Jordan the Runner | 200km Tumut to Thredbo Trail Run | Kosciuszko Ultra Trail Running Documentary
Tom's Outdoors presents; 'Jordan the Runner'. A short film about a local mother, wife, volunteer, school teacher, student and runner, Jordan, who ran 200km from Tumut to Thredbo. Furthermore, it's a feel-good story of a community coming together to support someone doing something they enjoy. Everybody should have something they love that challenges them, is outside and makes them the best version of themselves. For Jordan, that thing is running.Filmed and edited by Dean Johnson, additional filming by Pat Ryan. Production - Chloe Symons, Chris Russell Gemma Russell
Tumut to Thredbo - Written by Jordan Maki-Richards
To start with, a massive thank you to Justin, Elouise, Mark, Lyndal, Chris, Nathan, Dean & Pat for your crewing and pacing on this adventure. You guys kept me motivated, safe, and moving forward, even when I didn’t feel much like moving at all. Thank you for sacrficing your weekend and sleep to be a part of this adventure.
Also, if you don’t like reading, probably just skip to paragraph 6 or so. At some point, Tom’s Outdoors will release a short film about this adventure, which will probably be fun to watch since they are professionals at making films about people doing things outside and all around great humans. Thanks for believing in me, guys, and for pushing me out of my comfort zone by getting me to agree to document this journey.
It started, like many questionable ideas, with something much more reasonable. I was looking at a map, thinking about a training run. The map hung on the wall of our shed, which we converted into an exercise room/play space for the kids. I used the map to plan training runs, looking for the smaller laps in the giant maze of fire roads, single tracks and roads that crisscross the Snowy Mountains. Originally, I was thinking about Kiandra to Kosciusko, an established 125-km route that’s scenic and high- but also relied on a trail I wasn’t too keen to do after a pretty unpleasant experience with brumby damage on it last year. I kept looking and noticed that once I hit the Wereboldera Conservation Area 2km from our backdoor, I could pretty much stay off roads and work my way up from the foothills of the Snowy Valleys to the peak of Australia at Mt. Kosciusko.
The route would leave our house in Tumut, get onto dirt as soon as possible, and head generally south, ascending above Blowering Dam to skirt the burnt pines along Snubba Rd and then dropping down again before climbing up above Talbingo Dam, then tracing along the park boundary to the Tooma Rd, where the true alpine experience begins. 40km across the high plains of the Jagungal Wilderness before a traverse of the Main Range and a finish in Thredbo. It was roughly 200km with about 6000m of climbing. This ended up generally being the route, with a few detours.
View the route in detail here.
Originally, I’d planned to run in January or February, but scouting missions in late spring were hot and exposed, with very few water sources in the first 100 km, so I knew an autumn attempt would be easier & safer. But with a 100km race already planned for the start of April and a festival to organise at the end of April, only May was left for potential dates, and it’s very much the shoulder season. We were all carefully watching the weather, particularly when the first big winter storm came through 5 days before the planned date, covering the entire second 100km of the run in snow. Luckily, a stretch of sunny, warmer days followed and by our last planning meeting on Wednesday night, the forecast for Friday looked close to perfect – sunny, highs about 19C, overnight lows -4C, and light winds. I’m not actually sure if I would have finished had the weather had been much wetter or windier. It was a challenge to stay warm overnight as it was.
As soon as I mentioned the idea around the table after a Sunday morning run, everyone began offering their help. Mark, Lyndal and Elouise were both keen to pace, and Chris, while initially only offering logistical and some gear support, ended up volunteering to pace on MTB with very little convincing. As a point-to-point route, with some inconvenient road closures, it was nearly impossible for anyone to crew at more than one point, with the exception of the early kms, which Dean & Pat, the videographers from Tom’s Outdoors, were able to do by driving along Snubba Rd.
The original plan was:
15- 50km – with Lyndal on bike
80-115km – with Mark
115km-160km – with Chris & Nathan on bikes through Jagungal
160 – 200km- with Elouise over Main Range
I’d have crew access at the change over points – 50km, 80km (along Elliot Way), 115km (Round Mt. carpark) & 160km (@ Whites River Hut), which was critical as some of the stretches in between amounted to 6+ hrs without resupply. I was adamant in carrying my own food, water and gear, only asking Chris & Nathan to have a bit more serious shelter gear on their bikes for the Jagungal section due to the combination of river crossings and sub-zero temps. Thank goodness we didn’t need it, but I was so glad to know it was there.
This mostly went incredibly smoothly, thanks to excellent planning brains of everyone involved. The only hiccup was Lyndal not being able to catch me after climbing Black Range. We underestimated how much of a gap I’d make while she hiked her bike up the insane inclines, and she ended up chasing me the entire way. Luckily I had Dean & Pat intersecting me along Snubba Rd quite frequently and could drop a jacket and pick up some food from them.
