Five Peaks Ultramarathon & SA Trail Running Festival is a brand new event on the SA running calendar, organised by Trail Running SA who have been putting on awesome and incredibly popular trail running events in Adelaide and surrounds for the past few years. Five Peaks wasn’t initially on my radar, but when I realised it was 5 weeks out from UTA100, I thought it would be an ideal ‘training run’ – a training run with support throughout AND a medal at the end! The best kind of training run! And let’s face it, there are two chances of me going out and running 50+ kilometres by myself – Buckley’s and none!
I’m not sure exactly how this event came about but a couple of years ago, a few keen trail runners suggested that TRSA’s previous ‘big’ event, the Cleland SA Trail Championships, could be made into an ultramarathon by making it a 2 lap course (the long course trail champs is 24km) – no further course marking or drink stations required – a no-brainer! At the time I can clearly recall the response from TRSA being “TRSA is not in the business of ultramarathons” (or words to that effect).
At this time, the Adelaide metro region only had one trail ultramarathon, the Yurrebilla 56k. People had to venture further afield to the Flinders Ranges for the Hubert 100 or down south for the Heysen 105.
Then, last year, Yumigo! (the organiser of Heysen and Hubert) put on a ‘local’ trail ultra, the Cleland 50. By all accounts it was a pretty tough 50k! (I was going to run it, in fact I had entered, but withdrew when I realised just how tough it was going to be!) It does take in some of my favourite trails, so I’m sure I will run it one day!
And now Adelaide is really spoiled for choice, as TRSA has now decided they ARE in the business of ultramarathons, so we have 3 x 50km trail ultras in the metro region!
So I decided that I was going to run the Five Peaks. It starts at Athelstone (where the new Yurrebilla finish line is) and finishes at Belair (not quite at the Yurrebilla start line, but close!) and for a lot of the way, follows the Yurrebilla Trail. So it is kind of like a reverse Yurrebilla, with a few extra nasty little hills thrown in!
Like Yurrebilla, there were 3 organised training runs, covering the entire 58km (ish) course. The two times I had run Yurrebilla, I had never managed to fit in all the 3 training runs (probably due to those pesky marathons and associated long training runs which now are thankfully a thing of the past!) but this year, happily they all fit into my schedule quite nicely.
Now the tendency with ‘crazy ultra runners’ is to do these training runs as ‘back and outs’ or ‘out and backs’ rather than ‘point to points’. The ‘official’ training runs are point to point, with carpooling arranged so most of the cars are at the end and only a few at the start. The ‘out and back’ removes the need for carpooling and also (somewhat obviously) makes the run approximately twice as long. For my very first Yurrebilla training run in 2015, I opted to do the ‘back and out’ but other than that, one way is generally enough for me!
The advantage of ‘back and out’ versus ‘out and back’ is that you finish your run with everyone else. And at the end, there is always copious amounts of food, coffee and Coke, supplied by our wonderful supporters Mal and Merrilyn. I never liked the idea of getting to the ‘buffet’ in the knowledge that I would then need to run all the way back again! Much better to start at arse o’clock, in the dark, and be able to eat ALL OF THE FOOD!
A better option even, than ‘back and out’, is just running the one way! Which is exactly what I did for all 3 of the training runs.
Training run 1, which was approximately the first 18km of the course (Athelstone to Norton Summit), could only be described as brutal. By far the best part of that run was the refreshments afterwards! I think I may have drunk an entire 2L bottle of Coke! That run made me question everything, it made me seriously consider giving up trail running (and at times even giving up running altogether!). I ran (‘ran’ is generous – I’d say it was more than 50% walking!) with Beck and Kate. Neither of them were planning to do the event. And after that run, neither was I! But it’s funny how quickly you forget. I think by the end of that day I was as good as signed up! To be fair, that 18km section, which took us almost 3 hours, was run on a particularly hot day in February and contained 3 of the 5 peaks and over 1000m elevation gain. Plus, I’d just run a 50km ultra the week before on not much training. The heat was definitely a factor, and when the event was run in April, it would be much cooler. (Having said that, it was an unseasonal 36 degrees on the Wednesday 3 days before the event!)
