This year’s Canberra Trail 100 was my first attempt at a 100km race. While not a stranger to long distance endurance events, the longest formal foot race I had previously completed was 21km, so needless to say I was coming into the event a novice. In summary, this race is a serious challenge of mind, body and soul and this year was no exception.
Friday night registration was a buzz of excitement and camaraderie as teams met (some for the first time) along with solo entrants to check-in. The My Rainbow Dreams Café hosted us all for dinner while every aspect of registering was overseen by a very proud Prachar Stegemann whose contented demeanor expressed: ‘These are my people’.
Welcomed by a beautiful clear day, perfect running temperatures and very little wind – it was near perfect conditions for the race. There was large group of solo competitors and huge number of teams making this year the largest field, eclipsing the inaugural event in 2013 by 1 runner.
Andé and Mike at the start.
What attracts me personally to endurance events like the Canberra Trail 100 is the human connection. As soon as the race was underway at 6am, the process of getting to know your fellow competitors commenced immediately. There is an intensity to the relationships that you develop while completing a race like this, especially as the day wears on, as your vulnerabilities are exposed.
I was very fortunate to meet a very excitable, affable and genuine fellow at the start of the first leg named Justin ‘Timberlake’ Hiatt. An accomplished runner (including a UAT 100 finisher this year), Justin was very generous with his advice and was an absolute joy to run with. Throughout the day we experienced the highest of highs and lowest of lows but encouraged each other to push through until the end. It was so special to meet a kindred spirit out on the journey, along with his Dad David, partner Ellen and Mum Jane.
Mike and Justin celebrate the completion of marathon #1 on the ascent of Mt Stromlo.
During the in between times I was also fortunate to run a few kilometers with Andrew Donaldson, who was competing in his 26th 100km event in 7 years! Andrew is an absolute inspiration and was happy to provide plentiful advice about endurance running. After the picturesque and challenging (i.e. traumatic) ascent off Black Mountain, I had the pleasure of running with another supreme athlete named Trish McKibbin. Also running her first 100km, Trish’s mature approach and humble character will undoubtedly make her one of the ultra-champions of the future!
In terms of my key ‘lessons learned’ to pass onto future aspiring entrants, here is my top three (all you experts can skip this bit!):
Set Out Slow – aim to run the flats of the first 50km 30 to 45 seconds slower than your cruising pace for a 20km run. For example, if your cruising pace is 5 minutes / kilometer, set out at a 5 minute 30 second pace. Andrew Donaldson drew me a virtual graph that illustrated that fast is flat when comparing running pace over time.
Walk The Ups – walk all the steep ups and even the little ups if you have been running for 5kms non-stop. It changes your blood flow and gives tired muscles a quick break. Whatever you walk you will more than make up for in the flats and the downs.
Practice Fueling – use your chosen energy sources during training sessions and do this lots. Feeling nauseous during the event was one of my biggest challenges.
Justin Hiatt informed me that a lot can happen in the second half of a 100km race. The race winner, Nicholas Hamilton ran out of water during leg 2 and dropped back to conserve energy until he could refuel at the 2nd transition. He was moving well when he passed Andrew Donaldson and me on the paddocks before Black Mountain and finished in a time of 11:01.
Andrew Donaldson who was in 5th place at the second transition calmly worked his way through the field from the very start to finish second in a time of 11:11. Andrew caught up with Justin Hiatt and me a few kilometres into the third leg, which is where we gave Justin some space to enter and dig himself out of a “dark hole”. Andrew encouraged me almost all the way to the Summit of Black Mountain but has inspired me for life!
Trish McKibbin caught me toward the base of Black Mountain and towed me over O’Connor Ridge until Lyneham High School. Trish finished third overall in a time of 11:25! Another 20km and I reckon she could have picked up Nick and Andy – she was so strong and methodical out there.
Abhishek Tiwari ran a solid race from the start and was only passed by Nick, Andy and Trish relatively late in the race to finish fourth overall in a time of 12:06.
The start of the 4th leg was my time to visit a dark place myself, brought on by nausea and exhaustion. To illustrate, kilometers 80 to 82 took 34 minutes in flat terrain!! Thankfully my friends Trev and Nat Fairhurst came out to help me take my mind off the pain – if anyone could understand what I was experiencing it was these two. Another friend Travis Haslam then arrived to get me running again for a few kilometers until the start of the Mount Majura climb.
The turning point in my final leg was the ‘wooo hooo’ arrival of Justin ‘Timberlake’ Hiatt who was back from oblivion and excited by the prospect of sunset over Mount Ainslie followed by a jubilant finish.
Smiles back at 92km and cadence still matching...
For anyone who knows Justin, his enthusiasm for life is infectious, and we set off again with a matching cadence as we had throughout the whole race.
Justin got his sunset!
All downhill now to the finish...
Overall, there were 35 solo finishers from 54 starters and every one of these athletes made lifelong connections and has an amazing story to tell. Take Anthony Miles, Morgan Pettit and Caroline Warner who finished together at 11.15pm in a time of 17 hours and 15 minutes – I am in total awe of these three and hope that I can hear their story of the 2019 Canberra Trail 100.
A vote of heartfelt thanks to: Tash, Amelie and Ciaran for being my support crew; My friends who came out to cheer me on (thanks Dave, Mel, Ellie and Penny) including those competing (well done Heather, Alina, Michelle, Rach); Andre Camilleri (finished in 16:05) for encouraging me to try an ultra; Joe Howland for keeping my body functional, and to the selfless Sri Chinmoy team for yet another inspiring event to challenge one’s self and build the social fabric of our Canberra community.
The Inaugural Sri Chinmoy Canberra Centenary 100km Trail Run by Tom Brazier, 23, Canberra.
During my pre-race stalking of competitors, a few familiar names left me looking forward to the challenge of a closely contested race, with quite a few guys all within reach of each other depending on how things went on the day.
After a hectic drive from Belconnen into Lake Burley Griffin, we arrived with five minutes to spare before the start, phew! Saw some friendly faces in the starting bunch including Gus Hayes, Pierre Francois and Damo Stewart. Determined not to be that young guy who went out too hard and paid for it later in the race, it was a relief to have Wes Gibson and Paul Cuthbert lead us out at a reasonable pace. I tucked in with Damian Smith to reminisce about our wrong turn during Tour de Ridges last year while we trotted past Parliament House.
