Trials and tribulations of the KSR trail running team.
The Bogong to Hotham race is a classic test of 65km in the Victorian Alps. Amongst the challenges faced by runners are three tough long climbs including the massive Mt Bogong at 1986m, about 30km of sustained running at 1800m (at this altitude there is about 20% less oxygen available than at sea level), and searing summer temperatures (about 36ºC in Mt Beauty on the day). Add to this a stella line-up of Australia’s finest mountain runners and you have the recipe for a fantastic day in the mountains.
I went into the race with very modest goals, hoping to finish in round about 9 hours and to basically enjoy my day and savour being in some beautiful mountain scenery. My training had been sporadic in the lead up and I knew I would definitely not be duking it out for line honours. In the 9 weeks prior to the event my weekly training volumes (in hours) totalled:
4, 4, 5, 6, 1, 0, 3, 7, 2
Normally for an event like this I try and hit 8 hours a week so this was definitely a light build up.
In addition to running I have also introduced regular yoga into my training which has helped a lot with some injury issues I experienced back in September causing me to drop out of the Glasshouse 100k.
The race starts with a flat run for 3km before the long climb up the Mt Bogong staircase trail. Along here, as expected, the front runners bolted into an immediate lead and I settled in to find my own pace. At the base of the climb a couple of the volunteer marshalls were calling out race positions and I found myself in 18th place. As the climb started 5 or so other runners passed me including Beth Cardelli and Gill Fowler the two leading ladies. I was very happy with my early pace and focussed on listening to my breathing to keep a controlled effort and not worrying about what anybody else was doing.
As the climb progressed I started overtaking a few runners without increasing my effort and felt fantastic as we got higher and higher. I was actually hoping that the climb would go on for longer such was I enjoying the fast hike to the top. Sadly all good things must end and the summit cairn appeared and with it the start of the long descent to Big River. I am normally a pretty good descender but felt tentative all day today, but again accepted that my body needed to be fresh at the 50k mark and that blasting a descent after 15k was not a good strategy. On the downhill I was passed by 2 runners including Gill Fowler who I had briefly re-overtaken just after the summit.
The descent finishes at Big River a wonderfully cool mountain stream and I took the opportunity here to strip off my pack and plunge head first into the water. It felt amazing to wash off all the sweat and dust and have cold water soaking my clothes and I was re-invigorated as I hit the second big climb of the day.
On the climb I again just settled into my own pace but quickly caught and passed about 5 other runners who had obviously decided to start the race at a quicker pace and then try and hang on. The climb went by without incident and before long I was up on the high plains. The next part of the run was very different and the part that I was most worried about. 30k of basically flat runnable terrain at 1800m altitude. This was where I thought my lack of running prep would come back to bite me. However, confounding my expectations as soon as the terrain became more runnable I felt amazing and seemed to be effortlessly catching the runners ahead of me.
I met KSR teammate Ben Duffus, sidelined with injury and helping out at one of the checkpoints at about 25k and refilled my empty 2 litre water bladder and charged on to hunt down the runners ahead. Ben later told me that I was one of the only runners through 25k who had managed to consume a full 2 litres of water up to that point.
After re-passing (again!) Gill Fowler I basically ran by myself for the next 10-15k just keeping my rhythm going and focussing on nutrition and hydration. Just after the 35k checkpoint at Langfords Gap it was a pleasure to see a bunch of elite track and road runners doing their altitude training along the trails at Falls Creek. Big kudos to Aussie Olympian Ben St Lawrence who offered enthusiastic praise as I went by. This buoyed my spirits and not long after, just beyond the Omeo Rd crossing I caught my first glimpse of a string of runners ahead of me – wow I really was moving well. At Omeo Rd they also told me I was in 9th place which I didn’t actually fully believe at the time but gave me fresh impetus to keep chugging along and see if I could catch anyone else.
This year’s B2H was sponsored by Hoka, who make enormously padded running shoes; however up to this point I wasn’t aware that they also made padded trails but much to the delight of my aching feet it appeared that the next section of trail had indeed been laid by Hoka as it was covered with an inch thick of foam matting! With a springy trail underfoot and feeling strong I pressed on across the plains in pursuit of 8th place.
The next runner I passed was Andy Lee, twice TNF100 winner and much better runner than me, but sadly suffering with cramp. I was really pleased to see his name amongst the finishers, it is the sign of a true champion when you can keep going when things are not going well. After Andy I set my sights on Beth Cardelli who I eventually caught at Pole 333 and soon after that Jono O’Loughlin. Beth went on to break the ladies course record – an amazing run. Jono and I ran together down to the final creek crossing before the last climb up to Hotham. Just prior to the descent I could see two more runners ahead of me and I felt certain I would catch them as well but unfortunately my downhill legs deserted me once again and they quickly pulled away not to be seen again until the finish. Meanwhile, Jono and I took the liberty of soaking in the creek to cool off and then it was head down and slog it uphill all the way to the finish.
After a steep initial hike where I still felt very strong there were quite a few running sections further up the climb that took some seriously obscene self-cussing to get me through; however get through I did and crossed in 8h04 for 6th place. My wife had travelled down to Bright with me for the race but unfortunately she missed me finish as I had told her the best time I could possibly hope to finish in was 8h30!
I was genuinely shocked with how well I did, exceeding my expectations by quite a margin and feeling strong all day. I think I paced myself well but cannot really account for why I felt so strong through the middle 30k.
Big thanks to Delina, Matt, and Ben for hanging out for the weekend and not going through with your threat to make me a mankini out of strapping tape! Thanks to the race organisers and volunteers for putting on a great event and above all thanks to Amanda for dragging me round on a tandem on my recovery ride the next day 🙂
I was very fortunate to be given some superb gear for this race and would like to thank: