After an amazing year of running in 2016, it was always going to be difficult to follow up and maintain those great results in 2017. Unfortunately, the past 12 months have not gone as well as I had hoped, but I still managed a couple of good results early in the year. As we head into 2018, I hope the injury niggles are behind me and I’m determined to get back into some form.
Here’s a look back at my running results from 2017…
15th Jan: Two Bays Trail Run
56km5:30:59 (47th overall, 40th male, 16th age category 40-49)
Previous result: 6:10:51 (2016)
28th Jan: Trailsplus Australia Day Midnight Rambler (trail)
6-hour enduro62.4km in 5:44:51 (new 6-hour PB, 1st overall, 1st male)
First time racing this event
17th Feb: Oscars 100 Hut 2 Hut (trail)
100km 21:34:00 (9th overall, 8th male)
26th Feb: Warburton Up and Running (road)
21.1km1:32:17 (new half marathon PB, 23rd overall, 18th male, 6th age category 40-49)
I don’t know what it is about this race, but it is always the first one I put on my race calendar every year. The Ned Kelly Chase in Wangaratta always has me coming back for more!
The most likely reason is due to the fact that this race was my first Ultramarathon, back in 2013. After running 9 marathons, I decided that running further would be easier than trying to run faster (go figure!), and the inaugural Ned Kelly Chase was being held in October of that year, so it ended up being my introduction into Ultra running.
So it is a good race for me to go back to every year to gauge my progress…in 2013, I completed the 100km course in 11:18:48. In 2014, I had a terrific first 50km (4:27:27) but completely fell apart in the second half (6:20:27) to record a 10:47:54.
In 2015, I ran a lot more controlled race – starting off conservatively in the first 50km (4:37:31) but still slowing down considerably in the second 50km (5:04:32) mainly due to the heat (it got into the mid-30’s). Still, I managed a finish time of 9:42:03 which I was ecstatic about!
Fast forward to April 2, 2016 when entries for this year’s NKC opened. This race has a unique concept in that they want most runners to be finishing at around the same time (12pm), so it is like a self-handicap race…you choose your own start time depending on how long you think it will take to complete the event. During the entry process, you are asked to submit your start time…I decided on 2:30am with a target time of sub-9:30 for the 100km – an improvement on last year and it would be a new 100km PB if I managed to hit my target.
The goalposts shifted when I managed to run 8:58:51 at the Trailsplus Tan Ultra 100km in August… however, knowing that the heat had affected me at the last two NKC’s, I wasn’t sure whether I could replicate the almost-perfect race I had at The Tan, so I stuck with my original target of sub-9:30.
In the lead up to the race, heat was the furthest thing from everyone’s minds. The complete opposite almost caused the race to be postponed or cancelled. This Winter in Victoria was a particularly wet one and there was a lot of flooding in rural areas. Wangaratta was one of those areas affected and parts of the NKC course were underwater throughout September and October.
The race directors, Justin & Sharon Scholz, did a great job of keeping everyone informed of the situation, especially in the last 10 days leading up to race day. As luck had it, the bad weather eased off in this period which meant that the race could go ahead, albeit with some course changes.
Due to continued flooding in the “Southern 50km” section (usually the second half of the 100km race and used for all of the other distances), the major course change was the use of the “Northern 50km” section for all events…and also meant that the 100km runners would run that section twice. It was a good compromise which allowed the event to go ahead on the original race date.
That race date finally arrived (Sunday 23rd October) – my wife & I had driven up on the Friday and had taken it easy. I got out for a shake-out run on Saturday morning, just 5km to stretch the legs and do a systems check of my body…my right calf was a little niggly but nothing that would be a major issue during the race. In the afternoon, we dropped by race central to say hello to Justin & Sharon. While we were there, I came across quite a few familiar faces (Amelia, Geoff, Sue, Frankie, Peter, Karen, etc. – it’s hard to go to any event these days without bumping into several people I know!). Then it was a quick dinner of takeaway noodles and an early night to bed!
Starting a race at 2:30am and with only one other person is quite different to most races…but I had done this 3 times before so knew what to expect. The other runner who I was starting with was Karen Mickle, who I had first met at a race earlier this year (can’t remember which one…probably Trailsplus Brimbank Park Ultra?)…quite an accomplished runner who was targeting a sub-9:30 for her first “road” 100km. We’d had a chat the previous afternoon regarding strategy – were we going to run together or do our own thing? We had decided that we would run independently of each other – she was looking to start out at 5:30-pace and maintain that as long as she could, whereas I was hoping to set out at 5:00-5:05’s, knowing that I usually slow down in the second half of the race.
