Well, this is awkward. I still haven’t drafted an opening post for 2017, and here I am typing up a race report.
This is somewhat a surprise even to me, sort of. A week ago, my only race planned for the year was Buffalo Stampede in March. I had no clue that, come Sunday 15 May, I would be standing on the start line of the 2017 edition of Two Bays Trail Run.
*long post warning: I like to journal heaps of stuff, just for my own memory. To skip straight to the race report, click here. Alternatively, you can use the chapter links below.
- Chapter 1: Cape Schanck to Boneo Rd
- Chapter 2: Boneo Rd to Hyslops Rd
- Chapter 3: Hyslops Rd to Dromana
- Chapter 4: Dromana to Hyslops Rd
- Chapter 5: Hyslops Rd to Boneo Rd
- Chapter 6: Endgame
Two Bays was always going to be on my radar, not because I had any plans to participate, but because a friend of mine, LR, had signed up with a vengeance. LR was indirectly responsible for my wedding video years ago, but we met properly as running buddies thanks to Two Bays 2016 last year. In that race, we finished twenty minutes apart, roughly ten minutes either side of race cut-off in rather horrendous conditions. Unfortunately for LR, he ended up on the wrong side of that cut-off, and thus had a bit of a vendetta to settle.
I was rooting for him to even the score with the Two Bays course and so, a week out from TBT2017, I sneaked a peek at the weather forecast for Mornington. In stark contrast to the scorching 30 degrees of last year, the forecast for this year was a cool 19 degrees. The seed was sown, and for the next three days, a debated raged in my head as to whether I should give it a crack myself.
I had no specific preparation, but training for Buffalo Stampede had been going very smoothly, so in theory I had the required miles in my legs. I’d be missing out on a taper, but hey, “last damn minute” entrants can’t be choosers. The other issue was Buffalo Stampede itself. Doing a race now might mess with the training plan. And then there was the logistics of getting there – we hadn’t budgeted for accomodation, and the thought of driving to Mornington at 5am with a grumpy wife and kids in tow certainly didn’t sit well with, well, anyone. Especially not the grumpy wife and kids (love you, J!).
I tossed the idea around in my head (and over the dinner table at J on occasion) all the way until Thursday. Eventually, the itch got way too big. I cast common sense aside, and coughed up the $119 “last damn minute” entry fee, under the shadow of an eye-rolling J. Minutes after the fact, I started getting cold feet, and rationalised my moment of stupidity with the following three excuses:
- I’ll just build the race into my training schedule. If I skip my Friday run and do 20km with 600m of vert on Saturday, then the race will top that up to 76km and 2000m of vert, and it’ll be what I was going to cover over the weekend anyway.
- I can drive myself there in the morning, and I can drive myself home after no problems. That’s what I did for BLR70 anyway.
- J’s a supermum. She can handle the kids for one Sunday whilst I’m away (ok look, she actually can and does on almost a daily basis, and yes she is a supermum, but no, she certainly didn’t appreciate the thought. )
In the end, I ended up being very kindly offered a lift from LR and his buddy RW (who had incidentally met last year at Two Bays as well!). This meant that J wouldn’t have to drag herself out of bed at 0500 to come with me to the race, and then have to deal with a four-year-old and a 7-month-old in the middle of the Mornington Peninsula whilst daddy was running about dodging snakes. Instead, she could just take her time with the kids, head to church even, and then pop down to Cape Schank to pick me up and maybe even see me finish. Although there was nothing in it for her, being the amazing supportive spouse she is, J agreed to the plan!
As most impromptu attempts to tackle crazy ventures go, my race morning got off to a finicky start. Remembering the nasty heat from the previous year, I tried to be a little too clever, and decided to half-fill my hydration bladder and stick the entire thing in the freezer. This unfortunately meant that the connecting mechanism to the hose had frozen solid, and I spent around 20 minutes trying to figure out how to jam the darned hose in without ripping the bladder. In the end, I gave up, and figured I’d try again when we got to the start line – hopefully the mechanism would have thawed out a little. However, I was now running late to meet up with LR and RW, and so I chucked all my gear into the boot and floored the gas to RW’s place, which thankfully was less than 10 minutes away.
