Hounslow Classic

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After a couple of months of cycling/yoga to recover from the Euro mountains, I was stoked to hit up another Aus/NZ skyrunning race with Mountain Sports, exploring the cliffs of the Grose Valley in the Blue Mountains. I felt mentally rested and ready to test my body some more. I figured the ultra course should suit me as there is a lot of technical downhill, and all the climbs are definitely hiking territory (none of this douche grade uphill running BS!). I debuted my La Sportiva Mutants as they seem like a good all rounder for longer races – big lugs for mud, sticky rubber for wet rock, plus a bit of a rock plate and heel cushioning to make life easier for tender achilles tendons later in the race!

Briefing my awesome crew (Mum+Georgie) for some speedy transitions. Picked up a few mins with efficient handovers.

Briefing my awesome crew (Mum+Georgie) for some speedy transitions. Picked up a few mins with efficient handovers.

Lately I’ve been trying to break my races in quarters to assist my own mental state (maybe because I grew up in AFL territory on the border of Victoria) so let’s go with that for the race recap. Conveniently, the Hounslow course has 4 major pairs of descents and climbs. You start at the top of the cliffs in Blackheath then dip in and out of the Grose Valley 4 times! The course also kinda looks like a lollipop – the first quarter circles the lolly bit, the second quarter runs down the stick, third quarter back up the stick, then final quarter does the lolly loop backwards! It sounds like so much fun when you talk about lollies instead of hiking up and down cliffs!

Q1 – trying to reign in the excitement

It’s always tempting to flog it at the start – you feel great and there are lots of fast people around to chase/chat with. People try to take advantage of the easy running without pushing too hard – which can be a difficult threshold to pick! I figure if you can chat and laugh with your fellow runners about their latest adventures then that’s a solid indicator of excellent pacing.

Sitting on the Ewan Horsburgh train for the first quarter descent into grand canyon

Sitting on the Ewan Horsburgh train for the first quarter descent into grand canyon

I sat in a pack of about 6 guys and we all let Ewan find the track markers (thanks mate!) down to Junction Rock at the bottom of the Grose Valley. On the climb people started to spread out and switch it up a bit. Ben Duffus, Eric Holt and Ian Gallagher were way off the front already. In my little pack, Andy Lee shot off ahead and I climbed up with Marty Lukes as we reminisced about how he crushed the final 20km at Buffalo Stampede earlier this year!

Q2 – find the flow, just keep swimming

Just trying to find a cruisy pace, which is easy to do when the course is all flowy single track around the top of the cliffs. I got a bit too flow-ey and missed one of the turnoffs! I ran backwards to correct my mistake, then bumped into Marty Lukes, so we figured we must be on the right course. After a few km we popped out on to a road with no markers, which was a bit concerning. At this point we just headed towards the next point where we could meet up with the actual course and bumped into Ian Gallagher. He had previously been ahead of us, so we raced backwards (at race pace!) along the course until we hit Andy Lee, who had been just behind us at the last checkpoint. It made sense at the time and hopefully this evened out the alternate route that we took!

4th-6th with Andy Lee and Marty Lukes heading into Perry's at quarter time!

4th-6th with Andy Lee and Marty Lukes heading into Perry’s at the start of the 2nd quarter!

The biggest descent of the day was down from Perry’s in to the valley again. I made a small gap away from Andy and Marty, then began to faulter in the heat on the climb out the other side to Lockley’s Pylon. Andy caught me just as we started to hear some doof doof music, which seemed strange! A few more switchbacks and the source was revealed as Clarke McClymont, darting around the course with speakers in tow blaring ACDC! After this boost, I jumped on the Andy train and we got to work mowing down Ian Gallagher just as we crested Lockley’s. Not long after this we saw Ben Duffus motoring back the other way, having already hit the turnaround point and continuing to tear it up. Eric Holt was sort of halfway between us and Ben – far enough ahead not to worry about him for the time being, and a bit of a reality check for the rest of us as he was racing his first ultramarathon!

Climbing up to Lockley's Pylon w/Andy Lee towards the end of the 2nd quarter. Clarke provided the booming ACDC beats.

Climbing up to Lockley’s Pylon w/Andy Lee towards the end of the 2nd quarter. Clarke provided the booming ACDC beats.

Q3 – premiership quarter (time to crush, or be crushed)

Ian, Andy and I all hit the Pinnacles carpark (halfway turnaround) pretty much together. We all softened and stopped to pour some water over our heads and smash some ice cold ginger beer/coke/powerade (thanks Scott Hawker and other aid station volunteers!). As we headed back out, it was really fun (and strategically interesting) to see how far back the chasers were and what condition they were in. Beth Cardelli was smashing the girls’ race but it looked like a tight battle for 2nd between Maggie Jones and Lucy Bartholomew.

The heat and humidity was really starting to take its toll as we dropped back into the valley for the 3rd time. The other racers were all super friendly and cheered us on while stepping off to let us pass on the narrow track with two way traffic, even providing estimated splits ahead to Eric and Ben. Suddenly a big group of runners appeared in the middle of the track, and it became apparent that one of them had been knocked down with heat stroke! I couldn’t actually see the person, but they had 4 people around them so Ian and I promised to give the next radio checkpoint a heads up, and continued on our way.

At the bottom I allowed myself 10 seconds of bowing down face first into the river to help cool down (just like heart melting pose from yoga!). It was really tempting to stay longer, and I’m pretty sure Ian went for a full dip while I got a head start on the 3rd climb, back up to Perry’s. The heat was pretty brutal and I was struggling, stopping to sit down, lower my heart rate, and rub my red face on some cold wet rocks. Ian blew past me, then Andy reappeared and we climbed together again. Deja vu, again we hit the ACDC beats and Clarkey with his camera out!

 

That view made all the stairs worthwhile!

That view made all the stairs worthwhile!

Q4 – race starts now!

I climbed back into Perry’s together with Andy Lee, and we could see Ian setting off as we arrived… game on! At this point it started to rain, which seemed to wash any cramping and overheating problems away. I actually felt pretty great at this point, and talked some smack with Matt Adams as he cruised along the fire trail beside me on his cyclocross beast.

I pulled away from Andy on the single track around the clifftops, caught Ian before the final checkpoint and managed to sneak out of the checkpoint before he got in, which I figured would be a mental blow if he was considering chasing. From this point I didn’t look back – felt strong and maintained a solid pace down to the river then hiking up the grand canyon without any incidents. The final few km seemed a lot hillier than it did at the start of the race, and I recruited a few trail kids to yell really loudly if a runner came up behind me, as I had no idea where Ian was.

Eventually I hit the line in a tad over 9hrs. Which is about 2 mins faster than my time at the Buffalo 75km earlier this year. Would be interested to hear how your times compared if you did both these races! 🙂

Aftermath(ematics)

I took the splits from the top 10 ultra placings and checked out the average pace on each leg. Obviously some legs were a lot slower than others, so I set my own pace as a baseline and looked at how much faster (positive) or slower the other runners were (min/km). Some key points:

  • everyone is pretty tight for the first 2 legs
  • Ben really slayed us all on the middle 2 climbs
  • carnage with massive spreads in the back half as everyone starts to suffer
  • Eric, Ian, Edwin, Loughlin, Beth all have pretty similar profiles, indicating their relative pacing between each of their own legs was similar. Their spike at Perry’s 2 and dip at Govett’s 2 relative to me tells me that I sucked on the 3rd climb but did pretty well around Pulpit Rock on the way home.

relative pace graph

 

Massive congrats to Ben, Eric, Beth, Lucy, Maggie and all the runners out there who gave this monster course a crack! We all seemed to be walking and talking reasonably well at the finish, presumably thanks to the technical nature of the course – forcing us to control the pace and spare our bodies from redlining the entire way.

On Sunday it was exciting to see the cracking pace of the 23km. I’m sure the descents were much sketchier at 23km race pace than in ultra mode. Massive props to La Sportiva teammate Aaron Knight for coming out on top after playing it cool on the descent, watching his foes launch off into the distance, then backing himself and climbing to victory on the way out. Can’t wait to see this guy in action at Bright 4 Peaks in a few weeks time!

Podiums for the 23km and 68km - Knighty reckons we need to learn some podium etiquette from cycling and put the winners in the middle!

Podiums for the 23km and 68km – Knighty reckons we need to learn some podium etiquette from cycling and put the winners in the middle!

 

Here’s a little video from the finish courtesy of Sean’s team. I think we were all a bit mentally shagged by this point!

Popping my euro cherry in 2015

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It’s taken a while to catch up but here are a few pics to form a timeline of my favourite memories from May/June. I headed over to France at the end of May where the IAU world trail champs were hosted by Maxi Race in Annecy – 85km/5500m/73rd/10h43m. Despite a perfect buildup, not everything went to plan, but I learned a lot and met plenty of heroes. “Recovery” consisted of 4 weeks exploring all the little villages between the French Alps and the Italian Dolomites, scoping out their trails/lakes/mountains. Not the standard tourist fare but I loved it. Then 120km/6000m/21st/14h59m in Cortina for Lavaredo Ultra Trail at the end of June. Since I got back it’s been the season for rogaining/hiking/biking/xc skiing, and building up to the steep climbs of Hounslow 75km in October!

Annecy recce from Mt Baron

Annecy recce from Mt Baron. During this week leading up to World Champs, we stayed at the same hotel as the reps from the other countries – sharing meals and scoping out our favourite athletes in the hallway!

Sound of music at Semnoz summit (Mt Blanc massif in the background). The little ridge in the close background was the 2nd climb during world champs, and there was a section that was so steep+muddy that we had to climb up through the bushes beside the track because people were sliding backwards.

Sound of music at Semnoz summit (Mt Blanc massif in the background). The little ridge in the close background was the 2nd climb during world champs, and there was a section that was so steep+muddy that we had to climb up through the bushes beside the track because people were sliding backwards.

Selfies for the fans

Selfies for the fans. Halfway up the 3rd climb of the MaxiRace course, near the lauchpad for paragliders.

Opening ceremony with Team Aus

Opening ceremony with Team Aus. The primary school girls were our flag bearers and kindly taught us a bit of french so that we could figure out how to order hot quiches at le boulangerie

on the road to Galibier

on the road to Galibier

Climbing to Col du Galibier

Climbing to Col du Galibier. The tour de France was scheduled to come through here in 2015 (during the Alp d’Huez stage) but was detoured due to a landslide near the pass! Thankfully it was solid while we drove through there a month earlier…

Briancon old town

Briancon old town. We stayed with some awesome ski instructors who showed us the local trails (hey James and Eva!)

