Razorback was a last-minute call. But boy oh boy, what a blast it was! The experience further builds on my belief that planning is necessary but sometimes overrated.
My achilles and knees were still a bit tender after Delirious, but I figured a long hard run up a few hills wouldn’t hurt before Canberra 48hr. See the logic? It’s all messed up, right?!
Choosing between the 64km and the 40km, I opted for the latter, as I would like to be back in Melbourne for dinner with the family. Driving 7 hours return and running for at least that long already makes it a very long day. Having done a few alpine races before, I would never underestimate any distance up these tricky hills. Alpine running involves all dimensions that impact racing performance: distance, pace, elevation, terrain and weather. It is very different to a road marathon or even some trail races, where the trickiness of weather, terrain, and elevation is largely removed.
I am glad I opted for the 40km, as it took me over 8 hours. That was an incredibly long time for what was basically a marathon distance, albeit the 2,300-2,400m worth of climbing. At my current level of experience, it would have taken me close to 7 hours any way on this course had the weather been more gentle on us.
Hooking up with Meg and Ben before the race was a pleasant surprise. The course was unmarked, and the forecast was for a cold and windy day, possibly -3°C with 30kph wind. Well when we stood shivering at the start line at 5:30am, it was revised to be more like -12°C with wind chill and 40kph wind. What fun!
I had improved my hills running technique when spending the last day with Andy at Delirious, so I was keen to put that to practice. I covered the first 10km going up ~1,300m near the summit of Mt Feathertop in 2 hours, a good 1hr faster than a similar section at CCC/UTMB that I had completed last August. I thought to myself: “Oh, this is going to be a bloody awesome!” Feathertop was quick to tame my excitement. As soon as we got past Federation Hut by a few kms and the exposed terrain revealed the full scale of the wind up there, I quickly went from feeling upbeat to fighting for survival. I had never experienced such wind velocity before up high in a race. At times, as the wind was blowing sideways so hard, I needed to crouch down low, sometimes lying flat against a rock, to avoid being swept off my feet. I was surprised (and glad) that nobody got blown off Feathertop yesterday.
The views going up and down the summit were stunning, but I was in no mood, nor did I have enough warmth in my fingers, to pull out the phone for snaps. These photos here are from Flickr, not mine.
I had not brought my sunnies, and the direct ferocious wind in my eyes started to cause a slight loss of vision in my left. Blurriness was starting to impact how I dealt with the terrain, as I started to slip, slide and fall more often. A fall with my right knee directly hitting the ground left that part of the body slightly jarred up. My thinking at that point was fully focused on just how to get through the race, rather than the time it would take me to do so. I started slowing down even on the steep down hills. The 12km section from the Feathertop summit back to Diamantina Hut was not a gimme as expected either, with runners needing to fight hard in the wind through the many exposed sections. Later on I learnt that the top wind velocity that day was 50kph, even higher in shorter bursts. On the upside, going into the only aid station at Diamantina, I experienced what it felt like to run airborne with the tailwind. Running uphill was effortless, as the wind literally carried you upwards. All the time I was thinking, “Got to keep my feet glued to the ground. Got to keep my feet glued to the ground.” Having too much fun at such times could mean being blown off the mountain!
Inside the hut, I could barely see anything, with the sudden switch from sun glare to darkness, coupled with the temporary degradation of vision in my left eye. I took an energy bar to refuel. I had not touched one of those since last year. It would have been nice to have some real food, but such would only be wishful thinking in these types of races. Not wanting to feel too comfortable, I got going after about 10 minutes. The next 10kms or so, even though downhill and less exposed, was steep and at times technical due to fallen trees and overgrown bushes. My quads did not like that section at all, and my achilles started to hurt again big time. My body was basically saying: “Mate, remember Delirious?” And I said: “Yes, I remember!” and kept on going.
Crossing the river bridge into the last 8km with easier running back to base, I spotted a black snake, medium size, curling up enjoying the sun in the middle of the trail. I was surprised to find that it would not move away as my footsteps were near. The trail was too narrow for me to go around it, so I just stood there and watched it for a little bit. A minute later, it slithered sideways into the bush. From there on, it was uneventful to the finish line, apart from the hunger and the general soreness that I had not expected from this sort of distance.
Fighting such wind and the cold was a massive challenge for me, but I am glad I was up for it, and learnt some valuable lessons along the way.
Stay safe, people, during these times, and remember to work up a sweat every day, if physically possible. It’s the best medicine your body needs.
📸 John Finnan, icystraw, Frank Jones (Flickr)