Monday, September 24, 2012

Salt, sand, and scrub at the 2012 Surf Coast Century

This past weekend brought together all the elements of why I love trail running. It was a weekend with friends I had not seen since The North Face 100km race in May. We came from our various homes on the east coast of Australia, travelling south for the inaugural Surf Coast Century. The event was staged along a stretch of dramatic southern coastline reaching west from Melbourne. Having just returned from Europe, nothing felt better than being by the beach, enjoying the good weather, and having a swim in some salty surf!

Some of the coastline that made up the Surf Coast Century course:

Evening sun on sandstone:

Native Australian flora along the trail:

Some of the race course ran along the scrub* on this cliff top:

I had initially signed up to run the race in a team with my friend Samantha, but at the last minute plans changed, opening up the opportunity for me to run with my Salomon Australia team mates. We had 2 days before the race which we spent around the table eating amazing salads and avocado toasties, out on the trails, in the local coffee shop (I would highly recommend the Red Till in Anglesea), down at the beach, learning to surf, napping, cooking, joking around, getting excited about all the different races we wanted to race next year, and talking about the places we still wanted to explore. 

By the time race day arrived the whole team was focused on having fun, running well, and more importantly, encouraging and cheering on the other competitors. Like so many of the established trail races in Australia, I felt that this event had succeeded in bringing together a bunch of like-minded, like-souled people for a day of laughing, sweating, sand, and mud.

Personally, I was really happy to only run the last 23km leg of the 100km event as my body has been feeling a deep tiredness that needs some quality rest time before tackling the goals of next year! I was also happy to finish the day with enough energy to enjoy the atmosphere at the finish line, to enjoy an evening BBQ with friends, and to return the next day to run 14km in the last race of the Salomon Trail Series.

The race start:

With Mick, after he had run the first leg of the race (Photo courtesy of Oli Wilson): 

Running along the beach with my team mate Matt, very different terrain from what I usually run on (Photo courtesy of Oli Wilson): 

At the finish line with the whole team. We placed 3rd team overall, 1st mixed (Photo courtesy of Oli Wilson):

Some night time spectating (Photo courtesy of Matt Cooper):

Fantastic crowd at race 4 of the Salomon Trail Series (Photo courtesy of Oli Wilson):

At the finish line of the 14km race with my friend Leeah (Photo courtesy of Oli Wilson):

Thank you to Sam, John, and the team at Rapid Ascent for staging a great event, and to Naima, Fabi, Sam, Jackson, and Oli  (team awesome) for hosting a lovely weekend, and never-ending enthusiasm and energy.

For a more detailed account on the race and how it unfolded read Trail Runner Mag's account here.

*Scrub: Noun Australian native vegetation, similar to bush, but with fewer and shorter trees.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Alpine majesty at the MountainMan 2012

It has been 3 weeks since I ran the Mountainman Ultra in Switzerland, and with all the travelling, returning home to Australia, and getting back to my daily rhythms, it has taken me a while to sit down and reflect on all I saw and experienced during my time spent amongst alpine cows, flowers and peaks. Simply put, the race is epic. It is 80km of amazing trail running in the mountains ringing Lake Lucerne, and with most of the trails above 1500m, you cannot escape the absolute majesty of being amongst geological giants.

I found myself in Alpnachstadt, on the shores of Lake Lucerne, awake at 3.30am with a dozen other runners with whom I had shared a dormitory. Shortly we would travel by bus, train, and gondola up to Trubsee, a mountain lake at the foot of Mt Titlus, at 1796m. This would be our race start for the 2012 Mountainman, a race that holds the motto: A true mountainwoman travels the entire way alone on foot. 

Elevation profile - 5000m of height gain.
The race course, one of the most scenic, with continual views down into valleys, and across lakes to peaks beyond:

Everything about the race would end up being a huge experience for me, from the difficulty of the climbs, the effects of running at a higher elevation, the heat of the sun (~35 degrees), my neverending thirst, and the immense satisfaction that I felt when finished. 

I started the race feeling very competitive, planning to 'give it' and really maximise on pushing hard up the hills. 'It's only 80km,' I thought, believing that a shorter than normal distance would somehow make it easier. Hah! My previous race had only been 3 weeks prior, and although I thought I would be rested and recovered, I don't think I was. This comes down to experience though, and I am so happy that each year I have new opportunities to learn about my body and mind, to test my strengths and weaknesses, and to work on those for the next race.

The race start begins immediately with a 500m climb up to Jochpass:

At the 35km mark, just before the first 'big' climb of the day, a 1000m hike up from Brunig to Schonbuel, I decided slow the pace. I had been working hard to maintain 5th place, and with the heat increasing in intensity, decided that I would enjoy this one and focus on finishing. This change in focus meant that I could worry less about taking a little more time at the aid stations to rehydrate, to be a little more social with other runners and volunteers, and to stop and take in the incredible views every now and then. I found a mixture of coke, oranges, and liquid nutrition (infinit nutrition) to be the best, as I didn't have any appetite to eat anything solid.

Running high in the alpine, looking down at Engstlensee:

Engstlensee and the Tannalp:

Tannalp at 9km:

Amazing section of trail, running along a sharp ridge with deep valleys either side:

Melchsee at 1900m:

On the way to Plannplatte, passing some beautiful alpine flowers:

View towards Balmeregghorn (2255m):

The last 5km was an ascent of 800m up to the finish at a gondola station. Although the ascent was tough right at the end of the race, I cannot imagine finishing such a beautiful trail anywhere else except for up between 2 mountain peaks. The feeling of walking up, seeing your goal becoming larger ahead of you was extremely motivating! With just over 13hrs of running/hiking, I finished in 15th place, completely exhausted and filled with that feeling all ultra runners seek: satisfaction. 

I would like to thank Florian from Mountainman, and Prisca from Salomon Switzerland for all their help in the leadup to the race! 

The final 300m ascent to the finish at Pilatus:

The finish at Pilatus:

All photos courtesy of here