I was dreading the guilty stares, and started apologising as soon as I got out of the car. However, my much more punctual companions were both very forgiving and if they were at all annoyed, they hid it well! Instead, I was greeted with sleepy but cheery smiles, and we all bundled into RW’s car for the long drive down.
RW predicted long queues for the toilet at Cape Schanck, so a collective decision was made to stop at a roadhouse along the M3, where we ran into a volunteer already decked out in her Two Bays bandana. “Are you doing the 56 or the 28?” she called out. LR mentioned that we were doing the 56, to which she responded “Well, I’ll see you twice then!”.
We arrived at Cape Schanck after an otherwise uneventful drive, much of which was spent with RW sharing some of his extensive knowledge of the Buffalo Stampede course – he’s run the ultra on a couple of occasions before, and will also be attempting the grand slam this year, so it was great to hear his veteran’s perspective. On arrival, we were the second car to be ushered into the alternative parking spot (meaning it was my fault we’d missed the prime lots!).
My first thought was to try and connect my hydration bladder, and thankfully that worked fine. The drama wasn’t over though, as I discovered that my race bib was missing its timing tag. I triple checked the envelope which I had just pulled it out of, but there was no sign of it anywhere. I hurried over to the registration desk at the start line, where the helpful registration team sorted me out by giving me a bib from someone who hadn’t shown up. Mo, if you’re reading this, I took your bib round the course for you. Hope you’re alright and maybe see you next year!
With that settled, all that was left was to wait for the countdown. Although I was treating this as a “training run”, I could feel a growing excitement welling up in my chest as pre-race atmosphere began to grow. Having only just signed up a few days prior, I hadn’t really formulated a proper strategy. In my head, the plan was roughly to take it a touch easier on the first half, hammer the descent into Dromana, and weather and legs permitting, run most of the Greens Bush section. I figured, despite having a potentially slower top speed, those changes would be more than enough to make a decent improvement on last year’s time.
I was standing in almost the exact same spot I had been in 2016 when the countdown went off. An eerie feeling of deja vu kicked in as, for the second time, I shuffled with the crowd though the starting chute and out through the giant blue inflatable archway to the sound of hoots of excitement from my fellow runners. This time, however, there was no glowing fireball in the sky. Instead, it was coated with a thick grey layer of cloud, and a cool, gentle sea breeze wafted over the trail. A touch gloomy, but as far as I was concerned, a good sign of things to come!
I stuck with LR and RW for the first couple of kilometers, just enjoying the cool weather and listening in on a lengthy conversation on barefoot running that LR started up with a gentleman who was running in flip flops.
Just like last year, progress was more or less dictated by the crowd as the narrow, twisty and undulating cliffside track slowly began to sort out the 200+ runners that were trying to politely share the trail and enjoy the run at their own pace. Overtaking opportunities were scarce and often awkward, but trail runners being the awesome people that they are, were all too happy to give way as and when they could.
On one such opportunity, I missed the window to pass a bunch just after LR and RW got through. I slowly worked my way through the chain of people, but by the time I had gotten through, they were well ahead. I also noticed at this point that we had been doing sub-6 minute ks along the undulating trail, and that my heart was racing at 185bpm. LR and RW looked like they were having a jog in the park, merrily chatting away and making it look almost effortless – a sobering thing for me to note particularly given they were both in the next age bracket up.
I decided to do the safer thing and took things down a notch, letting them pull ahead. Sticking with them was contrary to my plan to keep this as a training run, and I could also quite possibly have ended up with my first DNF – something I wasn’t keen on adding to my running experiences just yet, particularly not on a race I’d signed up for on a whim. Over the next couple of kms or so, they gradually opened up the gap, and I started to focus more on keeping my own pace comfortable.
