Yurrebilla can be many things. For many people, just an awesome day out with great food and fantastic company. For others, a chance to push themselves to the limit. 2016 marked the 10th edition of Yurrebilla and it was always going to be a special
This was my second time tackling this challenging event. Last year was my first and you can read all about it here.
My preparation this year was, admittedly, not the greatest. Last year, after running the Gold Coast Marathon in early July, I focused all my attention on getting myself prepared for Yurrebilla. This year, I have done way more big events and therefore found myself very underdone in the trail running department. After UTA100 in May I
didn’t even run a trail for over 3 months while I focused on my 2 marathons and
trying to let my hamstring recover.
My only Yurrebilla training run, 3 weeks ago, was a 41k which covered the last 2/3 (and a bit) of the course and took me 6 hours. I was hoping for a sub 7 hour Yurrebilla, which looked pretty far from reality after that run! (Last year I ran 7:07 and did ‘waste’ a fair bit of time stopping at checkpoints. Realistically all I had to
do was cut down a bit of time at the stops to get my sub 7.)
A week and a half before the event, a freak storm hit Adelaide and washed away parts of the trail, and even one of the roads we were meant to run on! Amazingly, within a
very short space of time, the organisers redesigned the course to bypass the
unsafe/inaccessible sections, and ensure the race would go on! There was some
debate among people who were familiar with the usual course and the new bits,
as to whether it was going to be faster or slower.
A few informal training runs took place in the week leading up to the event, introducing people to some of the new bits. I decided it was best to stay in the dark – I
had run UTA100 having seen only a small section of the course, so I didn’t think there was really anything to gain by getting a preview!
Despite taking it relatively easy in the week leading up to Yurrebilla, I had done 46km prior to race day. Tuesday I did my fast run for the week, followed by a ‘bonus’ 5k trot
with The Running Company Run Club on Wednesday evening, where we were joined by Yurrebilla ambassador (and all round top chick) Lucy Bartholomew. Thursday’s
regular run was meant to be an easy one but ended up being a bit faster than planned! On Friday, rather than the speed training I’ve been doing, I went for a gentle hill run with my running group. Then on Saturday I did a very cruisy parkrun in the rain. I realised after that, that after Yurrebilla I would have done 99.5km for the week. So I did what any sane person would do – went for a quick trot around the block in the rain to make sure I reached that magical
100km milestone – it’s pretty rare that I would get close to 100k in a week so
of course I had to!
This year I had opted for the 8am start wave instead of 7am like last year. Having completed last year’s event in just over 7 hours, I was confident that 9.5 hours would be more than enough to complete the course (the cutoff time is 5:30pm regardless of start time).
I had originally entered Yurrebilla in the
super earlybird period prior to Christmas, and had selected the final, 8:30 wave. I had thought, if I’m going to start at 8, I might as well start at 8:30 with the elites, what’s another half an hour? (Plus, another half hour’s sleep!) I was convinced by regular running buddy Gary of the merits of starting at 8. In the 8:30 group I would surely be one of the slowest, and therefore
would be on my own for much of the day. 8:00 would be a happy medium and I
would have more chance of having company out there, as well as eventually
overtaking some of the 7am and 6am starters. Decision made. I was starting at
For the 8am start I needed to be on a bus near the finish at Athelstone at 7. (The 7am start bus ended up being at 5:30, due to the size of that particular start group! Another
good reason for me to start at 8!)
I hadn’t settled on my kit until the night before. I had a few parts of my outfit organised but there were a few pieces of the puzzle that still needed to be put into place. My black lululemon skirt over Skins shorts was a trail running standard – black
being the most practical colour for what promised to be a muddy run, and the skirt has a zip pocket plus a couple of waist pockets to stash snacks. I had my Salomon Speedcross 3 shoes and black Nike socks (the socks which would probably be due for the bin after Yurrebilla, having run through some pretty stinky mud over the last few months – at least I hope it was mud!) I did have a BEAUTIFUL new pair of trail shoes but decided this was NOT the day to break them in! My usual white hat was in the kit as well as a buff.
