Race report – Conquer the Summit

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April 10 2016 was a day of choices.

The SA running/triathlon scene has grown so much in recent years that invariably decisions have to be made re which event (if any) to enter on a given weekend. And that’s a good thing. A little competition never hurt anyone and can only make for better events.

April 10 in particular seemed to be a very popular day. On that one day we had not one but two triathlons (Gatti at West Lakes and also one at Strathalbyn), a new event at Granite Island with a 5k and 10k, a 5k and 11k Conquer the Summit at Mt Barker, and finally another new event, the Salisbury half marathon (with various shorter distances too).

I ruled out the 2 triathlons first – I initially had earmarked the final Gatti of the season as my tri debut, but hadn’t had enough time on the bike to be able to do it justice (not to mention not having some of the essential gear ie a trisuit, wetsuit and oh, a bike!)

Next – Salisbury looked to be a great event but I didn’t fancy another half just a week after having raced pretty hard at Clare.

Granite Island I had initially pencilled in. I love the area and love running there, but I needed to focus on my 2 big running events coming up – firstly Ultra-Trail Australia 100km in (yikes) 5 weeks, and then a sub 3:40 marathon in (aargh) 12 weeks. My training for both has been a bit messy, with Sunday races getting in the way (can’t resist a race!) and trying to juggle training for 2 very different races.

So I had to pick the event that would give me ‘time on feet’, some hill training, and just a long run. Conquer the Summit ticked all the boxes so that was the event I chose.

Conquer the Summit is a community event which has been running for a number of years, organised by the Mt Barker Lions Club. My friend Karen says it’s one of her favourite events, and she does it every year. She does the 11km (uphill) run, then runs back down, making it a good long run. (‘Normal’ people get a bus back down. Normal is overrated)

Given that it would essentially be a long run (the first half being a race, albeit uphill), I decided to wear my small race vest with some water in the bladder, sports drink and a few light snacks. It would be good training for UTA100 where I would also be wearing a vest, albeit larger and heavier!

I didn’t decide on my outfit until race morning – after much deliberation I opted for a pretty floral skirt which I’d never worn in a race before (over the top of Skins compression shorts, so no chance of any chafing) and the top I wore for Yurrebilla 56 and the front half of Heysen 105. It’s a nice top but the back is stained from where the colour has run from my race vest. So it can now ONLY be worn in conjunction with a backpack!

I studied the directions of how to get to Keith Stephenson Park in Mount Barker. I screenshotted just the last bit (once I hit Mt Barker), as I knew the way pretty well up to there. I left home at 7, giving myself plenty of time to get there, collect my race number and fit in a quick toilet stop before the 8am start.

Soooo… I’m not trusting Google maps anymore.

When ‘my destination’ turned out to be a dead end street to the middle of nowhere, I consulted the maps app on my phone. According to that app, the park didn’t exist! I finally went to the always reliable UBD street directory. Yes, I went old school. And what did I find? THE PARK IS ON THE FREAKING MAIN ROAD INTO TOWN! And it’s big too. You can’t miss it!

Anyway, that unscheduled tour of Mt Barker aside, I made it to the park in plenty of time.

Autumn is a magic time of year up in the hills – the autumn leaves on the trees (and the multicoloured carpet on the ground) are just stunning. I found out after the race that this event was originally in June. It’s pretty cold up there in June, and no pretty leaves. I’m glad they changed it!

So all I really knew was that this race was pretty much all uphill. Roughly 11km of uphill. And it attracted a pretty strong field too. Some really high quality female runners (so I knew I wasn’t going to be competitive, which was kind of nice. I just wanted it to be a training run) and a whole lot of red singleted Adelaide Harriers (I think ‘Harrier’ is Latin for ‘crazy fast runner’)!

I had pushed it a bit at parkrun on Saturday so woke up with stiffness and soreness in my left hip (the old tendinosis which flares up from time to time) and probably the drive up (slightly longer than it was meant to be, too) didn’t help. Without enough time for a warmup, I decided to take the first few kilometres pretty conservatively.

Within the first few kilometres I was on familiar territory, the Mt Barker parkrun course! I was running at 4:50 min/km pace which was a bit slower than I was used to running on this particular track! It was flat, if not ever so slightly downhill. As tempting as it was to try to pick up the pace, there was still a LONG way to go! (The turnaround point for the 5km fun run was at 2.5km. The marshal there said “Just a little bit further to go!” Somewhat of an understatement.)

The course was really quite steep in parts but there were also flat and downhill sections. Most of it was on roads, roads that were open to traffic but not overly busy, and there weren’t too many competitors, so there were no dramas.

I decided to try to maintain a fairly constant effort, rather than worrying about pace. That seemed the logical thing to do on a course that wasn’t flat. That meant when I hit the flats and downhills I would speed up and often overtake people. Then, on the uphills, I would frequently be overtaken.

