Saturday, 21 September 2013

Surf Coast Century 2013

Last year I watched with interest the inaugural Surf Coast Century race unfold down in Victoria on my home computer with the occasional update on Facebook and Twitter. I liked the thought of doing an ultra trail (100km) race along the coastline. When the opportunity arose for me to attend this years event I jumped at it. Surf Coast Century would be a bit different to my forte trail events. Yes it is 100km, but it is considerably flatter with just 1800m elevation gain/loss. There are long sections of dead flat running along some gorgeous coastal beaches. It would also be my first time in the Surf Coast region, let alone on the actual Surf Coast Century course.

Brian joined me for the flight from Sydney down to Avalon airport on the Friday before the event. We arrived early enough to pick up a hire car and then drove down to the RACV Torquay Resort to check-in before driving around to some sections of the course. I wouldn't call our stops course reconnaissance as they were short and sporadic, as we kept our eyes open for pink tape and red arrows. I managed to get the gist of what I would be running on the following morning. As the last of the daylight disappeared we made our way to race briefing at the Anglesea YMCA Camp. After a quick and easy registration it was time for an equally quick Q & A session with Rowan Walker (last years winner and overall record holder) and myself. I think it is good that the race organisers are doing these Q & A sessions. It gives me an opportunity to get some last minute pointers on the course and nutrition before the race. I hope people find my answers entertaining because at the end of the day it is all just simply running. The main thing is that you enjoy your running. After briefing it was a quick dinner back at the RACV Resort before an early nights sleep.
Race start.
My goal for Surf Coast Century was simply to finish in around 10 hours. I wasn't sure how I would perform on such a flat course as I suspected my lack of speed would let me down. I doubted that the course would have any features to really challenge runners and that it would be the faster endurance runner who would probably prevail. 
Andy Lee, me and Luke Kohler at the start.
Up at 4:20am Brian and I drove down to the start line at Anglesea Riverbank Park, where we meet up with some fellow New South Welshmen and Women. It's funny traveling so far to do events like this and seeing the same faces as you see at events a lot closer to home. I suppose it is reflective upon the sport and the camaraderie within it. In the dark we all meandered down from the park to the beach where the starting arch had been erected. This particular race has a unique start in that it has to be timed with the ocean tides in order to allow competitors to run along the beach and under ocean cliffs without the threat of being washed out to sea. So with the tide being 'out' we all headed south along the beach in the dark following the lead headlight for a short loop before starting out on Leg 1 in earnest.

The initial pace was solid and with a mix of solo 100km runners mixed with relay teams consisting of runners doing either 25km or 50km legs, it made running interesting. I mainly focused on the solo 100km runners who wore two red bibs, a large one on their front and a small one on their pack at the back. The girls around me at the beginning were Whitney Dagg, Lucy Bartholomew and Shona Stephenson, pretty much the girls who I suspected to be at the front. The long stretches of beach intermingled with sections of rocky outcrops meant that we were all within sight of each other. In a way it was frustrating, like running on a treadmill, as it didn't matter how much effort you put into running the gaps all seemed to remain the same and any change is position was slow and gradual. I found an inner peace on this leg watching the early morning sun rise over the ocean to my left. It wouldn't be the only time that I use my surroundings as a pleasant distraction throughout the day. I did have a good laugh on this leg when my mate Luke Kohler (running relay with Peter Tracey) caught up to me to give a surf report after going for an impromptu swim.
Leg 1. The sand was nice and firm under foot.
Coming into the first major checkpoint at Point Danger, Torquay (21km) I was greeted by a chorus of cheers from the support crews and spectators who were lining the top of the embankment at the edge of the beach waiting for the runners to arrive. Coming into the checkpoint I spotted Brian along with Shane, Belinda, Veronica, Jo and Pete. I was in and out of the checkpoint in about 15sec not wasting any time. Ultra trail running is never going to be a mainstream spectator sport.
Almost at the checkpoint.
Leg 2 had a bit more variation in terrain. After a short section of bicycle path it was back onto a mix of well groomed sandy/clayey/gravely narrow and wide single trail. There were parts of this leg that I imagined I was a mountain bike just cruising along enjoying the bends and gentle undulations. I quickly caught up with Shona and we ran together for a little while. I could see that she was struggling as our usual conversation while running was non existent. A bit further on I stopped for a nature break and got passed by Whitney. Half way along the leg I met up with Brian again at the intermediate checkpoint Ironbark Basin (32km). Brian let me know that I was just 90sec behind Whitney and urged me on. Back in my mountain bike mentality I just enjoyed the easy running on the trails all the way back down to Anglesea Riverbank Park. Not too far from the checkpoint Lucy came up beside me and after a short time running together she edged just slightly ahead before entering the checkpoint.
Easy running on Leg 2.

Another quick service at the second major checkpoint (49km) saw me leave for leg 3 just ahead of Lucy, but it didn't last very long. Lucy looked pretty focused and I'm pretty sure she had eyes for the lead. Less than a kilometer outside the checkpoint we had to cross the Great Ocean Road. Now most road crossings involve the help of traffic controllers with lolly pop signs or the use of an overpass, but to cross from one side of the road to the other required commando skills as we lay down low on our stomachs and crawled under the road bridge. All I could think was how was my larger friends running this race going to cope crawling under the bridge. Lucy drew level with me again and then pulled away slowly, again.
Great Ocean Road bridge, we had to crawl under it.
Brian met me at the 60km mark as we crossed Distillery Creek Road. The race was still really close between us girls with Whitney who was leading still just 90sec ahead. A little further on down the trail I was caught then passed by Sonia Condron. I was starting feel at this point that I had an entire beach worth of sand in my shoes, although that was not the case as my gaiters were doing a terrific job of keeping debris out. I was just feeling slow and flat. If I was going to make the podium it was because one of the girls ahead had given up and none of them were showing any signs of weakness. Even on the only big hill of the course I wasn't able to close the gap on them, although I could sense how close they were.
It was a very runnable course.