Our home in Cavalese next to the slanting wooden shack

Our home in Cavalese next to the slanting wooden shack

Mt Cornon from Cavalese

Mt Cornon from Cavalese. Matt showed Gill and I the ropes in the La Sportiva valley.

God's invitation to Summer (Jack Muirhead eat your heart out)

God’s invitation to Summer (Jack Muirhead eat your heart out)

#chasingvert

#chasingvert Feels like I’ve been on drugs (the good kind) since I got back. Even though my legs were sore, my heart/lungs seemed to benefit from the altitude and daily mountain running.

Mt Cornon in the Sportiva motherland

Mt Cornon in the Sportiva motherland

Scoping out the stava course, only took us 3hrs for 15km

Scoping out the Stava mountain race course, only took us 3hrs for 15km

Looking up to Piz Boe

Looking up to Piz Boe. This is where the Dolomites skyrace comes up from Canazei. 1500m to 3300m in about 10km then straight back down again!

Menacing Dolomites

Menacing Dolomites – this was from the cable car heading towards Piz Boe. I thought I was car sick but apparently it was altitude sickness from ascending too fast then aggressive hiking as soon as we got out.

Piz Boe #mountaineering #nosebleed

Piz Boe #mountaineering #nosebleed

La Sportiva models #soeuro

La Sportiva models #soeuro We got a tour of the factory in Ziano de Fiemme where they hand make their climbing/mountineering boots. Had a family BBQ with Matheo from R+D to learn about new shoe designs as well as family life in the valley!

Scott demo bikes #noshortcuts - the German lady at this cafe was surprised when we told her we where Aussie... "oh Australie, but you're so white!?!?"

Scott dura ace demo bikes #noshortcuts – the German lady at this cafe was surprised when we told her we where Aussie… “oh Australie, but you’re so white!?!?”

Bolzano valley

Bolzano valley

Obligatory col pic

Obligatory col pic. We’re in Italy but everyone speaks German because this region used to be part of Austria (pre-war).

Dolomites

Dolomites near Canazei

Dolomites

Dolomites near Canazei

Survived our first via ferrata

Survived our first via ferrata. This one was pretty sketchy. Cables pulled taught so that if you fell, your carabiner would smash its spine on a metal bracket. Later we did one back in France that felt much safer.

Standing in Italy, looking into Swizterland (near Lugano)

It was time for Matt to head home after a crazy week. Gill and I headed back to France, with a quick adventure stopover. Standing in Italy, looking into Swizterland (near Lugano)

Froomey takes penultimate stage of Criterium du Dauphine at Le Bettex (St Gervais)

Froomey takes penultimate stage of Criterium du Dauphine at Le Bettex (St Gervais)

OGE boys ft. Gerrans at the start of the final stage of Criterium du Dauphine

OGE boys ft. Gerrans at the start of the final stage of Criterium du Dauphine

Mt Blanc peaking out from Mt Joly

Mt Blanc peaking out from Mt Joly. It doesn’t even look that big and menacing… just soft fluffy white snow!

View from our mountain home at Refugio Plan Glacier (2700m)

View from our mountain home at Refugio Plan Glacier (2700m). This was the highest we could go without crampons+ice axes for acclimatising. It was snowing as we departed, but after 2hrs hiking downhill it was time for a swim in the summer valley. Crazy climate changes.

Looking across to Mt Joly from Plan Glacier

Looking across to Mt Joly from Plan Glacier Refugio. We had family dinners each night in the cosy hut. Someone would translate between German/French/English for us. Lots of carbs and digestive shots after dinner (apparently you sip them). The real mountaineers would get up at 330am the next morning to head out!

Argentier Glacier near Chamonix

Argentier Glacier near Chamonix. Time to leave France and head back to the Dolomites for Lavaredo. Race time!

Scouting Lavaredo course

Scouting Lavaredo course. The race started at 11pm, which basically guaranteed a mental battle after only a few hours. On the bright side, I think this protected me from jetlag when I flew home to Aus the day after the race!

Lavaredo recce

Lavaredo recce with Mark Lee and Gill

One of the final climbs at Lavaredo, running on pepsi by this point

First time racing in capri’s #soeuro #fluentinitalian

Coming down from Tre Cime just after sunrise

Coming down from Tre Cime just after sunrise. Loving the downhill, especially after downing a red bull for brekky!

Back to CBR. #bulking to get rid of those cheekbones  and ribs that showed up in Europe!

Back to home sweet Canberra. #bulking to get rid of those cheekbones and ribs that showed up in Europe!

Mt Buller Skyrun

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The first Oceania Skyrunning race on Aussie turf – 45/36/22km options. The field looked relatively small due to being just 2 weeks before Buffalo – I assume most sensible people are tapering up for that. However, there were still enough of us out there to give the course and each other a good smashing. They changed the start/finish from the valley to the summit village this year, so the course basically consists of 15km undulations (Mt Stirling, Craig’s Hut, etc.), 15km descent (down to Mirimbah), 15km climb (up to Buller summit and village).

Mick Donges pulled out, still injured from Six Foot Track, and Coops wasn’t feeling it so he dropped to the 36km. I figured this left Dave Byrne and John Winsbury as the main competition and didn’t really rate my chances against them, but there was still a podium spot up for grabs! On the Saturday arvo I had a couple of MTB stacks while attempting the Bike Buller Epic trail – one of which involved stabbing my handlebar end into my rib cage – thankfully no major harm done, and I made it to the shuttle bus with a whole 3 minutes to spare. Phew!

It had snowed a tiny bit on the Thursday before the race, so Sunday morning at 7am (just before sunrise) it was a chilly 3 degrees for the race start. Stark contrast to this time last year when we were on bushfire alert and suffering dehydration during the race. We took off at a relatively easy pace (considering it was being set by Dave) but it quickly turned into Dave+John up front, myself+Ross Hopkins chasing, then Coops sitting in behind us.

Ross was creeping away from me on every climb, but by the time we had visited Craig’s Hut and hit Mt Stirling summit for the second time, he was almost out of sight. I needed to take a risk if I wanted 3rd place, so I absolutely flogged the 15km downhill to Mirimbah, caught Ross halfway down, then tried to build a lead and cling on for the final 1000m climb. At this point I saw one of my 36km Canberra buddies, Jeremy Walker, crouched down on the trail and suffering from ITB issues. This guy is normally the most positive and excited person you could see on the mountain, so clearly he was in a lot of pain.

buller profile

elevation profile – undulating, down, up

I rushed through the Mirimbah checkpoint with Jacinta O’Neill who helped me refill a water bottle and get through quickly. I started the climb like a scared little rabbit, looking over my shoulder at every corner, expecting to see Ross chasing me down. Instead, I came upon John Winsbury, who was having some lingering energy/sickness issues and wasn’t in a good way. Woohoo, this was exciting. Next I hit the aptly named ‘thank Christ corner’ – about halfway up Klingsporn trail, where it changes from relentless runnable uphill into flat sections with short hiking pinches – much better!

coming off the summit, 2km to go

It wasn’t long until I popped out on to the ski run near the top of the climb – this bit was long, steep, straight and clear – perfect for scoping out your competition ahead of the last 5km to the finish. I couldn’t see John or Ross behind me, so I figured a 5+ minute lead should be enough to get me home. The trail wraps around towards the summit, then there’s a final little out and back to touch the trig. Surprisingly, I saw Dave coming off here, just 1km ahead of me, and I think we both got a fright!

We all seemed to be cramping up in those final couple of km, and I crossed the line in 4:20, 5mins behind Dave and a half hour PB over my 2014 time. We were privileged to see TWO(!) sprint finishes, with Emma Rilen getting the better of John Winsbury then Lucy Bartholomew pipping Christine Hopkins on the line.

45km podium was Emma Rilen, Lucy Bartholomew, Christine Hopkins for the ladies, then Dave Byrne, Tom Brazier, Ross Hopkins for the guys. Surrounded by couples on the podium! We hadn’t met the Hopkins’ before but watch out for them at Buffalo. Coops took out the 36km and Aaron Knight blitzed the 22km.

After presentations and packing up the finish line we headed over to Bright to watch the cricket world cup final. Aussie dominance! Marcus, Matt, Gill and I scoped out some important sites ahead of the Buffalo stampede such as Bright Velo, the brewery, Mick’s Track, Buffalo Big Walk and Chalwell Galleries.

Chalwell Galleries loop

Buffalo Big Walk

Chillaxing on Buffalo

Now for a relaxing Easter weekend in Jindy (plus some sneaky running/hiking), tapering for the big Buffalo next weekend!

Strava Mt Buller 45km

Running Wild results

Photos by Matt Adams, Marcus Warner and me.

CBR100 Challenge

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It’s been a while – haven’t done any racing since Alpine Challenge miler at the end of November! There has been plenty of time for long training runs and a sneaky rogaine or two. I also got picked in the Aussie team to go to the IAU World Trail Champs in Annecy at the end of May (85km with 5500m vert), so looking at a solid buildup towards that. Race season has kicked off again with the CBR100 Challenge. The calendar gets busy from here on, with Buller 45km next weekend, then Buffalo 75km (crazily competitive field there) two weeks later.

I have been involved with the CBR100 crew as an ambassador, helping out with some promo for the event. This was a good chance to be involved in my first trail running video, thanks Ellie and Kim! The event was aimed at an Oxfam Trailwalker style crowd – lots of first timers looking to walk either 25, 50 or 100km, as a solo or in a team of three (who stay together for the whole race, not a relay). The course shows off the northern end of the 145km Centenary Trail – a recently developed loop around and through the Canberra region on a combination of single track, fire trail and bike paths. We are pretty lucky to have these trails on our doorstep in the bush capital!

team huddle in the warm room before the 6:20am start with Mel (left) and Bronti (right)

 

The challenge (not a race!) started at 6am for the 100km solo’s, then further waves took off at 10 minute intervals until all the 25/50/100 km teams and solo’s had hit the trails. In wave 3 at 6:20am, we sneakily pushed our way to the front in preparation for the start. When the teams were released, we ran off into the darkness to discover that every other team was walking from their first step – so we got lonely very quickly, which was kinda fun!

pre-sunrise start line

 

We soon began to overtake some of the solo 50km and 100km walkers, who provided friendly banter as we hiked up Mt Ainslie. It was exciting for my team to see a few of our respective coworkers having a crack at their first and/or longest trail runs ever.

