2 weeks ago I did my first trail run in a little over 3 months. I was so happy to be back out there again after 3 months of marathon road slog. I was happy with my pace too, surprisingly slightly faster than when I did the equivalent run last year (a nice little 27km jaunt along the Heysen Trail, training for the upcoming Heysen 105).
1 week ago I somewhat ambitiously decided that the 20-odd km YUM 3 training run (the third of 3 official training runs for the Yurrebilla 56km ultramarathon, which when combined, cover the whole course) was not long enough, and with a small group of fellow crazies set out to combine runs 2 and 3. I estimated it would be 38km but it turned out to be 41km. It was a lovely day out but I was dismayed to see how slow it was compared to when I did similar runs last year. Admittedly I WAS only 2 weeks post marathon and I was only just getting my trail legs back, so I shouldn’t be too disappointed with how it went. I enjoyed the last few kilometres, after the brutal ascent up Black Hill – a nice technical descent into the finish at Athelstone. I did get a bit excited. And boy, did I pay for that – that last downhill section gave me the worst DOMS I’ve ever had, and I couldn’t walk properly until Thursday! It was a bit of a downer week because I started having doubts about my ability to run a sub 7 hour Yurrebilla and it was all because I had overcommitted myself to events throughout the year and not focused properly on trail training.
And then we come to my first trail race since UTA100 3½ months ago.
Mount Hayfield is quite far away from Adelaide. It was a good 1¼ hour drive to Yankalilla, the nearest significant town, and then a nice bumpy dirt road drive to the race start. Luckily I had organised to carpool from Yankalilla with fellow trail runner Sandy who had a WRX, which handled the road conditions much better than my little Corolla would have!
I had entered the long course which started at 8 and was meeting Sandy at 7 so that meant leaving home around 5:45.
The long course was originally stated to be 18km, later revised to 19km. I was a little surprised to hear at the start from several different people that it was a bit longer and might even be 21km! 21km is very different to 19km! Trail races are notorious for being not quite exactly the distance they are meant to be. I was hoping it would be closer to 19km but I kept 21km in my mind as the worst case scenario.
We were told to bring a change of shoes as it was going to be MUDDY!
Sandy and I had been chatting in the car and the topic turned to goal times. He said he’d be happy with anything under 2 hours and I thought that sounded pretty reasonable. Little did I know…
You know how they often recommend that you study the course map before a race so you don’t get lost? Yeah, I don’t do that. I prefer not to know. I knew there was some elevation but I didn’t know the detail and I was quite happy with that.
I had forgotten my energy drink and remembered as I was already on the road, but didn’t want to go back for it. I did have my energy supplement which I stashed in one of my arm warmers (it sounds dodgy but it isn’t. COMPLETELY legal) so I wouldn’t forget it. I did manage to lose that on my bathroom stop at Yankalilla. So I was left with NO caffeine, my only option would be to get a coffee from the coffee van but I NEVER drink coffee before a run. (ALWAYS after, though!)
Given that Trail Running SA has adopted a “no cups” policy, I had decided to wear my small race vest with about 750ml water in the bladder, 2 x 250ml bottles of Gatorade and enough powder to make another 500ml of Gatorade if needed. My plan was not to stop at any of the drink stations so I was anticipating that the water and Gatorade I started with would be enough to get me to the finish.
After collecting my bib (Bib number 5 – I’ve never had a single figure number on a bib before!) and a quick portaloo stop, it was time to go!
We were lulled into a false sense of security by a nice downhill start. Sure, it was muddy underfoot and there were rocky sections so you really had to pay attention to where you were putting your feet, but it was downhill. I guess we were all thinking, “What goes down must come up!” (and I’m not talking about the food at the post-race aid station!)
Up until the 7km mark everything was going nicely. 44 minutes, average pace 6:17, admittedly almost all of that was downhill. Then we hit the first major climb.
In previous races, I have tried not to walk up the hills. This was not possible for me when I hit that first climb. I tried a new tactic on a few occasions during this race – run 10 steps then walk 10. I’m not sure quite how effective it was, as people were still passing me, walking, while I was doing this. I can probably safely say I got up the hills quicker using this technique than I would have had I just walked.
The first big climb was followed by a few nice downhill kilometres to prepare us for the Big One.
