The Jabulani Challenge came onto my radar towards the end of last year when I was planning my 2017. A solid 45k run less than 20 minutes from home and 6 weeks before UTA100 is a pretty good opportunity. I quickly dismissed it however… it was scheduled 6 days after Mt Solitary and my plan for 2017 was to avoid the back to back ultras that I have done the last 2 years with Buffalo Stampede and Mt Solitary. So I didn’t enter.
Now March is officially Sydney’s highest rainfall month but this years March was another level of wet. Come race week for Mt Solitary the excellent Running Wild committee cancelled the race. Whether or not it was the committees decision or NPWS, it didn’t matter. Races take a big toll on trails when they are wet (Evas Track Manly Dam for example) and unless organisers or racers want to become custodians over sections of trail that need regular repair and maintenance the trails need to be protected so it was a good call.
The late cancellation, of course, left me with a hole in my preparation plan for UTA and LUT, and then I remembered Jabulani. Finally, 2 days before race day I had secured my entry. No time for tapering or much else really, just show up and run.
The Jabulani starts and finishes at Bobbin Head. The setup was great and my entry transfer was relatively straight forward. With only 1 of 3 parking toll machines working, paying for parking was another matter with a 10 minute line. Oh well.
Everyone at the start looked super fit… for some reason always feel like an unfit slob who is going to get beaten up by the trail and every other runner on course. I don’t know why… its weird.
Once in the start area things were a little different. There were clearly posted areas for target times and everyone seemed to self seed really well. Runners were released in pairs ever 6 seconds, a rolling start, kind of like what Ironman uses. I think this was a great initiative and eliminated the whole conga line thing that normally occurs early on in trail races.
I was off about 30 seconds after the lead runners and cruised off easily chatting to my starting partner, the next group within sight up ahead although they were clearly pushing to try and latch on the lead pack. Before long the single track began. This type of trail would dominate the course of the next 45km. Rocky and constantly changing, demanding constant attention. Given the amount of rain we had the trail was in great condition albeit a bit slippery. About 2 km later, sure enough, one wrong foot placement and I slipped and fell. No damage done fortunately. Turns out my start partner slipped at almost the same moment and he waved me on by. Now I was running alone and arrived at the first fork in the course. 22k runners went one direction and 45’s the other, only the signs weren’t set up properly and the marshal was on the phone. Looking at the signs they both pointed kind of right I judged that the 22k sign pointed more right than the 45k sign so I went left and started climbing.
Now normally things compress when you climb and the pace slows and the next group should have only been 10secs or so behind so in theory I should have seen others coming from behind. Instead it just felt kind of lonely. Then in an instant race favourite and ultimate winner Mark Green appeared coming towards me over the ridge.
“You in the 45?”
I had wasted a couple of minutes and instantly decided to feel sorry for myself. As I re-joined the course a bunch of maybe 10 runners went through.
And then I smacked my head on a tree.
If something bad is going to happen it will inevitably be in the first 5k and I had managed 3 strikes already. I guess I was in the clear now for the next 40k so I bucked up and pushed on.
I was blown away to see, on the first out and back, that Mark was back in the lead!
I was keen for a great result and this spurred me on. I really felt like pushing on hard at this point and trying to claw back some places but this didn’t really match my race plan. 80% effort was the goal, I wanted to keep things comfortable the whole way at more like 100k+ effort than marathon effort. Come the halfway point I was comfortably holding under 6min/km average was feeling really good for the second half.
The back half maybe wasn’t as strong as I hoped however. The last 22k seemed like constant technical single track with lots of tricky descents and plenty of climbs. It felt a bit like the second last leg of UTA through Wentworth Falls. Getting into any sort of rhythm wasn’t possible. It was also getting pretty hot. I did however comfortably hold my position even if I was a bit slower than I thought I should have been.
I ended up 17th overall and 9th in my age group in a time 4:52:01. Out of about 170 starters I think this was a pretty strong result with my early detour costing me a few places. All up however I think it was exactly the run I needed heading into my longer races over the next few months.
Except for the early marshalling problem the rest of the event was run really well. Every other marshal nailed their job perfectly. In a few places the course marking was maybe a little sparse – personally I like to look up at the top of any climb and see exactly where I have to go without having to think too much. The aid stations were good and stocked well with Tailwind mixed to an appropriate strength.
In terms of gear:
– UD AK pack: just because it’s the lightest pack I have. It was nice having 2 bottles too as the day got hotter.
– TNF BTN Shirt: I haven’t always been a fan but it was great today and surprisingly comfy under my pack.
– Fusion Multisport PWR tights: These have definitely done way too many races now and are possibly starting to get threadbare to the point of being rude!
– Compressport LUT long socks: Even though I was a DNF they got me through Hounslow…
– Saucony Peregrine 6 shoes: In all honesty, I got them because they were cheap. I am usually sceptical about mainstream brands producing a specialist product like trail shoes but my Nike Terra Kigers proved you can be surprised. The Peregrine’s performance was perfect, transparent… like they weren’t even there and the race never happened. Just what a great shoe should be like. No blisters, no pain and a tonne of grip.
– Nutrition: 2 bottles of High5 Extreme, topped up with Tailwind at aid stations. A few chips and some raspberry lollies!
Hopefully this now translates into a good UTA100 and LUT.