I turned up for the Athletics Victoria 15 km at Lake Wendouree in Ballarat (90 minutes outside Melbourne) certain that I would record a best time over the distance. That certainty was heavily related to the fact that I had never raced 15 km, and had therefore never recorded a time.
It is a race in which a graph of my pacing really does tell the whole story.
Taking place on a 6 km circuit around the lake, the race started with 1.5 km in an anti-clockwise direction before turning around (the sudden dip in the graph), returning back to the start/finish area and then completing two complete clockwise circuits. Still working towards peak fitness I started at a slightly conservative pace, thinking that I would speed up somewhere between halfway and the 10-km mark.
After inconsistent pacing in traffic for the first 3 km (the many ups and downs on the left) I was able to settle into a rhythm. Heading away from the start/finish area we were pushed along by a tailwind (my pace increased to follow the dotted white line of my average), so that on the return journey along the opposite shore of the lake the headwind slowed many of the runners down. I only slowed down slightly (dropping just below my average once more), starting to consistently pass runners.
Continuing my slightly disordered race reporting of late, this is a report of a race from mid-April. Having rediscovered enjoyment in my running of late, and with it satisfaction in reflecting and blogging about the pursuit, I think I should now be able to return to orderly journalistic endeavours.
After deciding that I would not race the mountainous 75 km Ultra SkyMarathon at Mount Buffalo, with the 100-km TNF100 following just a month later, my race-day mantra was “hold back”.
Prior to the race I had a chat with Landie Greyling (who would win the women’s race), having caught up with her for a run in South Africa just a couple of months earlier. I mentioned that I was planning to take it easy, so she suggested that we could run together as she would also take it easy. We were definitely using different relative levels of easiness on this occasion, so perhaps I should have said that I was planning to take it extremely easy.
The race starts with two steep early climbs, so following my race mantra I walked every single step. On the gradual ascent I had dubbed “climb 2.5” I allowed myself to use a run/walk strategy before cruising down the hill into the aid station at the bottom of the long climb up Mount Buffalo. I ran some of the gentle sections of ascent, walked the rest, and by the time I approached the top of the mountain I was feeling extremely good. After a loop around the top I started the long descent, returning back along the exact same route.
Still feeling strong and knowing that I could easily fly down the hill I repeated my mantra frequently and held back on the pace until the last couple of kilometres, when I finally let myself pick up some speed. I returned to my run/walk strategy for the reverse direction of “climb 2.5”. The second-last climb on the return starts with a seemingly vertical wall, but it was the length of the climb remaining that seemed never-ending as I had miscalculated the ascent and kept expecting it to finish based on the readings from my watch. When I finally reached the top I lay down and stretched out my back on a picnic table, before taking in the view and then commencing on my journey.
After losing some of the motivation required to maintain the running volume for ultras, I decided that I needed a bit of a change. Therefore I signed up for the Athletics Victoria winter XCR season, which is comprised of a combination of cross country and short road races. I will start the season slightly out of shape and without any training towards shorter distances, but will now focus my winter training to set new fastest times on shorter distances I have never (or rarely) raced before.
My previous cross country race took place while I was in primary school, with a distance of 3 km. Strangely I ran a loop of the park where that race was held just yesterday.
My first XCR race took place at Lardner Park, offering two 4-km cross country loops with a number of ditches and a fence jump. Despite being an off-road event the vibe was very different to the trail races I am now used to. In trail races runners will normally congratulate someone overtaking them. In contrast I noted how aggressive other runners were when overtaking or turning corners.
I arrived at Wilsons Promontory with two key objectives in mind. Firstly, I needed an enjoyable run after having lost some motivation in the two months preceding it. Secondly, it was important that I minimised damage as I had a 100-km race at The North Face 100 only two weeks later.
Wilsons Prom is one of the favourite parts of my home state, and an ideal trail running destination, so I expected it to deliver on my first objective. In order to ensure that I didn’t run too hard I had decided that I would stop at the lighthouse (37 km into the run) for a picnic lunch.
Starting in the dark with a road climb to the Telegraph Saddle carpark, I then stepped off the paved surface, and would remain on a combination of trails, beaches and gravel roads for the remainder of the run. I turned off my headlamp not long after starting the amazing descent towards the campsite at Saddle Cove. The beautiful run through temperate rainforest on soft trails in pale light conditions was magical, so despite running slightly faster than intended I was enjoying myself too much to consider slowing down.
As I ascended from the cove I encountered another runner stopped to take a photo, and offered to snap one of him. Soon enough there were four of us standing around like a bunch of trigger-happy tourists. We set off once again discussing that this was a run, not a race.