I ended up going with a green lulu T-shirt which I’d done one long run in. Normally I run in a singlet but it was to be a cooler day and also a T-shirt would make reapplication of sunscreen a lot easier. Then I added my signature rainbow arm warmers and blue Compressport calf sleeves. In addition I decided to wear my
cycling gloves that I’d worn for UTA. I was reliably informed that the climbs at the end were a bit brutal and I thought I might be on hands and knees at some point! Plus, if I did fall over (which, let’s face it, was not out of the realms of possibility) the gloves would save my hands.
I had opted to wear my larger Ultimate Direction backpack rather than the smaller one I’d used last year. This was so I could carry more in the way of food and drink, and thereby cut down the time spent at aid stations. Food-wise I’d packed 2 ‘Snickers’
sandwiches (peanut butter and chocolate spread on white bread), 2 nut bars, and
a bag of almonds and Lifesavers (which I didn’t end up touching!) I didn’t need
much in the way of food because there was plenty of good stuff at the aid stations, but it was good to have something to eat in between stations, especially when climbing steep hills when I’d have to be walking anyway. Hydration-wise I had 2 500mL bottles of Gatorade, plus 3 extra scoops of
powder. In my bladder I had around 750mL of water – I don’t tend to drink much water at all during runs and with the cooler weather I thought that would be ample.
This year the organisers had seen fit to give us all 2 bibs, one to be worn on the front
(with timing chip) and another one, just with our first name, to be worn on the
back. I really liked this idea and I hope they keep it going in future, because it meant we could yell out encouragement to the people we were passing, and people passing us could also encourage us. I think it really adds to the community feel of Yurrebilla. (Unfortunately a lot of people didn’t wear the back bibs, or they put them on the back of their shirts and then put a backpack
over the top!)
The night before, I had an early night, after having had a delicious vegan mac and cheese and a glass of red for dinner. I got up at 5:30 for the standard brekky shake
(Weetbix, oats, cacao, chia and almond milk) and getting all my gear together.
I had opted for a drop bag at Morialta (around the 35k mark) purely because the
course promised to be wet and muddy, and I thought a change of shoes and socks
would be wise. I also threw in a change of top and arm warmers, and some more
Gatorade powder and a sandwich. We also had the option of a drop bag at Cleland
(22km) and at the finish. I did have a finish drop bag which was mainly warm clothes, sandals, and my 2016 Yurrebilla singlet which, superstition dictated that I could NOT wear before the race!
At 6:30 I was at Gary’s place to get a lift to Athelstone. Gary’s partner Christine had already started, in the 6am wave. Fortunately she had managed to get a lift to the start at Belair, otherwise she would have had to be on a bus at 4:30!
It was only a small group on the bus, I think there were 17 people booked but a few of them didn’t show. There were a few familiar faces – Uli, Josh and Leon among them. I didn’t see anyone that looked like my pace – they were all quite fast! However, I had always planned to do my own thing so that didn’t bother me!
We arrived at Belair Railway Station with about half an hour to spare. I had my energy drink, put on some sunscreen and did a quick portaloo stop before taking my drop bags to the correct places and getting my bib scanned to ensure I received a finish time. And a quick selfie with a couple of guys in bright rainbow outfits.
And before I knew it, we were away!
Echo Tunnel was about 2km in and it is one part of the course I never enjoy! It’s quite low which means I have to duck to avoid hitting my head, and also very dark, even with the lanterns that were there to light it up. I had my hand torch on but that didn’t even seem to do anything! I hoped no-one behind me was wanting to run because I was walking with my hand on the wall the whole time, until I could literally see the light at the end of the tunnel and with relief I started running again!
I had printed out the estimated splits at all the aid stations for my goal 7 hour time, laminated it and attached it to my backpack, so I could see how I was tracking.
Aid station 1 was at Sheoak Road at 5km and other than a quick selfie and picture of my watch, I didn’t stop. I was 4 minutes ahead of schedule. As per tradition the volunteers were all in onesies and seemed to be having a great time!
