Bogong 2 Hotham 64km - Saturday 7th January 2018
The past weekend saw the running of the 31st annual Bogong 2 Hotham ultra distance trail run. A gruelling 64km event that takes runners up and over some of the highest mountain peaks in Australia - taking in Mt Bogong, Falls Creek & Mt Hotham.
I’ve finished this event almost certain that each years race must be so different from the one before it, and the one before that. Weather conditions play such a massive part up in those parts, and a runner is so exposed and at the mercy of what the weather throws up on any given day, or even hour.
Some years runners have had to deal with cold weather, strong winds & rain, while other years - like this year, have been subject to intense heat from beginning to finish.
The Bogong 2 Hotham event is regarded by many as the toughest mile for mile race in Australia. The challenge therefore is seductive, so too is the allure of the spending a day running around some of Australia's most iconic high plains.
So, the race. I had penciled this race into my diary way back in May 2017, and leading into the final week prior to toeing the line, I felt like I had been waiting my entire life!
I had a fairly disappointing 2017 from a running perspective by my own expectations - the year started off well with a second place in my first ultra distance trail event, the 2 Bays 56km on the Mornington Peninsula. This result was just completely unexpected to me, and it created a real internal drive inside to get faster and fitter.
I hooked up with my first running coach, Julian Spence, fairly shortly after this race - and set my next goal, the Marathon at the Buffalo Stampede - the event which 12 months ago had marked my very first competitive running event (I only ran the 26km event that year), which was now less than 2 months away.
I ran ok at the Stampede, but to be honest I was pretty disappointed with the result, as a number of things didn’t work out for me in both the lead up to and during that race (we've all been there!).
After a couple of weeks of recovering out of this event I began to build again - with the goal of competing at the Ultra Trail Australia in May. It wasn’t to be - and I was soon diagnosed with stress related injuries of my tibia.
Up at the Blue Mountains supporting many members of the Trails & Ales crew as they took on the various UTA events, I was just super depressed. I was in this lovely place, watching all my friends slog it out - but hobbling around in a moon boot, sneaking off between aid stations to do some laps in the local swimming pool made for a pretty sad weekend for myself! But it did prove pivotal in the weekend just gone!
I knew that I had been pushing too hard, not recovering like I should, and really had just not respected the toll that the sport of running takes on your body - I wanted to be running at the front of the pack now, and running at every event I could.
So I set out to find the next nearest race that I could realistically build and train for - this was the Bogong2Hotham 64km race!
Initially I had plans of grandeur, I really wanted to break the 7 hour mark, but by the time I came back to running and completed a 6 week return to run program (thanks Riverina Podiatry, oh hey Pete - I completed the 6 weeks in 3.5!) it was the beginning of September and even with the guidance of the course record holder, I knew as I approached race day that I just hadn’t hit the consistent high mileage I would need to be strong enough to run that sort of time, but shit - I was still gonna try.
I will say this, I have complete respect for any male or female runner who turns up to the B2H 64km race, because it really is a daunting prospect self navigating such a harsh and expansive course. But now I have completed the course, I am just in complete awe of the incredible race that Julian Spence ran in 2016 - 6hr37min is just mind numbing!
It was hot. The temperature in the valleys was mid to high 30s and the peaks were still close to 30. The road on Mt Hotham was melting as we left the race at about 2pm, so that gives you some idea.
My plan was to reach the peak of Mt Bogong in 1hr20 from the start line - I figured I could achieve this and still not spend too much energy. When we took off I found myself out in front, it was a strange couple of k’s to the staircase - I felt like I was running conservatively, yet I felt a long way in front of the pack and started double guessing whether I was making a mistake on pace.
I knew of a couple of the other runners, Marty Keyes particularly I had seen in action at the 4 peaks mountain running event and knew that he was a much stronger climber than I was - so expected that he would likely have me on most of the climbs for speed and efficiency. I didn’t notice Marty until about 5km into the race, every now and then I would notice him on a switch-back which kept reminding me to keep on pressing.
By the summit I was slowing as I knew I would, and Marty caught me as we hit the top - he was looking really good, and ran off on me easily as we began the run across to Cleve Cole Hut, and thankfully for me - a water stop.
This may seem like a lie to some people, but I truly never set out to, or believed I would win on the day. So when Marty took off and I arrived at Cleve Cole Hut without him in sight, I wasn’t surprised or concerned - I figured that would be how it was going to play out- at best.
A sharp and technical descent followed as we dropped all the way back down to the aptly named Big River. I took this descent super comfortably, as I knew if I allowed my natural tendency to take the downhills quickly, I would soon regret it and crash mid race.
