RACE REPORT - ALPINE CHALLENGE
Let’s flashback to 25th November 2017. At 4:29am on Saturday morning it’s remarkably mild and thankfully dry. In just 1 minute a long weekend will commence, and I take stock that I’m finally without nerves, without pain and without worry. I’m focused on the task at hand; Running Wild’s Alpine Challenge 100 mile race, labelled the “toughest, most challenging most spectacular and rewarding all mountain trail run in Australia”. After 164.5km and over 7000 meters of ascent and descent around Falls Creek, Mt Bogong, Mt Hotham and Mt Feathertop, I can now provide my own brief account.
There are 200 odd athletes at the start line in the Falls Creek bowl; a mix of 100km and 100 mile participants. Some are chatting, some stretching and some make last minute adjustments to laces and running packs. The tension is tangible yet I’m finally at peace. I’ve come to believe that if you can mentally accept what you are about to endure you are a long way to completing the task at hand. 4:30am and the horn sounds. The pack begins to shuffle, head lamps come on and the first sounds of encouragement are heard from loved ones in the crowd. I take one last look at my two support crew before heading off down the pack horse trail.
The 100 mile race is effectively 3 loops. The first is an anticlockwise loop over to Mt Bogong and back to Falls Creek. The second loop is then begun by circling out to the back of Falls Creek via Langfords Gap to Pole 333, before peeling off on the 3rd loop to Hotham, Harrietville, Mt Feathertop and back to Pole 333. This section is affectionately called Mortein Alley, where runners ‘drop like flies’ and almost always involves the night section of the race. If you survive this loop, the last part of the second loop is completed back to Falls Creek. The course is for the most part well defined yet poorly marked. This is tolerable due having access to Avenza maps – an app that tracks your GPS position on an offline pre-plotted map. This is a great resource for those not familiar with the track. Although I was familiar with most of the course, I found myself using the app on probably half a dozen occasions.
Race day was particularly hot. The valley temperature was in the 30s and the sun beat down during the middle of the day. Staying hydrated and with enough salt was a constant challenge. I’ve come to learn that a 100 mile race is really about preparation, planning, patience and then gritty perseverance. Having a plan B and C is really important for the inevitable challenges that are hard to foresee. I struggled with a bad hip from 40km, the body rejected gels after 100km, support runners went missing in action, weather turned wild at midnight and my feet eventually succumbed to blisters and failed toe nails. If you only have a plan A, 100 miles will rock and then sink your boat.
I heard once that in a long run you don’t be arrogant on the way out and don’t be a wuss on the way home. Taking this to heart I was super patient and disciplined on the way out and I distinctly remember feeling great at 70km. Arriving at Langfords gap I was welcomed by my support crew and I left feeling recharged and determined. Arriving into Pole 333 I was mentally prepared to meet with my support runner, however it wasn’t to be. I was a bit ahead of schedule and so had to venture into Mortein Alley alone.
I arrived into Hotham expecting support crew again but that was miss-timed as well. Struggling with lack of fine-motor I fumbled into skins and rain jacket as I got ready for the impending storm and long cold night ahead. Leaving the comfort of the aid station was hard but I knew that friendly faces would be waiting at Harrietville. But to my delight I came across one of my support crew at Dimintina hut and then looking over my shoulder I saw Timmy G chasing me down. I tried hard to make him earn that last km. When he caught me it was one of the many highlights of the race, and gave me the mental boost I was needing. Running with a mate and saying little is sometimes all that is needed. Thanks Timmy!
Descending into Harrietville was hard on the quads, which were already porridge. The poles were a life saver but by this stage I was well into the ‘don’t be a wuss stage’. Toward the bottom we picked up Bel Ralph, and as a trio we arrived into Harrietville. Coffee was prime agenda, and having rejected gels, it was only fruit that did the trick from here on. I left Harrietville with my best mate, Matty G who made a spontaneous decision to accompany me through the night. Bloody legend.
What followed was a blur. Feathertop summit, blaring tunes to stay awake, a hellish descent down Dimintina spur, and then a hellish ascent back up to pole 333. On the high plains the sun rose for a second time, and I’m not too proud to say that a tear may have been shed. I’d survived Mortein Alley and as jogged past the little poster I gave it a good whack in triumph. Perhaps for the first time I knew I was going to make it home.
The last 15km into Falls Creek was slow. I was fully depleted physically, mentally and emotionally. Having exchanged places numerous times with the 1st female over the past 27 hours it was of no concern to me to see her pass in the final kilometers. These events are not so much about racing others, but about experiencing a remarkable journey with some likeminded people. I finished in 27hrs and 37 minutes.
Paul Ashton from Running Wild again did a fantastic job of organising the event. It truly takes a team effort to pull off such a logistical challenge. It would be remise not to acknowledge the many volunteers both on race day and those involved prior. A very special thanks to those that cleared the track of fallen limbs, and those on standby to extract injured or lost athletes. It truly is a privilege to be able to run throughout the parks, and to do it with such an amazing support crew in train was something that will not be forgotten. Onwards and upwards in 2018. See you on the trails.