Then we hit the awesome fun of the switchbacks which were a bit slower than last year because of the mud and general slipperiness – it was a bit early to be falling over! Thankfully I didn’t, and heading down Brownhill Creek Road I started following
a guy in a bright orange T-shirt (and no back bib!). We got off the road and onto the trail heading up to the next station at McElligott’s Quarry. I saw him stop to a walk and then head into the bushes so I decided to stop following him at that point! Eventually he caught up and we ran together for a bit. I didn’t get his name but he had a Spanish-ish accent. I think from memory it was his first Yurrebilla and he was aiming for about 6.5 hours. After the quarry I didn’t see him again.
I reached the quarry in 1:03, 12 minutes ahead of my cheat sheet. Again, I didn’t need anything other than a quick selfie and watch photo! A few of the people at the aid station were laughing at the whole selfie thing and saying things like “You know this is a race, right?” but it was really only for my records, just so I could look back on it afterwards and see where I could have done things differently!
The next stop was Kavell’s, where my parents were going to come and see me. Not long before this the first of the 8:30 runners started to overtake me. The first one took me by surprise, and the second one was a familiar face, Andrew, who passed me just as I went through a gate, so I thought I’d hold the gate for him!
I reached Kavell’s 10 minutes ahead of schedule, luckily my parents were early otherwise I would have missed them! I grabbed one of Maurice’s famous vegan brownies and went to have a quick chat and photo with the folks. I also reapplied my sunscreen at this stage – Mum finally managed to find the little bottle in my backpack which saved me the trouble of having to take my backpack off!
From there it was up Mount Barker Road into Cleland. The course had changed a bit there – the Waterfall Gully to Mount Lofty track was closed, and part of that track is part of the Yurrebilla Trail. Before reaching the Cleland aid station I was passed by a few familiar faces, Mick and Dej, who both seemed to be in great form. I also caught up to regular parkrun buddies Liam and Tom who were both struggling a bit. I ran/walked with them for a little while before taking off.
After what seemed like an eternity I reached the Cleland aid station. First stop was the toilets, before heading into the station to fuel up. I was looking forward to some boiled salted potatoes but was a bit devastated to find that they’d run out! I did manage to grab a vegan brownie and some fruit cake and top up my Gatorade bottle. Regular running buddy Kay was there, in a bad way with cramps, and I thought that was the end of her day but in the end she got to 45km, unfortunately not quite able to make it to the end of her first Yurrebilla.
Another good friend Nat was there, volunteering her podiatry services and by
all accounts she was kept quite busy!
I left Cleland just a few minutes ahead of schedule. The next milestone was the 28km, or halfway point. At around that point, at a slightly tricky road crossing, were 2 familiar faces as road marshals – Shannon and Brian. I broke into the chorus of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ On A Prayer” before crossing the road and heading back up the trail towards the Coach Road aid station. (That would be the only singing that I did throughout the day!)
I was a bit behind schedule when I reached Coach Road but didn’t really need to stop here so pushed on. I had thought I was still well ahead of schedule and I was getting close to where I thought Beck and Kate were coming out to cheer me and some of the other runners on, Norton Summit. So as I headed into the next aid station at Woods Hill, I quickly texted Beck to request a lemonade icy pole. This had been so appreciated last year when James brought them for us, but I had been doubtful as to whether it was the right weather this year for an icy pole! As it turned out, despite a few showers earlier, it had warmed up a bit and I had decided yes, I definitely wanted one.
I reached Norton Summit and couldn’t see any sign of Beck and Kate, so I gave Beck a call. Turned out they were a few kilometres up the road at Morialta Cottage, so I kept going. As I heard them yelling at me to hurry up, I could see two familiar backs in front of me, Di and Michael. They, along with Marc, had decided that it might be fun to start at Athelstone at 8pm the night before, run the trail in reverse, then start in the 6am group with Arwen, Michael and Toni. Hmm, yeah, that sounds like fun – NOT!
