Thursday, November 6, 2014

Heysen 105 - As quirky as it comes!

The Heysen 105 is an ultra-trail event put on by Ben Hockings through his Yumigo! venture. Yumigo! (pronounced as YOU-ME-GO) was created to promote physical activity and the diversity of the South Australian landscape. Yumigo, if you are curious as I was, is a pidgin English word used to inspire action to "do something together".

I had only previously been to South Australia when a child, and remember it fondly. As you do, I remember the strange little quirky things about the place; the strict border control measures for fruit fly, the gigantic children's playground that I visited that would surely not pass muster these days and the abundance of big things generally. I think I collected a rocking horse, lobster and orange on that one short trip.

For a while there it looked like Izzy and I were
going to race it out for victory! Then the others turned up!
So when I was offered the chance to go over to race the Heysen 105, it didn't take much convincing. One of my little life goals is to win an ultra in every state and territory in Australia, and South Australia was still to be crossed off. That and the wine. Well it was really the chance to drink some nice wine.

The Heysen Trail is the jewel in the crown of South Australia trails. It runs from Flinders Ranges via the Adelaide Hills to Cape Jervis on the Fleurieu Peninsula and is approximately 1,200 kilometres long. The section of this trail that the race travels is particularly beautiful, with the course traversing many conservation areas, pine forests and farmlands. It is as unusual as it is beautiful. On Facebook, I gave a 25 word or less summary and it went like this:

"Sand, heat, paddocks, hay bales, cows, kangaroos, electric fences, galahs, stiles, ferns, snakes, rolling hills, pine forests, cow patties, country roads and the most friendly group of people one could want to spend time with."

Yes, quirky would be a word to describe this course! Even the distance 105km is a quirky addition in itself! But it is uniquely South Australian in every sense. I have never run a course anything really like it in Australia. The 6 Foot Track Marathon and some sections of the Great North Walk would be similar; but none can rival the Heysen105 for quirkiness. I mean I've never walked over so many stiles, dodged so many cow paddies and played the deadly game of straddling over electrified fences! Believe me, this task got increasingly challenging the longer the race went on. Guys, no one wants to ever fail at that task! 

Nadine and I were fortunate to stay with Paul Rogers and his lovely family at Mt Compass. Paul is manager of Fox Creek Wines in McLaren Vale. Paul, apart from making the most luscious Shiraz imaginable, also is a keen ultra runner himself and it was a joy to spend time with him both on this weekend and the training camp weekend a couple of months prior. He is as passionate about running as he is about making good wine and drinking good coffee! We also had another reason to visit, that being to visit Nadine's Godmother Carol and her husband Alan who also live on the Fleurieu Peninsula. We spent an enjoyable few days visiting Glenelg, Adelaide and Brighton with Carol and Alan before arriving at Paul's place.

Paul had generously offered to crew with Nadine. The night before Nadine had a premonition that I would get lost and run 110km. I was determined to prove Dan at Ultra168 wrong and show him that I can navigate a trail. I had loaded the map into my Suunto Ambit, and I was going to follow it to the T. I was thrown a couple of curve balls though with some last minute reroutes due to fire bans, a car rally taking place and a landowner who had not given permission for use of his land. So would Nadine be right? I'm afraid the answer is a resolving yes as it always is to that question.

Not 12km into the race and in the lead I was presented with a 50/50 challenge that I always seem to perform poorly in, and this case was no different! I don't think it helped that the car rally and the Heysen were using the exact same course marking ribbon as each other; and the car rally was following the actual Heysen Trail. Excuses excuses. In actual case the race at this point was taking a reroute to avoid the car rally, but I had seen one of the car rally ribbons first and just followed that. A couple of kilometres down this way and I was feeling that dreaded feeling I only know too well. So out came the maps and on the phone I got to Ben, yep I was definitely on the wrong trail!

So I backtracked and probably lost 15-20 minutes all up which of course put me back in the field and suddenly having to really think about how I was going to make up this ground up on the leaders Luke McLean and Dej Jamieson, both very handy runners. I met Luke at TNF100 and then at the 6 Inch Trail event in Western Australia last year and he was 2nd at the Heysen last year and is as impressive a person as he is a trail runner. I'm also currently coaching Dej at the moment and the last thing I wanted (well today anyway) was to be beaten by one of my athletes! 

So suddenly I went from running out in front to playing catch up which always has its traps. I kept reminding myself to be patient and resist the urge to catch them too soon. So I took my time but with a slightly higher than normal tempo trusting that they would come back to me. 

In hindsight, going off track was a blessing in disguise as it gave me the opportunity to run by and meet a lot of the field. I said g'day and they were all very encouraging. Someone asked if I was on my second lap already, to which I could only laugh. I was getting updated on how far Luke and Dej were in front and reports did vary! At CP1 at the Inman Valley I heard I was 20 minutes off Luke which sounded about right. I didn't hang around long in the CP in any case. From CP1 the trail then heads towards Sugarloaf Mountain, which I had ran on the training camp weekend. Unfortunately this was the section the landowner had not given permission to use, and as such we were rerouted around the mountain. This again made me question my navigation, and I was soon realising that following the route on my Suunto was a good idea in theory...that is if the correct route is loaded onto it in the first place. Along here I again second guessed myself and started doubling back to make sure I hadn't missed a marker! Thankfully Barry McBride, who was crewing for the female Race Ambassador Isobel Besbalov, soon drove by to confirm I was indeed on the right course. Thanks Barry! I probably would have run all the way back to the CP had you not turned up!

