Saturday, 5 November 2016

Race Report: 4 Peaks (Bright Alpine Climb)

The view from the Mt Buffalo Chalet lookout
Mystic Hill (Day 1)

For my first ever Skyrunning race and racing with the big boys (and girls) I slept surprisingly well the night before.  I will admit I was ridiculously tired when I got to bed, as we got into Bright about 10.30pm.  But the nerves are usually huge before any race, let alone the hardest one in my life! Hell I got barely any sleep at all before pacing the Melbourne Half Marathon & that wasn’t even a race! That meant though that by the time morning came around I felt good to go. Waking up meant following my sports dietician to a tee.  Toast with honey straight away then an hour before the race, a banana.
Me being me, I got to the start line with a ton of time to spare, so went for a nice warmup run with Matt then mucked around trying to kill time before the race began.  It was a beautiful morning for it too, warm and sunny and with 15 mins to go, I went to go grab my hydration pack out of the car, only to find it wasn’t there! I left it back at where we were staying.  What followed was a mad rush to go back and get it before the race started.  And made it I did, though lets just say that my trip to & from the race start was a lot faster than legally allowed.
Looking at previous times from this race I figured the ‘elite’ guys were actually slow.  Average 5mins/km pace for 9ish kms. Easy right?  This meant I seeded myself towards the front and when the race started I was able to stay in the top 3 for about 200m where I got passed, and passed again.  The race course went straight up Mystic, no time to warm up per se and it was incredible just seeing the faster guys power up.  Their power hiking was so fast, and by the time I got to the top of Mystic my HR and RR was through the roof and I had probably slipped back to 20th overall. Due to me racing I didn’t have time to stop and take a picture but it was absolutely stunning up there.  Bursting from the trees, into a clearing and seeing the entire valley layed out in front of me.  Wow, just wow! But what comes up must come down and the trip down Mystic on the other side was almost as hard as going up.  Loose rock and gravel and a 37% gradient (according to Strava), fun! I actually did quite well I think. I was able to make good time going down picking up a couple of positions and without seriously falling over.  I almost crashed into, whom I think was, Lucy Bartholomew though she returned me the favour by accidentally kicking a huge boulder that narrowly missed me (or it could have been the guy close behind me).  After that horrendous descent was a climb up Mystic Heights and that was the bit that almost broke me.  It wasn’t as steep as Mystic but it was longer and there were too many false summits.  It was a struggle mentally going up.  Am I there yet, am I there yet? On this climb was the 5km point, which took me 1 hr to reach.  Normally it only takes me about 20 mins, so I’m doing well.
Finally reached the top and it was straight into a downhill and this is an area where I’ll want to improve my running in the future.  The transition from uphill to downhill as I just couldn't find my rhythm.  I felt flat footed and slow.  And by the time I got to a ‘flat’ section, at 7km I was struggling to maintain a 5min/km pace.  The track was smooth and slightly downhill yet I was wrecked.  This was evident as I got passed by a person on this section, so I was glad to see the finish line 2km later.  The race was only 9.5km yet took me 1.23.13. This meant I crossed the line 7th in my age group & 18th overall.  Happy with that, but it tells me I’ve got some work to do if I want to be at the front of the pack in the future.
When we finished, though, something mad happened. I saw lots of people walk over to the nearby creek, fed by snow melt, and sit in it. A make-shift ice bath. I was pressured in to going into it and it was like ice, it was freezing. I was glad I did it though, it possibly helped my muscles be less sore for the next day (and it was something I did again on day 2 after climbing Feathertop).
Elevation and pace of my Mystic race

Wayyy up there is the top of Mystic

The top of Mystic, taken by SAD runner Matt Griffith

Mt Feathertop (Day 2)

After speaking to a couple of guys who have done this run before, all said it was runnable up to Federation Hut, which this year was the finishing point due to ice cornices at the summit.  Which gave me my goal today, run up most of it (why not all of it you ask? Well the people who told me it was runnable included Tom Brazier and Matt Murphy, their runnable isn’t my runnable, yet… ) so when I rocked up to the start line I was mentally prepared for what was in store, whereas yesterday I had no clue. My muscles weren’t as sore as I thought they would be which was awesome and put me in a good mood for the race ahead.  And even better, I recognised another runner lining up beside me who had raced me in the Rapid Ascent night race earlier in the year.  I was beating him up to the point of my stomach cramp where my race ended.  Which added another goal, beat him.
Like yesterday that weather down the bottom was pleasant, warm but not sunny, however it was a little different down there then it was at the top. And learning from yesterday that I’m not actually as fast as I think I am, I started off super conservatively not worrying about my position just thinking about trying to make it to the top.  We started off in a park in a huge grassy area; which reminded me of the start of a cross country race at Bundoora Park, went onto a road and reached the trail head about 1km later, where it sharply went uphill on about a 10% gradient.  I went down a gear with the idea of trying to hold the pace for the rest of the race.  This pace meant I got passed by a few people at the 3km mark, but I was able to claw my way back at about the 7km mark where those that passed me got tired.  That runner who I was trying to beat was still that bit in front of me though, I just couldn’t seem to pass him! The one thing that I really enjoyed was the trail itself, single track that was soft under foot, with a steep drop off on 1 side that made sure that I was paying attention. There were also a few big branches over the track that was fun to climb over.  The toughest section was between the 8.5km-9km point where it got steeper & rocky & was the only section that I had to walk, ahem, ‘power hike’. It flattened out in the last 500m and where I finally passed the person I was trying to beat, yes!!  I crossed the line in 16th and in a time of 1.18.53; which isn’t bad for my biggest climb yet, 11 mins behind the race leader, so I guess I’m improving??  The weather at the top was completely different at the bottom, cold, wet & windy.  The cloud cover was ridiculous, I couldn’t see past 5m, this meant I left the top fairly quickly, and ran back down with 2 other friendly runners in a slow pace that I guess I could call a recovery run, though usually my recoveries don’t last 9.6km but that’s alright. I’m just glad I achieved both goals, lets see how I go tomorrow.
Elevation and pace of my Feathertop race

