tell how much harder it is than running on a hard surface. When I was a basketball player in high school and college, our coach would take us to the beach to do all cardio training. All the players dreaded it.
"My God… I can’t even begin to imagine what it must feel to run 15-16 hours (?) and cover 81 miles" [actually it was 19 hours, as I found out later], I said to Andrew. "And much of it in shifting sand, as I now find out. Absolutely stunning."
What Was It Like?
So what's it like to endure run 81 miles in one stretch over caves-pocked karst terrain of southwestern Australia? Only Andrew and Michael know for sure. But let me try to illustrate it from a perspective of an athlete who has tried his hand at just about every sport known to man - from swimming and diving to skating and high mountain climbing and every ball sport in between. In short, I know pain. Pain and I are old acquaintances. It's a love-hate relationship.
Ever ran a mile? Okay, maybe not. Not everybody runs for exercise So scratch that. Let's start with something smaller, easier.
Everybody has run a 100 yard-dash at least at one point in their lives (or 100m). If not in high school PhysEd classes, then running away from a dog. How did you feel afterward? A little winded? For sure. Heart racing? Definitely. Now, try making 18 such dashes without stopping, more than four laps around your high school stadium track, and you will have run a mile.
Imagine doing that six more times. Now you've done a 10K - a respectable long distance track & field race, and an esteemed Olympic event.
Now do it 26 times. And you will have run a marathon. It's the "mother of all races," the most prestigious Olympic event. Marathon is always run on the last day, just before the closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games. Marathoners are an elite group. There are not many people who can say they've run a marathon. I have certainly never done it.
Now try to imagine the unfathomable: Doing more than three marathons back-to-back in one day. And unlike the unfortunate, though now immortal, Greek hero - living to tell about it in an email. That's what Andrew and Michael did on Winter/Summer Solstice 2010, the second "Master of Love"-day of the year ("333" numerologically). They finished in full view of the full moon and the lunar eclipse, the first such cosmic alignment in more than 400 years.
If marathon is the "mother of all races," their Cape-to-Cape triple marathon must be the "great-granny of all races."
"Athlete/Sportsman of the Year" Nominations
Which is why I think they deserve to be nominated for the "Athlete/Sportsman of the Year" award, even if what they accomplished transcends any normal sports notions. It was a demonstration of power of the human spirit. It was a feat that the people world over should find uplifting and inspiring.
Now the chances of them actually winning that award in our materialistic, money-driven, U.S.-centric society are probably slim to none. Here are, for example, the Associated Press and Sports Illustrated "Athlete/Sportsman of the Year" winners in the last years:
As you can see, the two honor lists are heavily weighted in favor of U.S. athletes. Only two male sportsmen won the award in the last three decades who were not American. Only one was in track and field (Michael Johnson, an American sprinter, 1996). But that does not make the nomination of Andrew Cohen and Michael Baldock any less deserving. On the contrary. They did more with less. And they dedicated their effort to a noble cause - helping the blind of the world (click on The Fred Hollows Foundation - if you would also like to donate).
Andrew and Michael had no coaches who sent in plays from the sidelines, nor any deep-pocketed sponsors. Their support group numbered three people. Harriet, Andrew's eldest daughter, was the publicist. She did web updates on her iPhone. There were also two drivers of photographer cars, They carted around eight cameramen who took over 10,000 pictures documenting the historic run. Also, Michael's parents were at most aid stations from Margaret River northward.
And that's it. Most of the time, Andrew and Michael were on their own. But they knew they weren't really alone. They were running on the wings of angels. Harriet, for example, was relaying to them at each aid station the messages of support they were receiving at the web site. Which, of course, had an uplifting effect on the runners. I also did shamanic ceremonies before and after their run, summoning the spirits' aid to their cause, and then thanking them for it.
"We are still overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and support of our team," Andrew wrote. "What started as something of a personal dream, then became a folly, and finally a meticulously planned obsession, on the day became a something bigger and slightly more chaotic. But was all the better for being shared."
[Last night (Dec 22), I submitted the nominations for Andrew and Michael to the sports editors of Associated Press and of Sports Illustrated, along with this story as background information].
Avoiding Snake Pits
Turning an impossible dream into reality took not just a lot of training and hard work, but "an enormous dose of good luck," Andrew said. And it was a team effort. "It would have been silly to try something like this alone," he added. Here's why...
