I knew there were going to be tough bits in the N2P 50km race. The first 20km involves 400m of ascent to the top of Polly’s Hill, then 400m descent down the steeper other side — and then you turn around and do it in reverse. I had my poles with me so the ascents were gentler on my body than the descents — I took the descents fairly gingerly at times to reduce the impact on my knees and quads but they still took a pounding.
As always I tried to race my own race. But I also knew that Brad and Shayne weren’t too far behind, and Rolo was ahead of me, although doing the 35km. Brad passed me down the first hill but waited for Shayne to catch up at the turnaround. I passed Rolo on the long road section on the way back to the start area, so they were all was just minutes behind me getting into the second checkpoint at the 16km point. I had a quick drink and toilet break and headed back out on the course as Brad and Shayne arrived.
The second section was a little trickier to navigate as I had noone to follow. I’d heard the race briefing which helped a little, and so when I saw the green markers for the Gold Coast Hinterland Great Walk that reassured me that I was on course. After that I headed in a straight line. I wasn’t 100% sure of myself at the first water crossing, but the person behind me assured me I was going the right way and that it was difficult to go wrong. And he was right. I kept running. The main problem with the creek crossings was that the water was very cold, and my achilles really tightened up. I didn’t do any damage, but I was aware that it was a risk. So after each successive crossing I had to slowly warm up before picking up the pace.
There was a runner in front of me who clearly wasn’t too sure she was on the right route and kept asking if we were going the right way. I reasoned that as long as I could see my helpful runner behind me, I probably was, but it was a relief when we finally saw some signs to the checkpoint pointing up the hill. On the way up the hill we introduced ourselves — it was great to meet Hiroku from Japan, and she and I would run fairly near each other for the remainder of the race. While we ran together we talked about our race goals, and I hope she has a great time at TNF 100! At the checkpoint I refilled one of my bottles with tailwind for the next 5km section.
After that checkpoint, it was back down the hill, where I saw Shayne, Brad and Rolo heading upwards about 5 minutes behind. At this point I realised I’d left my poles at the checkpoint. For a second I considered going back but realised it was only 5km until I’d collect them again and it wasn’t worth the return trip.
Back at the bottom of the hill I saw a few other runner friends, one of whom could point me in the right direction and we headed to Woonoongarra walkers’ camp. This was one of the worst sections to have left my poles behind — the walk to the camp was up a pretty steep hill! From the top it was a fun run back down again. I passed Brad and Shayne on their way up the hill, and this was the last I saw of them until their race finish. After seeing them it was a flattish run to the bottom of the Chester Road climb, and then the same trudge back up the hill again. It seemed shorter the second time, thankfully!
Back to the checkpoint, and refilled my other bottle with tailwind, retrieved my poles (exactly where I’d left them, on the table — not sure how I missed collecting them!) and headed off up the hill to the multi out and back section. This comprised lots of running up a hill, down the other side for a bit to a turnaround point where we clipped our race numbers with an orienteering punch, only to reverse the process. It was a good opportunity to see the runners you were close to, but you could also see how some people were stretching their lead (particularly if you didn’t see them again after the first out and back!). Four orienteering punches and about 10km later, it was back to the checkpoint.
I thought we’d still have 12km to go at the checkpoint but it was only 8km. The race distances were quite a bit shorter than advertised. I wasn’t too bothered, it was a tough day for it. My prediction of 6:30 hadn’t looked good for hours, and I suspect it would have been nearer 7:30 if the race had been the full 50km.
So from the checkpoint it was down to Numinbah Hall, the half way point of the Kokoda race, and this marked the only section I’d done before (had the race not been affected by the bush fire, I’d have done almost all of the course previously and might not have come back!). At the final water stop the ladies told me it was 5km to go, just half an hour. I was mildly outwardly skeptical, saying that I had already done 40km, half an hour might be a bit optimistic. And I had a feeling that the route was over a big hill, and that that definitely wouldn’t be 6 minute kms. In the end I did 12 minute kms up the hill, and struggled to do better than 7 minute kms on the way down the other side as my legs were on strike for anything other than flat or very gently downhill (and they weren’t that keen on doing that for very long).
Luckily that was pretty much the end — a couple of easy flat kms to the end and I crossed the line in 6:38. That makes it the second slowest “50km” race I’ve ever done — and it might have been a contender for the slowest had it actually been 50km. However, it was also a very tough race, with around 2500m of elevation, so it’s not too surprising.
Ultra Trail des 4 Massifs will be approximately four times worse — the struggle will be pacing each section right so that I can keep doing it. This race was definitely an eye opener for how much work I still have to do, and a great practice session, but also quite satisfying for knowing that I can go out there and complete such a run. It was another reminder of how strong I have been in the past — the last time I did the Numinbah Hall to NEEC section was after 50km and I then did another 45km after that! Having said that, I think I was much faster this time!
At the end we were able to have drinks and burgers — I didn’t really fancy a burger or a beer, but the lemonade went down well! Several of the Brisbane Trail Runners hung around to await the return of Brad and Shayne. There were some successes amongst our group — Tina won 2nd female in the 50km, and Jason came 3rd in the 35km, which was all the more astounding for having run a very strong time in the Pinnacles race the day before!