Monday, 11 July 2016

Plenty Gorge Trail Race Report

A cold, foggy morning at Plenty Gorge
The morning of the 12th of July was cold and the weather forecast for the rest of it wasn’t all that pleasant, the forecast said rain was going to fall during the time I was running my race. Not that I cared as I was going to get wet anyways as the race included water crossings, but I’m getting ahead of myself. The morning I’m speaking of is race 2 of the Hoka One One Trail Running Series, held at Plenty Gorge. This is my 3rd year of competing in this race, but my first year racing in the long course (in 2014 and ’15 I did the 11.5km medium course) and my longest trail race ever. And let me tell you, it was hard but very satisfying to finish.
The expo area
Race preparations started the night before with the eating of a giant parmy with fellow Sale and District runner Kym, who also participated in Race 2 running in the short course. The perfect way of getting some last minute carbs in to me. We got to the race bright and early so I had lots of time to warm up and get ready, which I think is now a prerequisite for me to race well. This meant I was ready to go by the time I got to the start line, and didn’t need ‘PhysioHealth’ to pump me up any further; though they did increase the overall excitement level of everyone at the start line. This was also the time of the race briefing and found out that 4 river crossings was reduced to only 2, the other 2 crossings were replaced by ‘bridges’ (a wooden plank). It was disappointing news to hear, as the only reason I chose this race to do over all the others in the previous two years was because of the water crossings, as the 16 year old me though it was such a unique idea and I have now come to love them. It really helps to epitomise the trial running experience.
This is the bottom of one of the hills, the finish area is at the top
This race (according to the website) is 17.5 km in length with 530m of elevation so my race plan was to try and keep up with the front of the pack as I knew I had to be quick to try and come away the U20 winner, looking at 2015’s times. I hoped that the front-runners would drag me along for the first few km’s and give me a big enough lead over my rivals so when I did slow down there would be enough of time and distance gap for me to beat them. This strategy meant I was leading everyone for about 30 seconds at the 1km mark whilst running down the first major hill! However; that would be the only time that happened and would continue to be passed by people until about the 12km point, which I’ll admit, was demoralising. The general vibe though was great, with lots of ‘good job’ and ‘well done’ by the people that passed me.

I knew I was in trouble when I found the first gradual climb at the 1.5km point, difficult. This was when I was still trying my best to keep up with the top 10 and was pushing myself pretty hard. At this point I knew I had to ease back on the intensity, least I ‘blow up’ and run risk of not finishing the race in a reasonable time.
One of my favourite parts of the race came up at about the 2.5km mark, a downhill, grassy section where the challenge was to try and get down it as fast as possible without falling over. This is where I was very glad to have my trail shoes on and almost caught a person that was 100m ahead of me at the top of the hill.
The highlight of the entire race though, would have to be between 7.5km and the 9.6km point. You come off the back of running down a big hill and have gained a bit of momentum and get onto some nice flowy single track. It’s relatively flat and allowed me to get into a bit of a rhythm, catch my breath and really enjoy myself. It also had some rocky sections to keep it interesting. This is the type of trail that I trained on and where I felt I really excelled. At the 9.6km point was the first time I got my feet wet and the second time I crossed the river. I knew it was going to be cold, but I don’t think you can truly prepare yourself for it. One moment I could feel my feet, the next moment I couldn’t. It’s hard to run when you think you have blocks of ice for feet!

It was only a few k’s further before I made it back to the start/finish area. For short and medium courses this meant chucking a right and heading on back to the finish line, for me I had to take a left and complete the northern loop. At this point I realised a few things. Last year when I was at this point, I was a lot faster. It took me about 54 mins to reach there in 2015, this year it was about 57 mins. It was also the point where I thought I might not win, it took me too long to get to this point and I still had about 6km’s to go! So I set myself a new goal, get back to the start line in less than 1.5 hours. Avg about 5 min/km, easy. I should be able to do that in my sleep. Oh how wrong I was. You see, this 6km is the toughest section of the entire race. Just have a look at the elevation profile. See those parts that almost look like a vertical line? I’m going to call them the ‘leg killers’ because they killed my legs. Hamstrings, quads, glutes, calves were all destroyed in a space of about a minute, 4 times over. I had to power hike up them. The stupid thing is that I have ran up hills that steep before in training, the only thing that changed is that I do those runs at a lower intensity. I need to increase my leg strength, especially since I’ve signed up for 4 Peaks.
I must’ve handled the final 6km a bit better than some of my fellow competitors though, as I finally managed pass 3 people that passed me earlier in the race. I crossed the line 1 hour 32 mins and 36 seconds, where I found out I somehow was the first U20 across the line! A little later on I discovered that I came 19th out of 328, which isn’t too bad, but I’ll be hoping to improve my overall placing at the next race in Silvan in August.

It was a good, challenging race. The trails were amazing and even better, it didn’t rain! Thanks to Rapid Ascent for a well organised event, a massive thank you to the volunteers and well done to all the other runners across the 3 distances (a quick shout-out to Kym who came second in her age group!)

The prizes; a one hour massage (which I'm going to find difficult to use as I live 2.5 hours outside of Melbourne), a pain relief cream and the Vfuel gel (my favourite flavour!)


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