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Mulligan’s Flat

 

Team IB Tragics came together after our bonding experience as Inward Bound participants (and frenemies) at Australian National University. It’s that crazy inter-college competition where they blindfold us and put us on buses in the middle of the night, then run 30-100km back to the finish line. Bronti, Mel and I have finally moved on after several awesome experiences in that race.

Mel is studying a PhD in Chem and splits her time commitments between Melbourne/Adelaide/Canberra/Sydney, so I’m not really sure where she found the time to train but apparently it worked out pretty well. She originally hails from an elite netball background – strong ankles, good for trails! I’ve raced heaps with Mel in the past, and she was even willing to pace for me at the Alpine Challenge last November! She’s incredibly motivated – can be feeling down in the dumps one minute, but if she spots somebody that she wants to beat, it’s time to get cracking!

Bronti is working as a lawyer in Canberra and it’s pretty safe to say she’s got a fierce running and training addiction. She smashed out a swift 12:xx as a junior female at TNF100 a few years ago. It doesn’t matter how many niggles or inconveniences you throw at Bronti, she will just keep smashing out the km’s for the sake of the team. Bronti organised our only full-team training session before the challenge – a back to back session of RPM (cycling) and Tactical Fitness (bodyweight circuit) at ANU gym about 2 months ago when we all happened to be in Canberra at the same time.

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Gossan Hill

 

I’m used to my efficient and well drilled support crew stops at other races thanks to Mum/Sarah/Jack in the past:

  • run into the checkpoint
  • throw my empty bottles at them/on the ground
  • pick up some freshly mixed feed bottles, maybe slap on some sunscreen
  • run out

However, I was in for a new experience this weekend as we brought in the support crew extravaganza team of Pamela and Brian Ness (Bronti’s parents) and their friend Angus. We were treated to a luxurious offering of baked goods, fresh salads and special treats at every checkpoint. To be honest it was pretty hard to leave. I always had good intentions of keeping my stomach light and fresh but managed to gorge myself on food, every time! We accounted for digestion time by walking and gossiping for 10mins out of each checkpoint! Brian and Angus were keen for some time on their mountain bikes, so they became drug couriers for us on the last few legs – delivering emergency supplies of electrolyte tablets and blister treatment.

selfies on Black Mtn

 

The course was relatively flat (2000m D+/- over 100km) with some long stretches of flat running. Inspired by stories from some of our 24hr track racing friends, we decided it was ok to break this up with some walking spells. We used the strategy of running for 4-5mins, then walking for 30-60secs. This made running between 50-75km on the flat section seem much more achievable, and gave us bite sized chunks – ‘all we have to do is run for 4 minutes, easy peezy!’ (sometimes it felt quite challenging though).

updating our crew via snapchat

 

We ended up finishing just before 8pm in about 13.5 hrs. This fulfilled our major goal of not having to pull our head torches (or keyring emergency lights) from the bottom of our packs at any point throughout the day. It was a heap of fun and much easier to pass the time when you have teammates to gossip and banter with all day.

Shoutouts to some friends for their massive efforts:

  • Paul Cuthbert winning the solo 100km in 9:36… rapido! Ben Grimshaw was up there too
  • George Bunt winning the solo 50km, followed by Damien Stewart
  • Elle Newby + Josh Lickiss, smashing out 55km in a day for the first time
  • my dentist’s partner and new Irish friend, Johnny, who knocked out the 100km solo in about 13 hours, having never run more than 40km before!

IB Tragics at the finish line (excited to feast on vego lasagne and chocolate milk)

 

Huge thanks to Pam, Brian and Angus for being our super support crew and drug mules via bicycle – catering for all our requests, even the weird or last minute ones!

Congrats and thanks to Ellie, Kim and their hordes of supporters/volunteers. It’s a massive effort to coordinate an event like this, particularly for the first time. A few hiccups along the way with people knocking down course markers, but in the end, there were a tonne of tired and satisfied faces at the finish line.

Strava – https://www.strava.com/activities/271542125

Gear – La Sportiva Helios, Ultimate Direction Peter Bakwin 12L pack (v2), Garmin FR920XT, lots of Body Glide

Nutrition – luxurious picnics provided by Pam, plus a few assorted muesli bars and about 2L of ginger ale (de-carbonated the night before the race)

Alpine Challenge 100 miler (Running Wild/La Sportiva)

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Have been building up to this one for a while and was super excited for my first attempt at the 100 mile distance. With 7000m of ascent/descent mostly on rough single tracks, it’s a pretty challenging course – but my theory was that the variety of terrain would justify lots of walking, so while it would take longer, it would actually be more pleasant than 100 miles on flat-ish terrain. History/info/links on AURA.

The basic outline of the course can be broken into 6 climbs, 6 descents and 2 flat sections. It includes almost all of the Bogong2Hotham and Razorback 64km courses, added together, plus a couple more bits (see map on strava). The course is mostly unmarked, so you have to follow the appropriate walking tracks and pick the correct path at junctions, but it definitely helps to know how to use a map and compass! This area is incredibly amazing for training and racing, in terms of physical challenge as well as being a beautiful environment.

course profile with checkin points shown as red dots

course profile with checkin points shown as red dots

  • 1st climb up Spion Kopje
  • 1st descent to Big River via Roper’s Hut
  • 2nd climb up Bogong via T Spur
  • 2nd descent down Quartz Ridge
  • 3rd climb up to Warby’s Corner
  • 1st flat section through Langford’s – Cope Hut – Pole 333
  • 3rd descent to Cobungra Gap
  • 4th climb up Swindler’s Spur to Hotham
  • 4th descent down Bon Accord to Harrietville
  • 5th climb up Bungalow Spur to Feathertop
  • 5th descent down Diamantina Spur to Kiewa River
  • 6th climb up to Pole 333 via Blair’s Hut
  • 2nd flat section through the Fainters
  • 6th descent down to Bogong Village

Analysis of splits

There are a number of check-in points along the course (shown as red dots on the elevation profile above), so I was able to compare the 2012 and 2014 check-in times. Interesting to see the radically different pacing between Paul and I this year, and again with Coops’ 2012 record time. Yet we all finished up close together.

24hr checkin time, with fastest time on each leg highlighted

24hr checkin time, with fastest time on each leg highlighted

Showing the relative lag time behind Coops' CR at each checkin

Showing the relative lag time behind Coops’ CR at each checkin

I had a strong start all the way through to Hotham/Mt Loch, then slowed dramatically relative to the other guys. My section on the high plains from Cope Hut to Pole 333 was even a few mins faster than during B2H earlier this year (whoops!). Paul absolutely dominated the finish from Feathertop summit to Bogong Village, and Coops’ record is a balanced version in between our two extremes. In hindsight my last few splits were a little disappointing after such a strong start relative to the course record – will have to come back next year!

Extra plot as requested by Paul ;)

Extra plot as requested by Paul 😉

“Handholding” at the finish

Our joint win at the finish inspired a bit of banter about the idea of handholding and sharing victories – whether it’s good sportsmanship or just being soft. I think it totally depends on the context of each race. I’ve had a lot of sprint finishes in the past – e.g. Glow Worm Trail Mara and Bush Capital Half Mara this year – both of which involved intense battles for 5km or so before I snuck through and won by less than 30 seconds. I’ve never considered a joint finish before, but both of those races had a gauntlet style finish that was obviously marked and impossible to get lost on (also my brain was probably a lot fresher after running for 1-3hrs instead of 25hrs).

Paul and I heading into Warby's Corner after the first climb. We soon separated and didn't see each other again for about 20hrs!

Paul and I heading into Warby’s Corner after the first climb. We soon separated and didn’t see each other again for about 20hrs!

The way this race unfolded, I took off on the first descent to Big River to get away from Paul Cuthbert and Damon Goerke, then continued to put time into the other guys for the first 2/3 of the course, reaching a maximum lead of around 1-2hrs at Mt Loch and Harrietville. I had minimal info about how the others were going and didn’t see anybody for ages. My theory was that I felt good, so should continue to move as fast as possible without pushing my limits past what was comfortable.

As we moved into the final 30km, I really started to struggle with tiredness and a combination of little niggles (bruised feet, chafe, sore ankle, etc.). Nothing debilitating, but I slowed down, whinged a lot to my pacer, and insisted that it was safer for me to walk instead of run because I wasn’t coordinated enough to avoid tripping over on the rough ground in the dark. Given that we couldn’t see any chasers, my fatigued brain decided it would be a good idea to protect my body and cruise home to the finish.

In the wee hours of Sunday morning, after almost 24hrs of racing, I finally saw another competitor! Paul came up behind us, saw me hobbling like a cripple, and offered a genuine “I’m really sorry, you poor bugger”. We were both surprised to see each other. Then he sprinted past – which is usually the best strategy to break someone’s spirit and discourage them from chasing – when you see that the other person looks so much stronger than you.

I decided to give chase – I had to at least try – I had worked so hard for this lead and I sure as hell wasn’t going to lose it without a fight. Luckily we had clarified the rule that pacers and runners WERE allowed to split up, so Mel let Paul and I hurtle down the hill like crazy idiots and she followed at a comfy pace. In that split second things got really intense. Paul and my pacer, Mel, both thought that I would only last for about 50m of chasing before giving up.

However, 4km later, I was still hanging on to Paul’s tail, sitting about 5m behind him. All of my niggles seemed to disappear with the single minded competitiveness of trying to beat my friend. Neither of us had time to check maps or be careful – we were banging down the final descent like crazy people. I think my km splits were something like 10/12/10 before Paul arrived, then all of a sudden we were pulling 4:30’s at the 155km mark, I couldn’t believe it. My plan was to hang on until we could see the finish line, then try to out sprint Paul in the last 200m – I didn’t want to risk getting lost.

Paul suddenly backed off a bit and I took the lead, then starting creeping ahead until I was out of sight around each switchback (maybe 50-100m), so I started to think I had broken him and had it in the bag. I was being really careful not to trip over as the dawn light began to flood the rough fire trail, and hoped that the final road down to the finish would be too obvious for me to miss.

