In early February this year, I received a message from Brett Saxon, the man behind Trailsplus – the events company that puts on a dozen or so awesome trail running events here in Victoria, Australia. He offered me the opportunity to become a Trailsplus ambassador for 2016…I didn’t hesitate in accepting the role.
Fast forward 6 weeks, and here I was heading to the first Trailsplus event as ambassador – the 2016 Brimbank Park Urban Trail Running Festival. As with most Trailsplus events, this event has a distance for everyone – 50km, 42km, 21km, 10km, 5km and even a 2km for the kids!
I really enjoyed this event last year, completing the 50km distance in 4:36:29 – with my recent improvements, I went into this year’s event looking for a quicker time.
With the 50km event starting at 9am, it was a weird feeling getting up later than usual for a major run. I was a little anxious about the later start – mostly thinking about being halfway through a run around midday, when it was likely to be quite warm. Given the way the day ended up turning out, I won’t be nervous about a 9am start ever again!
The 45-minute drive out to Keilor was pretty cruisey and had us at the race hub before 8am – as I don’t drive, my biggest supporter & “chauffeur” Ros (my wife) once again gave up a Sunday sleep-in to get me to the start line of another event! She loves it though, and two of her most common hashtags #waitingformak and #runnerswife are often seen on her Instagram posts of knitting projects that she’ll work on while I’m off running!
As usual, the race hub was a buzz of activity. It was great to see the likes of Brett, Robyn, George, Olivia, K-Mac, Gavin, Kathy & all the other regulars – the “A” team in the race volunteer world – setting everything up in readiness for the event.
In between helping with the set up and getting ready for my race, I had a chance to meet Heather Marasco, one of the other Trailsplus ambassadors. Heather is the woman behind Mum Can Run and is a great inspiration for many runners – a great choice to be on the ambassador team. She was looking forward to running the half marathon.
After the race briefing, it was time to set off on yet another running adventure. The 50km and 42km runners started off together at 9am – we started with a lap of the oval, then out onto the trail to complete the first 10km loop. Right from the start, I slotted in behind the early pace setter Kirstin Bull – it was great to be able to have a first-hand look at how efficient her running stride is. I managed to keep her within eyesight (within 100m!) throughout the whole 10km loop.
As we completed the first loop, I switched out my handheld bottle for my pack (Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek Ultra Vest 2.0) – I figured a handheld was enough for the 10km loop, but the second was a 32km loop, and being a runner who likes to have water, electrolytes and gels whenever I want them – I’ve been caught short waiting for aid stations to come along in the past – I run with my pack in most longer races, so I opted for the switch at this point.
The second loop started with a lap of the oval again, and then onto the same trail for 3km. This time, we didn’t turn up the long hill under the Whitten Bridge, but kept going, onto the Maribyrnong River Trail. By this point, I had lost sight of Kirstin Bull in front of me – I kept telling myself that it was actually a good thing – trying to keep up with the woman who finished 8th at the IAU 100km World Championships was a recipe for disaster later in the race, so I settled into a rhythm and pace that I knew I could maintain for the next 25-30km.
At the 15km mark, it was great to see one of my Ultra running buddies, Amelia Griffith, who was manning the aid station – she’s had a run of incredible results over the past 6 months and has set down some big goals for 2016, which I’m sure she’ll smash! A quick hello, water bottle fill up and I was back on the trail.
Soon afterwards, I started coming across the half marathon runners heading out to their turnaround point and those who were coming back after reaching that point. I love out-and-back courses which give me the chance to encourage everyone, whether they are the speedsters towards the front, or those pushing and struggling at the back of the pack. Any chance I get, I’ll give encouragement to fellow runners – hopefully it gives some of them a much-needed boost. I received a lot in return – another reason why I love the smaller, more intimate events that Trailsplus put on. Great to see some more familiar faces – Oliver, Maria (fellow member of Up ‘n Active running crew) and Heather, to name a few.