Views along the Bungalow Spur track

Views along the Bungalow Spur track 
Views along the Bungalow Spur track
Views along the Bungalow Spur track

Views along the Bungalow Spur track

At the Federation Hut, the finish line for today and didn't make it to summit. A bit cloudy

Mt Hotham (Day 3)

When I rocked up to the start line this morning I was exhausted, not physically I mean, sure my muscles were sore, but mentally I wasn’t feeling quite there.  It doesn’t help that the weather was miserable, freezing cold and cloudy, and it was only going to get colder as I climbed up the mountain. After I went for my warm up I just wanted to sit down and go to sleep, luckily I didn’t because the start was fast! This run was slightly different to the other 2 as it didn’t head straight up a mountain, the first 6km were fairly flat and usually that would suit me well; but I haven’t ever done so much climbing in my life so the fast start was tough.  At the 6km point was something I wasn’t expecting, a creek crossing.  Brrrr was it cold! And running with wet feet isn’t ever pleasant, I didn’t have to worry about my core temperature dropping though as we then hit a hill. Mt Feathertop was constant-up sure, but at least it wasn’t on a stupid gradient like this one.  It went up and up and up for the next 3.5km and on already tired legs, it was brutal but it must have been worse for some of the other runners as I was able to pass 3 people.  I wasn’t expecting that! It was also during this 1st climb that I also saw snow! Patches at first but started to become more consistent when we popped out onto a ridge at about 4km. Which took my breath away, 2 valleys with a light dusting of snow dropped either side of me and these huge mountain tops lingered in the distance. Not to mention that the terrain got flatter which was more enjoyable to run along.  The only downer was due to the track being overgrown by the waist high shrubs. This meant I found it hard to find my stride and increase my speed, though I’m sure everybody else was the same. One unexpected consequence of those shrubs was the knocking off of my race bib.  These races are one of the 1st times I’ve worn my hydration pack with a bib and I couldn’t fit my bib on my shirt so I copied some of the elites and put it on my shorts. I attached it to my shorts with the use of ‘Bibbits’, which are strong magnets. The shrubs knocked off one side of them; a pair got caught in the shorts whilst the other pair is lost to the Bon Accord trail. If anybody finds 2 white magnetic rectangles, please return to myself haha. This meant I had to quickly stop, rip the now dangling race bib off my shorts and stuff it into my pack which lost me about 30 sec (which is important later on down the track).
After my nice little reprieve along the ridge was ‘the wall’ (apparently what its called) the final climb for this run and covered in snow. It was steep, short and I was slow making my way up it. Every time I glanced behind me I saw my competitors getting closer and closer to me. I made it to the highest point before they caught me; however, and ran downhill to the finish at the Great Alpine Road along the Razorback Ridge which was stunning. I crossed the line in 14th in a time of 2.00.36 only about 30 secs short of breaking 2 hrs. So close..
This run again broke my record of the most climbing I’ve done in one go (1867 according to the race website) and my favourite run ever, easily. It was amazing!
Elevation and pace of my Hotham race

Top of Razorback Ridge

Top of Razorback Ridge

Top of Razorback Ridge

Still lots of snow at the top of Mt Hotham
Razoraback Ridge with Mt Feathertop touching the clouds in the distance

Mt Buffalo (Day 4)