Final missed turn about 500m from the finish (correct route in yellow)

Final missed turn about 500m from the finish (correct route in yellow)

All of a sudden, I found myself next to a shed, inside a locked gate + barbed wire fence (see map above) and started panicking – I must have missed a turnoff. What if Paul and Mel both overtook me and were already at the finish? While I frantically hunted around for a path (see all the little squiggles back and forth), I heard people approaching. First Mel, then Paul, joined me and began looking for the path. So we had all missed the turn independently. We couldn’t figure out where it was, so we decided the best option was to adjourn our battle, slide underneath the locked gate, and take the slightly longer but guaranteed route around the road to the finish line, where we crossed together.

Finish on Sunday morning

Finish on Sunday morning

I am stoked to have shared the victory with such a great bloke and runner, and totally comfortable with our decision. I set up a big lead over the first half of the course, and Paul smashed everyone over the back end of the course, so we both earned it independently and it’s a pretty huge coincidence to be that close at the finish. Also we ended up 5mins outside the course record so I guess we will have to come back next year! About an hour later, another genuinely friendly bloke of trail running, Dan Beard, PB’d by a few hours to come home for 3rd, followed by La Sportiva teammate and hero Gill Fowler for 4th overall and a massive win in the ladies field.

Presentations

Presentations

 

Gear

Black Diamond Ultra Distance trekking poles – hence forth christened as my “misery sticks”. This was the first time I’ve raced with poles, and they were absolutely amazing. I used them to walk up every major climb, then folded them away for running the flats and downs. For the last 40km, they didn’t leave my hands regardless of the terrain – by this point I had lost faith in my coordination ability to balance and stabilise on one leg! My triceps were a bit sore by the end of the race but my leg muscles felt surprisingly good so I’m going to credit some of this to the misery sticks!

La Sportiva Helios (4mm drop, light weight) for the first half of the course – we had several river crossings and I’m comfortable getting these shoes wet because they drain and dry so quickly, as well as being light.

La Sportiva Bushido (6mm drop, medium weight) for the second half of the course – we were finished with the river crossings so fresh dry shoes seemed like a good idea. These ones are a bit heavier, with much more support and protection which I figured would help as my legs got tired and I lost my coordination under fatigue and started kicking rocks/sticks/etc.

Ultimate Direction Peter Bakwin 12L vest. There was so much water available from creeks on the course that you never had to carry more than 1-1.5L of water. We mostly used purification tabs but sometimes got a bit slack. All the safety gear fitted comfortably in this bag. In hindsight, I should have used some lube on my back though – I’ve never had noticeable chafing before but haven’t really used it for longer than 12hrs before either!

Awesome bag chafe

Awesome bag chafe

Nutrition

I was very disciplined for the first 2/3 of the race and stuck to my 200-250 calories/hr intake. This was split between home made 80/20 maltodextrin/soy protein mix, as well as a few LCM bars (super easy to digest). After I picked up my pacer I got a bit slack and just ate for hunger, but by this point I was moving so slowly that I think I would have been close to 90% fat burning and 10% glycogen usage.

Organising food bottles the night before

Organising food bottles the night before

Thanks

Congrats to Paul Ashton (Running Wild) for organising another successful race, and thanks to SARS (Vic Alpine Search and Rescue) who manned the checkpoints and La Sportiva/Bogong Equipment (Matt Adams, Stephen Upton) who sponsored the event (and me).

Well done to all the finishers in this epic event. We were pretty lucky with the weather but it was an absolutely epic course and a huge effort to finish regardless of the times. It was brutally hot on Sunday when some people were still coming home across the high plains.

Massive thanks to my support crew, Gay Robertson (/Mum), and pacer, Mel Kitchin, for doing everything they could to help me through the race. The support crew checkpoints were all during the first two thirds of the race, so Mum only saw me cruising through feeling strong. However, Mel accompanied me for the final third of the race, so she definitely copped a lot of fatigued whinging about my bruised feet, sleepy eyes, worsening chafe or negative estimates about how long it was going to take us to walk home to the finish at 4km/h.

Collecting Mel (super pacer) at Harrietville

Collecting Mel (super pacer) at Harrietville

 

More photos

Gear check on Friday arvo

Gear check on Friday arvo

 

Leading into Bogong summit after 2 climbs

Leading into Bogong summit after 2 climbs

Enjoying the 100km preso on Sunday morning after no sleep w/Jem and Gill Fowler

Enjoying the 100km preso on Sunday morning after no sleep w/Jem and Gill Fowler

 

Massive congrats to my fellow ACT/2614 buddy JP on his 100km win!

Massive congrats to my fellow ACT/2614 buddy JP on his 100km win!

Sunday recovery in Mt Beauty

Sunday recovery in Mt Beauty after a delicious bakery feast with Aaron Knight!

Wildside 5 day Adventure Race – team IB Bandits

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Sorry if it’s long, but an awful lot can happen in 5 days, particularly when you’re awake for 4.5 entire days during that period! Also it’s mostly photos, thanks to the race photographers. Here are some of the highlights and testing moments of our newbie foray into expedition length racing at Wildside AR. You can see a map of the whole course and the routes that each team took on the live tracking page.

We’re all quite inexperienced at ARs. Alex has done a fair bit of trail running and mountain biking, Sarah has competed extensively in orienteering and rogaining, Oliver has plenty of mountaineering and ropes skills and Tom has focused on trail running and rogaining. AR veteran Keith Conley recruited Oliver, Sarah and Tom to do Geoquest Half this year, teaching us his methods and attempting to suck us into this epic sport. After a surprise win, we entered Wildside while on a high post-race. We smashed out 17 hours of racing, surely 5 days would be a great idea! It became difficult to secure a 4th teammate until we finally locked Alex in with two weeks to go – that’s enough time to train, right?

The lead up to the race was pretty stressful. None of our team had competed in an expedition race before and we were grappling with the never ending logistics and organisation. We started to feel a bit out of our depth because everybody else knew exactly what they were doing whereas we were totally winging it.

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After the maps came out on Saturday arvo, we realised there wasn’t enough time to do everything we wanted to do, so it was a matter of prioritising the most important things – marking up a basic route for the whole race, contacting a single set of maps, and planning our TA logistics in terms of time estimates and what to pack in each crate. If we rocked up to a trek leg with only bike shoes, that would be embarrassing and potentially painful! We also had to fit in some solid eating and sleeping time before the race bus departed on Sunday arvo.

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The race bus was a familiar feeling for us after participating in ANU’s Inward Bound competition. At least this time we weren’t blindfolded. We arrived at a winery for a surprise gourmet meal of cheese platters, angus beef burgers and chocolate/berry dessert. A 4 person tent per team was provided to sleep in until the race started at 1am Monday morning.

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Leg 1 – 37km trek – Monday 0100-0800

We quickly established our reputation as the kid team of the race, with an aggregate age of 101. Hopping over fences through farmland soon gave way to trekking along hilly single track. There were two short river crossing requiring dry bags and swimming, before we hit the high point lookout – which apparently provides glorious views if you arrive during daylight. We didn’t. Most teams took the exact same route on this leg. We did a minor bushbash across a saddle to avoid some extra descent/climbing along the fire trail – which took a similar time to the nearby teams, but saved us some energy. As we popped out of the bush a couple of teams looked confused and seemed to panic that there must be a control nearby. There wasn’t. Much of the last third of this leg was marked with tape through farmland and made for easy nav. We hiked our way down into the town with Tiger and finished in equal 2nd place behind Mountain Designs. Spirits were high.

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Leg 2 – 35km paddle – Monday 0900-1600

It became apparent that TAs were going to be a weakness for us, as several teams came in behind us and left before us – the volunteers at the TA even started carrying our boats down to the water because they were so concerned about our time wasting!

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This leg was a good chance to refine our paddle technique, as it was more than twice as long as any paddle we had done before! Also more hours on the water than our entire race buildup! Alex’s early enthusiasm was quickly curbed by the rest of us. We recruited her to the “I hate paddling” train. We allowed ourselves a quick 10 minute break on one of the beaches to rest our bums, then powered out the final hour or so. Some dolphins frolicking less than 10m from the kayaks were definitely the highlight of this leg, along with the bemused fishermen and boaters who had a much better grasp on how to relax and enjoy the long weekend.

Leg 3 – 39km MTB (radio tower) – Monday 1700-2000

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Thanks to Alex for her expertise in unpacking our bike boxes. This was a new experience for the rest of us. A quick stint on the highway really woke us up, then it was back on to fire trails and constant granny gear efforts to spin up some big climbs. We set a pretty good pace on this leg and were all stoked to be riding our bikes instead of paddling or trekking. The radio tower checkpoint was a good opportunity for some stretching and yummy food as we enjoyed the remaining daylight. Then a ripper downhill as we sped towards the single track park housing the next rogaine. We were pretty confident that we’d make the first short course cut-off with a bit of breathing room.

Leg 4 – rogaine – Monday 2100-2300

It was pretty devastating to ride in on such sweet flowing single track, then be told to ditch our bikes and complete the rogaine on foot. As we got our trekking gear ready and discussed our Canberra background, one of the helpers at the TA recognised us! It was Trevor Banks, Taree local and dad of one of our uni mates, who I had met just one week earlier at the Canberra 101 trail race. It’s pretty hilarious how small the world is within endurance circles.

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This was the first cutoff point of the race, and we made it with less than half an hour to spare. This made us the last team ahead of the cutoff, keeping us in what was now a 5 horse race with MDs, Stromlonauts, Bear Hunt and Tiger. The whole idea of a major cutoff with a small time gain at this point in the race seemed a bit weird – was it there simply to make teams sprint the first day? Regardless, we’re using this cutoff to claim that we finished 5th overall. We were pretty excited to see some fireflies when we switched our blinding ayups off at one point. At first we thought Olli was halucinating, but when all four of us saw these little night fairies floating around it seemed like they really did exist.

Leg 5 – 27km paddle – Tuesday 0000-0500

There was temptation to sleep before this leg, but we pushed on and used sleep afterwards as a reward to get us through another mammoth paddle. This was the first encounter with sleep monsters as we had delirious giggle fits and experienced the 5th teammate sensation. Also the trees lining the water began to look like cliffs. Tom was the first to drop out – we fed him No Doz and slapped him around a bit to no avail. Luckily the kayaks were tied together so the rest of us dragged him for the first couple of hours. Luckily the excitement of a sneaky route choice underneath one of the small piers provided some excitement and we powered through to the next TA, with the reward of a big sleep luring us in. Apologies to the caravan park whose toilet block we destroyed via tag team.