Justin went through the race briefing several minutes before our start time – I’d heard this briefing 3 times before (in the 3 previous years) so I knew what to expect…make sure you stay on the sealed path at all times, watch out for the minor road crossings along the way, and watch out for the hard-right turn just after you go through the tunnel. Everything else was a breeze.
A quick start line photo and we were away!
Despite the pre-race planning, Karen & I ran the first 7km together, which ended up working well for both of us. Firstly, my head torch was playing up and kept turning itself off. I could have sworn that I had changed the batteries in it the week before, but maybe I hadn’t. In any case, I was happy to have Karen’s torch guiding the way. From her point of view, I’m sure she was glad to have someone with her that knew where they were going in that first 7km stretch – the only tricky part of the course, especially at 2:30 in the morning!
We chatted away and arrived at the first aid station (Bowser Station, 6.3km) – we were both getting into a groove so kept running without stopping. Soon after, we reached the tunnel and then took the hard-right turn onto the rail trail proper. We had been running at between 5:08 to 5:20 per km, which I was fine with – it was a nice comfortable pace to start the run.
Once on the rail trail, I knew it was basically dead flat and straight for the next 18km until the 25km turnaround point. I turned to Karen and told her that I would step the pace up a little and she told me to go ahead…I didn’t feel like I was being rude, as we both had our own race strategies to follow. Although it was still very dark, I knew that I just had to keep running straight ahead so I wasn’t concerned that my head torch was playing up…there was enough light from the moon and my eyes had adjusted to the darkness enough to see the edges of the rail trail.
The next 43km (from 7km through to 50km) felt like an extended tempo run – I was clicking off each km at close to 5:00-pace. Some in the 4:50’s, some in the 5:10’s, but very consistent. There are blips on the pace chart which indicate an extra 15-20 seconds spent at aid stations (grabbing a handful of potato chips) and in-between, when I’ve come across one of my running buddies and given them a quick high-5, a hug and/or words of encouragement. I loved the camaraderie out there among all the runners.
I came across my good running friend Amelia at around the 23km mark (her 27km mark) and had a very brief chat with her…as we parted ways again, I did some quick calculations and knew that not everything was going her way…she had started an hour ahead of me and for her to be only 4km in front of me, she must have been dealing with some issues.
Reaching the 25km turnaround point, it was great to see Sharon manning the checkpoint – she’s been there every year in the early hours of the morning and it’s always nice to see her there. She thought I was sneaking up on her until I explained about my dodgy head torch. I took an extra few seconds to make sure I was right for the return run back into town, grabbed another handful of chips, and I headed back from whence I came.
As always, I started doing the calculations in my head…a 2:09 first 25km was basically right on schedule for my race plan. I quickly told myself to push those thoughts aside – anything can happen over 100km! I settled back into my tempo run again, continuing to tick off those 5-minute km’s!
Karen was only 1.5km behind so she was keeping up a good pace too! A quick “good job” and we continued on. I then crossed paths with David Overend & Kevin Muller, who had started at 3:30am so they were aiming for sub-8:30. At this point, they were approx. 8km behind so well within time to keep me from bridging the gap.
I could just start to see the first light of day as I got through the first third of the race distance. Unfortunately I was running away from the sunrise so didn’t get to see the sun coming up over the hills, but it’s always great to see it getting lighter and lighter after you’ve been running during the night. I allowed myself a quick pause to grab my phone out and take a photo, the only one for the day – this was an “A” race so I remained focused on what I was trying to achieve, not a race to be taking mid-race selfies!
Heading back into town, I started to go through a mental checklist of what I needed to do at the 50km checkpoint…did I need to top up my hydration pack with water? No, I hadn’t been drinking much water to this point – but I had been taking regular sips, so I knew I was hydrating enough. Do I need to switch out my bottle of electrolyte? Yes – I was nearly through the one I had (I was fueling myself on Hammer Perpetuem, which I’ve been using since I started running Ultras in 2013).
A shoe change at halfway is something that I do from time to time – just depending on how the race is going and how my feet are feeling. Lately, I’ve managed to get through my longer Ultras without needing a shoe change, but I made my mind up to do so this time. I had just received delivery of 2 new pairs in the past week – I started the race in a pair of Saucony Triumph ISO2’s…they were great and had plenty of cushioning, but I felt like I might have started to get a couple of hot spots which could lead to blisters if I continued in them. I had a fresh new pair of Saucony Ride 9’s waiting for me at the 50km checkpoint.
I ran back into Apex Park which was a vastly different sight to when I had started the race – it was a hive of activity with volunteers, other runners’ crew, and the 7am starters of the 50km race milling around, waiting for the start of their race. I got a nice round of applause from them all as I came back into the race precinct.
