I am going to go with a short form report for the Mt Solitary Ultra. Not because the event isn’t worthy of a full report, it is, but as I was still recovering from Buffalo Stampede I just wasn’t able to properly take it in. I need to spend more time on the course to give it a description that is worthy of the course. And I need to really tackle the race really hard!
I entered Mt Solitary Ultra a bit on impulse and without a proper calendar check. I had already entered the Buffalo Stampede and didn’t realise they were back to back. I couldn’t help myself when they announced there was big news coming. Its a run I have really wanted to do for a long time and it was put on by Running Wild. I love Running Wild events! I have previously reported on the Kedumba Half and Wentworth Falls 16k.
I had planned to run Mt Solitary as a training run on a number of weekends in the past but the weather consistently put a stop to it. That was a good thing because I almost certainly would have got lost!
Turns out the big news was the race was worth 1 UTMB qualifying point. If you look at how the system works and relative values a 1 point race could pretty much be a 0 point race. I guess its still a great measure of how tough the course is (The Buffalo Stampede Skymarathon doesn’t qualify). Mt Solitary Ultra is consistently brutal.
Race day started like most Blue Mountains races for me… at 4am in Sydney. Clear roads got me to Queen Vic hospital at Wentworth Falls where the start was located not long after 5:30 so I had a bit of time to semi-nap prior to checkin at 6am. Getting checked in early was a good move as the Ultra had a mandatory gear check which took a bit of time and even at 6am there was a bit of a wait.
As the sun came up it was obvious it was going to be a spectacular day. It had rained pretty heavily overnight in the mountains and everything just sparkles when the sun comes out.
A big highlight of the day was the Welcome to Country ceremony provided by David King who reminded us of the value of the country we would soon traverse.
Pretty soon we were away. The race descends the same firetrail as the Kedumba Half before turning off and eventually joining a single track down to a fairly shallow river crossing. I put in a few km around 4:15 not pushing particularly hard but not cruising either. I find it better on my quads to not fight the descent too much. The overnight rain had left the singletrack very greasy. I was immediately regretting wearing my Hokas (for the second race in a row!). In this case the problem is with the rocker and no lugs in the midfoot there is no grip until you transition onto your toe or heel. When you are descending you can go from having grip to sliding and then gripped again.
After the creek crossing and a very short moment of loosing the course markings the climb up Mt Solitary commenced. It is pretty solid. The instant the climb started my legs confirmed they weren’t racing today. Not surprising since they were pretty sore post Buffalo until Thursday. I set off on a comfortable pace letting runners behind pass fairly regularly. I find having runners behind me a little annoying and much prefer to be in my own space. The steepest section of the ascent comes between km 9 and 10. Looking up it is pretty daunting and there are sections that are steeper than anything at the Buffalo Skymarathon. This km ascends 282m, just 9m shy of the steepest km on the climb up to Clear Spot at Buffalo. At this point there was a Marshall congratulating everyone that they had made it. Pretty good to hear as you approach but once you passed him and looked up you realised it was in fact not over. “This is the end of the steep bit” he clarified!
Across the top of Mt Solitary is a real experience and another negative strike for the Hoka’s. The footbeds started sliding around and bunching up inside the shoe. Very Annoying. The track up there is rarely clear and/or obvious and it is broken with plenty of twists, turns, ups and downs. The course marking was very well done. It is a hard place to get into any real rhythm.
The views up here are stunning. I am so annoyed I didn’t stop and take pics.
The descent is really cool. Proper rock descending with plenty of caution required. At the top of the descent a hiker had let me know I was in 68th. With about 200 starters I was pretty happy with this given my fairly restrained effort levels.
Once off Solitary the course follows a well used hiking track. This section is pretty flat but my legs just had nothing in them. Through this section I had convinced myself I would retire at the mid race aid station at the top of Furber Steps. The mental challenges of these events are often as tough as the physical ones.
The course then passes through a rocky landslide area known as Federal Pass (I think!) which is pretty technical. The Hokas weren’t really suited to this terrain either. My feet felt like they were all over the place and I was constantly worried about slipping.
The course then hits the boardwalks of Scenic World and the infamous Furber Steps. The top of the stairs is the race mid point. There is an aid station and gear check before the course heads straight back down. These steps are the final km of The North Face 100. An important reminder of why I was running this race in the first place. To both get critical miles in my tired legs and to run some of the course. I took the stairs pretty steadily and made full use of the hand rails! The smiles on the runners descending the stairs made it certain I wouldn’t be stopping.
The second half of the course runs the final leg of the TNF100 in reverse. This was a great chance to see a really critical part of the course even if it is in the opposite direction. The course was super muddy and slippery. I was all over the place. Hoka’s…they just don’t grip like my Salomon SGs Another gear check in the Leura Forest and course finally opened back out onto firetrail.
The firetrail was finally a chance for the Hoka’s to shine. Too bad I simply couldn’t push them!
Finally the ascent up Kedumba arrived and I was going slow. That was OK. I had no intention of pushing my legs into the hurt zone and I had achieved my goals for the day. The finish after 45k was as usual very sweet.
Mt Solitary Ultra was once again a big piece of Running Wild goodness. They just nail it every time. I really feel like I could happily just run their events over and over. I knocked off several important goals…
- I finally got to run Mt Solitary
- I got in back to back tough weekend runs
- I tested myself mentally
- I tested my gear on the TNF100 course
- I ran key sections of the TNF100 (albeit in reverse)
I kind of start a taper for TNF100 now. I say “kind of”, because I have snuck a 10k road race into my program in 2 weeks time, so it will be more like 2 weeks of just focussing on speed and then 2 weeks of taper. My only concern now is gear for the TNF100. I have pretty heavily invested myself in my Hoka’s both breaking them in and race proving them. But they have let me down on the terrain I enjoy most and I am not convinced the massive reductions in fatigue outweigh the other issues and mental frustration. Same goes for my Compressport gear. They are fantastic in terms of fatigue, on my quads especially, but they are constantly sliding down and chafing in the worst possible place. I can’t see myself wearing them for 100k. After 2 long races using Hammer nutrition, I can say I am pretty happy with the Sustained Energy product. Their gel however is “just ok”. Its not terrible like Gu and its just as easy on my stomach as Hi-5 but I seem to struggle to get through it for some reason and it seems to lack a real kick to it.