As I arrived at Big River, to my surprise, I once again met up with Marty who was crossing and cooling down at the same time - I momentarily passed him and took off up the gruelling Duane Spur. This climb is no joke, and it’s not the staircase. It’s basically a track which starts on the very other side of the river and practically goes straight up through some very technical terrain with very little switchback relief. By the time we were tackling this climb at around 8am - it was very humid and hot, and I was burning through the water.
Less than 1km into the climb Marty passed by me, and once again he was looking very efficient, I remember briefly watching him pass and fly by in the most up-right posture while I struggled up with hands on knees!
I wouldn’t see Marty again until about 40km into the race.
Ropers Hut marks the end of the Duane Spur Climb, but the gradual climb from the Hut on 4wd track is still a real grind. The radio operator at Ropers Hut had commented to me that it was all smooth sailing down to Langford’s Gap - about 15km away. Like hell! The next 5km of gradual trail was really tough, and I just couldn’t get into an efficient or comfortable stride. The heat was playing a huge factor, and I was sweating so much that I was continually worrying about running out of water.
The 15km journey from Ropers Hut to the first and only major aid station (and crew station) is probably net downhill, but it wasn’t the fast running I had hoped for. I had looked at Julian’s run through this area of the race the previous year and noted that he was sitting below 4 min pace at many points - unbelievable!
The last km into Langford’s Gap I started to feel really relaxed, I knew I wasn’t going to make 7 hours, and chasing it would have only meant that I would crash in the back half. I kept remembering the advice Julian had given me the night before my race to focus on 'relaxing’ and 'asesssing' my pace, nutrition & surroundings - from this point I didn’t run 1km at a pace I didn’t think I could sustain all day!
My crew were at Langford’s Gap ready for me as I strolled in, in about 4hrs13min. I think Kelli was nervous because she knew that if everything went perfectly I wanted to be there by 4 hours, so she was a little worried I would be disappointed and down on myself.
I came in feeling great - I had taken on a gel every 30 mins, so was about 8 gels and 2 flasks of Tail Wind down. I had planned to change out of the Saucony Peregrines that I trusted so much on the climbs and descents, into something a little quicker - the Hoka One One Speed Instinct - but I couldn’t fail the Sauconys and they had dried out really well from the two water crossings.
I was at Langford’s Gap for less than 2 mins - just enough time to pack in another 8 gels - down a drink bottle of Tail Wind, pour some water over myself, grab a hat, and strap on two full frozen flasks to my chest.
Tail Wind was something I had never used before in races - I had always just stuck to water & gels. I trialled it in my last couple of long runs and found it to be super effective and far more convenient than gels. From a hydration perspective, it certainly got me through the day in conjunction with the gels I was taking.
For the next 4-5kms we ran along trail passing many of Australia’s top athletes as they completed their morning run on their annual altitude training camp at Falls Creek. I really enjoyed this part of the run, watching the athletes and studying their form seemed to take my mind off the rigours of the race and the extreme heat. I noticed Liam Adams at this time, but many of the others I didn’t recognise.
It was at about this point, I think the Omeo Rd/Aqueduct junction that I finally saw Marty again. I felt like I was running easy, but I was certainly catching him quickly. I approached and sat behind him for about 1km, he didn't really give me any indication that he knew I was behind him - and I wondered whether he knew, as at this point the wind had picked up and made it hard to hear much more than your own breathing. I tossed and turned with the decision as to whether to just sit in behind him or overtake him - I knew I was moving faster at the time, but with a really tough major climb coming up I wondered whether I was best to conserve my energy.
With 15km (ish) of rooftop running remaining before the descent and final climb, I took my chance and ran past. I honestly didn't look back for nearly 10km until pole 333 - I couldn't see him, but I was still sure we would meet again on the final climb to Mt Hotham.
As it turned out I never saw Marty again on the course, and managed to finish in 1st place by roughly 15minutes.
The race was really well organised, and to be honest, it was not anywhere near as hard to navigate and re-fuel as I had thought leading into the race. The course, while officially 'unmarked', is fairly straightforward, and local radio operators are at most (if not all) of the major intersections/points of interest. With them, most had water - which I really needed on the day.
Massive thanks to my crew on the day, they nailed it! Knowing that you have the support of, and will see the familiar faces of, family and friends at different stages of these types of events is a huge motivating factor to keep going!
It was great to have fellow Trails & Ales runner, Nick Williams, toeing the start line with me on the day. I'm really looking forward to joining back in with the weekly Wednesday night Trails & Ales group run now that the specific training sessions are done and dusted.