My wife, Ros, had everything laid out for me so I could easily pick and choose what I needed – she replaced my electrolyte bottle as I removed my head torch, beanie and gloves and substituted them for a cap and sunglasses. The sun was well and truly up by now but it was still not too warm, so I opted to keep my long-sleeve top on. I had a quick chat with some running friends who were around while I changed out my shoes.
Having quite a few Ultras under my belt, I have learned to keep these stops at the checkpoints to a minimum – don’t get stuck talking too long to friends, don’t second guess what I’ll need and won’t need, don’t waste too much time. Looking at my split for this part of the race, it looks like I took about 90 seconds at that checkpoint – shoe change and all!
Then I was turning back, thanking my wife and the people who were applauding again, and ran back out of Apex Park – I got about 500m and was already thinking about how foolish it was to change shoes…it felt like I was almost running on the trail without shoes on! I made the mistake of wearing the more cushioned shoe in the first half and then changing to a pair with less cushioning – I usually do it the other way around but for some reason, I didn’t this time…I think I was just hoping that the Triumph’s would be good for the whole 100km. Lesson learned.
However, as with most things in Ultra running, things change pretty quickly – I started getting used to the feel of these new wheels on my feet and thoughts of changing shoes were a distant memory…I concentrated on getting back to Bowser (56.3km) where the next aid station waited. Stopping for a handful of chips (mostly for the salt content) and to blow my nose – a combination of hay fever and the crisp morning air was making my nose run nearly as quick as I was!
Through the tunnel and then hard-right onto the trail again – it was automatic for me now. Settling into another 18km of that long, straight and flat trail, I fell into another rhythmic tempo, now settling into 5:10-5:20 pace – I’d gone through the 2nd 25km in 2:09, matching my first 25km. If I kept up my current pace, I’d come in well under my sub-9:30 goal and could push a sub-9:00!
I don’t really have any mantras that I repeat in my head during my races. It’s usually a few “Come on Mak!”, “You can do it, Mak!” and “Don’t quit now, Mak!” that I tell myself at infrequent intervals. One mantra which worked well for me when I ran my marathon PB at Traralgon Marathon in 2014 was the word “metronomic” – it was my most evenly paced marathon and I kept repeating that word in my head that day, to make sure I was keeping an even pace (as a metronome does in music). The same word was bouncing around in my head as I glided over the trail this day.
I’d arranged for Ros to meet me at the road crossing at 65km…she usually heads out to the 75km checkpoint but with the course change this year, I thought I could get by with just the checkpoint and the volunteers at 75km, and would prefer to see her at 65km (and again at 85km on the way back)…this worked well, as I was starting to get a little hot as the sun starting to peek over the trees, so I stopped to take my long-sleeve top off. I told her that I would change back into my Triumphs when I saw her again at 85km.
Continuing on my way to the 75km turnaround point, I started to see a few more runners, either coming back the other way or as I passed them…there were some runners who were clearly pushing through the pain barrier and gutsing it out. Plenty of words of encouragement were exchanged. There were quite a few cyclists out there now too – the “troopers” as they were known…the aim of the cyclists (troopers) in the event was to chase down the runners (bushrangers) that they were assigned and to “arrest” them…all adding to the theme of the Ned Kelly Chase.
I reached the 75km checkpoint and spent a few extra seconds there to catch my breath, make sure I had everything I needed for the home stretch, and then off I went. My split for the 3rd 25km was 2:14 – only 5 minutes slower than my first 2…I was happy with that. Later, when the results came out, I found out that I had the quickest 3rd 25km overall…I take pride in my endurance and ability to keep going strong later in a race, something that I’ve worked hard on (basically ever since my disastrous second 50km at NKC in 2014). Especially this year in my longer races, I’ve felt stronger as the race has gone on, so it’s particularly pleasing to see that I can match it with the front-runners.
Once again, calculations starting popping into my head…6:32 for the first 75km, so almost 3 hours to get a sub-9:30.If things continued to go well, a sub-9:00 would be touch and go. I just needed to keep the rhythm going as long as I could.
I crossed paths with my buddy Geoff from our running club, Up ‘n Active – he started the 50km at 7am (one of those who were waiting around at the start when I reached 50km)… he was less than 1km behind me, so he was traveling along well – especially considering he had run the full marathon at Melbourne Marathon the weekend before! I gave him a quick high-5 and told him that I’d see him when he caught up to me.
I settled back into 5:15-5:20 pace which surprisingly still felt fairly comfortable – I’d been nursing my right leg ever since about 20km in, with the pesky little niggle in my right calf coming and going, alternating with some hamstring soreness. At a couple of points, it felt like my knee was going to buckle, which had me a little worried, but I kept pressing on.