This wasn't just a sporting event. It was an adventure. Every adventure includes potential life-threatening risks. Or else it wouldn't be an adventure, would it?
Lest we forget, Australia is home to the greatest number of the world's most venomous snakes. I recall seeing one Tiger snake around the Redgate Beach in Western Australia whose distended jaws were as big as that of a bulldog. A Tiger snake can be up to seven feet long and is highly venomous. Mortality rate for human adults is 50% if not treated with anti-venom immediately after the bite. Luckily, the one I saw was dead. But I have seen a number of live Dugite snakes, also very poisonous and about as long, only thinner, right around my former property in that part of the world. You'd want to give a wide berth to either of these two reptiles.
"There are some very isolated stretches, (and) abundant opportunities for taking a wrong turn or getting injured/collapsing, and a not insignificant chance of meeting local reptiles (we took this seriously - every car in our crew had first-aid kits and snake bite bandages)," Andrew writes. "Although we had no injuries and never got lost, we did meet three snakes."
Yikes. Wonder how many of the "Athlete of the Year" winners had to sidestep around snake pits on their way to the title? (take a look at the last 10 winners - left). The only snake pits I can imagine the likes of Derek Jeter or Tom Brady or Dwyane Wade would have to avoid would be of financial or sexual kind. :-)
For all of the above reasons, "your best insurance is a companion," Andrew summed it up. Plus, "by the end, you will have a unique bond."
Would he do it again? Definitely no.
"I'm not going back to do it again," Andrew replied. "I doubt anyone else will either, for a long time at least. We were, by any reasonable estimation, well prepared for the attempt, physically, mentally and logistically. But now that we know exactly what role luck played in our success, we could not start again and still be declared sane."
Well, often it takes being crazy to achieve the impossible dream and to uplift the spirits of others.
Some Interesting Tid-Bits...
"33333." I followed the runners' progress online till about midnight Hawaiian time (6PM in Western Australia). When I finally went to bed, I sent them a farewell and good luck message. Which, I now understand, Andrew's daughter relayed to them.
Afterward, I realized something very interesting about it. My outbound email clocked at 12:12AM on 12/21/2010. That’s a "33333" number, numerologically speaking. Quite auspicious, I thought. I’ve never seen anything like it. "333" is a "Master of Love"-number, as some of you might know. A s for "33333," I have no idea what it means, except that it must be a meaning quite a bit greater esoterically than a "Master of Love," if that’s possible? Hm...
"Foot & Shoe Scene." When I got up early in the morning of Dec 21 (here in Hawaii) after a 4.5 hr sleep, I was hoping to see photos of them crossing the finish line at Cape Naturaliste. Instead, all I could see at the runners' web site was the picture of their bare feet (right).
"Oh, oh," I thought. "This does not look good. Wonder if they got bad blisters or some other foot injuries?"
I know from my mountain hiking experiences that the most important part of the body you must take care of and protect are your feet. So I wrote to Andrew and asked him if they had made it. I waited for his reply with some trepidation. But I was relieved when I received it.
"We were looking at our feet," he explained, "but only to see how many grains of sand we had not managed to remove. At the south end of Smiths Beach, looking at the high tide and yet more soft, heavy sand, we decided to run barefoot. We then just put on flip flops for the short hike up to the Torpedo Rocks Lookout (overlooking the north of Smiths). At that point we had to revert to shoes!"
Whew. So that's what that foot and shoe scene was about. But there was more...
"Coming up from the (Smith's) beach, we were met with quite a surreal scene. It was quite a crowd, as not only had lots of friends and family gathered, but for the first (and only) time in the long, long day, all our crew, drivers and photographers were in one place. That was probably the point I realised just how big a community effort this was - quite an overwhelming experience."
Finish Line at Cape Naturaliste. About three hours later, 19 hours to the minute after the two had set out from Cape Leeuwin, Andrew and Michael arrived at their destination - the Cape Naturaliste lighthouse. It was 11:05PM local time (5:05AM in Hawaii; 10:05AM EST, Dec 21 - see photo on the right). A crowd of about 50 people were on hand to welcome them. The longest day was finally at an end (see the route map - left).