I tried not to look at my watch. From about 4km until 9km I only looked at it periodically to make sure the time was still going. I didn’t want to know the distance and I wasn’t interested in pace. When it vibrated to indicate another km had been completed, I finally looked at it and it showed 9km. Only a bit over 2km to go. Sweet!

There was a guy in front of me most of the way, wearing a backpack. If I did catch up with him I was going to ask him if he was running back down – I guessed he probably was, given the backpack). Sometime between 9km and 10km I did catch and pass him but I was focused on breathing so I didn’t ask the question.

At around 10km we turned a corner and went up a steep gravel track. One woman said “Not long to go now!”. Correct. Not long to go. BUT, that ‘Not long’ was ALL UPHILL. And a pretty steep hill at that! (Kind of like saying “Not long to go” with 400m left to go up Mt Lofty. Yeah, 400m is not far in the overall scheme of things, but it’s a pretty nasty 400m all the same!)

The guy with the backpack passed me on the way up the hill. On the way up I managed to say “You done this before?” to which he replied in the affirmative. I then asked “How far?” and he responded “Not too much further, but I don’t really remember”. Not heaps helpful, but I guess if it was a horrendous long climb he probably WOULD have remembered that!

Towards the end I started to see red singlets coming towards me. Of course. The Harriers were already finished, stretched, hydrated, recovered and on their way back down. They’d probably also managed to fit in a 3 course brunch. Well maybe not the last bit. Anyway they gave me some encouragement and the old favourite “Not long to go now!” Easy for them to say!

Having not done this race before, and having decided it would be a training run, I hadn’t set a goal time or pace. I did, however, have a few thoughts along the way. 6:00 minutes per km sounded pretty reasonable for an uphill run. So if I could crack the 10km under the hour, I’d be happy Then I decided that 11km in the hour was doable.

I managed to achieve both of these goals. Unfortunately I thought 11km would be the end of the race but it wasn’t. I got 11km in under 1 hour but had to keep going. I did walk maybe for about 20-30 seconds after that, and then the hill seemed to flatten out. SURELY this must be it? I went round a corner and sure enough there it was, the finish line! The clock had already clicked over to 1 hour but I managed to get in under 1:01. I was pretty satisfied with that! I had Conquered the Summit. What’s weird was that until then I had never been to Mt Barker Summit, and didn’t even know it existed, despite having been to Mt Barker a number of times! I guess it stands to reason that where there’s a ‘Mount’, there’s a summit, I guess I’d just never thought of it before!

After fellow crazies Geoff, Karen and Ruth had all finished, we all set off back down to the town. Ruth, being a local, knew a trail that would take us back in a slightly more interesting way. It was interesting alright! We encountered a herd of cattle on the path! Forget running with the bulls, we got to run with cows and calves! Ruth had experienced this before on her runs but it was all new to me – very cool!

We soon got back onto the road that we had run up not so long ago. Luckily I had Geoff with me at that point because he had obviously been paying more attention to his surroundings on the way up than I had – none of the roads looked familiar to me AT ALL! I’d been concentrating on the people in front of me and been distracted by the pretty trees!

We made it back to the start just in time for the very end of the presentation (not an issue since none of us were contenders) and had a bit of a chat with some of the placegetters including my old nemesis Lisa who had won the women’s 11km in 48 minutes (I think). I don’t really mean nemesis, it’s just that she seems to be in every event I’m in and I can’t beat her. I have nothing against her personally of course! She happens to be in all 4 of the events I’m running next weekend at the Masters National Athletics Championships. Oh well – hopefully that will make me run faster!

Overall it was a really great run, a lovely community event in a beautiful location. I definitely would do this race again – I think I’d have to try really hard to crack 1 hour next time, now I know what to expect! To sum it up in one word? Well I have 2.

Brutal and Beautiful.

Brutiful.

Thredbo Fun and Fitness Week – Part 2

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Wednesday 13 January

This morning we had the Women from Snowy River and the Men from Snowy River fun runs. It was an interesting concept, segregating the genders, but I can see why they do it – it allows everyone to participate, so the men can marshal the women’s event and vice versa. The women went first so we were all there for a 9am start. It was a 3.8km run, the directions given by the MC at the start were all Greek to me, so I would have to rely on the marshals’ directions and/or following the person in front. It was what is known as a yacht handicap, where the winner is the person who finishes closest to their estimated finish time. The slower walkers started first at 9am, with the fastest runners starting last. The idea was that the slowest walkers would take around 40 minutes, and the timekeeper would count down from 40 minutes, and when he called out the time you thought you would run, you would start. I went for 19 minutes – I was toying with 19.5 minutes but when the MC said “Remember – you always run faster than you think you will”, I stuck with the original plan.

Of course, we all had to run sans watches – that made it really tricky!

