STS Manly Dam 20k

(DISCLAIMER: This post is not yet finished!)

This was my second time running the 20k Sydney Trailrunning Series race at Manly Dam(and indeed my second time running an STS event) and, as I threatened last time I have decided to write this event up as a full blown race report. So here goes…

But first a quick weekly recap

After the Running Wild Wentworth Falls race I recovered quickly and knew it was time to ramp up my running volume as my big events drawing closer (6ft is only 3 weeks away!). Spurred on by a pretty positive result (23/156) in that race and the goal of ticking off 200km in the Strava MTS I totalled roughly 60k (STS race included). Still not a huge quantity compared to many runner on Strava! My runs included included a couple of 10k lunch runs in town which despite being almost pancake flat felt like they hurt quite a bit thanks to the heat and humidity as well as 3 days straight on the trails at home.

I also entered the Hounslow Classic… Its going to be huge!

And… Back to the Race

To get this out of the way now… Manly Dam is literally my backyard.  I run all these trails _heaps_. On one level I kind of don’t feel like I need to pay a race organiser for the privilege since realistically I’m not going to win anything ! I guess thats why this is only my second time lining up. But there is something about racing and the fact is the event is well run and organised. The race had been in my diary for ages and even though on Tuesday I decided to reallocate the money for entry to the Hounslow Classic, come Friday I had an itch to scratch and entered. The race is $75 (compared to $25 for a Running Wild event) which is kind of on the high side but I paid it and well, I have no regrets.

The Course

Three races over different distances are run on the day on a core loop with a couple of extensions.  This report is for the longest option – the 20k (There is a 30k option in March!).  All three races start down at Manly Dam proper, near the dam wall.  The 20k follows Curl Curl Creek up to the Pipeline Firetail before crossing the Wakehurst Parkway and doing a loop of Bantry Bay before returning to the start point via the eastern side of Manly Dam. The 10k course excludes the Bantry Bay loop with the 8k turning at the Curl Curl Ck Firetrail avoiding the climb up to the Pipeline. The 20k features an amazing array of biodiversity and cultural heritage between the different microclimates of Manly Dam, Bantry Bay and the high ground around the Wakehurst Parkway. Its mind-blowing that all this is so close to the CBD of Australia’s biggest city.

For me the race breaks up up into a few discrete sectors… These are my own definitions and not official in any way.

Sector 1: The First Bit (0 – 1.8k)


I think officially its called the Wildflower Track but I know it as The First Bit. The startline itself is near to the wall of Manly Dam (most Sydneysiders dont even know Manly has a dam!) at the entrance to the picnic area.

Its a big call by the organisers to have a singletrack climb so early in the race and seeding yourself at the start line and early on during the brief liaison along the road from the startline to the track. I haven’t quite nailed it yet as I always seem to be at the back end of the fast lead conga line with the next group dropped off.  This get annoying as the pace surges a lot and can take a bit of a toll.  I kind of think its better to hang back and save energy for a blast of speed later or if there are 2 waves, lead out the 2nd wave.

In terms of the race, The First Bit has a couple of short but sharp ups and downs and in clear air would be wonderful trailrunning although I have never run this section outside of the race!

The First Bit, for me, ends at the final section of Picnic area as a sector of boardwalk commences. The cover photo was taken at this point…

Sector 2: Up to the Pipeline and Over the Wakehurst (1.8k – 5.3k)


This section starts out with a section of boardwalk and well curated track alongside the Dam and eventually Curl Curl creek. Because this is one of the busiest trails in Manly Dam it is well looked after.  Once alongside the creek, the trail starts to climb and after passing a small waterfall (you probably wouldn’t notice while racing!) reaches the Curl Curl Creek Firetrail, a key part of the Manly Dam MTB loop. The 8k turns here to follow the Firetrail while the other distance continue on up to the Pipeline.  The track here starts to climb.  At times the climb is quite sharp but its all runnable.  For some reason I struggle on this section in the race and seem to not be able to get anywhere near my best times outside of racing.  This frustrates me… a lot.

