The Kokoda Challenge Review 2016

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As an elite competitor in the 2016 Kokoda Challenge with Condev Construction, and usually ‘behind the scenes’ Risk Management for all injuries and incidents for The Challenge, Scott Whimpey debriefs his Challenge and the common mistakes people make that results in them not completing a Kokoda Challenge.
Let me start by saying that this year just over a quarter of competitors did not complete the event, however the weather was poor, possibly playing a part, there were a lot of first timers and as usual “Armyland” never fails to weaken the heart and mind of the masses!
I still think the secret to completing this event is preparation, so where did you go wrong and how do you fix the problem?

We all know that preparation is the hard work put in leading up to the event and as with most teams, preparation is the key.
My team’s preparation was about 60% this year with a few of our team suffering illness and some minor injuries leading in’ this is just part of being an ultra-runner or competitor in one of the hardest trail events going around.

The Event

2 nights before the challenge, I packed everything needed to get the 96 km done, actually I packed more than enough to cover plan B C and D, my kit looked a little like this:pic-3-kokoda

I also completed an event plan with some basic times for checkpoints and each checkpoint had a specific kit bag of gear and nutrition needed for the next stage, we all had a copy of this:pic-1-kokoda

The morning of the event, I did my usual routine – 2 muffins with jam and a nice cuppa coffee. I then cracked a bottle of my favourite sports drink and proceeded to trickle feed it over the next couple of hours.

The Challenge started without a hitch and we were away, an easy jog and just working into the morning. As always a few teams take off like rabbits but they always come back to the field.

After 2 hours or so, we realised one of our guys was hurting and we couldn’t get his heart rate down on the hills, so instead of burying him, we adjusted our pace and managed the situation one step at a time.

The key with your team is communication, always asking the question- How are you feeling now?

If there is a problem, don’t wait hours to fix it, do it now and move on!

The weather early was perfect for the Challenge, cool with light mist of rain and overcast, couldn’t ask for better actually – well, until you hit the mud anyway.

There were a few things I noticed here: Some teams had shotty gear, incorrect footwear, no spray jackets and in general looked unorganised.

One of the things we put to use this year was walking poles- yep, I think this saved our bacon on the big hills as they helped our team continue the pace when the legs were suffering up the big hills. Shoes also made a big difference, trail shoes with grip came into their own in the mud and nothing else came close.

One of our team members had a faulty bladder in their pack and couldn’t get a decent drink, we had a spare packed and once we got to the next checkpoint, we sorted the issue.

Another big difference for our team was a wind/ rain jacket and arm warmers, when we slowed down, we cooled down, this finished a few teams and even an elite team up front from getting too cold when the pace dropped. All we did was carry them in the pack and threw them on when needed.

Once we got to half way, we knew we were going to be a little slower than anticipated, but we all made a pact that we were all along for the ride, no matter how long it took, we would all finish this together. Believe me, this was harder than I thought but finishing as a team of 4 far outweighs going quick and the satisfaction is unbelievable – I think the respect for fellow teammates gets stronger the more you suffer!

At the halfway point we were in 3rd position and being chased by Britt Calling from Gold Coast Physio and Matt Rodgers from a Wild Earth team. 3rd, 4th and 5th were only separated by 7 min at the 50km mark and we knew we had a race on our hands – we had our heads down and were working hard.

Our team was just hanging together but we were still upright, we stayed positive, kept the nutrition plan going and focused on one hill at a time. Everyone in our team had down times and up times but we backed each other and stayed in the zone.

At 75km we were just holding on to 3rd and by now the rain had set in and the track conditions were getting tough. Having a good head torch is better than a warm bed at this point and as usual, Murphy’s Law – one of our guy’s torches broke down and having a spare at this point was gold.

Now it sounds like we skipped through 75km but all the way we fought hard to manage the conditions, terrain, nutrition and wounded teammates. I remember falling a few times early from lack of concentration and thinking if I sprain an ankle, the entire team might not finish, the focus on staying upright is 100% the entire time – that sort of concentration for over 20 hours is a big undertaking.
We hung on and at the last checkpoint we came across the 2nd place team – they had suffered from the conditions and fatigue and 2 team members could not continue.

We decided to let the other 2 guys join us through Nerang forest to get them home; we couldn’t help feel sorry for the boys as they had come so far and fought so hard.

The 2 remaining boys were devastated but happy to come along for the ride. I want to make a point here that this team are as good as any of the best teams out there, things just didn’t go their way that day and they payed the price.

Nerang was a joy as we were now feeling re-energised, The final stretch will do that for you in this event, and finally we hit the finish line in 14:50 min. We had made it as a full team and done it the hard way, no one really cares for the minor details or how hard it is, but you and your team know the sacrifices made to get here – yep your home and that’s all that counts.

So where did so many go wrong and not finish this year?

  1. Poor preparation – yes that’s it, go out and prepare with food, gear, shoes and team talks.
  2. Not the right gear – get the good gear that counts- shoes, torches, poles, weather proof jacket and packs
  3. Poor nutrition- Work out what works for you and your team, don’t just have what people tell you, be prepared for the worst like sitting around at a checkpoint for over an hour waiting for a teammate.
  4. Poor planning – plan to succeed, not fail. Set times between checkpoints, what gear is needed for the checkpoint and the ultimate team plan- sticking together.
  5. No injury management- Have tape, Skin Slick and a patch up kit on board with the team, know how to use it and fix it sooner rather than later.

So if you have unfinished business with The Kokoda Challenge or just want to have a crack, take heed and listen to the advice, it may just get you home!

Scott Whimpey
Team CONDEV and Director – First Aid Accident and Emergency