The person who started immediately before me started on the 19.5 minute mark, so 30 seconds ahead of me. My first mission, when I started on my own, was to keep her in sight and eventually catch her, which I did. The course was undulating and on variable surfaces which made it especially challenging – the Pipeline track was particularly congested!

I’m not sure exactly what time I did but I estimate I was around 18 minutes, so 1 minute too fast. The winner finished SPOT ON her predicted time! I was a winner though because I brought home another bottle of wine for the lodge from the barrel draw, this time a lovely McLaren Vale GSM.

After the run we watched the start of the men’s race before heading back to the lodge. After lunch a group of us decided to head up Mt Kosciuszko. The final event of Thredbo Fun and Fitness Week (TFFW) would be the Kosciuszko Classic but that can potentially be cancelled if the weather is bad, so we decided to take advantage of the excellent weather and head up there in case this was our last chance. David, Karen, Daryl, Geoff and I headed up in the chairlift and started the approximately 13km hike to the summit and back. On the way up we saw the other 2 Davids from the lodge who had been to the summit already and were on their return journey.

The first part of the hike was a bit boring, on metal grid, until we reached Rawson’s Pass. This was exactly the same path we had hiked the previous day, and was hard going. From Rawson’s it was a not-too-bad trek up to the summit. It was sunny, a bit windy at times but never cold. I walked with David as the other 3 had raced ahead.

At the summit we patiently waited for our turns to sit on top of the marker that indicates the highest point in Australia. Then Karen and I decided to try doing a jumping photo – after about 10 minutes of attempts we got a few decent shots but decided our jumping game could use a little work. It was super windy up there!

On the way back down we saw Lorraine (who had done the summit the previous day with Sally) and Shelley, on their way up. We made it back to the chairlift in plenty of time (the last ride is at 5pm) and waited in a queue to get back down to Thredbo.

Wednesday night was the official dinner of the TFFW which most of us from the lodge were going to (after I had been assured of a vegan meal) so I showered and made myself presentable before heading down to the lounge where a few people were standing on the balcony talking to someone on the phone. Turned out Lorraine had dropped her phone off the chairlift and was out looking for it, and Mandy had gone up to help her look. To further complicate matters, it had started raining quite heavily. Eventually they realised that they weren’t going to find it in those conditions, and came back down to get ready for dinner. Lorraine was quite optimistic that it had survived the fall intact. Karen and I had already planned to give Crackenback another crack (pun intended) in the morning so offered to have a look for it while we were up there.

The dinner was fantastic – 2 lovely courses of vegan deliciousness and to top it off they had vegan wine on the menu! All in all a fabulous day – topped off by the Adelaide Strikers’ thrilling win later that night (without a TV in the lodge we had to resort to following the game via phone app, but it was exciting nonetheless!)

Thursday 14 January

We started the day with a repeat of the first day’s Crackenback climb. It was a bit more leisurely given that we spent a fair while looking for Lorraine’s phone, and miraculously Karen spotted it – no visible damage AND still with plenty of juice! Not bad after a fall from a chairlift and a night in the cold and rain! Good advert for the iPhone 6S!

We made it to the chairlift just in time, as the rain started to fall.

After a coffee, Karen and I showered and changed and headed to the ‘big smoke’ – Jindabyne – with Dave and Peter. We had a bit of a wander around the shops and stocked up on food at Woolies, and stopped off at the Wild Brumby distillery where I bought a bottle of freshly bottled gin.

The afternoon event was meant to be an aquathlon which David, Karen and I had both planned on entering (Karen and I had already wussed out due to the weather – persistent rain) but it was postponed until Friday. So we just hung out at the lodge for the rest of the day, drinking wine, doing jigsaws and cranking out some tunes.

Friday 15 January

Friday was a big day for our lodge. It was the ‘veterans’ fun run, originated by Eric and sponsored by our running club, SARRC. (I say ‘veterans’ because this means women 35 and over and men 40 and over, so I qualify, but I don’t see myself as a veteran!) Our lodge provided most of the marshals and a few of us ran too.

But before that it was the ‘final assault’ on Crackenback. Six of us, Karen, Geoff, David, Sally, Mandy and me, set out in possibly minus temperatures (it was supposedly -5 at the top station) to climb that hill one last time for the trip. This time, fortunately, we were able to push straight through without needing to stop until we reached the top. Others said they thought it was getting easier but I actually found the first climb (the race on the first day) the easiest!

After a quick photo-op at the top we piled into the chairlift for the extremely chilly ride back down to the bottom.

We then got ready for Eric’s run. It was still very cold, so we were all rugged up – the marshals with layer upon layer upon layer, and the runners with running gear underneath all of the layers! The marshals all looked very fetching in their grass skirts and leis – we runners all also ‘got lei’d’.

At the very last possible minute the runners stripped off their warm clothing and assembled at the start line.

