Saturday, 14 May 2016

Ultra Trail Australia 2016

For me, Ultra Trail Australia 100km (formerly known as The North Face 100km Australia) is an event that inspires and motivates me. When I first heard about the inaugural event back in 2008 my initial thought was that I have to give it a go. I wasn't a runner back then, far from it in fact, I was just someone who enjoyed spending time outdoors, especially in my beloved Blue Mountains. Back then the thought of completing 100km was daunting, it still is, but the generous cut off meant that even a steady walking pace would see me through to the end. With a bit of trail running practice I managed to complete the event in what I considered a pretty respectable time of 15:30. From memory it took me until the following Tuesday before I started looking forward to the following years event. This has pretty much been my story every year since.
Ultra Trail Australia 100km course profile.
When training for events I like to mix it up. I need to in order to keep the motivation. A few year's back I wrote a training diary, documenting all the runs I did in a calendar year, listing distances, places I ran, people/friends I ran with, and other general comments. That particular year I was happy with the way I performed on the UTA100 course so I've used this diary as a rough training guide for subsequent years. It's something that has worked for me and I'm happy to continue doing it. It doesn't, however, prevent me from running with friends who need to run specific distances, or for a specified duration at a certain intensity. But hey, if it works for them then I'm happy to tag along.
Commence the stampede!. I sought protection behind Ryan Sandes, Andrew Lee and Scotty Hawker.
Ultra Trail Australia
Just about every weekend this year I've been up in the Blue Mountains training for this and other trail running events. I've been up there so much that I've submitted an application for temporary residency. This is the most I've journeyed up to the Blue Mountains for training runs and I think it has definitely helped. Last year my husband, Brian, was building us a new home in Sydney. Our life was unsettled at the time and it was most noticeable to me at last year's UTA100. I'd spent months training for the event, to make up for missing the 2014 race due to injury. I'd gone through all the motions to race the 2015 event, but that was all it was. Going through the motions didn't mean that I was ready to tackle 100km, especially on a course I love so much. So with a heavy heart, sitting in the event carpark on the morning of the UTA100, I solemnly removed my race number and joined Brian in spectating the start of the race. Fast forward a year, and living in our new home, I now had Brian to support me in my training. I felt renewed and invigorated. Most importantly I had motivation and full support from Brian. After a two year hiatus, 2016 would be the year that I renew my affinity with UTA100.
Fast start. To ensure longevity of shoe grip it is important to avoid running on the ground. Rebekah Markey.
I had a goal in mind for this race, but like everything with ultra trail running, you need to be flexible with your goals and adaptable. My preference in races is to go out at a sustainable pace which is relative to the course. This course starts at first light with an uphill run along a bitumen road, which coupled with a weeks worth of tapering results in something resembling a stampede of eager runners. After 5kms of seeding on the bitumen road the course changes tact and moves to single trail where another round of seeding begins. In order to avoid being left behind I made a feeble attempt at staying with the leaders by starting towards the front of the pack. As soon as the countdown was complete and we lurched forward in unison, I was quickly filtered through the pack. By the time I was finally on the trail, Brian and my mum had set themselves up to spectate (ring cow bells) at the top of Furber Steps and they kindly informed me that I was 4th Female as I passed. Now firmly on the trails the descent down Furber Steps and traverse along Federal Pass to the Golden Stairs was much more to my liking and the road runners were quickly being seeded backwards amongst the trail runners. The ascent up Golden Stair was it's usual grind and I resorted to the hand on knees technique to see myself to the top.
Climbing Golden Stairs. Ultra Trail Australia.
Now that my heart had started pumping and my legs had loosened up I got into a comfortable rhythm along the Glenraphael Drive fire trail which runs along Narrow Neck plateau. A short way along Narrow Neck is the first checkpoint (11.4km). I came through here in 50th position (2nd female), which has been pretty typical for me based on previous years. Just ahead, within sight was Kellie Emmerson, who was setting the pace for us girls. As I quickly filled my UD body bottle at the checkpoint I was passed by Gill Fowler, whom I left the checkpoint chasing. Shortly after the checkpoint I saw up ahead that Gill had passed Kellie and in an attempt to catch Gill I upped the pace and also passed Kellie not long after. I find the fire trail along Narrow Neck to be most annoying. At times it seems to go on forever, at other times the twists and turns seem to repeat themselves. I've often found myself thinking "will this ever end" but then there are sections along its length where the views open up to reveal spectacular Blue Mountains vistas, with the most spectacular of these being right at the end of Narrow Neck plateau.