Sleep 1 – 3hrs (luxurious tent setup at end of paddle)

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Leg 6 – 51km MTB (Big Nellie) – Tuesday 0900-1600

The boys were eager to stroke their own egos and spun their way up to the first trig point. At this point Sarah realised her handlebars were still loose and promptly tightened them before the monster downhill. On the next climb, the big tough boys got off and started walking what could only be described as a rideable gradient, to exasperated sighs from Alex and Sarah. Finally we were trying to be efficient with our energy use. At Big Nellie we ran into team 1 chick and 3 token blokes (Tokens), and got the impression they were pretty keen to beat us! Their competitiveness added to our amusement. At TAs, officials were getting stressed for us about our luxurious transition times, and photographers were exasperated that we always seemed to be having a whale of a time.

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Leg 7 – 22km trek (Ellenborough Falls) – Tuesday 1700-Wednesday 0300

We took it pretty easy for the start of this leg, strolling along the farm access roads along the top of the ridge with glorious views of the sunset and bushfires (?!?!) in the distance. It reminded me of running along Narrowneck in Katoomba with the land falling away for epic views on both sides. As we began the steep descent down a bulldozed track towards the river, we were cautious of the aggressive land owners we had been warned about. We did our best to sneak through unnoticed.

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Once we hit the river, it became apparent that it was going to be a very long 7km. There were nice tracks on both sides, but we were forced to stay in the central river corridor to avoid private property. There were little yellow frogs all around us and it felt like you were going to crush them with every step (but they always managed to save themselves at the last minute). We were constantly crossing back and forth across the river to follow the bank of least resistance as we pushed forwards towards the falls. The stress of navigating kept Tom awake for once, but Sarah was starting to fall asleep while standing up and leaning against trees, Oli was having some nasty stomach issues and Alex had fallen quiet. We came up behind Tokens and travelled near them for a little while – until we reached the last 2km of rockhopping and one of their guys decided to aggressively inspect a rock with his face. We moved on while they applied first aid (after checking he was going to live). The rock hopping was heaps of fun and lifted our spirits, but it still seemed like an eternity until we finally saw the rushing falls and 600 steps coming down to the viewing platform.

Sleep 2 – 3hrs (inside the kiosk at top of falls)

The Ellenborough falls cutoff was a shock because I don’t think we had prior warning about that. As we emerged from the 600 stairs, we were informed that because we hadn’t made it through the checkpoint before 1am, we had missed the MTB window to avoid the logging trucks, so were being shortcoursed. My interpretation is that this was primarily for safety rather than because we were horribly slow. So once we got short coursed there I guess we relaxed a bit seeing as we were out of the race anyway. On the bright side, this gave us a bit of breathing room to sustain our reputation as the fun team of the race!

This was the first time we got to chat to Glenn Smith and Geoff Lillistone, the search and rescue boys who knew Keith from previous races. They facebooked some happy snaps to Keith so he knew how we were going. The wonderful lady at the kiosk took pity on us – setting up beds outside on the concrete, in the rain – and let us sleep inside on the tiled floor beside the warm oven – deluxe! (photo evidence added below!)

ws2 ws1

Leg 8 – 101km MTB – Wednesday 0800-1800

In the morning we were slow to start, then Tom almost got carsick when we were getting the car shuffle, which would have been an inconvenient reason to lose calories and fluids! As we were setting up our bikes we saw Bear Hunt cruise past. They were in good spirits but looked a bit sleepy. We figured we had skipped pretty much the first half of this leg. After a couple of minor missed turns, we were back on track riding through grassy farmland tracks and opening/closing gates. Here we bumped into Tiger and Stromlonauts who both powered off ahead of us.

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Next up was a brutal hike-a-bike up a log infested fire trail. This pretty much consisted of carrying our bikes the whole way and it felt like about a double Black mountain effort. It was tough for us, and brutal for Oli’s hip flexor, but we spared a thought for the teams ahead of us who had already done an extra 50km of steep hills in the first half of this leg. We were rewarded with some sweet flowing downhill as we headed off the ridge. Top nav by Oli leading us through the farmland and into Barrington without any dramas (we found out later that Tiger lost 6+ hours through this section).

Leg 9 – cancelled for all teams (private property issue)

Leg 10 – 10km Trek + Tube (Barrington) Wednesday 2000-Thursday 0200

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After walking through the local cemetery at night and searching the graves for our checkpoint (WTF Richard?!) we reached the start of the tubing section. Everyone expected this to be easy and fun, but the volunteers gave us a few cheeky hints that it might be tougher than we thought. We raided the recycling bin and cut open some plastic coke bottles to use as hand paddles. Then we were off. On the longest, slowest, coldest river tube of my life. There were a couple of rapid sections separated by huge flat pools of barely flowing or shallow water. It was a battle to stay awake – I’d open my eyes and be paddling towards the bank, then not even know which way the river was supposedly flowing. We tied our tubes together because it seemed like a good idea at the time. For everyone except Sarah, who was the only one who hadn’t dropped her hand paddles, and she basically towed us through the flat pools. It was pretty fun to slingshot down some of the rapids and get all tangled up.

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This was the first time we really broke our trend of being the fun/happy team. It was impossible to maintain the smiles and giggles after a wet, cold tube down a shallow, barely flowing river for 4 hours in the middle of the night. We finally found the bridge finish point and trudged up the road to the TA, shivering to the core.

Sleep 3 – 2hrs (in Barrington town hall)

I don’t remember how we negotiated this, but the boys fell off to sleep with the sleeping bag and mat, while the girls shivered and spooned on the hard floor under some space blankets. Props to Ben Cirulis for capturing our lowest point of the race and being the only person to catch us without smiles and laughter.

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Leg 11 – 87km MTB Thursday 0600-1700

We set off with all our layers of clothes on so that we could start to warm up. There was quite a bit of hilly road riding and it had started to rain, so we pretended we were in a road peloton and raced up the hills, trying to draft closely off each other (although probably going so slowly that it didn’t matter!). Next we took an obscure turnoff into a grassy paddock, but Oli assured us it was the right way (which it was). A bit of fire trail hills and then we found a checkpoint and the entry to some sweet dirt bike style single track. There was a bit of concern about our sleep deprivation and lack of riding skills, but we made it through the muddy ruts without incident. The same cannot be said for the teddy bears found hung by their necks from the trees.

We had a midday nap in the sunshine, and nobody set alarms or was really sure how long it lasted for. Turned out to be a great time to nap, as it immediately preceded one of the toughest nav sections of the whole race. The mapped and visible tracks did not match up at all, so we just had to trust our friendly contours, which never lie, and ended up hiking our bikes up the massive hill that could be none other than the one we were aiming for.

We missed the next control that was ‘east of the track-creek junction’ after noting that there were no creeks or gullies visible on the map, and we could only see water bars in real life. Apparently there was a tiny gully on one side of the road near the edge of the circle. Oh well. Big downhill cruise towards the next TA (I actually bothered to lower my seat because it was so steep).

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Leg 12 – 18km trek – Thursday 1900-2000

Optional/self selected shortcourse. We skipped this and rode our bikes to the kayaks. The organisers wanted to give us a shot at completing the course so realistically it made sense to skip Leg 12. Tom was useless at the kayak transition – preoccupied after getting his bike shoe stuck on his foot. Thankfully a volunteer provided a big screwdriver to lever it off before he got around to cutting the shoe open. This was the best transition point because they provided us with free vegetable soup and sausage/egg sandwiches!

Leg 13 – 22km paddle (Myall Lakes) – Thursday 2200-Friday 0900

After shortcoursing the previous leg, we skipped the supply crate that contained our maps for the paddle leg, whoops! All we had was a little tourist map with no detail or contours. We rummaged through Bear Hunt’s crate that was waiting for their arrival (thanks guys!) and scribbled some notes down from their proper map.

I think we got a bum steer from some locals at the portage site. There was a boat moored at the entry track and they gave us some convoluted explanation about how to bush bash through to the other side. Sarah and Oli did a quick scout with torches and the track was so overgrown it would be impossible to carry kayaks through there. In hindsight, we should have checked google maps before the race, but we didn’t have time for that much detail. Satellite view shows that the main track heads south a bit before reaching the clearing and branching east (red arrows).

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We tried to go directly east through the blue area and got stuck. All the 2 man teams went on the red arrow track below, but it looks like Bear Hunt and MDs somehow found a way through the blue area. Missing that portage was a real bummer, because it got our heads down and was followed by Sarah falling asleep and some delirious nav in the next bay. If we hit the portage I reckon we could have made it through to the next TA for sleep instead of crashing by the side of the lake in the cold/wet. That was the first time we really had to have an emergency stop with people borderline hypothermic and risk of falling asleep/tipping kayaks. It was a miserable, wet 1.5hr sleep but it got us through to sunrise, where we woke up and finished off the leg at a consistent pace.

Sleep 4 – 2hrs (halfway through the paddle, on the side of the lake)

Leg 14 – 37km trek + SUP – Friday 1000-1800

More map problems. The start of this leg was in the corner of the map, and there appeared to be a track through the bush leading down the the start of the SUP. However, the real life track didn’t match with the contours and seemed to be heading inland (off the map), so we opted to bush bash down to the water and wade around the shoreline. Once we reached the SUPs, it became clear that the track did in fact lead straight to the checkpoint, and we would have been better served by mindlessly following the track. Apparently MDs did the same thing as us, so I’m ok with navigating like the race winners!

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After the SUP we trekked around the next bay towards the golf course, then really battled on the first big climb of the day up to the trig checkpoint. At this point we figured we weren’t going to make the cutoff and weren’t having much fun, so we might as well get picked up at the next town. A quick chat on the phone to Richard and he organised a rendezvous for us to shortcut the next 20km or so.

We hiked into the finish line only to discover that it had been packed up already and told that we should head straight to the Laneway restaurant. Another 10mins and we found Richard, had a quick debrief and bitch about a couple of the control descriptions, then headed to the hotel for a shower before dinner. Whoever didn’t have first shower just collapsed on the beds/chairs/floor.

Presentation dinner

Back to the Laneway for presentations, and we saw Stromlonauts and Bear Hunt arrive at the finish line. Mammoth effort by these guys and we are super proud of our fellow Canberrans who made up 2 of the only 3 teams to finish the full course (along with winners, MDs).

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What did we learn?

