Thursday, November 5, 2015

Wonderland Run - Race Report

The inaugural Wonderland Run (37k) was held at Halls Gap, in the Grampians National Park at the end of August, and is the latest event created by the team at Big Long Run, who also put on Two Bays, and, until its recent sale to Mountain Sports, Roller Coaster Run.

The BLR events always get a great turn out, are terrifically well organised, have unmatched course markings, and of course - a theme. As you may have guessed, the Wonderland Run theme was Alice in Wonderland, which made for some interesting costumes, especially the assistant Race Director dressed as the White Rabbit.

The run itself follows the Wonderland Trail which starts from the Halls Gap caravan park and goes up and over Mt Rosea. There is also a 20k event which starts at the same time and follows most of the same course, but without the Rosea ascent. The landscape has to be seen to be believed - the rock formations that surround you, squeezing through crevices, climbing cliffside staircases. It really is quite stunning.

Course Map

Because it is such a beautiful place, we made a long weekend of it, staying for 3 nights at the caravan park, and taking in some of the sights while we were there, including a visit to the incredible McKenzie Falls on the Saturday before the race.

McKenzie Falls

As it was really just supposed to be a last solid hit out for Surf Coast Century in 3 weeks time, I didn't really taper for the race, but just had a slightly lighter week. As a result, I was a little heavy in the legs off the start, and got caught behind the train on the first ascent, and quickly lost touch with the top 5.

The landscape was spectacular
Photo: Matilda Iglesias

From there, I had to fight a lot of traffic for the first 5-6k, before finally getting some clear air and attempting to make up some ground. I had to use a lot of petrol tickets in the chase however, and by half way up the Rosea ascent I decided to conserve some energy for the run home. The descent off Rosea was super fun, and something I would have struggled with a year ago. But with heaps of practice my technical skills are slowly making progress.

Arriving at Borough Huts in 6th
Photo: Kathy Thurling

I arrived at the Borough Huts campgrounds (21k) in 6th place, and thought I still had a good finish left in me, but struggled in the run home as the hard recent training took its toll, and faded somewhat to finish 8th overall in 3:42, but taking first place in my 40-49 category.

At the finish with Sul
Photo: Andrew Bearsley

We had a fantastic weekend with the kids taking bushwalks, roasting marshmallows, and had two amazing meals at the Kookaburra Hotel. The Halls Gap Caravan Park is right in the centre of the township and has all the great trails right out the back door, including just a short walk to the popular Venus Baths.

Campfires at the Caravan Park

The Wonderland Run is now locked in to my yearly calendar as the first race after my winter break. It is the perfect timing and distance to allow a rest after Ultra-Trail Australia, and then work on some speed and short, sharp climbs - a great way to kick off the summer racing season. And I would certainly place it with UTA and Yurrebilla in my top 3 most beautiful runs so far. Combine the perfect timing & distance, spectacular course, and ideal opportunity for a family getaway, and the Big Long Run guys are on to another winner!

End of a great weekend!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Studley Park - Race Report

My lack of leg speed has been an ongoing source of frustration since I started taking running a bit more seriously back in 2013. Strava lists my fastest 1k effort at 3:42, and I'm pretty sure that was down a steep hill. When I was 15, I ran a half marathon at 3:50 pace, so I know I had it once, I'm just not sure where it went!

With that in mind I decided to run some shorter races once I had recovered from TNF, and entered Race 1 of the Salomon Trail Series held at Studley Park on Sunday 21st June over 15km. The races, put on by Rapid Ascent, gradually stepped up in distance over the series, with the idea that people training for Surf Coast Century (also put on by Rapid Ascent) would enter them as part of their training.

On race day I packed the family into the car and we headed up to the city on what was a bitterly cold morning - coldest of the year so far. The kids ran around to keep warm, while I did a 45 minute warm up to get the circulation going still wearing my hoodie, beanie & gloves.

Already gasping just after the start

When we started, I was still so cold I basically ran as fast as I could, which was still not fast enough to maintain touch with the lead group, who dropped me before we'd even gone 2km. After that I settled into a good pace, and started to enjoy the scenery around Yarra Bend Park.

