Megafest 2021

Last weekend I went on a little adventure to Naracoorte to participate in the Megafest – Naracoorte World Heritage Trail Run. The run was held for the first time in 2019 – 50 years after the fossil beds were discovered in the Naracoorte Caves, and 25 years after the Caves were put onto the World Heritage list. The 2020 event was postponed to 2021 because… oh, you know why! Hence this year’s bling was inscribed with ‘2020’ which I thought was pretty cool!

The added attraction of this event was that it would allow me to FINALLY do the Naracoorte Lake parkrun, my 39th different South Australian parkrun, and regain my ‘Statesman’ status, last gained in December 2015 and lost in July 2017.

For those unfamiliar, a ‘Statesman’ is someone who has completed all the parkruns in one state. As new parkruns launch, it becomes harder and harder to become a Statesman! When I first became a Statesman there were only 11 parkruns in the state! This year I worked out I have done well over 4000km driving, chasing new parkruns – I figured with interstate travel still being a bit problematic at the moment, this was the year to do it! As most SA parkrunners would be aware there is yet another new event launching next weekend, SA’s 40th, and due to other commitments on the day and this being a regional parkrun, unfortunately I won’t get to the launch so there goes my Statesman status after one lousy week…

Also, Coonawarra wine region.

I drove down on Friday, heading straight to Bellwether Wines in the Coonawarra, primarily because they have highland cows! I got to have a personal wine tasting with Sue, the winemaker, followed by a close encounter with the resident donkey! They also offer glamping which looks pretty cool, might try that one day!

Super excited to see Highland cows!
Up close and personal with my new friend!

Following that I detoured briefly to Penola, famous for Mary MacKillop, Australia’s first saint.

My accommodation was at the delightful Log Cabin AirBNB, complete with a bottle of local wine in the fridge and a huge spa bath! Highly recommend this place, the hosts Julie and Murray were excellent and the bed was SUPER comfy! And it is within easy walking distance to the city centre.

My home for the weekend!

On Saturday morning I drove to Naracoorte Lake, a man-made swimming lake (imagine a giant swimming pool) which at this time of year has no water in it. I must come back in the summer – would be great to jump in and cool off after parkrun on a hot summer day! Listening to the course description at the first timer briefing (there were a LOT of first timers – mostly tourists visiting for the Megafest and a lot of familiar faces among them!) I was a little dubious if I could actually follow the course but it was not too hard to follow with the marshals, painted arrows on the ground and local runners to follow! There were a few little hills in there but nothing too difficult. Turned out a couple of other runners, Tracy and Jackie, were also achieving Statesman status that day!

Action shot from parkrun
FINISH – not just of this parkrun but of my Statesman journey (for now!)

After the run I went back to the cabin for a shower and then headed out to the caves. I had been there once before on school camp in 1988. I didn’t remember much about it but did happen to find my journal – I was a bit of a nerd back then!

Back when we used to write with pen and paper! And CURSIVE!

I went on a tour where you got to watch a live stream of the bat cave (Naracoorte Caves is one of the only places where the southern bent-wing bat breeds) which was super cool – amazing how clear the images of the bats were, even zoomed right in!

A bunch of baby bats! (Ok they’re called pups but baby bats sounds way better!)
Another bat, just hanging out!

Following that we went for a walk through Blanche Cave – formerly known as the ‘Big Cave’ and they even book it out for functions such as weddings – now THAT would be cool!

From Blanche Cave, looking out
Blanche Cave
Excavation site, Blanche Cave

In the afternoon I booked a tour of the Victoria Fossil Cave which is where fossils were discovered that led to the Caves getting World Heritage status so that was definitely a must-visit – weirdly this was the first time I’d ever heard the term ‘megafauna’ – some pretty crazy looking creatures existed here many years ago!

The original entrance to Victoria Fossil Cave. Luckily we didn’t have to squeeze through here! If only the discoverer of the cave had found the stairway…
Victoria Fossil Cave
Victoria Fossil Cave
Victoria Fossil Cave
Victoria Fossil Cave

In between the two tours I had lunch and a bit of a walk around, taking note of some of the course marking for the next day’s race.

Part of the course for the run.
Dippy the Diprotodon – one of the Megafauna and the mascot of the caves

Saturday night’s dinner was a bit challenging to find, I had been invited to a BBQ by Steve, one of the Trail Running SA contingent visiting from Adelaide, whose parents live in Naracoorte, but I said I’d bring my own food as vegan BBQ food is a bit problematic. I Googled to find vegan-friendly food in Naracoorte and the first thing that came up was McDonald’s so I thought, I’m in trouble here! Eventually I managed to find a nice stir fry with noodles from one of the pubs, along with some sweet potato fries, and headed out to the BBQ to catch up with a large group of fellow Adelaide runners, many of whom had been at the inaugural event in 2019. The weather forecast was for 45 km/h winds, rain, hail and thunderstorms, with an overnight minimum of 5 degrees. Sounded like pretty ideal running weather!