Before long, we were through the tunnel of seaside shrubbery, and the train arrived at the infamous “stairway to heaven/spontaneous poetry etc etc…”. “Do we have to come back up this later?”, the lady just behind me asked her companion in a worried tone. “Uh huh”, came the flat reply, and I could almost feel the disappointment in the sigh that followed. I almost chuckled out loud, recalling how my heart sank at seeing those stairs on the return leg last year.
From there, the trail turned inland, and began a gentle staggered climb towards Boneo Road over the next couple of kilometers. The gradients weren’t anything ridiculous, so I was able to keep up a decent jog / power hike for much of this segment, whilst enjoying the sound of the forest and the birds in the morning. Despite the seemingly dense canopy above, a pleasant breeze managed to filter its way down to the trail, keeping things refreshingly cool.
Eventually, the trail opened up into a sandy mess, and dropped down into the Boneo Road aid station, to the ever-enthusiastic sound of cheers and cowbells by the wonderful volunteers and crew. As I passed through, I was offered a choice of Vfuel gel flavours. Unfortunately, there was no maple bacon in stock, so I ended up just grabbing choc brownie, which I stuffed into my pack for later.
Out of the checkpoint and across the road, the trail entered Greens bush, descending slightly before diverting left off the actual two bays track. The little diversion was necessary to avoid the oncoming horde of 28k runners. It then sent us up a long, uneventful climb through the forest. This is a section I struggle to remember in any significant detail, despite having done it twice now. The one thing I do remember from this bit of the track, is when it spat us out into a wide open dirt track at the top, giving us a change in scenery, with open, sweeping views of the surrounding grassland and a very welcome breeze. There was no fiery sea of grassy gold this year, thanks to the overcast sky, but since that meant temperatures stayed comfortably low, I was grateful all the same. I stretched out my arms, savouring the cooling wind that was sweeping over the open trail.
A quick right-left directed by some well placed trail markings brought us on to the long straight bit of dirt track that runs parallel to the Two Bays trail in Greens Bush. The parallel grooves cut by by vehicular traffic were a bit sandy, so I tried as far as possible to run along the grassy hump in the middle. At this point, I noticed a tall, lanky dark skinned chap with a familiar unique gait, wearing an LTR top (I’ll refer to him as Lanky LTR from now on). As chance would have it, I had first seen him at that very spot last year – clearly we were both being quite consistent in our relative pacing!
There were quite a few folk in LTR apparel around that day – I made a mental note to join one of the club runs this year, having been a FB group lurker for the longest time. Lysterfield is my favourite haunt – just that I am a Saturday regular and the club meets on Sundays – unfortunately clashing with my religious commitments!
The trail was slightly undulating, and at the crests I could see a fair distance ahead. There was no sign of LR or RW, and I figured they must have at least a ten minute lead on me at the rate they had been going. Big kudos to them! Despite the cooler temperatures, I was certainly feeling some leftover fatigue from the 20kms the day before, so the legs were definitely not feeling as springy as they could be. I settled down into my steady rhythmn and started to zone out.
The next aid station arrived almost too soon – at only 3-4km from the previous station, I’m not sure that we really needed any re-supplying, but verbal encouragement is always a welcome commodity on a long trail race, and the ever-cheery Two Bays vollies are at the top of the game when it comes to that. A quick stop to top up my soft flask, and it was back on the trail.
The trail continued somewhat monotonously along its near arrow-straight northward progress. Somewhere along this stretch, I felt a sudden and very uncomfortable buildup of gas in my gut. Confident that I was alone, I let it rip. Just as the very audible buzz faded, I heard approaching steps behind, and was promptly passed by someone. If not for that heavy tan I’d picked up over the summer training, I’m sure I would have looked like a ripe tomato. I looked straight ahead plodded along, and pretending as hard as I could that nothing had happened.
The trail eventually turned to the east, and then climbed gently for a bit as we approached the turnoff to Hyslops Road. Somewhere along this stretch, I passed a couple walking hand in hand, music blasting away. The lady looked a bit shaky. Not quite limping, but there was something odd about the way her right leg was striding through. The gentleman was being very encouraging, and nothing seemed amiss, so I passed by and left them to their romantic moment, slightly jealous as J has always viewed these endeavours as borderline insane.
