Race report – Conquer the Summit


April 10 2016 was a day of choices.

The SA running/triathlon scene has grown so much in recent years that invariably decisions have to be made re which event (if any) to enter on a given weekend. And that’s a good thing. A little competition never hurt anyone and can only make for better events.

April 10 in particular seemed to be a very popular day. On that one day we had not one but two triathlons (Gatti at West Lakes and also one at Strathalbyn), a new event at Granite Island with a 5k and 10k, a 5k and 11k Conquer the Summit at Mt Barker, and finally another new event, the Salisbury half marathon (with various shorter distances too).

I ruled out the 2 triathlons first – I initially had earmarked the final Gatti of the season as my tri debut, but hadn’t had enough time on the bike to be able to do it justice (not to mention not having some of the essential gear ie a trisuit, wetsuit and oh, a bike!)

Next – Salisbury looked to be a great event but I didn’t fancy another half just a week after having raced pretty hard at Clare.

Granite Island I had initially pencilled in. I love the area and love running there, but I needed to focus on my 2 big running events coming up – firstly Ultra-Trail Australia 100km in (yikes) 5 weeks, and then a sub 3:40 marathon in (aargh) 12 weeks. My training for both has been a bit messy, with Sunday races getting in the way (can’t resist a race!) and trying to juggle training for 2 very different races.

So I had to pick the event that would give me ‘time on feet’, some hill training, and just a long run. Conquer the Summit ticked all the boxes so that was the event I chose.

Conquer the Summit is a community event which has been running for a number of years, organised by the Mt Barker Lions Club. My friend Karen says it’s one of her favourite events, and she does it every year. She does the 11km (uphill) run, then runs back down, making it a good long run. (‘Normal’ people get a bus back down. Normal is overrated)

Given that it would essentially be a long run (the first half being a race, albeit uphill), I decided to wear my small race vest with some water in the bladder, sports drink and a few light snacks. It would be good training for UTA100 where I would also be wearing a vest, albeit larger and heavier!

I didn’t decide on my outfit until race morning – after much deliberation I opted for a pretty floral skirt which I’d never worn in a race before (over the top of Skins compression shorts, so no chance of any chafing) and the top I wore for Yurrebilla 56 and the front half of Heysen 105. It’s a nice top but the back is stained from where the colour has run from my race vest. So it can now ONLY be worn in conjunction with a backpack!

I studied the directions of how to get to Keith Stephenson Park in Mount Barker. I screenshotted just the last bit (once I hit Mt Barker), as I knew the way pretty well up to there. I left home at 7, giving myself plenty of time to get there, collect my race number and fit in a quick toilet stop before the 8am start.

Soooo… I’m not trusting Google maps anymore.

When ‘my destination’ turned out to be a dead end street to the middle of nowhere, I consulted the maps app on my phone. According to that app, the park didn’t exist! I finally went to the always reliable UBD street directory. Yes, I went old school. And what did I find? THE PARK IS ON THE FREAKING MAIN ROAD INTO TOWN! And it’s big too. You can’t miss it!

Anyway, that unscheduled tour of Mt Barker aside, I made it to the park in plenty of time.

Autumn is a magic time of year up in the hills – the autumn leaves on the trees (and the multicoloured carpet on the ground) are just stunning. I found out after the race that this event was originally in June. It’s pretty cold up there in June, and no pretty leaves. I’m glad they changed it!

So all I really knew was that this race was pretty much all uphill. Roughly 11km of uphill. And it attracted a pretty strong field too. Some really high quality female runners (so I knew I wasn’t going to be competitive, which was kind of nice. I just wanted it to be a training run) and a whole lot of red singleted Adelaide Harriers (I think ‘Harrier’ is Latin for ‘crazy fast runner’)!

I had pushed it a bit at parkrun on Saturday so woke up with stiffness and soreness in my left hip (the old tendinosis which flares up from time to time) and probably the drive up (slightly longer than it was meant to be, too) didn’t help. Without enough time for a warmup, I decided to take the first few kilometres pretty conservatively.

Within the first few kilometres I was on familiar territory, the Mt Barker parkrun course! I was running at 4:50 min/km pace which was a bit slower than I was used to running on this particular track! It was flat, if not ever so slightly downhill. As tempting as it was to try to pick up the pace, there was still a LONG way to go! (The turnaround point for the 5km fun run was at 2.5km. The marshal there said “Just a little bit further to go!” Somewhat of an understatement.)