Summing up the entire experience, Andrew said:
"The primary objective was to finish at all costs - and we also had to allow for the odd 'can you do that bit again?' or 'can you run down the beach, around those rocks over to the tree and up the hill?' - to get the best images."
"As a result, there were a few detours from our original route and a very conservative use of the aid stations (lost of changes of socks). That said, I'm not sure if a more aggressive, full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes approach would have got us to the end. It is a very unforgiving course, and perhaps we were fortunate that we had higher priorities to prevent us (from) being silly."
So a good piece of advice for long distance runners seems to be - "don't forget to smell the roses."
"We even looked for birds' nests in the sand and stopped to watch whales at South Beach and dolphins at Conto's," Andrew writes. "While this is something less than an aggressive 'racing' strategy, it is probably the only one that would work. Having a higher purpose may have protected us from our own enthusiasm or stupidity!"
Beautiful Scenery. Along the way, Andrew and Michael ran through some of the most beautiful coastal scenery in th world. Eventually, they are hoping to produce a photo book about their adventure. Here's a photo taken by Christian Fletcher, a Dunsborough, WA, photographer, at Guillotine (between Gracetown and Indjiup - see above map). You're looking straight to the west.
As in Hawaii, many of these southwest Australian beaches offer great surfing possibilities. So also as in Hawaii, some have colorful surfer names - like Guillotine, Jaws, Pipe... etc. In fact, the son of my neighbor here in Maui, a professional surfer, goes to Western Australia to compete in world surfing championships on the beaches of Margaret River.
Food & Drink. "What did you eat and drink during the day?" I asked Andrew.
"You don't really want to know! A lot of icy poles (frozen juice), boiled potatoes, and junk."
"The first 20km was unsupported (no car access). Thereafter, aid stations were at 4 - 7m intervals. At some of these it was just a bottle of water from a photo car as there were many locations they could get to that Lindsay (Andrew's wife) was not keen to drive to.:
"How many pounds did you lose?"
"About 2kg" (4.5 pounds).
I told him I was shocked to hear that. I lose five pounds doing my lumberjacking chainsaw work in the gulch. Andrew must have a terrific metabolism.
"You looked skinny to begin with. What was your weight at the end of the run?"
"57kg" (125 pounds). Evidently all heart.
RUN FOR THE BLIND: If you were at all inspired by the linking of the lighthouses, the image of two bright eyes, each shining with the intensity of a million candles, overlooking this brilliant coastline and the endless sea, please support The Fred Hollows Foundation - and help keep Fred's vision alive: a world where no-one is needlessly blind. $25 is all it takes to restore sight to one of the 45 million people worldwide currently suffering from preventable blindness. Join us, and (in the words of Dylan Thomas) 'rage, rage against the dying of the light' (an excerpt from Andrew's web site).
(this is the first story, written two days before the run)
Cape-to-Cape in Western Australia - Preamble
Two Men to Run over Three Marathons in One Day!
Full moon solar eclipse, the first in almost four centuries, to witness the amazing feat on Winter/Summer solstice; Dedicating super-human effort to helping the world's blind
HAIKU, Maui, Dec 19 - When reporters asked Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to scale the world's highest peak in the Himalayas, what drove him to do it, he replied: "Because it was there."
That was 57 years ago (on May 29, 1953, at the age of 33, Hillary and Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers known to have reached the summit of Mount Everest). Yet I still remember it as if were yesterday. Super-human efforts tend to have a lasting effect on people.
Well, this morning, I got an email from an old friend and former neighbor in Western Australia which reminded me of Sir Hillary. Since we first met back in 1997 on a beautiful field below the Bolt Hole, the name of my property Down Under (left and right - the map - also see Just Another Day in Paradise at the Bolt Hole in Western Australia), Andrew Cohen, now 52, has become an accomplished marathoner. But what he and another Australian runner, Michael Baldock, 41, are about to attempt tomorrow boggles one's mind. They are planning to run 130 km (81 miles) from Cape Leeuwin, the southwestern-most point of Australia, straight up north to Cape Naturaliste (see the map below).
That's more than three marathons in one day! They plan to start at 4AM local time on Dec 20 at Cape Leeuwin, and finish up at Cape Naturaliste around 7:30PM the same day. Just in time for a full moon solar eclipse on a Summer Solstice (in Australia, Winter Solstice in the northern hemisphere). And that's something that hasn't happened in almost four centuries (the last time was in 1638, according to NASA - click here to read more about this special cosmic confluence of events).