I continued to the stunning views of Refuge Cove and practiced my sand running with a long stretch along Waterloo Bay. I first glimpsed the lighthouse from a few kilometres away, feeling amazingly fresh and strong, but upon arriving I sat down at a picnic table as planned.
There are many possible ways to celebrate Australia Day. Barbecues and a couple of drinks is very common, and that would follow, but I started the day with a run.
As part of a new series of night trail runs organised by TrailsPlus, the Australia Day Midnight Rambler offered running options from 5 km through to 6 hours. All of the events were based on a 5-km loop, providing a great way to practice trail running at night, which is a very important skill for long-distance races. Opting for the longest option I would set out on January 25th at 23:00 for an hour of running, and then would continue for the first five hours of our national day. The plan wasn’t to run flat out, but to get in a solid six hours of training to end a week that involved good mileage, as well as a new 5 km PB at my local Parkrun.
I set out on the first lap behind a few guys setting the pace up front. Since I wasn’t racing I had decided to run down the batteries already in my headlamp rather than starting with a fresh set, but immediately realised that they were already nearly flat. I pulled out my spare hand torch but generally ran using just the dim light from my headlamp. At the end of the first lap I stopped to replace the batteries before leaving the aid station, now gapped by the runners ahead. I would run almost entirely solo for the remaining 5.5 hours.
I had been hosting friend and fellow runner Tamyka since Friday evening, as she had flown in from Queensland for the long weekend. Our race preparation had involved a few nice runs plus plenty of eating, not all of it ideally suited as pre-race nutrition (including a spicy pizza at lunch). As I thought ahead to the nearing toilet block halfway around lap four I missed sighting a rock and the resulting fall involved some grazing on my right hand and knee. On the following lap I noted the exact rock that had caused my fall, and I glared at it on each subsequent lap.
Since returning to Australia last May I have conducted almost all of my training as solo runs. That has included weeks where every training run has lasted at least 2 hours. It provided plenty of time in my own headspace but had become challenging to stay motivated at times. Having run with a great training group for a couple of years while living in South Africa I have missed the camaraderie (and peer group pressure) that training partners can provide.
Therefore I have started looking for some people to run with in earnest. Last weekend I went out for my first run with the Dandenong Trail Runners, a group of runners who organise regular informal runs in the hilly Dandenong Ranges National Park. Since I generally run in the park at least once a week, and sometimes as often as three times a week, it seemed like a great fit.
A week after my race at Two Bays I joined the group for a “flattish” 20ish km run. A group of 19 people met up in the carpark at the Basin Theatre, and we all set out together. The group would separate on the climbs and then regroup at junctions along the course. A number of people were locals to the area, but there were also others like me who had travelled quite a distance (over 30 km in my case) to be there. At the highest point on the route we stopped for a group photo, which apparently involves a jump that I still need to master. I am easily spotted thanks to the very bright green shirt I was wearing.
Completing my first race of 2015 during the second weekend of the year was always part of my plan. However as mentioned in my pre-race post I had trained for a mountainous race that would play to my strengths. I knew that the largest single climb at Two Bays was less than 300 metres of ascent, and that the total ascent would be considerably less than Bogong to Hotham. The race would be 8 km (and around 3 hours) shorter.
Two Bays – Logo
Two Bays – Course Profile
Standing in the starting chute I learned that we had a few hundred metres before reaching single track, and the conga line that would follow. Therefore, unlike my normally controlled starting pace I took off quickly in order to secure a decent position on the single track, slotting in just within the top 30.
I settled into pace in a line of runners, initially striding along happily but noticing a gradual slowdown. After just over 4 km I made my way past a stream of runners with the repeated chant of “on your right” and found myself with open trail ahead of me. This allowed me to set my own pace without any concern for those runners ahead. Occasionally I would pass, or be passed, by other runners as I focussed on my own run.
My first race for 2015 will be tomorrow (January 11th) at the Two Bays 56 km trail run. I have been preparing for this race for … 1 day.
Bogong to Hotham – Logo
Bogong to Hotham – Course Profile
I was signed up to run Bogong to Hotham on that same day, an iconic mountain run that includes the highest and third highest peaks in Victoria. But earlier in the week weather forecasts started coming in predicting a huge storm that was expected to drop a month’s worth of rain over the state, all within the period of race weekend. On Thursday night we were informed by the race director that there was a risk of the race being cancelled, and it was officially cancelled yesterday. The reason was due to the risk in the crossing of Big River as well as the high likelihood of tree falls due to the combination of bushfire-damaged trees, soft soil and high winds.
Having been up to that area, and knowing the remote nature of many parts of the course I totally respect the decision that was reached by the race director in combination with Parks Victoria. But I had put a lot of effort into training to peak for the race and had already tapered for race day. But luckily there was another race taking part on the same day, in the same state (actually closer to home), and race entries were still open.
Two Bays – Logo
Two Bays – Course Profile
Two Bays follows an out-and-back course along the 28 km Two Bays trail between Cape Shanck and Dromana. Having had no intention of doing the race until a day ago I didn’t know all that much about the race (besides its distance) when I entered my credit card details.
The race website warns of a steep climb rising 1,000 feet over 3 km, but considering Bogong to Hotham starts with a 1,300 metre climb within the first 9 km I am not too worried about that. I can also pack away the mandatory gear (including thermals, map and compass) that I had pulled out, since Two Bays only mandatory gear is 500 ml of fluid-carrying capacity. I guess everything else I need to know I will learn on the day.
In January I will run the 64 km Bogong to Hotham, which shares significant parts of the route followed by Australia’s toughest 100-mile race, the Alpine Challenge. I decided that the race weekend for the Alpine Challenge would provide me a great opportunity to head up to the area, hopefully perform a bit of a recce for Bogong to Hotham, and give back to the trail running community. I would join fellow sweeper Clare for a 60 km loop including Mt Hotham and Mt Feathertop. The section is known as Mortein Alley (after a brand of insecticide), since it generally constitutes a considerable portion of the drop-out rate within the race (i.e. people drop like flies).
I headed down to the starting line to watch the runners set out at 4:30 AM, but then was able to return to sleep as my leg of the race would only commence after the sun had risen and then set once again. In the afternoon I headed over to Pole 333, one of the old telegraph poles in the area where our loop would start and finish. I set out for a solo run to see a bit of the Bogong to Hotham course, heading back towards the oncoming runners. I encountered some confused runners as I went but made sure to comfort them that they were headed in the right direction, and it was in fact me that was heading the wrong way. I chatted with a few runners, some tourists out for a hike, and one of the aid station volunteers further along the course. The last section of my run as I returned was particularly challenging, as the dipping sun shone brightly in my eyes to cause sun spots while the trail was already in shade. When I returned to the aid station I put on some warm clothing to wait.
Just after 11 PM we set out for our loop, 2.5 hours after the last runner had departed. I was carrying VHF and UHF radios, while Clare carried first-aid, spare food and warm gear. We set out rugged up as the temperature and wind had been cold while waiting at the very exposed aid station, but by the time we reached the river below we started to shed layers before commencing the climb to Mt Hotham. We arrived at the aid station, located in a hut on the mountain, where we were updated on the status of the runners ahead of us, and were given a SPOT tracking device that would allow us to be followed by race headquarters. As we followed the road away from the aid station, Clare pointed out that we would be taking a turnoff following huts on both sides of the road, and marked by a large sign. There was “no way” we could miss the turnoff, but shortly after we turned around and tracked back almost a kilometre to the turnoff we had missed.
Despite being an Australian ultra runner I have run relatively few of my ultra races in Australia. Ignoring my run at the Great Ocean Road Marathon in 2013 (technically an ultra since it is 45 km in length) I had completed two ultras in Australia, both on trail at the You Yangs 50 km. Both times at You Yangs I had snuck onto the podium by finishing third.
Marysville is one of the towns that was devastated by the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009, with the fires destroying all but 14 out of 400 buildings in the area and claiming the lives of 34 people. As I drove up with my running mate Matt, following a stunning and winding road through beautiful forest, we also appreciated the ramifications of this single point of egress as fire raged towards the small town.
As the race started we set out from the town’s sporting ground and I fell into second place as one runner (who I would later find was named Ash Bennett) quickly raced to the front. He set a pace faster than I was willing to run at such an early stage so I let him slowly pull away ahead of me. As we headed towards the outskirts of town a pack slowly formed up so that by the time we took a turn to follow the Taggerty River as it winds its way out of town there were 6-7 of us running together, with Ash out ahead. There was plenty of chatter in the pack as we gradually climbed up the valley, but the pack started to splinter as the gradient increased and I found myself in 4th place.
Just after 13 km into the race we took a turn away from the river and started a steep, major climb. Apart from a couple of short running sections I power-hiked up the hill and by the time I reached the top of the climb I had passed into 2nd place. I then started the out-and-back section that provided the additional distance over the marathon event. At the turnaround I timed that Ash had opened up a gap of 2 minutes, with about three runners behind me within a minute and then the remainder of our prior pack strung out further behind.