We received a lot of advice and tips pre-race, but we really had no idea what we were in for. The stress of logistics and pre-race organisation was outrageous, and we were very lucky to have such a laid back and capable team. There were moments of panic but we got through it together and luckily our personality clashes were fairly non-existent. Physically, I think our speed was almost on par with the top teams and it wasn’t as hard as we expected, mostly due to the constant low intensity. Logistically, we have a lot to improve on. We lost a lot of time to the other teams in transitions and generally faffing around a bit too much. This is something that will improve with experience, and concentration to stay in ‘race mode’ for longer than the first few hours of the adventure. Mentally, the battle was tougher than we ever imagined. The lack of sleep and feeling so terrible every time you woke up was tough to deal with and really made us appreciate our normal schedules and shorter (<24hr races) where we get to sleep properly.

Where to next?

There is a bit of contention in the team about this one, but I think we’ll have a bit of a spell from expedition racing. Everyone is keen to do Geoquest full next year – a distance we think we can actually maintain concentration for the whole duration and put in a competitive race effort. The longer stuff is so expensive and mentally draining that we might have to make it a 5 year reunion style of thing. Definitely an amazing experience to do at least once!

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Thank you

Thanks to everyone who helped us to prepare, race, recover, develop our skills or loaned us gear. The depth of experience and knowledge available to us through our Canberra AR and rogaining friends was invaluable. It’s always a bad idea to start naming people, but thanks in particular to:

  • Keith Conley, who definitely can be held responsible for luring us into the sport
  • Bear Hunt – constant advice, answering our noob questions, sharing their house/maps/food/gear, generally supporting us however possible
  • Seb Dunne and Ed Hall for providing some extra Ayup juice
  • Our friends/partners/family for putting up with stressed/tired/busy bandits before and after the race
  • Many of the Canberra AR crew for their stream of tips, training and gear advice leading up to the race
  • Richard Old and the entire Fully Rad Adventures team. It was a really beautiful area with some stunning legs. The gorge was particularly spectacular (even in the dark), complete with snakes and frogs. Officials and photographers were super friendly and cheery, and it was really rewarding to see most of the course.

 

Glow Worm Trail Marathon

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Strava data – course map, elevation profile, splits, etc.

ANU Tri/Friends contingent (Brad Carron-Arthur)

ANU Tri/Friends contingent (Brad Carron-Arthur)

I carpooled up to Newnes for the weekend with a solid Canberra crew – ANU Triathlon club plus one of our local heroes, Rob Walter. We were all pretty stoked for a relaxing weekend away from work/mobile reception/the real world in this beautiful area.

Not a bad place to spend the weekend (Michelle Welch)

Not a bad place to spend the weekend (Michelle Welch)

The marathon course is basically a 20km out and back through Pipeline Pass, followed by a 20km “lollipop” circuit through the glow worm tunnel (same as the half marathon course). I ran the marathon in 2013 (10th place in 4h10m) and have been a vocal advocate of the first half – it’s muddy, steep, rocky and a lot of crazy fun. Whereas I didn’t have such fond memories of the second half – it’s flatter, less technical and provides an opportunity for faster road runners to dominate – i.e. a world of pain! This year I aimed to keep a bit more in the tank so I wouldn’t struggle quite so much on the second half.

6am start crew "warming up" (Brad Carron-Arthur)

6am start crew “warming up” (Brad Carron-Arthur)

In 2014, Sean and Mel implemented an elite wave start, 2 hours before the main wave. Hopefully this would avoid congestion and high-speed head-on collisions coming up and down the menacing Pipeline Pass track. This worked well, however it did mean a 6am start in the dark for anyone who wanted a shot at a podium spot. It turned out to be pretty awesome running under Ay-up floodlights and seeing the sunrise light up the cliffs near the 10km turnaround.

Andy Lee and Mark Green led us up the first major climb and began to descend sensibly. Sensing an opportunity to make up some “bonus time”, Rob Walter and I took the lead and barreled down the hill like crazy orienteering/rogaining people – there was a wee bit of slipping and sliding. Normally I train in thinner, less protective shoes (e.g. Helios, Anakonda), but chose to race in the La Sportiva Bushido – they have a pretty solid rock plate and studs so I was able to pretty much crash my feet down wherever instead of having to pick and choose my foot landings (which is usually a good habit but can cost some speed in a race situation). Rob and I took comfort in the fact that we were only racing 40km, while our mates Paul Cuthbert and John Power were smashing out 12/24hours worth of laps around an athletics track in Sydney.

Brad crossing the river (Michelle Welch)

Brad crossing the river (Michelle Welch)

Crossing the start/finish line at the halfway mark, I had a small gap over Rob, closely followed by Andy and Mark (we could all see each other). This year we had the privilege of crossing the river using the stepping stones instead of having to plunge through a knee deep river like in 2013!

I was a little bit apprehensive about the final 20km that I struggled on last year. We began the gradual douche grade climb towards the glow worm tunnel and Mark cruised past me. It felt like we were both conserving a bit, but he continued to pull away slowly. I just hoped that any time he made on the uphill could be caught up on the downhill return. We were still motivated to keep pushing the pace by the threat of Alex Matthews pulling a Six Foot Track and mowing us down on the second half of the course.

Approaching the tunnel (Aurora Images)

Approaching the tunnel (Aurora Images)

As we turned in towards the gully housing the tunnel, Andy was closing in on me from behind and I could no longer see Mark, which was a bit of a concern. However, I was still feeling ok and whipped out my trusty lightweight torch ready to power walk through the glow worm tunnel. To be honest I didn’t even attempt to appreciate the glow worms. I was just trying to avoid dunking my feet in a puddle or rolling an ankle while I picked a safe line through the tunnel. Should probably go back some time while I’m not racing!

Escaping the tunnel (Brad Carron-Arthur)

Escaping the tunnel (Brad Carron-Arthur)

After the tunnel we’re allowed to run again, and there is a sharp little pinch (I hiked this bit, sorry Titou!) before a steep downhill fire trail for 1-2km heading into the 32km aid station. I hit the downhill aggressively and could see Mark ahead swiping a cup of water from the aid station. There was no longer any sight of Andy or Rob immediately behind.

The final 8km was possibly the most intense racing I have ever done. I was smashing myself on the gentle decline, trying desperately to make contact with Mark. He was always within sight and the gap seemed to be closing at a snail’s pace. I didn’t know if there would be enough distance left to catch him at this rate, or if I could even keep this pace up – I was huffing and puffing like a 5000m race. Every little gully with those tiny sets of stairs was a painful pinch as we tried to hold/take the lead. Thanks to all the people who we passed in the opposite direction for forgiving our lack of friendly greetings and also for the sneaky “hurry up, you can get him!”

With about 3km to go, we were side by side. I really wanted to tuck in behind Mark, but I figured that would be a sign of weakness and reveal how wrecked I was, so I ducked in front and tried to keep pushing the pace. I think Mark must have been hurting as much as I was, because this move opened up a small but stable gap (maybe 50m) that held through to the finish. I was just starting to cramp up and was incredibly grateful to hit the finish line just in time.

Men's marathon podium with Mark Green and Andy Lee (Mountain Sports)

Men’s marathon podium with Mark Green and Andy Lee (Mountain Sports)

Andy followed us in a few mins later, and Rob came in for 4th. It was a mixed bag of results for my ANU Triathlon teammates, with some withdrawals due to sickness and injury, but also some awesome times that were well ahead of goal pace. Pretty sure we’ll all be back next year with more friends!

Chill with Gill at the finish (Jack Chenoweth)

Chill with Gill at the finish (Jack Chenoweth)

My La Sportiva teammate Gill Fowler had a win in the Mystery Mountain Dash on Saturday then backed it up with a marathon win on Sunday. However her greatest achievement was navigating through the 800m pitch black glow worm tunnel without a torch, after her ayups fell out of the bag during the first half!

Thanks to Sean and Mel at Mountain Sports for setting up this event in such a great location and to La Sportiva/Hammer/Camelbak/any other event sponsors.

Results/splits

Official website

Nutrition: 1 gel every 30mins until the tunnel, ~1.5L water, cup of coke at the final aid station

Geoquest Adventure Race

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Since Wilson’s Prom I’ve been building towards the Mountain Designs Geoquest Half, a 24hr team adventure race with navigation, mountain biking, kayaking and running. All male or all female teams are allowed to enter but the emphasis is on the premier (mixed) category. A few leadup events included winning the 6hr NSWRA Gibraltar Rocks rogaine with David Baldwin and practicing some night navigation with my teammate Oliver Johns at the ACTRA 5hr Kowen Forest night rogaine. This was Oli’s longest run to date, and here we were a bit scared to see Seb Dunne and co. training for the Geoquest Full (48hr version) by MTBing for a few hours out to Kowen, smashing the rogaine, then MTBing home!

Keith Conley, Tom Brazier, Sarah Buckerfield, Oliver Johns

IB Bandits – Keith Conley, Tom Brazier, Sarah Buckerfield, Oliver Johns

Keith Conley is an AR veteran but the rest of our team were newbies. We had a pretty solid grounding in at least one discipline (Sarah – orienteering, Oli – MTB, me – trail running) but predicted we might struggle with kayaking and transitions. One of our strengths is navigation, with all 4 team members being individually competent.

studying the maps

course release – almost wetting our pants

During the course release on Friday arvo, we almost wet ourselves with excitement at the prospect of the relay orienteering leg, predicting that we could make some big gains against other teams with only 1 or 2 navigators. Soon after that, I nearly wet myself with fear when we heard about a swimming leg – fortunately only 2 members had to complete this and I was spared by my friends.

course overview

course overview

Studying the maps and marking our course went pretty much to plan (with Keith developing a severe stress headache!) and our rough time estimates predicted that we would be racing to finish by sunrise on Sunday! Em and I helped the team to relax by sharing some of our Tinder conversations with the locals. GPS data of our course route.

rough time estimates

rough time estimates

Saturday 08:00-08:53, split rogaine/swim in pairs

map for split leg swim/rogaine

map for split leg swim/rogaine

This leg would spread the field out a bit to avoid the certain chaos of an inexperienced MTB peloton! The key strategic decision was to figure out how to maximise time efficiency using two separate pairs of people to complete the swim and collect a few checkpoints – hopefully with both pairs finishing around the same time. Keith and Oli nailed the swim and checkpoint C while Sarah and I grabbed the others in a clockwise loop (plus shortcut across the creek and barefoot run into transition). We finished just 3 mins after the lads and were first team to complete this leg, woohoo!

