A couple weeks ago I went for a training run around Mt Somers in preparation for this race with some good friends. It would be fair to say that the conditions were quite a contrast to what we experienced in the race last Saturday…. a Southerly front rolled on through on Friday night while we were all tucked up in bed and left us with a bit of a winter wonderland to race through.
The training run through the course was one of the first weekends in a while that I hadn’t been full on racing or training, and I was just starting to feel strong again, so I knew I was starting to get back into some good shape. I was confident, but also nervous which is a good sign heading into the race. Also the conditions played into my hands a little bit I felt, knowing that if the course was rougher it was going to suit me better. All this pre-race confidence will get yourself in a good place, but when you are standing there on the start line, there is little that you can do to prepare yourself for what everyone is about to do, so you just have to go out and do it!
Being single track and a reasonably steep incline to start with, I knew that if I could get a break on the field early I could stretch this out on the tough uphill and then further again on the technical descent. Straight of the start line, was one guy who rocketed out the front, smashing along at a horrendous pace. I slipped into second place just behind, wary of going too fast too early but also concerned that if I didn’t go with the leaders early then I might get quickly out of touch and my day would pretty much be over. As it turned out there was a little hesitation about 2mins in from the man in front and I squeezed past and into first place. From here I went with my plan to get up and away as fast as I could. The faster up the hill you can get I reckon the less painful it is and once you have crested that hill the gap in front can be deceptive enough to demoralise those behind you.
The first chance at a slight downhill, I allowed myself to glance back, the gap was a good minute, enough to relax a little bit before heading back up the hill. Then it was back to the game plan of ticking the legs over and grinding my way up the hill. It was at this point that it became evident how much snow there was going to be on the course and all that snow made for a pretty cold (but fast!) crossing of Woolshed creek!
On the way up to the saddle there was a couple of set of foot prints which made the steepest climb a little bit easier through the snow. Upon creasting the saddle I spotted the footprint makers, a couple of marshals, standing there looking quite cheery but a little cold. Just beyond them, and with a crazy view out onto the plains, the foot prints abruptly stopped. Everything in front of me was white and only the orange poles gave any indication as to how to follow the trail. The further into it, the deeper the snow got, right up to knee deep. Luckily the snow was still quite powdery and made for easy footing as I plowed my way through. Not knowing quite where to put my feet made the descent quite tricky! In some places the wet snow had bunched up on the overhanging branches which meant I was getting covered in wet snow as I pushed my way through too. Despite all this it I was really enjoying it, blazing the trail, excited that I was treated to this snowy untouched trail (and partly ruining it for those following!) with just the most amazing conditions. I really did wish I had a camera, not that I would have had time to take any photos but its something that I wont forget for a very long time.
I was slammed back to reality coming down the ridge, almost panicking that I had taken a wrong turn, then before I knew it I was slipping and sliding in the trees, battling with some minor snow-blindness! The hut came up really fast, the trees got wetter and the descent got more intense. Here and on this section I was all alone, I was fairly confident no one would catch me now. I took a few “hot” lines, not super high risk but definitely pushed it to the edge. I was pretty proud of myself to only have one small section I walked, a steep muddy and slippery bank. At Dukes knob I knew I was making good time and had just over 5km to go once I was at the end of the track, but descending the slippery tree branches to the carpark slowed me down. By the time I hot the stairs I’d already calculated that a sub two hour run was more than likely not going to happen today, so the focus went back to winning, and running as strongly as possible.
Once into the carpark I found myself surrounded by runners on the 5 and 10km courses. It was nice to have a few people around again. I really enjoyed the cross country style finish up and down the foothills, I could definitely feel my strength coming through driving me up the hill. When it came time to start descending into the finish I was met with a bit of relief to be in sight of the finish, still just under two hours. Unfortunately with 1.5kms to go the 2 hour mark ticked over. However, I stuck to my guns, striving for a fast finish and crossed the finish just over 2.05, bang on target with my predicted time.
I had a much faster time than the winner last year in much more testing conditions, but definitely more epic, and highly enjoyable! This has to be one of my favorite Mountain Races to date! Bring on the Luxmore Grunt, I’m starting to feel ready and hungry to go fast!