This was my 3rd straight year running the Tower Trail Run. You can read about my 2017 experience here and 2018 here.
I will try to keep this one brief. I have said that before.
The original plan was to do the 21.1km, as I had done the 2 previous years. In fact, I had entered that distance when the earlybird entried opened.
Then, I looked at the calendar and realised that the Adelaide 24 hour event was just 3 weeks after Tower (as it always is) but as I am doing the 24 hour this year (as opposed to the 12 hour the past 2 years), I thought I’d better up the distance. Call it a long training run. Time on legs, and all that. So I upgraded to the marathon distance.
This is the first year of the Five 50 Ultra Series, the brainchild of Steve, one of the Trail Running SA committee. The Tower ultra distance (56km) was the second leg of the five (Five Peaks being the first, and the remaining 3 being Federation Ultra Trail, Yurrebilla and Heysen). Consequently, the ultra distance numbers were WAY up on last year! Nothing like an extra bit of bling (a bonus medal awaits the finishers of the 5 series) to encourage people to turn up!
I had considered the ultra, but as I am not able to complete the series this year, and I wanted to be able to do a good run at the 24, I thought the 56 was a bit too far. 42 was perfect!
The course for the 10.5k, 21.1k and 42.2k was the same, just with a different number of laps. The 56km, like the 42, was 4 laps, but the laps were longer, including a lap of the iconic Blue Lake.
The now traditional pre-Tower dinner took place at the famous Metro Cafe, and my choice of meal (which may have raised some eyebrows) was a curry – one of several vegan options on the menu, and the dish I am almost certain I had last year. We had the back room pretty much booked out, with a large contingent of Adelaide runners having made the trip down to the South East.
We were led to believe that it could get as low as -4 degrees overnight, so I was prepared with my fleece gloves and fleece jacket I’d bought for UTA. I still went with the skirt and compression shorts, as my legs don’t tend to get cold. I also put on a fleece headband to keep my ears warm. In the end, it was fortunately nowhere as cold as we’d thought it might be, and I didn’t end up using the fleece. And there was only 10% chance of rain, so I threw my rain jacket into my drop bag but was pretty sure it wouldn’t be needed.
I ran with my large race vest, although with drink stations every 5km or so it is entirely possible to run this one without carrying anything. I prefer not to stop if possible, so I had on me 2 bottles of Gatorade, some ‘Snackaballs’ (salted caramel are the BOMB!), a Clif bar and a peanut butter sandwich cut into quarters. In my drop bag (left at the finish line, which I would pass 3 times along the way) I had another sandwich, more balls, more Clif bars and some more portions of Gatorade powder. I figured I’d probably stop halfway and top up whatever I’d used so far.
I knew the field for the marathon was small, but I hadn’t looked at the field before the race. I find it not very useful – firstly, people enter on the day, so you can’t get complacent if you don’t see any ‘big names’ on the list, and you might get ‘psyched out’ to see a name on the list of someone who doesn’t even turn up on the day. So I was surprised to see, at the start line, that I was one of only 3 women in the field of 15. Guaranteed podium finish! Beauty!
4 laps was going to be a challenge, but probably good preparation for the 24 hour, come to think of it!
I decided to go uber-conservative for the first lap. This one would be a warm-up.
During the race briefing, Race Director Phil pointed out (specifically to me!) that the tripping hazard that had been at the start line last year, had now been removed, but there was another one elsewhere in the course to look out for. This could be fun!
As we set off up the road for the first section, I sat back around mid-pack and watched a few of the faster runners, including the eventual winner, Howard, take off. Before too long I caught up with them, including Dannielle and Adrian (both from the South East) and ran with them for a short while. Adrian said he had only taken up running in November last year! It wasn’t too long before we came to a steep, ‘rooty’ downhill section, and they both took off, no way was I going to try to keep up with them at this point! Adrian got so much speed up going down one hill that he overshot a turn-off! (No danger of that happening to me!)
The great thing about this run was that there was no pressure. I knew I was going to get top 3 as long as I finished, there was no goal time (I did estimate, based on my previous runs here, that I’d do between 5:00 and 5:30, probably closer to the latter), and I figured, the slower I went, the more time I’d be on my feet, which would be all the better for the 24 hour! So no matter how well (or badly) I ran, there would be something good to take out of it!
On this theme, I ran with my watch covered up, as I had in my previous marathon. Time was essentially meaningless!
The course is really challenging, scenic and varied. Quite a lot of steps. I wonder if anyone counted them? The first lot of steps was just after we went past the Blue Lake. I remembered from previous years, not to even bother trying to run them. I experimented with walking up the side rather than using the steps, but I found that a bit slippy (the ground was mostly pretty dry) so just plodded my way up the steps.
Early on in the race I encountered some of the ultra runners. While running very briefly with Joel (before he took off) he asked me what my goals were for the race. I first said “Well, to finish in the top 3”. He was probably thinking “Wow, that’s a bit arrogant!” before I quickly pointed out that there were only 3 of us in the race! I then said “To finish, and not break!” and “5 to 5 and a half hours”.
There were 2 places on the first (I like to call it the ‘reccy’) lap where I wasn’t quite sure which way to go. Firstly, after the first Tower climb, we descended and came to a field with a sports oval on it. Landing on the oval, I couldn’t immediately see where to go, and I stopped, initially planning to wait for the next runner to come along, before I saw the arrows along the side of the oval indicating the way. The second place was probably with about 1km to go on the lap, after the climb up the grass, and there was a group of hi-vis volunteers up the top of the hill. I started making a bee-line towards the people, until I realised that there was a path I was meant to follow. From then on, I had no issues with navigation! That’s the beauty of a looped course!
