Strava data – course map, elevation profile, splits, etc.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
Nutrition: 1 gel every 30mins until the tunnel, ~1.5L water, cup of coke at the final aid station