I saw a big piece of two bays signage pointing off to the left, and was very confused when Lanky LTR, the runner he was chatting with, and another lady LTR seemed to ignore the signage and continue along the track. Somewhat unsure, I slowed to a halt and chirped up “Errr… wrong way?”. I was clearly too softspoken as I got absolutely no reaction from the three as they plodded further and further away. It took a sharp hoot and some yelling from some of the others around to get their attention and redirect them back on track.
There was more deja vu in store for me as we arrived at the sandy bit of track just before Hyslops Road. Nevermind the poetry inspiring stairs at the end of the race – in my opinion, this is the one part of the course I would gladly do away with. It was effectively uphill beach running, but without the ocean view or sea breeze. I slowed down to a timid trot, taking care not to scoop up any sand into my shoes. A gentleman beside me started up a conversation about my trekking poles, saying how he thought initially that it would be silly to carry them for such a short race, but then mused on retrospect that, given how light they were, perhaps there was some wisdom after all.
I may well have been the only person with poles that day, but to me, they are an integral part of any hilly footrace. At just 140g they would, for all intents and purposes, dissapear once stashed in the handy 4d pole holders on my Salomon pack. Besides, I knew my legs would be thanking them when tackling the uphill sections of Arthur’s Seat!
To my great relief, the sandy nightmare did not last long, and the sound of cowbells began wafting through the trees. The Hyslops Road checkpoint had moved up to the Greens Bush end this year, and the thought of some refreshment was most tantalising. As usual, the welcome into the checkpoint was stellar. I grabbed a couple of chips and a cookie, and then it was down Hyslops Road for the first major descent of the day!
After plodding along for the better part of two hours, it was nice to open up the stride a little and get the legs up to a relatively high cadence again. We were now nearly a third in to the race, and there was still no sign of the sun peeking out from behind the clouds. I ran all the way to Browns Road. Things were looking good!
Hoping across Browns Road, I got to warm up the quads on a bit of a steep descent down the first bit of the Stephanie Rennick Walk, and the poles got their first real test on the sharp climb up the Duells Road side. Taking care to stomp on the foot washing mats, I also stopped for a snake and a cookie before the next descent down Duells Road for a brief visit back into civilisation.
While it was a pleasant day for a trot through the streets of Rosebud, the tarmac surface felt exceptionally harsh in contrast to the dirt roads and soft, sandy trails we’d just come off. Still, it was a good chance to pick up a bit of speed. I think I recognised the lady from the roadhouse in the morning at the Waterfall Gully roundabout, and I waved as I went past. I’m not so sure that she recognised me, but there were words of encouragement and good cheer nevertheless! Just a few metres on, I was offered a snake by a couple of vollies just before the turnoff into the bush, something I just couldn’t resist.
Munching on the fruity, gummy goodness, I started down the approach to McLaren’s Dam. Looking across the gully, I got a clear glimpse of the climb up to Arthur’s Seat – a wall of pain that awaited us on the other side of the dam. This time, in contrast to last year, I felt ready. The cool weather and vigilant hydration meant that I felt much fresher, and just having cleared it once it before meant that it was that little bit less daunting. I scampered across the dam, watching the reeds dancing in the breeze.
“You came prepared!”, I heard one of the spectators comment as I freed my poles from their bindings. Ever since I first discovered how useful they could be on a mountain hike two years ago, the skinny lengths of carbon had become my main weapon in overcoming long, steep climbs. I have a sedentary job and a family of four, with no other relatives in the state to give any support. What little time my dear wife affords me to spend by myself, I want to spend running – not doing weights.
The impact of all these means that, relatively speaking, I have rather wimpy glutes, which doesn’t work out well for hilly runs – the sort I love the most! The poles let me get some propulsion from my arms, but also keep my posture upright and efficient, coaxing the most out of my underperforming legs. And with them weighing a mere 140+g, it would have to be a very flat race for me to decide to leave them at home.