Once we hit Red Hill, Wes, Paul, Damo and I worked together to put a bit of time into the rest of the field. Isaac’s Ridge was my favourite section – stories about our favourite races plus some nerdy runner gear chat. Jokes were made about the temptation to take off on the downhill single track but we stuck to our semi-disciplined pacing strategy. The climb up Taylor was the first sustained walking section, and we all followed Paul down the slopes into CP1.
Quick transitions all round, Sarah had my “delicious” powdered food ready to go and we were off towards Mt Arawang. On the downhill single track I took a chance to be the rabbit off the front, figuring that the other guys would catch me on the upcoming flats, but it would cost them a bit of extra effort. Rob Walter sprinted past me on his way to a sub-7 relay team finish, crazily fast! Soon Paul caught me and we ran across the Stromlo grass track together feeling like school cross country kids.
Paul took the lead as we hiked up the fire trails, and I couldn’t see anyone behind us on the switchbacks. I wanted to have a lead going into the flatter leg 3, as I was feeling strong on the hills but vulnerable on the fast running sections, so snuck away from Paul as we came down from Stromlo. The Arboretum section seemed to drag on forever until finally I shuffled into CP2, desperate for sunscreen and craving some water.
Once again Sarah was on top of everything and seeing the ANU tri club relay boys was a boost. It was clear the next leg would be a battle, as I resorted to a walk-run combo through the cork plantation. Brad Carron-Arthur sped past me on his way to the 3rd fastest time for leg 3, having only been called up to race a few days beforehand. However I saw him again a few minutes later on the Aranda powerline track, where some of the course markings had been interfered with. Fortunately Elizabeth Humphries came through with perfect timing and showed us the correct route, thanks!
Black mountain was a struggle but I was spurred on by a steady stream of relay runner reports of Paul being 5mins or 500m behind me, just out of sight. A bit of warm, flat coke near the top did the trick (or maybe it was the fact we were heading downhill again) and my spirits picked up towards Bruce Ridge. It was a lonely, steady jog from here through the footpaths of Lyneham and the stormwater drains of Dickson. The party atmosphere at CP3 was encouraging but I had to stay on task so it was quickly off to Majura.
Hiking up to the saddle, I reached the out-and-back summit section and opted for a rogaining inspired bag drop. A strategic call to my crew at CP3 gave them a bit of a fright, but got me an update on who was chasing and how close they were. I managed to get back from the trig, grab my pack and sneak off before any solo runners came through. This gave me the psychological edge of being out of sight of any chasers, so I really had to concentrate on not taking a tumble down the mountain. A quick calculation told me a sub-10 finish was achievable.
Just before the final Ainslie climb, up popped an aid station with Tom Landon-Smith from AROC, and I managed a “You organised TNF100, both our names are Tom!” I hiked purposefully up the back of Ainslie, stealing a glance over my shoulder where possible. All of a sudden I was running on that damned concrete again, coming down Ainslie and around the lake towards the finish. A cheeky challenge from my mate Jack saw me “sprint” up the final grassy hill – 9:48:48. The training, planning and support from family and crew all came together for a thoroughly enjoyable race.
Thanks to the Sri Chinmoy marathon team and Martin Fryer for a fun and challenging new course. The aid station volunteers were super friendly and supportive. Congrats to the other solo finishers and thanks to the relay crews for the motivation as they flew past us.
Nutrition: Skipped the gluten loading party on Friday night (editor's note-gluten free options were available!) ~240 cals/hr of homemade mix - 80% maltodextrin / 20% soy protein isolate + flavouring/electrolytes. 500mL water/hr with extra at CPs. A bit of coke at aid stations and 100mg caffeine on the last two legs.
Gear: Inov8 Trailroc 255, Ultimate Direction PB vest.
Up until this 100k race I had only done one other ultra race - the Brindabella 100 miler (165km, an epic fatass event on again in 2015 - check it out at http://brindabella100.com/) in February 2012. I took that race so easy at the start that I felt fresh at the 100k mark, and it is hillier (4600m ascent) so I knew I would have few issues making 100k. I just wasn't sure I could really race it and hammer the downhills without blowing up. Despite only racing one ultra I have done a heap of sillly training runs over the last 3 years such as an 85km run from my home in Holder to BlueWaterholes inKosciuszko National Park, via Kambah Pool/Tidbinbilla/Corin.
I had decided I would take the start of the race very easy as I was a bit under done with sickness leading up to race day, but managed to get in 2 decent 50/60k runs in the 2 months beforehand. They were very hilly runs on my current favourite long run course - Holder to Cotter, then on firetrails/motorbike trails/no trails to Tidbinbilla, then back via Bullen Range somewhat randomly either via Kambah Pool or Pine Island or somewehere in between, and home. There probably is a pattern there, getting sick after every 50/60k run which finished with a freezing cold swim across the Murrumbidgee River, but I like to ignore such trivial things.
Right from the start of the 100k I stuck religiously to my non-scientific strategy of saving my legs by walking down every steep downhill early in the race. I kept this up until about the 40k mark when we hit Stromlo Forest Park and was in 8th place amongst the solos. I had run very easy, but was a bit concerned as I definitely didn't feel as fresh as I hoped.
My downhill strategy meant I was with running politician extraordinaire Shane Rattenbury along the top of Red Hill, but lost so much time walking down that I only just caught him at the top of Isaacs. Walked down Isaacs, nearly caught him again at the top of Mt Taylor. Walked down, nearly caught him at the top of Mt Arawang. Walked down, and finally caught and passed him halfway up Stromlo. I then got sick of the yo-yoing and started running the downhills. Shane started having cramping problems not long after, so I didn't see him again.
Including Shane, I passed 2 other solo runners on the way up or down Mt Stromlo, and by the end of leg 2 at the National Arboretum was in 4th place, 12 minutes down on the leader Thomas Brazier.
I started to struggle in leg 3 but pepped up a bit on the summit trail of Black Mountain where I had my first date (yes - a running date) 13 years ago with my wonderful wife Simone, who was also my helper for the race. To stop her from getting bored during the long day I had gone for a high work rate helper strategy - I was carrying only the bare minimum allowed amount of water in 2 x 250ml flasks strapped to a minimal triathlon water belt. I had her follow me around all day and give me water every 5km or so, allowing me to run free without a pack and in my mind enabling me to enjoy the event a lot more.
