Thursday, November 21, 2013

30/50 Challenge 50k - Race Report

I woke at 3am on the Saturday race morning having a mild panic attack, and thinking that getting out of bed in 2 hours time to go race the 30/50 Challenge 50k was the last thing I wanted to do. I wasn't prepared, the beach sections would be too hard, & I just wasn't up to it.

Fortunately, I was able to get back to sleep, and when I woke at 5:00, I was in a slightly better frame of mind. The beautiful drive down the Mornington Peninsula Freeway, where the early morning fog lay like a blanket over the valley, further improved my mood.

I arrived at Rosebud about 45 minutes before the 7am start, and was getting myself organised at the back of the car, when another runner pulled up and parked next to me, and we started chatting. His name was Oliver, originally from Germany, and he had recently run the Melbourne Marathon in 3:09. Oh well, I thought, that's at least one runner ahead of me!

The 50k start line at Rosebud

I signed in, did my warm up, then dumped my outer clothes at the car and headed to the start line. I knew last year's winner Simon Marcus was running as he had commented on the event Facebook page, but had no idea of what other competition was in the race. Simon had put in some pretty good performances during the year, including a 12th at the Australian Trail Championships at Maroondah Dam in February, and a 12th at Surf Coast Century 100km in September in 10:10.

Race Director Sam Rowse sent us away on the stroke of 7, and we headed up the hill into Arthurs Seat State Park, and then quickly dropped into a steep downhill past McLarens Dam. Straight away, Simon went to the front with another runner that looked familiar, while I settled into third closely behind them. The pace was fast, and already I was breathing hard trying to keep up, and when we left the park and started the short road section, the first two started to pull away.

Soon we were back on the trail, which was quite overgrown, and dropped sharply into a tricky descent, and by the time we crossed Browns Road they had gapped me. The next 2km on Hyslops Rd was a straight, gradual uphill dirt road where I could get a good look at the distance to the two ahead, and also see that there was already a good distance back to fourth. At this point, Simon started to pull away from the other runner, who I in turn started to make ground on.

As we reached the entrance of the Mornington Peninsula National Park at 6km, I had caught the runner in second, and we introduced ourselves and started chatting. His name was Andy and I had recognized him from the Two Bays Trail Run photos. He always stuck out because his name in the results was Andy "Snake Man" Turner, which I always thought was funny. Turns out he is a qualified snake handler - a very handy man to have around on the Two Bays Trail! He was also a mate of Simon's and had finished close behind him at Surf Coast Century.

The first section of the park is known as Greens Bush, and is simply beautiful single track. Andy and I ran solidly together, enjoying the scenery before I decided to pick up the pace and see if I could get a glimpse of Marcus, but he was flying out in front, and Andy soon caught back up and we resumed our tempo, occasionally swapping the lead.

At about the 10k mark, the trail headed downhill and became more technical, and Andy cranked up the pace. At first I tried to keep up, but twice nearly fell, so I had to let him go. This was obviously his preferred terrain, and I wasn't going to wreck my race trying to match him. I almost resigned myself to trying to just keep third place, but as the trail headed uphill again, I gradually began to reel him in.

By the 15k mark at Boneo Road, we were back together again, and for the next 5k along the Bushrangers Bay track, settled in to a pattern of him making a break on the descents, then me catching up on the climbs. With 1k to go before Cape Schanck, I finally broke away and ran into the 20k aid station with a small buffer. I quickly filled my bottle, grabbed a couple of gels, and booked out of there, running hard past the famous lighthouse and up Cape Schanck Road.

Coming in to Cape Schanck at the 20k in 2nd

Here, the course left the Two Bays Trail, and joined the beginning of the Coastal Trail, following it all the way along the ocean side of the Peninsula to Portsea, where the race would finish. The 30k runners had left Cape Schanck at 8:30, only minutes before our arrival, and the next 5k of single track was crowded with runners, all of whom were terrific in moving aside to let me pass. In truth, I was slightly appalled at how quickly I had run the first 20k (1:36), and was happy to slow down occasionally where the track was narrow.

I didn't know how far Andy was behind me though, and now I had second I wanted to keep it, so I kept pushing as I ran on to the sand for the first beach section at the 26k mark, race half done. It was soon apparent that we were in for a tough day. It was nearly high tide, so it was either soft sand, or risk getting your feet wet as the waves crashed in over the harder stuff. I took a risk on the latter, knowing I had a change of shoes waiting at 32k, but it wasn't much help. Even the wet sand was pretty soft, and my shoes and socks were soon soaked and  full of sand. There was brief respite at the Gunnamatta Life Saving Club check point, but it was soon back on the beach for another 5k slog.

Andy "Snake Man" Turner

At St Andrews Beach at the 32k mark I finally saw two little blond heads sitting on the beach with their Nanna, and I ran smiling towards them, giving them both high fives, before running up to the CP, where their mum was waiting for me with change of socks and shoes, and a fresh drink and gels. I quickly changed, grabbed my bottle, and Allie gave me a quick kiss on the cheek, told me I was about ten minutes down, and sent me back down the steps to the beach for the toughest leg of the race.