Running a little wide on the bend

I had only been back training for a little over two weeks, and with the remnants of TNF still in the legs, I started to bleed positions from about the 5km mark, but only one every now and then. It was a strange feeling to be racing such a short distance, and having the heart rate so high for a sustained period of time. I do intervals and tempo runs, but to be basically redlining it for 15km is something else altogether.

From about the 12km I really got the stitch, and lost a few more positions, but really enjoyed the last little stretch along the river. The last guy who passed me (Jade Merrett) ended up being the one who won the masters category, and did me out of a new pair of shoes. We had a good chat afterwards and he thanked me for stopping him going the wrong way at one of the turns!

The Home Stretch!

I was 15th overall in 1:00:18 (you count the seconds in these short races!), and 2nd Male Masters. I even think I may have broken that Strava 3:42 a couple of times if I hadn't forgotten to start my watch - D'oh! All in all, it was a really fun day out, and definitely a race I would like to do again sometime, although it looks a little close to U-TA next year to be feasible.

The North Face 100 - Race Report

Taking on TNF100 again this year I was fairly nervous. Last year had been a fairly painful experience, which had left me pretty beat up and with some physical and mental scars that took a while to heal.

Despite the late start to my preparation due to injury, I had managed put together a couple of quality weeks in the lead up. Nowhere near the volume of last year, and I certainly didn't feel as fit as I did last year, but I had decided that instead of lean & mean, this year I was going in fat & happy. My biggest week was 110km, where the previous year I had topped 150km a couple of times. But the biggest change was bringing the 15km tempo road runs back into my program. These fast, hilly runs kept my turnover high, primed my quads on the hard surfaces, and left me free to focus on stairs during my weekend long runs.

I had decided that this year I didn't want to fly the day before racing, so I flew up Thursday night and stayed in Sydney. This gave me the opportunity for a magic morning shake out run around Darling Harbour, The Opera House, The Rocks and Botanic Gardens. This, combined with a delicious breakfast at Portobellos, put me in a great frame of mind by the time I hopped on the train at Central and headed to Katoomba late morning.

Friday Morning at The Rocks, Sydney

I arrived at the motel about 2:30pm, and got all my drop bags ready before going down to register. Two of my last year's travelling companions, Andy & Dave, arrived just as I was about to leave, so I hung with them for a bit while they unpacked, enjoying having some company after 24 hours of "alone time". Registration was busy with plenty to see at the expo, but I made a point of not hanging around this year, and as soon as I had my race pack, it was straight back to the motel. I think it's easy to get caught up in the hype of these big events, and while you want to enjoy the atmosphere, you need to be conscious of how much energy it takes out of you.

Arriving at Katoomba Station

The rest of the evening was pretty cruisy, we headed up to the main street of Katoomba for some pasta, then had a couple of beers watching the footy, before a final check of race kit, and a suprisingly good night's sleep. I woke before the alarm next morning, still feeling relaxed, but focused for the day ahead. There was a part of me that was still worried whether my groin injury would hold together for 100km, and I think that played a big part in keeping my expectations low. Add in the rushed preparation, and I was thinking a sub-14 buckle would be a good result, and if I got near last year's 12:44, I would be rapt.

We got to the start line half an hour before I was due to head off in the first wave at 6:20am. This gave me plenty of time for a nice long warm up, which was just as well, because it was bloody freezing. I positioned myself a bit further back in the chute this year, determined not to get too carried away on the fast 4km road start, thinking the whole time "relax, relax, relax". And when RD Tom Landon-Smith sent us away, in a move that will shock anyone familar with my racing style, relax is exactly what I managed to do.

We completed the out & back on the road, and started the drop down the Furber Stairs, and I found myself running easily behind U.S. star Amy Sproston. I had worked hard on my stair descending, and keeping pace was no bother. I could probably have gone a little faster, but the pace was comfortable and I didn't want to get in the way of one of the race favourites, so I gave her a bit of room and just enjoyed the early part of the race, especially the bit of rock hopping through the Landslide.