The bottom of the big hill was the point where I decided to pull out my phone and take a few photos. It’s not something I normally do in a race (except in an ultra, when there is always going to be walking and there are always going to be photo opportunities), but when I realised there was no way I was running up that thing, I felt it was necessary to try to capture just how steep it was, in photographic form. It was pretty steep alright – my elevation profile shows it being pretty much vertical for a long way, then a few teasing little downhills before climbing again.
I gave up on the “run/walk” strategy on this particular hill. It was a long hard plod (almost verging on a crawl).
I think at this point (in fact, probably earlier than this) the whole idea of sub 2 hours became an impossibility.
Mercifully, the big climb was followed by a few downhill kilometres before we faced more uphill, but none of the other climbs were anywhere near as steep or as long as that one.
Most of this run I did on my own – occasionally I would see a familiar face (usually passing me) but for most of it I was just concentrating on sticking with the person in front (and ideally trying to make up some ground). There was one girl who passed me on an uphill – not looking like it was too much of an effort – so I assumed she must be doing the short course. Plus she wasn’t carrying a bottle or wearing a hydration vest, and there’s no way anyone could run this kind of terrain for 2+ hours and not need a drink! I didn’t expect to see her again but when we passed the drink station where the short course runners went one way and we went another, I was surprised to see her still in front of me (by now, just a dot in the distance).
As we got close to the 18km mark I could see her ahead of me and I did eventually manage to catch her. Her name was Mel and I asked her if she had a bottle stashed somewhere to which she replied no, she never runs with any kind of hydration vest/belt/bottle etc. There was also a guy called Trevor who was running with us at that stage. Mel said “only 1km to go” and I thought to myself, “Would now be a good time to bring up the 21km thing?” I decided against it. I instead said “Hmmm, we’ll see about that – never believe you’re near the end until you can actually SEE the finish line!”
19km came and went, and still no finish line. SURELY we didn’t have another 2km of this to go?
Not long after that we saw Greg, one of the volunteers, who said “Only 200m to go. Maybe 300m”. I could cope with that, and I didn’t think he’d lie about something like that! Then we saw Bev at the drink station and she said “It’s just up there!” and then we could see it – that magnificent mystical structure that they call the finishing arch that somehow miraculously makes you run faster. I said to Mel and Trevor “Shall we run it?” to which they replied in the affirmative and promptly went on to finish just ahead of me. (Mel was 2 seconds ahead of me in 10th place – not that I was in any way thinking about placings on this occasion but top 10 would have been nice!)
The last 2.5km were uphill but compared to some of the earlier climbs it wasn’t so bad. The final distance was 19.5km – more than enough!
Priorities, priorities – my first stop was the food tent to get me one of those famous vegan brownies before they were all gone! I’d volunteered at the last 3 Trail Running SA races, the last two on the finish line food table, and had managed to get a couple of said brownies, but I didn’t want to take any chances of missing out! Then it was time to catch up with other fellow runners/torture addicts to see if they’d found the course as challenging as I had!
Turns out I wasn’t the only one who found it tough. 2 people separately described it as “harder than Mt Misery” – an event I’ve never run but which is notoriously tough. So it wasn’t just me being a wuss/completely out of trail condition! It was a legitimately tough course!
I had to get back to town for a Fathers’ Day lunch but I made sure I waited until after the presentations and lucky prize draw before I left. Good thing I did too, because I won a hydration pack – valued at over $200! Go me!
Thanks to all the fantastic volunteers from Trail Running SA who put on yet another brilliant event. It was great to be out there as a runner after volunteering at the last 3 races, and it just makes you appreciate all the more what the volunteers do to make these races happen. Thanks to Sandy for the lift from Yankalilla to the race and to Laura for giving me and my filthy stinky shoes a lift back after the race!
Massive thanks too to the awesome Sputnik who seemed to be everywhere on the course snapping away and from whom I got most of these photos.
Well done to everyone who participated in both the short and the long course, and hopefully I’ll see a lot of you again at Kuitpo in November (I’ve already entered!) if not at Yurrebilla in 3 weeks!
Yes, it was tough, yes, there were certainly times when I didn’t want to be there, and yes, I would do it again in a heartbeat!