08:53-10:54, sandy MTB

small contact patches of tyre surface area made it tough going through the sand for Oli

small contact patches of tyre surface made it tough going through the sand for Oli

The first MTB leg looked straight forward on the map. We were in the lead pack of 3 or 4 teams and shared a bit of drafting on the first section of road. Then we hit the sand and chaos ensued. This was not really a skill that many of us had practiced or mastered. We soon figured out that it helped to just relax into the drifting and just keep spinning an easy gear – if you stopped pedaling you would dig in and fall. Next we experienced a highly unexpected mechanical problem – Keith’s pedal simply fell out of the crank. Upon inspection, the thread inside the crank had almost rubbed flat, so there was barely anything there to screw the pedal back into. We jammed it in as best we could and limped through to the next transition.

10:54-12:41, trek to South West Rocks

Straightforward team trek with a bit of single track, hill climbing, headland views and a few km along the beach to finish.

12:41-13:09, orienteering relay

This was awesome fun. Our whole team can nav confidently, and it was a nice change-up to a more intense tempo. While our teammates did their legs, the wait provided vital preparation time for the next 3 legs without support crew contact – we needed MTBs, head torches/bike lights, running shoes, inflatable pack rafts, paddles, 7hours food/water. This translated to really heavy bags.

13:09-16:04, MTB with 700m pack rafting

inflatables 2

It didn’t look this graceful during the race

The best laid plans didn’t help us on the pack rafting. We used a setup based on the photo above, with the front person using their hands to paddle in a backsculling movement while the forward facing person used a modified kayak stroke. Oli and I were concerned about our bike cleats pinching a hole in the raft so had our feet precariously nestled on each other’s inner thighs – gotta trust your teammates! We could hear a slow leak in our boat so we set off quickly, aiming to reach the other side before too much air spilled out. We were hoping this was an internal leak between the two layers of the boat. Our paddling setup was too speedy for Keith and Sarah, whose bikes were pretty much falling off their boat, so we had to hang on to an oyster pole and wait for them to avoid violating the 100m team separation rule. We bungee corded my PFD to their boat and grunted it out against the wind/current. Our paddling position was limited by the bikes and made for an inefficient, shoulder only paddle stroke – slow going and extreme fatigue in such small muscle groups.

16:04-18:44, Way Way rogaine

We arrived just before sunset in equal 2nd with Keith’s brother’s team – GuRus! Sarah’s nav made short work of the first two checkpoints with a pack of 7 people in tow behind her, then our two teams diverged to collect different 3rd checkpoints. We bumped into fellow Canberrans Bear Hunt, who were only 2 CPs behind us and mowing their way through the field (as per their race strategy).

After a dense bush bash for our 3rd CP, we were coincidentally reunited with GuRus on the way into our 4th and final CP – we just couldn’t get away from each other! Our 2.5hr rogaine effort would turn out to be a significant advantage over the majority of teams and we left Way Way picnic area in equal 1st.

18:44-20:13, MTB hills

Oli’s prowess of riding with no hands while re-folding the map and placing it back in the map board saved us some crucial seconds on this leg. A couple of minor distractions and we were out of the forest and back on the road, getting our pace line on as we headed into Scotts Head.

20:13-21:57, car shuttle

Quick little car shuttle with our awesome support driver Em Cheyne! We were planning to nap in the car but we were ahead of schedule and buzzing so nobody really felt like sleeping. There was panic at the kayak start as we were the first team to arrive and the volunteers were not aware of the location of the paddles that we were supposed to use! A bit of a hunt around and the crisis was averted as we located a trailer containing the stash of paddles.

21:57-00:20, kayak

We rugged up for this leg as it was pretty cold. By this point it seemed a safe bet (barring any disasters) that the race for line honours was between us and GuRus, as we reached the halfway portage point together. We pulled away slightly on the second half but ended up together again at the final transition area.

00:20-02:35, beach trek

dunes satellite

satellite image for final beach trek

A quick change into dry clothes, shot of coffee each and we were on to the final leg. Keith’s ankle had been getting progressively worse all day and at this point any attempt at running 3km on roads sent stabbing pains through his leg. So we walked towards the beach and watched GuRus run ahead. The only CP on this leg was located in a sand bowl (pic above) and we were approaching from the East-West track on the northern edge of the map. We marched through the dunes and overtook GuRus, leading them into the final checkpoint.

finish line with GuRus

finish line with GuRus

Once we crashed through the scrubby dunes, ready for the final 6km beachfront stretch, we had a friendly chat with GuRus and came to a mutual agreement about the finish proceedings. There was a beautiful lightning storm flashing just off the coast as we made our final approach to Hat Head and crossed the line at 2:35am Sunday morning, beating the sunrise by a good few hours! GuRus followed us in 10mins later for 2nd place, and our mates Bear Hunt would also make it in before sunrise for 3rd place in mixed!

Aftermath

Official results

GPS Tracker Replay

Gigantic thank you to our support crew (/photographers/chefs/mechanics/medics/physios/drivers/legends) of Em Cheyne and Geoff Conley. We now realise how intensive support crewing is for an AR, I think it’s a safe bet that their job was much tougher than actually running the race!

The race HQ was in Crescent Head, which was so amazing that Sarah had to take advantage of the surf on Sunday morning, Oli practiced his bike skills and I did some recovery/exploring.

Presentations with world champs and Geo Full winners, Seagate

Presentations with world champs and Geo Full winners, Seagate

All the AR people were super friendly, and seemed excited to have some fresh/young blood  checking out their sport. We also got to meet Seagate (world champions) who won the full race during a Sydney pit stop on their way back to NZ after winning Expedition Africa. These guys are freakishly tough but still basically seem like normal people! Adventure racing seems to involve complex logistics, heaps of organisation and is fairly expensive, but I’ve got to say I’m hooked. Our team is looking at the Wildside AR (5 day race!) near Newcastle in October. Glow worm next weekend!

$400 fine!!!

$400 fine!!!

Public service announcement – on the way home during the Monday public holiday, we were smacked with a $400 fine for obscuring our number plate with our bike rack (despite last minute home made attempt for once-off bike rack use). No demerit points but hefty penalty, watch out!

Wilson’s Promontory 100km (La Sportiva/Running Wild)

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Race info – La Sportiva / Running Wild / AURA

Flew down from Canberra on Friday arvo and met up with La Sportiva teammates Gill Fowler and Matt Adams for the drive to Wilson’s Prom. I’d never been before and everybody was raving about the beaches/views. Personally I got a rude shock when Google maps told us we had a 3.5hr drive to get there, I didn’t realise it was that far away from Melb! We had a quick Cranbourne stop to pick up the essentials like beer, wine and canned soup (perfect mix of salt, protein, carbs and more salt, with minimal fibre). The low key vibe of the Running Wild events lulls me into a false sense of security, but I remembered that this was only the third time I had raced 100km, so I needed to respect the challenge.

course map by Chilli Man

course map by Chilli Man, basically a big figure 8 plus Mt Bishop loop at the end

It didn’t take long for us to meet the Prom wombats while setting up tents on Friday night. They were everywhere! Quite a few people had close encounters at night with them foraging through tent vestibules looking for food, even pooping on tent pegs. Anyway, a few hours of crappy sleep (lucky I got 10 hours the previous night) and it was time to race! Future Running Wilders beware – Paul Ashton’s mandatory gear checks actually occurred on this day!

Pre sunset starting line

Pre sunset starting line

6am start meant an hour of darkness. Firstly for our 4km uphill road slog, which felt surprisingly pleasant – uphill running practice must be paying off (thanks JP and Titou!). This was a good chance to chat and suss out the competition. It seemed like there would be a front pack of 6 guys in the 100km. Gill reckoned she might pace us until the 60km course split off from the 100km. Some people had really bad head torches and I don’t know how they coped on the next section. It was still dark for the awesome, rocky, muddy, single track descent towards Sealer’s Cove, and (even with Ayups) I was struggling to tell the difference between surface water and deep mud, so I ended up with a new coat of brown paint on my Anakondas, but there was no slipping or sliding.

Damian Smith, Chris Roberts and Gill Fowler at Sealer's Cove (photo by Beardy?)

Damian Smith, Chris Roberts and Gill Fowler at Sealer’s Cove (photo by Beardy?)

I caught up to Rob Zwierlein and we ran together from Sealer’s Cove until the 4-ways at Telegraph Saddle, making pretty good time through rough undulating single track (6min/km average). He knew the area very well and made a couple of speedy nav decisions that helped us get through the campgrounds quickly. The tracks were generally easy to follow but split off into a maze at each campsite. We couldn’t see the guys behind us on the beaches so I figured we had a 5 minute lead over Toby Wiadrowski, Damian Smith, Dan Beard and Chris Roberts who I knew would be stalking us closely. Rob stopped to collect some creek water and (maybe for the first time ever?) I snuck away on an uphill, running a fire trail that I would normally walk.

An out and back down to South Point was probably my highlight of the course. Techy single track winding down to the Southernmost point of mainland Australia! On the way back I could check my splits to the chasers. Rob 5mins, then bam-bam-bam-bam: Toby, Damo, Chris and Beardy around 10-12mins.

On towards the lighthouse – a few short steep pinches that I power hiked up – providing much needed rest from running. Gill breezed through in the opposite direction, leading the 60km outright, a lead which she would hold through to the finish for a new course record.

Nasty little pinches on the lighthouse out and back, plus a beautiful beautiful fresh water tap. I lingered here a bit longer than I should have and refilled all my powders and bottles. As I left it seemed like Rob had almost caught up to me again, darn! On the bright side, I escaped from the out-and-back section before Toby/Damo/Chris/Beardy came through, which I hoped would give me a mental edge up on them.

Stephen Upton's best 'Ord pose'

Stephen Upton’s best ‘Ord pose’ on his way to 3rd in the 44km race

The section heading North from lighthouse to Waterloo was possibly the toughest of the race. Overgrown single track and one of the biggest continuous climbs on the course. Plus we were around the 60km mark and feet were starting to get heavy and not go where you tell them to go, damn rocks! Although it was a really good excuse for some hiking, which always perks up my spirits (I swear I actually like running, but hiking is such a relief).

Back to the Telegraph Saddle 4 way junction, and on to Oberon Bay. This fire trail was a bit demoralising – 3km of soft sand heading towards the beach! As if it wasn’t enough, I went to drink some of my purified creek water, and realised that I must have filled it too close to the beach, because it was salt water! Gross! It was a relief to hit Oberon Bay and the next fresh water tank.