Just before CP2
Photo thanks to Gregory Jenkins
So off I chased again, and entering the beautiful Myponga Conservation Park, I was starting to pull in some of the other front runners and early starters. This is a cool single track section of the course, and  also contains the steepest, albeit short climbs. By the back of this section I had caught Dej, and I encouraged him to stay strong and power on as a podium was his today if he continued to race it smart.

Exiting Myponga, the course then traverses some cow paddocks, and up and over multiple stiles which was from now going to be a recurring feature of this event. By CP2 I had almost caught Luke, and after exiting the CP I spotted him on the road 100m in front. In single file we turned onto a single track and we began to run together and chat for a bit about our race to that point. Crossing a little footbridge, Luke suddenly leapt back at me and stopped in his tracks, and it was then I saw the reason why, a bloody big black snake had been on the trail. Luke had just missed stepping on it and it was as close a call to a dangerous encounter with a snake that I've had in quite a while. 

Not long after, on a climb approaching Yulte Conservation Park, Luke drifted back and I had the lead to myself again. This part of the course is also very beautiful; rugged and isolated and suddenly in my mind there was a snake hiding behind every log and corner. From Yulte, which is an all too short section of trail, the all too telling sounds of cows mooing alerts you to the dominating feature of the next section - farmlands. For about 15km the course runs on dirt roads besides, through, across and over cow paddocks. I was running through herds of bemused looking cows. I was definitely intimidated; up close cows are a big big animal and if any had decided they didn't like me, I would have been in trouble! 

The course here is really exposed and it was heating up; so I was carefully taking on board plenty of fluids and Hammer Enduralytes. I've recently been trying the new Extreme Enduralytes; basically a more concentrated form of the regular. It meant I only had to take one every hour and they were doing the trick nicely. It was an interesting part of the course with some great views of Victor Harbour and Encounter Bay but I was keen to get out of the sun and into the bush again.

The lovely fern covered trails of Mt Compass
After a bit of road running, which was a welcome relief, I arrived at CP3 where Paul and Nadine were waiting for me. I restocked my fuel and water, and ran off with Paul to the next section of the track. I think Paul was worried I would get lost again! I was on my own again soon after and running through Fern covered forests at Mt Compass. The trail was very sandy and I was seeing all sorts of wildlife such as lizards and kangaroos. To take my mind off the heat I had gotten my iPhone out and was blasting some Blind Melon tunes to keep me company. It was a couple of girls at the previous aid station dressed up as bees that gave me the idea to play their tunes. Although the girls had no idea what I was talking about when I mentioned 'No Rain' to them (I showed my age...eek) the little simple act of hearing the tunes of this most underrated band was exactly what I needed to get my mind distracted enough to keep pushing on. I've never been a big music listener when I run, but I liked it now. I wasn't using earphones, so I think this made a big difference. Previously when I have tried using earphones they get tangled and sweaty so would rather avoid the hassle. Off the sandy trail and back onto farmlands; through paddocks again, running next to giant hay bales and over stiles, eventually back onto a road where Paul and Nadine had driven to offer me encouragement (or to check I was still on the right course)! I then turned left and began the tough uphill dirt road section of Stones Ford Rd towards Mt Magnificent CP in the Lofty Ranges. 

This section was tough, with its tough little douche grade climbs and rocky terrain, I was really beginning to feel the pinch of my effort earlier when chasing down Dej and Luke. I shuffled into CP4 and was pretty fatigued. I got that awful feeling that I hadn't left enough in the tank for the last 30km or so, and I made sure I took on enough Perpetuem and Gels to get me through the last 2 legs. Thankfully though, these were the flattest of all the legs which was a welcome relief as the little undulations earlier had definitely taken their toll on me.

I found Skippy!
The last 2 legs are dominated by pine forests and forestry roads. The smell of the pines reminded me of Western States and, excuse the pun, I pined just a little for a second go on that awesome trail again. I enjoyed the last two legs, mostly through the covered Kuitpo Forest and although my pace was dropping a lot, I was still very much enjoying being out there. Eventually I reached the last CP and reminded Nadine to have a few beers ready for me at the finish line as I was definitely needing some external motivation to keep me going at this point!

The last leg was very similar to the previous, alongside and through pine forests and after nearly 10hrs I crossed the finish line a very tired and relieved runner. The race was over and I immediately began recovery as best I could, which yes, included a few beers!

It was lovely to meet, some for the second time, the great little South Australian trail running community. There were some mighty efforts out there and everyone finished with a smile on their face. It was great chatting to everyone at the finish line and I can't wait to see many of you again for TNF100! Congratulations to all finishers!

Ben Hockings has put a lot of thought and effort into making the Heysen 105 a truly unique event. Congratulations to Ben, Paul and his team of marvellous volunteers for the smooth and successful organisation of the race. With it's mixed terrain and abundance of natural and quirky challenges to keep you both interested and entertained, it should be an event on your to do list. Oh, and don't forget to visit the wineries while you're over there!

Shoes: Inov-8 Trail Roc 245s
Nutrition: Hammer Gels and Perpetuem
Electrolyte: Hammer Enduralytes Extreme 
Timings and Navigation: Suunt Ambit 2
Shorts: 2XU Elite Compression Shorts
Socks: Injinji 2.0 Trail 
Pack: UltrAspire Omega