It was around 3km we were told (actually 3.4) and the first half or so was TOUGH. Much of it was uphill (good practice for the following day’s Kosciuszko Classic) but the bit that really got me was the stairs – who puts stairs in a fun run?

(It seems that in Thredbo you can’t go anywhere without encountering stairs – not even the lodge! There was one particular set of stairs, which we used several times every day, on the walk from the chairlift back up to the lodge, which I dubbed the ‘Stairway to Hell’. No matter how tough a walk we had done, that particular staircase was always the hardest part of the walk!)

One girl passed me easily on the stairs and after that I walked most of the uphills – my legs were like jelly! However, we soon came to trail and downhills, and I was back in my comfort zone. I ran as fast as possible on the narrow trails because they looked quite ‘snakey’ even though realistically it was too cold for snakes. Towards the end I saw the girl who had passed me earlier and managed to pass her with a few hundred metres to go. I never knew a 3.4km run could be so hard! I don’t think Crackenback earlier in the morning had helped!

After the barrel draw we went down to the river, to Eric’s bench (dedicated with a plaque from SARRC, to Eric and his late wife May) for the traditional bubbles and nibbles. Everyone had a glass – even teetotaller Karen got into the ‘spirit’ with the smallest of servings. Mandy and I took our shoes off and stood in the river and WOW was it cold! That made my decision to skip the aquathlon VERY easy, even though Ryan, who had helped us out with the marshalling, tried to convince us that the water in the lake would be warm!

The ladies and Eric then went up to Eagles’ Nest for a light lunch. At one stage I had planned to do either a downhill Dead Horse Gap hike with Karen or and uphill Merritt’s hike with Mandy, but after the run and lunch I decided a nap was a better idea.

Given that we only had a few nights left, and wouldn’t be able to take our fresh fruit and veg back across the border into SA, it was time to get creative and try to use as much fresh produce as possible. I decided to make a big pot of soup – all the vegies and some curry paste were donated by Karen and Elizabeth, and I just had to buy coconut milk and stock. After a failed attempt to use the ancient Magimix to blend it (I later found out that Sally had had a stick blender with her) I tried to find a potato masher as my Plan B but eventually gave up and served it ‘as is’. And it was tasty – and it just so happened to be perfect soup weather too!

Saturday 16 January

The last day of TFFW – the big one. The Kosciuszko Classic. Approximately 20km all up but the race itself was around 5km. First we had to go up to the top of the chairlift – as it was a chilly morning again, a lot of us had extra layers on. Then we walked to Rawson’s where we utilised the facilities and peeled off our extra layers. Sunscreen was even needed – by that stage it had warmed up a bit and the sun was well and truly out. It was a perfect day for the Classic!

Some runners opted to start early – as it turned out, most of the runners from our lodge. From Rawson’s, it was an easy 3km downhill to the Snowy River – I jogged that part with Travis, a previous winner (and as it turned out, this year’s winner as well!)

At 11:00 on the dot we set out, back uphill to the highest point in Australia. It was ALL uphill. No nice little flat bits to break it up! 2 girls flew past me in the first few hundred metres (one girl was already ahead) and knowing that uphill is NOT my strength, a podium finish was out of the question. So I just kept running. Travis had warned me that the first km was the hardest so I had gone conservative, or so I thought – as it turned out that was my fastest km!

I followed Speedo Man much of the way. Speedo Man is well known at Thredbo for wearing Speedos in every event. Just Speedos. Usually with shoes although sometimes he goes barefoot. At Eric’s run he wore a T-shirt but still just Speedos on the bottom half. At Kosci he was down to just the Speedos and shoes. After about 4km I got sick of looking at that arse, and he was slowing down anyway (or I was speeding up – I suspect the former) so I passed him and then went back and forth with another guy with a ponytail on the final ascent up the mountain.

I ran the whole way, except a short part near the end where there was a metal grid. I walked carefully on this bit as the metal grate can do some serious damage if you fall on it. You know that ad on TV for the Nicer Dicer Plus? Well that was what I was thinking of and I didn’t really fancy diced knees and hands. The guy with the ponytail later said he thought I lost momentum when I walked that bit, which surprised me because I didn’t think I had any momentum! He eventually passed me and finished just ahead – Speedo Man just behind. My time was 30.06 so I will definitely be aiming to break 30 minutes next year!

After some celebrations at the top of Australia we made the long walk back to the chairlift via Rawson’s where we had left our gear. We had a quick coffee stop and then went to the presentation. We learned that for the first time ever, there were more female finishers than male! Out of 32 finishers, 11 were from our lodge and 8 of those were female!

After that it was back to the lodge for a cold beverage – if running 5km up a mountain isn’t a hard-earned thirst, I don’t know what is!

The rest of the day was pretty chilled – time to reflect on the week and start packing. Most of us were leaving early on Sunday except a few who were staying on for the Blues festival. The Blues festival always overlaps TFFW by a few days, and it’s pretty easy to tell the Blues people from the runners and the mountain bikers!

