Defining a “solo” attempt

The GNW250 is something that most people will undertake as a multi-day bushwalk, with good reason. It is a long way (and don’t let the name fool you, it is actually 274km) , and that is the way to enjoy it. But some folks like to challenge themselves by speed-hiking or running the whole thing in one go. Among trail runners there is an unofficial competition to set the “fastest known time” on the course.

In 2012 runners “MQ” and “Jess” did it in 54hr 54min. In 2015 Joe Ward set a new verifiable record at 49:05  running from Newcastle to Sydney. Peter Tressider is said to have completed it in 32 hours 38 minutes, but this is impossible to verify and there some of his many other record claims have been disputed. Tressider claims to have swum the Hawkesbury river and kayaked from Woolwich to Circular Quay. However, Joe Ward’s time does show that 34 hours would not be entirely superhuman.

Here are some guidelines, based on commonly accepted definitions, for deciding what category any given “record” might best fit into.

1. Solo?

This one is easy. “Solo” means exactly that, alone. If you have pacers or anyone with you at any time, it is not a “solo” attempt. Think of the criteria for single-handed sailing records as a guide.

2. Supported, Self-supported, or Unsupported?

Unsupported: You receive no assistance at all from any other person at any time during the run, you are alone the whole time, you carry everything you need for the whole run from the start to the finish (except for water from creeks or taps). No drop bags, food drops, stashes, etc. You do not buy anything from any shops along the way. You make your own way across the Hawkesbury River and from Woolwhich to Circular Quay (drive yourself, boat yourself, swim, cycle, kayak..)

Self-supported: Your run or walk is self-supported if any of the following a;ply: You use one or more supply drops along the way. You buy food or drink from shops along the way. You don’t carry everything you need to whole way.

Supported: Any sort of assistance from other people. This includes pacers, a friend running with you for some of it, support crew at any point along the route. If someone is there helping you with a supply drop, that is support. If you have any of these things it is a supported attempt.

The fast record attempts are all, probably by necessity, supported runs. They carry the bare minimum, have a support crew meeting them at various “checkpoints”, and usually have either more than one runner or pacers/supporters running legs with the runner making the attempt. Other efforts tend to be self-supported. It is hard to imagine someone completing the whole thing unsupported


3. Other proposed guidelines

  1. No lifts. This seems obvious, but with the exception of moving between Patonga or Wondabyne and Brooklyn (where there is no track and one must cross the Hawkesbury River) if you are driven for any distance you haven’t completed the GNW. Likewise, no bikes at any time.
  2. It must start or finish at the Queens Wharf plaque in Newcastle. In Sydney it must start or end at least at Valencia St wharf in Woolwich. Most attempts include the obelisk in Macquarie Place at Circular Quay, but I don’t think this should be mandatory. Firstly, it adds a silly and pointless extra bit but no real walking distance. Secondly, there is no plaque or any kind of indication there that the walk does in fact start or finish there. The is a plaque at Valentia St wharf that matches the one in Newcastle.
  3. For self-supported attempts taking the train from Wondabyne station is acceptable, although this does cut 15km from the course. It is possible to leave a car and drive between Patonga and Brooklyn, but this is not very safe given that the runner or walker is likely to be very tired. Anyone claiming any kind of “fast” time should specify which variation of the route they took. Of course, for most people just doind it as a personal challenge or bushwalk, it makes no difference whatsoever.
  4. The walk/run can be done in either direction. Most people seem to do it North to South, and it is probably a bit easier in that direction. The roughest sections of track are near Sydney between about 6km south of Brooklyn and 4km south of Berowra Waters. Another long rough slow section is in the rainforest near Heaton Gap, and another short section near Wondabyne. Otherwise, apart from a few relatively short and isolated sections it is all relatively fast and easy track. It is, however, very hilly, with over 12,000 meters of ascent over the whole course. As it both ends are at sea level, the ascent will be the same in either direction.

These are just my thoughts, of course, but there does seem to have been a bit of confusion over what “solo” and “unsupported” mean. Usually these things don’t matter, but when people start claiming records, it becomes worth clarifying.