The big climb up the Golden Stairs I passed a few without spiking the heart rate, but noticed a problem which turned out to be my only real issue for the day. My socks, which I had run 100's of kms in the same brand with no problems, had got wet and were slipping down at the back, leaving my heel rubbing on my shoe. While it didn't really bother me until the last 15k, I lost a lot of skin on both heels, and the wounds took a month to fully heal.

The next 10k along the Narrowneck firetrail I was careful to take it easy, as this was where I had fallen last year, and just cruised along, so I was surprised to catch up to Andy halfway, who was complaining about his broken headphones, and Stephen Rennick, who was having early stomach issues which is never a good sign. Andy took off pretty quickly shortly after, but I ran with Steve for a while, and another good runner from Melbourne - Simon Ferraro. The pace got a little uncomfortable after a while though (Steve runs a 2:40 marathon), so I eased back and let them go.

Cruising along Narrowneck

After hating it last year, I really enjoyed the techy approach to the Tarros Ladders, and then the fun descent and climb over the ridge. Then it was another stretch of firetrail before we hit CP2 at Dunphy's Camp (31k) where I was quickly in and out before starting the climb up to Ironpot Ridge. I had caught Steve again, who was having a really rough day, and we hiked up together before getting to the out and back section where the marshalls were basically screaming at us to make sure we turned left. I couldn't understand why they were so agitated until I heard about the controversy later on with the ultimate winner Dylan Bowman and two of the other internationals missing this section, and receiving a time penalty. Again, I had hated this section last year as the effects of my too-fast start hit me, but this year I loved it - bouncing across the rocks, then slip-sliding all the way down the descent. It was at this point I think I realised I was going to have a much better day, as I remembered how bad I had felt at this spot last year.

I hit a bit of a flat spot on Megalong Valley Road, and got passed by about 4 or 5 people coming in to the Six Foot Track CP3 at 46k, but I didn't let it bother me, and restocked from my drop bags before continuing on my way in 59th place. My time into CP3 was 4:42, which was 2 minutes quicker than last year, and the first time during the race I had been under my previous year's splits. I felt pretty good coming out of the CP, but shortly after, as I started the gradual climb up Nellies Glen Road, my stomach started to feel a bit off (probably from the caffeine gel), and my groin injury started to ache considerably. Fortunately a year wiser, instead of pushing through, I backed the pace right off, getting passed a few more times, and hiking some of the steeper pinches. By the time I arrived at Nellies Glen, I was feeling much better, and hiked really well up the stairs, passing a few people and reaching the top in great shape. I caught Steve again, and we ran the last part of the track and the road section together before arriving at CP4 Katoomba Aquatic Centre, 57km done.

Through Nellies Glen

I had changed up my nutrition plan from this point onwards, and replaced one of my normal electrolyte bottles with a 600ml coke, and had some greasy roast chicken wrapped in foil. I left the Aquatic Centre in 6:10, which was 7 minutes quicker than last year, and as I sipped on the coke and ate half the chicken as I ran down the road, my energy levels were great, and I was ready to rock. Leg 5 is the heart of the course. Certainly the most spectacular and inspiring views, and the leg where you can lose or make up huge amounts of time depending on how you have managed the first half of the race. Last year, it had been a total sufferfest for me, but this year I can honestly say I loved every second. I ran solidly and evenly though the whole leg, but still for the most part able to keep myself in check.

Who knew it could be so much fun?

 At about 73k, my Garmin died, but I no longer needed to look at my watch to know I was having a day out. I had dropped Steve, who continued to struggle with his stomach, and on the last big climb of the leg, caught up with Andy who had been managing leg cramps and stomach as well. I offered salt, but he had already had some, so all I could do was give some words of encouragement and continue on. But finally the admirable restraint I had exercised all day gave out, and on the road drop into CP5 I pulled the trigger, arriving at Queen Vic Hospital in a rush, booking in and out within a minute, tucking my last bottles into pack, and on a mission. I left CP5 in 8:54, 43 minutes quicker than the previous year. I had run leg 5 in 2:44, over half an hour quicker than last year's 3:20.