I decided to go minimalist with my nutrition and hydration, I was only running 15km which I hoped to do in around 90 mins (apparently the course was not too hilly, 6 minutes per kilometre for a trail sounded a bit ambitious but potentially doable!) so I probably wouldn’t need much. I went with my trusty salted caramel balls (which I didn’t end up eating until afterwards), and just a bladder with water. Turned out my bladder was leaking a bit, where the hose connects to the bladder, which it had never done before, and I hadn’t brought any bottles so I was just going to have to deal with it, but I figured it was going to be raining anyway so what was a little extra water?

I ended up getting there quite early, collected my bib and went back to my car to put it onto my race belt. The 15km was due to start at 8:30, with the long (23km) starting at 8:00. It was around 8:00 that I got back to my car and that was when the heavens opened. I seriously considered driving back to the cabin and going for a spa instead… but when the rain eased off slightly I decided to suck it up and get out of the car. Standing under the verandah of the café with the rest of the 15km runners watching the rain, I openly admitted that the only thing I was thinking of was a hot shower – maybe this would make me run faster?

Run? Or back to the cabin for a spa?

Miraculously the rain cleared in time for our start. We were to follow the pink ribbons (there were also blue and orange, signifying the courses for the other distances) and the standard red and white arrows. No-one seemed to want to be at the front as the Race Director counted down to the start! I was hoping someone that knew the way would lead, and I could then follow!

Away we went, I fell into my usual trap of going out too fast (when will I ever learn?), trying to keep up with the girl in front of me, I wasn’t sure what place she was in, but she seemed to be going at a pretty good pace, albeit somewhat faster than me up the hills, but if I could keep her in sight I’d be doing OK!

The course was superbly marked. This is very important for me. I have a tendency to lose concentration and veer off course. Sometimes it’s because I’m chatting with someone else (in this case it was a relatively small field – just under 100 in the 15km, so we were pretty spread out and there wasn’t a lot of chatting other than when 23km runners overtook me) other times I’m just admiring the scenery or thinking of something else. Whatever it is, a well-marked course goes a very long way! There were 2 points in the run where I went slightly off – the first one was where I went to follow an arrow in the wrong direction (in my defence, when I got up close to the arrow I realised I had misread the direction, slightly blurry vision coupled with rain drops on my sunglasses contributing to this), and the guy behind me let me know I was about to go the wrong way, so I didn’t end up going off course. (Had I gone the wrong way there would have been a big red ‘X’ soon after which would have steered me back in the right direction!) The second time I went off course, it wasn’t by much. It was pretty close to the end, maybe the last few kilometres. I went along a trail that was parallel to the actual trail, and once again it was the awesome trail marking that made me realise quickly that I was off course – because I couldn’t see any pink ribbons! I retraced my steps and conveniently another 23km runner happened to be running towards me so I decided to follow him. I hadn’t gone too far off course but it was extra distance I probably didn’t need!

Action shot from the Megafest

In the end I finished in 1:24:14.90, well under my estimated time, which I was very happy with, especially since I’d probably added on 1-2 extra minutes with my creative navigation! I collected my medal and caught up briefly with the other Adelaide runners who had finished, before heading back to my car to go shower before heading home. I had made plans which necessitated my being home well before 4:00 – probably ambitious as it turned out, so I wanted to hit the road early. While walking back to my car it occurred to me to check the official live results where I was surprised to learn I’d finished 5th overall and 3rd female (the top two runners overall were the first two females) so I guess I wasn’t heading home after all – I needed to come back for the presentations, the trophies were super cool and I was excited that I was going to be getting one!

Selfie with Dippy and my bling!

I made it back to the cabin for a shower and to do a final pack up of all my stuff, and straight back to the caves for the presentation which I think started about 1 minute after I got back – just in the nick of time!

I found this to be a really enjoyable event – did I mention IMPECCABLY MARKED? The volunteers and other runners were super friendly, the scenery was beautiful and somehow I managed to avoid the worst of the weather (it hailed not long after I finished!) and it was really cool to be able to run in such a historic region, and also to have the opportunity to explore the caves while there. I can highly recommend this event and it’s definitely worth spending a weekend in Naracoorte, there’s so much to see, you could spend a day at the caves alone (and I didn’t even get to see all of the caves!)

Thanks to the organisers and volunteers for a superb day!

Race bling and super unique trophy!