The Lead Up
April was big blur of recovering from Buffalo Stampede, having family in town and organising Falling Leaf Festival. Then it was all of a sudden back to school, uni assignments and then it was a week to go, and all eyes were on the weather. Sunday and Monday it poured in town and dumped snow up top. We watched the weather cams nervously and tried not to think about just how much snow was piling up, while Thredbo gloated about the blizzard. By Tuesday it had changed to sunshine and my mood started to lift, but there was still a forecast for high winds on the planned run date, so it wasn’t pure relief. By Wednesday the forecast was milder and sunshine was pretty well guaranteed. We knew the snow would melt lower down and remain up high, but we didn’t fully anticipate the difference between what the cams looked like and what the snow actually felt like underfoot. The kids were a bit sick but I tried not to think about that either. Thursday I went to work as people constantly reminded me what was ahead by wishing me good luck. Maddie got sent home from school with a cold, and Rem was not much better. The sniffles were kicking in for me, but I knew I could run with mild symptoms, so I figured I’d listen to my body and see what unfolded on Friday.
I slept surprisingly well the night before, significantly better than the night before Falling Leaf Festival. I think a combination of distraction and exhaustion meant I hadn’t fully realised what I was about to attempt, so therefore I didn’t have much to worry about. I was up at 4:20, with a coffee and a bowl of porridge underway when the camera boys arrived at 4:35 or so. We chatted for a few minutes and then I did the final prep. Adapting is my strength in these efforts and it began immediately when my reflective wind jacket that I’d hoped to wear for warmth and to warn off any hunters was soaked from a water bottle leak. I put on my rain shell instead, and stuffed the other in the outside of my pack to dry and offer some reflection.
I was out the back door right on schedule at 5 am, and headed through town, up past the lookout and to the MTB trails in the cool black morning, before climbing up the ridge towards the trig station. This route was so familiar and peaceful, but a few random gunshots rung out (rare to hear in these parts) so I sang loudly and shouted ‘I’m not a deer!” for 15 minutes or so. Obviously, I didn’t get shot. The sky glowed red as I crested the top of Wereboldera; I always love seeing the town cloaked in mist and early morning light. I was down the steep descent towards the dam in no time, past the blackberries and caught up with Lyndal 10 minutes ahead of pace. We chatted on the short road climb up to the Black Ridge trail, with promises to chat again when she caught me. Climbing up the ridge was fine, gorgeous views, familiar trail and fresh legs. Once I hit Snubba Rd, I knew the boys would be ahead shortly with some cheese rolls from the bakery. This was the happiest section of the run- easy dirt road, big views, and sunshine.
I dropped down Yellowin Rd, listening to black cockatoos in the canopy above. This was a nice section of forest and a part I was looking forward to. The climb that followed, up Sandy Creek and then on to Buddong Falls was much less enjoyable – I’d forgotten about a decent section and my energy was beginning to flag at that point. Some niggles were beginning to creep in, too, but my mood was good, I had most of the worst climbs behind me, and I was fueling and hydrating well.
I picked up some food and refilled water from the truck at Buddong Falls, and set off towards Elliot Way. This was a roughly 25km leg along an infrequently trafficked fire road. It was totally passable, but full of stick and bark debris and piles of brumby poo, without many views. But it was the better alternative to the Powerline Rd, so I tucked in and tried to get through it. Kids were at the other end! It got monotonous after an hour or so, as it was an endless series of rolling climbs that I knew would net me very little overall gain.
I pulled up to Elliot Way and saw the family + Mark + boys! It’s always a boost to see your loved ones, but it was also a disorienting shift after so many hours alone. I was immediately back into mom mode, trying to manage cuddles while also communicating with everyone what I needed. I managed a pretty quick stop, maybe 7 or 8 minutes, before taking off with Mark, the best egg and cheese burrito i’ve ever tasted, and stiffening legs.
After dropping what felt like 1000m, we began to climb up towards the plateau of the high plains. Mark and I chatted along, as you do with your running friends, and soon darkness fell. I was beginning to get nauseous but I wasn’t too concerned, I tried to drink some sips of water and eat smaller bits. We passed the 100k mark, and I celebrated by watching a video my friend Sophie had made of our kids & coworkers cheering me on. The kms started to slow down. Every time I asked Mark how far we had left to go, whatever he told me sounded like 20% too much. He was good company, keeping me positive and moving. The temp stayed comfortable for a few hours after dark and it wasn’t until we were at the road that I finally put on long sleeves.