5 Responses to “Defining a “solo” attempt”

  1. Ray | October 6, 2015 at 12:45 pm #

    Great article Saul, I wish I had been made aware of it before I made my GNW attempts! If I may give some of my thoughts for all they are worth.

    I think there needs to be an additional distinction between Un-Supported and Self-Supported.
    Apart from arranging ride across Hawkesbury River, I considered my GNW attempt to be Un-Supported as I carried everything I required myself the whole way except for the food and water I was able to obtain from existing resources on the way.

    I did find the logistics of planning for this made for quite a challenge regarding just how much water and food I needed to carry between known supplies. The planning of rest breaks and hiking pace to ensure I arrived at these places during opening hours was also a constraint needing constant consideration.

    I don’t feel obtaining food from an existing resource along the trail is any less deserving than obtaining water from an existing tap or tank along the way.

    I also carried all my shelter, extra clothing for sleeping and weather variance, changes of socks, medical and emergency supplies, lights and spare batteries, phone and battery banks etc.
    Obviously all this gear and logistics takes its toll and adds considerable time to the overall trek.

    As you point out, most people take this on as a personal challenge, and I am one of those people. However, I would find it very disappointing if my GNW attempt is only considered Self-Supported and compared equally against someone who had carried virtually nothing, freely running or hiking between numerous drop boxes containing all the food, water, clothing, camping gear, batteries they needed.

    Crossing the Hawkesbury River I found a tough one. I was considering dropping my Kayak at Patonga so I could paddle the 7 or 8 km to Brooklyn whenever I arrived. Of course to do this alone and at night in a fatigued state would be irresponsible and it is classed open water at Patonga. So with no ferry operating anymore the only options I had were water taxi (expensive especially out of hrs), Uber taxi or private lift. Again, I feel taking one of these options shouldn’t immediately disqualify a participant into Supported category.

    As it turned out, I arrived at Patonga on a hot afternoon and the water was just perfect for a kayak!

    Totally agree about Woolwhich. As far as I’m concerned my GNW finished at the Warf. Going to the Macquarie Obelisk was a disappointment as there wasn’t even a GNW marker to take a photograph next to!

    Either way, I think my GNW attempt was neither fully UN-Supported nor Self-Supported, but somewhere between, and I feel great having done it!

    Thanks again for your Blog

  2. Bush Rat | October 8, 2015 at 7:11 pm #

    Interesting article, well written and articulated as was your prior write-up.

    And water from a creek or stream is no problem, but a pie and can of coke from a shop – well, Bear Gryll’s would have caught his dinner to ensure self-supported status!

    Either way, a great effort by all.

    • Ray | October 10, 2015 at 10:51 am #

      ..Yeah, then retire to his caravan with his camera crew for a real feed!

  3. Joe | October 13, 2015 at 2:07 pm #

    Peter Treseder is a fraudster. He did not run the GNW250 in 32 hours so please lets just get rid of any reference to him.

    Meredith and Jess are amazing athletes and I challenge anyone to get close to their time of 54:54.

    It took me three efforts over 3 years and extensive planning to get anyone near Meredith and Jess’ time. My record time was 3 years in the making and I was fortunate to have great weather and an even greater support crew to finish in 49 hours and 5 minutes.

    Please lets give credit to the real athletes and not denigrate their achievements by even mentioning these known fraudsters and charlatans.

    Kind regards,

    Joe Ward – GNW250 record holder and Owner/Head Coach of Manly Beach Running Club

    • Saul | October 13, 2015 at 11:00 pm #

      It is most unlikely that Treseder ran the GNW250 in the time he claims or anything like it, though I can’t prove that he didn’t ever run it in a good time. He seems to have legitimately done some impressive things in the company of others, but for whatever reason has fabricated lots of other claimed solo exploits. That has been shown conclusively elsewhere. Was he mad, or trying to be entertaining? Who knows. The GNW250? Agreed, he almost certainly didn’t do it as claimed and he’s mentioned for historical interest and context. He certainly can’t be credited with anything without evidence or witnesses, neither of which have ever been produced and his claim isn’t taken seriously. Joe, I like everyone else both acknowledge your record and salute your amazing achievement!