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.

No comments:

Post a Comment