We pulled into Round Mountain in good spirits, with the bonus company of two fly fisherman who’d camped at the carpark before heading out in the morning. They were very interested in the trip and chatted with us while we transitioned to the bike paced Jagungal leg. This was a bit more of a logistical juggle – the bikes needed to get far enough ahead to be in place for each river crossing, but with some crossings close together with big climbs in between, they were a bit nervous. Chris and Nathan probably had the most absurd leg- mountain biking overnight, but they had volunteered, unsolicited and were keen. Having them join was critical from a safety perspective – there were two river crossings that could have been dangerous solo, each 20km from the nearest road. While there were 3 huts along the way, the boys also carried a sturdier emergency shelter and a sleeping bag in case of an emergency, in addition to my emergency bivy. I didn’t fully appreciate this decision until we began to cross the rivers and my shoelaces froze – one slip into the creek would have been disastrous.
This leg was great to start with – my spirits were high, I’d eaten another burrito over the first few km which went down incredibly well. Sweets were not working at all, but I tried a gel to get some caffeine and soon regretted it. I was on my own with the bikes off in the distance, enjoying some music and the moon rise. After 20km or so of rolling climbs and descents, we began the creek crossings. People have asked where my worst was- this was it. It was 1 am, I was tired, and my feet had never been so cold. Each crossing was knee deep and so intensely cold, and then the wet feet in the freezing air were brutal. Nathan and Chris were wearing waders and dry suit, respectively, so they were cold but not wet. The temps were well below 0, and I knew I needed to do something to keep my toes warm. Changing socks would have worked but there were still several creeks ahead.
I remembered I had handwarmers in my first aid kit and figured I’d try to tuck them on top of my socks. I was thrilled to see they were actually toe warmers and stuck down to the sole of the shoe below my toes. My toes were still wet, but the effect of the warmers was immediate- I think frostbite could have been a serious concern without them. Amazingly, they were thin enough to not cause any blister issues either. A big plus for Altras – plenty of toe room. By the time we got to the bigger river crossings at Geehi and Valentines, I was in a trance. The boys would ask how I was doing and I said fine, or yeah, great! But I was exhausted, and definitely underfueling. I slowed down more, particularly as we began to hit icy patches of snow and further unexpected undulating climbs. After 23ish hours and 160km in, I finally saw the bike lights stationary at Whites River Hut. Coming across the bridge and smelling a fire might have been the highlight of the trip for me. I opened the hut door to find El and Chris and Nathan in a hive of activity, making coffee and hot chocolate and sorting out gear.
Having El along for the final leg of the journey was always in the plan. We’d done the Main Range traverse together before and she’s a solid, experienced outdoorswoman, who I knew I could trust to make decisions when I was too sleep deprived and cold to make them for myself. Which is how we decided to abandon the traverse along Rolling Ground to Anton & the Main Range, the most inspiring, beautiful part of the route, and take the low route via Charlottes Pass. She’d hiked into Whites River on Friday morning to set up camp, and hiked up the ridge afterwards to scout the snow. It was deeper than we’d expected, and very soft in the afternoon. She made 3km in an hour with fresh legs, in daylight. We knew the cold would help us stay on top of the snow for a few hours, but we’d still have 20km more of deep, untracked snow ahead of us in the warm sun, and soaking wet feet from all of the hanging swamps along the top. I was a bit heartbroken, but I knew it was the right call. We set off towards the Guthega Power Station feeling good – happy to be running together, happy to be running rather than trudging through snow.
The remaining 40km or so are a bit blurry. We moved forward and chatted the whole way and I would have said I felt good, but I was taking in so little food that my pace dropped to essentially a walk. Elouise was a legend at encouraging me to eat, taking my poles so I could nibble on the pizza roll she’d brought me. She also gave me a couple of Revvies to try and perk me up, but I was trudging. It didn’t help that it was a mostly uphill slog to Charlotte’s pass, and that my right ankle was tender and sore. I knew it was nothing permanent, but it was enough of an annoyance that I would only run a short bit before stopping to walk again. It wasn’t all miserable – the sun was beautiful, the snow covered Main Range was constantly there, reminding us that we could have been knee deep in snow. The Illawong walk is generally excellent, even if it does have an obnoxious amount of metal grating.
When we finally reached Charlotte’s Pass, we saw Dean, who sent us off with wishes for a good last 15km or so to Thredbo. We took a quick second to check the map at the parking lot and decided to take Merritts track down into Thredbo, instead of the descent we’d originally planned down Dead Horse Gap; it saved us 4 km and a very snowy descent, with the trade off of approximately 500 absolutely awful stairs. We also decided to skip the 2.5km detour to the summit of Kosciusko. We’ve both been there many times before, and with the deep snow and track under construction, it just didn’t seem to add any extra value to the trip. We set off up the road, passing a few groups of day hikers along the way. When we reached snow line a few km before Rawsons Pass, we felt even more confident in our detour- it was already soft and dangerous at 10 am. We carefully made our way across a steep slope before the toilets, and then down the metal Summit walk, which was mostly covered in snow and nearly empty. It’s almost always a zoo up there, and it felt like a blessing to have it on a sunny morning all to ourselves.