After crossing underneath the pipe the 10k turns to head back to the start, the 20k continues cross the baseball fields, past the Warringah Aquatic Centre and over the Wakehurst Parkway.

Sector 3: Possums (5.3k – 6.8k)


Possums is a lovingly crafted windy single track developed for mountain bikers by mountain bikers on RMS land. It seemed to appear a couple of years ago but most recently has really been developed and looked after well.  It was on this track where one of the so called trailfairys decided to tell my the track was MTB only.  I am a firm believer in #sharethetrails and personally would be proud to see so many people enjoying my trail had I created it.  I ride this trail most rides and run it a lot and apart from this one issue have never had a problem and see everyone just out there having a good time. Beware the trailfairys.

Despite running this section of track a lot I still seem to struggle with speed through it.  The constant winding means your pace is always changing.  Its a perfect component for the race and adds great variety and helps make the race a true test of trailrunning skill. It has a very distict flavour quite different to the other sections of the race.

Sector 4: Blast past the Engravings and Down to Bantry Bay (6.8k – 9.7k)


Once out of Possums things open up along road initially and then firetail passing some aboriginal engravings.  This is the time to put on some pace. Eventually the firetrail turns to singletrack and after a couple of ups and downs passes Seaforth oval before descending down to Bantry Bay.  The single track section is great fun to run and you can hold most of your pace from the fire trail leaping down numerous short dropoffs and ruts in the track. Once you start descending properly there are stairs that are fairly spaced out and you can leap down them until the final steep descent to the small picnic area at Bantry Bay.  The Bay itself is a popular boat anchorage in Middle Harbour and once housed Sydney’s main gunpowder and ammunitions stores.  This area is still off limits.

I really enjoy this section of the run.

Sector 5: Up the Bluff (9.7k – 11.7k)


What goes down must come back up.  From the Bantry Bay Picnic Area the track continues up Bantry Bay and transitions into a steep climb up to the Bluff. Stop at the top of the Bluff and you get some amazing views of the city skyline! The climb itself gets quite steep at times and even a little bit of scrambling.  In the last year this trail has degraded quite a bit and isn’t as fast as it has been but is still very enjoyable from a trailrunning perspective and is very resilient to plenty of traffic.

This sector finishes at Ararat Reserve after a brief section of firetrail to finish the climb after the Bluff.

Sector 6: Liason Sector (11.7k – 14.1k)


This section is pretty non-descript taking you from one bit of trail to the other and making up some distance. You run across an oval and along a road back to the pedestrian bridge that crosses the Wakehurst Parkway, past the Aquatic Centre, baseball ovals and back to the Pipe. Nothing more to say really. Every race has a section like this and thats perfectly OK.

Sector 7: Charge Along Eva’s and Home (14.1k – ~19k… all measurements are GPS and the course is slightly less than 20k!)


Now its time to lay it all on the line. Once you arrive back at the pipe there is normally a bit of traffic from the 10k race.  The first time I ran the race there wasn’t so much but this time there was heaps. The dynamic can be quite interesting as I find I am overall faster then the 10k runners at this point but also more tired. Passing back under the pipeline after a brief period running alongside the pipe the race now joins Eva’s track.  At its best Eva’s is outstanding. At present its badly degraded and wet.  Still awesome to run but muddy and not sustainable for the track in the long term. Eva’s needs a plan for repair as just resting it for a while won’t achieve anything (or keep the MTB’s off). It needs to be upgraded to a multipurpose track. It doesn’t need an all in manicure just some drainage and some hardening/grading in a few spots. After Eva’s the track turns to firetrail with a short, sharp climb and descends to the Curl Curl firetrail. At this point the runners of all 3 races are back together.

The race turns off the firetrail after about 1km and gets into the final singletrack sector down to initially the edge of the Dam before one last up and down and finally running along the dam wall itself and crossing the finish.

My Race

My race went something like this… OK, Crap, OK, Good, OK, OK, Bloody Awesome… using the above sectors as a guide.

I started OK on The First Bit.  After the short road sector I guess I was something like 15-20th.  It was really wet with parts of the track resembling a waterfall we were running up following a pretty heavy downpour right before the start. The technical ups and downs slowed down things at times thanks to the wetness of the track. Before long I noticed that the runners behind had dropped out of sight and I was on the end of the line. This sector was reasonably comfortable for me although I dont enjoy the surging early in the race.