I made it back to Ros at the 85km point, still feeling pretty strong – I’d already ditched the idea of changing shoes again…I wasn’t feeling any hot spots in the Ride’s and ever-present mental calculations still had me close to a sub-9:00, so an extra stop of 60-90 seconds to change shoes could be the difference. All I asked for was the nectar of the Gods (a.k.a. Coke, in the latter stages of an Ultra) and then I told her I’d see her at the finish.
As I set off, a quick glance showed that Geoff was within a couple of hundred metres – I’d done well to stay ahead of him but was also hoping for him to catch up so we could help each other through the final stretch. Turns out that he was just starting to feel the effects of the previous weekend’s marathon so he didn’t end up catching up to me.
I, however, came across his partner, Sue, and other running friend Linda (both Up ‘n Active club members), just before they reached the turnaround point in their half marathon – I let Sue know that Geoff was only a few minutes behind, as I continued heading for home.
Soon afterwards, I heard a cyclist coming up behind me and I asked, “are you my trooper” to which the reply was “yes, I’m here to arrest you”…so she handed me my handcuff (a wristband) and wished me luck for the rest of my run, as she went to chase down her other bushrangers.
It was around this point that I couldn’t work out whether I had seen the defending 100km champion, Francesco Ciancio, in the second half of the race. Francesco is a gun runner who seems to win almost everything he races and he was a clear favourite to repeat his performance from last year. He started at 4am aiming for another sub-8:00. I remember seeing him on my 2nd 25km (his 1st) and then again on my 3rd 25km (his 2nd), but couldn’t recall whether I had or hadn’t seen him again…I eventually decided that my runner’s brain (now into 90km+) was playing tricks on me and that I had in fact seen him.
With about 5km to go (only one more parkrun!), I was safely under sub-9:00 pace but I didn’t let up – I was feeling great and the knowledge of running another Personal Best time kept me motivated to continue running strong! I came across the last aid station with 2km remaining – as I ran past without stopping, I thanked and called back to the volunteers, “if I stop now, I won’t be able to start again!”, and continued on my way towards the finish.
Heading back towards Apex Park, I finally allowed myself to think about the completion of this race and what this result meant – it was nearly overwhelming to think about how well I had run all day and what this personal achievement meant. 12 months ago, when I had completed the same race in 9:42, a sub-9:00 100km seemed so far out of reach. This would be my second one for the year! All that hard work was paying off!
The atmosphere at Apex Park was fantastic – plenty of runners and crew were on hand to cheer in each runner and cyclist as they crossed the finish line! I got my fair share of cheers as I crossed the line with my trademark jump finish, in a new PB time of 8:50:39!
Soon after I finished, I was able to cheer home some of the other members of my local running club, Up ‘n Active, as they crossed the finish line. At most other races, the shorter distances end up finishing before the Ultra distances so I’m usually the one who is cheered home by my UnA crew, so it was good to be able to repay the favour this time!
This was about as close to a perfect day of running as I could have wished for. I think I chose the right start time (2:30am) – a half hour either side could have had me starting the race with a few other people, which might have put me off my race strategy. A nice conservative start with Karen helped to temper my excitement early on and helped my body loosen up steadily until I reached the long, straight stretch of the trail, at which point I stretched the legs out into that continuous, consistent tempo.
In terms of mindset, I had goals in mind for the 25km & 50km splits, but I was always reminding myself that 50km is only halfway – having made the mistake in the past of setting myself a 50km target and thinking that I could continue on after that, I was very conscious of not focusing too much on just the first half of the race. The second half was where the difference was going to be made, so I was very happy to continue on strongly throughout the entire race.
Post-race protein shake (Hammer Recoverite) was consumed quickly, and then it was time to crack open a well-earned ale!
My mates and I headed to a nearby cafe/restaurant for a well-earned burger and beer before heading back to our respective accommodations. After standing in the motel pool for 20 minutes whilst reading through all of the supportive messages on Facebook & Instagram, it was off to the post-run buffet dinner at The Old Town & Country Tavern, which was abuzz with runners and crew sharing stories of their day. Although weary from an early start and a long day, I enjoyed spending time with my running friends as well as meeting new ones.
As luck had it, my run was good enough for a podium position. 3rd overall, behind David Overend and Kevin Muller. As it turned out, Francesco had pulled out at 50km – lucky for me! It was nice to be rewarded with some extra bling, especially in a race where I stuck to my game plan and executed it well!
The women’s race was won by Larissa Tichon, who had finished 3rd in the inaugural race in 2013. I was really happy to see my running buddy Amelia Griffith complete a hat-trick of podiums (3rd in 2014, 1st in 2015 & 2nd this year)! My 2:30-start time buddy Karen Mickle rounded out the podium – not quite the sub-9:30 she was hoping for, but she held on for 3rd – a great result in her first “road” 100km!