I don’t really remember much about training run 2 (Norton Summit to Cleland), other than the fact it was a lot nicer than training run 1! Beck and Kate had been put off completely by training run 1, so I seem to recall I did a fair bit of it on my own. Which was good because neither of those two would be there on race day so I needed to get used to running on my own! It was around 16km with 680m of elevation gain – MUCH more civilised for a non-mountain-goat such as myself!
Then there was training run 3, on Easter Monday, 21km on the back of a solo 23km the previous day. I figured the best way to get more distance in, and get used to ‘running on tired legs’ would be to do back to back long hilly runs, rather than try to ‘cram’ all the mileage into one run, which would probably result in a longer recovery time. It worked really well – I was pretty stiff on Tuesday but back to normal programming by Thursday! That run was the nicest of the lot, only 500m of climb (just the one ‘peak’) and some spectacular views over the city.
Not that you can read too much into training runs, but if you combined my times for the 3 training runs (bearing in mind that on the first training run we probably cut out about 1-2km of extra little loops) it all added up to 7 hours 10 minutes. Now I had been told that Five Peaks would be harder than Yurrebilla, so I should expect to be about 20 minutes slower than my Yurrebilla time. My best YUM time (and indeed the only time I’d run the ‘proper’ course) was 7:07, so somewhere around 7½ hours would be the best case scenario. Conservatively I thought somewhere between 7 and 8 hours should be around the mark.
I had opted for the 7am start (the other options were 6am and 8am). 7am was the best option for me – 6am would necessitate a 4:45am bus from Belair (so probably around 4:15am leaving home!) plus I may well get to the drink stations before they open. 8am was the ‘racing’ group – you had to start in that group if you wanted to be a podium contender. As I knew I wasn’t going to be a podium contender, starting at 8am would only mean I would be one of the slowest in that group and would end up running most of the day on my own. The extra hour’s sleep was not enough to make that a good option for me!
After the final training run, I went out for one last trail hitout on the Sunday before the race. I went with my usual haunt (Chambers) and just did the one loop, but pushed it reasonably hard. Tuesday was a regular road running day and I cut it a bit short but again tried to pick up the pace. I decided not to run after that until race day – I walked on Thursday instead of my usual run, and had the luxury of a Friday sleep-in!
After my walk on Thursday I had a twinge in my left knee, patellofemoral joint to be precise, which was not something I had experienced in a long time. I expected it was just the dreaded ‘taperitis’ and that all would be good come race day. However come Friday it was still there and more noticeable going down the stairs at work, and sitting down and standing up. I wasn’t expecting to have to do much sitting down or standing up during the race, but going downhill WAS something I knew I would be doing, and in fact it was the one thing I knew I could do well (being a bit slow on the uphills!) So I decided to try taping my patella, which seemed to do the trick – instant relief!
I packed all my gear the night before, as my alarm was set for 4:30 as it was. There was the option of having a drop bag at Drink Station 3 (approximately the halfway mark) and I decided to leave a spare pair of shoes and socks in there as well as a spare T-shirt and arm warmers, and a bit of food. The forecast was for a fair bit of rain. I had never changed shoes and/or socks during a race before, but I figured it was better to have them there and not need them, than vice versa!
The only difference to my ‘usual’ race kit was a pair of gaiters from Groovy Gaitors – purchased specifically to match my T-shirt! At the last training run I had had a few rocks in my shoes so I thought my run would be a bit more comfortable without that! Plus, the gaiters look cool (most importantly!)
I arrived at Belair Country Club in the dark and rain at 5:30am. Although we were starting at 7 (when it would be light), a headlamp would have been useful if only for the walk from the car to the bus! I ended up walking to the bus with a guy who arrived around the same time, he thought it was bus stop 27B where the bus was picking us up. I was a bit suspicious when we got to said bus stop and there was no-one there, let alone any buses! He checked and it was actually bus stop 27A! We made our way there and onto the bus where I sat next to Hoa, who was also going for a 7-8 hour finish. She was doing Five Peaks, followed in a few weeks by the Hubert 100 miler, then UTA in 5 weeks (but ‘only’ the 50k!).
The bus trip seemed interminable, for some reason we went through the city, and consequently we arrived at the start line at Athelstone a bit late, meaning there was really just enough time to collect our bibs and have a last toilet stop before we were summoned to the start line to listen to the briefing by Race Director Claire and timing guy Malcolm.