I was feeling good and ran in to 2nd place at the back of O'Connor, passing eventual 2nd place finisher Paul Cuthbert up a hill, but then took a hard fall a km later on the last steep downhill bit of dirt before exiting the reserve (why didn't I walk that one?). I would like to blame the fall for my very average performance after that, but it was more likely the running on the paths/stormwater drains through O'Connor/Dickson to the end of the leg. Paul was running well on the flats/downhills and only struggling on the uphills, but I really struggled mentally once we exited the dirt, and I cracked and he was able to put a few minutes on me in the last 3km of the leg.
My strategy of saving my legs early seemed to have worked for a while, but was long forgotten by the time I started leg 4, and was struggling up Mt Majura. I managed to run down off Majura okay, but I then got lost due to some mischievous modifications to the course markings (damn those Hackett NIMBYs!) and lost perhaps 15 minutes (2 or 3km at my current pace) and also lost 3rd place to Andrew Donaldson who I didn't see all day. It was that sort of a race, only getting one glimpse or two or none, of other competitors all day.
I really just wanted the race to be over and done with in the last 10km, struggling up Mt Ainslie, then hobbling down the horrible Ainslie walking path. I was still able to run, but it was not pretty. The last km or so along the lake was painful, but I managed to run it in solidly. I was very happy to finish in a tad under 10hrs 30 min.
Thanks to the wonderful Sri Chinmoy Marathon team for a great event, all the volunteers for their help and enthusiasm, and all the solo runners for their camaraderie, and to all the team runners (of which there were some very impressive performances) and supporters who all gave me encouragement out there during the day. And also to local ultra legend Martin Fryer for designing and marking the course, and re-marking again on race day.
Highlights for me:
* The zig-zagging track following kangaroo trails through the O'Malley Woodlands, one of my favourite running places. I could easily do a whole 100km in the woodlands.
* The scenic summit trail on Black Mountain, one of Canberra's hidden treasures.
* The encouragement from every team runner who passed me (okay, all except one - there was one that was in the zone).
Lowlights for me:
* Disappointment yet again running through the Coppins Crossing causeway under the road. I have come across a lingerie photo shoot there previously. Unfortunately nothing interesting to report this time.
* The frequent NIMBY course marking issues.
* The descent down Mt Ainslie. Ouch!
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2013: Kathryn Alley's Solo run Report
I went into this race very much underprepared and lacking self-confidence. I had given myself about 8 weeks to train for it, and prior to this my training was primarily focused on the 10km at the Gold Coast Marathon so my weekly mileage was never huge, certainly not that of an ultra-marathoner. However, I had just completed the Kokoda Challenge and I had a score to settle with the distance. So I signed up and commenced training.
All was going okay and I was getting in as many km’s each week as I possibly could until about 5 weeks out when I suffered a pretty bad netball injury. I, of course, didn’t give it time to heal before getting back on it. The pain became so bad that I had to cease running two weeks out from the race. To add to my increasing stress levels, I began reading online blogs and forums on training programs and suggested weekly mileages for ultra-marathons. The highest weekly total I had reached was only 80km. I sat up late at night researching and reading horror stories of experienced runners failing to finish the distance and I couldn’t help but question why on earth I was doing this. My head was filled with so much self-doubt.
Regardless of this, I lined up at the start line with 50 or so other individual runners (relay runners starting a short time after us) on a very cool Canberra morning to take on my first 100k’er. My only aim for the day was to get to the finish. I had driven all the way from Queensland to run it so there was no way I wasn’t finishing! The race consisted of 4 legs, each ranging from roughly 23km to 30km. It started and finished at Regatta Point, taking in all the beautiful peaks surrounding Canberra. Funnily, when I told people I was running in Canberra, their response was always ‘oh well, at least it’s flat!’… it ain’t flat!
The first leg of the race basically went to plan. My ankle was feeling ok but I did notice that I was feeling really flat. Maybe it was from the drive down or the lack of running I had done in the lead up. Whatever it was, running was much more difficult than usual today. Our first climb was Red Hill, up behind Parliament House, and as I turned to take in the beautiful view of Canberra (with the hot air balloons in full-flight) I was reminded why I was doing this race, in this city. It was stunning! I couldn’t help but look back three or four more times before heading back down the hill again. Relay runners, who had started 30mins after us, were starting to overtake me now. I enjoyed hearing their encouragement and watched in awe as they made mountain running look like a walk in the park. They were really motoring! The rest of this leg was beautiful trail running and really quite enjoyable. Mt Taylor itself was a bit harsh so I was happy to reach 23.5km and see my family waiting at the first check point.
After a quick snack, a re-stock and a toilet break I was back off into the bush. This next section was the longest – 30.1km. I decided to break the section up into 10km lots to make it easier, mentally, to deal with. The climb up Mt Stromlo felt pretty horrible. I started to really doubt that I would still be running at 60, 70 or even 80km. Relay runners were coming thick and fast now. One was nice enough to offer me some M&M’s as he passed! I felt so defeated knowing that I wasn’t even 40km in and I was already getting dominated by hills. So I had a little moment within, and then told myself I was being soft and I made myself run right to the top! A good downhill section followed, thank goodness!
I would go from having moments of feeling great to those of feeling really flat. I would just tell myself that the low moments were only temporary and I’d feel better in no time at all. It seemed to work. I passed the 42.2km mark in about 5 hours. The flat trail sections were starting to become a little difficult however I was still managing 5.30min/kms so I kept pushing through – beginning now to think that maybe sub 13 hours was possible. I spent the rest of this leg trying to work out how to pronounce Arboretum…no kidding. It was doing my head in but it kept my mind occupied.
Coming into the Ar-bor-e-tum was a lovely little hill. With all the spectators waiting at the top cheering us all on, I had no choice but to run it! That hurt. 53km done!
Sitting on a rock eating my vegemite sandwich, I made the poor choice in looking at what was ahead of me – Black Mountain. Maybe it was because I was so fatigued but the mountain looked freakin’ enormous. I already knew this section was going to be the hardest mentally but it now appeared it was going to be the toughest physically. I left this checkpoint feeling pretty stiff and sore but still in pretty good spirits.
