Trail Running SA’s Five Peaks 58km 2019 was my 17th ultramarathon, and my 8th (and possibly last!) trail ultra.
This was the second running of Five Peaks, and you can read all about my experience last year here.
I entered this year’s event when the pesky super early bird pricing came out back in November. I note that I paid for the insurance in case I wanted to pull out!
Last year I used Five Peaks as a training run for UTA100. I had been doing quite a bit of hills/trails, and I had done all the official training runs.
This year, it didn’t really fit into my plans at all. I had been doing a lot of long flat stuff in preparation for Canberra 12hr, and very little in the way of long trail runs. All I’d been doing was 2 short trails during the week to try to make my legs remember how to run hills. And 3 weeks after Canberra, here I was doing a very challenging trail ultra.
The week before Five Peaks I had got a new tattoo on my wrist. It wasn’t until after I’d had it done, when my artist was going through the aftercare, that I found out I wasn’t supposed to do any excessive exercise (in particular, sweating) for 2 weeks.
I thought fleetingly about pulling out, but then decided I’d just rinse it with water at each drink station, to rinse the sweat off.
On the Thursday before the race I had a really good trail run, the best one I’d had since October last year. It might have had something to do with the fact that I caught up with super speedy Randell while running down Winter Track, making me run faster than I normally would! Randell was also doing Five Peaks, starting at 7 like me because he was underprepared (ordinarily he would be in the fast 8am wave!) – I said I’d see him at the start, and possibly at the finish line if he was still there by the time I finished!
The weather forecast was good for Sunday – a top of around 23 with no rain forecast. Although we need rain, I was happy to wait until AFTER Five Peaks. Then, it can rain as much as it wants! No rain during the week meant that it wasn’t going to be muddy/slippery underfoot and most importantly, there would be no water flowing through Echo Tunnel and I’d be able to walk on the low side and not hit my head on the roof! It also meant there was no need to carry a rain jacket, or pack a change of clothes/shoes for Drink Station 3 like I did last year!
It had been 12 months since I’d run a trail ultra, so I’d kind of forgotten what to do in preparation! I was thankful for last year’s race report, to remind me what I needed to do!
I packed 3 sandwiches cut into quarters (2 peanut butter and 1 mixed nut/seed butter) and 2 Clif bars. I expected to be out there between 7 and 8 hours, and I’d worked the food out based on eating something every 30 minutes like during a track ultra. It doesn’t work so well during a trail ultra, as I have to be walking to eat, and I don’t like to walk unless it is uphill, but I was satisfied that there would be enough food, and enough variety. There would also be plenty of food at the drink stations in case I felt like something else!
Drinks-wise I had 2 bottles of Gatorade to start, with 4 portions of powder to refill. That seemed like a lot but I didn’t want to run out! I also took 2 vanilla essence bottles, because at DS3 there was going to be cold brew coffee! I’d probably have a cup there, but I thought it would be nice to take some ‘for the road’! In addition I had a soft flask for extra water and a collapsible cup for Coke.
In my pack I also had a change of top even though I probably wouldn’t be needing it given the weather conditions.
My race kit was very similar to how I started last year – pink Mekong T-shirt and matching Groovy Gaitors, and rainbow arm warmers. Everything else was black! I really like the Mekong tops for races, especially the ones where I’m going to be wearing a race vest. The fabric is super cooling, it does get very wet but is extremely comfortable to run in. I had also purchased a new pair of white Goodr sunglasses the day before – I’d actually gone into BKT-Trail to buy a soft flask and then I remembered that they stock Goodr and I thought, I need a new pair because the ones I have don’t match my outfit!
I got up at 4:30 (which was effectively 5:30, thanks to Daylight Saving finishing!) and left home around 5:15. (I’m not sure why I’m bothering with these details, it’s not as if I am going to be running this race again!). I made it to Belair just in time for the 5:45 bus (factoring in the walk from the carpark to the bus) and on the walk to the bus I ran into regular running buddy Mark.
I took a seat at the front of the bus, it wasn’t until I sat down that I realised that sitting next to me was Trevor, a very good runner from Victor Harbor doing his first ultramarathon. I had spoken with him briefly last weekend after the Granite Island Run, and gave him a few helpful tips during the bus ride! (Not that he would be needing them, as a sub 3 hour marathoner!)
Unlike last year, the bus arrived in plenty of time for me to do all the usual pre-race stuff and have a chat with a few people while waiting for the 7am start. 7am was the ‘main’ wave – with the 6am group being for people who felt they needed the extra hour to finish, and the 8am group being for ‘outright racers’. I was definitely where I belonged!
I couldn’t hear the race briefing, so hoped that there was nothing crucial in there that I needed to know!
