Thursday, 19 November 2015

Alpine Challenge Reccy: Pole 333 - Hotham - Harrietville - Feathertop - Pole 333

Quick Stats

Run Date18th October 2015
LocationMt Feathertop, Alpine National Park, Victoria, Australia
Relative DifficultyEasy Moderate Hard Extreme
StyleSelf-supported, day out in the mountains
TerrainTechnical single trail, fire tracks, and lots of steep ascents and descents.
Time on the trail10h41m
Weather on the dayWarm and sunny. About 25C.
Course (Strava)Alpine Challenge Reccy: Pole 333 - Hotham - Harrietville - Feathertop - Pole 333
Enjoyment Rating1 2 3 4 5
Lessons LearntGoing down can be just as slow as going up!
I'm running the Alpine Challenge 100mile ultra at the end of November. I ran the 100km last year, an identical sub-section of the 100 miler.

Before running the race this year, I wanted to take the time to acquaint myself with the 60km section of the course I hadn't seen before. Below are my notes from the run, and a few pictures.

During the race, this section of course is run from Pole 333 to Mt. Hotham, then down to Harrietville, up to Mt. Feathertop, and finally back to Pole 333. In all, you take in about +3700m of ascent, and the equivalent descending.

Since you can't drive to Pole 333, I started and finished my reccy at Harrietville.

Harrietville (584m) to Mt. Feathertop (1895m)

This is a pretty easy climb. It's long, but it winds around the mountain and never really gets all that steep. I ran a lot of it, and walked when I needed to. Surprisingly, it was the only section of trail I saw a snake on.

The trail up is well defined, and easy to follow. When you come out of the tree line, as you get closer to Federation Hut, you get a good sense for how far up you've climbed.

The final climb from Federation Hut to Feathertop is a narrow and rocky path up the final ridge. It's easy enough. It took me just over 2 hours to reach the top.

The trial/ridge leading up to Mt. Feathertop

It was sunny when I got up there, and there was no-one else around. It's an awesome view and I think if you time it right during the race, you could reach the summit at dawn, taking in the sunrise.

Surprisingly, there was still some snow up the top. I dug around for some fresh stuff, and filled up one of my water bottles. It wasn't as a good as a cold beer would have been, but it was pretty close!

At the top of Mt. Feathertop

Looking across at Diamantina Spur, and the Bogong High Plains in the distance

Mt. Feathertop (1895m) to Blair Hut (1163m)

When I was originally looking at the maps, I thought this section would have been pretty fast to run. But it wasn't! The final ascent down Diamantina Spur is very steep. Sections of it required all fours (hands and feet). This is going to suck during the race when you've got 115km in the legs!

I'm glad I ran this section of trail though. I wouldn't have liked coming through there in the middle of the night during the race without having seen it before. Going down that trail at night when you're drained from running all day and feeling mentally fatigued... could be tough.

The trail from the top of My. Feathertop to the start of Diamantina Spur is easy to follow and well defined. It was fast and fun running.

After you turn off the Razorback trail, you start to head down Diamantina Spur. It starts off as reasonably easy to follow, and I had began to wonder why people said it's faint. About half way along though, and the trail begins to disappear and reappear.

If you use your common sense, it's easy enough to pick up the trail again, though that was in day light. I think it might be a bit harder at night, especially if the weather is bad and the visibility low.

The end of the trail was covered in bark and tree debris, so over grown it's hard to see where you're stepping, and so steep you can't slow down anyway! Pretty good fun to barrel down. When I reached the bottom, I was a little surprised I hadn't stepped on a snake.

I had planned 30 minutes to run this section, and it ended out taking me 90 minutes!

There's a decent stream at the bottom, and I filled my water bottles there.

This is an example of trail along Diamantina Spur... sometimes it's there, sometimes it's not!

Some sections of the trail get "rather" steep!

Blair Hut (1163m) to Pole 333 (1793m)

This section was pretty un-eventful. I never saw any sign of Blair Hut before reaching the turn off to Weston Hut (towards Pole 333). It was only going up that trail that I saw a track off to the left pointing back to Blair Hut.

I continued up the trail for what felt like a very long time. As I got to what I thought must have been the top of the trail, I started thinking I must have walked past Weston Hut without noticing it.

Not long after that, I came into an opening, and there was Weston Hut. I laughed a little. This regularly happens to me on long runs. I think I'm further through the run than I am. As it turned out, I wasn't even half way to Pole 333. You just can't cheat time and distance.

After Weston Hut the steepness of the trail eases off and it becomes more run-able. The trees thin out as you approach the high plains, and the snow poles start, which lead you to the Pole 333 intersection.

Pole 333. Approx. 30km into the run (half way), and already 2.5hrs behind schedule!

Pole 333 (1793m) to Dibbon Hut (1351m)

After taking a short 10 minute break at Pole 333, I followed the trail towards Cobungra Gap. This trail follows the snow poles along the high plains for a few kilometers. After that it drops off the side of the mountain down towards Cobungra Gap and Dibbon Hut.

This trial is mostly easy to follow, though it gets a little faint just as the decent off the high plains begins. If you keep an eye out for the snow poles, you shouldn't have any trouble picking up the trail.

During the race in November I expect a lot of runs will come through here before dark, so following the trail shouldn't be hard.

The descent is easy going and not too steep. A fairly short and simple run down to Cobungra Gap. When you reach Cobungra Gap you need to follow the trail down over a bridge into a grassy area by a stream. I filled my water bottles up in the stream before heading on.

You follow the trail across the grassy area towards Dibbin Hut. About 100m before Dibbon Hut there is a turn off to Derrick Hut. It's just a small wooden sign, so look out for it!

Dibbon Hut (1351m) to Derrick Hut (1740m)

The descent to Dibbon Hut is about 400m, which you then climb straight back up on the other side. That trail is Swindlers Spur, and it meanders back and forth through the trees as it winds up the side of the mountain.

It's a little step in sections, with the odd set of steps here and there. But it's easy to follow, and eventually you end out at Derrick Hut. It should be fairly easy to do this section of trail at night.

Derrick Hut (1740m) to Mt. Hotham (1849m)

You leave the trees behind as you pass Derrick Hut. The trail joins the ski slops, and it's very similar terrain to the Bogong high plains; grassy.

This section of trail is easy. It's only a little undulating, easy to follow, and provides a good chance to eat and rest from navigation.

The trail leads you onto the ski slops, and after passing the chair lifts, you take Machinery Spur up to Mt Hotham. It's a dirt fire trail that leads up to Mt. Loch carpark, and onto the Mt. Hotham summit.

Mt. Loch, close to the chair lifts. Close to the end of the day (light).

Mt. Hotham

Mt. Hotham (1849m) to Harrietville (584m)

I reached Mt. Hotham shortly before night fall. It was amazing being up there just before dusk, but being 2 hours behind my estimated schedule, I didn't hang around for long.

On top of Hotham, looking south west over the alps

During the race you're allowed to take the road around from Mt. Loch carpark to the start of Bon Accord, bypassing the actual top of Mt. Hotham. Possibly a good idea during the race. I couldn't find the trail down from the summit to Bon Accord, so I doubled back the way I came (roughly speaking) to follow the road around.

When I reached the start the of Bon Accord Spur, I thought (wrongly) that it would be a quick 1 hour 12km (ish) run back down to Harrietville. That was probably my only real mistake of the day.

Firstly, according to the map, it was actually 14.5km back to my car (13.5km to Harrietville). I also misjudged how long it would take to run, if not from a time perspective (it took over 2 hours), definitely from a mental one.

Bon Accord as a whole is quite easy to follow, barring a section towards the end, where you need to navigate the river. More on that in a moment.