I noticed immediately heading up the first steep stretch that I felt much better than I had at this point in the race last year. I wasn’t going faster than those around me, but looking at the grimmaces on the faces around me, I somehow felt like I was enjoying myself a bit more. I knew better though – more often than not, the contorted face of a trail runner dragging themselves up a hill conceals an inner joy. It is oblivious to the outside observer, but deep down, the runner knows that they wouldn’t want to be anywhere else!
I started keeping pace with a lady in front of me who was making steady progress, thinking I’d follow her all the way to the top. She had other ideas, however, and as soon as the gradient eased off, she broke into a jog. My first reflex was to follow suit, but I quickly reminded myself that this was really just a training run, and if I blew myself out going too fast, it would not only have consequences for my finish time, but potentially for my post race recovery and thus Buffalo Stampede!
The hill seemed to drag forever. The gradient wasn’t bad, but it went on and on – each turn or crest revealing another long stretch of climbing. I started getting a touch frustrated, as I was really looking forward to the big descent down into Dromana. A couple more people passed me, breathing heavily and eyes focused onwards and upwards. They were clearly keen to get the climb over quickly too!
About 2/3 of the way up, Francesco, the race leader came rocketing down in the opposite direction. He looked a bit tired, but he was still flying and definitely did not look like he would be out of steam anytime soon. Just under minute later, the second and third place runners came charging down in hot pursuit. I’ve been at this whole trail/footrace thing for a couple of years now, and it still blows me away that people can cover this sort of terrain at that pace!
At long last, we came to the park sign marking the sharp left towards Dromana. This came with a teaser 20m descent, and I savoured the feeling of my muscles loosening up as my feet could finaly get their cadence up. Once that was over, it was another short bit of climbing to the peak, some minor undulations and then finally, I found myself rolling down the descent into town.
The run down Arthur’s Seat into Dromana is the highlight of this race for me. It’s why I will probably never do the 28km edition – that would be to me like going to Pancake Parlour and only ordering the salad. Sure, it might be a great salad, but it’s still missing the point. That feeling of letting gravity pull you down the hill while your brain and eyes try frantically try to plot your next few footfalls, leaning into the bends and jumping down the stairs – it’s like being a kid in a playground all over again.
By this time, the faster end of the pack was steadily making their way up the hill. There was lots of exchanging of words – encouragement from them, and admiration from me. The expressions were varied – some cheery and some grim and sweaty, but all of them had the same determined eyes. I tried my best to greet each person by name, and as I progressed further down, I noticed that there were quite a number of other people called “Chris”. I started thinking, if I got a dollar for each Chris I see, I might have my race fee covered. That wasn’t really the case, though. As it turned out, I wouldn’t even have been able to buy lunch at McDonalds. There were six of us all up doing the 56, and I was the slowest Chris of the lot.
As I neared the trailhead, the gradient eased out, and shortly after, I found myself running on the harsh tarmac surface of Latrobe Parade. Taking advantage of the better grip and more stable surface, I tipped a bit further forward and turned the cadence up another notch. Scores of people were now coming up the road in the opposite direction. I was certainly expecting to see LR and RW coming up the other way, and I kept my eyes peeled all the way down the hill.
With the majority of the runners having come through, the turnaround point was relatively empty. After hi fiving one of the adorable kids waiting at the side of the chute, I trotted into the aid station, ran up to the big Two Bays bell and gave the cord an enthusiastic tug. The sounds of chatter and cheering promptly disappeared, replaced by a monotonous hum in my left ear. Note to self – be gentle with the bell next time. Or wear earplugs!
As my hearing slowly returned, I turned my attention to the supplies on the table. Sure enough, LR and RW there both there, taking a bit of a breather and topping up their supplies. They looked to be in good shape! After a quick greeting, I chugged down a bit of coke and stuffed a banana down my throat. I was done with my resupply in a minute or so, but LR and RW looked like they were in no hurry at all. I pondered whether I should wait for them, but I figured that given how fast they were moving, they would probably catch me anyway. I needed to give myself enough time to take it easy on the way back, so I decided to get a head start. With that, I bade them a temporary goodbye and headed back out to face the long climb back up the big bad hill.
