This is the second part of my review of Thredbo Fun and Fitness Week (TFFW) – for part 1, see here.
Tuesday started with a group of us doing the now traditional early morning Crackenback climb – we would normally leave at 7:30 to allow a generous 1 hour to complete the ascent and time it with the first chairlift down. From there we went back to the lodge to grab a quick bite to eat before heading down to the village for the start of the Alpine Adventure. This is a fun, all inclusive, family-friendly and über competitive team activity which involves collecting points by finding clues around the village. Most of the people from our lodge were taking part and as one of the last to sign up, I was paired with Jeff, who told me that no-one had ever agreed to team up with him a second time! Despite this I found it really fun, especially knowing we had NO chance of winning. He is also a veteran of many TFFWs so had the advantage of knowing his way around the village. I think we managed to accumulate 180 points in our allocated 40 minutes, slightly behind the winners who were well over 400! Oh and there may or may not have been some ‘cooperation’ with other teams including John (aka ‘Speedo Man’ due to his unusual, very distinctive attire during every event in TFFW!) and his wife Jackie. The Armstrong family put on a fantastic event, very well organised and prizes for everyone in the barrel draw despite a huge crowd of over 100 teams!
Given the pretty good weather, a few of us decided to head up to Mt Kosciuszko, the highest mountain in Australia. It is actually a pretty easy climb, considering that the elevation is only about 300m above the top of the chairlift. Certainly a MUCH easier climb than Crackenback!
As we walked across the metal walkway with which we would become VERY familiar by the end of the week, we noticed that there seemed to be a lot of snow up on the higher mountains. Last year I’d seen one small patch of snow but this time there was a lot more than that!
And sure enough, when we got closer, we realised that there was a large patch of snow just next to the walking track! And of course we couldn’t resist playing in it!
It was pretty windy and misty on the walk up, and when we reached the summit we couldn’t see a thing, but unlike last year I did manage to stand up on the highest point in Australia!
We made it back to town in time to watch the Mile handicap and participate in the ‘Mile’ (actually 1km) fun run. The handicap race was good to watch, there were 16 runners who did 3 laps around the Village Green with the last one setting off a full lap after the first, and finishing 5th overall – I reckon if there had been another half a lap he would have crossed the line first!
The fun run was literally just a bit of fun but the main reason I got involved was for the barrel draw that follows every event in TFFW – and this one had some pretty great prizes including a lot of running gear and the prized TFFW mugs! Unfortunately I didn’t win anything this time but I’ll have to encourage more people from our lodge to enter next time!
On Wednesday I left at 7:30 to climb Crackenback. There wasn’t anyone with me, although I saw a figure in the distance that I assumed was Mandy, who has a tradition of doing it every morning. As it was the first time I’d done it on my own, I didn’t have anyone to follow and consequently took a rather ‘scenic’ route!
After a coffee I headed to the Village Green for the women’s Yacht handicap. The distance was 3.8km and I had estimated about 20 minutes, however when I saw Fiona, Christine and Sue all going off at 24 minutes, I decided it would be more fun to run with other people and take it a bit easier. Also I’m hopeless at judging time/pace without a watch! It was a lovely course, and I was tempted to take my phone out and take some photos, but I thought people might think I was cheating so I resisted the temptation! I did get somewhat distracted near the end and tripped on a tree root and fell over, thankfully in relatively soft dirt. In the end Fiona finished just in front of me, just 1 sec behind our estimated time (the winner guessed her time to the second) and jokingly said that if she hadn’t turned around to check I was OK after I fell, she would have won!
The damage wasn’t too bad – a grazed knee with a fair bit of blood that I cleaned up back at the lodge, and a grazed elbow.
A little later a group of us set out to run the Thredbo Valley Track to Lake Crackenback Resort, approximately 20km. Jeff was going to pick us up from the other end so thankfully we didn’t have to run back! The track is popular with walkers, runners and mountain bikes – we didn’t see many other runners but there were a lot of bikes – they were supposed to be giving way to foot traffic but I don’t think many of them got the memo!
The highlight for me was seeing my first echidna! A year to the day after seeing my first snake! Needless to say the look on my face (and the words that came out of my mouth) were somewhat different on this occasion!
I ran with David and Geoff for most of the run but after the second campsite I decided to take off and just run! It was exhilarating, it is mostly downhill and running down the mountain bike switchbacks was so fun! There were a few points where I had trouble seeing which way to go and I had to ask for directions a few times but I made it to Lake Crackenback! I would have given the $20 I had on me for a cold Coke but the first place I found was closed – eventually I found the place and David arrived not long after me, followed by the rest of the group. I ended up having 2 Cokes because the first one didn’t even touch the sides! Then Karen, Geoff and I dipped our feet in the lake to cool off before heading back to Thredbo.
