This July, top-three finisher and women’s winner, Britt Caling, will set out again on the Kokoda Gold Coast Challenge – a 96-kilometre race through mountain terrain.
With the support of volunteers and crews at check-points, her team will run and walk through a chilly night and any adverse conditions that nature throws at them. With more than 8000 people involved in the event, including support and volunteers, this is the Kokoda Youth Foundation’s flagship event.
“I’m a true believer that anyone can complete the 96km with the right physical training and the right mental approach,” says Caling, owner of Gold Coast Physio and Sports Health.
“When it gets tough, and everyone will experience a tough period in an event this long, you just have to keep on moving and believe in your ability to do so.
“To conquer the course, with the hills, technical terrain and beautiful Gold Coast scenery is a reward that only those participating in this event can fully comprehend. And that’s why I find myself on the start line year after year.”
Described as the toughest event in Australia, not all of the participants will make the distance.
“Our events are not for the faint hearted,” Kokoda says.
“It’s about supporting each other through to the end, pushing yourself beyond your limits and achieving something you thought could never be possible.”
Teams walk or run to the mantra: Courage, endurance, mateship, sacrifice, while fundraising for the Kokoda Youth Challenge Program. KYCP is a registered charity which has raised more than $300,000. They use the funds to train young people from diverse backgrounds to complete the Papua New Guinean Kokoda trail. While in PNG they also volunteer for humanitarian projects rebuilding schools and villages.
“The course is designed with this tribute in mind, with steep climbs, harrowing descents, mud, water, hills, hills and more hills. It challenges and inspires courage, mateship and sacrifice,” says Caling. She describes the event as “one of the biggest endurance tests you’re likely to ever experience.”
Gold Coast Physio and Sports Health are the official physio for the Kokoda Challenge so, in the spirit of mateship, Caling has shared some tips to help participants complete the event. If walking or running the event sounds too challenging but you’d like to get involved, investigate volunteering or donating, via Kokoda’s website.
Get to know your team
Caling says it’s important to discuss expectations. How fast do you plan to go? Talk about your check-point strategies and whether you will sit down to eat or collect food and fluid to consume on the move. What will you do if a team member becomes sick or injured? How is each person best supported, with songs or mantras, conversation or silence? Train together and on the course so you know what to expect.
“Organise training sessions together so you can understand the strengths and weaknesses of each team member and how each of you cope with the technical terrain, the hills, descents, mud and water,” Caling says.
Be specific with your training
Caling stresses the importance of developing specific fitness for the course, as well as strength training and conditioning.
“The stronger your tissues are, the better tolerance and recovery they’ll have for your training sessions, and the better your performance will be through the steep hills,” Caling says. “This session needs to be over-strength, which means some heavier weights. Even if you only do one session per week of this with a strength and conditioning trainer, this will help.”
She also advises athletes minimise their risk of injury through being mindful of their training load and using recovery strategies or ankle taping if they’re prone to spraining ankles.
Focus on the three Fs
Research has shown swearing can help with pain management, but that’s not on Caling’s mind. She’s talking about food, fluid and footcare.
Staying nourished and hydrated through an ultra event is essential, and a qualified sports dietician can advise on how best to do that.
“You need to trial different food and fluid options during training to know what works for you. Don’t ever try something new in the event if you haven’t tried it in training,” Caling says.
Feet need to be managed in order to keep them in good condition to make the distance, too. “Foot pain, including blisters or painful toes, can stop you in your tracks. Some strategies to consider are wearing shoes half a size bigger than normal. Make sure your shoes are suitable for the terrain and length of time running, use foot lube on all your toes and feet and apply frequently during the event if you are prone to blisters. I also recommend having blister patches in your race pack and using them as soon as a rub spot is felt and not leaving the rub until it is painful.”
More useful tips
Travel light, buy a quality headlamp and consider using walking poles to distribute the effort to your arms and torso. Get into the right headspace.
“Expect to feel pain like you have never felt before. But expect to just keep going,” Caling says. “Endurance events of this magnitude are not about being physically fit enough to cover the full distance, as rarely will anyone train over 96km, but these events are about having your brain prepared to just keep going. Remember, it is supposed to be a challenge.”
Caling shared the Kokoda quote that she loves. “I hope everybody can wear a sense of pride on their sleeve. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t finish – what matters is you dug in deep and gave it your all.”