My plan was to bomb the whole of the Kedumba Pass descent (11.5k, 1000 metres), and then just try and hang on for the last 10k, but half way down, the effort finally told. My quads gave out, the skin off my heels started to make each footfall quite painful, and my stomach called it quits. I had to slow right down, during which time Steve and a couple of others came flying back past me, and I couldn't take in any more calories. There was no way a gel was going to stay down, and sports drink and even coke was too much of a risk as I didn't want to throw up with the final massive climb ahead of me. So I decided that it was water and salt until the end, and just kept an even pace down the steep dirt road until I was able to get some water at Jamison Creek.

Low on energy, the hike out of Jamison Valley was hard work, but arriving at the 91k emergency water point in daylight was a great boost to my spirits, and I started to come good again, even able to run some of the less steep sections. And when the fire trail turned into single track and I wound my way back towards the base of the Furber Stairs, I was able to run nearly all the rest of the way. I gave it everything for the last climb up the stairs, and passed about 3 or 4 people, before rounding the final corner and crossing the line in 11 hours and 49 minutes.

Special appearance by Steve's legs

I was incredibly happy with my day, running nearly an hour quicker off much less training, with the experience from last year proving the difference. I recovered much better as well, proving that I can run a hundred without totally destroying myself. I'm not sure if I can lower my time by much, if at all, but the beauty and brutality of this course will keep me coming back for more, and it will be my main yearly target for the forseeable future.

I came 45th overall, and was 19th Australian across the line. My category placing for Male Masters (40-49) was 12th.

From 2016, the race will be known as Ultra-Trail Australia, finally establishing its own identity as it moves out of the shadow of its former naming rights sponsor. As the only Australian leg of the Ultra-Trail World Tour, expect it to further cement itself as THE ultra race on our calendar. See you at Katoomba next May!

Easter at Falls Creek

Just before Easter we decided we wanted to go away for a few days. Only problem was, most people decided this months ago, and being more organised than us, booked everywhere out. So I jumped on to a last minute booking site and grabbed an apartment at one of the few places that still had plenty of spots available - Victorian ski resort Falls Creek.

So on Good Friday mid-morning, we all piled in the car, and began the looooong haul to the high country. It's a fairly exhausting drive - not just for the six and a half hours it takes once you allow for stops, but also for the constant turning along the winding mountain roads that requires considerable focus if you want to avoid plummeting to an untimely demise.

Once there, we settled in to the very awesome Altitude Apartments, and went for a little explore. Our apartments were right up the top of the resort, so we meandered down the streets to Slalom Plaza at the bottom, which is where all the main shops and cafes are. Out of ski season, Falls Creek is something of a mountain biking mecca, and it was clear that's what most of the current occupants were there for. After our walk, we were all pretty tired, so we grabbed some takeaway, and had an early night.


The next day was Sully's birthday, so we did the presents, then had an amazing breakfast at the old cafe you see on the right as soon as you drive in to Falls Creek. Then we registered the kids for the Adventure Kids activities, which was orienteering, fly fishing, geocaching, slacklining, tent putting uppering, obstacle coursering, and a few other things I can't remember, oh yeah - TRAIL RUNNING. Anyway, they had a fantastic time, and by mid afternoon, they were exhausted, and ready to chill for a while.

Birthday Boy

Which of course meant it was time for a run! I headed out straight on to the main Aqueduct Trail, and ran on that until it joined up with Bogong High Plains Road. I ran on the road for a few k, crossing the dam wall of Rocky Valley Lake, then following the road around the perimeter of the lake until Langford Gap.

Rocky Valley Lake

Langford Gap is well known as one of the checkpoints of the famous Bogong to Hotham mountain run, and once I left the road there and joined the East Aqueduct trail, I was basically running part of the B2H course, but in reverse. When I reached the point of the Alpine Trail, instead of turning on to the trail straight away, I continued on for a short out and back, before returning to the little hut that marks the turn off and starting the fun part of the afternoon.