The next day, I continued the tradition which started back in 2013 – heading up to Beechworth for a visit to my favourite brewery, Bridge Road Brewers! The first 10-beer tasting paddle was followed soon after with another one – so many great beers to try – and the brewery burger went down a treat as well!
My wife and I always make a mini-holiday of this trip – Victoria’s High Country has so much to offer in terms of gourmet food, wine and beer, as well as beautiful scenery everywhere you go. We spent the following day up in Bright, starting the day with breakfast at the Rail Trail Cafe in Porepunkah and then headed to Bright Brewery, Ringer Reef and Feathertop Wineries, and finishing the day at Bright Berry Farm!
So, thus ended our runcation for another year! Will I be back to run my 5th consecutive Ned Kelly Chase 100km in 2017? You bet I will!
This race report is featured in Ultramag Vol.33 No.2 – the quarterly magazine of the Australian Ultra Runners Association (AURA).
The 2017 Trailsplus Princes Park Running Festival was held on 1st & 2nd April, with the timed events (6-hour, 12-hour & 24-hour) on Saturday and the distance events (100km, 50km, 42.2km, 21.1km, 10km, 5km & 2.5km) on Sunday.
The course is a 2.5km loop around Princes Park stadium (where Carlton Football Club used to play) & surrounding parklands, which is located 3km from the centre of Melbourne CBD – readily accessible to all. Half of the loop is bitumen, and the remainder is dirt path, and it is as flat as a tack.
The day dawned on a mild Autumn morning – the weather forecast looked favourable, overcast and a maximum of 20 degrees, with a possible shower in the late afternoon.
All three timed events started at 10am – there were 11 of us taking on the 24-hour, another 11 running the 12-hour, and 13 runners in the 6-hour race.
Although this was a lap course, the scenery was ever-changing – there were plenty of other runners out for their weekend runs as well as dog-walkers, families out for a walk, and cyclists heading into and out of the city. There are soccer pitches and tennis courts in the parklands, which had a steady stream of matches on throughout the day. These were welcome distractions to keep the mind off the monotony!
At 4pm, the horn was blown for the completion of the 6-hour event, which was won by Peter Van Wijngaarden with an impressive total of 80.5km and Heather Marasco (Mum Can Run) who ran a consistent and measured race to finish with 58km. Personally for me, it was also great to see my good mate Matt Fullerton take out 2nd place with a distance PB of 65km.
For those of us still running, it meant a change of direction. Instead of constantly turning left, we were now turning right. It’s the little things that can make a difference, and it felt like a completely new course!
Afternoon soon turned to dusk – my expectation was that it would get cold pretty quickly after the sun went down. However, with the event having moved from mid-June in 2016 to 1st April this year, it ended up being a mild night, only dropping to mid-teens throughout the night.
The course was reasonably well lit so I opted not to don a headlamp through the night. Once I had reached the 100km mark, I chose to walk the bitumen section every lap, which also was the slightly darker section of the course and the bitumen footpath was also a little uneven, so it made sense to walk it, and once I got back onto the dirt path, I picked up the pace into a run again.
Another blow of the horn at 10pm signalled the finish of the 12-hour event. John Yoon and Mal Gamble were neck and neck in the end, with both reaching 120km, and Vanessa Heuser ran 84km for 1st female.
Changing direction once again, the 24-hour runners were left to keep plodding on through the night. Pretty soon, it was down to just 8 of us out there – 6 if you consider Annabel was having her 8-hour nap on the sidelines, and Henry (who had flown in from the U.S.) went and had a nap in a motel room!
Throughout the night, there were a couple of patches of light rain which lasted a few minutes, but nothing that had us ducking for cover and heavy rain gear, so we got lucky in that regard.
There was one truly unique feature of this event – after we reached 2:59am, our clocks ticked over to 2:00am as a result of daylight savings ending…there were quite a few comments of it being the longest hour ever! Luckily the race clock kept ticking forward so we didn’t have to run that extra hour!
A final 6-hour direction change came at 4am and we were on the home stretch! As night became day, the rising sun ignited some renewed energy into the mind and body to push on for the last few hours.
The distance events started at hourly intervals from 6am so it was great to see new faces out on the course throughout the morning – everyone was full of encouragement for those who had been running for 20+ hours.
Finally, the horn was blown for a final time to signify the end of an epic 24 hours of running. I achieved a personal milestone – a PB for total distance run of 198.265km, up from 175km in this same event last year, and it was good enough for the top step of the podium. I was happy to share the podium with my mate Stephen Corner who picked up 2nd place! The ever-consistent Cheryl Symons ran 175.5km to finish 1st female.
As I hit the ground running in 2017, here’s a brief recap of my race results from 2016 – it was an amazing year with so many highs and very few lows!!! Definitely my best running year to date…it didn’t come without hard work and smart training & recovery. I hope to write a blog post about it all soon!
