Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Bush Capital Ultra Marathon

I decided at the start of last week to have a crack at the Bush Capital Ultra Marathon in Canberra. It is an event that would tick so many boxes for me. My sister, who is expecting her first child, lives in Canberra and racing down there is always a great excuse to see her and her hubby Stevo. The whole event is also the major fundraiser for the Australian Mountain Running Teams; both short and long course teams. I was selected for the long course team on the back of TNF100 this year, but unfortunately could not accept the offer to go to Poland in August for the World Challenge. I have already committed to the World 100k Road Championship to be held in South Africa in October and another long overseas trip to Europe would be just way too much both at home and on the work front! But at least entering this event was one way I could still show my support. I was also keen to knock out a good long run; my first since the Marathon du Mont Blanc. Lastly I wanted spread the word about my new venture - the trail running camps I am hosting with Hanny Allston at Lake Crackenback Resort and Spa. So I was armed with a few flyers to distribute!

I managed to persuade Wes Gibson to come down with me and have a crack at the marathon distance event. I thought this would be a great low key race which he could go into without any expectations. Additionally it was an opportunity for him to get used to his marathon 'race pace'. He has targeted a few longer September and October races as 'A' races and this type of run I thought would do him a lot of good. The event course was changed in the last week from an out and back 21.1km course along 'Mulligan's Flat' to a double lollipopped 21.1km loop at Mt Ainslie and Mt Majura due to 'Kangaroo Management Activities'. So the course went from what could only be assumed as a flat trail run to a hilly run but at least we weren't going to be accidentally shot by crazy gun toting hunters!

All the weather reports I looked at, including this straight shooting one from John Harding, the RD, indicated that Canberra would be at its freezing best on Sunday morning. "The weather forecast for Sunday is now quite dismal: windy, cold, showers, maybe even snow, with a range of 1 to 7 degrees." Stevo was right on top of it, being an avid skiier, he was anxiously watching the weather down in the Snowys and he kept us up to date. I was hoping it was cold and snowy, but not raining. Rain can be annoying over 63.3km! I thought this would be a great opportunity to test out in race day conditions all the wonderful Inov-8 Winter apparel that I got from my time at the athlete retreat in Chamonix (full report of my time in France is coming shortly!). So I packed the whole kit and caboodle to wear before, during and after the race and would leave it to the morning to decide which combination to wear according to the conditions. One thing was already decided though; it was 3/4 tights weather!

I woke up Sunday morning to howling winds and nervously peeped out the window half expecting there to be rain or snow about but thankfully there was not. After a quick breakfast and coffee, a mad search for my beanie and phone, we were on our way. My ultra started at 7:30 and Wes's marathon at 8:30. Stevo was there as well, being wonderful support and having fun with his GoPro. And it was cold. Really cold. The windchill must've been below zero! I was wearing the Thermomid running top and my toasty warm Thermoshell outer jacket and was half tempted to start the race in it. But experience has taught me that this would be folly, as once you start running it all changes pretty quickly. Mulling around the start/finish area, it was good to run into another guy I have been coaching, Paul Cuthbert, and also Leadville bound Dave Graham who was wisely treating this as another stepping stone distance run to that great iconic US race. Very jealous Dave!

Late on the first lap, still in the Windshell
 ready to offload my beanie and outer gloves to Stevo! 
I left myself a little drop bag at the start finish in case things on the weather front went to pot in which I put mine and Wes's wet weather jackets. Although I really rate the Stormshell jacket (it got frequent use in Europe!), I was really hoping it would stay in the bag. Thankfully that's the way it stayed too. So from the start I just went with the Windshell outer layer to protect myself from being cut in half by the piercing gusts, a wrag around my neck and a beanie. I was breaking in a new pair of TrailRocs (thanks Leonie Doyle for the shoe choice tip) and the thick Injinji Trail socks were also chosen with warmth in mind!

The race briefing was, thankfully, brief, and we were soon on our way which offered some relief from the cold. Paul and another guy Richard (who was to later withdraw at the marathon distance) took the race out and I was happy to settle behind and just ease slowly into the day. The cold air was playing havoc with my breathing and I was regretting not warming up properly. But soon enough that settled down and I set about reigning in the early pace setter Richard. The effort to catch him soon warmed me up nicely and talking to Richard we both decided that the jackets could go on the second lap as it was turning into quite a fine day. I then put in a bit of a surge and gapped him to test his mettle and I was soon running on my own discovering this beautiful yet challenging little course. On the little out and back section to Mt Majura there is a stunning view of Canberra city and the surrounding ranges out to the Brindabellas and I could clearly see white dust settling on those peaks. Not quite the French Alps but very beautiful too in its own right!

I thought it was clear sailing until the approach to the end of the first (half marathon) lap when Richard came flying up behind me. He had obviously run with quite a lot a purpose on the back end of that lap to catch me and we turned around for the second lap together. After dumping my Windshell and beanie and one set of gloves (yes I doubled layered!), I decided that I didn't want this to continue so put in a strong start to the second lap with the aim of really gapping him this time. The second lap was very solid, with a period of around 10km where I was really putting in before easing off again. By the second out and back, where I could see other competitors, I was most relieved to see that the gap was large enough for me to be comfortable for the rest of the race. I was stoked to see Paul in third and Dave in fourth and knew that their endurance would hold them in good shape for the rest of the race. I was being consistent with my intake of Enduralytes. Although it was cold and my sweat rate was as a result reduced, I still needed to be mindful of replacing my electrolyte loss. I was also trying to limit my fuel intake, instead utilising this run as more of a fat burning exercise, but the extra effort on this second lap sent me reaching for my Perpetuem Solids every 40 minutes or so thereafter I was carrying in my waistbelt and these were doing the trick nicely.

Heading out for the third loop, now in the Thermomid,
Black Moutain and Telstra Tower is in the background.
By the end of the second loop I was beginning to feel the pinch, creeping in at the marathon distance a touch under 3 hours which was a little more solid than I was anticipating, especially with the M7 marathon coming up this weekend. But that is racing. At least on this third lap I could ease off the pedal a bit and roll out the last 21.1km. It's funny though that even when you ease off the pace, things can sometimes seem tougher. Indeed the 400m or so of climbing which this course threw at me on every lap was now starting to feel double that with the slower pace and I decided to just nudge it back up a gear midway through this lap to avoid this 'labouring' feeling. On the last out and back I had the pleasure of running most of the way with the female winner of the marathon Bryony McConnell who was running really well despite what I was to learn later was an unorthodox preparation (ice skating the day before!) I also got to meet some other new and old trail friends who were finishing off the marathon race which is always a highlight. Everyone is always so encouraging.

I finished in 4:45:16, which was just a nudge over 4:30km pace and very satisfied. This race ticked all the boxes for me and was well worth the trip down. I was really happy to see Wes run well too, being first across the line in the marathon race. He handled himself in a true sportsman's like manner despite what happened after the finish which I was most proud of (you can read Wes's race report here).

John Harding and his brilliant crew put on these events for us runners and I'm grateful for people like him and Phil Essem and the many others involved in the organisation and running of the day and for supporting trail and ultra running. The events on both Saturday and Sunday were in pretty testing conditions and it would have been so easy for John to just cancel the events and keep warm indoors. I've been to many of his events over the years and while low key in every sense, keep very real to the core values of our wonderful sport.

Full results here
With 2nd Placegetter in the ultra, Paul