Once at the end of the plateau I was fortunate enough to have caught up to Gill. Before the fire trail disappeared we positioned ourselves amongst the surrounding runners so that we wouldn't be held up on the descent through the next section of single trail. To help us descend on race day the event organisers assemble a series of sturdy aluminium ladders. They might not be as fun as the slightly more sketchy Tarros Ladder, but they are a much more sensible method of descending the 15m rock face. Once at the bottom it is a short drop down to the saddle at Little Cedar Gap which makes a good vantage point to view the runners that are about 4km ahead in the valley below. I couldn't see anyone this time, but I wouldn't have been surprised to have seen the lead group of guys. After the short but steep climb up and over Mount Debert the course rejoins the fire trail and it was back into a comfortable rhythm running side by side with Gill all the way to checkpoint 2 (31.6km). I really enjoy running with Gill and doing this section with her was just like one of our casual training runs together.
Just another casual run with Gill Fowler heading to CP2. Ultra Trail Australia.
Following checkpoint 2 is Ironpot Ridge. It is one of the few spots that is restricted to runners, except on race day. I thought that in my absence I'd forgotten what it was like, but it wasn't long (the first cattle grid to be exact) before all the memories started rushing back. I know it is a beautiful trail, we've all been told by Tom Landon-Smith that it is a beautiful trail, but after +30km's in the legs it is hard to appreciate the beauty, especially when racing. The most memorable part of Ironpot Ridge, by far, is the sound of the didgeridoo. It is a uniquely Australian sound and hearing it stirs emotions of National pride. It must be a pretty awesome experience for all the foreign runners.
Running in the Megalong Valley. Peter Cai
The descent off Ironpot Ridge is probably the most sketchy part of the course. Its grade is steep, the ground consists of a soft powdery dust and there is a mix of hidden sticks and rocks ready to take out the unwary. At this point I started to break away from Gill and I ran on my own through the farmers properties and along the dirt road into checkpoint 3 (46km). This checkpoint is the first opportunity that crew have to meet runners along the course. By the time I had arrived the gathered crowd had warmed up and the cacophony of sound was a welcome change from the sound of footfalls on the dirt road. On the approach to the checkpoint I took a quick glance over my shoulder and spotted Amy Lamprecht and Gill Fowler following closely behind. After presenting my head torch and waterproof jacket at the mandatory gear check I spotted Brian waving frantically from the side of the crew area. I threw my empty body bottles at him while receiving a small sliced turkey roll, replenished body bottles and took stock of a small bag containing party food (think 5 y.o. birthday part junk food) before heading out. I've taught Brian pretty well and we have this process down to about 15 seconds.
Getting ready for Brian at CP3. Ultra Trail Australia
Running out of the checkpoint I passed both Amy and Gill who were still sorting themselves out. Shortly after leaving the checkpoint the trail rises ever so slightly on the approach to Nellies Glen while changing from cut grass in a paddock, to single trail following the Six Foot Track, before another dirt road. Shortly before the dirt road ends, and the climb up Nellies Glen starts, I was caught and passed by Amy. She had a strong pace on the ascent and I used it to get up the steep and uneven terrain. The trail up Nellies Glen is an unkept equivalent of Furber Steps, but on the first half of the UTA100 course. Amy gapped me a little towards the top, but not so much that I lost sight of her. Shortly after reaching the top of the climb the gap had narrowed substantially as Amy had stopped for a brief media interview and photoshoot with the event media. So to my benefit we were together for a while before she edged ahead going into checkpoint 4 (57.3km) at  Katoomba Aquatic Centre .
At the top of Nellies Glen. Ultra Trail Australia.
My crew quickly refuelled me at the checkpoint and I snuck out the door of the aquatic centre gym and headed back down the gully to do battle with the gauntlet of tourists. I was hopeful that the runners ahead had made an impression and that some of the tourists would have wisened up to the fact that there was a race going on. At Echo Point I was desperate for a nature break, so made use of the public facilities. I reemerged in pursuit of Amy down the Giant Stairway. It turned out to be fortuitous as she had paved a way through the tourists and I only needed to follow behind. I still wasn't worried that I had female company this far into the course. Years ago in this race Julie Quinn taught me an extremely valuable lesson when it comes to ultra trail racing, which is to "run your own race". It is no use going all out to stay with some one, or to catch them, or to be in front of them. In a race like UTA100, one hundred kilometers is a long way and you need to run your own race in order to achieve your own goals. This is something that I've remembered and practiced many times in races, and this years race was no different.
Rehydrating at Fairmont Resort. Ultra Trail Australia.
I'm extremely familiar with this remaining section of the course, especially down through Leura Forest. If I want to sneak in a quick run when I'm up in the Blue Mountains this is where I do it. I know from Leura Forest that I can run up all the stairs and it is at this point that I made my final attempt to break away from Amy. I mightn't have been running up the steps but I sure as hell wasn't going to make it look like I was struggling on them either. The move seemed to pay off as I snuck a few glances behind me where the trail allowed and I could see a small gap growing. The remaining section of trail I mostly spent alone, apart from the occasional male runner. Arriving at the Fairmont Resort waterstop (66.2km) I was united with Andy Lee. He was playing with the water from the tap like a bird in a bird bath, while chatting with the people around him. I too took advantage of the waterstop to rehydrate in the warmer than usual race conditions and restocked before we both departed together. It was pretty good to be running with Andy and it was just like our training runs, except it was me this time who edged ahead near Wentworth Falls. The tourists through this section were reasonable and the trail was wide enough to accommodate passing manoeuvres. It is along this section that I started catching the UTA50 runners (walkers). I do admire them for their effort. I remembered my first attempt at this race and admired them for stepping up to the challenge. Plus, they are the ones getting the most value for money out of this event.
Departing Fairmont Resort with Andy Lee. Ultra Trail Australia.
After arriving at Horden Road and then Kings Tableland Road it was the final bit of bitumen for the course. I dislike this part of the course most. I felt so slow and sluggish running along the road, and to make matters worse there is nowhere to hide from the ever present crew vehicles making their way in slow procession to and from checkpoint 5 (78.4km) at Queen Victoria Hospital. It was a good feeling arriving at the checkpoint. The checkpoint had music playing and there was a good vibe about the place. The last thing to do was restock with Brian before heading down into Jamison Valley and Scenic World on the far side.

Departing the checkpoint I pinned my ears back and started on the 6km descent down to the Jamison Creek. For the most part I was running by myself. To make things interesting I focused on catching and overtaking as many UTA50 runners as I could. I hoped in doing so it would help propel me in reaching the finish line before the day's last light. Each person I passed on the trail was most enthusiastic and their encouragement was much appreciated. On the climb between Jamison Creek and Leura Falls Creek I was caught and passed by Andy Lee. He was steaming ahead and I tried briefly to stick with him. In the final 12km of the course he put 16 minutes on me. A true testament to his abilities.

Shortly before the "old turd works" I caught up to an old friend, Grant Ackerman, who was doing the UTA50 event. I'd helped him out with some advice leading into the event and it was good to have caught him so close to the end. We exchanged pleasantries before I ran ahead.

After the "old turd works" the course rejoins with itself for a short 200m section between Leura Forest and Leura Steps. This was where I had earlier made my move on Amy. This time I was hopeful of seeing some friends along this short section of trail, but the people I saw I didn't recognise. The tourists along this part of the Federal Pass had mostly retreated back up to the top of the cliffs and I pushed as hard as I could in the rapidly fading daylight. 
The run up the long awaited finish chute. Rebekah Markey.
I reached the bottom of Furber Steps which I'd descended 93km ago and a whole day earlier. The variation in grade and variation in step heights were quickly taking it's toll. I was cursing the course setter for finishing an ultra trail run like this. If it had come to a sprint finish I doubt that I'd have the strength to out sprint or out climb anybody. Put simply I felt like a snail going up Furber Steps. The higher I got the more I could hear the commotion at the finish line. I started to feel less of my screaming legs and started thinking of the finish line ahead. I paused briefly toward the top to put on my head torch before I lost all remaining daylight. With a final push I managed a respectable jog as the gathered crowds appeared before me at Scenic World. Crossing that finish line at Scenic World was just spectacular. It's the best finish line the course has ever had, and trust me I've been across a few of them. The finishing chute was spectacular and the roar from the crowd was thunderous. It felt awesome, until I stopped and the fatigue and cold started setting in. I was elated to have finished another UTA100, this time in 11:16:14, first female and 17th overall. 