Thredbo – you have been WONDERFUL. Such a great week in an amazing place with some fabulous friends, old and new. I can see this becoming a regular event on my calendar!

I’m writing this on the long drive home and I’m keen to see how a week at altitude affects my running back at sea level!

Thredbo Fun and Fitness Week – Part 1

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This week I am in Thredbo for the Fun and Fitness Week (TFFW). It’s my first time here, and it’s such a fantastic place! Thredbo is known more as a winter ski destination but it has fantastic mountain biking and hiking/running trails which keep the people coming during the summer. It’s not a bad way to spend a week – running, hiking and various other activities by day, and drinking wine on the balcony or ‘chilling’ in the spa by night. The most difficult thing is trying to fit in all the activities and trying to choose between the different events/hikes on offer!

Saturday 9 January

Karen, Daryl, Geoff and I spent Friday night in Albury after driving all day from Adelaide. Our motel just happened to be across the road from the Albury/Wodonga parkrun – the only parkrun in Australia that crosses a state border. Of course we were going to run it!

About 300 other people had the same idea as us. The course follows the mighty Murray River, crossing the NSW/Victoria border into Wodonga and then back again. Other than a somewhat comical start, where 300 people converged from all angles just in time to run across a narrow footbridge, it was a lovely, scenic run. I’m surprised my Strava map for the first kilometre didn’t resemble an ECG readout!

Following the parkrun and a trip to the adjacent farmers market, we continued on our merry way to Thredbo. We arrived at the lodge around 1:30, giving us just enough time to unload the car, get our lift passes and make our way to the bottom of the chairlift for the Crackenback Challenge. For the uninitiated, this is a 1.8km run. Nice cruisy way to kick off the week, right? Oh, did I forget to mention the 600m elevation? And starting at 1500m altitude? The only word that could accurately describe it is BRUTAL. And there was not much running going on – well at least not by me! I followed fellow South Aussie David up the hill – I kept him in sight until almost the finish. He is like a mountain goat up hills and an absolute inspiration for someone easily old enough to be my father! At one point some smart arsed kid on the chairlift offered the guy behind me some Mountain Dew and then didn’t deliver. Now Saturday was a warm day and this guy didn’t have a drink on him, so it would have been appreciated. I turned around to him and asked him if he would like some Gatorade which he gratefully accepted. Later in the event there was a pretty high step to get up (the next day a few of us observed from the chairlift that there was a MUCH easier route, just a few metres to the side) and he was right behind me, so gave me a boost up. (I probably could have got up there on my own but at that point I wasn’t going to refuse assistance!) and when we eventually got to the ‘finish line’ he graciously let me cross first. It was a typically alpine way to start the week!

Sunday 10 January

The day started with a hike up Merritt’s Nature Track, finishing at the same place as Crackenback, but instead of 1.8km this walk was around 4km. So with the same elevation, it was a much less intense climb. It was still a challenging hike though, with so many stairs! A group of us decided to take the chairlift down, so we could get back in time for the ‘fun’ run in the village. (A few people opted to skip the run and descend via Dead Horse Gap instead.)

Thd ‘fun’ run was a 6km run consisting of 2 3km loops around the village. 6km is not a familiar distance for me, and after less than 24 hours at 1500m altitude, it was surprisingly challenging! There were a lot of young, serious looking runners wearing not very much and it was nice to be able to pass a few of them on lap 2 – I think they were shorter distance specialists but I’ll take it!

Monday 11 January

Today’s running event was the River Run – a 1 hour out-and-back fun run along a relatively new trail. It was quite a challenging course and apparently it was  carnage out there, with a number of people falling. The idea was that we turned around at 30 minutes, so everyone finished in around 1 hour. I didn’t quite make it under the hour as I found I had to walk a lot of the uphills on the way back. The suspension bridges were also interesting to run – I found that falling into step with the person in front was the best way to tackle these.

After the post-run barrel draw (a TFFW staple – today I was lucky enough to win a magnum of South Australian shiraz) we headed back to the lodge for a quick refuel before heading out for a Dead Horse Gap hike. We split into 2 groups – one hiking up and then back down via the chairlift, and the other taking the lift up and run/walking down. I opted for the former, along with Sue and Mandy. It was a challenging but stunning 10km hike – more stairs! We had a bite to eat at the Eagles Nest restaurant (highest restaurant in Australia) before making our way back to the lodge. I was ready for a nap but after a coffee I was ready to go again, and at that moment Karen announced they were going for a swim in a waterfall. I thought, “why not?” and off we went, along with Daryl, Geoff, David and Elizabeth. What was described as an easy 2km walk was more like 3, but we eventually reached the waterfall and quickly made our way down to the water’s edge. Karen suggested we leave our shoes on as it was quite rocky. That turned out to be a good suggestion as the rocks were slippery and some rather pointy. The water was cold at first but once we got in it was lovely and refreshing. The waterfall was at least as good as the spa (where we knew a number of our fellow lodge guests would have been at that moment) albeit about 30 degrees colder!

