What a fab morning we had at Mount Crawford!
On Sunday I took part in the Trail Running SA Mount Crawford Challenge for the first time. I had previously volunteered at this event twice – most recently 2 years ago when it was a rain and mud fest (and I was very glad to be wearing gumboots, and doing roles that allowed me to be undercover most of the time!) I’d never run there before, until TRSA put on a social run a few weeks ago where we ran in the rain for most of it but managed to dodge the worst of the weather (the hail and epic winds came later!) and our leader (who shall remain nameless) managed to get us lost several times!
It was my first (and most probably last) TRSA trail series race for this year. I had run their Five Peaks ultramarathon earlier in the year and I still stand by my statement that I’m never doing that one again!
I had volunteered at a drink station at the previous event at Kuitpo Forest, and although Mount Crawford wasn’t in my plan (I am, after all, supposed to be training for 2 road marathons) the joy and enthusiasm of the runners at Kuitpo was infectious and I couldn’t help signing up!
Preparation was ideal – I had a few glasses of wine after parkrun on Saturday (as you do) and then that night celebrated a milestone birthday of one of my awesome running buddies (leaving early of course as it would be an early start!).
At said birthday drinks, which happened to have a unicorn theme, I wasn’t sufficiently ‘unicorny’ so Tracey put a unicorn headband on my head. I jokingly said I would run in it the next day, to which she replied, “You totally should!”
Being a ‘cupless’ event, I was prepared with my race vest and 2 bottles of Gatorade, plus a Clif bar. I had no idea how long I would be out there for my 24ish kilometre run but I figured that should be enough to get me through. Knowing that there was likely to be some rain, I put my rain jacket in my pack ‘just in case’ – that would only be used if the rain was really heavy, as it does get a bit warm when running (I ran a lot of the 24 hour in it, but I was expecting to be moving a bit faster on this occasion!)
The other distances on offer were 35km starting at 7am (that was a big ‘NOPE’ from me!), 15km and 8km. I was tossing up between the 15 and the 24, and in the end chose the 24 as I don’t think I have done enough long runs for my marathon prep (the first marathon being in just under 5 weeks, and the second in just under 8), and a 24km trail would probably equate to a 30k flat road run.
I got a lift up with regular running buddy Riesje who was also doing the 24km. TRSA strongly encourages carpooling due to lack of parking space at their events (and the huge numbers of runners they attract!). Personally I prefer to drive by myself but I am happy to comply with their request because I can understand it would be a logistical nightmare if everyone thought like me! The parking situation was that people who carpooled got priority parking (ie rock star parking right near the start/finish
area) and those who didn’t had to park quite a long way away. As we went past the ‘park of shame’ (not really) where the solo travellers had to park, Dej who was one of the attendants, said if one of them got in our car we would have 3 people then we’d get chocolates (for having 3 or more people in the car)! Win-win, win for us and win for the extra 2 people we picked up who didn’t have to walk all that way! I thought that was a great idea!
Amazingly given the numbers of runners we didn’t have to queue up for the portaloos – that’s usually the way it goes, if you’re running a little bit late you can guarantee there will be a huge queue! The 35km had already started and the 15km didn’t start until 45 minutes after us (I think the 15km was the most popular option) so the crowd wasn’t too bad when we arrived. (I think having the 2 longer distances worked really well – there were 103 finishers in the 35km and 120 in the 24km, if there had been only one ‘long’ distance that would have been quite a crowd setting off all at once! Plus it weeded out all the silly people who did the 35km)
It wasn’t as cold as I thought it might be – I had layers on at the start but I was down to my usual T-shirt and arm warmers well before the race briefing. There was a fire near the start line which many people were gathered around, but I didn’t want to get anywhere near it – I might get just that little bit too comfortable and not want to leave! I had left my sunscreen in the car because I thought it would be very optimistic to put sunscreen on, but I noticed Jim putting some on in the bag drop area and he offered me some, I figured it couldn’t hurt – the sun MAY come out at some stage! I asked someone else if they thought sunnies were required and the response was an emphatic “No”, plus she said it was just extra weight to lug around! I’m not sure how much her sunnies weigh but I don’t think that would have been too much of an issue for me, however I did not want to carry anything in my hands and they wouldn’t fit easily in my race vest front pockets, so I opted to go without.
I wanted to wear my cap to keep the rain out of my eyes, however I did also want to wear the unicorn horn which would have looked a bit silly over a hat so I decided to put up with the rain and be a unicorn!