At the finish line being blinded by flash photography.
The most touching moment for me after finishing was when Brian revealed that he had shed a tear or two for me and my achievement. This along with his house building ability are just two of the many reasons I love him so much. 
Female Podium (L-R): Chantelle Farrelly, Amy Lamprecht, Kellie Emmerson, Fiona Hayvice, me.
I want to congratulate Tom Landon-Smith and Alina McMaster along with their AROC Sports crew who have grown this event from its humble beginnings to what is now a professional world class trail running event. I'd like to congratulate them for their efforts along with the efforts of all the volunteers who helped out and encouraged us runners tirelessly out on the course.
Celebration time. Ben Duffus.
I'd also like to thank La Sportiva Australia and Ultimate Direction Australia for their support. Their gear was absolutely perfect for this race.

La Sportiva Akasha shoes. They were perfect for this course.
La Sportiva T-shirt
La Sportiva Snap Short
La Sportiva Trail Gloves
La Sportiva Headband
Ultimate Direction Adventure Vesta 3.0. One seriously awesome female running vest.
Ultimate Direction Body Bottle.
Ultimate Direction cap.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Ultimate Direction - Adventure Vesta 3.0 Review

Guys might have their "gear", but girls definitely have their "accessories". When it comes to trail running one of the must have accessories is a good vest, to store more accessories (mandatory gear), right?! I'll be honest and say that when I think about going for a long run, the last thing I think about is my vest. Probably because in the early days when I started trail running I relied upon an uncomfortable light weight back pack which chafed and allowed its contents to bounce around. Over the following 10 years, I've watched them slowly evolve from crude light-weight back packs into functional running vests. As more brands grasp the vest idea they've slowly evolved more and more, some for the better and some not so, but I suppose that is all part of the development process. I'm pleased to say however there is one vest on the market that comes from a manufacturer that has used great initiative to produce a product that's aimed at the ever growing female trail running market. That brand and product is Ultimate Direction's Adventure Vesta 3.0. A large volume vest that is specifically for female trail runners, and if you ask me they have done it pretty well.

Ultimate Direction Adventure Vesta 3.0
Some vests and packs out there say that they are made for the female figure, but in reality they are at best unisex. As many women know we come in all body shapes and so need a few more adjustments which men just don't need, so they are often left off. The Adventure Vesta 3.0 however is a stand alone vest from the men's, and here's why.
Inside view of vest. So far I haven't had any chafing from its simple construction.

For a large volume vest, 11.2L, this vest fits extremely well to my petite torso. I'm quite small and unlike other vests the Adventure Vesta 3.0 is comparatively short in length. This means that the vests main rear compartment sits nice and high on my back. To hold the vest secure against the body it has side adjustment at the bottom of the shoulder straps, which allows the straps to sit straight down the front of the chest. The shoulder straps are nicely spaced at the top of the vest meaning that the vests weight is carried on the shoulders and not the lower neck. Securing the shoulder straps across the chest are two chest straps connected to ridged slides or rails. Both the side adjustments and chest adjustments can be easily made to accommodate different body types and different thickness in clothing layers. Being able to correctly fit the vest to my body shape I found when running on technical trails that the vest remained stable against my torso and didn't bounce around, no matter how much I moved around.

Top of rear compartment.
At the rear of the vest, closest to the body, there is one large full depth compartment specifically designed for bladders. The easy zip access at the top of the vest has a small Velcro tab to hang the bladder. There is also a mid-height pocket in this compartment which could accommodate a smaller capacity bladder while allowing it to be hung from the top Velcro tab. Both the shoulder straps and base of the compartment have holes large enough to accommodate a bladder tube and mouthpiece which can then be secured on the front in many configurations by the elastic loops located in various location on both shoulder straps. I often find myself switching between bladders, bottles and soft bottles when running and having a vest that allows all three methods of hydration means that I'm using the vest more than I would otherwise.

Positioned on the outside of the bladder compartment is the vests main compartment. This is a large single compartment running the full width and length of the vest. This space is easily accessed via a two way zip which runs vertically along the right side of the compartment and horizontally across the top allowing full access to its contents. It doesn't matter how much you stuff into this compartment it seems to be accepting of everything as the elastic fabric running up the sides allows it to stretch and increase its volume while securing the contents comfortably against the body. One draw back that some vests have is that when these main compartments are fully packed they turn into big sausages, but Ultimate Direction has managed to minimise this effect with this vests construction.
Main compartment (unzipped) easily accessed.
Two more small zipper compartments of equal size continue to extend the vests generous capacity. The top pocket has a key toggle and an emergency hair band (told you its a female vest). Both pockets are constructed of what appears water resistant material, but if you're like me it is very difficult to distinguish the tipping point between how much rain is okay for water resistant and what's not. I'd still recommend a plastic zip lock lunch bag to protect those precious items against water. Since acquiring this vest I've been fortunate enough to avoid running in wet weather, but I'll up date this review next time I'm running in the rain with this vest.

The last outer rear compartment is narrow and deep which is accessed through an unsecure opening at the top. The external layer of elastic material is the same as the vest's main compartment which seems quite accepting of anything you jam into it. Though this compartment has an unsecure opening (no zip, clip or otherwise) at the top, I'm yet to loose anything out of it.

It would be a rare occasion that I'd have all the rear compartments full and its contents secure, but that's not a problem with this vest. Externally this vest has an elastic chord which laces up its centre and can also be fastened to the side hooks to further secured the rear compartments contents against my back.

Lastly the rear of the vest contains two ice axe loops at the base, though for me living in Australia I don't see myself utilising this design feature much.
Body bottle. The vest comes with two of these as standard.
The straps down the front of the vest felt well balanced whilst I was running technical trail. This in part is due to the way that they can be adjusted to sit vertically down my chest. At the top of both straps are two large pockets for Ultimate Directions Body Bottle. It's great to see Ultimate Direction embrace a soft bottle which contours to the body and doesn't allow its contents to slosh around. The large opening at the top of the Body Bottles makes it easy to unscrew the bite cap and fill the bottle. Both pockets are still large enough and deep enough to accept plastic bottles for those who are yet to be converted to Body Bottles. An elastic chord at the top of both pockets adequately secure bottles within the pockets.
Front view of vest.
Just above the bottle pocket on the left shoulder strap is an emergency whistle. As evidence that the vest's design team have put great initiative into this vest , there is a small fold of elastic fabric that forms a neat little pocket to secure the whistle and prevent it from bouncing around. 
Bottle pocket with emergency whistle.
On the left shoulder strap, below the bottle pocket, is another open pocket. It is not very deep, but runs full width of the strap. The top is open and unsecured, but when the bottle pocket above has a bottle in it the opening is reduced considerably. I've been using this pocket to house my gloves or buff while running. I wouldn't put my phone or food in it as these items might bounce out.
Hidden waist adjustment strap.
At the bottom of both shoulder straps are two small compartments with zipper opening. The one on the right is slightly larger than the one on the left. Like the rest of the straps external fabric, it is elastic and can accommodate a generous amount. The base of both compartments are secured with Velcro which comes in handy when hiding the waist adjustment strap. I'm my situation the waist adjustment strap had a long tail which neatly tucked away behind these compartments. These compartments then fold down over the tail to discretely hide them. Another plus is that the waist adjustment can be easily made without removing the rest.

