Saturday, 8 October 2016

Hounslow Classic Ultra 2016

For me the lead up to this year's Hounslow Classic Ultra (68km, +/-4500m) had been some what relaxed. After my efforts at the BUFF Epic Trail and lingering leg issue I wasn't sure if I should register for the Hounslow Classic. Consequently I bided my time and left it quite late to enter the ultra distance race.
Running off Lockleys Pylon. Aurora Images.
The weeks between the BUFF Epic Trail and Hounslow Classic I continued to run as I usually do, racking up my usual mileage on the trails. There was no intensity in these runs and I enjoyed a lot of them with my people friends and my fury friends. The issue I had with the leg from my European trip remained but I was able to avoid aggravating it during this time. Better still, was that I hadn't committed to run yet and I didn't feel depressed about my casual lead-in to the race. I still managed however to get onto the Hounslow course regularly on weekends and familiarise myself with the steep descents (more like drops) and ascents (more like climbs).
The descent off Du Faur Head (Lockleys Pylon side) down to Blue Gum Forest. Training Run.
My commitment to finally register for the ultra came from a number of decisions. The year was still far from over, though Christmas decorations have already started appearing in the shops. I didn't want to end the year without doing one more event. So far in 2016 I hadn't done an ANZ Skyrace. Brian wanted to help out Mountain Sport by sweeping the shorter 21km course, so we were likely to be up at the event anyway. I had no other race lined up for the foreseeable future, so could risk aggravating my leg before having a proper rest period afterwards. So after weighing it all up I committed to the challenge of competing in Australia's toughest ultramarathon, as appointed by
The tree bridge crossing Govetts Creek at Blue Gum Forest. Training run.
Although the preceding week to the race was a short week due to the Monday being a public holiday, I made it seem even shorter by heading up to Katoomba after work on Thursday night. It's always an awesome feeling to sleep in Katoomba knowing that you are already at your destination and that the travelling is already done. I found it so relaxing that I risked sleeping the whole of Friday away. Once I finally managed to motivate myself, I travelled up to Allview Escape, Blackheath, which was this years event race hub. The uninterrupted views from this location gave runners and spectators spectacular view of the Grose Valley. The lawn at Allview Escape extends to the top of the escarpment from which there are direct lines of sight to many of the course's prominent features, such as Evans Lookout, Junction Rock, Pulpit Rock, Lockleys Pylon and the Pinnacles, the course's halfway/turnaround point. Each of these locations were tantalisingly close (within 8kms as the crow flies) but would take many hours of concentration and hard work to reach.

The Hounslow Classic Ultra is an out and back course, which is far from boring. The course sees runners drop in and out of the Grose Valley four times. Each descent and subsequent ascent is unique in its own way and just as much concentration is required going down as it is going up, though going up definitely takes longer to do. The technicality of the terrain is a good leveller bringing those who can run fast back to those that can run the technical trails, with the biggest advantage given to energetic hikers. 
Andrew Layson (Berowra Bushrunner President) and me before the ultra start.
Come race morning we were greeted with perfect weather that revealed the gorgeous views that would accompany us runners throughout most of the day. Even though I've seen the view hundreds of times before, I'm still mesmerised by it. Unfortunately I wasn't at the start line to gaze, but to race, and when we all finally headed off the pace was sensibly dictated by eventual race winner Loughlinn Kennedy. After a short section of fire trail to allow us to self seed, we dropped down onto the single clifftop trail and followed it towards Govetts Leap, last years race hub. I found myself running close to the ever cheerful Lou Clifton. Race previews had ousted local girl Lou as a potential podium finisher and rightly so as she is having a stellar year on the ANZ Skyrunning circuit with strong results. Even though this was a race and technically we were competing, we still managed to keep a pace where we could run together and chat like we would during a training run. It was really quite enjoyable to be able to do this on the trails with a friend.
The start line at Allview Escape, Blackheath, is spectacular.

The well formed clifftop trail continued past Govetts Leap along to Evans Lookout carpark, then around to Neats Glen before starting the first big descent down into the Grand Canyon. Arguably one of the most picturesque walking tracks in the Blue Mountains, the Grand Canyon track slowly deteriorates the further you descend. There are sections that are well landscaped, then there are sections that have succumbed to land slips. All this is easily traversed but care needs to be exercised. As the trail started to become more technical I stuck to a pace that was comfortable for me. My conversation with Lou ended near the landslide section where I passed her then started to edge ahead. Once at the bottom of the Grand Canyon I followed the level single trail and the river down to Junction Rock, which marked the start of the days first big ascent back up to Govetts Leap via Rodriguez Pass. Joseph Dorph caught me at this point and took off out off sight. I'd spend the rest of the day trying to catch him. This ascent up to Govetts Leap gets steeper and steeper, starting with a gentle grade which turns into more frequent series of steps which in themselves get steeper and steeper, before arriving at the base of a vertical cliff and a trail which cuts across its face. On the ascent I caught and passed Jason Martin, but not before having a brief chat. Ahead I could now see Joseph, whom I knew I could catch and over took him at the falls. Joseph stayed right behind me all the way to the top. None of this happened quickly as the motion of running changed to a jog, then hands on knees power walk until finally reaching the top. I had a long day ahead and there was no use going out too hard at this early stage of the race.