I took off with my son Jack running next to me – I was so tired that I had to tell him to slow down! A quick hug and I was off out of sight again. The flat sections were now extremely difficult to run and I actually looked forward to the hills as it gave me an excuse to walk. I kept my eye on Telecom Tower as I edged closer to it. I had to keep reminding myself that this climb was one of the reasons I had signed up so I just needed to do my best to enjoy it! Before I knew it I was heading straight up the mountain. I was hurting and it was at this point where I got my phone out and texted my husband Pete – words I wouldn’t repeat! I really wasn’t impressed with myself when I failed to see the arrows on the path that resulted in me taking a wrong turn, ending up at the very top and staring straight at the tower! Before I wasted too much time trying to figure out which way I was supposed to go, a lady appeared and told me I had come the wrong way and that I needed to retrace my steps until I got to the markers! “At least it’s a stunning day so it’s a great view up here!” she yelled at me as I made my way back into the bush. I couldn’t help but laugh. It wasn’t long before I found the track again and followed the most amazing trail all the way around the mountain. I even managed to overtake a relay runner! The thoughts I had earlier when texting Pete had gone and I was in a happy place again.
I was born in Canberra and a lot of my childhood memories are from this town. Canberra means a lot to my family and me. So it was pretty special to finally make it out of the bush and run straight past my grandparents’ old street in O’Connor. I took a brief moment to reflect on those special memories, almost overcome with emotion thinking of my dear Grandma who had been admitted to hospital the day before this race. Little did I know then that she would pass away a few weeks later. This run now means far more to me than ever before.
After passing good old Wattle Street, I was now making my way through the flat concrete paths of Lyneham. This was around 70km or so in. I didn’t have my Garmin on during this leg so I could only guess how long until the next checkpoint. Having to stop at traffic lights was a good excuse to not have to move. I had to resist the temptation to sit on the ground! Flat pavements sometimes met with steep storm water drains that we had to go down…and then back up again. Was this a cruel joke?? A couple of km’s out of checkpoint 3 I picked up a solo runner (Nick) who was looking a little lost. We managed to find the arrows and shuffled our way along making small chitchat, and finding out a little bit about each other before I had to tell him to continue on without me because I needed a walking break. I was completely stuffed.
A nice sized group was still gathered at check point 3 despite there probably not being too many people behind me at this stage. Most of the relay runners would have passed through hours ago and I wasn’t too sure how many runners were left behind me. I appreciated the crowd’s encouragement and it certainly perked me up. 76km in, 24km to go!
One of the rules of the race was that any solo runner leaving checkpoint 3 after 4.30pm was to be accompanied by another runner. So I had my big sister run with me for the last leg of the run. I know when I asked her to be my support runner she was concerned she may not be able to keep up. Well, after 75km I was about as fast as a turtle and had to keep apologising for the extremely slow pace and the constant stoppages. We ended up catching up with Nick as we made our way up Mt Majura and I think both he and my sister enjoyed the extra company and conversation, as I didn’t have much to say at this point. The climb up Majura was pretty steep and harsh but was made better by the lovely people at the top serving hot soup! It was even sweeter when they remarked I was one of the freshest looking 100km runners they had seen that day! I was flattered but told them my legs were screaming at me to stop with this madness.
As we came off Majura the darkness was beginning to close in now and the temperature was dropping. We knew we only had one peak to go – Mt Ainslie! We were still managing to jog the flats and downhill’s, just not the uphill’s. Just before the climb up the back of Ainslie we were met with a food and drink station – some poor bloke standing in the middle of the dark bush serving drinks, soup and fruit. I am very grateful to those volunteers taking time out of their weekend to provide support, especially guys like this doing it all on his own in the dark. We are now thinking we have under 10km to go. Easy right? On any other day it would be, just not today.
Mt Ainslie was a steep climb but the conversation was flowing so it didn’t feel like it took us all that long to reach the top. Once at the top the view was incredible and this was the point of the race I was excited about. I was 5km from the finish and in fact could pretty much see the finish line from here. A few quick snaps, a text to mum to let her know we weren’t far, and off we went down the mountain. Nick didn’t wait around for us to do all this but it wasn’t long before we caught up to him again. From this point, right to the finish, we did not stop running! We came off the mountain behind the War Memorial and saw mum and Jack sitting in the car waiting for us to come out of the bush. We yelled something like “we’re not stopping to chat, get to the finish!”. We ran down past the War Memorial and onto Anzac Parade with Nick giving us a brief history lesson along the way. At every traffic light we approached I silently prayed for a red light so we could stop and I could catch my breath. However, it was like something (someone!) was at work here and every time we approached the lights they would turn GREEN! Incredible! We hit the path that runs alongside Parkes Way that takes us all the way to the finish. There was certainly no stopping now. My Garmin was out of action so I am unsure of the pace but we guessed we were sitting around 5.30min/kms. I’ll be honest, I had visualised a faster finish but I’d run almost 100km by this point so it was all I could manage (I should probably cut myself some slack). After what seemed like an eternity running along Lake Burley Griffin, we were finally at Regatta Point! But for one final bit of pain, to actually cross the finish line, we had to run up the hill that we had run down at the very start of the race nearly 14 hours ago! Hand in hand we ran together, up the short yet sharp hill, stepping over the finish line in 13 hours 55 minutes. Just in time for presentations to get our trophies! 5th place female! I had done it and have never felt more proud of myself for getting out there and getting the job done, despite being way out of my depth. I was a rookie amongst a field of very experienced ultra-marathon runners. I never treated this run as a race. I knew I was outclassed and I was fully aware of the fact that I hadn’t put in the amount of hours and hard work needed to be competitive against the other girls. I am excited at the prospect of again one day racing 100km but on this day I had to respect the distance and just cruise through at my own pace.
People told me I was crazy for running 100km. I think people are crazy not to. It was certainly one of the hardest challenges I have set myself but it was also one of the most satisfying things I have ever done. I am very grateful for the support I had from my family on the day. I know the last 24km would have been absolute hell on earth had I not had my sister with me, so thank you SJ for dragging my sore and sorry butt to the finish line, and for the sweet sounds of the Boss in the car ride home… and the sticky chilli prawns for dinner! Legend!