And away we went at 7am.
There were a few little bottlenecks early – I had forgotten about that from last year! After starting to run across Foxfield Oval we all had to slow down to a walk to get through a gate in single file!
I knew the first section would be the worst. There is approximately 2200m of elevation in the whole course, and half of it is in the first 18km. If I could make it to Norton Summit (Drink Station 2) I could make it to the end!(‘Five Peaks’ is a lie, there are more than five peaks, but three of the ‘official’ peaks – Black Hill, Rocky Hill and Norton Summit – are in that first section.)
I tried to take it relatively easy in that first section – there was nothing to be gained by going hard or trying to run up some of the hills, I needed to conserve energy for the end! Consequently there was a LOT of walking.
I reckon I tripped at least 5 times in that first section, kicked a rock into my ankle and almost went over on my ankle stepping off the edge of the road. But, I didn’t fall! (I had my cycling gloves on for protection – my hands did get quite sweaty but I thought I’d be tempting fate taking them off, so I left them on for the duration! AND I DIDN’T FALL! Winning!) I saw one guy fall and one girl fall twice, all in that first bit! And at the finish line so many of the people I spoke to had fallen – I almost felt a bit left out!
I made it up Peak 1 (Black Hill) without too much trouble, and then we reached Drink Station 1 at the base of f***ing Chapman’s Track (which leads to Peak 2). I didn’t need any refills but I asked Debbie to squirt some water on my tattoo. (I have to keep it covered up for 4 weeks. Having it covered up means more sweating!)
And then I started climbing up that f***ing hill that seems to go on forever. (I think it could be accurately renamed ‘Heartbreak Hill’ – I don’t think we have one of those in SA but much like HBH in the Sydney City to Surf run, you get to what you think is the top and are lulled into a false sense of security only to find that there is MORE UPHILL. Blah!)
I did actually think about quitting during the Chapman’s climb. But there was no real reason to, other than I just didn’t want to do it. Physically I was OK, and time was never going to be an issue (I had 8 hours 45 minutes to make cutoff at the last drink station at 49km). Plus, I was never going to stop before DS2 and once I got there, I would have broken the back of it. Further incentive for NOT quitting was the fact that I have never DNF’ed a race and I didn’t want to start now, especially with no good reason!
I did make it to Norton’s in just under 2 hours 35, about 7 minutes slower than last year. And unlike last year, I did stop for a while here – I needed to reapply my sunscreen (something that was not an issue last year) and top up my drink bottles.
Kudos to the marshals here at Norton Summit. For anyone who is not familiar, it is a very tricky intersection at the top of a hill where 5 roads meet. Cyclists and motorcyclists like riding here (I’ve done it once or twice myself!) To get across the intersection we had to do about 4 crossings, and as the road is not closed, we had to wait for a safe moment to cross. The last road crossing before the drink station, I swear I was there for about 2 minutes (it was probably more like 30 seconds) as we waited for a convoy of cars (marshal Janelle said that they’d had no traffic all day up to that point!)
After putting on my sunscreen, because it was getting quite warm by this point, I decided to ditch the arm warmers and tie them to the back of my pack in case I needed them again (also because no-one would recognise me without them!)
But the climbing was not over – far from it!
The next section was a bit shorter, ‘only’ 9km but this was the section where we had to go through Giles Conservation Park and Horsnell Gully. Somewhere along here I decided I needed help on the hills so I found myself a sturdy stick (more
like a branch) which had a nice little ‘ergonomic handle’. His name was Sticky McGee. I had originally planned to just use Sticky until the next drink station. I’d used sticks before but only for short periods and as soon as we would hit a flat or downhill section where I was able to run, I’d ditch them, because I didn’t want to carry them while trying to run. Given that I wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire when I was running, I didn’t mind running with Sticky for a bit!
We exited the conservation park onto Coach Road and then I knew that the next drink station couldn’t be far away – and the drink station was ALMOST the halfway mark! I was trotting along towards DS3 when I saw the sign that said there was
cold brew coffee and that certainly put a spring in my step!
At DS3 I had a cup of cold brew and also filled my 2 small bottles for later. Here I met up with Simon who was just ahead of me at that stage, and he said he wished he’d thought of bringing ‘takeaway bottles’ but he did have a couple of cups of coffee at the aid station. I also had some Coke – there was only a little bit left in the bottle, and it wasn’t until I’d emptied the bottle and filled my cup that I realised that was the last of the Coke that they had! Coke and cold brew, what more could you ask for? (That drink station also had cold boiled potatoes and potato chips – I had a handful of chips but didn’t fancy the potatoes on this occasion)
I’m sure it wasn’t just a coincidence that my race picked up a bit after that. I’d had some coffee, some Coke, some salty chips and I still had my friend Sticky with me.