Later that afternoon I noticed my right ankle was a bit swollen, and locally quite tender, so I assumed I must have sprained it when I fell during the morning run. I had noticed it tended to roll outwards (not inwards like most people tend to roll their ankles) during the river run. While most of the people from our lodge went to the official TFFW dinner, a few of us had opted not to go, which gave me the opportunity to ice it and put it up to try to get rid of the swelling. And it appeared to work because by the morning it was fine.
Which was fortunate, because Thursday was the day we’d organised to do the Big Walk, approximately 30k from the top of the chairlift, along the metal walkway to Rawson’s Pass, and then in a big loop along the Main Range Track before going back along the metal walkway. Last year we had split into 2 groups and my group went anticlockwise. This time we decided to stay together and all went clockwise, although it wasn’t long before we split into 2 groups anyway, the front group walking way faster than we were interested in walking! We had allowed ample time (starting at 8:45 after catching the first chairlift, and needing to be back only for the last chair at 5) and so we had no interest in going fast. I was with Sue, who had done it many times before, and Christine and Fiona, both TFFW ‘virgins’.
The weather was perfect. Sunny, not a cloud in the sky, and very little wind. We could only hope it would be like this for the Classic on Saturday!
It was also ideal weather for 2 of our less favourite creatures. The march flies were relentless, and appeared to scoff at even the most hardcore insect repellent. And of course it was also perfect snake weather. We saw one, just after morning tea, I got a good look at it as it slithered off into the bushes. It was black, similar to the one we’d seen last year but nowhere near as big. I actually was not expecting to see any snakes up there – thinking that as they don’t have legs they wouldn’t be able to get up that high! I mean, they’re not exactly riding the chairlift are they? At least I hope they’re not! That’s a comforting thought!
The most noteworthy part of the walk was seeing 3 kids, all in electric wheelchairs, trying to go down a steep and not particularly smooth path, with 2 adults that turned out to be their parents. We chatted to them for a while, they had come from the Central West, where it was very hot, to be somewhere a bit cooler. They all seemed to be enjoying it, but decided that going down the path was probably not a good idea as it would require quite a lot of manual assistance to get back up! It put things into perspective for me, whenever I think something is too hard I can think of that family and realise that it’s actually not hard at all!
Friday morning started with my stubbing my toe quite hard on the tiles at the bathroom door – ouch! Then it was time for the final Crackenback climb and was particularly memorable for being Daryl’s first – after watching us all head out day after day, he had finally been convinced by Karen to give it a go. Along with Geoff they got to the top in around an hour to rousing applause from Fiona, Marg and me at the top!
After a well earned coffee we headed back to the lodge to get ready for Eric’s run. This is a ‘veterans’ run (women over 35 and men over 40) which is always put on by the SA contingent. It was formerly run by Eric and May Fazackerley, and Eric, who I’d met last year, had been unable to make the journey to Thredbo this year but was definitely there in spirit and never far from anyone’s mind! I had offered to marshal but they had plenty of marshals so I ended up running. The marshals always dress up and this year it was a ‘Great Gatsby’ theme – they looked great!
The run itself is described as a ‘fun run, NOT a race’, with many hazards along the 3ish kilometre course including a nice new wombat hole! I ran with Fiona and Christine and there was actually a lot of walking too, especially up the stairs! It is a surprisingly tough course! As soon as I finished I put my hand up to marshal next year when we will lose one of our regular marshals – Ryan, who is TFFW royalty, not a South Australian but always marshals at our event, will be eligible to run it next year! So let me put it out there right now that I’m willing to take his spot!
The barrel draw was epic too – people were called back 3 times before all the prizes were gone! For once, the wine wasn’t the most popular prize – the distinctive purple SARRC Barossa Marathon tops that we had been wearing at the events all week, proved particularly popular!
We then went down to Eric and May’s bench by the river and a number of us got our shoes off and put our feet in (OMG! SO cold!) while we enjoyed sparkling wine (we polished off quite a few bottles!) and some nibbles. I really like this tradition! And even though Eric couldn’t be there in person, Dave, who organises our group every year, had arranged to call him from the river so we could all say hi.
That night we had our traditional party night at the lodge – we had invited a number of people but the torrential rain (which had very kindly held off during the day’s festivities) would have put a lot of people off venturing out. Still, we had a great time, with Fiona and me (also coincidentally the youngest 2 in the lodge) being the last left standing at midnight when the last guests Ryan and Lyn left. I’m not sure I would have danced anywhere near as much as I did, if I’d had to wear shoes!
Awake much earlier than I’d hoped, I watched Saturday dawn from my window and it looked like it was going to be beautiful – but looks can be deceiving, things can change very quickly, and the conditions in the village can be VERY different from those up the mountain.
Last year’s Kosciuszko Classic had been blessed with perfect weather. I think from memory there were 40-something entrants. Could we be so lucky again? Probably not. The Bureau was forecasting strong winds, but thankfully no rain.