After a short dip we made our way back along the trail and that’s where the excitement happened. Walking with Karen, discussing the merits of bungee jumping, I froze. In front of us, pretty much taking up the entire width of the path, was a dirty big black snake! Expletives were uttered (my exact words were “F***, it’s a snake!”) and it didn’t seem to be bothered by that, continuing to doze obliviously! Eventually Geoff woke it up and it slithered back into the bushes, no doubt cursing us for disturbing his little siesta!

Tuesday 12 January

Given that the weather was good, and potentially looking a bit iffy later in the week, a group of us decided to do the 30km Range hike, a full day walk. We took the chairlift up together and hiked up to Rawson’s Retreat (a mostly uphill 4km or so, on steel grid and more steps!) where it was decision time. There were 2 ways we could go, the ‘traditional’ way and the reverse way. 6 of us went ‘traditional’ and the other 5, myself included, went the reverse route. I had had a chat to David the previous night (a different David – there are 3 Davids staying in the lodge) and he had suggested the reverse route would be the best way to go, so when Marg, Sally, Lorraine and Julie decided to go that way, I had no hesitation in joining them. (Plus, I hadn’t been able to keep up with the other group on the hike from the chairlift to Rawson’s, and I wanted to enjoy my walk rather than spend the whole time just trying to stay with the group.)

It was a lovely day, the scenery was just magic, the company was great and we stopped several times along the way to fuel up. We ended up taking about 6.5 hours, about 1 hour longer than the other group, which was just perfect pace for me. Sally and Lorraine ended up taking a 4km detour near the end to go to Mt Kosciuszko summit (the highest point in Australia) which looked amazing but I didn’t think I had it in me. I will get there at least once this week!

I spoke to Eric, 90-something years old, TFFW royalty, fellow South Australian and guest of our lodge, tonight after dinner. He said that when he was IN HIS 60s he completed the Range walk (at that time it was a timed event rather than just an informal hike) in 3.5 hours – amazing and inspiring, not that I have ANY desire to try to do it at that pace!

Stay tuned next week for a summary of the rest of the week!

Race Report – Yumigo! Summer Trail Series Race 1 – Ansteys Hill

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I didn’t even know where Ansteys Hill was until last Wednesday night when I ran it with one of my semi-regular groups. I actually prefer NOT studying the course before running an event. (Except for Yurrebilla and Heysen where the training runs leave you with few or no surprises come race day!)

This was my first race since the Kuitpo Forest event in November. As regular readers (if there are any!) may recall, I had a pretty crap preparation for that event but ended up having a great run, so I joked that my pre-race prep from now on had to consist of copious quantities of wine, constant snacking and no actual dinner. Fortunately it didn’t come to that (although the aforementioned night WAS a great night), with my pre-race meal consisting of some pretty special pizzas thanks to running buddy Tory and her pizza chef extraordinaire husband Charlie.

My week had been up and down. I had been for a more successful swim on Monday (non-leaky goggles, yay!) and 2 relatively easy runs on Tuesday and Wednesday. Then on Thursday I got a bit carried away running with newcomer to our group, Peter. I blame him but it may have been me who set the pace. Either way I ran a lot faster than I have run in a long time. My left hip started complaining almost immediately the run was over. It is an occasional problem, usually in runs over 40km and when I run fast, and when I run up hills. Fortunately Sunday’s race would be ‘only’ 12.5km but it did involve hills and presumably would also involve running fast. I was a little concerned…

My Friday hill run was a struggle. Saturday’s parkrun I initially was going to ‘jog’ but after a slow first km (due to starting near the back) I quickly settled into a rhythm and ended up with a sub-25. Not as fast as recent weeks but comfortable. I then went for a good solid half hour swim and felt great after that.

Race day the niggle was still there but I wasn’t going to let it stop me. It was to be, after all, my last race for a good few weeks so there would be plenty of time to recover afterwards. Plus I could always substitute some runs for swims if I had to.

I got to the start line at 6:30am, an hour early, as car parking was limited. Despite a forecast top of 30 degrees C, it was cold when I got there! It was great to see so many people and so many familiar faces… trail running events in SA have really taken off this year!

This event was part 1 of a series of 4, one a month over the traditionally quiet summer months. It is run by Yumigo!’s Ben Hockings and once again he put on a wonderful event with a fantastic team of smiling volunteers. It was my first time running one of these events. I’d opted for the 12.5km long course because I think I tend to come good later in races, so the longer distance suits me better. Plus, both events were the same price so I’d get better value for money!

The race started with a hill. Hip not happy. Jane not happy.