The next 8k of the race was a mixture of soft sand beach running, and sand dunes or cliff-top track , and was without a doubt some of the toughest conditions I have run in. By the time the course finally headed slightly inland, I was still passing the 30k runners, but my legs felt like they were barely ticking over. But as I started to enjoy being on the single track again, I gradually increased the pace, and by the time I rolled into the Koonya CP at 43k, I felt like a new man. Surprisingly, Allie and everyone was there, as I hadn't expected to see them again until the finish, and after I refilled my bottle and downed my last gel, she came up and quietly told me that I was only five minutes down.

Runners make their way along one of the long beach sections

Up until that point I had been running scared, with a view to keeping Andy at bay for second and thinking Simon was untouchable, but for the first time I started to believe there was the slightest possibility of catching him. Still, 5 minutes sounded like a lot with only 7k to go, but I decided to give it everything, and ran hard out of the CP, and for the next 2k lengthened stride, concentrated on my breathing & cadence, and was fully focused & totally immersed in the race. And then finally, at around 45k, on some open dune trail, I rounded a corner and was rewarded with my first sighting of Simon since the 5k mark of the race.

He was about 200 metres ahead uphill and about to follow the course back into the bushland, so I lost sight of him again almost immediately, but the effect it had on me was like a shot of adrenaline. It was race on, and I ran up the hill and followed him down the track, preparing myself for one final push. At 46k, the trail dropped down to the Ocean Beach Road crossing at Sorrento back beach, where there were quite a few spectators. As I crossed the road, I heard someone say "looks like we've got a race".

I looked up ahead, and there was Simon, barely 50 metres up the trail, and not travelling quickly. I took a few seconds to compose myself, and work out a plan of attack. I know there are some who say ultra convention dictates that the passer runs with the passee for a time, exchanging pleasantries, before politely saying "do you mind if I...?", but the hell with that. I hadn't won a race since 1985, and this was going to be my day. I wanted to make it a quick kill, so I powered up the next hill, gave Simon a semi-apologetic "hey mate" as I passed, and then ran like I just stole something.

The course had a few teeth left though, and straight after clocking a 4:49 split for kilometre 47, it spat me back down to the beach for another 2km of sand. The tide had started to go out, so there was some harder sand to run on, but the slowing pace still had me looking back over my shoulder. As I approached Portsea Life Saving Club, I started to cramp, and slowed down to a walk through the soft sand that took me to the bottom of the steep stairs up to Back Beach Road.

In the lead on the final stretch of sand at Portsea back beach

I could only walk up the stairs, and it was a slow ascent, constantly looking back down along the beach seeing if I could spot Simon, but when I got to the top, I was told I had a big lead, so allowed myself the luxury of a slow jog up the hill, still wary of the ever present cramp. The final 2k was a straight downhill road section, and I ran steadily down it, knowing I had the race won, and buzzing on the feeling.

Turning onto Point Nepean Road, my feet barely touched the ground, and when I crossed the road to the foreshore reserve and saw my family there going crazy, it felt like it was a pretty good day. I crossed the line in 4:38, a new course record by 35 minutes. Simon came in 6 minutes later, and Andy was third in 4:58, also under the old course record. Jane McMillan was first female home in 5:24, breaking the old record by a matter of seconds. My new German friend Oliver was 4th individual male home in a terrific 5:33.

Full race results at:

Race finish & post race interview

When I look back at the race now, it's weird I woke with such a feeling of dread, as I can't imagine having a better day. Absolutely everything went right, from pre-race taper, fueling, hydration, and pace. I felt strong pretty much the whole day, and never had any stomach issues, or any really low points where I wanted to stop.

Men's podium - Andy Turner (3rd), Me, & Simon Marcus (2nd)

Many things played into my hands, especially Andy's fast pace through Greens Bush which kept me within striking distance of Simon. And while the seemingly endless sand was torturous, it probably suited me more than the others, as I am light, and my mid foot strike gives me better movement over the surface than those who dig in with a heel or forefoot.

While I am over the moon with the win, I am far from deluded about where it sits in the grand scheme of things. The next day there was a 50k trail race at Marysville where I would have been lucky to run top 6. And I will have to improve even further if I want to make the top ten at Two Bays, if the normal high class field shows up.

Still, a win is a win, and it was certainly a day I'll never forget. Sam and his team put on a great race, which was especially suited to people new to trail & ultra running, with pre-race training days and an evening briefing session. I certainly plan to be back to defend my title next year!

What I used

Adidas Adios 2 shoes - 0-32k
Adidas Lite Arrow shoes - 32-50k
Adidas Response 7" shorts
Adidas Climalite Cap
Ventou Elite Singlet
2 pairs Thorlo Experia Coolmax Socks - changed at 32k
500ml plastic drink bottle

6 x Shotz Gels
1 litre Torq lemon carb/electrolyte drink
1 litre Shotz electrolyte drink