17th Jan: Two Bays Trail Run
56km6:10:51 (61st overall, 54th male, 54th age category 18-39)
First time racing this event
23rd Jan: Trailsplus Australia Day Midnight Rambler (trail)
5km23:05 (3rd overall, 3rd male)
10km56:56 (8th overall, 7th male)
21.1km1:56:33 (10th overall, 10th male)
First time racing this event
27th Feb: Roller Coaster Run (trail)
43km4:53:31 (28th overall, 23rd male, 10th age category 30-39)
Previous result: 5:33:22 (2015)
5th Mar: Victorian Baptist Fun Run (road)
16km1:11:40 (5th overall, 5th male, 2nd age category 30-39)
The 21st running of the Trailsplus Maroondah Dam Trail Runs was greeted by a glorious Autumn morning…crisp but clear! With the event having been moved back 6 weeks from previous years, the risk of inclement weather was on runners’ minds. We need not have worried – it looked like Melbourne was turning on the weather for us for a perfect day of running.
Since the last Trailsplus event (Brimbank Park in mid March), life had taken over and my training was sporadic…a lot of time dedicated to family, work and study reduced my ability to get out and run regularly, but I have a good base and I was able to continue with several strength and conditioning sessions in the gym and with an outdoor PT group. I just hoped that my legs remembered how to keep me moving forward for 6 or so hours!
The other main change to this year’s Maroondah Dam Trail Run was the course – instead of the bus taking us to the start line at Dom Dom Saddle in previous years, the new courses had us starting and finishing at Hendersons Picnic Ground. Easier for everyone logistically, and it meant an out and back course, which I prefer as it gives me a chance to see other runners coming the other way and give them encouragement and be motivated and inspired by them.
The word from the Run Director, Brett Saxon, and those who had run on the new course in training, was that this new course was more challenging – an extra 350m of elevation for the 50k course, and the new 20km section in the middle which had some good technical single track, especially the Tanglefoot track. The general advice was, expect to be out there for at least an hour longer than last year. With finish times of 6:06:01 in 2014 and 5:55:46 in 2015, I was in for a long day! However, with another year of trail running under my belt, as well as more upper body and core strength, I am feeling as fit as I’ve ever been, so I was still hopeful of breaking the 6-hour mark again.
Arriving about an hour before the 8am start time, race central was a hive of activity as usual, with Brett and his A+ team of volunteers putting the final touches to the timing gantry, finish chute, and erecting marquees. Assistant RD George was as busy as always, going back and forth from one task to another to ensure another iconic Trailsplus event would run smoothly.
I wandered over to the registration tent, where a huge smile and hug from Olivia greeted me, and then I had a great chat with Kathy Mac, who had helped Brett with mapping out the new course – I quizzed her about the top section (middle 20km), as I had run the first 15km & last 15km during training a few weeks ago but had not stepped foot along the top section. Her advice – take it easy early on, don’t trash your legs going up to the top of Mt St Leonard, and take care through the top. The mid-week rain would have made the bark and shrub slippery, there were so rocky sections and there would no doubt be leeches. Once again, confirmation that it was a tougher course than last year!
As I was getting all my gear sorted, a bunch of my mates from my running club, Up ‘n Active, wandered up to wish me luck…it was great to see Linda, Andy & Sue, who were entered in the 10km event, Mitch in the 21.1km, and Jason & Geoff who were gearing up for the 30km. There were so many other familiar faces – one of the main reasons why I love these smaller, more intimate trail events. Fellow Trailsplus ambassador, Heather, said a quick hello as the race briefing started for the 50km & 42km events, which were starting at the same time.
A note here about reading the race briefing notes, familiarising yourself with the course maps, and listening carefully at the pre-race briefing – there’s a reason why it is mandatory to attend the briefing in most trail running events. Unlike road running events where it is fairly easy to follow the course, there are often some sections during a trail running event where you need to have your wits about you, where you come across intersections where you might go one way for the first pass, and then another direction when you come across it again for another loop. If in doubt, stop and read the signs carefully, and if necessary, grab that map out (the pre-race notes mentioned it was mandatory to carry a copy of the map with you in this event) to double-check where the course goes.
This event was no different – there was a 3km loop which had to be completed after the turnaround point…there were several runners who didn’t complete that extra loop and ended up only being credited for 47km instead of the full 50, and therefore relegated in the final positions. Lessons like this are learned early on in one’s trail running career – it shouldn’t dampen your resolve, it should just teach you a lesson and hopefully you won’t make the same mistake in the future.
There was a relaxed, long-weekend feel to the start (it was ANZAC Day the next day)… nobody really stepped up to the start line, so myself and a couple of others crept up as the clock counted down to 0:00, and we were off!