But as I settled into my stride I loosened up. I didn’t feel the hip much after that. I did wish on numerous occasions that I had gone for the short course…

The short course started 5 minutes before the long course (I think because of the much larger than expected turnout!) That meant that, as we went along, we were passing short course runners. Now I am one who likes to know who my competition is, so I did ask a few people along the way, “Short or long?” This is completely acceptable in this situation but if I said it to a guy at the pub…

My biggest problem during the race, probably for the second half (I wasn’t looking at my watch) was a very sharp rock in my shoe, just under the heel. Every now and then I would manage to work it forward so it would be under my arch, but it kept finding its way back to my heel. On the downhills, which I otherwise enjoyed, I was running on my toes to take the pressure off my heel. Stopping to remove the rock was NOT an option!

Towards the end I could see a female runner in front of me. She had to be a long course runner. We had passed the finish line (which would have been my finish if I’d done the short course) and were on our additional loop. I was running with Leon and Neil at that stage and said “I can’t catch her, she looks too strong!”. They thought otherwise, and between them they expertly paced me to the point where I passed her. I managed to stay in front but was frequently looking over my shoulder to see if she was coming back at me. (I spoke to her after the race. Her name was Jenny and she finished not long after me. Turned out she wasn’t as strong as she looked – I need to stop psyching myself out!)

I knew a placing was out of the question – the top 3 were Lauren who is just a machine, Kazu who finished second at Yurrebilla and Bronwyn who finished third at Heysen and first at Kuitpo. In the end I was 5th female which I was pleased with. 4th in my age group though, ouch! Talk about being born at the wrong time!

At the end I saw Andy who I’d met at Kuitpo after following him for a long time on Instagram. He is about to move to the UK so it was great to run one last race with him before he leaves! I look forward to following his UK adventures via social media!

All in all it was another wonderful trail event – well done to Ben and his team – a perfect day!

I can highly recommend the Trail Series for runners of all abilities. I will definitely be doing more events in the series in the new year!

Running Up That Hill

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Hills. As a runner, you either love them or you hate them. Or you have a love-hate relationship like I do.

My first introduction to hills came before I started running. I think I’ve mentioned it before in a previous post, but there is a little thing that we in Adelaide like to call Mt Lofty (or “Lofty” for short). It’s kind of an ironic name because it’s not actually that high (727 metres above sea level to be exact – thanks Wikipedia) but it is the highest point in Adelaide. The hike/run/crawl from Waterfall Gully to the summit is extremely popular (475m elevation from bottom to top, approx. 3.5km walking/running distance). So much so, that on weekends the track can be likened to Rundle Mall (for non-Adelaide people, Rundle Mall is the major shopping precinct in Adelaide’s CBD) and parking at the bottom can be an absolute nightmare.

So anyway, many years before I took up running, I used to do the Waterfall Gully to Mt Lofty climb semi-regularly – usually with a group of friends. I never found it particularly easy and I rarely ran any of it – I think from memory my best time for the climb was just under 40 minutes. I got to the point where I could go the whole way without stopping or using the very temptingly positioned trees for support. There was always a sense of achievement in reaching the top, and on the occasions where we stopped at the café before commencing the leisurely descent, the iced chocolate tasted particularly good! I always marvelled at the people who tackled the climb dressed in street clothes (clearly they must have been tourists who had NO idea what they were in for!) and also the crazies who did it with weighted backpacks. And of course those who did the climb/descent multiple times in one go! At the top, I always felt like I’d earned the spectacular panoramic views over Adelaide and felt seriously ripped off when dense fog robbed me of said views!

Other than Lofty, I hadn’t had much experience with hills. Certainly not RUNNING up them.

That all changed when I joined the SARRC (South Australian Road Runners Club) Friday morning group. I have mentioned this previously but this was my first experience of running up hills. I went out like a bull at a gate, trying to run at ‘flat run’ pace, and I was spent by the time I reached the top of the ‘warm-up’ hill! I then went out the following Tuesday to the group run which was normally a flat course, but naturally I picked a week where we did one of the few hilly runs! That day, though, I managed to run the whole way, almost 12km, including the uphills.

Over the weeks, months and years I grew to despise the hills less and less. Even now, I don’t feel like I have ‘conquered’ hills, but they don’t fill me with quite the same sense of dread as they did in the beginning! When we hit the daylight saving months, the Friday hill runs move onto the beautiful trails, and the views are truly magnificent. Rarely does a Friday morning trail run go by without a group selfie being posted on Facebook – we feel the need to share the joy with the world!

I feel like I’m getting stronger. Hill running builds up leg muscles including calves, quads, hamstrings and glutes, coincidentally also the muscles used for sprinting. As I’m finding the uphills easier, at the same time I’m also finding my short, flat runs are getting faster.

Still, there are things I like and things I don’t like so much about hills.

