Running with Kokoda spirit

TrailRunMag 01.07.2013

On 13th July, a gathering of determined ultra runners will congregate for the 2013- Gold Coast Kokoda Challenge  (, a 96km team run challenge now in its 9th year.

Regular Trail Run Mag review contributor, Caine Warburton, will be a part of the Kokoda Spirit Racing (KSR) team out to put their name on the leaderboard while also raising funds for the Kokoda Youth Program. With three weeks to go before the event, we dropped Caine a line to see how the team was tracking..

Caine, firstly, why this particular race over others on the calendar?

A combination of things: a gruelling course, the celebration and remembrance for those who fought on the Kokoda track in WW2 and the fact that a bunch of NSW runners (stinking blues) had taken the title in the previous two years and we just couldn’t let that happen again! [Ed note: Kokoda Spirit is an all-Queensland team, but we won’t hold it against them]

Talk me through your team – how did it come about, who are the members and what are their backgrounds?

The Kokoda Spirit racing team from left; Dan Nunan, Dave Coombs, Caine Warburton and Ben Duffus

The Kokoda Spirit racing team from left; Dan Nunan, Dave Coombs, Caine Warburton and Ben Duffus

Basically after watching [trail running team] No Roads win again in 2012 I thought to myself that we (QLD) had to do something about this; they can’t have the Origin and they can’t have the crown to our race! Just some light hearted state rivalry, of course.

So my plan was to assemble the best trail/ultra runners that Queensland  had to offer and contest the 2013 race and hopefully either win and bring the title home or at least put the wind up the No Roads team!

The team consists of myself and:

Dave Coombs: known as the “Old  Man” of the team he has more experience in ultra’s (and beard grooming) than you can poke a stick at. With over 19 podium finishes including a 1st place at Glasshouse 100mile and a 3rd at the GNW 100k (not to mention kicking my ass a few times) Dave was the first name on the list. Dave will also be serving as out Pace Master during the event ensuring we don’t go out to hard!

Ben Duffus: At the time I approached Ben in 2012 I already knew he was an Ultra star in the making, I had seen Ben preform a triple accent of Mt Warning (42km/3600m vert)  with ease and knew he would be an asset to the team. Ben lacked official results at the time and having just DNF’d at TNF100k 2012 others in the scene doubted his ability, but not us and as it turns out Ben proved his calibre this year coming 7th at TNF 100k in 10:18, not to mention shattering my course record at the Nerang State Forest 50km in the lead up!

Dan Nunan: Dan has always been a regular in our training circles and with a 5k PB of 15:19 he regularly puts the torch to our flatter runs. Dan became a definite on the team after a stellar run at the Glass House 100k in 2012 where he ran a 9:28 for 2nd. Dan doesn’t have the background in the mountains the rest of us do but being an ex-track and XC runner he knows how to train his BUTT off!

[Ed’s note: and of course Caine Warburton is no slouch himself, selected results during the past 24 months including 7th TNF50, 1st Up The Buff 25km, 1st Nerang State Forest 50km, 3rd Glasshouse to Flinders Tour].

So a fairly competitive mob then… who will be the one champing at the bit and who will be the one dragging the chain?


Caine in action

I think it is safe to say that Ben and Myself are the most competitive and have already managed to blow each other up on team training runs. Knowing this is a potential risk we decided it was best if the pacing duties be handed over to Dave who will use his experience  (and length of his beard) to ensure we don’t go too hard to soon.  I think all of us will have our fair share of chain dragging during an event this hard but our plan is to start and finish with 4 (barring injury) so no one will be left behind!

No Roads Expeditions’ team cracked a 10 hours 17min two years ago – breaking that will be a big ask – chances of coming close this year?

The course has changed from 2011 with the addition of a few massive, slippery and treacherous climbs in the second half.  After speaking to Brendan Davies (No Roads) about their 11:43 last year he explained that record of sub 10:30 would be almost out of reach with the current course changes. Keeping that in mind I doubt we will be running sub 11hrs this year without a miracle. Our goals will be A: to finish as a team of 4, B: Win the race, C: Come close to No Roads 11:43 set on the current course.

Most runs are raced solo, where all you have to rely on (or let down) is yourself. How does racing as a team of four individuals, each having different strengths and weaknesses at different times, change the way you approach a race?

Well I believe it makes the race much more dynamic. You can almost guarantee that at any one time someone will be struggling and someone will be charging, so effective teamwork is going to be the key to success.  In approaching the race we have each been very realistic of our own abilities and each know the other’s strengths and weaknesses. It would be easy to push yourself to hard trying to keep up, we recognise this so having effective communication within the team is something we have been working on.

What’s the biggest positive about racing as a team?

It has to be the mateship, we are all great friends and racing in a team turns a hard race into just another fun day out with mates. We tend to laugh more than we run!

Negative? There is 4x the amount of things that can go wrong and as we noticed on our last long run there is 4x the amount of time wasting we do, namely toilet stops!

What difference does it make knowing there’s some kind of altruistic factor behind the event?

Charity based events are always great to compete in. They tend to take a bit of the pressure of the result and help you dig deep when you’re suffering knowing you are out there doing it for someone or something else.

How have you found fundraising – is running a good vehicle to squeeze a do-good dollar from your mates?

Usually it is but luckily our friends have been spared the bombardment of fundraising requests this time, our sponsors Kokoda Spirit where kind enough to cover our entire entry and fundraising commitments and allow us to just focus on training and the event itself.

On your blog you note a shared value system with the Diggers who fought in PNG on Kokoda in ’42, that of Mateship, Endurance, Courage and Sacrifice. Talk to me about how and when those elements come into play in a team ultra?

Ben in action

Ben in action

Being in the Defence Force I have always stood by these values and it was more a coincidence than design that all the boys in the team feel the same way. I believe the values come into play from the first step in the race, we have vowed that we will not leave anyone behind in order to finish faster or win. It’s important that we set this example to others especially in the context of the Kokoda Challenge and its legacy.  By showing Sacrifice for each other and the team we will in turn will produce Courage by pushing through the tough times to finish. Mateship and Endurance are our bread and butter as ultra runners but they will be something every team out there will need to possess in order to finish.

What are your broader plans for the Kokoda Spirit Racing – is it just about these style races or will you take the team in different directions?

It has always been my intention to construct this competitive trail team with a future beyond the Kokoda Challenge, and our future is looking bright. We have recently been in discussion with our sponsor’s Kokoda Spirit about the possibility of making an attempt on the actual Kokoda Track in PNG for the record, which is looking promising. We also hope to continue running under the banner of KSR and with the right sponsor support taking the KSR banner into individual events as well as the team based ones.

Well, good luck Caine and the Kokoda Spirit team, Trail Run Mag will keep an eye on the journey. In the meantime, how can people track team news?

People can follow our progress via our website where we post training reports, race reports and regular photos/videos or they can find us on Facebook – Kokoda Spirit Racing.