We headed up the stone steps leading up from the start area to the top of the Dam wall and across it. Soon after, we dropped off the main trail onto some single track…I hadn’t run this section during my training run here a few weeks ago, so it was new…and I loved it. By now, there were 4-5 runners ahead of me and I let them lead the way…I had no expectations of a podium placing in this race – I’m better on the flatter courses and not so much on the grinding uphills.
We came down out of this first single track section onto the wider trail that I was familiar with…slightly downhill and then flat through the next kilometre, out through the gate and then the sharp turn heading up Donnelly’s Weir Road. We splashed through the water crossing, which was pretty full after the mid-week rain.
I didn’t feel the need to stop at the first aid station (5km) so just thanked the aid station volunteers for helping out and headed up Mt St Leonard Track. It was around this point that Kathy Mac’s words of advice kept replaying in my head, “Take it easy early on”…as I found myself running side by side with Lucy Bartholomew, already a very accomplished Mountain Ultra Runner at the ripe old age of 19 and most recently taking out the win at the tough Buffalo Stampede in early April. Clearly I hadn’t learned from trying to chase Kirstin Bull at Brimbank Park!
Within a couple of km, I started drifting off the back of the front runners…I figured if I’d tried to keep up that kind of pace, I’d eventually hit the wall and that wouldn’t be too much fun. I started taking recovery walk breaks up some of the inclines, saving myself for the downhill and flat runnable sections, and hoping that this strategy would leave me something in the legs for the bomb back down off the top, on the way back home.
What was also slowing me down was one of most runners’ dreaded nightmares – stomach issues! From early on, my gut felt uneasy with a little sloshing and the uneasy feeling this could derail my day. I tried to put it out of my mind and concentrate on the trail ahead of me and the beautiful scenery around me. I reached the second aid station (10.5km) and once again, felt that I didn’t need to stop and kept pushing on.
I reached the long, grinding 2km hike up the side of Mt St Leonard and, with hands on knees and pushing up through my heels, I trudged up, step by step. With a 30% grade in places, it was a slow slog. The first 11.5km had taken 1:12, the next 2.5km took 27 minutes! The incline just kept going and going…however, I had run this section in training so knew that, whenever I thought the top was nigh, there would be more climbing, so paced myself accordingly.
Finally reaching the top of Mt St Leonard, it was down a steep and rocky stretch which I remember climbing up last year on the previous course. Reaching the third aid station (15km), I grabbed a gel out of my pack while I had a bin to throw the packet out into, thanked the volunteered and continued on.
[warning – a little TMI in the next paragraph or two!]
The next 5km along Quarry Road was mostly downhill, so it was nice to be able to stretch the legs out for a while. Unfortunately, the early stomach issues still remained, and pretty soon, i felt the need to slow a little and start clenching my glutes and looking around for somewhere to take a pit stop. Unfortunately, I was traveling along a winding narrow track which was quite steep straight up on one side, and a drop off on the other…nowhere to duck into the bushes.
In the end, I just had to step off the trail when it leveled out a bit, dig a quick hole and do what bears do in the woods! Anyone who’s had runners trots before will testify that it’s not pleasant, but better to get it out rather than having that uneasy feeling of trying to hold it in! I kicked dirt over the hole, got my pack sorted (including flicking a small leech off the pack…luckily it decided to attack my pack and not any part of my body!), and then stepped back onto the trail.
Heading into the 19km aid station, I knew Shelley and her LTR crew were volunteering there and it was good to see a familiar face – I told Shelley that I was having some stomach issues and she told me just to keep focusing on the scenery around me…I thanked her and the crew and started off down the next trail, knowing I would be back at this aid station in about 10km’s time.
There was a gradual incline between this aid station and the next one at 24km, which was the turnaround point…I got into a good rhythm along the flatter sections and took my walk breaks on any decent rises, and covered this 5km section in 30 minutes. Along the way, I came across one of the intersections which I’d pass twice…the sign said to keep going straight on the first pass, then turn right on the second pass. I made a mental note to make sure that I would go the right way when I came across the sign again. A little further down the trail, I started seeing some runners coming back the other way, and knew that the turnaround point wasn’t too far away.
I reached the 24km aid station at the Tanglefoot car park, where a couple of other runners (including my mate Gav) were taking their time to make sure they were prepared for the second half of the race. Once again, it was good to see a familiar face manning the aid station…another awesome trail runner, Izzy, was out there helping the runners. I had a quick chat with her while I shoved a couple of handfuls of crisps and a slice of fruit cake down my gob! Izzy was recovering from the Buffalo Stampede Grand Slam a few weeks ago, and it was great to see her being involved in a great event. (check out Izzy’s blog here).
