GNW250 is the blog of walker, runner and jazz musician Saul Richardson.
GNW250 is short for Great North Walk 250km. The Great North Walk is a long distance walking trail between the Australian cities of Sydney and Newcastle, on the east coast of Australia. It begins at each end in the heart of the city, but quickly moves into urban bushland, a feature of our beautiful cities, and then on into rural bushland. It is never very far away from civilisation: the east coast of Australia is the most densely populated part of our vast country. However, the route takes the walker through a wonderful mixture of dry ridge-top forest, lush pockets of coastal rainforest, winding river valleys, baking hot rural back roads and picturesque farming country. It is an undulating course with many steep climbs and descents adding up to about 14000 metres of ascent/descent. There is technical single track, dirt trails and short stretches of paved road. Part of the route is used each year for the Great North Walk 100’s, known as Australia’s toughes trail ultra marathons: 100 km and 100 mile races along the northern sections of the way, from Teralba to Yarramalong and Patonga.
It had long been one of my walking goals to complete the entire Great North Walk from end to end, non-stop. I finally achieved this in September 2015. Others have run it with pacers and support in as little as 54 hours, an amazing achievement. Andrew Vize, Darrel Robins and Terry Coleman did it in 2009 in 66:36. Recently, in 2012, Jess Baker and Meredith Quinlan did it in a blistering 54:54! Joe Ward bettered that in 2015 with 49:05. Peter Tressider claimed long ago to have done it in about 32hours, but that is not verified and a number of his other claimed records seem to have been shown to be fanciful. Hikers tend to complete the GNW in about 12 days.
The efforts of those runners are simply inspirational. I’m not in their league, by any stretch of the imagination, but I was determined to beat myself to complete this challenge. I made an attempt at it in November 2012, starting from the Sydney end, but had to stop at Yarramalong, a bit over half way, after a bad start. In 2015 I was successful, walking from Newcastle to Sydney.
In November 2009, I weighed just over 118kg (260lbs). I was desperately unfit: just walking to the shops less than a block away from my house seemed like a huge effort. Often, i would drive rather than walk! I was fat, and I felt terrible and reached a point where I knew I had to do something about it. It felt like a crossroads: either I could go on being inactive and become seriously obese, or I could take control of my life. To help crystalise my realisation, I also found out about the same time that my father suffered from adult-onset diabetes. That wasn’t a place I wanted to go.
There was probably a bit more to it, as well. I had spent nearly twenty years working as a musician, but even more as a teacher and music educator. I had more or less devoted my life to my students and in trying to ensure they had the best of everything. I was very successful. My students achieved extraordinary results. The jazz bands I directed and the programs I ran became ultra-successful and known around the world as models of excellence. But the longer I worked at it, the more a dismaying realisation dawned upon me: the person who cared most about what I was doing…was me. In fact, often the only person who even thought my work was important…was me!
In effect, I had given up my twenties and most of my thirties to a cause that noone else even thought was a cause. I had turned down some spectactular opportunities as a performer for the sake of being there for my students, but that loyalty was rarely, if ever, repayed. Sure, I built a career of sorts, and a name for myself, but at what cost? I worked massive, crushing hours, more often than not unpaid. I had almost no free time. I worked, ate, slept, and worked again. When I did have time, I was too exhausted to do anything like exercise. The painful truth was that, in the end, I was paying a massive personal and professional price for what I was doing. The only person who was going to look out for me and improve my life…was me.
Taking back control
One thing I had enjoyed doing occasionaly was bushwalking (hiking). I was too unfit to truly enjoy the experience or to get too much out of it. But as I transitioned from focusing on the needs of others to what I needed, that became my target. I was going to seize control of my life and my destiny, and get exercising.
I stopped eating masses of bad food, I reduced the portions I ate, and I started walking regularly. Often on weekends I would do longer walks in the bush. The distances gradually increased until I was doing 40km (24miles) in a day on rugged and steep trails. I would do 100km over a weekend, with hardly any sleep. These walks were both exhausting and exhilarating.
By June 2010, my weight was down to 79kg (173lbs). I could walk quickly up hills carrying a heavy pack. I had to buy new, smaller, clothes. I felt great! I even joined a bushwalking club (Sydney University Bush Walkers Assocition – SUBWA) and started doing walks with them. I learned to abseil and started going on canyoning trips.
Things went a little bit off during 2011. I got distracted by work, by now my own business started with the support of a friend, and by renovations at home. I walked fewer and fewer weekends, and the weight started creeping back up.
A new focus
But in 2012, I got back on track. I exercised every day, trying to fit in at least one hour for six days a week and a bit less on the seventh. I do a long walk/run every week and am working through a new series of personal challenges. My main target now that I’ve done the GNW250 is to do some more 6, 12, and 24 hour track races, as well as more bushwalking.
On this site I try to document a few walks plus some walking type things I’ve liked or found interesting.