Approaching the 1km loop through Afton St Reserve, I crossed paths with Kirstin – she was heading back from the turnaround point. A quick word of encouragement and she was back up the hill that I had just descended – she was looking strong and powered back up the hill. A quick mental calculation had me at just over 1km behind her – not a bad effort in my books!
The turnaround point at about 25km saw another Ultra running buddy, Shelly, who was manning that aid station. A quick chat about her recent trips overseas and how I was feeling, and I was heading back…she was happy to report that I was the 2nd runner through, after Kirstin.
At this point, I was lucky enough to be on the part of the turnaround loop where I could see the runners behind me – from a quick glance, I could see 3 guys all within 500-600 metres behind…so I thought it would be a good fight for the second half of the race.
The 15km aid station (now at 35km) came at the right time – encouragement from Amelia again was fantastic and I allowed myself a quick 30-second rest while filling her in on how I was feeling. At this stage, I still felt pretty strong and happy to continue fighting to keep the lead on the following runners. Once again, confirmation that I was the second runner through and first male gave me a boost.
Another 2km along the trail and I was back at the big hill under the Whitten Bridge. It was at this point that things started to go a bit pair-shaped. The dreaded cramps started – it felt as if I’d been shot by a sniper in both hamstrings. I quickly popped a Hammer Endurolyte tablet and chased it down with some Hammer Perpetuem (electrolyte drink), and with a quick stretch, my legs came good…for now! For the next couple of km’s, I only managed to run/walk for short stretches before the cramps returned…alternating between hamstrings and calves. It had only been 2 weeks since I had completed the 43km Roller Coaster Run in the Dandenongs so I’m sure there were still some lingering effects from that run still in my legs.
I came within sight of the 38km aid station so ripped into my last gel. I don’t drink Coke very often but I find it essential in the late stages of a long race – I try to hold off as long as I can, as I don’t want to be dependent on it. I knew this was the time for an energy boost. “Sorry, no Coke” was the response I got from the guys at this aid station. Arrrggghhh!
I told myself it was okay and started on the downhill stretch…my quads were still working well so I managed to get down this section at a reasonable pace. Then it was back across a flat section, up a short hill, across some more flat trail and then up another long hill…I allowed myself to walk all the way up, as I could see the trail leading to the hill (where I’d just come from) and I didn’t see anyone along that stretch. A good chance to catch my breath.
Coming back to the race precinct at the end of the second loop (42km), I checked my watch and it had just ticked over 3:30 – only 10 minutes outside my marathon PB. A chorus of cheers & applause greeted me as I ran past, which was a big boost! It was then that I caught sight of Kirstin for the first time since the turnaround point…she was chatting with some friends in the finish area – clearly she had finished her race, which meant only one thing – she had been running the 42km race. That thought led to the next one…I was leading the 50km race!
Volunteer extraordinaire (and another Ultra buddy) George was on the ball – what did I need? “Coke”and “gel” were the only words I could get out. In a flash, I had a cup of Coke in each hand and another Super Volunteer, Olivia, was quick to hand me a couple of gels, and then I was on my way again.
The last loop (8km) started with another lap of the oval, at which point I passed the 42.2km mark – notching up another event of marathon distance or further. It was my 40th such event, which was a bit of a milestone for me…more to come in another blog post about my 40 by 40.
Ros was sitting by the finish area close to the oval and gave me some encouragement as I headed off back down the trail for a 3rd and final time. Back down to Whitten Bridge and the long climb back up the hill, cramping again a couple of times as I grunted my way up.
Up on the top stretch and the same sequence…pretty slow going as I ran for a couple of minutes, followed by my hamstrings or calves seizing up. Soon, every step seemed like a struggle…combined with thoughts of being caught by the runners who were chasing me. I managed a few glances behind but never got to a long straight stretch to see anyone behind.
Back across the top, through the aid station and the downhill section. Once at the bottom, I just had one thought – keep moving forward! Taking some very awkward, ginger steps forward in amongst bouts of cramp, I came to the fork in the path – laps 1 & 2 take the path to the right, which headed up the long hill, but lap 3 takes the path straight ahead, bypassing the hill! Boy, was I glad about that!
