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 There was a lot of confusion at the finish as talk spread of Ben Duffus and Blake Hose being withdrawn (kinda scary that these lads can push themselves so hard they can no longer stand up) and who was going to come in for 2nd place.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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
Next up is Wilson’s Prom on the 3rd of May.
La Sportiva Bushido coming soon to Aus!