Once on the track up to the pipeline things started to go to peices for me.  Both times I have done this race something goes wrong. Both times I have struggled to get my eyes to adjust to the light (I get bright spots right in the middle of my vision making it hard to read the trail). And both times mentally I have just gone to pieces frustrated that I just don’t feel like I am racing. I put it down to pre-race nutrition but really I have no idea what is going on. Km 5 was a disaster for me!  I hauled myself up to the top of the climb far to slowly. Once under the pipe I popped a gel and suddenly found my rhythm like the last few k’s had never happened.

Onto Possums I started to enjoy myself and claw back some lost time. I really started to open up on the Firetrail past the Engravings and down to Bantry Bay posting my fastest km of the race (my slowest being 2ks earlier!). Bantry Bay is the midpoint of the race and I now felt good.  Popped another gel and charged on.  I was still a little slow coming Up the Bluff compared to what I know I am capable of but I felt measured and well in control. Everything went pretty well for the next few k’s and before long I was rejoining the traffic from the 10k race and crawling under the pipe onto Eva’s.  The muddiness of Eva’s was kind of fun.  I powered through passing the 10k runners and having a great time.  Unfortunately once Eva’s ended there is a short but steep climb on firetrail where a few of the 10k runners with fresher legs passed me back. Once back on single track I claimed those spots back and plenty more.  Compared to last race where there was virtually no traffic this race it seemed to drive me on.

I finished up with a time of 1:55:21.  This was 3m 30secs quicker than my last effort and was done on tired legs so I know there is still plenty of room for improvement. My place was 22/114. This is also the first time I have had a negative split.

Trail Custodians

Without getting into another rant I do think race organisers really have a duty of care to look after the trails they use and wherever possible not only ensure no negative impacts but generate positive legacies from their events. I guess you could argue the permit fees they pay are for this but I think there is even more of an opportunity. In the case of the STS at Manly Dam, they have the chance to make a positive contribution in a couple of areas. I feel like there is a great opportunity to reduce park use fees payable by the organisers and recognise in-kind efforts in maintaining the trails.  Kind of like the developer contributions component of major project development agreements that offset key social and environmental infrastructure delivered by developers against the land value payments. In the case of trail races the organisers get a direct benefit in having a better course and the public benefit by funds being used to directly improve the faculty of the park.

1. Eva’s track has suffered badly since the recent hazard reduction turnoffs and is in a constant state of mud (as there are no trees to draw away the water). This has been made worst with the emergance of the “Manly Dam Extended Loop” many mountain bikers have been using since the development of the “Possums” track alongside the Wakehurst Parkway. There is a better (and correct) access for the MTB’s that avoids this section of the track and many do use however  it is not universal . I think STS should have avoided Eva’s this time around given the rain and used the alternate track for the run.  I also think this is a great opportunity for the organisers to work with the council on a fix for Evas and make it sustainable because at its best, Evas is just awesome trail running.  It should be made properly MTB accessible too in the spirit of #sharethetrails. There is no reason for the majority of trails to be all access as long as they are  designed to handle the traffic.

2. Possums… Whether its a legal track or not someone puts in heaps of time curating for mountain bikes.  STS needs to reach out and look for ways to generate mutually beneficial outcomes on this track so that the #sharethetrails attitude spreads.


In short its a great event.  I am reasonably happy with my performance (pre-race nuitition aside) and will certainly line up again, although probably not in March given the 6ft Marathon is the weekend before. I know there are heaps of trail elsewhere and organisers can always go somewhere else but in the case of Manly Dam I think its a little bit of Sydney trailrunning heartland and it ends to host the race. People like racing here and it would be awesome to see STS step up and create a long term positive legacy for such a great event. I believe this approach in the long term is not only good for the trails but good for business.  The old “Its better to set a high bar and avoid regulation than set a low bar and have regulators step in” definitely applies here.

So save your pennies cause this race isn’t cheap but its worth it!


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