Oh and I thought I found the tripping hazard too – a large tree had fallen across part of the track. The options were to try to limbo under it (I’m not that bendy), to take a running jump over it (I just know that would have ended in disaster) or option 3, to stop for 2 seconds and carefully climb over it. It was kind of fun the first time, but less fun as the race wore on! (Incidentally, ultra runner and housemate Mark later showed me a photo to prove that on his last lap, it was gone – someone had come along during the race and removed it!)
Turned out that wasn’t even the tripping hazard Phil was referring to – he didn’t even know about the tree until well into the event!
First time around, and I remembered this from last year too, at the bottom of the grass hill, there were a few tables with containers of snakes, ‘to help you up that bloody hill’ as the sign said!
Speaking of snakes, I had my snake bandage in my pack – it just lives in there, I certainly did not expect to encounter any of our slithery friends out there. I did notice a few signs along the trail that said ‘Shared environment’ with what I later realised was a picture of a snake! So they are around the area, but unlikely to be out and about in the cooler weather! I later saw a post on Facebook that a snake was spotted on that very trail that very weekend!
Towards the end of lap 2 I caught the first of the half marathoners, I could recognise them from a mile away, housemates Daryl and Kym. They were on their first of 2 laps. A bit later on, heading up to where the (lolly) snakes were, we found that the ultra marathoners (I assume) had eaten them all! The signs were still motivating though!
I thought I might have had a problem getting past the halfway mark, given that I’d originally been doing the half, and having only ever done that distance here. However, as it turned out I had hardly used any of my food, and less than half of my drinks, so there was no need for me to stop. So I ran through the finish line as quickly as I could, and back up to the road, before I could think twice about it. And you know what? It wasn’t that bad. My mind was prepared to be running 4 laps, so the thought of stopping after 2 didn’t even enter my mind!
Let’s talk a bit now about the Tower climb, the hardest part of the course. According to the Strava segment it is 400m long with an elevation gain of 70m, a grade of 15.2%. That is pretty damn steep! I think with the success of the event this year, it’s time to put that escalator in, OK Phil?
The marathon and ultra runners had to do that climb 4 times.
I had in my mind that when I reached the Tower on my 3rd lap, I’d have broken the back of it. Don’t get me wrong, the 4th climb was still a beast, but at least I knew that once I’d done that, I only had 3km to go. Walk in the park!
I was tempted to stop and take a photo at the Tower but ‘race mode’ kicked in and I just kept pushing on.
On my 3rd lap I ran into Sally and a few others doing the half marathon. I hadn’t known it up to this point but Sally told me that the top of the Tower was 3km from the end, and the top of the grassy hill was 1km to the end. It’s amazing how much more enjoyable a run can be when you have no idea how far you have to go until the end!
I reached the end of my 3rd lap just after housemate Karen finished her half marathon – I thought about trying to catch her (I now like to call it ‘doing a Graham’ after an incident at the finish line in 2017) but again with the big picture in mind, I decided a sprint finish with a lap still to run, would be asking for trouble! It got a bit congested at that stage – I think some people had forgotten that some people still had further to go when they crossed the finish line! Again, I quickly ran through the start/finish area and back out for my last lap, before I had too much time to think about it! As it turned out I didn’t need to stop at all, I still had plenty of food and drink left.
It was really handy actually. I had 4 pieces of sandwich, and given there was absolutely no way I was ever going to be running up to the Tower, I ate one piece on each lap, which was also helpful in case I forgot which lap I was on! (I did sneak a look at my watch once, on the final lap, JUST to make sure I was indeed on my last lap. I saw 35km on my watch so I knew I was definitely on the home stretch! And quickly covered my watch up again, all the way to the end!
On the final climb up the grassy hill I thought I may have been hallucinating as I saw what looked very much like a unicorn coming down the hill towards me. I wasn’t hallucinating, it was a unicorn (or at least a girl in a unicorn onesie) – I didn’t get her name but she was out there encouraging people on the last climb! It was great to see her, especially considering I was into the last kilometre or so by that stage! She would have got some serious hill reps in that day!
The finish line kind of snuck up on me the first time. There were a few signs – one I remembered from the previous year “The Tower Trail Run is not fun, it is HILL AREAS” which I found quite amusing, and after seeing the sign I looked over and saw the finish line! That happened again on the second lap! By the 3rd lap I was all over it. And finally on the 4th lap, I decided to drop my race vest by one of the signs so if there was a finish line photo I could get one without my vest on, and made my way to the finish line!
MC Nikki announced my name and asked if I was finishing, I quickly checked my watch again just to be sure – yes this was definitely the end for me! As I was getting myself a long-awaited cup of Coke from the drinks table, I heard Nikki on the mic suggesting that I would do the ultra next year. I very emphatically shook my head. I most definitely would NOT be doing that!
It wasn’t until a minute or so later that it occurred to me to look at my time – I was pleasantly surprised with an official time of 5:02:46 – and only about 5 minutes behind the winner, Dannielle!
My first priority after that was food – loaded fried from Natural Born Grillers – I probably could have had a second serve of those – so good!
Presentations followed not long after 3rd placed Dawn finished, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that my prize was a $75 voucher from The Athlete’s Foot (I treated myself to a nice new pair of Skechers casual shoes – because it seems like the only shoes I ever buy these days are running shoes!)
It was a great day all around, all my housemates had a good day out too – celebrated that night with some delicious curry (another tradition for our group – takeaway Indian in a nice warm house!). And the weather could not have been more perfect!
Thanks once again to Phil and Nikki and all the fabulous volunteers for putting on another great event! And well done to all the runners – it’s not one of your easier runs, and you all did brilliantly!
Definitely recommend this event – from the new 5km event to the 56km for the nutters, there really is something for everyone!