Somewhere in the next short section (the next peak and the next drink station was 6km away at Mount Lofty Summit) I caught up with Mark, who I had run with a bit in the early stages. We are often around the same pace so we stuck together for a while. By the time we got to Mount Lofty in about 5 hours, I was pretty confident we’d make it to the end in under 8 hours (the last training run, which I’d done 2 weeks ago, only a week after Canberra, I’d done in just under 3 hours).
At Mount Lofty I caught up with Simon again for a quick selfie – that was the last I saw of him until the finish line! (I found out later that he was posting regularly on Facebook at the drink stations and the Peaks, and he probably told the story of the race better with a few photos and captions than I am telling it in many many more words!) Mount Lofty was also where I got myself some brownies – yum, thanks Maurice!
(Mount Lofty was also the drink station that I had totally missed last year. I still don’t know how I managed to miss it! Must have been in the zone!)
I decided that I’d keep Sticky with me until I got out of Cleland – I knew that once we hit Mount Barker Road there was a few kilometres downhill where I might actually be able to run properly, and I thought Sticky might hold me back!
The Cleland bit went FOR BLOODY EVER! It didn’t help that an extra 2km had been added on to the Cleland section this year – I initially thought that the TRSA Committee were just sadists (and I may have said that to a few of the committee members at the finish line) but I later found out that it was to ease the congestion at the start of the 23km event. So 23km runners, I hope you appreciated the reduced congestion – we really took one for the team there! (By the way the extra 2km was all uphill and felt like about 10km). Below is the whole course with Cleland circled, and a close up of the Cleland bit.
It was funny how many people I encountered in this section were REALLY looking forward to running on the road for a bit! (Which is weird for trail runners!)
I have an alternative theory about the extra 2km. The TRSA committee, last year and this year, have all volunteered at this event, being a new event. I’m sure some of them want to run it. So they decided to make it even more brutal than
last year, so many of the runners (like myself) would decide that they never wanted to run it again, they would instead volunteer, and then the committee would be free to run it. Then they would take out the extra bit and go back to what it was last year.
Somewhere in Cleland I lost Mark – I was sure he would catch up with me (and looked over my shoulder several times expecting to see him) but that was the last I saw of him before the end!
After what seemed like forever (and I’d be interested to know exactly how long the Cleland bit was) I thanked Sticky (Marie Kondo style!) and sent him back to his natural habitat before hitting the bitumen for a short while!
Along Mount Barker Road I saw a couple of familiar faces standing on the side of the road – Mum and Dad, who live nearby and had come out to cheer me on! I had originally told Mum that I would be finished between 7 and 8 hours (my theory
being that I should be able to do it quicker this year than last year, given the more favourable weather conditions – at that stage I hadn’t factored in the extra 2km) but when I saw them I said I couldn’t imagine finishing much under 8 hours. At that stage I still thought I was on track for sub 8 hours. It would be close, but it was doable!
Not long after catching up with Mum and Dad was the next drink station, at the end of the road section.
At this point I decided not to bother reapplying my sunscreen – it had got quite sunny and warm earlier, but it had now cooled down a bit and become quite overcast. I had sunscreen packed in my race vest, so I could stop and reapply at any time if I decided I needed to. Plus, the next (and last) drink station was ‘only’ 4km away. After passing DS5 I was kicking myself that I didn’t check
the official distance – all the drink stations had a distance marked on them, and I could then compare it with my watch to see how ‘out’ my Garmin was. (Note to newbies – GPS watches are ALWAYS out, in my experience they usually tell you you’ve gone further than you have, so you should never trust them. They are really a guide only!)
The next section was through cow paddocks and included Peak 5, Brown Hill, before descending to McElligott’s Quarry. Last year we’d had ‘close encounters’ with the cows but they seemed to be keeping a low profile this time around!
DS6 was manned by the Southern Athletic Club. The official distance was 49km and my watch said 49.3 – that’s pretty accurate! Dani helped me fill my drinks and ‘water’ my tattoo before wishing me all the best for the last section!
DS6 was followed by some downhill switchbacks before we hit the dreaded Brownhill Creek Road. It’s actually not that bad, it just seems to go on forever, and it’s a gentle but relentless climb. Luckily we spent a bit of time off the road, on trails on both sides of the road. One bit of trail was quite new – I’d run it for the first time 2 weeks ago in the final training run, and it was a nice relief from what we’d done earlier – some nice shady bits, lots of greenery and nice and gentle underfoot with pine needles.