Alas Kate had forgotten the icy poles but they did have some DELICIOUS vegan Anzac biscuits for me, along with Coke and water. I grabbed some chips and a sip of nice fresh water (the water in my bladder was by now warm with a delightful hint of plastic, so wasn’t very appealing!) before getting going again! As much as I would have loved some Coke, I was saving that for after the 40km mark. Having reread last year’s race report, I had wished I had started drinking Coke from around that point. I had been reluctant to start drinking it in case I then craved it. Consequently I hadn’t drunk it at all until the finish.
Apparently I was back ahead of schedule by the time I reached Morialta Cottage. At the official aid station I was excited to see potatoes! I quickly downed one, dipped in salt, and a brownie, and topped up my Gatorade. Nat was there again and got a pic of me stuffing my face!
I think it was here that I saw Graham, an distance running veteran, looking a bit shabby in the back of a station wagon and doubtful if he would continue!
Not long after Morialta I saw a very familiar runner – Terry Cleary, the Godfather of Yurrebilla (the one who started it all!) I caught up with him and had a quick chat with him before taking off. He said he was struggling a bit, and given that he lives in Darwin where there are NO hills, his training was a bit lacking!
The next aid station was Moores Road, 40km, staffed by the CFS fireys. After the bright yellow uniforms, the first thing I saw was that they had Coke! I was very excited by this and decided to have 2 cups because it was just so damn delicious! I was right on target – 40km in 5 hours. Just 16km to go!
Somewhere around here I saw a few more familiar faces – first there was Stirling, who looked like he was limping a fair bit and when I caught up with him he told me that he had torn his calf a week ago! Naturally, the thought of not running Yurrebilla probably hadn’t even entered his mind! Then I heard the familiar voice of Ziad, and ran/walked with him briefly.
The next stop was the bottom of Orchard Trail and I’d actually made up some time, according to my cheat sheet I was 2 minutes ahead of schedule. I think this was the station where there was a creek crossing just afterwards and I pretty much chose the hardest way across the creek and ended up on my hands and knees on rocks in the middle of the creek. Fortunately I didn’t fall in as there would have been plenty of witnesses and undoubtedly photos!
That was when the big climbs started. First we had Orchard Track at around 45km, with about 30% gradient over 500m. Here, for the first time ever, I felt the need to pick up a big stick and use that to drag myself up. Around me at this point was a woman with poles and a guy who seemed to be doing it way too easily. From then on my ‘running’ joke was offering people $20 (all the money I had on me) for their poles. Surprisingly no-one took me up on the offer! I ditched the stick at the top of Orchard Track as there was a runnable section after that and I didn’t fancy carrying the stick while trying to run.
After Orchard, which seemed to go on forever, we met Boobook Track at about 47.8km which was a similar distance to Orchard and just as steep! As I saw the track up ahead I screamed out “NOOOOOO!” and said “I think I’m going to cry now”. (I didn’t – I needed every scrap of energy just to get up that damn hill!)
Next was ‘Ambers Loop’, the ‘sting in the tail’. At 49km there was a group of pirates, and then I saw a regular running buddy Paul who had started in the 8:30 group and had passed me earlier. I was surprised to see him as I thought he would have been further ahead of me. Turned out, he was on his way back down after the loop. He was WAY ahead of me! We had to go along a track where we met fellow runners on their way back out of the loop and heading towards the finish line. Although I hated the fact that we got that close to the finish STILL with over 7km to go, I did like seeing other runners who I wouldn’t otherwise have seen – the likes of Karen, Sue, Christine and Gary (Gary was ahead of Christine, unlike last year when Christine finished just ahead of him and MC Karen took great pleasure in announcing that fact!).
After that section we ran downhill for about 2km. That can’t be good – “What goes down must come up”. And boy did we come up!
I had met Ambers Ridge once before but didn’t remember it. I won’t forget it now!
It is way worse than Black Hill, the normal big climb towards the end of Yurrebilla. It is a climb of about 1.5km, mostly on Besser blocks (a bit like Black Hill). The slope is up to 38 degrees. Here I met James, who I’d done a few trail runs with since the Adelaide Marathon. He had started at 7 and was still looking pretty strong.