I had cleared the first half of the race in 3h 15 minutes, about two minutes slower than last year. If I was to see any improvement in my time, it was all going to happen in this next half. I felt reasonably good, but more importantly, there were no blazing sunrays beating down on me. No mirage swirling over the surface of the tarmac. The air flowing over my skin was cool and refreshing. It was such a stark contrast to the prior year, and I fancied my chances.
I jogged the first km or so, and then decided to play it conservatively and walk the rest of the way up to the peak of the climb. I strode up the road, the carbide tips of my poles clicking away on the asphalt surface. Part way up, just before the bridge over the freeway, a young man caught up with me and stopped to chat for a bit, saying how glad he was the weather was great. He hadn’t run in 2016, but he had certainly heard all about it. The weather certainly had been a common topic in most of the small talk I’d had throughout the day, and quite rightly so given how near perfect the conditions were.
The tail end runners were still trickling down when I left the road. I saw the handholding couple, and tried to offer some encouragement, saying “Just under 2 kms to go, you can make it!”. They just smiled and kept moving. The last runner I saw heading down was a lady in green. She was moving well, but looked close to tears. To get to the end and turnaround before the 3:45 cutoff, she would have to run sub-5min ks. I tried to think of something encouraging and sensitive to say, but in the end, all I could come up with was “Keep going!”. Hopefully she made it!
The weather was already making a huge difference. I was still playing it conservative, so there were no silly running attempts up the big hill, but I was moving really well and there were no signs of cramping, excessive sweating or too much fatigue. I met the rear end sweepers on their way down, just as I reached the spot with the gap in the trees and a nice, windowed view out over the bay. I joined the queue (of two) to ask Frankie (hope I got his name right!) if he would take photos of us with the view out to the bay in the background, to which he kindly obliged. I ended up stopping far longer than I intended, thanks to being photobombed by two ladies who were admiring the view!
A little further up the track, I came across someone sitting by the side of the track, vigorously massaging and stretching his calves. His legs were seizing up, so I offered him a few salt tablets which he gratefully accepted. Recalling my own experience last last year, and how a kindly stranger saved my race in a simlar manner, I was more than happy to pass on the good turn.
Things were going very well, and I was almost surprised when the trail popped out into an open grassy area, and I found myself staring down the descent to Mclaren’s Dam. I had made up for the slower first half and was already ten minutes ahead of last year’s pace. To my delight, there was still no sign of the sun coming out from behind the thick blanket of cloud above, and a very refreshing breeze was blowing up the corridor of trees.
Stashing the poles away, I started the long but enjoyable tumble down the grassy slope, pausing only briefly to capture a photo of the view over Rosebud as we approached the dam. Trotting down the last steep bit, I passed some people who were gingerly making their way down the softer dirt singletrack on the right, not that it mattered, since most of them passed me later on in the course, but I was pleased to note that my quads were still holding up well – a big confidence booster.
Scuttling across the dam for the second time, I tried to take a couple of shots with the GoPro. In the process, I ended up awkwardly dropping the camera, bringing my momentum to a tumbling halt as I slammed on the brakes and twisted awkwardly down to retrieve the gadget lying in the dust. As I did so, I felt a jolt in my shoulder and suddenly the right side of my back threatened to lock into a cramp. I quickly stretched it out, and thankfully, the tension subsided and the pain never returned. Relieved, I carried on up the track, and eventually found myself greeting the volunteers on Waterfall Gully Road for the second time.
Once again, big cheers and encouragement as we were pointed left at the roundabout, ushered by a little blue rubber snake on the side of the road. I have to say, the Two Bays course is nice, but nothing out of the ordinary. It’s not particularly hilly, lots of runnable bits and nice views here and there, but it also has its big share of dull bits, and if the weather is hot, well, it can be a bit of a beast. There are two things that make Two Bays stand out from all the others:
- The volunteers are dripping with enthusiasm, and it almost feels like they want you to complete the course more than you do yourself.
- The race is organised meticulously, but without that cold, corporate feel. Lots of warm and fuzzy throughout the process.
