Friday, June 21, 2013

Glow Worm Tunnel Marathon 2013

After last year's GWTM I swore I was going to stick to the half marathon this year, but there's something about this event that drew me back like a bee to honey. Last year this course chewed me up and spat me out and showed me what who was boss. I was pretty eager to get some redemption this year.

Sean and Mel from Mountain Sports have done a great job making this event in my opinion the premier trail marathon in NSW. It has everything that a good trail event needs; steep up and downs, some runnable sections, singletrack and of course spectacular scenery. The weekend festivities also includes a mountain run up, a fun run and a kids treasure hunt; welcome additions which entice whole families to camp out in the magnificent Wolgan Valley over the weekend. It's just a beautiful part of the world. I could talk for ages about how stunning this place is.

I was hosting New Zealand's finest and fellow barefootinc athlete Ruby Muir over the weekend. We cruised down on Saturday morning with the Reverend Lovejoy and made our way to camp central at Newnes to see the circus big top that is the GWTM, a multitude of tents, Sean and Mel and a hive of activity.

On Saturday, the first event of the day was the Mystery Mountain Run Up. I knew that I wasn't going to challenge the likes of Fats or Mick Donges but was keen to bust some arse up there and at the very least get some extra vert training in prior to the Mt Blanc Marathon. I took off with Wes in the first pairing of the stagger and we moved nicely through the first half of the course. The second half was beginning to feel like someone had dropped the proverbial piano on the shoulders and I was walking sections I probably shouldn't have. Before I knew it, Fats had come into view, having started a minute later, and knew that my 'dash for the cash' was over. He is just such a powerful climber. My battle now was with Wes, holding this fast improving gun off. This I managed to do...just...and then I sat back and enjoyed the spectacular vista at the top of the surrounding canyons. All we needed was an esky of beer up there.

Some great performances from Ruby, Rob Walter, Mick and Marcus who is was showing the fruits of all the hard work he's been putting in leading up to Western States (lucky guy!). It was fun for all the 14 odd minutes it lasted!

The next event up was the 6km Fun Run which I had entered as a way of supporting the weekend and also to get a few more kms in for the weekend. This was my last really big week before the Mt Blanc Marathon. I was already up to 140km in the 7 days prior to this and wanted the weekend to be the last hard hit outs before my Mt Blanc taper. I led the Fun Run all the way, only to take my customary wrong turn somewhere on the course and ended up finishing in 3rd having run an extra 800m! It was an interesting run through the derelict ruins of this once bustling mining town.

I drove home that night; keener on a warm bed rather than freezing at Newnes, and mentally prepared myself for the marathon. It was going to be tough. This is what I love doing, testing the limits and I knew that I had a big run in me. This year the course had been swapped around; the harder Pipeline track section was first and the easier Glow Worm half section last. Easier? Not really!

The start was eventful, despite me trying to take Mick and a few others the wrong way, we hit the new Philosophers Track section full of running. It was a tough way to start a race! Steep, technical climbing, I much preferred the firetrail section that this new track replaced. I was leading it out and moving well. I hit the Pipeline ascent and clicked into my climbing mode. I know this track fairly well, having spent a training day out here about a month ago, it was dryer than usual, but I was glad I was wearing the X-Talon 190s, they were giving me all the grip I needed.

Half way up the climb, Fats eased impressively past and I watched him cruise off up the climb. Andy Lee joined me in the climb up and fair to say we were both doing it pretty tough. The new course had a little out and back on the top before the descent down the other side towards Glen Davis and I just saw Fats coming back as I was heading out. I knew I had to bomb the downhill to make the ground back.

I hit the descent hard and on this type of terrain the X-Talons are worth big minutes...they come into their own and I was having an absolute ball. Soon Fats came back to me and I passed by keen to put some big time into him before the turn around where the inevitable would happen and Fats again would be in his element. The Glen Davis side climb is much longer and I was hoping for at least 2-3 minutes on Fats by Glen Davis which I thought would be enough to stick reasonably close to him on the climb back.

For better or worse, the course didn't go all the way to Glen Davis this year, and I stumbled across 'Brick' Heaton near the bottom of the descent to be told that this was the turnaround. About 30s after I turned, Fats came down which meant my lead was probably only about a minute and I knew that was no way near enough to hold off this climbing machine. Hot on his heels was Andy and a busted and bloodied Mick; this could get ugly against these mountain goats!

I dug deep and grinded the climb out; it was tough but after Fats again cruised past I held my position. I didn't see Fats on the out and back on the return so knew he had opened up a handy lead. I caned the downhill back to the start/finish, hoping to catch Fats and then start the race again on the second half. I didn't quite manage it. At the half way I was 40 seconds down on him but full of confidence. It was race on!

Well for about a minute anyway...
Coming into half way with a full head of steam. Thanks Marc for the pacing and
Adrian Bailey for the photo!
The crossing of the Wolgan River totally took me by surprise and totally knocked the wind out of my sails. Last year we crossed at the crossing across the stepping stones and I had thought that we were to do that again. Instead this year we had to cross a calf deep freezing cold river! To make matters worse, I couldn't find the trail once on the other side and I reckon I wasted a minute or so just looking around trying to find some pink ribbon. Eventually I found my way back on the track but was feeling pretty negative and now with numb feet and waterlogged socks!

I chased hard on what can only be called the king of douche grade trails in NSW, the way out on the Glow Worm Tunnel Track. Seriously, it's that annoying grade, just at the limit (unsurprisingly given the history of the track) of what a train can go up that just eats your heart away step by step. It's just so relentlessly tiring at the 3-5% incline! Eventually I stopped chasing Fats and started surviving the douche. Mentally I was gone.

I hit the tunnel and was thankful for the recovery break the compulsory walk enabled. To rub salt into my already open wound, there was not a glow worm in different to last year where there were thousands out displaying their illuminating brilliance. Exiting the tunnel, I was resolute on finishing this race well and holding my spot. I knew by the way I was feeling that there was no way I was going to catch Fats. He was in his element and it was his race to win.

The return was a struggle; the lactic build up was making for very heavy legs and although it was downhill, it didn't really feel like it. The highlight was seeing many of the half and marathon runners and it was great to get lots of encouragement and be able to give some back. I reckon anyone that completes either course has achieved something special. They're hard!!

So I managed to hold off Andy, Jono and Mick (and Ruby!) and nab 2nd spot, a very satisfying result. Post race I enjoyed a couple of beers with Wes and watched his better half Kel grab a great 6th spot in the half, as well as many other friends come in. The prize giving was a real highlight on the verandah of the Newnes Hotel.

I really enjoyed myself this weekend. Mountain Sports have created a brilliant trail running weekend. Get there and support it next won't be disappointed!