He’d been to a wedding interstate on Friday and had entered Yurrebilla semi-last minute when he realised the wedding was not on the Saturday as he had first thought!
Also on the climb I ran into Tim, who was a fellow 8am starter who I’d done a couple of group trail runs with. He was also aiming for 7 hours but had pretty much decided that was out of the question (this was the point at which I decided that I wasn’t going to be able to crack 7 hours, and decided to stop looking at my watch except to see the kilometres tick over).
The whole loop, from when we first met the pirates to when we saw them again, was around 5.6km. And it was a looooong 5.6km!
Then we were back onto familiar territory, the usual descent back down to the finish. That is a technical steep descent of around 1.5km. I wasn’t able to run it as quickly as usual because I’d smashed my legs on the climbs, plus it was a bit slippery and of course I didn’t want to fall over, because I highly doubted I’d be able to get back up!
Somewhere around here I passed Simon, who was an 8:30 starter, having passed me much earlier. I said as I passed him, “I’m just going to pass you, because then I can say I passed you, feel free to pass me again!” (He didn’t, but he still managed a sub-7 hour time)
And then, after the challenging descent, that finish! What a great feeling, getting called across the finish line by MC Michelle, and then seeing both my parents there to watch me finish. My watch showed 7:19 on the dot (around 12 minutes slower than last year) and my official time was exactly the same.
Then came the best part – celebrating with friends, and watching others finish.
Beck and Kate presented me with a glass of sparkling wine which I gladly accepted, and the long-awaited lemonade icy pole!
It was great to see that Graham had finished. He had been picked up by Liam and Tom after being on the verge of pulling out, and ran/walked most of the rest of the course with them. Whe I saw him he was wearing a T-shirt that said ‘Everything hurts and I’m dying’ which summed it all up nicely!
I stayed until the cut off time of 5:30. Karen’s husband Daryl, who had walked with Mike, made it with half an hour to spare (last year he made it by mere minutes). We were standing around anxiously awaiting the last 2 Yurrebilla Legends, John and Terry, who both made it within the last 10 minutes. All the other Legends had already finished. Not long after those two, Kristy finished with running buddy Uli, who had long since finished but went back up to run the last little bit with her. I saw a fair bit of that, lots of people crossing the line in pairs or threes, and people going back to finish with their friends. MC Michelle even went back up to cross the line with her husband Mark.
Once the finish line was closed I made my way back home, as a few of us were going out for a Thai meal. I find that spicy food is an excellent recovery meal so I went with a green curry which was delicious, along with the best part of a bottle of Jansz sparkling – I’d forgotten that last year I’d brought a bottle of Jansz to the finish line! I guess that’s tradition now! I managed to manoeuvre myself into my compression pants, which I would leave on for a good 24 hours to aid recovery.
So – time for a quick bit of analysis. According to Strava I got 15 personal records (ie segments faster than last year). I was on track for a sub 7 hour until the 44km mark. The ONLY thing that stopped me was those f***ing climbs at the end. And that’s just a training thing. My lack of hill training really found me out. Considering the
training I’ve done, I have to be really happy with that run.
A MASSIVE thankyou to Race Director Barry McBride, MC and general legend Michelle Hanlin, and all on the Yurrebilla committee for making this event the brilliant day that it always is, especially given the massive challenge of having to change the course at the last minute (yeah, maybe not so much thanks to Barry and Matt Angus and any other sadists involved in devising the last 12km!!!) Thanks also to the fantastic volunteers and supporters, the fabulous Race Ambassadors Majell and Lucy, and last but not least all the wonderful runners/walkers for the brilliant camaraderie out there – according to the results it looks like we had 464 finishers, a big jump from last year’s record of 400!
So, what’s next?
In 4 weeks I’ve got the Heysen 105km ultra where I am confident of a PB. Before that, I’ve got the McLaren Vale half marathon in 2 weeks where I am the 2 hour pacer. I’ll try to sneak in a few nice long trail runs too!
Next year – that sub 7 hours will be mine!