12th Jan 2014, Vic Alps
Spent a few days camping in Mt Beauty to scope out the course and do some MTB with Pierre-Francois Loos. Turned out to be a good option as some of the intersections seemed to cause a fair bit of confusion on race day. Weather was pretty warm but the river was amazing.
It always looked like a strong/competitive lineup but there were a few late withdrawals that we found out about at the briefing (Rob Walter sick, Ben Duffus injured). This was my first big race as part of the La Sportiva team, so it was exciting to see the friendly faces of Stephen Upton, Izzy Bespalov and Gill Fowler. I was a little bit intimidated by the net ascent of the course elevation profile – we would have to climb hills without getting equivalent downhills as a reward!
On the way up Bogong I saw the lead pack take off with Stu Gibson, Blake Hose, Chris Wight and Andy Lee, followed by a few chasers – Damon Goerke, Rowan Walker, Robin Rishworth. I think I was 8th to the summit behind these guys, and that was the last I saw of Stu, Blake and Damon. I had planned about 1:40ish to the summit but the adrenaline and competition meant I was there in about 1:25. This was exciting but I knew I needed to control my pace a bit more or it would hurt later.
I overtook Robin and Rowan on the downhill to Big River. This section was fun – amazing views and a steep track winding downhill. Rowan caught me again on the Duane Spur climb. It was a mental battle getting up there and I was relieved to have some Canberra banter to distract us while we hiked up to Roper’s Hut. Rowan took off on the flats and I’m not really sure what happened later but he must have ended up with a wrong turn as I never saw him again (including the finish line).
Had a quick chat to Ben Duffus at one of the checkpoints – I was kinda relieved not to be racing against him, will have to wait until Buffalo! At this point Mick Keyte and Jono O’Loughlin caught me as we passed Mt Nelse. There was a fun little single track stretch then we had made it to Langford Gap. Martin Fryer and a few others were super helpful which made for a speedy bottle change/sunscreen lather then we were off and running again.
Mick and I would end up running more or less together from here to Pole 333. We overtook Andy Lee having a rough time of it, then the volunteers at Bogong High Plains Road told us Chris Wight had dropped and we were actually sitting in 4th/5th, which was a pleasant surprise!
I was a bit of a mess on the next section along the high plains leading to Pole 333. The heat was overwhelming and I was struggling to make myself keep calories down. Pretty much walked anything that was a slight incline. There was a small trickling creek that proved to be a bit of a lifeline – some ice cold water down the back of my neck felt pretty damn amazing. Mick also had plenty of motivational chat for me as we reminisced about Razorback 6 weeks ago.
We strolled into Pole 333 checkpoint feeling pretty content about being 4th/5th place, when all of a sudden 3 people appeared about 100m behind us (in hindsight I’m guessing one of them may have been Beth). I freaked out a bit and saw the situation as 5 of us all next to each other racing for 4th position. There was a small downhill to Cobungra Gap then a relatively small climb up Swindler’s Spur before the rolling fire trail to the finish. I figured I needed to get away on the descent or they’d smash me up the hills. With some encouragement from Mick I took off like a crazy person on the downhill, struggled slowly up Swindler’s and didn’t see anyone again until the finish, where Mick held on strongly to 5th spot.
My time of 7:47 was pretty much what I planned (7:30-8:00) but I was absolutely stoked to end up 4th. There were a lot of navigational issues, heat issues, plus the standard stomach/cramp stuff that hit everyone. I found the course really tough. The technicality of the tracks was exaggerated a bit but there was just SO much climbing in the first half, and combined with the heat that made for a mental struggle all day long. Although I guess these were relatively amazing conditions compared to the storms and bushfires of some other years. Podium was Stu Gibson, Blake Hose, Damon Goerke, with Stu challenging the record (3mins short!) and Blake going under 7hrs as a 21yr old. In the women’s, Beth Cardelli (CR), Gill Fowler, Steph Gaskell.
Thanks to Andy Hewat, Brett Saxon and their crew of volunteers. It was amazing to see such well stocked and staffed checkpoints in remote locations that could only be accessed on foot. Well done to all the podium finishers, exciting to see the course records being broken or challenged! I have newfound respect for anybody who attempts or finishes this race – huge mental battle. Also thanks to Mick Keyte for the mid-race motivational speeches, Pierre-Francois Loos for being a fun/patient travel buddy and La Sportiva for the shoes/clothes – no blisters/problems all day on that front!
Gear: La Sportiva Helios shoes, Ultimate Direction PB Vest
Nutrition: About 5-6hrs worth (1250-1500 calories) of home made maltodextrin/protein/electrolyte mix plus some coke/HEED at checkpoints, I got a bit slack with eating in the heat