Last year I ran the Tower Trail Run in Mount Gambier for the first time. You can read all about it here.
I loved it so much I just had to go back!
This year I’d opted to run the half marathon again (2 laps) although the competitor in my kind of wished I’d gone with the marathon (4 laps) when I saw only 2 women on the provisional start list! Along with the single lap 10.5km event, this year an ultra distance (56km) had been added – it was 4 laps like the marathon, but the loop included a lap around the iconic Blue Lake. Something a bit special just for the ultra runners!
This weekend was also the weekend of the Pichi Richi marathon (starting in Port Augusta) and also the launch of the Port Augusta parkrun. I have always been keen on Pichi, the idea of a one-way marathon (like Boston, only on a much smaller scale!) appeals to me and I was thinking that I might give it a crack next year. The timing has never worked out before!
Joining me on this trip were Karen, Daryl and Wendy who had also made the journey last year, as well as Wendy’s partner Graham. We were all doing the 21.1km.
A road trip from Adelaide to Mount Gambier would not be complete without a stop in Coonawarra for a wine tasting. This year we went to Zema Estate on Friday afternoon on the way there, and Redman on Monday morning on the way back. I thank Karen and Daryl for indulging me as they are both non-drinkers, although at Redman Karen managed to occupy her time with the resident ‘wine dog’ while I was doing my tasting! I love Coonawarra, it’s so compact and the wines are fabulous!
Friday night I had arranged to meet a vegan friend, Mount Gambier local Rose (who I hadn’t actually met in real life, just on social media) and her fellow vegan friend Karl, visiting from Sydney. We had some fantastic vegan burgers and fries at the new burger joint in town (not just vegan, also catering to omnivores!) – Natural Born Grillers. It was great to chat about running and vegan deliciousness with a couple of like-minded people!
A Saturday morning in Mount Gambier, particularly for a runner, would not be complete without Mount Gambier parkrun. I’ve done a lot of different parkruns now (I think 31 globally?) and I have to say this is my favourite. It’s a bit challenging, with a few little hills (up until the launch of Cleland it would have been the most challenging parkrun in SA) but with the most incredible view over the Blue Lake. I always find myself getting distracted by it on the way out (it’s an ‘out and back’ course) – run run run run run – oh, look at the lake! – run run run run run – oh, still the lake, wow! – etc etc! It was particularly distracting the first time I went there, as that was in December when it’s actually a really striking blue. In June it’s more of a blue-grey but no less impressive!
And a parkrun in Mount Gambier must always be followed by coffee at Metro, probably a big part of the reason why it is my favourite of all the parkruns. Even though on this particular occasion they didn’t have any vegan cakes in!
It rained a bit on parkrun but the promise was for a dry morning on Sunday which would be perfect – last year it was pretty wet, but I still loved it! A dry, cool morning would be ideal!
The rest of Saturday was spent wandering around the shops, dodging showers. I remembered Ecologie Organics, the organic store, from last year, and that when I went last time, they were going to start serving hot food about a month later. Sure enough, they had a lot of lovely vegan lunch goodies, I went for a vegetable soup which was perfect on a cold, wet winter’s day!
We stayed at the same place as last year, very conveniently located within easy walking distance of both parkrun and the start of the race. On Saturday night we went back to Metro for dinner and were joined by SA running legend Kym, who had originally signed up to do the marathon but had decided to join the cool kids in the half instead.
On race morning Kym had to get down to the start line early to change from the marathon to the half, and rather than hang around at the start line in the cold, he came down to hang out at our place while we got ready to walk up. Somehow he had managed to put his back ‘out’ while going under some bunting, so Karen helped him out with some Deep Heat before we all wandered to the start line.
At the start line Race Director Phil gave the briefing and a couple of warnings about dangerous sections of the course – one of them being the concrete pretty much RIGHT on the start line – he commented that it would be pretty bad to trip over literally ON the start line! There was also a downhill trail section early on with a lot of tree roots to be careful of, but that was the trickiest bit.
My time from last year was just over 2 hours 20, so I was hoping to improve on that this time around, although I hadn’t been doing a lot of trail/hill running recently (my main focus being the 12 hour event in mid July) so I couldn’t really expect anything too spectacular! Also, I was running with arm warmers as per usual, and my newish Garmin watch has a built-in heart rate monitor which needs to be against the skin to work, so consequently my watch was covered for pretty much the whole race. That suited me fine – it worked for me at UTA100!
Away we went at 8:00!