After it had stopped raining during the bus ride from Belair to Athelstone, it started again JUST as we were about to start, so I quickly got out my light rain jacket and put it on.
I was fully expecting the first section to be nasty – as it had taken me 3 hours to get to Norton Summit in the training run, my goal was to get to Norton within 2.5 hours. Some of the hills were definitely not runnable, but I would power hike those, and run all the downhills and flats.
In the first training run, which contained 3 of the 5 peaks, Kate, Beck and I had decided not to run any of the ‘out and back’ diversions as we felt the run was long and hard enough as it was! Consequently these were a bit of a surprise in the event itself. It was a nice touch – at each of the Five Peaks, there would be a sign we had to run around saying the name and number of the peak. Peak 1 (Black Hill) was at 5km. I jokingly said to whoever was around me at the time, “So if we’ve done 1 peak out of 5, does that mean we’re 1/5 of the way there?”
There was a drink station around the 5km mark – just as we were about to start the climb up Chapman’s Track (one of the unrunnable bits!). I didn’t need anything at that stage, but Hoa, who I’d been going back and forth with in the first little bit, needed to top up her water. She would smash me going up the hills but then I’d usually catch up with her on the downs. She didn’t take long to catch up with me after refilling and it wasn’t too long before she powered past me and I didn’t see her again until the finish line!
Walking up Chapman’s, it had stopped raining so I took the opportunity to take off my jacket and try to put it back in my pack. Turns out it’s pretty hard to stuff a damp rain jacket into a not-very-big pack while walking uphill and trying not to trip over on a pretty rocky track! A lot of people passed me while I was trying to do this, and eventually I gave up and stopped for a minute to put it away.
While we had a break in the weather and I was walking anyway, I decided why not take a few photos rather than rely on other people to illustrate my blog!
For a little while on Chapmans I was walking with Jai and Tim, who seemed to be having WAY too much fun! Jai was suggesting that windscreen wipers for his sunglasses would be useful – I suggested that maybe sunglasses were not needed on a day like this! (Indeed I was not wearing sunnies in a race for the first time in a long time – I had them in my pack but did not end up using them at all!) Like other people throughout the day, I’d be with them for a while, then they’d get away, I’d catch up again, and they’d get away again. It was a nice distraction but by the time I stopped briefly at Drink Station 2 at Norton Summit, they were long gone!
Just before we reached Norton Summit, we had to run on the road for a bit. As I approached the road I could hear a familiar voice calling my name – it was Ziad, who is often the course sweeper/trail demarker but today was a road marshal. He directed me onto the road and told me as always to “Keep smiling” and “Have fun!”
I was pretty happy when the markers directed us off the road and back onto the trail – I don’t much like running on non-closed roads, especially in trail shoes! I caught up with Jim, one of the 6am starters with whom I’d had a long chat about this event at a SA Road Runners Club social event during the week, and he seemed to be travelling OK. I had just passed him when I reached a fence with a closed gate, I pushed the gate only to find it was padlocked! I couldn’t see a way around, so the only option seemed to be to jump the fence! I wondered how the fast 8am runners would feel about having to jump a fence – I bet that wasn’t in anyone’s race plan! We both climbed over the fence – thankfully the only bit of fence climbing we’d have to do for the day!
As I mentioned earlier, there was over 1000m elevation in the first 18km of the run. (Norton Summit was ‘Peak 3’) That was almost half of the overall elevation gain, in less than 1/3 of the distance! Mentally, I knew that once I got to Norton Summit, half the battle was over! And I made it in just under 2.5 hours, as I had hoped. I didn’t linger long – just long enough to fill up one of my bottles with water. I was carrying 2 bottles of Gatorade and no water, and I’d drunk one of my bottles of Gatorade. I had Gatorade powder in my pack, but I couldn’t be bothered taking off my pack to get it out at this stage. Besides, it was only 9km to the next drink station where I would definitely be stopping. One bottle of Gatorade SHOULD be enough, and I had a bottle of water as a backup. I do prefer to drink Gatorade rather than water, most of the time during runs.
For a while I was running with Jon and Jess, Jon using hiking poles, and Jess doing his first ultra. They both seemed to be going pretty well, and I must admit I could have done with some poles on some of the earlier climbs!