First, we had to walk that metal walkway yet again. It was cold and windy – it was hard to even have a conversation with Fiona who was walking right next to me! We had some experienced TFFW’ers with us, who had advised us to take our time on the walk, firstly to conserve energy for the actual race, and secondly so we didn’t get to the start too early and have to stand for longer in the cold.
We timed it perfectly. The official start was at 11am but there was an earlier option for people who were planning to walk/run. The walk/runners had just enough time for a toilet stop and to change into their race clothes, before they made the 3k trek down to the start at the Snowy River. I’d gone with my pink SARRC top, arm warmers, gloves, Skins shorts, green skirt purchased from an op shop on the drive up from Adelaide, and pink calf sleeves. I’d also worn my new pink hat and had a buff over the top of it to keep it blowing off!
A lot of people were wearing long sleeves and tights but I didn’t feel underdressed when I saw that John (Speedo Man) was wearing shoes, socks, gloves and Speedos. And that’s all! (Last year he also wore a T-shirt, and it was a lot warmer that day!)
There were just 12 people setting off at 11am and 6 of those were from SA – Geoff, David and me from our lodge, and 3 generations of the Sandery family – patriarch and SA running royalty Peter, son Rhys and Rhys’ son Fin. Peter was doing his 30th Classic and Fin his first – they also became the first family to have 3 generations running the Classic together! They were all running in their distinctive red and white Adelaide Harriers tops which looked great but not quite as great as my pink SARRC one!
Next came the easy 3k trot down to the start. (Remember how I stubbed my toe? Well it turns out that made running downhill kind of difficult. Fortunately it had no such effect on my ability to run UPHILL.) We jogged down to the river, where almost all the runners then made a pitstop in the bushes. I wished I could have been bothered getting my phone out to take a photo – it would have been quite comical! I jokingly said to Phoebe, the only other girl in the group, “Do you feel left out?” I decided to start a new pre-race tradition – walking down to the edge of the river to splash some cold river water on my face. Mostly to wake myself up!
I had my light spray jacket on me, at Rhys’ suggestion, to keep the wind out. By the time we got to the start the conditions were actually quite pleasant so I tied it round my waist.
At 11am on the dot we set off for the approximately 4.8km run up to the summit. I knew all the other women in the race were walk/running (they were all from our lodge – I think there were only 24 entrants in total) so I pretty much knew if I could run most of the way I could be guaranteed a placing. And Phoebe looked like a proper runner and set off well ahead of me so I was happy to settle for 2nd place!
After about 1km or so I was warm enough that I didn’t need the gloves anymore, so I took them off in preparation for throwing them at the pile of bags we’d left at Rawson’s. I was tempted to ditch my spray jacket too but I knew that would probably blow away!
I ran most of the way just behind Phoebe and with Speedo Man and another guy Trevor who had finished just ahead of me last year. At times we were running straight into the wind and seemingly going backwards. It didn’t ever really seem to offer any assistance!
There was a moment when I thought I could get in front of Phoebe (well, I definitely could have, but whether or not I could have stayed there was a different question) but I decided to just keep her in sight. Eventually both Trevor and John went past me but they were never far in front. I had expected to pass some of the earlier starters but never did – in fact most of them were already on their way back down while I was still running up! It wasn’t the kind of day to be hanging around at the top of the mountain – you would get very cold very quickly!
I was tempted to walk at one point but I knew I was so close and plus I didn’t want our team photographers Harry and John to catch me walking!
I could see Phoebe tantalisingly close but didn’t really have a sprint finish in me. Plus, if she’d heard me coming at her I’m sure she would have found an extra gear! In the end I finished 10 seconds behind her, 4 minutes slower than last year and I was satisfied with that.
I waited at the top for the rest of the SA runners, Geoff, the 3 Sanderys and David, before a casual walk back down (and one last play in the snow!), layering up at Rawson’s and a nice cruisy walk back to Eagle’s Nest where most of the rest of the SARRC group were having lunch. There wasn’t time for me to get lunch though as the presentation was back in the village at 2pm. I got my first podium finish for an event at TFFW (2nd) – the trophy being one of the coveted TFFW mugs! That’s going straight to the pool room! Fiona ended up finishing 3rd and I won yet another bottle of wine in the barrel draw so it was a good day for our team all round! (And a good day for the stalwarts at Friday’s party with Ryan getting 3rd place for the men, just behind brother Chad!)
After that I decided it was time to take it up a notch. As part of our lift ticket we were entitled to 16 rides on the bobsled. I’d had a couple of rides and this was my last chance so I rode 3 times in a row, on the last one had a nice clear track in front of me so I decided to record it on my Garmin and see just how fast I could go! I did the 600m in 1:30 and got up to a top speed of just under 40km/hour!
And that basically sums up the whole week. Just a brilliant time, in a beautiful setting, with awesome people.
See you again next year!