To finish off the front strap features there are elastic chords designed to secure compactable poles. Again this is a feature I'm unlikely to use as I don't have the arm strength for poles, but you never know I might give it a go some time in the future.

All the features on the front straps are easily accessible. I was able to reach everything on the front and dig deep in to all the pockets/compartments without issues. Ultimate Direction hasn't designed the rear features to be accessible when wearing the vest, which is a good thing as I'm not a flexible person. They also haven't put features in positons that are frustratingly out of reach. If you need to access the rear features you will need to take at least one shoulder out of the vest to reach around.

In summary I'm struggling to think of design features that Ultimate Direction have missed, or could improve on. This vest has only been on the market for a short time, but its features and quality of construction is likely to ensure that it remains a market leader for a few years yet. Sounds like too much praise? For a large volume female vest it really does tick the boxes. It's definitely a vest that I'll be getting lots of use out of. So if you are after a guilty purchase then seriously consider Ultimate Direction's Adventure Vesta 3.0. You'll be able to justify the purchase after your first run, I promise.

My credentials to write this review is in my running wardrobe which contains a historical collection of "top of the range" running packs and vests that I've purchased, won or been given over the last 10 years. My collection has packs and vests ranging in volume from 1L to 12L, that are designed for bladders, bottles, soft bottles and a mix of both. I've used each and every one of them over the years on training runs and races alike. Of course I have favourites, but they are my favourites for a reason, its because they are functional and I like wearing them. At the time of writing this review I'd run +100km with the Adventure Vesta 3.0 on various trail terrains.

As a disclaimer I'd like to declare that the Ultimate Direction Adventure Vesta 3.0 (XS/S) was provided by Injinji Performance Products and that at the time of writing this review I'm fortunate to be an Ultimate Direction Australia Brand Ambassador.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Mt Solitary Ultra 2016

Every time I go up to Katoomba, which is quite a lot, I look out from my bedroom window each day and gaze at Mt Solitary. The mountain stands prominent on the south side of Jamison Valley, alone, solitary. Depending on the weather its exposed sandstone cliffs can reflect the suns rays, or it can be concealed in cloud and mist which descends and wafts through the valley. Mt Solitary is mesmerising in so many ways and to be able to traverse it in a race is just truely magical, but at the same time the mountain reminds you why it stands supreme and alone.
Course Map. Running Wild NSW
It's been what has seemed forever since I last raced Running Wild's Mt Solitary Ultra, 2011 to be precise. I've been over it plenty of times on training runs but for one reason or another something else had got in the way for me to race it. 2016 was different and I wasn't going to let the opportunity pass. This race also marked the belated start to my trail running season for the year.
Course Profile. Running Wild NSW
Mt Solitary Ultra is a 45km race held by Running Wild NSW. It's a 100% trail run which tests runners on all types of Blue Mountains terrain. Starting at the old (haunted?) Queen Victoria Hospital it is a short uphill start to the run, along a well maintained fire trail before the long descent down into Jamison Valley via Kedumba Pass. Along this fast descent I was unsurprisingly passed by plenty of faster guys. I watched their larger legs stride out and it was no use sprinting to keep pace. About half way down towards Kedumba River the course veers off the fire trail onto a technical single trail which rolls, drops and snakes its way down to the river.  The guys with bigger strides really slowed down on this technical stuff. I joined the conga line and bided my time until an opportunity arose for me to overtake.
Some of the Berowra Bushrunners; Karin Burgess, Zaid Mohsen, Brian Cardelli & me. (L-R). Karin Burgess
At Kedumba River the race route crossed directly across the river. Usually on training runs I make a slight detour to an old fallen tree whose wide trunk makes a natural bridge across the water course which allows me to keep my shoes dry. As this is a race however, such luxuries cannot be afforded, so I crossed the shin deep water and said goodbye to my dry socks in the process. After crossing Kedumba River the single trail heads up in varying grades ranging from gentle incline to "stick your tongue out and you'll touch the ground" steep. This was the opportunity to start making up some places. I'm comfortable with the route up and know the sections to push hard on and which to conserve myself. I slowly picked the guys off, one by one. By the top I guess I'd made up about ten places. This climb seemed to have seeded the field and there wasn't much movement in overall position for the rest of the race. On the tougher sections of the ascent I reflected upon struggles encountered by the mountaineers in the previous nights viewing of Everest (2015) and put into perspective what I was encountering.

The mountain mist that had been around prior to race start still hadn't burnt away by the time I'd reached the "log book" and instead of a gorgeous Blue Mountains view there was just a wall of white. Missing out on a view wasn't so bad as it was a day for racing, not so much a day for sightseeing. The log book marks the top of the big climb, but not the top of Mt Solitary. From here it is a series of small rises, each bigger than the last as the trail skirts its way in and out of the cliff line. The trail is overgrown with plenty of rugged mountain vegetation which you have to endlessly negotiate. It makes running along this part of the trail more of an awkward dance than a straight out trail run. Occasionally as I came around a bend I'd be greeted by hikers who would offer words of encouragement as they stepped off the trail to let me pass. They sure picked a bad morning to be on the trail as 200 runners were about to interfere with their hike. I'm sure the novelty wore off well before the sweepers passed them. 