The course was really quite steep in parts but there were also flat and downhill sections. Most of it was on roads, roads that were open to traffic but not overly busy, and there weren’t too many competitors, so there were no dramas.

I decided to try to maintain a fairly constant effort, rather than worrying about pace. That seemed the logical thing to do on a course that wasn’t flat. That meant when I hit the flats and downhills I would speed up and often overtake people. Then, on the uphills, I would frequently be overtaken.

I tried not to look at my watch. From about 4km until 9km I only looked at it periodically to make sure the time was still going. I didn’t want to know the distance and I wasn’t interested in pace. When it vibrated to indicate another km had been completed, I finally looked at it and it showed 9km. Only a bit over 2km to go. Sweet!

There was a guy in front of me most of the way, wearing a backpack. If I did catch up with him I was going to ask him if he was running back down – I guessed he probably was, given the backpack). Sometime between 9km and 10km I did catch and pass him but I was focused on breathing so I didn’t ask the question.

At around 10km we turned a corner and went up a steep gravel track. One woman said “Not long to go now!”. Correct. Not long to go. BUT, that ‘Not long’ was ALL UPHILL. And a pretty steep hill at that! (Kind of like saying “Not long to go” with 400m left to go up Mt Lofty. Yeah, 400m is not far in the overall scheme of things, but it’s a pretty nasty 400m all the same!)

The guy with the backpack passed me on the way up the hill. On the way up I managed to say “You done this before?” to which he replied in the affirmative. I then asked “How far?” and he responded “Not too much further, but I don’t really remember”. Not heaps helpful, but I guess if it was a horrendous long climb he probably WOULD have remembered that!

Towards the end I started to see red singlets coming towards me. Of course. The Harriers were already finished, stretched, hydrated, recovered and on their way back down. They’d probably also managed to fit in a 3 course brunch. Well maybe not the last bit. Anyway they gave me some encouragement and the old favourite “Not long to go now!” Easy for them to say!

Having not done this race before, and having decided it would be a training run, I hadn’t set a goal time or pace. I did, however, have a few thoughts along the way. 6:00 minutes per km sounded pretty reasonable for an uphill run. So if I could crack the 10km under the hour, I’d be happy Then I decided that 11km in the hour was doable.

I managed to achieve both of these goals. Unfortunately I thought 11km would be the end of the race but it wasn’t. I got 11km in under 1 hour but had to keep going. I did walk maybe for about 20-30 seconds after that, and then the hill seemed to flatten out. SURELY this must be it? I went round a corner and sure enough there it was, the finish line! The clock had already clicked over to 1 hour but I managed to get in under 1:01. I was pretty satisfied with that! I had Conquered the Summit. What’s weird was that until then I had never been to Mt Barker Summit, and didn’t even know it existed, despite having been to Mt Barker a number of times! I guess it stands to reason that where there’s a ‘Mount’, there’s a summit, I guess I’d just never thought of it before!

After fellow crazies Geoff, Karen and Ruth had all finished, we all set off back down to the town. Ruth, being a local, knew a trail that would take us back in a slightly more interesting way. It was interesting alright! We encountered a herd of cattle on the path! Forget running with the bulls, we got to run with cows and calves! Ruth had experienced this before on her runs but it was all new to me – very cool!

We soon got back onto the road that we had run up not so long ago. Luckily I had Geoff with me at that point because he had obviously been paying more attention to his surroundings on the way up than I had – none of the roads looked familiar to me AT ALL! I’d been concentrating on the people in front of me and been distracted by the pretty trees!

We made it back to the start just in time for the very end of the presentation (not an issue since none of us were contenders) and had a bit of a chat with some of the placegetters including my old nemesis Lisa who had won the women’s 11km in 48 minutes (I think). I don’t really mean nemesis, it’s just that she seems to be in every event I’m in and I can’t beat her. I have nothing against her personally of course! She happens to be in all 4 of the events I’m running next weekend at the Masters National Athletics Championships. Oh well – hopefully that will make me run faster!

Overall it was a really great run, a lovely community event in a beautiful location. I definitely would do this race again – I think I’d have to try really hard to crack 1 hour next time, now I know what to expect! To sum it up in one word? Well I have 2.

Brutal and Beautiful.