I love the sense of accomplishment that comes from having reached the top of a particularly nasty ascent, and the knowledge that ‘it’s all downhill from here’ (for runners, that’s actually a GOOD thing!). As mentioned earlier, the views often make the climb worth it. The muscle soreness that often follows in the following few days, is a reminder that I have worked hard! The downhill that usually follows the hard uphill slog, is a joy and a chance to run FAST and feel the wind in my hair!

Then there are the things I don’t like so much, such as running downhill on trails. I am still a relative newbie when it comes to trail running, and running downhill on a steep trail (especially a gravel one) is a completely different kettle of fish to running down a bitumen road. I have learned to run in a zigzag rather than trying to run straight downhill. Previously I would walk, very cautiously, but I find the zigzag running is easier and safer. I am always amazed to watch experienced trail runners flying down the hills – hopefully I will be as adept as them one day! There are also days when running up hills just seems too damn hard – I like to run fast (relatively speaking – I am no Usain Bolt, that’s for sure) and running up hills makes that very difficult!

One particularly important lesson about hills, especially over long distances, is sometimes you just have to walk. Other than the real elite runners, everyone walks sometimes! It’s better to walk the really tough uphills than try to keep running, because otherwise you will struggle to get to the end. The added benefit of walking up hills is it gives you the perfect opportunity to get some food in. When I say ‘food’ I’m not talking about gels (something I have yet to try and hope I never have to!), I’m talking about actual, real food. Stuff you actually have to chew and tastes good! I personally like nut bars and nut butter sandwiches on white bread – never have those things tasted so good as when I’m walking up a steep hill!

It is definitely getting easier, which is a really good thing because I have my first trail ultra coming up, Yurrebilla 56km, in September. That involves a few little hills! 1865m of ascent and 2060m of descent, to be precise! I have completed the first two of the three training runs that take in the entire course, and have managed to get through them at reasonable pace, so I’m hoping to complete the 56km in under 8 hours. The final section includes a particularly nasty little ‘surprise’ at around 50km – a little speed bump known as ‘Black Hill’. I’ve run up Black Hill a few times (not running all the way – there has definitely been some walking!) but never after having already run 50km, so I’m fully expecting that it will be particularly brutal come race day!

My next big ‘hill’ challenge after that is The North Face 100km in the Blue Mountains, hopefully in May 2016. This will be not so much a hill run as a mountain run – and I am fully aware that this is a completely different beast! 4200m of elevation, eek!

I’ve written before about running solo vs running in a group. Last Sunday decided to go for an impromptu solo afternoon run, because I’d volunteered at an event in the morning and it seemed like a beautiful day. I planned to do about a 2 hour run.

I thought I might head towards the aforementioned Mt Lofty, and turn around at around 70 minutes (given that the first half would be uphill and the second half downhill). The beauty of that was that I could tackle the climb without having to battle for a parking space!

I ran all the way up to Waterfall Gully. Waterfall Gully Road is somewhat hazardous, a narrow road with no footpaths in places, and cars and cyclists go down there pretty fast! So, while I ran the whole way up, I did stop and move to the side every time I saw a car coming. Then I got to see the falls at Waterfall Gully – the first time I’d seen them in a long time (our Friday morning group runs up to the falls semi-regularly but as it’s normally dark when we get there, we only hear them, we don’t see them!) and commenced the climb towards the summit.

I ran/walked it and I think it took me about 40 minutes from bottom to top. When I reached the 70 minute mark I was about 1km from the summit so I thought it would be silly to turn around now and I had nowhere I needed to be, so I pressed on. The view of the city was a little bit hazy but still I felt that sense of achievement, pausing for the obligatory selfie before running pretty much the whole way down. On the descent down Waterfall Gully Road it started raining but I didn’t care. (In hindsight some gloves or long sleeves might have been a good idea – unlocking the front door and untying my shoelaces were challenging given how cold my hands were by then! I really need to invest in a good waterproof running jacket!)

I guess this is a bit of an indication of how my attitude to hills has changed. 2 years ago, if I’d even contemplated going for a solo run, I probably would have driven to the beach to get as flat a run as possible! Instead I headed for the hills… I probably would have hit the trails but I am still quite wary of going out on trails on my own without anyone knowing where I’m going. You can be pretty sure, on the Waterfall Gully to Mt Lofty trail, you’ll never be alone!

Actually, come to think of it, I really quite like hills!

Today’s blog post is dedicated to my good friend Kieron who is off to India this weekend to run an ultra. There are a few hills in this ultra. You may have heard of them – some little hills known as the Himalayas. Now I may like hills now but that’s just insane! If you want to know more check out http://kieronultrarunner.com/

I think I’ll end this post as every good blog post should end, with a Miley Cyrus lyric – no-one says it better than Miley!

There’s always gonna be another mountain
I’m always gonna wanna make it move
There’s always gonna be an uphill battle
Sometimes I’m gonna have to lose
Ain’t about how fast I get there
Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side

It’s the climb