The top section of the trail starts out with a descent for the first few kilometres, but then flattens out for quite a while. I began to wonder why it wasn't descending much, and a little bit of frustration began creeping in.

The top of the trail leading down Bon Accord

Eventually, after what felt like a quite a long distance, but according to the map is only 3km, the trail descended sharply down to Washington Creek / East River.

I had been warned that the trail disappears (somewhat) here. I saw some campers and asked them about it, and they gave me a few pointers for finding the trail on the other side of the river.

To be honest, I'm not sure whether this section would be easier or harder during the day. The trail disappears as you zigzag across the river. But there are blue reflective markers on posts. So using your head torch you can find your way through this section by keeping a sharp eye and looking for the reflective arrows. That's in hindsight though; it was a little stressful making my way through there in the dark.

After making your way through the river section, you pick up the trail for five kilometers back to Harrietville. This section is really well defined, and consists mostly of wide single track. It follows the river along, occasionally moving away to cross folds in the mountain. It makes for some nice easy running.

This section wasn't actually that hard. But the error in judging how long it would take had a surprising effect on me. It really sapped my energy, physically, and even more so mentally.

I put it down to mis-managing my expectations. I'd expected the run to take about 8 hours, and planned to be back home in Melbourne at 10pm. Running 3 hours late, finishing in the dark and knowing I had a 4 hour drive home all started to take a mental toll. By the time I got back to my car, mentally I was toast!

The End

That's about it. I must admit, I was pretty fried at the end of that day. I started the day in Melbourne at 5:30am, and I finished the run at 10pm, and then had a 4 hour drive back home. I got to bed just before 3am, only to get up at 7am for work the next day.

When I'd finally got back to my car, I look at the trail head that leads you up the 1300m climb to Mt. Feathertop and thought about doing that after running 105km (the distance covered in the race when you get to that point). It was too much, and my brain overloaded!

On the way home, I spent the first 10 minutes questioning whether I should pull out of the race. My head hurt thinking about it and I needed to shut off. I told myself to stop thinking about it, and decided to review my plans in the morning.

The funny thing is, the next day when I woke up, all I could think about was getting back up to the mountains to run again. It pretty much consumed my thinking for the following three days. There is just something special about days like that draw me back, no matter way they take out of me at the time.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

You Yangs 80Km 2015 (Trails Plus)

Event Date19th July 2015
LocationYou Yangs, Victoria, Australia
Relative DifficultyEasy Moderate Hard Extreme
StyleSupported, trail ultra-marathon
TerrainHard packed single trail and mtb tracks, gravel fire track.
Aid StationsApprox. every 5km. Well stocked (Gels, cake, drinks, sweets).
My Position11th of 19
My Time10h11m
Winning Time7h32m
Drop Out Rate15%
Weather on the dayCool/cold. 0-10C, (freezing in the early morning, sunny through the day)
Course (Strava)You Yangs 80km 2015
Event WebsiteTrailsPlus - You Yangs
Enjoyment Rating1 2 3 4 5
Lessons LearntGoing out hard in the first 30km is not a good idea (for me).
Before I write about the event, I need to qualify it with this. At the beginning of the race I decided to hang with the front runners for the first 30km. I wanted to assess my current fitness against them. It was a strategy I knew could hurt, but I least I was aware of that from the oust.

Was it a good idea? No. Would I do it again? No. Do I regret doing it? No. I learned something valuable; I like ultra running because I like spending long days running trails.

The competition isn't as important to me as the experience is. If I can complete at the front on any given day, then great, that's fun. But setting out with the sole objective to complete (to win) isn't what I enjoy. That's just me; I like the experience of an ultra. The highs, lows, the pain and euphoria, the nature around me. The competition comes second.

So, to the event...

This was a really well organised event (a common theme with TrailsPlus events). Registration on the day on quick and easy, the trails were clearly marked, and there were plenty of aid stations.