I was counting steps at this point, literally counting to 100 steps running and then switching to walking for 20, repeat. 100, 20, 100, 20. Poor Elouise, I made her count with me. We hit the chairlift, which I 100% would have taken had it been operating. The stairs made me want to cry. I did them in January and swore I’d never finish my run down them. I hate them on fresh legs. The 4km descent down Merrits was easily the slowest pace of the day- tired legs and the steep, washed out risers felt like an catastrophe waiting to happen. We could see the village, but it never seemed to get closer. The only time I nearly cried in the whole run was when we had to head left, away from the village, for about 20 metres. It felt like torture. But, as always happens (and that’s the best part of this whole thing) : the torture ended. Eventually we hit the village trail, and came around the corner to see the whole gang waiting for us. I had a big cuddle from Maddie, who immediately began demanding to breastfeed. It was about 20 seconds between finish and being straight back into mom duties.
I’ve been focused on eating enough and trying to catch up on sleep. On Saturday, I had a burger, fries, a pizza, and approximately 2kg of Mexican food. Similar for Sunday- just a lot of food. I was pretty tired and sore on Sunday, especially stairs, but walking around was helpful in getting the worst of the DOMS worked out. I went back to work on Monday, which was probably wasn’t the greatest idea, but with constant kid sickness, I’m not flush with sick leave. I just tried to take it easy and wear comfortable shoes. It’s been helpful to use HRV as a measure of stress, and I basically didn’t run until 8 days afterwards, just an easy 8km at running club. All of my metrics (sleep, RHR, HRV) were pretty poor until Monday/Tuesday (9-10 days post run), when an unplanned 11 hr sleep put me back to almost normal. I mostly feel okay in the legs, minus the tendons in my right ankle, which seem to be particularly grumpy about uneven surfaces but fine when it’s flat and steady.
Who knows? I’ve got no big plans for anything in the near future, and even the next 6 months are pretty uncertain. I’d like to focus on speed for a while, and enjoy having a bit more time on the weekends for skiing and school and gardening and other projects. I think an important part of longevity in ultra-running is having big breaks from long efforts, especially for avoiding injury and burnout.
I was grateful to have some support from Icebreaker for clothing for the run. When the offer came up, I jumped as I’m an advocate of wool for outdoor pursuits and I already run in their tshirts 80% of the time. I’ve also got a 260 weight longsleeve top which I wear at least 50% of the days in the winter for every purpose. I also tried their Fastray high waisted leggings and shorts, which held up remarkably well. I only planned to use them in the colder bits, but ended up in the shorts for 115km and the leggings for 85km with no complaints.
- Icebreaker Women's 200 Oasis Long Sleeve Crewe, Women's Sphere II Short Sleeved Tee, Fastray shorts & tights
- Ultimate Direction AdventureVesta – this thing is like 7 years old and still kicking. Works excellent, although an extra bit of space would have been helpful overnight - it was packed to the max.
- Leki Ultratrail FX.One SL Trekking Poles – Love them! So light, easy to stash.
- Petzl Tikka Core 450 lumen Headlamp & Ledlenser headlamp
- Altra Timp 4 Shoes
- Patagonia hooded fleece – thrifted, easily 15 years old. A workhorse in my camping/adventure wardrobe
- Patagonia Triolet Hardshell – also thrifted, from the REI Gear Garage (RIP), definitely seen some better days. But it functioned remarkably well for the colder, windier overnight Jagungal section.
Frequently Asked Questions
Did you sleep?
Nope, not until Saturday afternoon
What about the toilet thing?
I did plenty of bush wees off the trail, but didn’t need to poo. that’s pretty much been my experience in every long effort, though, so very typical.
What did you eat?
At first, a lot of Sour Patch Kids and gummy Snakes, and a handful of gels. A cookie and some date/almond balls went down okay, but cheese buns from the bakery tasted best. Then I pretty much only liked burritos and chips, which were too fiddly with mittens to bother with. I knew I’d want some savoury options, but I didn’t anticipate that it would ALL I’d be able to eat. Also screwed me with caffeine, as all my caffeine options (except for at the hut) were sugary gels.
Did you see any wildlife?
A lot of wallabies in Wereboldera, brumbies (feral horses) in the state forest, plenty of roos down low, and a cute little native rat. And black cockatoos – my fave.