It took me a good hour to do the 7km from Norton Summit to Coach Road, which was almost the halfway mark. During this time I was overtaken by a girl who I assumed was one of the fast 8am starters, as she passed me apparently quite effortlessly! I was chatting to her, and Jon and Jess, about the merits of changing shoes and socks at Coach Road. I was agonising over it for probably the last 5km of that section – given that there would likely be more rain, and existing unavoidable puddles, was it worth taking the time to change into dry shoes that would soon be wet? Jon didn’t think it was worth it, and none of the people I talked to had spare shoes anyway, but I kept thinking about it and by the time I reached the drink station I had decided that I was going to change. There was water sloshing around inside my shoes, my socks were saturated, and I figured I’d be on the fast track to Blisterville if I kept those socks on for the rest of the day! Even if my dry shoes and socks got wet, at least they would be dry for a short period! And with less rain forecast in the afternoon than in the morning, there was a chance I might remain relatively dry!
I collected my drop bag and took everything out – spare Gatorade powder, an extra sandwich, and all my dry clothing. I changed T-shirts and arm warmers, and quickly put my light rain jacket back on because of course it was raining again! No sense putting on a dry top only for it to get wet while I was in the process of changing my shoes! The cycling gloves which I like to wear in trail races to protect my hands in case I fall over, were completely drenched. After having taken them off and wrung them out, I didn’t fancy putting them back on again. Into the drop bag they went. The T-shirt I had been wearing at the start was so wet that I think I could have bypassed the drink station and filled my drink bottle by wringing it out!
As I was changing my shoes, a lot of runners went past me. I didn’t time how long I spent at the drink station, but I was convinced that any time ‘wasted’ on changing shoes would be time well spent, if it meant making the second half of the race more comfortable! I managed to change shoes and socks while still standing up (I don’t like sitting down during a race – it’s too hard to get back up and going again!) While I was changing shoes one of the 6am starters, Belinda, was umming and ahhing about whether or not to change her shoes. I told her in no uncertain terms “Do it!”. She did, and I hoped that my advice turned out to be good!
After my wardrobe change I went to top up my drink bottles and have my first Coke for the day. TRSA have a ‘no cups’ policy which meant that runners needed to bring their own receptacles (bottles, cups etc) for drinks. It’s a great initiative and everyone seemed to be well prepared. With the strong winds, plastic cups would have blown away anyway! As well as Coke I had a couple of Maurice’s delicious vegan brownies to fuel the next section of my run!
There was still a fair bit of climbing to come. With storms the previous day, and strong winds throughout the race, there were plenty of fallen tree branches creating potential trip hazards. Or, in my case, potential makeshift ‘hiking poles’! I think on 3 occasions I picked up a sturdy branch to help me up some of the hills, and then ditched them once I could see level or downhill trail ahead!
OK now I will admit that maybe I didn’t read the briefing document as diligently as I should have. The second training run ended at Cleland, which was also the start line for the 22km run. Although I had printed out a list of drink stations with estimated timings based on different race times, I had incorrectly assumed that the next drink station would be at Cleland.
The next ‘Peak’ was Mount Lofty, Adelaide’s highest point. The Waterfall Gully to Mount Lofty hike is an extremely popular walking trail especially on the weekends. It is sometimes (perhaps unkindly) referred to as the ‘Lorna Jane Highway’, in reference to the plethora of activewear-clad ladies who go there to take Insta-worthy selfies and generally be seen. On a day like this though, it was only the hardcore crazies who were out there. By that, I mean participants in the Five Peaks, and a few intrepid others! It made a nice change!
Just before Mount Lofty I saw a familiar face with a camera at the top of Pillbox Track – it was Bek, who I’d been chatting with a few days before, she’d told me where she was marshalling, and I told her I hoped I’d be smiling when I saw her!
At Lofty, as per the previous peaks, we had to do a lap around the ‘Peak 4’ sign, which meant running around the big arse white monument and checking out the view. On a clear day, Mount Lofty is a pretty good place to get a great view over the city (once you’ve elbowed all the other view-seekers out of the way), although on this particular occasion it was pretty misty (I had predicted a complete white out, so I was pleasantly surprised to be able to see anything!). As I got to the monument I noticed a gazebo there, and after having run past it, I realised it was a drink station! Not until much later did I realise this WAS, in fact, Drink Station 4! This was the 31km mark. The last drink station had been at 25km and as it turned out my next opportunity to refill would not be until the final drink station at 44km. That’s a long time between drinks (pun intended!) but fortunately due to the cool conditions I managed to get by quite comfortably!
Not long after Lofty we got to Cleland where TRSA committee member Murray was getting the start line set up for the 22km, I reckon this was just before midday. For some reason I had in my head that I ran the last training run in under 2 hours so if I could reach Cleland within 5 hours I was a chance of a sub 7 hour finish which would be phenomenal! I later realised that it was actually the SECOND training run that I had done in under 2 hours. 22km of trails in under 2 hours would have taken some doing!
Possibly around this point, or maybe a bit earlier, was when I started running with Damian, who I hadn’t run with before but who had finished just behind me in my last Heysen 105 (coincidentally my last trail ultra, 18 months ago) and was also doing UTA100 (for the first time) this year. It was great to have someone to run with consistently, we didn’t run the whole of the rest of the race together but we were never far apart, and we ran quite long sections of it together. We had plenty to chat about! Also with us at this stage was Jon – Jess had gone on ahead and ended up doing a smashing time for his first ultra! Jon was trying to convince us to do the Wonderland run in the Grampians – he prefers smaller events rather than big ones like UTA! (When I asked him if he’d ever done UTA he quickly said “No, too big!”) I must admit he did make it sound pretty appealing…
While running with Jon he mentioned Kent, a Mount Barker parkrunner, regular parkrun tourist, SA Statesman (a fair effort considering SA now has 23 parkruns, more than double the number we had when I was a Statesman, and with 2 more to come before the end of this month!) and generally Very. Fast. Runner. (This is the guy who did the parkrun double on New Year’s Day last year – 5k at 7:30am, then RAN the 23k to the second parkrun and was there in time for the 9:30am start!) Jon said he had been trying to convince him to do a trail ultra and over time he went from “No” to “Maybe” to “Where do I sign up?” He was in the 8:00 (speedy) group, doing his first ultra.
Not long after this we hit the old Mount Barker Road, where we were directed to run in the bike lane. This is a very popular route for cyclists, being quite a challenging climb, on a relatively quiet road, with the bike lane being physically separated from the traffic. We were running down, not up, so we would be running towards the bikes, and therefore it would be relatively easy for us to jump out of the way. Except, on a rainy and windy day, the road was devoid of cyclists so we had the bike lane all to ourselves! Luxury!
About 1km down the road we crossed over and back onto the trails again. Here I saw Kent’s parents, and asked them how far away he was, to which they replied, “He’s right behind you!” And not far down the trail he and his bright orange shorts went cruising past me, looking fresh as a daisy! Not bad for a first ultra!
Around the same time I caught up with Luke, another one of the 8am starters, who I’d gone back and forth with a few times since he first passed me. When I approached him I saw something sticking out of his mouth and for a split second I thought he was having a smoke! Of course he wasn’t, it was just a Chupa Chup (a kind of lollipop in case you’re not familiar!) I thought if I could hang on to him for a while I would be doing OK. Sure, he was an hour ahead of me but he DID finish 3rd at the Adelaide Marathon last year so to be ‘only’ an hour behind him was pretty good in my book!
Then came possibly the best moment of the race for me, we were running through a cow paddock and the cows were just hanging out, they didn’t seem bothered by all us runners! Fortunately there was a photographer right here so she managed to capture some pretty cool shots of us with the cows!
Not long after this was that spot where I took that stunning panoramic shot 2 weeks ago. Safe to say it didn’t look quite like that on this particular occasion, and I wasn’t going to stop to take a photo of it this time around! Fortunately it had stopped raining by this stage but the wind was as strong as ever, I was being blown sideways!
Soon we reached the steep cement driveway that led down to McElligott’s Quarry and the final drink station. Lining the driveway were a whole lot of cheering people in onesies, who seemed to be having a LOT of fun – it was great to see at this late stage in the race! Also on the driveway I saw Kent’s parents, and his mum Karen offered to take my rain jacket, which by now I was holding in my hand. I had planned to put it in my pack when I reached the drink station, but I gratefully accepted Karen’s offer, handed over the jacket and kept running! I quickly topped up my Gatorade with the help of Laura and the other volunteers, grabbed a brownie and a handful of chips, and away I went!