Aid stations were about 5km apart. All were very well stocked with the usual things you'd expect; a variety of drinks, sweets, fruit, cake, gels, etc. Great if you like running with minimal kit.

You can easily get around this course without needing to carry any food, and arguably without needing to carry any water.

The weather was cold in the morning, about -1C. It was a beautiful sunny winter day, and warmed up to a high of around 10C.

I ran the start of the race in shorts and a thermal top, then swapped my thermal top for a short sleeved top a couple of hours into the race.

The course contains some nice single track, connected by dirt fire roads and hard packed mountain bike trails. The single track trails were really nice; a mix fast twisty trails, some rocks, a bit of undulation, and all run-able.

The hard-packed mountain bike trails... I didn't like them. They were too boring for me. They twist through a lightly forested section, were completely flat, and very hard under foot. I would have preferred more loops of the single track.

All in all, I didn't really enjoy running this race. The event itself is organised really well, but I really didn't enjoy all the flat, hard, mountain bike tracks. And my strategy of going out hard and seeing how long I could hold on... was silly. But hey, you only learn through trying different things!

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Macedon 50km 2015 (TrailsPlus)

Event Date31st May 2015
LocationMt Macedon, Victoria, Australia
Relative DifficultyEasy Moderate Hard Extreme
StyleSupported, trail ultra-marathon
TerrainSoft dirt/muddy forest single trail, gravel/clay fire track.
Aid StationsApprox. every 5km. Well stocked (Gels, cake, drinks, sweets).
My Position5th of 47
My Time5h44m
Winning Time5h17m
Drop Out Rate25%
Weather on the dayCool/cold. 5-10C, misty, heavy rain towards the end.
Course (Strava)Macedon 50km 2015
Event WebsiteTrailsPlus - Macedon
Enjoyment Rating1 2 3 4 5
Lessons LearntPacing myself is a good strategy for running a quick time.
This was a really well organised event. Registration on the day on quick and easy, the trails were clearly marked, and there were plenty of aid stations.

Aid stations were about 5km apart. All were very well stocked with the usual things you'd expect; a variety of drinks, sweets, fruit, cake, gels, etc. Great if you like running with minimal kit.

You can easily get around this course without needing to carry any food, and arguably without needing to carry any water.

The weather was cold and windy, which I was told is pretty common for Mt Macedon at this time of year. It was 3 degrees, a little windy and misty when I got to the start line at 6:30am.

It warmed up slightly during the morning, but I don't think it reached more than 10 degrees. I ran the whole race in shorts and a thermal running top.

The rain kept away for the first five hours of the run, and then it came down quite heavy during the last 30 minutes.

The course contains a lot of nice single track, connected by dirt fire roads. It's fairly undulating, with a couple of big climbs. Some really fun trails!

I enjoyed running this race - all in all, a great event!

Monday, 6 July 2015

Wilsons Prom 100km 2015 (Running Wild)

Event Date2nd May 2015
LocationTidal River (Wilsons Promontory), Victoria, Australia
Relative DifficultyEasy Moderate Hard Extreme
StyleCompletely self-sufficient, trail ultra-marathon
TerrainSoft dirt single trail, sandy beaches, gravel fire track and a few kilometres of bitumen.
Aid StationsNone. But you can access your car at the 80km mark.
My Position10th of 22
My Time16h05m
Winning Time11h08m
Drop Out Rate-
Weather on the dayWarm, overcast and sometimes sunny. Stormy during the evening.
Course (Strava)Wilsons Prom 100km 2015
Event WebsiteRunning Wild - Wilsons Prom
Enjoyment Rating1 2 3 4 5
Lessons LearntEven without enough training, a day out running can never be a bad thing!
I almost pulled out of this race due to lack of training. In the end I thought, why not just run it anyway? At the very worst, it will be a good day out running. And that's never a bad thing!