I cruised into the third major checkpoint at Moggs Creek Picnic Ground (77km). I think this was the most exuberant checkpoint given the volume of cheering as I ran in. This service was not as quick as the others and I was looking for a distraction, but I left with words of encouragement that I could still chase the other girls down. This last leg was a bit of a mixed bag of emotions and energy levels. The leg was a mix of all the days terrain so far; trail, trail, bike path, beach, trail, beach, steps, hills then finally a bit more of trail and beach. It was good to be on the final stretch with the finish line so close. At the same time I was overtaking people I was also being over taken, mostly by relay runners. The relay runners had been a source of frustration all day, not that they were getting in my way or anything, but I was doing a 100km event, therefore naturally one should get slower as fatigue sets in. While feeling fatigued in the later stages of this run along comes the fresh legged relay runners who would sneak up behind you then blast past in a cloud of dust. All I could think at the time was, "its not fair". I was tempted to reach out in the off chance they could tow me along.
Rest time.
Crossing the finish line I was happy to have been so close to my goal time, finishing in 10:01:39 for 4th place. Much credit goes to Whitney, Lucy and Sonia who all ran superbly and with hunger. These three girls were all within 7 minutes of each other, which is possibly the closest 100km trail race amongst the girls in Australia, ever!

All in all it was a great weekend away. The Surf Coast was a beautiful place to visit with nice friendly people. Rapid Ascent organised the race extremely well, from information updates, registration, briefing, course marking, aid at checkpoints, presentation and event expo. The mandatory gear list is quite reasonable, with the emphasis placed on the competitor to run with what they feel is appropriate. I think Rapid Ascent are on to a winner here at Surf Coast Century allowing people to enter a 100km event in the form of a relay. A 100kms is a long way to travel on foot, but by breaking the distance down into 50km and 25km legs it helps nurture people towards potentially stepping up to bigger distances in the future. It will be interesting seeing how many actually make the transition.

AYUP Head Torch HT13

Let me start off by saying that just like most other people, I (or my husband to be accurate) still had to purchase my AYUP head torches. I've written this because I get asked by people what is the best head torch. This is also to my husbands Aunty Bev who at the age of 80 years young is using her AYUP for her early morning runs along the beaches on Auckland's North Shore.

I first started needing a head torch when training for Sydney Trailwalker in 2007. I wasn't yet 'into' running at that stage and thought that I'd make do with a small, light weight LED head torch that fed off disposable batteries. My first impressions of using a head torch at night were mixed. I wasn't totally comfortable running at night on the streets, let alone on any fire trail or single trail. My eyes and brain took a while adjusting to running towards a small circle of light in front of me. I also noticed when running with a head torch at night that even though I thought I was going fast, in reality I had really halved my speed (clearly evident when I upgraded to a GPS watch).
Before I brought my own head torch I got the opportunity to swap and compare different head torches amongst my Trailwalker team mates and I found good and bad thing about all of them. As my running improved and I became more serious I upgraded my head torch to a more prominent brand of disposable battery powered head torch that had a slightly more powerful LED (70 lumens). I noticed the improvement, but when doing Australia's TNF100 my new head torch paled in comparison to the AYUP's that were out on the trail. The beam of light thrown out by the AYUP's just swamped my insignificant head torch, so much that I was able to turn mine off and run in me competitors extra light. At the end of the race I had made up my mind that I wanted a powerful head torch like the AYUP's. At the time I was finding it difficult to justify the price of the AYUP. The more research I did the more I found that the AYUP was the superior head torch. In the end I ended up making the purchase and am so glad that I did. I was able to light up not just a small circle of trail in front of me, but the entire bush in front of me. When running in the local streets I have cars pull over to let me pass thinking I am another vehicle. For races I now don't have to buy a new set of disposable batteries just in case the ones I have been using might be running low, because now I just recharge the AYUP battery pack before the race.

My first AYUP got a pretty good workout in the the 3 years I was using it, but after near daily use it started playing up. As it was still withing the 5 year warranty period I contacted AYUP and they were honest with me regarding the problem headset and the 2 batteries I had. The options were to replace the head set, or upgrade to the new Head Torch Kit - HT13. I'd known about the new HT13 for a few months, mainly through Marcus Warner ( who was raving about it. Marcus was saying stuff like, "its brighter than than the previous AYUP model". I was thinking, "surely not". So with recommendations like Marcus' I just had to go for the upgrade. I got to use my new Cherry Red AYUP HT13 in the week leading up to my next race, Surf Coast Century. I was pleased to discover that during those lead up runs that the new headset really was noticeably brighter. The new harness, which houses the battery and head set, contours better to my head, even with my ponytail.
Just before the start of Surf Coast Century

Using the AYUP for the first time in a race situation at Surf Coast Century was superb. The race starts as a mob start about half an hour before first light. Just about everyone had a head torch of sorts and standing amongst them with mine still turned off the sand and people around me were covered in a patchwork of light. As the count down to the race started I turned my AYUP on and the patchwork of light disappeared and in front of me was a flood of light from my own head torch. As we ran down the beach in the dark I was able to see clearly what was immediately in front of me as well as what was ahead which allowed me to pick my line well in advance. Running amongst all those other head torches no one else's light interfered with mine.