The final run, what a relief! When I started on my warm up run, my muscles were screaming at me, the soreness was just intensified from previous days but, hey, at least the start line wasn’t as cold as yesterday. The fatigue showed at the start when there was a short run across an open bit of grass and I was towards the back of the leading pack. I usually try to be towards the front but not today, today I had two goals; maintain my overall position in the 4 races, and not die. I had a two-minute buffer on my nearest rival so I was fairly confident of achieving my first goal, but not sure how well I’d do on my second. This course, like the others, was brutal. But at least I was told what to expect. The first 3.5km’s are steep and flattens out a little bit after that, and the fatigue showed on this climb.
As I left the open grass bit I was already back in 15th (ish), and to think I used to be a track runner! The trail itself for the first climb was single track and loose gravel/dirt, so not technical in the slightest and should’ve been easy to run up. And it kind of was, I was able to pass a few people in the first km who started out quicker than me, but in the 2nd and 3rd k I was passed twice, by 2 old guys! I mean c’mon, surely I’m not slow but those two lads were beasts and quickly powered away from me. And just to rub salt into the wound, you remember that person who I wanted to beat back at race 2? He passed me as well, at roughly the 3.5km mark. For the next 2km I was pretty much by myself, enjoying the views and loving nature, making sure I wasn’t pushing myself too hard as I knew what was up next. Technical, rock hopping, ankle rolling, slippery trail. And when I reached it at the 5.5km point, I saw there was another runner breathing down the back of my neck. It’s hard to explain what the trail was like without photos, but it pretty much crisscrossed, back and forth across a rock face that had multiple streams of water running down it at different points along the trail. And to top it off if running up a large rock face wasn’t enough, there were multiple little rocks to navigate across it as well. Oh man, it was so much fun to play along it though! It appealed to my agility while testing my thought processing. I had to think so quickly as to where to put my feet next so that I didn’t roll my ankle accidently. That is why I like trail running more than road or track stuff, playing with nature and learning how to move quickly across it, and was a high note to finish on.
Unfortunately the other runner, (as I found out later he’s represented Australia at the World Orienteering Champs so kind of makes sense) was also very good at moving along the technical terrain, and when we got to a downhill bit at about 6km’s, he passed me. But much to my surprise, he didn't increase his lead on me when we started climbing again a couple hundred metres later. And within a kay and a half I had passed him again, and by the time we reached about the 8th km I was in front of him by a reasonable way. That 8th km was probably my favourite part of this race, it was still technical but we had climbed high enough to fully see out into the valley below us and was breath taking bursting out into an area where there wasn’t any tree or shrubs to fully see this sight. Unfortunately though, there was a mainly downhill section (with some very short climbs) for the next 2kms before there was one last uphill stairs bit for the last 500m and the runner I had been battling with passed me, I tried to keep up, but couldn’t. My quads were smashed and couldn’t demand anything more out of them. This meant I crossed the line 16th, in a time of 1.17.37. Interestingly though, one of the older guys who passed early in the race only finished about a minute in front of me, so I caught up a little bit. And to finish it off my parents were there to cheer me over the finish line, and that was it my first Skyrunning race was over. After four days of running I climbed 5072m and ran 53.6km (according to Strava), in a total time of 6.02.20. This placed me in 5th in the 18-29 category and 10th overall. Which I’m really happy with.
Elevation and pace of my Buffalo race

Finishing off my final 4 Peaks run

As this is my biggest race of the year I feel like this is the perfect time for a few acknowledgements and thank-you’s.
Thanks to my sports dietician Katherine Shone who took me from knowing nothing about sports nutrition to getting me through umpteen number of races throughout the year without incident, including this one.
I’ve only recently come across Trail Brew but I get the feeling that this endurance drink will only continue to grow due to it’s amazing taste and great sport benefits and I’ll be glad to continue using it and (hopefully) be a part of its growth in the future. Trail Brew
This is the same for Vfuel gels, at the start of the year when Katherine told me I’d need to consume gels during my longer runs/races I was apprehensive as I’d had bad experiences with them in the past, until I stumbled upon due to the Hoka One One Trail Series where they were a sponsor. No issues with these guys and I would love to work with them into the future. Vfuel
Thanks must go to Sale and District runners, I’ve written a post of this group and it’s in the archives somewhere, where they’ve helped me transition from high school track and x-country running to running further than ever before. They’ve been supportive and encouraging, and have everyone in it has knowledge that I’m able to draw upon if needed.
At the beginning of the 4 Races

At the end of the 4 Races
And last but not least, my biggest thank-you must go to my parents who have been encouraging and supportive of all my endeavours. Allowing me to use their car (#nocarlife) to travel to and from races, from actually driving me to and from races if I’m too tired to (like 4 Peaks) and just being there. So thanks Mum and Dad!

I should probably briefly mention my time in Bright. As it’s my first time there that I can remember, I was impressed with the amount of boutique shops there were (reminds me of Whistler in Canada actually), how pretty it is and well laid out it is, with everything being in a central location. The Spring Festival was fantastic, with Oktoberfest being on and fireworks and mum told me there were some great floral displays. There are also tons of bike trails that are around Bright, which you could run along as well I suppose, and the few that I rode along were great.
Standouts for me were Oktoberfest, the Bright Brewery (can you tell I like beer?) and the chocolate factory. Bright is definitely a must visit part of Victoria and I can’t believe it took me so long to get there.

Found this suspension bridge on the Canyon Trail
Tambo River

Tambo RIver 
The leaning Tower of Pisa, on a street pole

Mmmm beer

And chocolate


A creek I found whilst cycling around


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