It’s no wonder there’s always such a big turnout, despite the risk of boiling weather in January!
My legs had held up well thus for, but it was during this return leg through Rosebud, just after the boardwalk section, that the first real signs of fatigue started to appear. Nothing major, and certainly not heat related, but the legs definitely started to feel a bit heavy and dead, and instead of lightly trotting along the hard, paved surface of the streets of Rosebud, I found myself pounding heavily, with my feet starting to ache from the impact. I slowed to a walk up one of the gentle inclines to try and recover a little.
I took the opportunity to survey the surrounds. There weren’t too many other runners in the vicinity. There were a couple of guys just behind me, and up ahead was an asian lady in a bright yellow top, that looked a bit like a bicycle jersey. I could tell that although everyone seemed to be going well, they were now trying to conserve energy, as there was almost no chatting along this stretch, except maybe a few brief words with a lady in a white tank top climbing back up Duells Rd. Everyone was just running along quietly and minding their own business, and it did feel a bit unusual, but I took the chance to just disappear into my own head and enjoy the very lovely weather we were having.
At the top of Duells Rd was the foot washing station, where the volunteers kindly helped me top my my water flask. I took the chance to rest the legs out a little, but most of the loose bunch I was running with just went straight through. Once bottles were filled and legs rested, it was back through the Stefanie Rennick Walk.
The little rest turned out to be not such a good idea, as my quads had stiffened up slightly, making the sharp drop down somewhat uncomfortable. I thought about trying to catch up with the bunch up ahead, but once again reminded myself – training run, training run, training run! Trying to make up the two minutes or so on this next undulating stretch, particularly with the climb back up to Browns Road ahead, would be doing my legs no favours in the long term.
I glanced at the watch: 4:42 with 18 kilometers or so to go. Improving on last year’s time would be easy, but I wondered if I might be able to sneak in under 7 hours this time without blowing myself out. With that, I popped a gel and a salt cap, and hauled myself up the short but sharp ascent to Browns Road.
As noted earlier, the aid station had moved to the other end of Hyslops Road, but there was still a small army of spectators and volunteers at the Browns Road crossing. Lots of words of encouragement, much clapping and the clanging of cowbells – always a boost to the morale. One of the supporters was wearing a towel round his shoulders. As I approached him, he came up to me saying, “Good job mate, keep it up!” I noticed he had a number pinned to his shorts, turns out he had pulled out of the race due to cramping. I thanked him and wished him better luck next year, and turned to notice a queue of cars on either side of the crossing, with the traffic wardens waving me through. There were no other runners around – I was single handedly holding up the traffic!
Slightly embarassed, I scuttled across Browns Road, and settled into a jog up the relatively flat first third of Hyslops Road. Not too far down, I came across another fellow stretching out his calves, and helped him out with a salt cap. As I did so, I had a quick peek in the container. I had around six or so left, which I figured should be just enough to get me to the finish line on my current hydration strategy. I jogged on up the road until I noticed my heart rate starting to creep up, then pulled out the poles and hiked the rest of the way to the aid station.
Nearing the top end, I pulled out my phone for a photo, and noticed a missed call and a text from J saying to call urgently. It turned out that she had woken up that morning, and on seeing my car missing from the driveway, had thought that it might have been stolen! My bad – I had neglected to tell her that I would be driving over to RW’s place, rather than being picked up.
I rocked up to the aid station and was offered some soft drink, which I politely declined, and instead went straight for the food. A couple of snakes and a cookie later, I was on my way through Greens Bush.
The next ten or so KMs through Greens Bush were paramount to my plan. Last year it had taken me almost 95 minutes of cramping, limping and hobbling through 30C temps in the shade to get through this otherwise very runnable section. With the temperature more than ten degrees lower, I knew this was going to be very different.
And so it was. In stark contrast to the struggle last year, Greens Bush was a cruise. I made sure to soak in sights and surrounds as I floated down the trail, taking full advantage of the long, gradual flowing descents though the lush ferny forest. The rustling of the breeze in the leaves, the laughter of the kookaburruas, the clearings lined with purple flowers, beautiful things that I had completely missed in 2016 with my head in stuck a boiler.