In the latter stages I caught up with Damian again, and also went back and forth with Emily, and also with Kay, who I’d seen at the start and then at DS3. We seemed to go back and forth quite a few times! Turned out Emily was actually a 7am starter, not 8am as I’d thought! Damian and I were running together most of the time, and we’d pass Kay, and then we’d walk for a bit, and she’d come powering past, then we’d pass her again, and so on!
The last big climb was up the Pony Ridge switchbacks (which, when run in reverse, are my favourite part of Yurrebilla) but not before another seemingly endless section of road, along Brownhill Creek Road. Kay was ahead of us at this stage, we were walking but trying to keep up a good pace. 7.5 hours was still a possibility but we couldn’t afford to waste any time if that was going to happen!
Probably around the 50km mark my Garmin watch started to show ‘Low Battery’ – I suspect my watch is on the way out, as I have previously got through Yurrebilla with plenty of juice left in the battery. I quickly got my phone out and started to record the run directly onto Strava, in case my watch died completely!
On Pony Ridge Road, just as we were about to enter Belair National Park, we saw TRSA committee member David, who advised us we only had 3km to go! Looking at our watches we couldn’t see how that was possible – it had to be at least 5km!
The next milestone was the Echo Tunnel, which had reportedly been lit up like a Christmas tree! Before we hit Echo Tunnel there was a sign saying “2km to go!” Well I’ll tell you, if that was true, it was the longest 2km I’ve ever done!
The tunnel had been unofficially renamed “Steve’s Tunnel” after TRSA committee member Steve who had done the lighting work!
After coming through the tunnel, I was passed by Erin, one of the 8am starters, and decided, given that there were less than 2km to go, to try to stick with her all the way to the finish. Her bright pink shorts made it easy to follow her! I left the rest of them (Damian, Kay and Emily) behind and just went for it! It’s a nice feeling to be able to finish a race strong and have a nice little kick at the end, even after 50+km!
It seemed to take forever but finally I got there! In the end I was only 17 seconds behind Erin (well, 1 hour and 17 seconds actually!). I almost forgot to get my medal! Imagine that!
My time was around 7 hours 31, so based on my pre-race predictions, about as good as I could have hoped! Damian ended up a few minutes behind me, with Emily and Kay not far behind.
With about 3 hours before cutoff time, I grabbed my chair and blanket, a cider and a Coke and settled in to watch the rest of the finishers! Thanks to Wendy who went and got my drop bags for me so I didn’t have to get up!
It was great to see all the people cross the line, including some very fast 22km and 12km runners! The finish line atmosphere was fantastic, with food trucks and even a bar! (Even though the Indian place didn’t have any vegan curry, which I had been looking forward to for at least the second half of the race!)
Towards cutoff time I got to see Kim and Kym, two very well known trail running identities, cross the line together.
I ended up leaving just after the 5:30 cutoff time, as it started raining again and I had curry on the brain!
It was a very long day but it would had to have been an even longer day for the volunteers. They would have been there hours before me, and probably hours after I left. Some of them were standing in the rain and wind all day. Also some of them were out on Friday in even worse conditions, marking the course! (And impeccably I might add. I had downloaded the GPX file of the course and an offline maps app ‘just in case’ but at no stage did I even consider using it!)
So, huge congratulations to Race Director Claire and all of the TRSA committee for getting this event off the ground. After not really wanting to do it, and really only entering because it would be a great lead-in to UTA100, I absolutely loved it and would definitely do it again! It’s a tough ultra, tougher than Yurrebilla for sure, so if you’re planning to do it, definitely don’t expect it to be an easy one, but SUCH a fantastic course! And the 22km is a great option for people who don’t fancy the ultra distance and/or like a bit of a sleep-in! There’s also the 12km which still has almost 300m of elevation gain so it’s not exactly City to Bay!
And of course the volunteers were wonderful – aid stations, marshals, course markers, setting up and packing up – the list is endless! THANK YOU to every single one of you!
Last but not least, well done to everyone who ran, special congratulations for all those who did their first ultra – hopefully you’re now hooked and I’ll see you out on the trails again soon! And special thanks to all the people I ran with along the way, you certainly helped to make it a truly memorable day!