I am excited to see the race directors have put the event on again this year because I am keen to give it another crack, but this time I’ll be better prepared for it! Sub 13 hours? I reckon so!
"The cheerfulness of the heart and the determination of the mind can perform any miracle they want to."
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2013: Steve Hanley's team report
Steve Hanley's Report 2013
Knowing pretty much every metre of the course it sounded like a good day out on foot, Alex thought the same and suggested we team up. As he has a few long trail run events coming up and I am competing in Triple Tri solo we both were keen on doing the event....
YMCA Yaks Team Report 2013 (link is external)
We entered as a team of four, each reasonably experienced runners. We’re all part of the YMCA Canberra Runners Club and came up with the team name of YMCA Yaks. It should be noted that none of us bear any resemblance to a Yak...
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2014: Sri Chinmoy Canberra 101 Trail Run - Paul Cuthbert's Race Report
The Sri Chinmoy Canberra Centenary ultra is one of my favourites, more than anything because it showcases what a beautiful place Canberra is. Where else in the world can you host an ultra run that circumnavigates a major city while spending most of its time in the bush? Throw in a heap of mountains (hills actually) and you have a great race.
This was the second year running, with an extra km added to celebrate. I came second last year, and was hoping to improve this year. I am fitter than last year, and scoping out the form guide I didn’t see any super stars, but as always in racing you never know what’s going to happen on the day. Long story short I ran really well, everything went to plan, but was beaten by a stronger competitor. Kudos to Bradley Carron-Arthur. On the negative side I missed out on first place. On the positive side I did a PB, plus I have extra motivation to train hard for next year. I’m a glass half full kind of person.
My lead up to this race involved a bit more tapering and less running than I usually do. I strained a glute two weeks before race day and despite loads of stretching and massage it still wasn’t fully healed. It was the sort of injury that could easily go away with a long run and not be a problem at all, or might flare up and risk my first DNF. I briefly considered pulling out to avoid the risk of a DNF, but being motivated by the great Kilian Jornet, “I am not afraid to fail”, decided this really wasn’t kosher. Fortunately the injury went away in the first leg and caused no problems after the first 20 metres limping down the hill. Love the body.
Pretty much from the start I was running with Brad. There were a couple of other people as well. John Power broke away at one stage early on which made me uncomfortable, because being a mate I really didn’t want to see him blow up. He ended up having a great race so my fears were unjustified. Another “unknown” to me (Stuart Davies) made a serious break away on the first leg, and was out of sight for ages, but it was too early on to know if he could maintain the pace.
Coming into CP1 my plan was to ditch Brad and run the rest of the race at my own pace (aside from Stu, who was still in front). I raced down Taylor and did a super quick change of packs with Tom Brazier on support. The plan seemed to be going well and I was running by myself for most of this leg, aside from passing Stu who looked in a bad state a few km later. (Checking the results later I see that although he slowed, Stu kept going and was consistent the remainder of the race - so kudos to Stuart Davies as well).
Approaching CP2, Brad had caught up and we ran together into the CP. By now we had covered over 50km and so I knew I had real competition by my side. The second half of this race was clearly going to push me!
I managed a quick transition and left the CP in front of Brad. He was soon to catch up and passed me heading up Black Mountain. I was quickly realising that Brad was faster than me on the uphills and I was faster on the downhills. Usually it’s the opposite, with race competitors passing me on the downhills. I ran the mexican hat on Black Mountain feeling less than ordinary, but somehow managed to catch Brad again later as we were leaving Black Mountain.
Around this time I stumbled a couple of times, and finally fell and grazed myself. I was getting tired and sloppy with my feet. This was definitely not the message I wanted my competitor to see. Brad managed to break away after I fell (after checking I was OK and graciously offering his help), and so I chased him all the way into CP3.
I hung around a little too long at CP3 and was gradually giving in mentally. I could see that Brad was a tough competitor, and having run Canberra to Cape York I knew he would not give up easily. Still there’s was always the hope he was feeling worse than me so I pushed on and tried to avoid losing too much time. I figured I would push at least until the Mt Ainslie summit ridge, where I would see what sort of lead he had and what condition each of us was in.
By the time I made the summit ridge I could see Brad had a decent lead. It was not insurmountable if I was feeling good and he wasn’t, but unfortunately I wasn’t feeling good! At this point I was pretty sure it was going to be a 2nd place finish, provided nobody was right behind me. I made it to the top and down again without seeing third place, so with 15+ minutes up my sleeve I had a pretty comfortable lead on third.
I really didn’t want to get lazy for the remained of the leg, so I kept telling myself that either David Baldwin or Andrew Donaldson (both running the last leg) would soon overtake me, and how embarrassing it would be if this occurred while I was walking on the flat. It was a silly mental game but helped me keep going to the end.
I crossed the finish line in a time of 9:53:27, which is almost 17 minutes faster than last year. The course didn’t climb Stromlo, but was an extra km, so I really don’t know if it was easier or harder this year around. I figure it was about the same so I’m wrapped with a PB and pleased with how I ran. Can’t wait for next year.
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2014: Chris Toyne's Race Report
The 2014 edition of the Sri Chinmoy Canberra 101 trail run was to be my first proper ultra run. I had run a few road and trail marathons previously, and while I have a sneaking suspicion that there is a sub-3 hour marathon lurking in me somewhere, the thought of spending a good part of the year training to shave another few minutes off my time didn’t appeal. Being a Canberra local, I had seen the ultra runners last year making their way around the loop, and after reading the inspirational race reports from last year’s race I was in.
One of the nice things about training for the race was that I got to spend a large amount of time running on the various hills and trails in the Canberra nature park network; my Sunday morning long run was something I looked forward to each week. Seven months of building up my distances, hitting the hills, and running a few training races left me with the confidence that I could finish the run, but a longest run of only 5 hours (46km) meant that there was some uncertainty about just how I would get there. (For those interested, I found the training program set out by Don Wallace a great resource.)
The first two stages of the run were largely uneventful. The first stage disappeared without a lot of thought – there were plenty of distractions in the form of beautiful scenery, chat with fellow competitors and the excitement of my first ultra. The second stage over Mt Arawang, over the dam and out the back of the arboretum was long, warm, and to be honest a little boring, but I was lucky enough to fall into stride with Saxon Brown and we kept each other company for a couple of hours. By the end of this stage I was feeling strong, looking forward seeing my family at checkpoint 2 (55km), and eating some real food (GU is great stuff, but I was getting a little tired after number 9…). I was also getting quite excited and nervous at the thought of what was to come – 55km was 10km further than I had run before, and I was curious to find out how much longer I could go on like this.