The descent of Mt Solitary is lots of fun. I love climbing over the rocks and using my whole body to negotiate the route. There are a few areas that are a little sketchy, but I know the tricks and know which rocks to jump down onto. It is more a process of controlled falling. At the bottom of the descent, under the presence of Ruined Castle, the trail follows the old abandoned railway line around to Scenic World. It sounds more glorious that it is. All evidence of the railway is gone now, but the trail is fairly flat with sweeping bends that make it very runnable. Along this section I opened my stride and enjoyed running beneath the sandstone cliffs that ring this western end of Jamison Valley. Towards the end of the old railway line the trail is interrupted by a large landslide. It is a labyrinth of debris and I always have the feeling of taking a different route each time I cross it. To keep me on course however I eyed out the pink tape which marked the "official" race route and blindly followed it.
On the way up Furber Steps.
Once through the landslide I could start hearing the cacophony of foreign voices which accompany the tourists at Scenic World. It also marks the gauntlet of directionless individuals intent on disrupting my running pace. It was easier to negotiate the vegetation on Mt Solitary than it was the projecting selfie sticks and backwards walking, talking tourists. With frustration rapidly increasing I refocused my energies on ascending Furber Steps, all +900 of them.  The tourists here were less ignorant of what was going on and they generally stepped aside to let me pass. As Furber Steps is an out and back section of course it allowed me to see where I sat in the field and how close people are in front and behind.
On my way down Furber Steps.
At the top of Furber Steps I ran over the checkpoint timing mat before presenting my snake bandage at the mandatory gear check. After a quick refuel it was a much quicker descent down Furber and an opportunity to exchange encouragement to other runners. Once at the bottom of the steps I turned left and headed along Federal Pass towards Leura Forest. This section of trail had its scattering of tourist and walkers, but they were more encouraging than those at Scenic World and it was probably a novelty to see a runner come through. Taking advantage of my crowd parting skills was Philip Whitten who had managed to catch up to me. Shortly after the turnoff to the Giant Staircase the trail passes the "way out" track which is a short section of trail used to connect the Federal Pass to Sublime Point Fire Trail below. Standing at one end of the short trail you can the see the other end and vice-versa. It is a section of trail that I use frequently on training runs and passing it during the race was just a reminder that I'd be passing the other end of it in about 20 minutes time.

Continuing along the trail I passed Leura Forest and headed down towards the old remediated "turd works" (these are the official names, I promise). It's at this point that the single trail gives way to the well graded Sublime Point fire trail. Passing the "way out" track again I looked up to see if I could spot anyone I knew, but I didn't so continued on the descent further down into Jamison Valley. The bottom is marked by a ford across Leura Creek, which although low wasn't low enough to avoid getting my socks wet again. This crossing marks the first of two creek crossings, separated by a +200m climb over a spur. This year I've been doing plenty of training through Jamison Valley running west to east. I'd identified trail runners going in this direction as those training for Mt Solitary. Trail runners going east to west I'd identified as those training for UTA, which also uses the same fire trail. The result had been a lot of people running this fire trail in recent months which is good to see people enjoying its semi-remote beauty.

The Sublime Point fire trail is seemingly endless and it played on my mind. Although I've run it pretty much every weekend so far this year there are bends along its length that still put me out and disorientate me. Looking up from the valley floor the mist from earlier in the day had set in and obscured the prominent sandstone cliffs that surround Jamison Valley. Most of my running along here was by myself. I'll admit that I was chasing a PB for this race. Back when I first ran Mt Solitary Ultra in 2011 I finished thinking that my time could have been a bit quicker. I was glad for Jo Brischetto when she set the previous course record in 2014 as I believe it was a time that I was capable of,  but believing and achieving are two very different things. On a few of the climbs I found myself switching between running and power walking as I didn't feel that running was any faster. To motivate myself I'd think about Jo and how much of the fire trail she would run up. I've done a few training runs with her and I know how strong she is, particularly on the hills.

Finish line. La Sportiva Australia
I ran as much of Kedumba Pass as I could. There are steep sections where I found it better to back off, particularly near the cutting. Where the trail was less steep I ran as much as I could, but I felt that my legs were slow and heavy. On the final rise before Queen Victoria Hospital I could see someone ahead cheering me on most enthusiastically. As I got closer it turned out to be Mum who'd driven up with Dad to surprise me on the trail. What a surprise it was, but our meeting was brief as I could hear the noise from the finish line and Luke Doyle announce over the speaker system that I had just 1 minute to break Jo's course record. I opened my stride and allowed my legs to carry me down the gentle slope and across the finish line in 5:28:10 for the win and female record.
Race Presentation; me and runner-up Chantelle Farrelly (L-R).
La Sportiva Helios 2.0 - Great super light weight trail shoes with excellent traction. I didn't slip or slide all race. They also dried really well after crossing Kedumba River.
La Sportiva Bushido - Brian also ran (part of the course). He said that the Bushido's had excellent grip and didn't falter on any of the terrain to the top of Furber Steps.
La Sportiva Snap Short - The weather was still warm enough for me to wear these light weight running shorts. They fit snugly on my hips and didn't restrict my movement.

Predominantly muesli bars and soft lolly party mix, washed down with cordial.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Knapsack Lap Race 6hr Solo 2016

Lap races to me sound pretty boring, they probably sound pretty boring to most people. I don’t mind training on the same section of trail again and again. I give my local trails a good work out, day after day, but I usually have a break of at least a day before revisiting the same section of trail. A lap race for that matter is usually not my preferred event format. I do make an exception to my rule for Running Wild NSW's Knapsack Lap Race, for a number of reasons. Other than the obvious one being that it’s in the Blue Mountains (Glenbrook), each 5.0km lap is entirely on undulating free flowing trail. Add to this the fact that it’s held on the Australia Day Public Holiday just adds to the event’s vibrant almost party like atmosphere.

Course map. Running Wild NSW
Prior to the event kicking off there is the mandatory singing of Advance Australia Fair (national anthem), this year sung by Blue Dog (aka Wayne Gregory). We stood to attention as a gathering of runners, not singers, and the acoustics at race HQ were not fantastic, neither was the PA system, but we manage to get through it with a feeling of pride and that the awkwardness of the rendition will soon be forgotten on the impending trails.

The group start comprise of runners competing in the solo, pairs and team’s 3hr and 6hr events, all several hundred of us. The event had sold out prior to race day. It’s a little crowded at the start and runners jostle for position firstly on the grassy sports oval, then on the intermittent narrow single track, wider single track and fire trail. About halfway around the first lap most people have found their place and we all move smoothly around the trail in one big stretched out conga line.
Lap profile.
My first goal for the run was to complete 60km’s. My next was to lap Brian as many times as possible. I managed 60km’s and twice, narrowly missing out on a third.

The first few 5km loops took about 29 minutes to complete. There is a water dump at around the halfway mark, but I mostly left that alone. I usually waited until I returned to race HQ at the completion of every lap to raid the esky for food and drink before carrying on. Hanging around race HQ is dangerous as there are supporters and team mates of other runners. It makes for quite a social affair, and a wanting distraction as the race progresses. It can be all too easy to mindlessly pilfer the esky or strike up a conversation, none of which aid in the progression of the lap race.

