Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Knapsack Lap Race 6hr Solo 2016

Lap races to me sound pretty boring, they probably sound pretty boring to most people. I don’t mind training on the same section of trail again and again. I give my local trails a good work out, day after day, but I usually have a break of at least a day before revisiting the same section of trail. A lap race for that matter is usually not my preferred event format. I do make an exception to my rule for Running Wild NSW's Knapsack Lap Race, for a number of reasons. Other than the obvious one being that it’s in the Blue Mountains (Glenbrook), each 5.0km lap is entirely on undulating free flowing trail. Add to this the fact that it’s held on the Australia Day Public Holiday just adds to the event’s vibrant almost party like atmosphere.

Course map. Running Wild NSW
Prior to the event kicking off there is the mandatory singing of Advance Australia Fair (national anthem), this year sung by Blue Dog (aka Wayne Gregory). We stood to attention as a gathering of runners, not singers, and the acoustics at race HQ were not fantastic, neither was the PA system, but we manage to get through it with a feeling of pride and that the awkwardness of the rendition will soon be forgotten on the impending trails.

The group start comprise of runners competing in the solo, pairs and team’s 3hr and 6hr events, all several hundred of us. The event had sold out prior to race day. It’s a little crowded at the start and runners jostle for position firstly on the grassy sports oval, then on the intermittent narrow single track, wider single track and fire trail. About halfway around the first lap most people have found their place and we all move smoothly around the trail in one big stretched out conga line.
Lap profile.
My first goal for the run was to complete 60km’s. My next was to lap Brian as many times as possible. I managed 60km’s and twice, narrowly missing out on a third.

The first few 5km loops took about 29 minutes to complete. There is a water dump at around the halfway mark, but I mostly left that alone. I usually waited until I returned to race HQ at the completion of every lap to raid the esky for food and drink before carrying on. Hanging around race HQ is dangerous as there are supporters and team mates of other runners. It makes for quite a social affair, and a wanting distraction as the race progresses. It can be all too easy to mindlessly pilfer the esky or strike up a conversation, none of which aid in the progression of the lap race.

I had company for the first 3 hours of the run. I was joined by my cousin Taylor Miles whom I ran a lot with. Taylor was better on some section of the course than I was, so the gap between us ebbed and flowed, but we were mostly within sight of each other. I didn't know how hard he was pushing during his 3 hours until I found out that he'd exhausted himself totally just before the completion of his 6th lap.

It is difficult to keep track of laps and position during this race. The first three hours are spent speculating who is in the same division, as being overtaken doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going back a position. Along with race bibs runners have their division written in black marker pen on their calves. I often found myself scanning peoples calves to help identify their race/division. A few times I got despondent after being passed, only to realise that those nicely shaved silky smooth legs belonged to a guy, not a girl. Some runners passed at such speed that it became at times little demoralising knowing how much you’re fatiguing hour by hour, lap by lap. These faster runners were clearly part of a relay or team.
Possibly the first lap, possibly the last lap. Running Wild NSW.
After the 3hr mark the trail becomes a lot less crowded as the 3hr participants depart the trail and fatigue from other 6hr runners mean that their time at race HQ is extended. I admit that it was tempting to loiter at race HQ longer than I had too. I really did struggle to leave on the last few laps.

Every consecutive lap I completed was an opportunity to improve on the next laps. First time around I was following the runners heels ahead. The second time around I had a lot more space and could see the trail ahead a lot clearer. The third time around I tried different approaches to the bends, ascents and descents. I started experimenting with what felt better and more natural for me. Some rocks I would jump off with my left foot, others with my right. I would go around certain rocks on the left, for example, because it would help keep my momentum up as I went around the upcoming bend. Sometimes I’d try something different, and if it didn’t work then I’d try something different again on the next lap. By the last few laps however my legs and mind were starting to fatigue and what worked on laps 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 were now not working so well come lap 9 onwards. Consequently I started experimenting again, to find what was more comfortable in my progressively fatiguing state.

As the 6 hour mark was nearing I'd just completed my 11th lap having just caught up with fellow Berowra Bushrunner Eric Burgess. We'd both agreed that this lap together would be our last. Unfortunatley for me I was met by Brendan Davies, who instructed me that it was my duty as an ultra runner to run to the "end" and that meant another lap. I would have debated it if I had the energy, but the crowd support seemed to be in Brendan's favour so out I went again. As it happened Eric decided to leave for another lap, he needed the extra milage with a 100miler approaching for him. After pilfering through the esky one last time I made it my focus to catch up to him ASAP. It took all my effort to catch him, but once I did it was worth it as the company was much appreciated.

It was a gruelling day out there on the trails at Knapsack. I managed 12 laps for a total of +60kms (the laps were a little longer than the specified 5kms) in 6:23:45 and the win in the Female Solo 6hr.
Eric Burgess and I at the end of our 6hrs. Karin Burgess.

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