Not much longer, as it turned out. About 2 km into the stage another runner warned me of the presence of two brown snakes doing what brown snakes do on the first warm day of Spring. Unfortunately they were doing it in the middle of the path – and while I waited a few minutes to warn the next runner through (the snakes didn’t seem to recognise the importance of the sporting event they were interrupting) all the running seemed to leave my legs. I found it difficult to get into a rhythm again, and as I climbed up into the Aranda Bushland I entered my first dark period of the race. A short walk break at 60km was followed pretty soon by another one, and the doubts entered my mind. The next 10km up and over Black Mountain – usually one of my favourite runs – was a misery as I found it increasingly difficult to end each walking break and as I mentally started calculating how long I would have to endure this if I were to finish. What was usually a 55 minute run on a Sunday morning training run took an hour and a half – and it seemed longer. Worse, I couldn’t seem to run downhill – my quads were screaming and no amount of Jens Voigt-like exhortations to “shut up legs” would help.
Eventually, however, I made it off Black Mountain, my ‘running breaks’ became longer, and my mood started to lighten. I had a few words to Wes Gibson, whose race was going much worse than mine, and that helped me put my plight into a bit of perspective. The 7km until the next checkpoint at Dickson was mostly flat, and I was able to pass the time talking with fellow competitor Adrian Cengia. Life was improving. I was also due to meet my mate and designated pacer Adrian at the checkpoint, and this gave me something to look forward to.
The fourth stage on Mounts Majura and Ainslie was one I was very familiar with, and I began mentally ticking off the kilometres as we made steady progress. Although I was in good spirits, the race was beginning to take its toll on my concentration. During a walk break I managed to tread on a shingleback that was being admired by a couple of bushwalkers – I blame Adrian, he was my ears and eyes at that point! (The shingleback was annoyed but fine, it’d take a tank to stop one of those things. The bushwalkers were also annoyed…) Looking back on my times for this segment, they weren’t that much quicker than on Black Mountain, they just seemed that way.
Finally, we had only Mount Ainslie and a short run to the lake to go. I had been looking forward to the climb for a while: the uphills were still going well, and I was hoping to pick off a couple of runners ahead of me on the climb. Indeed, I managed to overhaul three runners before the summit, including the redoubtable Pam Muston – this was going alright! I even left Adrian behind, much to the consternation of his partner who was waiting at the top of the hill. But I also knew that the steepest descent of the day was coming up, and I wasn’t sure the legs were going to allow me an easy finish. As soon as we started going down, I slowed to a hobble. Worse, this caused my blood pressure to drop, and I got woozy and nauseated (post exercise hypotension, for the medically inclined among you). I needed to sit down several times on the way down, and I entered my darkest mood of the day – I was 4km from the finish, and I could see no way of getting myself there. I was pretty close to tears.
Eventually – amazingly – with the encouragement of Adrian I managed to reach the bottom of the descent, and as I started running again my head cleared, my mood lightened and my pace increased. By Anzac Parade I was moving well, and even better there were three solo runners ahead to pick off before the finish line! Only John Power responded to my challenge of “let’s see what we’ve got left!”, and the last kilometre or so was a closely fought sprint finish. Barely 15 minutes before I had been sitting on a step on the Mount Ainslie path, feeling sick and wondering who was going to carry me home, and here I was finishing the race at 4:30 pace. I just managed to outlast John for 9th place overall.
Coming into the race, I had read a lot about the ability of an ultramarathon to send one to some pretty dark places, and about the importance of pushing through these places to the other side. More than anything else about this event, I was most looking forward to experiencing some of these lows, and testing my ability to push onward. I certainly found a couple of these dark places, and although I was hobbling and in great discomfort I have come to realise in the days after the race that these dark places were largely mental, not physical barriers. My legs weren’t any less damaged once I got off Black Mountain, nor did they magically heal once I go to within sight of the finish line. The realisation that it was my mind, not my body, which was failing me at those points has been one of my more humbling experiences. But it also made the sprint finish all the sweeter.
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2014: Kathryn Alley's Race Report
I am never running another 100km race ever again. These were my first words to friends and family when I finished the 2013 Canberra 100K.
After telling myself that I have ticked the ultra-marathon box, and that I don’t need to put myself through such physical and mental torment again, the thoughts of going back to Canberra for another go, to better my time and place started creeping in. Before I knew it, I had committed to a training program and signed myself up. I wanted to compete against the girls this year. I wanted to come in under 13 hours and most of all I wanted that podium finish.
But let’s start from the beginning. In May this year my husband (and amazing friends) surprised me for my 30th with an entry into the New York City Marathon which is to be staged in November. I was excited and started dreaming of how fast a time I could do. But then my mind turned to Canberra. Could I still do the 100 and then back up 5 weeks later for my first ever marathon? I had to weigh up priorities. To do well in New York or do well in Canberra? The temptation of smashing out a solid 100km time in Canberra took out the top spot. My goal for the year now was to give Canberra a good crack and just go out and have a good time in New York.
In much the same style as last year, I started my training about 10 weeks out. I enlisted the services of super coach Brendan Murray (BME Endurance Coaching – look him up, he’s a legend and gets results!) and the ‘fun’ began. We didn’t have a heap of time to build up to the mileage most ultra-runners get to for a race like this but rather we went in with high quality sessions. I was conditioned to deal with pushing through solid sessions on tired legs and a tired mind. Some days it felt like I was dragging myself out of the house kicking and screaming. It seemed like the weather was always cold (for the Gold Coast anyway), dark and windy and most sessions were done alone. I won’t lie, it was the pits. But I remained focused knowing that this sort of conditioning would be exactly what I needed when I am in the depths of the race and I needed to rely on my mental strength to get through.
I scoped out the start list and saw that there were some ladies with very strong ultra backgrounds. Third place from last year was also returning so I knew I had a big task ahead if I wanted to get a place. My thoughts were going from ‘just go out and have a good run’ to ‘get out there and give it everything’. I figured it would probably come down to Pam Muston and Sarah Fien to take out the two top positions so my game plan was to keep them in sight and see what happens.