Along here I caught up with Garry, who I hadn’t met before but I recognised his T-shirt as a 2016 UTA T-shirt, which was also my first UTA, so we chatted about that for a bit. I also noticed he (like me) still had a UTA timing tag attached to his backpack!
The end was in sight when we reached the end of the road and the Pony Ridge climb, which I mistakenly thought was the last climb. I tried power hiking up the switchbacks, because I knew that to get sub-8 I couldn’t afford to take it easy
Even though I’d run this exact section only 2 weeks earlier, I had forgotten how much climbing there was in this last section! There may have been some swearing every time I saw another bloody hill, and with every hill my sub 8 hour dream
got a little bit further away…
I think it was still on the switchbacks that I saw Gordon, who was out supporting and taking photos. He told me there was ‘only 4.5km to go’. That threw me a bit because I thought we were closer to 4km to go – I was still assuming my watch was 300m over. If I had 4.5km to go, 8 hours was looking iffy, especially if there was any more climbing to come!
Which, of course, you know there was!
I ran whenever I could, and walked when I had to. Even though normally I walk up the hills in an ultra, when I’m that close to the end I run some of the uphills as well as the downhills and the flats.
Into Belair National Park, the finish line got closer but still seemed so far away. It wasn’t until I reached Echo Tunnel (which took FOREVER) that I thought I was really near the end. Even then there was still seemingly a long way to go!
The committee had outdone themselves this year. Last year the tunnel had been lit up with fairy lights, this year as well as the fairy lights we also had disco lights! Like 2 weeks ago, I walked on the low side. A few people were walking
on the high side – rookie mistake!
Time was of the essence so I tried to power home. There were a lot of walkers out by this stage so it was challenging at times to get around people. There was one girl in front of me near the end, she was walking and I really needed to get past her, so I politely called out “Just passing on your right” (earlier in the day I’d noticed quite a few people trying to pass slower runners/walkers on single track which is a bit dangerous – this section was plenty wide enough for me to get around her safely). She didn’t seem to hear me and was totally oblivious to the fact that I was there. I’m not even sure whether or not she was in the race. So I called out again, a bit louder this time, and as I passed I noticed earbuds in her ears. I really don’t like earbuds or any kind of earphones especially during trail races, for this very reason. Even if not in a race, I prefer not to have music on the trails – I like to hear nature, after all, isn’t that kind of the point? But having music on during a race can be quite dangerous!
58.3km (or what I had assumed would be the finish line) came and went, and not long after that, the clock ticked over 8 hours.
I wasn’t far away from the finish line now – I could hear MC Karen on the mic and the cheering at the Main Oval. Time to get it done!
I crossed the line in just over 8 hours and 4 minutes. Not the sub-8 hours I’d been hoping for, but not too far off!
Other than doing more training, I can’t think of too many places I could have made up time on this race – I only stopped at the drink stations long enough to do what I needed to do, and when I looked at my time it was around 19 minutes
of stoppage time, between 6 drink stations. I ran all the bits I could run, and I didn’t stop at all other than at the drink stations. It wouldn’t have taken much to make up 4 and a bit minutes but still – there was nothing I’d obviously done ‘wrong’.
I think I only ate half of my 3 sandwiches, and one Clif bar, along with a couple of brownies and a couple of handfuls of chips. For 8 hours and 58km, that’s probably not quite enough. I think I hydrated quite well – I only ended up having
3 bottles of Gatorade, and from DS2 onwards I had one bottle of water and one bottle of Gatorade in my pack (as opposed to the 2 bottles of Gatorade I started with). I definitely had plenty of caffeine and sugar with the coffee and Coke!
I stayed at the finish line for a good few hours after that – enjoying watching the other 58km runners finish, along with the 23km runners who really looked like they were enjoying themselves, and in between, ‘debriefing’ with other 58km
runners! Luckily the weather was a bit more favourable than last year – I wouldn’t have fancied staying long under last year’s conditions!
I had one suggestion to make to the committee – an idea I had during the first section. An 18km distance, starting at Athelstone at 8am with the fast 58km runners, and finishing at Norton Summit. Maurice, one of the committee members to whom I put this suggestion, quickly saw the flaw in what I thought was a perfect plan – finishing at Norton Summit with all the traffic – not a great way to finish a race! Still, I think some people would be quite keen to give this a crack…
Thanks to all the fantastic volunteers and the TRSA committee for putting on this event. And well done to each and every person who participated in the different distance races.
I mean no disrespect to the organisers when I say I have no desire to run the ultra distance again, however I would be really keen to give the 23km a good crack next year – the 23km runners I saw cross the finish line certainly looked like they were enjoying themselves a lot more than the 58km runners!
And yeah – I don’t think trail ultras are for me. I suck at hills! Give me the track any day!