I had company for the first 3 hours of the run. I was joined by my cousin Taylor Miles whom I ran a lot with. Taylor was better on some section of the course than I was, so the gap between us ebbed and flowed, but we were mostly within sight of each other. I didn't know how hard he was pushing during his 3 hours until I found out that he'd exhausted himself totally just before the completion of his 6th lap.

It is difficult to keep track of laps and position during this race. The first three hours are spent speculating who is in the same division, as being overtaken doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going back a position. Along with race bibs runners have their division written in black marker pen on their calves. I often found myself scanning peoples calves to help identify their race/division. A few times I got despondent after being passed, only to realise that those nicely shaved silky smooth legs belonged to a guy, not a girl. Some runners passed at such speed that it became at times little demoralising knowing how much you’re fatiguing hour by hour, lap by lap. These faster runners were clearly part of a relay or team.
Possibly the first lap, possibly the last lap. Running Wild NSW.
After the 3hr mark the trail becomes a lot less crowded as the 3hr participants depart the trail and fatigue from other 6hr runners mean that their time at race HQ is extended. I admit that it was tempting to loiter at race HQ longer than I had too. I really did struggle to leave on the last few laps.

Every consecutive lap I completed was an opportunity to improve on the next laps. First time around I was following the runners heels ahead. The second time around I had a lot more space and could see the trail ahead a lot clearer. The third time around I tried different approaches to the bends, ascents and descents. I started experimenting with what felt better and more natural for me. Some rocks I would jump off with my left foot, others with my right. I would go around certain rocks on the left, for example, because it would help keep my momentum up as I went around the upcoming bend. Sometimes I’d try something different, and if it didn’t work then I’d try something different again on the next lap. By the last few laps however my legs and mind were starting to fatigue and what worked on laps 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 were now not working so well come lap 9 onwards. Consequently I started experimenting again, to find what was more comfortable in my progressively fatiguing state.

As the 6 hour mark was nearing I'd just completed my 11th lap having just caught up with fellow Berowra Bushrunner Eric Burgess. We'd both agreed that this lap together would be our last. Unfortunatley for me I was met by Brendan Davies, who instructed me that it was my duty as an ultra runner to run to the "end" and that meant another lap. I would have debated it if I had the energy, but the crowd support seemed to be in Brendan's favour so out I went again. As it happened Eric decided to leave for another lap, he needed the extra milage with a 100miler approaching for him. After pilfering through the esky one last time I made it my focus to catch up to him ASAP. It took all my effort to catch him, but once I did it was worth it as the company was much appreciated.

It was a gruelling day out there on the trails at Knapsack. I managed 12 laps for a total of +60kms (the laps were a little longer than the specified 5kms) in 6:23:45 and the win in the Female Solo 6hr.
Eric Burgess and I at the end of our 6hrs. Karin Burgess.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Kepler Challenge 2015

With the growth of trail running there is no such thing as an "off season". For the most part in Australia we don't have seasons which define the end of the trail running season, so potentially you can run all year round, year after year doing quality trail races. There are so many races on offer all year round now that it's necessary to create your own "off season" in order to allow the body to relax and reset the mind, both of which are necessary to be motivated enough for future races. For me I've already started to wind down and am doing the next couple of races for my own self interest and pleasure. To finish the 2015 calendar year I was once again fortunate enough to run the Kepler Challenge (60km), NZ. This was my third trip to Te Anau for the event, having run the Challenge in 2014 and the Grunt (27km) in 2011. For this trip across the "Ditch" I was accompanied by my parents.

My training for this year's race hadn't been very specific. I still did in excess of 100km weeks on the trails, but I hadn't been doing any long distance tempo runs. In the weeks leading up to Kepler I had started doing intervals once a week at the local oval, consisting of multiple runs at 90% effort, broken up with short recovery periods. I'd been doing these with faster friends in an effort to keep my efforts honest. Brian had been joining me for some of these sessions, even though he might have sat out one or two laps of the oval. 

At 6am the Kepler Challenge kicked off in the early dawn light. There is just enough natural light in this early stage of the event to distinguish the trail, and its occasional hazard, under the tree canopy. I was comfortably cruising along the early stages of the race as the trail ran alongside Lake Te Anau. I was happy with my early pace, which was no where near that of Ruby Muir and Zelah Morrall who quickly ran off out of sight. On this type of course they are two runners who stand above the rest. Zelah is the current course record holder, having set it in 2003, and there was speculation that Ruby might have been after the record this year, so there was no use in trying to tear off trying to keep up with those two. 

At Brod Bay (5.6km) the trail abruptly turns from near flat running to an incline that in places is just steep enough to want to walk, but is still runnable. Given my year of predominantly running Skyraces I wasn't going to walk unless I absolutely had to.
Lots of opportunities to see where you are going and were you have come from. Kepler Challenge Facebook.
I reached the Luxmore Hut checkpoint (13.8km) in third place. While I was getting my gear checked at the mandatory inspection, I saw Fiona Hayvice arrive at the checkpoint. We left close together and spent the next few kilometers, running along the exposed ridge line within sight of each other. On the descent, with seemingly endless switchbacks, down to Iris Burn Hut checkpoint (28.4km) I managed to close the gap to Fiona and we pretty much arrived at the checkpoint together.  
The views are gorgeous from the top. Kepler Challenge Facebook.
 It was along the back part of this course, where the trail is fairly flat as it runs alongside Iris Burn tributary where I lacked the speed, and probably the determination, to keep up with Fiona. I quickly started to lag behind and watched her depart into the distance, occasionally spotting her ahead on the straighter, more exposed sections of trail. Usually I'm more competitive and would chase after people, but my mind and body were in holiday mode and I was quite content to just enjoy my time on this gorgeous trail. 

A short way out from Rocky Point checkpoint (36.1km) I was caught and passed by Jean Beaumont. I'd met Jean at the Hounslow Classic a few months prior. Hounslow was more of an introduction, and running with her at Kepler was a good opportunity to develop that a bit further. Jean slowly edged out a lead and the gap between us slowly increased. As with Fiona I wasn't in any particular urge to chase after her, I was just enjoying the race run along the Kepler Track. Perhaps if I'd had Mick Donges encouraging me along this section of trail, like last year, then things might have been different.
I look way too exhausted for such a flat section of trail. Back Country Runner.

I was enjoying my run so much that it was a rather rude shock when I started to hear the finish line announcer's voice radiating down the trail. Crossing the Kepler Challenge finish line, and ending the trail running calendar year, in 6:31:46 was a feeling of elation and relief.  My focus for the year had been Oceania Skyrunning. I had focused on keeping myself fit and healthy for the entire year, while constantly fearing an unexpected injury. To get through my target races for the year without injury was very satisfying. There has been a lot of discussion about ultra trail runners burning themselves out by racing too much. I think this year I was able to train sustainably and peak at the right times, and fortunate enough to get results that I worked for and sometimes fluked. Now is the time to enjoy the festive season.