The elevation in the 24km course was not huge, so I was able to run MOST of it (and probably COULD have run all of it if I’d wanted to) – however I did have to take a long hard look at myself when I took my first walk break going up the first biggish hill, and I was being overtaken. Now I have no problem being overtaken by runners when I’m walking, well I do have a problem with being overtaken by anyone at any time but at least in that case it is understandable. I do however have a problem with being overtaken quite comfortably by people walking! (At least it’s not as bad as being overtaken by walkers when you’re running – although that’s usually just a sign I need to stop running and start walking!)
The course was very scenic, through a pine forest, some narrow bits and wide fire trails (which were super muddy!). It rained a little bit but never heavy enough for me to put my jacket on.
There were 2 drink stations along the course. Approaching the first one, there were some mysterious signs stating “Devil’s Head” with little pictures of devils on them. I had run through this area only a few weeks earlier and didn’t remember having seen these signs! Then we reached the drink station and there was the devil himself, it was all an elaborate promotion for the next TRSA event, “The Devil’s Nose” which unfortunately I won’t be able to do. I thought this was really clever, and just added something extra to the run, which I already enjoyed anyway!
The second drink station, with an 80s theme, had funny signs on the way in and out, and 80s music blaring from the speakers – luckily I didn’t need to stop for a top up there, because otherwise I may have been tempted to stay and join the party!
I ran a lot of the first bit of the 24km on my own – once I’d settled into my place in the field, I didn’t overtake too many people, nor was I passed by many. We ran an approximately 8km loop before passing through the start/finish and commencing a larger loop which was identical to the loop the 15km runners did. The 15km runners started not long before I came through, so consequently it wasn’t long before I started catching up with some of them which was nice. Another big tick for TRSA and the way they design their courses – I saw quite a few of the faster 35km runners as well, and towards the end started to catch up with some of the 8km runners too.
On the second part of the course I caught up with 15km runner Glen, who the previous day had run his 64th marathon in a 12 month period. His goal was to run 65 marathons in the year leading up to his 65th birthday, which is on Thursday. He is going to run the 65th on his actual birthday. Most of the marathons have been informal (ie not official events, just a marathon distance). Quite a feat, and especially backing up from a marathon and doing a challenging 15km trail the next day!
When Glen started walking, his watch showed 11.8km and mine was just on 20. That meant that probably the 24km was not quite 24km. I don’t think I’ve ever complained when a trail course has turned out to be slightly less than advertised! (And to be fair, the times it has been longer has usually been due to navigational ‘mishaps’ on my part!)
The last bit of the course was along a fire track which was mostly clay-like mud and puddles. At this stage I didn’t care how muddy or wet my feet got! (I did tend to try to avoid large puddles early on, because you don’t want to run TOO far with wet feet, but with only a few kilometres to go it didn’t really matter anymore! Fun! And that was where I saw a few familiar faces, well actually it was a few familiar ‘backs of heads’ at first – Geoff and Janet in the 8km, Geoff doing his first trail event, and Janet who was well hydrated after the aforementioned post-parkrun wine!
The very end of the course was uphill. Of course it was, thanks TRSA, bit of a brutal way to finish but I definitely earned those brownies at the end!
In the end I stopped my watch at around 2 hours 20, I didn’t have any idea before the race what sort of time I might do, I had sub 3 hours in the back of my mind but having never run it before I didn’t really have a point of reference.
My main goals were to finish before all Maurice’s vegan brownies were gone (tick) and so Riesje wouldn’t have to wait hours for me (knowing she’d be well ahead of me) – another tick!
We stuck around for the presentations and to enjoy the fire for a bit, because the sun had come out towards the end of my run and it was very pleasant (once I’d changed out of my wet running gear into something warmer and drier!) Neither Riesje nor I won anything in the random prize draw, and as the prize draw wound up the rain started again so we legged it to the car (me by now in my Birkenstocks which are not exactly conducive to fast running in mud!) – another tick for carpooling and getting a close park!
I really enjoyed this run, one of the most enjoyable races I’ve done this year! Thanks to the TRSA committee and all the volunteers for making it a truly great morning – having been on the other side at the last event and seeing the volunteers briefing, it is a really well-oiled machine and no stone is left unturned, making for a fab experience all around! Well done to all the runners too especially those doing their first event!
Next up for me is something completely different, City-Bay half marathon next Sunday, and then hopefully will squeeze in a few more long road runs (ugh) before leaving for the US and the Chicago and New York City marathons – can’t wait!