With barely 1km to go from that point, I finally allowed myself to relax and tell myself that it was okay to think about winning the race! I had kept pushing those thoughts out until that point, as I didn’t want to lose focus and let it slip away. Endurance running is just as much about the mental side as it is the physical. Your body won’t take you where the mind doesn’t tell it to go!
Just before I rounded the last turn in the trail (about 500m from the finish line), I slowed to a walk and did a systems check – quick wipe of the sweat off my face, a sip of water to swish around in my mouth to get rid of any remnants of gels from my teeth, straightening out my Trailsplus running singlet and pulling down my Saucony shorts to hide my ridiculous running tan line, and popped another Endurolyte for good measure, to ward off any cramps which might try to derail my run to the finish line.
Once I got myself sorted, I managed to get my pace up again to run to the finish line. Throwing my pack aside as I entered the finish chute, I felt a huge wave of emotion as I knew that I would finally claim my first race victory! With both arms aloft, I lapped up the cheers from those who were still around, and then I crossed the finish line with my trademark jump finish to cap off a memorable race!
I’d done it! My first ever race win! I’d never been in that situation where I had led from start to finish – it was nerve-racking at times, basically waiting for those behind me to catch & pass me, so it took a lot of mental strength to keep moving forward and pushing through the pain.
Being greeted at the finish line by so many of the regular Trailsplus volunteers, who I consider to be the best in the business and huge contributors to the awesome atmosphere that I love about Trailsplus events, was such a wonderful experience. Brett gave me a huge handshake and hug, and was rapt to hear that it was my first-ever race win. I was overwhelmed with so many handshakes, high-5’s and words of congratulations from the volunteers and fellow runners – it was a whole new experience!
In the end, I had no idea how close or how far the other runners were behind me – it turns out that the guy in second place finished only 2 minutes after I did, so it was a pretty close race in the end! Another couple of km’s and he probably would have caught me!
However, it was my day – I had completed the 50km in 4:17:26, a 19-minute improvement on last year’s time, which I am ecstatic about! It’s great doing some of the same events, to see the improvement from year to year. A few recent changes to my training regime have seen some big improvements lately, which is great to see for the hard work that I’ve been putting in. (Blog post coming soon on this as well!)
Standing on the top step of the podium was surreal – I’d never been on a race podium before, let alone on the top step, so it was all new! Brett handed me the spoils of victory – 1st place plaque, a new Led Lensers SEO 5 headtorch and a bottle of Trailsplus-labelled red wine by Andrew Peace Wines!
This is a day I will never forget! Thanks to Brett Saxon and his super event crew for putting on another fabulous event – I’m proud to have represented Trailsplus with a great outcome in the race and will continue to promote the events as the most runner-friendly events here in Victoria – the runners are so well looked after and the trails are simply breathtaking!
Thanks to all the vollies for giving back to the sport and helping us runners throughout the day. To all the other runners – thanks for all your encouragement as we crossed paths…you all inspired me to keep pushing, knowing that you were as well! I love the camaraderie of all runners in trail running! Congrats to all of the race winners and place-getters in the various distances!
Of course, I can’t finish off this blog post without mentioning the post-run refueling / reward. The first beer soon after the run was the beer that I think is most appropriate for the end of a running race – Bridge Road Brewers BLING IPA! Beer Bling to go with my race bling (medal)…a perfect combination! I followed that with another Bridge Road Brewers beer – their Golden Ale! Once I got home, I had my trademark post-race meal – Burger & Beer! This burger was extra special as it was homemade by my wife, Ros! What a way to finish the day! Trails ‘n’ Ales baby!
Next Trailsplus event: Maroondah Dam (Mountain Trail Series Race 1)
Here are a few links:
Race results: 2016 Trailsplus Brimbank Park Trail Runs – Results
Strava data: https://www.strava.com/activities/515486727
Photos: Facebook Photo Gallery