The Southern Highlands Challenge 50k. A brand new race and my first “ultra”. I probably shouldn’t have been doing it given I have the Sunshine Coast 70.3 in 2 weeks time… It didn’t matter… I needed to qualify for the Bogong 2 Hotham race and with entries having already opened 2 days earlier and only 70 spots available this race was my only real option.
And what a great option! Beautiful well prepared trails, never ending single track a sunny day and flawless organisation.
The day started at 4am in Sydney… an early wakeup to drive the 2.5hrs drive down to Wingello.
“I don’t remember agreeing to do this race!” exclaimed my sleepy wife.
Fortunately the facts were on my side. Quoting a 16/7 email:
Me… “Thinking of doing the 50k… http://www.southernhighlandschallenge.com/”
Response… “Looks good. Kids and I will have things to do. Love you
We arrived at the Wingello Forest in good time and I quickly prepped up. As usual I seemed to have a mountain of gear for what should be a very simple lightweight race. I was starting in my Salomon S-Lab Sense 3 Ultra SG shoes (can they come up with a longer name!) but had a spare pair of shoes and socks (Salomon XT S-Lab 5) to change into after the first 25k lap if things weren’t feeling right. I was wearing my new Ultimate Direction AK Vest with smaller 250ml water bottles and my last few High 5 gels. This was my first race with the UD vest and I had ditched the larger 500ml bottles it came with for the smaller ones as it just felt a little bulky in my training runs and I didn’t really like the sloshing or the UD “teets”. This race was to be well supported with 3 aid stations per lap over 2 laps although for more serious races I will probably get some compressible bottles.
Lining up at the start I still feel like the least fit person there surrounded by a bunch of #pros. Its not true but I remember that this time 12 months ago I had a single 10k race under my belt and that was it. Its strange to think I was lining up at a 50k race with a plan to not dig too deep and enjoy myself.
As the countdown started I noticed my watch was on bike mode and with a last minute switch the gun went off, I pressed start and off we went.
I started around 5min/km pace. In theory I thought I could jog at this pace all day and have a good result. The course however was actually far tougher than inspecting the race info package would suggest. The simple fact is there is almost no easy parts of the course. It was maybe 80% single track and when you weren’t descending you were climbing.
Forget about any visions of jogging along nicely graded flat fire trail with this race. And that is a good thing because that would have just been boring!
The course itself was in great condition especially given the amount of rain we have had in the last month and used the Wingello mountain bike trails – the Red Loop.
I knocked out the first lap in 2:10 and 23rd place and was feeling really good. I did a quick drink changeover and high five’d the kids and carried on. The first five 5ks of the second lap went pretty well however it was at this point I started feeling quite alone on the course and constantly kept second guessing whether I was on track. I had gone the wrong way for about 200m on the first lap so now without anyone in view ahead or behind I was very focussed on not getting lost. Its also amazing how much you miss the first time you run something so the second time was at times even more interesting.
It was about 5kms into my second lap that my pace started to drift out. Even though I knew very clearly how far was left and what the course had in store, I kept hoping that each section of single track would be the last. It just went on and on. A couple of runners passed me just after the final aid station, I was now walking hills I ran on the first lap.
Eventually however the single track did end and I was on the final 2kms of muddy fire road to the finish. My final time was 4:51:41 and I was 25/78 overall and 10/33 in my age group. A good result and importantly I was feeling pretty good recovering far quicker than after the Woodford 2 Glenbrook. Hopefully the sub 5hr form translates into similar outcome at the 70.3!
Kira didn’t get to race as she is nursing a sore knee but the kids did the 1km race and said…
“There were plenty of hills and turns but it was really fun” and “It was fun overtaking Ned”. My daughter beat my son (the eldest). She was pretty pleased!