Lou Clifton and I having a chat while running through the Grand Canyon track.
After completing the first big ascent and reaching Govetts Leap, the route retraces the clifftop track back to the race hub at Allview Escape where I met up with Brian to refuel. This first loop (21km) took me 2hrs 36mins to complete and was just a warm-up for what was to come.
Coming back to the race hub. Junction Rock is in the valley below. Ben Duffus.
I left the check point before Joseph and it wasn't long before he caught up again and we ran together for a while until Pulpit Rock where he left me for good. This next section of the course around to Perrys Lookdown is really the only runnable section of the trail as it follows a reasonably well graded dirt road. It's one of the few opportunities for the faster runners to stretch their legs and not be hindered by rocks, tree roots, branches, tourists, shrubs, etc. I was expecting to be passed by runners along this section, especially since I have a habit of slacking off when running by myself, but even with my relatively slow pace I managed to keep my position in the field.

The "runnable" part of the course between Allview Escape and Perrys Lookdown. Scott Hawker.
Most of my training runs on the course occurred between Perrys Lookdown and Lockleys Pylon. The two points are only 5kms apart, however between them is a 600m descent down to Blue Gum Forest then another 600m ascent back up the other side. This section of trail provides one of the best training grounds in the Blue Mountains for vert vs distance. On the climb up to Lockleys Pylon I could feel the effects of the Spring sun on my body. The day was reasonably warm and much of the trail up to Lockleys Pylon is exposed. The usual energy I have at this point on my training runs was starting to diminish and my lackadaisical training routine for this race was starting to show. Shortly after reaching Lockleys Pylon I was passed by Loughlinn Kennedy and Danny Garrett travelling in the opposite direction. They looked like they were running on top of each other and neither were relenting. Both these guys were leading the race and were on their return journey towards the finish line. Joseph was the next person I saw, in third place, on the out and back which meant he must have over taken a couple of runners. The 3km run out to the Pinnacles, turnaround point, was becoming a chore. I could feel my feet starting to become heavy and although the trail was reasonably flat, the exposed rocks were hampering my stride. On a few occasions I felt that my issues from the BUFF Epic Trail were preparing to make a come back, but I felt that I couldn't go much slower else Lou would surely have caught back up to me.
The volunteers at the Pinnacles checkpoint were very helpful.
The return journey from the Pinnacles back to Perry's Lookdown took 9mins longer than the out journey. At the time it felt like a lot longer as I was sure that I slowing down. As I'd passed Lou between the Pinnacles and Lockley Pylon on the return journey I knew where I sat in the field relative to everyone else. I didn't want to reduce the intensity, but at the same time I could still feel the weather sapping my energy. My nutrition plan was out the door by the time I was back at Perrys as I was finding it difficult to force food down. By the time the sun finally started to abate on the return journey to Allview Escape, the effects on my nutrition had done its damage. Solid food was no longer an option and I was left to my trusted cordial.
Sean Greenhill (RD) checking that I was alright before heading out on the last loop.
The final descent back down from Govetts Leap to Junction Rock was slow going. The spring in my step had gone. From Junction Rock there was just one more substantial climb back up into Grand Canyon. There wasn't much running going on along this section. My movements were coarse and I felt like I was in a hike-a-thon. At the back of my mind I wanted to finish the course in daylight and I used this as my motivation to keep going.

The hike-a-thon back up the Grand Canyon track. Ben Duffus.
It was a huge relief to emerge from the darkening Grand Canyon track and see that there was enough daylight to get back to Allview Escape. The weather had changed while I was in the canyon and the sun had been replaced with a cold heavy air as a cold weather front had come through. Along the clifftop track I was forced to start running in order to keep myself warm, such was the sudden drop in temperature. To my disappointment the cold air had brought a light fog that now concealed the view. At least I got to enjoy it earlier in the day when I was fresher and could afford lifting my eyes up from the trail. Now in my exhausted state my eyes were firmly focused on the trail ahead.
Yes Sean, those mountains look much bigger from my perspective. Maggie Jones.
After 10hrs 24mins I finally made it back to Allview Escape for the fourth and final time that day, 1st female and 4th overall. The final loop had taken me 44mins longer than the first time. I felt spent. I apologise to Sean Greenhill, Race Director, for not being more accommodating in his finish line interview, but to be honest all I wanted to do was have a spew, and I didn't think that it would be appropriate to do it in front of everyone. On the bright side, it is amazing how good you can feel after purging the system.
Hounslow Classic Ultra Podium. L-R Lou Clifton 2nd, me 1st, Lucy Bartholomew 3rd, Danny Garrett 2nd, Loughlinn Kennedy 1st, Joseph Dorph 3rd. La Sportiva Australia.
For anyone looking at a stand out Skyrunning event that is different to anything on the Australian trail running scene then this is my pick. It has big climbs with technical trails that reward runners with more technical running ability over those with flat out speed.
I found it easier to carry the food rather than consume it. Aurora Images.
La Sportiva Akasha shoes.
La Sportiva T-shirt
La Sportiva Snap Short
La Sportiva Trail Gloves
La Sportiva H9eadband
Ultimate Direction Adventure Vesta 3.0.
Ultimate Direction Body Bottle.
Ultimate Direction cap


  1. Hi Beth

    How’s it going?

    Sorry I couldn't find your contact details, so messaging here.

    Just letting you know you’ve been nominated for the RunUltra Suunto Blogger Awards. You’ll soon be added to the list here:

    For more information on the awards please head over to this guide:

    Cheers and good luck

    Luke Jarmey

    RunUltra Community Manager

  2. Inspirational Blog! Hey Beth, you are inspiring many readers by your achievements. Thanks for sharing your adventurous journey with us.

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