Alpine Trail turnoff

The single track of this section was beautiful, the 20% lower oxygen at this altitude keeping my breathing fast and shallow, as I ran through the regenerating Snow Gums, burnt in the 2003 fires. I ran hard all the way up the climb, before hitting fire trail again, linking up with the Big River Track for a short distance before reaching another junction. Here I left the B2H course, turning left onto the Heathy Spur Track for the highlight of the day. This was Alpine running at its finest - 5km of  tough, undulating single track that kept you honest all the way, with a wickedly fun descent back down to the dam wall. From there, I just followed the main Aqueduct Trail back to the village.

Leaving the B2H course for the Heathy Spur Track

That evening we went out to dinner for Sul's birthday - pizzas at the main pub in the Plaza. Two very tired kids at the end of the day.


Sunday morning was Easter Eggs at the crack of dawn of course, then I was straight out the door for another crack at the high country. I kept it pretty much the same as the day before - I didn't want to get too fancy and end up getting lost. And like the day before, I carried all 4kg of my mandatory TNF100 kit. The only changes I made to the course, was an extension of the out and back along the East Aqueduct Trail, an out and back to Ropers Lookout (Stairs!) after I came off Heathy Spur, and then an unplanned diversion after crossing the dam wall where I took a couple of wrong turns, then ended up on a mountain bike trail.

Ropers Lookout

After the run, it was more Adventure Kids activities, where we got lost doing geocaching and started yelling at each other, then back to the apartment for some afternoon Cluedo. We all had a great time, and while it was a fair drive there and back, it was definitely worth it.

As far as the running goes, I can see how people fall in love with the Alpine region. It's certainly a unique place to run - beautiful, wild and rugged.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Roller Coaster Run 21.5k - Race Report

Well, there I was - lining up for my first race since my DNF at Surf Coast Century last September. I'd run Roller Coaster last year, and done the two loop event, finishing a very pleasing 4th in 4:07, but this year couldn't have been more different. With only 12 days training under my belt, and having missed 9 of the previous 11 weeks through injury, I'd contemplated dropping out of the race altogether, but with a week to go I dropped back to the one lap and decided to have a crack at my shortest race in forever. I love this event, and as long as I could get around in one piece, there was no reason not to start.

I still had some soreness in my left glute from my most recent mishap, and the groin injury is just something that isn't going to go away without surgery, but I figured I'd lope around at three quarter pace, blow the cobwebs out, and hopefully take a step towards getting fit enough for TNF100 in May. There was no way I was going to go head to head with these speedsters, and the safest course of action was a nice easy start, pick it up in the middle, then work home solidly up the hill. Sorted.

So as soon as they let us go, obviously I took off like a scalded cat, hurling myself down the tricky first descent with the leading group, and was gasping for oxygen before I'd even gone a kilometre. Not being content with that, I decided to reel off a few sub 4 minute k's, despite not having been anywhere near that pace for 3 months.Honestly, I deserve every single one of those injuries. Gradually I began to reign myself in, and continue at a less hysterical pace, and the quicker runners filtered past me as we made our way down the mountain.

Of course this new found sense didn't last for long. As soon as we hit the first decent climb at Dodd's Track, I was determined to display my ascending prowess, and ran/hiked like I meant it, barely concealing my disdain for these city roadies, as I marched past a few with what may or may not have looked like consummate ease. After all, I thought, as we crossed Basin-Olinda Rd, this was where I had gapped some decent runners last year, before cresting the hill with plenty in the tank, bombing the next downhill, and disappearing out of sight.

This year, I lurched to the top of the rise with the only thing in the tank being my breakfast, which now seemed to be planning its exit from my stomach, and proceeded to fight the nausea, as all the runners I had passed streamed back past me down the hill, as well as a few others besides. At this point, I finally decided discretion was the better part of valour, and attempted to lock in a semi-sustainable effort, while I focused on drinking and getting in some calories. I was caught by a couple more at the bottom of the mountain at the half way point, and I knew I was well out of the top ten, but was starting to feel a little better, and with it being basically all uphill the rest of the way, figured I still had a chance for decent result.

And that was pretty much how it turned out. I held my own on the flats, and when the track hit the climbs I would make ground and pick off one here and one there. By the time we got to Trig Track I was in 9th, with a couple of k to go and a couple of nasty climbs, and I was able to ease past another couple and jog into the finish, just sneaking under 2 hours and placing 7th. I was about 4 mins slower than my half way split from last year, but considering the limited prep, I was pretty happy.