I was so immersed in the sights and sounds that I almost stumbled into someone walking along one of the many runnable stretches in this section. He mentioned that his calves were cramping up, and was delighted when I offered him a salt pill. Although I was now tapping in to my reserves, with only around 10kms to go, I reckoned I could stretch my remaining supply.
Eventually, the surroundings began to open up, offering sweeping views into the surrounding valley and farmland. This was a sure sign that the Boneo Rd aid station was not far ahead. At this point, I was entwined in a game of leapfrog with a couple of other runners as we elected to walk and run different sections of the trail. As we approached Boneo Road, the sound of music, cowbells and cheering melted the fatigue in my legs, and I put on a spurt, dashing across the road in to the aid station, almost 20 minutes faster than I had done the previous year.
I was handed a deliciously cold cola zooper dooper and misted generously by a little girl with a spray bottle. In my enthusiasm to get out of the aid station as fast as possible, I ended up downing the slushy icy mess a tad too quick, resulting in an agonizing case of brain freeze. I chuckled to myself – last year I had suffered a different sort of food mishap at this very same point in the race, that time involving a large mouthful of pretzels. Chucking the empty tube in the bin, I set off up the sandy track to face the final 6 kms to the finish line.
My net time was 6h 23min coming out of the aid station, which meant that I had 37 minutes to cover the last 6kms to the finish line if I wanted to finish under 7h. In my current state of fatigue, it was just do-able, but I would have to push hard through the fatigue – something I wasn’t all that keen on doing. Regardless, I stuck to a steady jog for almost the entire first 3 Kms, clearing it in about 17 minutes or so. In the process, I passed the asian lady in yellow and Lanky LTR – two people I hadn’t seen in quite a while.
A glimpse of Bushranger Bay down below signaled the iminent arrival of the infamous stairway to spontaneous poetry. This time, however, I was in much better condition, and with poles in hand, I very unpoetically made short work of them.
3 short and undulating kilometres remained between me and the puffy blue archway that marked the end of my journey, and I had 20 minutes to clear them, just a touch over 6min/km. Easy peasy on any normal day, but with 73kms in them from the last 48h, my legs were starting to feel a bit like waterlogged sponges. I ignored the discomfort entirely and started running.
The uphill undulations of this last stretch were miniscule compared to what the course had been throwing at us, but each felt like its a mountain in itself. Pushing all thoughts of fatigue and tiredness aside, I focused on moving as fast as I could. Jog the ups, run the downs, I kept repeating in my head.
The trail began to get crowded with walkers and tourists, a sure sign that I was closing in on the destination. Then, came the view of the lighthouse towering over the clifftop scrub. Scampering down the final descent, there were about half a dozen kids lining the final approach to the finish chute, handing out high fives and calls of “Good job!”. Glancing around, there was no sign of my family, so I figured they must have still been on their way in.
Dashing up the last stretch of dirt track, I bounded into the finsh chute. As I rounded the corner, I saw the race clock ticking over to 7:00:19. I had missed the 7h gun time mark, but I had no idea whether I was still in it for a sub 7h net time. Not wanting to chance it, I mustered what strength I had left and made a mad break for the finish line.
I stood in the shade of the finishing tent, heart pounding as one of the volunteers draped my second Two Bays medal round my neck. One of the crew pointed behind me. I turned around and to my delight, there was E, running across the finish line just behind me. My family had arrived just in time to see my finish line dash! It was the perfect end to a wonderful day out on the trails.
We hung around the finish line for a bit, waiting for RW and LR to arrive, bumping into LR’s wife, TR and their two lovely daughters.They came in around 17 minutes later, crossing the line hand in hand with LR’s kids in a photo finish, and carving a massive 53 minutes off their 2016 times.
When the results came out that evening, I held my breath as I searched for my bib number. Lo and behold:
I was one second shy of a sub 7h run. Perhaps next time, I’ll leave the darned camera at home!