Race morning came around and in true Canberra style it was nearly freezing conditions. When we took off, just a tad after 6.00am, the temperature was a cool one degree! The fog was blocking the sun so it took a while before I warmed up. Trying to make conversation with other runners when your face is frozen is quite difficult! Anyway, I settled into a rhythm early and after a couple of kilometers I was the lead female. The gap between me and the next girl gradually grew and it was at this point I thought to myself I have two options here. I can settle down and be sensible, remembering there is still a long way to go, or just go for it. Run without fear (thanks Stacey!) and hang on for dear life…for the next 90+km! I thought what the hell, I’ll just go for it!! For the rest of the leg I continued to stretch my lead out. I was going at a pretty easy pace and I was still being sensible when it came to hills but from here on I wasn’t really prepared to lose the lead I had. I came into check point 1 a couple of minutes ahead of the next girl (who I now know to be Kristy Lovegrove). As soon as I saw the other girls starting to come in, I was off again.
The next few km into the second leg I had company following closely behind me (Natalie Best). It didn’t worry me too much and I figured that if she did take the lead I would remain cool and just hang on to her. A few kilometers passed and I turned to notice I had lost her. This leg was hot, really hot! The sun was really beaming down and there wasn’t much shade on offer. Around the middle part of this leg I began to feel quite dehydrated and my calves were starting to cramp. At first it was only on the hills but after a while it was happening on the flats, causing me to stop and walk or stretch them out. It was really slowing me down. The few kilometers leading into the Arboretum I was starting to struggle. I was having a lot more walking breaks than I had hoped for and I was really longing for the check point so I could see family and get the boost that I needed. Just as I remembered last year, the climb up to the Arboretum was not very nice but with my dad running alongside me (in his cycling kit and cleats!!) I charged up the last few hundred metres and was cheered into the checkpoint. 55.5km in and still leading!
The next section was the shortest of all the legs (22km) but it took in Black Mountain which is a killer climb. I left the transition smiling and with a bit of a spring in my step commenting to my support crew that it was only 22km until I see them again – easy! I had kept a watchful eye on the runners coming up the hill to see how close the next female was. By the time I had left none of them had made it through. However, I was informed a little later that they came through a few minutes after I had gone. I knew I was in for a fight to keep the lead from this point.
I was really trying my best to limit the walking breaks but I was completely zapped of all energy. The sun was still so hot and no matter how much I drank I just couldn’t seem to quench my thirst. It was around this time that I was starting to feel really ill. Coming into Dickson around the 75km mark was where I hit a wall. I knew the next check point wasn’t very far away but it seemed like I was taking forever to reach it. I was dehydrated, sunburnt, sore, exhausted and over it! And I was expecting the next female runner to overtake me any minute. My spirits were dropping rapidly. I needed to get to the next check point without completely losing it (and losing my lead!).
I shuffled into checkpoint 3 where I was met first by my dad. He asked me how I was feeling - horrible at best. I felt quite emotional, almost like I couldn’t hold it together for much longer. I told my support crew that I don’t think it’ll be long before the next female comes through. Well sure enough, within minutes, Pam Muston made her way through the transition. It was almost like it was in slow motion as I watched her support crew run alongside her, handing her food and supplies and off she went on her way for the fourth and final leg. I had lost my lead! I have to say though, there was still some satisfaction with the fact I had led for 77km! But the race wasn’t over yet. I had to re-gather and get on my way before the next female got me too!
Off I went for the final 24km with my sister, Sarah-Jane, alongside me for this leg. SJ remarked that it was only 5 parkruns to go. That was possibly the worst breakdown ever and I thought let’s just get to the top of Majura and then deal with the rest. I could see Pam only a couple of hundred meters ahead. We kept her in sight right up until the top of Mt Majura but after that she found another gear and was gone. If I wasn’t hurting enough before this point, I was certainly hurting now. My breathing was really labored, I was in agony and I was really nauseous (apparently also looking very pale). On our way down Majura we saw third place, Georgia Bamber, making her way up. Sarah-Jane was doing her best to keep my mind distracted by talking to me but the best response she could get out of me was either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ or a grunt. It was at this point that I knew I couldn’t catch Pam. I had absolutely nothing left and it just became a fight to get to the finish in second place. It was somewhere between Mt Majura & Mt Ainslie that I made a promise to myself that I would never do this again! I asked myself to remember the amount of pain I was in at that moment the next time I even thought about entering another ultra-marathon. The kilometers were slowly ticking over and I continually looked over my shoulder to check for Georgia. Luckily she wasn’t in sight. I was hanging for the climb up Ainslie because it meant there was only ONE parkrun to go from there!
It wasn’t long before we commenced our way up the steep trail of Mt Ainslie. I didn’t remember it being so hard last year. My legs were in so much pain! After an agonizing climb it was an amazing feeling to hear a booming voice yell ‘Go Kathryn’ from above! Gary & Denise Clarke were waiting for us at the top of Mt Ainslie to cheer us on. What legends! Gary asked how I was feeling and all I could manage was a head shake. Not good, Gary. But we were so close now. I wasn’t letting anything stop me from here. Next was the harsh descent down the mountain and I just needed to make sure I didn’t trip on anything. My legs were so tired and I had to make a conscious effort to pick my feet up. Mum and Dad and the Clarke’s were waiting for us at the base of the mountain for a final cheer before the finish. I was in a bad way and just wanted to get there. Again, on the brink of tears we made our way down Anzac Parade which was a refreshing slight downhill on the pavement. We were catching other runners on the way too. I can’t even remember if there was conversation happening here. We made it onto the path along Lake Burley Griffin and I caught a glimpse of Regatta Point. It was so close. I had to ask Sarah-Jane if that was in fact the finish because I couldn’t believe we were that close. I was overwhelmed with emotion as I realised that I had done exactly what I set out to do. I think I commented to SJ words to the effect of ‘I did it’! We picked the pace up as we neared closer. Then we had to slow down to let mum and dad get to the finish before us – had to get that finish photo!! And then it was upon us – the final hill up to the finish line. I wanted my sister to cross the line with me because without her I wouldn’t have been able to hold it together in those final stages. She pushed me at the right times and got me to the end, just like I had asked her to. What a feeling it was to cross that line!