The biggest upside though, was how I pulled up. The glute didn't get any worse, and while I expected the groin to be VERY sore the next day, it actually doesn't feel too bad. The hard hit out should bring me along in fitness, and if I don't do anything too stupid (big call, I know), I may even be able to get to Katoomba in some sort of shape.

Race Results

Friday, January 9, 2015

Happy New Year!

Since Groundhog Day is one of my favourite all time movies, it seems fitting that I begin 2015 the same way as last year - injured and missing Two Bays.

Stupid how it happened really. I was starting to get a bit more confident about my chances of having a good race, having recently set PR's at the Arthurs Seat Triple (42k), my 15k road/trail loop, and my standard 20k trail. The groin injury seemed like it was finally starting to settle down a bit (although by no means gone), and I'd put together a strong run of 100 mile weeks without feeling the least bit run down.

I was 14k through my 20k trail loop on Xmas Eve and on track for a good run, and hit the bottom of the Moorooduc Quarry stairs flying. Since I was going so well, I decided to have a crack at the Strava CR up the stairs, and had nearly reached the top, when I felt a slight pain in my upper right glute. It didn't slow me down too much and I still ran the rest of the loop home, although I did miss the CR by 8 seconds :-(.

It was a bit sore when I cooled down, but at the most I thought 2 or 3 days, and I'd be fine. Weirdly though, it just never got better at all and I haven't been able to run for 16 days, which is the longest I can remember going without a run since forever. It seems confined to one small muscle, and there is obviously some sort of tear.

I'm fairly philosophical about it though. I train hard and on the edge, and occasionally these things are going to happen and I'll miss races. On the upside, it will finally give the groin a chance to heal properly and hopefully permanently. I'm seeing a sports physician at Olympic Park next week to get their take on the injury and hopefully I'll get some good news about prospects for a complete recovery sans surgery.

As per last year, I'll head down to the race on Sunday and follow the leaders around the course. Andy Turner isn't running either, so I'll have some company for the drive around. I've been really looking forward to the women's race for a while, as there are four very evenly matched runners in Kirstin Bull, Kirra Balmanno, Kellie Emmerson and Natasha Fraser, but until today the men's race looked like a fairly comfortable win for Sam Maffett. However, some wild weather due in the high country has forced the cancellation of Bogong to Hotham, which had attracted the cream of the men's talent, so some late entries are likely to spice up the competition.

When I look back on 2014, I have some very fond memories. My back to back runs at Maroondah Dam and Roller Coaster in March were incredibly satisfying, with the latter being probably the best I have felt on a course ever. My first 100k race at TNF in May will always stand out as a day when not a lot went right, but I was able to really find out what I was made of, with the second half of the race being a total sufferfest. However the fun I had with the boys I travelled up with made it all worth while.

Obviously the second half of the year was a complete washout, with a withdrawal from You Yangs in July, a DNF at Surf Coast Century in September, and no other races run. I've learned my lesson there though, and this year I'll be taking a complete 2 week rest following TNF, before a steady build up into Surf Coast Century. I do plan to race a little more this year, and include a number of shorter trail races. I will probably do the Rapid Ascent Salomon series leading into SCC, and maybe a few road races as well.

However I'm not sure I will be able to replicate my early 2014 performances this year, with my life to be changing quite a bit in the near future. After 5 years of freelance consulting in the I.T. sector, I'm currently finalising negotiations to take on a full time role as a software Business Analyst. Working for myself has provided great flexibility, particularly while my kids were little, but with my youngest starting school next year, it's time to get some income certainty for my family. So I'll be going from working in a serviced office 5 minutes from home, to an hour commute each way, which will obviously take a big chunk out of my day. I'd like to think I'll still be banging out 150k weeks, but I'll just have to see how tired I get.

Although I don't really post this blog anywhere, and it's really just something for me or my kids to look back on in the future, if you do happen to follow it  - well thanks for reading and I hope you and your loved ones have a wonderful 2015. Have fun on the trails and remember - don't try and bag Strava Crowns 3 weeks out from a target race!