P.S. Brian thought that it was possible for me to run 6hrs at Kepler, given my training, however it turned out that I ran near perfect splits for 6:30. In hindsight I'm pretty pleased with the way that I managed to pace myself over the course. I got to enjoy the trail just that little bit longer.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Hounslow Classic, 68km, 2015

These race reports of mine are written primarily for myself, so that I can reflect on events surrounding trail races. I think it's important to remember what worked and what didn't so that faded memories don't distort the real story. I'm writing this report so that I remember to give Hounslow Classic the full respect that it deserves! There are so many aspects of this course that are intimidating; the 68km's, the technicality of the terrain, the +/-4100m shared over the 4 major ascents balanced with the 4 major descents. This course has the potential to chew you up and spit you out. 

The Hounslow Classic is located in the Grose Valley, just north of the upper Blue Mountains town of Blackheath, NSW, with the race hub at Govetts Leap. This part of the Blue Mountains are synonymous with imposing vertical sandstone cliffs which the course negotiates numerous times in several locations. For these reasons alone I just had to throw my hat into the ring and sign up. I love running in the Blue Mountains, and the lure to run in an area of the mountains I don't usually focus on was irresistible.
Justine Medin showing how big the valley is on a training run.
None of the climbs out of the Gross Valley are easy. From the valley floor they start rising at a respectable grade which can be considered as runnable, to an extent. This runnable grade wears away at the legs quickly and the pace slowly grinds from a high cadence run to power walking strides up these lower valley slopes. The further you ascend the steeper the grade, until you reach the bottom of the spectacular sandstone cliffs. The trails cutting through these cliffs are narrow and steep. To ascend these sections you often need to resort to a mix of hands on knees to help push yourself up and hand over hand using the available balustrades. Opportunities to run are extremely limited, until you reach the top of each climb. Every time I trained on the course I'd try to run further up the slopes before having to walk, or practice a better line to descend. I slowly discovered the places where I could push a little harder and areas where I needed to back off and either recover or conserve myself.
View from Lockley Pylon.
The Hounslow Classic was my first race following a fairly lengthy southern hemisphere winter break, with my last race being Mt Difficulty in New Zealand. Pretty much every second weekend I’d be up on the Hounslow course doing reps of Perrys Lookdown, or reps to Lockley Pylon, occasionally mixed with a few reps up to Govetts Leap or loop through the Grand Canyon. During every training session on the course I felt like a yo-yo running down into the valley before climbing up out of the valley. To ensure I did the desired amount of climbing I would drop down from Perrys, then do two reps from Blue Gum Forest up to Lockley's, which ensures that the last ascent of the session would be back up to Perrys and therefore the car. I find it best to remove unnecessary distractions during training, like returning to the car half way through a training session.
A bit of pre-race nervous chatter and sand bagging.
For me the worst part of any race is race morning. I often have a restless night’s sleep before a race, and the early morning starts means no sleep-in.  Then there’s the tough decision of “what do I wear”, as the clothes I picked to run in the night before no longer seem suitable to wear come morning. There is also the rechecking of the race pack, as if items that I’d previously packed the night before had disappeared and I have to guess the missing item. This series of events happens before I leave the house, again as I exit the car, and occasionally just before the start. The only thing that settles me down is the call to the start line.
The end of the first short loop. Hounslow Classic Facebook
The first couple hundred metres of the Hounslow Classic is up a bitumen road (the only bit of bitumen on the course), followed by another few hundred metres of descent, which sets the tone for the rest of the race, up down, up down, you get the gist. This part of the course is generously wide which allows runners to spread out and find a little space for themselves. The starting pace was nice and leisurely which allowed me to slowly warm up and loosen up. It normally takes me about 20 minutes of running to start getting into race mode so I had no complaints about the early pace.