Heading back up the trail, I crossed paths with several other runners as the headed out to the turnaround point…encouragement was exchanged both ways, as we all acknowledged how much work it takes to run a long trail run and every quick comment helps to keep you going! A bit of confusion entered my mind at this point, when I saw Lucy coming the other way…I was fairly certain that we only go out to checkpoint 5 once, but she was on the path to that checkpoint – I was sure she had been in front of me . Either I had read the maps wrong, or she had taken a wrong turn at some point. I spent the next 15-20 minutes replaying the maps over and over in my mind.
I reached the Tanglefoot track and followed it as it wound its way back to aid station 4. Shelley greeted me again and told me that I was looking a lot better than the first time she’d seen me, which was a good sign. I grabbed my drop bag which had some gels and my Hammer Perpetuem electrolyte powder, which I poured into my bottle, and while it was being filled with water by the helpful volunteers, I wolfed down a handful of crisps. Once again, I was grateful for the volunteers who make these events so great!
Leaving the aid station with another handful of crisps and a slice of fruit cake, I continued the 3km loop, ensuring I turned right at the sign I’d seen earlier and eventually made it to aid station 3 again. I had a gel, some crisps, and a couple of cups of Coke…I usually wait until about 60-70% of the way through a race before I start drinking Coke at aid stations, not wanting to rely on the sugar rush too early.
I trudged up the steep, rocky incline back to the top of the mountain, knowing that once I got to the top, my favourite section was coming up…bombing back down off the top, down the steep rocky and slippery section of trail that I had struggled up a couple of hours ago.
Unfortunately things didn’t go to quite to plan…the discomfort in my stomach was back. I only made it a few hundred metres down the mountain before I had to duck into the bushes again…this was certainly not my day! I made quick work of what I needed to do, then started making my way quickly down to the bottom of the steep section of mountain.
When the trail widened and flattened out, I got myself into a good rhythm and progressed quickly along the rolling, undulating track to the 2nd last aid station. I downed a cup of Coke while the aid station volunteer mentioned that there had been some runners who had already come through but had admitted to not doing the 3km loop at the top, so I wasn’t as far down the pecking order as I had thought. This picked up my spirits and I quickly left the aid station with a handful of crisps, leaving a couple of runners behind who had also stopped at the aid station. More rolling hills followed, until the short downhill sections to the last aid station.
Knowing there was only 5km to go, I decided not to stop – with my stomach issues, the last thing I needed was to put more food into my stomach. I hadn’t felt any cramps coming on, so the crisps I had been having predominantly for the salt content were doing the job…I yelled out my thanks to the volunteers as I continued on my way.
I splashed back across the water crossing and ran back along the road. Coming across good ol’ Mal behind the lens, we had a bit of banter as I ran past…once again, great to see another awesome runner helping out at another Trailsplus event! Don’t forget to send me an invoice for this pic, Mal!
I walk/jogged up the gradual incline leading to the 3-way fork…I had taken the wrong turn here in 2014, the first time I had run this race. That mistake made it into a 53km run that I didn’t want to repeat, so I made sure to take the right path. Then it was back onto the single track section until I popped up near the Dam wall.
At this point, I had one kilometre to go…a quick check of my watch, which had just ticked over 5:35. I was really surprised that I hadn’t even felt any cramps coming on and that my legs were feeling really fresh, so I thought I’d give it everything I had. I ran down to the Dam wall, sprinted across it, passing a couple of families who were taking in the sights – I had no time for that! I reached the other side and bounded down the steps leading down towards the finish line area, passing another runner along the way.
It’s always a huge relief to see the finish line of an event…the culmination of a hard day’s work. As I reached the finish chute, I could hear huge cheers from the Up ‘n Active clan, all the other runners who had finished their race, their supporters, and all of the volunteers. Always a great feeling at the end of a Trailsplus event! I finished with my trademark jump finish as I crossed the line!
A medal was hung around my neck, Brett gave me a warm handshake, and I confirmed that I had completed the full 50km (my Garmin Fenix 3 showed 50.03km)…I had completed the new, improved, more challenging Maroondah Dam 50km Ultra in 5:39:16…a 16 minute improvement on my finish time from last year! I was over the moon, to say the least!
I spent the next hour or so catching up with my Up ‘n Active crew and the other runners who had finished, while clapping and cheering those who were finishing their races. The weather was perfect…the sun was out, it was quite warm for an Autumn day, and those first couple of Bridge Road Brewers beers went down well!
Another unforgettable day on the Maroondah Dam trails. Thanks again to Brett Saxon, all of the volunteers, fellow runners and their supporters, for another great event! This was my first trail event back in 2014, and it keeps getting better every year! Congrats to all the place-getters in all distances, and all those who just got out there and had a go!
Result: 6th position overall (50km) in a time of 5:39:16.
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!