Back to the trails around Bobbin Head… despite being only 15 minutes from home my grand total running around Kuringai National Park is 2 runs, this Anzac Day Challenge race inclusive!
The event featured 3 distances, a 40k starting at Manly Dam and finishing at St Ives Showground. The other distances, 25k and 11k, both started and finished at St Ives Showground. In previous years the event included a 100k, but given how close the race is to the UTA100 I think it was a good call to drop this from the program and focus on the shorter distances. The event was hosted jointly by the guys behind the Sydney Trail Series and Mountain Sports (Is the the flattest race Mountain Sports are involved with???). Both put on great events and the involvement of Mountain Sports was enough for me to pull the trigger.
I signed up for the 25k. As much as I would have liked to do the 40k, I run the 40k trails almost daily and convenience wise, the 25k was so much better. This year my training has been completely focussed on distance on trails and efficiency and I really haven’t bothered at all with speed. I figured this would be a good opportunity to genuinely test out any speed I had and what I could maintain sustainably. The nature of the course also gave me the chance to work on running after climbing which has at times in longer races been a weakness for me.
The 25k course has a bit of everything ranging from flat fire trail, steep ascents and descents as well as stairs and some moderately technical single track. About half the course is common with the Jabulani course (albeit run in the opposite direction). Overall the course isn’t super fast (for me) because of the amount of technical single track and 700m+ of climbing but it does have some fast sections. Prerace I checked last years results: 2hrs for the win, 2:30 for about 6th with the bulk of the field streaming in after that. I felt pretty confident with 2:30 so set that as my goal time.
The race start was a luxurious 8:15am. I arrived plenty early, checked in and took a moment to remember my Grandfather who was a WW2 veteran. Lining up at the start Sean from Mountain Sports joked we must have been expecting the win standing at the front row. A good result yes but win… no.
The race got underway at a pretty solid pace and quickly descended a firetrail before joining a sealed bike path in the Wildflower Gardens. The bike path was a reasonably solid climb (definitely not a family friendly cycling path!) and towards the top I backed off a little. From the top of the bike path the course descended again on reasonably technical single track, I could see the lead bunch thanks to the switchbacks in the course but just could not seem to latch on.
After about 7k the course enters a 10k loop that features a reasonably solid climb initially before a good 4k speed section. The second half of the loop then skirted the water and whilst mostly flat is technical enough to limit speed. The first climb on the loop I took deliberately easy. Too easy. I went backwards. Once in the speed section I dialled in pretty close to marathon pace. Things felt comfortable and sustainable. The descent down to the water I continued to hammer hard. A good quad pounding was something I needed to get out of the race given my upcoming events. On the single track things slowed a bit and I proved to have my clumsy feet on, tripping but not falling several times. I also went off course (at least 2 others did too looking at the flyby’s on Strava). This didn’t really cost me too much but did require a bit of a dodgy scramble to get back onto the trail.
With the loop done, all that was left was to run the first 7k in reverse. On the big climb up from the water I decided I really needed a good drink so I stopped for a moment and polished off what was left in my bottles. A few hundred meters later an aid station appeared. At least I could refill quickly but probably should have just saved myself rather than stopping twice in a few minutes. In what seemed like an eternity, I managed to grab half a bottle of Tailwind and pushed on (Why are all the STS refill bottles so slow flowing?). Over the last 6k I picked up another couple of spots and eventually crossed the line in 2:30 so bang on target. Overall result was 14th and 6th in my Age Group. The field proved to be much deeper than last year. I was pretty tired at the finish but also felt I could have done better.
I guess the important thing is I achieved what I need to and feel pretty well set up for UTA100. Lavaredo however still looms as a much bigger challenge. I am still trying to resolve whether I go all in at UTA or hold back. At the end of the day FINISHING Lavaredo is my priority, the time isn’t so important. Top 100 at UTA would be nice however.