After this little loop we started on the course in earnest. Being an out and back course, every descent would become an arduous ascent on the return. The race morning could not have been better. After early morning reports that it was raining in Blackheath, the weather cleared before the race to reveal this part of the Grose Valley’s spectacular beauty. As the first part of this course meanders along the cliff towards Evans Lookout the views over my left shoulder revealed the large ascents and descents that lay ahead. It is a natural beauty that us runners would respect in a very unique way, namely blood, sweat and/or tears.
The trick to trail running is to not touch the ground, like Maggie Jones and I.
I ran the first part of the race with Maggie Jones. I wasn’t expecting her to be up the front, but she kept a comfortable pace and there was no need to push any harder at this early stage. The open trail along the cliff line ended abruptly at Neats Glen carpark, where the trail turns sharply left, marking the descent into the leafy Grand Canyon track. This is where I thought I would pass Maggie but she was surprisingly quick on the descent and through the valley floor. I started feeling a little out of breath trying to stay with her. The first part of the descending trail is nicely landscaped, which gives you a false sense of security and draws you further down. It is not long however that the trail slowly changes and gives way to a more technical trail. The canyon is very picturesque and a nice place to dawdle in, though not so in the early stages of an ultra trail race. Generally I kept my position on the trail as it followed the river down to the valley floor beyond. There are sections of trail that cut in under overhanging rock formations where the head height is reduced and being small has its advantages. A little further down the trail, still on the descent into the valley, the trail is interrupted by a landslide which makes the trail almost indistinguishable. A little “local” knowledge helped in this area as the “better” route is loosely marked with red and white flagging tape.
One of the creek crossings in the Grand Canyon.
Shortly after the landslide section, the trail becomes more runnable and I enjoyed the feeling of gliding through the valley floor, listening to the babbling river beside me, while keeping a wary eye out for snakes. The rest of the trail back up to Govetts Leap is mostly runnable as it follows the Govetts Leap Brook from Junction Rock via Rodriguez Pass. The trail here slowly rises at a moderate runnable grade. The further you go however the more stairs start to appear and the steeper it gets. The defining point is at the base of Trinity Falls, as this marks the ascent up the cliff face. It is not a vertical ascent, but a tough slog up a track which cuts its way through the natural features of the sandstone cliff. It was at Trinity Falls that I edged past Maggie and tried to gap her on the ascent.
Coming up out of the Grose Valley for the first time. Hounslow Classic Facebook.
As I neared the top of the cliff, and the race hub at Govetts Leap, I could hear the cheers and cow bells ringing for the runners ahead. Once at the top I located Brian at the checkpoint who resupplied me then I did a quick check-in/check-out before departing for the long out and back section to The Pinnacles, via what seems like the most indirect route, probably because it was.
Feeling relieved that the dirt road section had come to an end at Perrys Lookdown. Hounslow Classic Facebook.
The next three kilometers were much like the first, where the trail meanders above the cliff line, this time with the views over my right shoulder. After a quick loop around the Pulpit Rock monument the trail goes up onto a dirt road. This is the section I liked least. All my training had been on the hills and technical trail. While running on this dirt road out to Perrys Lookdown I felt as though my speed was not much faster than the earlier climb up Rodriguez Pass. Although it is fairly flat, with little variation in elevation, I expected to be overtaken any moment by the rest of the field. I took consolation in the thought that I could make up any lost time on the following leg. It was around this time that the field started to spread out and I spent most of the time running by myself.
A bit of hands on knees action while climbing up to Du Faur Head. Clarke McClymont Facebook.
Between Perrys Lookout and The Pinnacles the trail descends down in the valley once again to Blue Gum Forest, where it crosses Govetts Creek via a natural log bridge (large fallen tree) and ascends the other side to Du Faur Head and Lockley Pylon before flattening out for the remaining stretch to The Pinnacles. The descent down the sandstone cliff from Perrys is very steep and a slip or trip could result in dire consequences. Given the amount of practice I'd had on this steep part of the course I ran down in a pretty reckless manner and managed to catch Ewan Horsburgh who was suffering a bit with cramps but seemed in good spirits. Once at the bottom of the cliff I opened my stride and cruised down the groomed trail as it descends down to the valley floor. Once across the log bridge my goal for the climb up to Lockley Pylon was to reach the top before the leader came back through on his return journey, half way up the climb I caught up with Loughlinn Kennedy who I'd meet on an earlier training run. It was Loughlinn's  longest distance race to date he was struggling a bit in the heat as it was starting to get very warm on this part of the course. I managed to scramble my way to the top of the climb before meeting Ben Duffus (eventual race winner) just after Lockley Pylon. Behind Ben there was a reasonable gap before I started seeing the chasers. I was keen to get the last bit of this section over as soon as possible. The trail on this side of the valley is comprised of lots of loose sharp rocks which make running difficult as you need to dance around in order to find suitable footing. It is also a section that I find goes on and on and on, hence a section that I tended to avoid during training.
"Do I really have to do it again?" Rebekah Markey Facebook.
At The Pinnacle checkpoint I was greeted by the Markey Family from my local running club Berowra Bushrunners. They were manning The Pinnacles checkpoint, which is also the turnaround point on the course. It was good to have familiar faces which goes a long way towards helping ease the anxious and quick checkpoint turnaround. I headed out for the return journey back over the same trail that I’d just completed, crossing paths with every other runner still out on the course, on their way to the Pinnacles. To keep myself motivated I played a game on the return whereby I wanted to reach a particular tree, or hill, or rock before seeing particular people. The next girl I saw was Maggie, followed closely by Lucy Bartholomew. Judging by the gap I guessed they would be having a good tussle on the return.

What I like most about trail running is how friendly we all are as a collective group. It doesn’t matter who you are, or where you are in the field, people are equally supportive. It makes it a pleasure to participate in events such as these where you are toughing it out on the same course together. There were lots of positive and encouraging comments being exchanged on this return trip and it made the return journey just that little bit quicker and more enjoyable. Meeting the sweepers while ascending Perrys marked the end of the field and a return to solemn running.
Feeling and looking a little exhausted on the return to Perrys Lookdown checkpoint.
There was a small but supportive crowd of spectators at Perrys Lookdown and after another quick refuel at the checkpoint it was onto the dreaded dirt road section again. Edwin Perry managed to reach the checkpoint just ahead of me, but I managed to transition quickly and left ahead of him. He put his long legs to good use and soon caught me and then sped off. Not long after Loughlinn reappeared and he looked a lot better then the last time I saw him. Loughlinn and I ran a bit together until he got to fast and I had to drop back. About halfway along the road section rain drops started to drop lightly out of the sky. Up until then the day had been almost perfect. In typical Blue Mountains style, the weather changed rapidly, this time with rain that slowly developed into a deluge, and briefly hail. I’m fortunate to have an awesome raincoat, so I put it on and it managed to keep everything above my waist dry, until the rain eased, and eventually stopped completely.

When I reached Pulpit Rock I was expecting to encounter more bushwalkers on the trail, but the rain had deterred most of them and the trail was generally free for me to run freely. I arrived at Govetts Leap once again for a final refuel before heading down into the valley one last time. Mentally this was the most difficult part of the race, to leave a checkpoint in which I would finish some 2.5 hours later. I can only imagine how hard it would be for those runners who were struggling to leave the checkpoint to complete the last loop.

I didn't see anyone again till the bottom of Neates Glen when I caught up with Andrew Lee. Andrew was struggling, but he hid it well with his positive attitude. We had a little catch up before I pushed ahead to finish what I'd started.

As I emerged from the Grand Canyon track I was greeted by my young nephews who had been prowling the trail waiting to see me come through. They don’t often get to see me race so this was a novelty for them. Their expectation was that I’d stop and have a chat or play with them on the trail. They were not impressed when I continued running up the switch backs and they couldn’t keep pace. I kept hearing their voices call out " Aunty Beth, please slow down". They unsuccessfully attempted to cut large sections of the switchbacks. It proved to be very amusing in this late stage of the race. They did manage to sort themselves out and get a lift around to Govetts Leap just in time to see me finish.
That was one welcome finish line. Clarke McClymont
After all the ascending and descending the last 50m of course is a gentle incline up to the finish line. As much as I wanted to walk it the gathered crowd kept me honest and I jogged up to the finish for the win in 9:45, 7th overall.
Post race debrief with Lucy Bartholomew (2nd) and Maggie Jones (3rd).
Mountain Sports continue to put on fantastic events and this is certainly no exception. Race Director Sean Greenhill managed to put together a truly challenging course surrounded by some of the most stunning views in the Blue Mountains. I'm sure he pulled strings to ensure good weather too. To top it off the flora was is full bloom, including numerous waratahs.
Hounslow Classic, 68km podium. Hounslow Classic Facebook.
My win at the Hounslow Classic also allowed me to secure the Oceania Skyrunning Series for 2015. I’ve really enjoyed participating in the series and competing in 4 new Skyrunning events:
The Hillary, 80km, NZ
Buffalo Stampede, 75km, VIC
Mount Difficulty, 43km  NZ 
Hounslow Classic, 68km, NSW.