Then another km of soft sand running. I was really starting to get sick of that, but forced myself to be practical about it. The inefficiency of travelling across sand is that there is so much give in the ground, and you can’t ‘push off’ firmly. This means that walking and sprinting are a massive struggle, because they rely so much on pushing. I’m pretty sure the most efficient method of transit is fast step POSE style running – focusing on pulling your feet up with hamstrings and falling forward with your bodyweight, rather than pushing off with every stride. Anyway I theorised about this over a couple of spurs and beaches then I was back to Tidal River! As I ran towards the start/finish/80km checkpoint, the clock was on 7:59:xx so I put in a little burst to get the 80km in sub 8hrs, woohoo!

Feeling good after 80km in 7:59:xx

Feeling excited after 80km in 7:59:xx

My recollection of this checkpoint is basically:

  • Stephen – “how are you feeling mate?”
  • Gill – “less than a half marathon to go!”
  • Matt – “let’s get a photo for stalkbook!”
  • Shane Hutton – “what fuel do you need in your bottles? Let’s get you outta here!”

At this point I had 3h18m to complete 20km under the record time, but for all I knew Rob and the others could be a mere km behind me. It was important to keep concentrating and eating/drinking/pacing responsibly to avoid any disasters/bonking.

The Mt Bishop boardwalk loop was a pretty cool place to run, and the ground was firm underfoot! I was stoked for another hiking climb then a rocky single track descent. My feet were a bit heavy and I kicked my toes quite a few times but avoided any major stacks. Rob and I passed on the summit out-and-back, high five-ing and assuming we probably wouldn’t see each other again til the finish (20ish minute gap).

The final 10km was a bit of a grind. 3km of road running on a douche grade uphill, followed by a few km of beach running (guh, I thought I was done with this!). A final out and back to Pillar Point, then sprinting 7min/km for the 2km back into Tidal River. New CR! The depth of the field definitely helped speed us up as we had 6 guys pushing each other all day.

Phew, made it!

Phew, made it!

Rob came in 30mins later, also under record time. Chris 3rd, Damo 4th and Beardy 5th. Toby had some stomach issues and bailed at a respectable 80km. There were new records in the 44M/60F/80F/100M so I’d say it was a pretty successful year. It definitely helped that conditions were perfect with mild temps, no rain and minimal wind (despite the ominous forecast of wind/rain).

Congrats to all the runners who attempted/finished the courses and thanks to everyone who made the day possible. Matt Adams and La Sportiva for personal and race sponsorship, Paul Ashton (Running Wild) and his volunteers for organising the event, Bogong Equipment for event sponsorship.

Presentations by Paul Ashton (RD)

Presentations by Paul Ashton (RD)

Coming up I’ve got:

Buffalo Stampede

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Caine Warburton (La Sportiva/Kokoda Spirit Racing) coming through as first A/NZ finisher!

Caine Warburton (La Sportiva/Kokoda Spirit Racing/etc.) coming through as first Aus/NZ finisher in the 75km utlra!

Australia’s first ever official skyrunning weekend did not disappoint. Maximum vertical with plenty of steep climbs/descents made for carnage on the day and plenty of DNFs. Damiano and I drove down from Canberra and arrived in Bright on Saturday just as Dakota Jones was finishing up with destroying the 75km ultra. As everyone who saw him on the weekend will tell you, he is a monster. There was a lot of confusion at the finish as talk spread of Ben Duffus and Blake Hose being withdrawn (kinda scary that these lads can push themselves so hard they can no longer stand up) and who was going to come in for 2nd place. It was super exciting to see La Sportiva teammate Caine Warburton come in to win the trip to Europe as first Aus/NZ runner home. What we didn’t realise was how close a battle it had been, as Andrew Tuckey came over the line ~30secs later, and Grant Guise no more than a minute after that, exciting to watch! Had a chat to Izzy Bespalov who seemed remarkably composed and relaxed after smashing out the 75km and finishing 4th female! Props to anyone who finished, especially the people who finished in the dark and got bucketed on to boot!

Clarke and Cooba McClymont making it home!

Clarke and ‘Cooba’ McClymont making it home!

After watching the top 10 finish, we checked into the campground, setup our tent and headed to dinner at the pub. This was when it started pouring rain and we realised that the fly of our tent was still open (oops!). Luckily we had a few spare towels to dry the inside of the tent, and it turns out hand-driers are very effective at quickly drying sleeping bags and mats!

Automatic hand-drier /sleeping-bag-drier at Bright Holiday Park

Automatic hand-drier (/sleeping-bag-drier!) at Bright Holiday Park

Daylight savings tagged out on Saturday night so we got the bonus of an extra hour’s sleep PLUS we started the race in daylight without head torches. Dropping from the Saturday ultra to the Sunday marathon was a great choice! It was a pretty relaxed start and the prime suspects (Vajin Armstrong, John Winsbury, David Byrne, etc.) took off with their pack of chasers, about 15 of us in total. In my head, the profile of the course was basically:

  • Mystic, big up/down (steep climb, steep descent)
  • Clear Spot, big up/down (steep climb, steep descent)
  • Keating Ridge, small up/down (run-able climb, smooth descent)
  • Buffalo Big Walk, very big up (standard climb)
  • Chalwell galleries – undulating 7km loop

Heading up Mystic I dropped off the back of this lead group, wary of pushing the pace too early (it was pretty convincing when every single ultra participant I spoke to advised starting conservatively as the course was brutal). The steep descent down Mick’s track was super sketchy and I didn’t really know what technique would work best, so basically tried to stick to the edges where there was a bit of grass to stop the mud from sliding around so much.

Steep hiking up Clear Spot - photo credit Mark Lee

Steep hiking up Clear Spot – photo credit Mark Lee

The next checkpoint at the bottom of the Clear Spot climb was the first of many encounters with crazy cowbell ringing spectators. This was a really cool aspect of the weekend that added to the atmosphere and also provided a bit of information about how far ahead/behind you were of the people around you (based on the bells going crazy every time a runner goes past). The Clear Spot climb was about 2km of very steep hiking, and I started to pick up a couple of places against the people who could outrun me on the first climb – nobody was running this one!

"Easy" running into the CP after the Clear Spot descent - photo credit John Power

“Easy” running into the CP after the Clear Spot descent – photo credit John Power

Next up on the ridiculous descent from Clear Spot was the Warner’s Wall track, where I had my first and only stack. Plonked my glute on a rock which hurt at the time but didn’t provide any lasting irritation. I was following Edwin Perry down here and I’m pretty sure his surfing skills came in handy as he slid quickly but smoothly down through the mud. There were a few km’s of easy downhill fire trail heading in to the next CP, where I saw JP setting up a shoe-change pit stop for Pierre-Francois Loos – exciting strategy using beefier studs for the slippery first half and lighter shoes for efficiency in the second half. JP said I was only 9mins behind John/Vajin so I thought that was pretty exciting, and it meant that there must be a few guys within reach of the 12 or so that were still ahead of me.

Heading up Keating Ridge was hard work, as it was mostly run-able. I preferred the steep early climbs that everybody had to hike. I caught James Stewart through here, who had smashed the early climbs but informed me he was done for the day. The smooth rolling downhill was great, and it wasn’t long before I saw Clarke and Caine on the Buffalo Rd and cruised into the next checkpoint.

Alright views from Buffalo

Alright views from Buffalo

I figured the Big Walk up Buffalo would take about 1.5hrs, and I was keen for some more hiking uphill and less running. Felt pretty good up here, overtook a couple more guys and I figured I should be into the top 10 by now. Just as I was running low on water, I hit the open rocky section with waterfalls and made use of this pure-ish water refill opportunity.

buffalo views

At this point I was pretty content to defend my top 10 spot and cruise through to the finish, just when Chris Wight stormed past me and (figuratively) gave me a much needed kick up the posterior (thanks!). I attempted to cling on to him as we ran into the chalet carpark and started the 7km Chalwell Galleries loop.

Damiano Luzzi filling up for the final 7km loop - he walked the whole race to avoid aggravating his ITB problem.

Damiano Luzzi filling up for the final 7km loop – he walked the whole race to avoid aggravating his ITB (because obviously withdrawing from the race was never an option).

In my attempt to chase Chris, he dragged me past two more guys who seemed pretty keen to see the finish line soon (including Joel Fitzgerald, who smashed me at Mt Buller earlier in the year). On the little out and back section of fire trail, I saw Vajin and Dave Byrne running side by side, briefly wondered if they were heading for a sprint finish or had some kind of pact going on.

We got the Chalwell Galleries section, and despite Moe and Caine’s advice to ‘go down as soon as possible’ I ended up on top of the rocks gazing down on a 3 metre drop, before realising that we were supposed to slither through the tiny gap a metre or so back. I felt like I pushed pretty hard through to the finish – didn’t see Chris again but I also stayed away from the guys behind me. Crossed the line in 4:48 and 7th place, meeting my (vague and un-researched) targets of sub-5:00 and top 10. Turns out I also snagged the 18-29 age category win thanks to all the guys who beat me being 30+, woohoo!

Rocking trail tan at the finish line. My 2nd ever run in the Bushidos, not a blister in sight and I only stacked it once while descending (I gather this was relatively good)

Rocking trail tan at the finish. My 2nd ever run testing out the new La Sportiva Bushidos, not a blister in sight and I only stacked it once while descending (I gather this was relatively good)

It turned out there was a bit of drama in the front of the race. John Winsbury had led for a long time, until halfway up the Big Walk when he started cramping. Vajin and Dave took the lead to duke it out, until they hit some hikers at Chalwell Galleries which clogged up their route and brought them back together, so they decided to finish together. I thought the course might be too muddy for my Helios shoes but they seemed to work pretty bloody well for John and Vajin! I’m super keen to give the ultra a crack next year. The course was challenging and the atmosphere was awesome – I hope we get to see more Skyrunning in Aus!

Jeremy Walker at the finish (crazy guy ran an extra km to make sure he clocked his first marathon distance on the GPS)

Jeremy Walker at the finish (crazy guy ran an extra km to make sure he clocked his first marathon distance on the GPS)

Next up is Wilson’s Prom on the 3rd of May.

Sky marathon resultsSky ultra results.

La Sportiva Bushido coming soon to Aus!

My Strava.