I'm so glad I did run it too. There was a good deal of winding technical trails, that weaved through the hills. The scenery was spectacular and overall it was great to explore Wilsons Prom.

I'd heard the weather there can be unpredictable and frequently windy. I must have lucked in, because it was a perfect day for running. Hardly any wind, slightly overcast and generally warm and sunny.

Though I did get into trouble by missing an opportunity to fill up water at creek, and subsequently ran out. It meant running about 20km with barely anything to drink, during the middle day sun.

By the time I got to some water, I was somewhat de-hydrated, and it took a couple of kilometres of walking before I recovered.

Talking about water, this event follows a "self-sustained" theme. I am happy with that, because I like the idea of wild running, but it's not for everyone. The event organisers did point out all of the places where you can get water. These were mostly creeks, the odd rain water tank and one tap (at the light house, about 50km in).

So be prepared. Think through how much water you'll need to get between each water source.

Which brings us onto food. There are no food checkpoints. You must be fully self sustained as far as food goes. At least up to the 80km mark, where the course doubles back past the start line. The race rules permit you to stop and get additional food (or water) from your car/campsite if required.

I must admit, this is the most unprepared I've ever been for a race. I really hadn't looked at the terrain, the map or the elevation profile. So bad me. But it was only a 100km, and it's pretty easy to run out of Wilsons Prom no matter where you are. At most it's probably only a 20km run from the furthest points.

There is a deceptive amount of elevation gain. Just over 4000m. Most of the hills are runnable though, with the exception of one or two, depending on how fit you are. I wasn't feeling all that fit, so a walked a few of them, especially towards the end ;-)

During the final 20km of the race a big storm rolled in, and the skys went black. It was pretty awesome, and when lightning started to strike, it gave me a jolt of motivation to get a hurry on!

The view from the top of the final ascent was spectacular. You could see the lights of Tidal Bay peering out of the scrub into the black night sky. I was up there by myself, and it was one of those moments that reminded me why I do these sorts of adventures.

Overall, it was a great day out. The event was very well organised, albeit, requiring you to be fully self sufficient.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Alpine Challenge 100km 2014 (Running Wild)

Event Date29th November 2014
LocationMt Bogong (Falls Creek), Victoria, Australia
Relative DifficultyEasy Moderate Hard Extreme
StyleMostly self-sufficient, trail ultra-marathon
TerrainSingle trail and fire track. Some very steep ascents and descents.
Aid StationsReasonably regular (~ every 15km), though fairly basic.
My Position10th of 25
My Time20h29m
Winning Time14h03m
Drop Out Rate40%
Weather on the dayWarm / hot, sunny day. Clear warm night.
Course (Strava)Not Available
Event WebsiteRunning Wild - Alpine Challenge
Enjoyment Rating1 2 3 4 5
Lessons LearntIf you're going to be out running all day, wear a comfortable pair of shoes!
This was an awesome run, with some very rewarding views. You get to run places most people will never see, including summiting Victoria's highest peak, Mt Bogong. The two crossings of Big River were fun. A great place to cool down on a hot day!

Be prepared to be fairly self sufficient; there's not a lot of food at the aid stations, and it's hard for your support crew to get to most of them. So take enough food with you to get through the first 50km (there is an aid station at the start/end of the Mt Bogong loop, where you can get some food).

You can pick up water from some of the river crossings and natural springs along the way, so that isn't as much of a problem.

The event was well organised, with an appropriate level of safety controls. The course isn't marked though, so you need to be able to read a map, or have a GPS.

I think it would be worth getting up and doing some recon runs if you're serious about putting in a fast time, or struggle reading maps!

Some of the course is fairly exposed. In 2014 it was warm to hot all day, which was fine. But if the weather was bad, like in some of the previous years, be prepared. I reckon you could get pretty cold in some sections, especially the during the last 20km, when it starts to get dark, and you start to get tired.

All in all, an awesome run (race), well worth doing. I'm coming back to do the 100 mile course this year.