The moon will rise a few minutes after the sun sets on Andrew's and Michael's "Longest Day" in Western Australia. It sounds like a perfect setting for a grand finale of an outstanding human effort unfolding in the shadow of spectacular astral events.
Why would someone want to run more than three marathons in a single day?
But there is more to it than that. Andrew and Michael are doing it for another reason, too. Here's what Andrew said about it at his web site http://www.fixedstars.com.au/ dedicated to this effort:
The purpose of bringing this super-human effort to your attention is not necessarily to solicit your support for the blind, although if you feel so inclined, I am sure that Andrew, Michael and The Fred Hollows Foundation would be delighted (I have already contributed $100, for what it's worth). The main reason I thought you might be interested is that even at this day and age of technology-saturated lives, man can always find ways to push the envelope, to create the new frontiers. Something that's never been done before is just as alluring today as it was in Sir Hillary's time, or the Amundsen's, or the Magellan's etc.
By the way, when I first met Andrew, he was a top technology officer for one of Australia's major networks. At the same time, he was a "gentleman farmer," planting hundreds and hundreds of Pomegranates trees on his property, just below mine. And when he ran out of trees to plant, he got into running. :-)
BTW - you can follow this event "live" at this web site: http://www.fixedstars.com.au/. Andrew's daughter will be posting the pictures and updates throughout the day.
Just to give you an idea about the time zone differences, 4AM on Dec 21 in Western Australia is 3PM in New York (EST) the previous day (a -13 hours time zone difference). Which makes it 10AM on Dec 20 here in Hawaii, and noon in the California (PST). Add about 15 hours to it, and the two runners should be reaching their goal at Cape Naturalist in the wee hours of the morning in North America (6:30AM in New York, 3:30 AM in California, 1:30AM in Hawaii - on Dec 21, of course).
Let's wish Andrew and Michael good luck in their attempt to achieve this amazing feat!
P.S. Here's more information about the full moon lunar eclipse and the Winter Solstice:
HAIKU, Maui, Dec 21 - As I look back on this year, I see that there is much to be grateful for on this Winter Solstice. First, most of us are still here, on Earth, carrying on as well as we can. Second, some of us had the privilege to witness an event mankind has not seen in almost four centuries - the full moon lunar eclipse (not us here in Hawaii, though). Take a look at the weather on Maui yesterday afternoon. Looked like snow in the mountains, didn't it?
Someone sent me this shot of the full moon red eclipse taken on the East Coast (right).
They Made It! Two Aussies Set New Record
Third, we have also witnessed on this day an unprecedented event. Two Australian middle-aged men did what no man alive has ever done. They ran the equivalent of more than three marathons (81 miles) non-stop (see Two Men to Run over Three Marathons in One Day!, Dec 19).
I plan to write an editorial about their amazing feat, and nominate the two runners for the "Athlete of the Year" award. For now, I will just share with you what I said to Andrew, one of the two runners, and an old friend and neighbor in Western Australia. I also posted this comment on their blog about the event (www.fixedstars.com.au).
Bob Djurdjevic said... (11:50AM, Dec 21, 2010)
Oh, Andrew, Michael, I am SO PROUD of you two. I had tears in my eyes (and still do) when I read your message (late AM, Dec 21 in Hawaii). What an amazing feat you’ve achieved… something no one else has ever done, in recorded history anyway. And probably won’t any time soon, either. No wonder you do have aches upon the aches. My God… I can’t even begin to imagine what it must feel to run 15-16 hours (?) [actually 19 hrs, as I now find out!], and cover 81 miles. And much of it in shifting sand, as I now also find out. Absolutely stunning. This is a victory for indomitable human spirit, not just the two of you. For all the world. Congratulations!
I did a shamanic ceremony for the about 20 minutes before they started their run. And I also performed a full fire ceremony tonight to thank the Creator and the spirits for carrying them through to their goal, and to honor the Winter Solstice.
And it all happened on the second "333" day of the year! ("333" is numerologically a Master of Love number see Rainbows Return on "333" 'Master of Love'-Day, Mar 3).
More to come...