Very early on in the race (before we hit the trail) fellow Adelaide runner Andy, who I had met and run with last year at Mt Gambier parkrun, commented that he had seen my post. I asked him “Which one?” thinking he was referring to a Facebook post. “The Heysen one” he replied, at which point I realised he was talking about an ACTUAL POST, the post in the field around the 60km mark on the Heysen 105, where Justin had immortalised me with a plaque to commemorate the spot where I had infamously got lost during my first Heysen! I really must get down there and visit said post – I haven’t run the 105 since the plaque was put up, so I haven’t really had any reason to go down there!
I won’t talk too much about the course itself because I covered that pretty well last time. It’s a very ‘up and down’ course, with not a lot of flat in between! I ended up walking a lot of the hills, especially the big one up to the Centenary Tower (the ‘Tower’ after which the Tower Trail Run is named!) as I felt I really couldn’t have run them any faster than I walked them.
We encountered a few of the marathon and ultra runners out there but they were few and far between. Probably because there were vastly more runners in the 21.1k and the 10.5k (the 10.5k didn’t start until after I’d commenced my second loop) than in the marathon and ultra. The marathon was by far the smallest – only 10 starters – probably because a lot of the runners who would previously have done the marathon would have been tempted by the prospect of running the inaugural Tower ultra!
I opted to wear my small race vest with 2 small bottles of Gatorade, as well as a couple of bars just in case, but I wasn’t expecting to need those for that distance. It wasn’t hard to slip them into the pockets of my pack and they didn’t weigh me down too much!
Around halfway through the first lap I met up with Andy again, and we would end up running pretty much the rest of the race together. It was really enjoyable, once again I hadn’t planned to run it with anyone, but it’s always nice to randomly meet up with someone along the way that is of the same pace and have great chats with them!
Have I mentioned the volunteers yet? They were FABULOUS. There were a few aid stations along the way, I didn’t need to use any of their services as I’d come prepared to be self-sufficient (as I prefer to do – I don’t like to stop if I can avoid it!) but it was always nice to see their friendly faces. The marshals were also very friendly with very clear directions so I never felt like I was in danger of getting lost (which, considering my history at Heysen as outlined earlier, is very important!). There were also HEAPS of photographers out there, and the photos were fantastic (the course is very photogenic in itself!). As I approached one photographer, my nose was running a bit (as it tends to do in the cold) and I called out “Can you please Photoshop out the snot?” to which Andy responded “Can you photoshop it IN?”
Another lovely touch was when we were approaching the end of the first loop and there was a table out in a field with lollies on it for the runners – that’s just one of those things that makes this event so special!
Other than the other runners, we kept encountering a guy called Troy, a mate of Andy’s who was out supporting. It would have been nice of him to bring a couple of ropes to tow us up the hill, but the support was appreciated nonetheless!
It was nice at the halfway mark to see the 10.5k runners waiting to start, a few familiar faces among them! They gave us a great cheer as we went past to start what Andy described as the ‘victory lap’ (We just had a ‘warmup lap’ and a ‘victory lap’. No proper racing laps!)
Towards the end of the second lap, probably with a few kms to go (I didn’t look at my watch but I knew the Tower was about 3km from the finish and we’d passed that) I started to get a bit hungry but I knew we were close enough that I would make it to the end. Still, it was good to know I had snacks if I needed them! From that point on I decided to run, even on the uphills (which weren’t too bad after the Tower) because I knew I didn’t need to conserve energy anymore!
The second and final lap finished with a bit of a sprint when Troy reappeared to give Andy a bit of a push to the finish. This was roughly the spot where Graham and I had fought it out in an epic finish line sprint last year! It was nice to know that again I still had a bit left in my legs!
In the end I was a couple of minutes slower than last year, but given that I wasn’t looking at my watch, hadn’t really done a heck of a lot of trail training, and really enjoyed myself out there, I couldn’t really be disappointed!
Thanks to Phil and Nikki and all of the fantastic volunteers for making this event a highlight on my calendar – definitely got it pencilled in for next year (will be inked in once the date is confirmed!) I had planned to go to Pichi Richi but I can’t resist coming back to the Mount! I would highly recommend this event to anyone who likes a bit of trail fun and for those in Adelaide it’s a great excuse for a weekend away in a pretty fabulous location!
A post-script to the event. Last year I was unfairly branded a monster by Karen at our post-run stop at seaside Port Macdonnell, because I told her not to feed the seagulls chips until we’d all had enough. You know, because they’re pests and they won’t leave you alone if you give them one! Well Karen and Wendy decided to have their revenge this time around.
But it all worked out OK in the end because one of them shat on Karen.
Karma, I say. Karma.