In 2013, I ran this race in 13hours 55mins in 5th place. This year I ran it in 12hours 26mins in 2nd place. I know it was a slightly different course, not taking in Mt Stromlo, but it was longer so I am definitely claiming it as a PB. A big one at that too! When I crossed the line I barked at my Dad ‘If I ever talk about doing this again, make sure you stop me!’. My Dad calmly replied ‘I will ask you again on Wednesday’. He knew.
Maybe I’ll come out of retirement for a sub12 in 2015, or maybe I’ll retire satisfied with my efforts in 2014 – we will see what happens!
My goal for Canberra has been accomplished. Now to go out and have a great time in New York!
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2015: Steve Hanley's photo report
Steve Hanley ran two legs of the Sri Chinmoy Canberra Trail Ultra for a mixed relay team. View his photo report.
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2016: Peter Komidar's solo race report
2016 Peter Komidar’s Race Report: Race Run and Lessons Learnt
The Sri Chinmoy 103 was my first ever 100 km race. So far this year, I’ve run a few marathons and a couple of 50 km ultras. But I’ve never actually run further than 54 km in my entire life and 54 km is not 103 km. Not even remotely.
Or to put it another way, I had no idea what I was getting into. I didn’t know if my training had been sufficient. I didn’t know if my nutrition plan was adequate. And I didn’t have the faintest idea whether my race plan was even ballpark.
So for me the SC103 would be a great lesson in running an ultra.
First Stage: Rond Terraces to Mt Taylor: Race Plan Rookie Errors
I now know that you can make a lot of errors when running a marathon or a 50 km ultra that don’t catch up with you because by the time the seeds you’ve sown have grown, flowered and born fruit, you are already beyond the finish line having steak, chips and a beer. But in a 103 km ultra there’s plenty of time to bring in your harvest and believe me, you’re gonna dine out on that fruit!
What errors? Well in this part of the race I made two key mistakes.
Firstly, I went out too fast. I knew I was going too fast. I even recited Hal Koerner’s mantra “if you think you are going too slow at the start of a race, slow down!” But nearly everyone was shooting along at a sub-six minute pace – when I had planned to run the first stage at between 6:30 and 7:00. I figured that they must know something I didn’t, so I upped my pace.
Secondly, I have this thing …. I love running downhill fast, particularly on technical trails. It’s the number one thing I love about running. And I just can’t avoid indulging myself in this habit. And the downhill at Isaac’s Ridge is particularly technical and particularly steep. It just begged to be conquered. And as I mentioned before – in all the other races I’d previously run, flying downhill had caused me no problems. Not so for a 103 km race it turns out.
Second Stage: Mt Taylor to the Arboretum: Bring on the Sugar
According to my race plan, the second stage was where I would slowly stretch out, building up the pace and getting in that ‘business as usual’ frame of mind. Only, my legs were feeling a bit tight and running down hill wasn’t as appealing anymore. I let up the pace a little and hoped the kinks would work themselves out. Remember those seeds. They were sprouting and growing just fine thank you very much.
By the time I reached the Transition Point 2 was way more sore and tired than I should have been. And that brings me to my nutrition plan. I won’t bore you with the technical details. But long story short, because of this growing tiredness I decided to throw out the plan and eat sugar instead. It would be a carb-driven second half … and I don’t normally eat sugar! In a long race, the thing with gels and lemonade and lollies is, they make you feel queasy. So now I had something else to add to my growing list of bodily complaints. But hey, they give you energy.
Third Stage – Arboretum to Hackett: The Wheels Fall Off
The first half of this stage has some super technical trails and according to my race plan, the fun of running the trails would mitigate feeling the wear and tear on the body. In practice, by the time I got to the top of Black Mountain and started the decent, my quads had blown and my calves were occasionally spasming. I couldn’t run down hill. And those technical trails, forget it, I didn’t have the control over my feet necessary for that stuff. So I just bit down on that bitter fruit and slugged it out. And if truth be told I almost DNFed several times. Oh I had it all worked out. As soon as I got to a road I’d ring my wife and get her to pick me up. But I still kept running and slowly, almost imperceptibly, my legs got better. Soon I was running at an acceptable pace, especially once I got to the bike paths. Take that Black Dog!
Fourth Stage – Hackett to the Finish Line: Matters of Mind Over Matter
As I left the third Transition Point, I seriously doubted I would be able to finish. But still I kept running. Well more like fast walking at this point. You see, I could run on the flats but uphill was too exhausting and downhill was agony. So I ran where I could and power walked the hills. Once I got to the summit of Mt Majura I began experimenting with my gait. Surely there was some way of running downhill that didn’t hurt. And finally, I found that if I ran with baby steps there was little if any pain. And once I started to run I was able to keep running. Of course, I was in no shape to run up Mt Ainslie, but the rest I could do. Not fast. But it was running and for the first time since the Telstra Tower, I thought I might just finish this race.
And so 13 hours and 38 minutes after starting, I crossed the finish line. And what a surprise it was when I received the trophy for second 50+ male and seventh solo runner overall!
Conclusion – Its Not What You Know, Its Who You Know.
So despite my many mistakes, I made it. But apart for my bloody mindedness, real responsibility for that rests not with the guy making all the mistakes, but with two other people.
My support crew (aka my wife Sharon) who was there at every Transition Point, feeding me, making sure I had everything in order, and packing me off again with encouraging words. She’s a marvel!
And also my pacer, Chris Toyne. Before the race, I thought the job of a pacer was to make sure I didn’t get lost and to gee me up if I needed it. Chris proved that a good pacer can do so much more. Sure, he engaged me in chat to take my mind off my aching body. But I’m a shy introvert and Chris didn’t try to fill all the awkward empty spaces with words. Chris would remind me every 40 or so minutes that I needed to chug down another revolting gel (my stomach was in open revolt at this stage). When he thought I could go a little faster he would just start running a little bit ahead of me. Nothing said. And invariably I’d pick up the pace, most of the time without even noticing. And as we were running down Mt Ainslie in the dark, he was in front, pointing out steps, rocks and bumps in the path which my addled brain might not pick up.
So in the end I made it. But without Sharon or Chris, I’m sure my mistakes would have well and truly caught up with me.