The Sri Chinmoy Canberra Centenary 100km Trail Run was conceived as a celebration, in this year of celebrating everything good about our National Capital. 100km for 100 years; a trail race through the scenic heart of the "Bush Capital"; an epic effort to commemorate the monumental human achievement that is Canberra.
Saturday was a day of gratitude: gratitude for a visionary city – a city uniquely formed in, embraced by and infused with the beauty, power, subtlety and majesty of its landscape, natural and man-made; gratitude for inexplicably glorious weather that sprang from a week of gloom like a startling bloom on a bare Winter's branch; gratitude for the elegant simplicity of long-distance running as the vehicle par excellence of inner and outer discovery, conquest and self-transcendence; gratitude for the camaraderie and uplifting community of spirit that is born of shared suffering and striving for high ideals; gratitude for ourselves and each other.
58 Solo Runners and 80 Relay Teams flocked nervously, excitedly and expectantly to "My Rainbow-Dreams" cafe in Dickson on Friday evening for a pre-race check-in and pasta meal, under still-moody skies that had served up a week of flooding rains, unremitting cold and cantankerous winds.
Yet by 4:30 next morning we were in another world, as the Finish chute was installed at Regatta Point overlooking a still, serene lake under a full moon and every star of the Heavens. It was as though Nature had signed a truce with herself, in order not only to watch and enjoy, but even to play a starring role in the forthcoming drama.
The fresh, pure light of 6am saw the Solo Runners embark on their quest: a band of heroes in the making, launching gently down the grassy slope towards the lake, Parliament House, the distant hills, their looming day of destiny. Shortly after, the Sun himself followed their lead, rising with a vast smile, to a day of infinite promise…
Half an hour later under a now beaming Sun, the Relay Teams shot off with bustling energy, more intent on speed than endurance; eager to devour the hills ahead...
A remarkable and heartening dimension of the race was the presence of so many female runners. Of the 362 participants (including all Solo Runners and Relay Team members), 142 were women, comprising 40% of the field. While not unusual in shorter distance events, this high turn-out in an Ultra speaks of a growing trend and was felt throughout the field with perhaps a more caring and mutually encouraging atmosphere than is sometimes felt in a more male-dominated race.
Susan Keith, an experienced ultra trail runner from Glenmore Park, ran her own race amongst some of the faster men in the field, leading every leg from go to woe and finishing in a strong 11:24:57. Second among the women was Simone Hayes of Sydney, also running her own race and never threatened for her place, crossing the line in 12:15:24. Third placed Natalie Best of Sydney completed the NSW trifecta, finishing in 13:14:46; with Kellie Power, also of Sydney, fourth in 13:45:59; Kathryn Alley from Queensland came fifth in 13:55:07; Nichole Tierney was sixth overall and first Canberra girl home in 16:05:56; and Kelley Bennett took seventh in 16:24:42.
Canberra local boy Thomas Brazier, with a strong rogaining background, ran a well-paced, brave and intelligent race from the front. Paul Cuthbert, Damian Smith and Wes Gibson were close to hand through the first leg and Paul stayed in sight through the second and up onto Black Mountain, but from here on Thomas's staying power proved too strong, finishing in an exuberant 9:48:48. From here on the finishers were evenly and steadily spaced, with Paul Cuthbert second in 10:10:08; Andrew Donaldson third in 10:21:23; Paul Smith fourth in 10:29:42; Damian Smith fifth in 10:38:50; Gavin Markey sixth in 10:49:15 and Dave Graham seventh in 10:52:38.
Each finisher claimed victory in the truest sense: victory over the course, victory over the many demons, doubts, fears and obstacles – physical, mental and emotional – that beset a runner in the course of a long day on the trails. Wes Gibson has written of his trials in his blog to finish his first 100 km race. Olympic Gold Medallist (in archery) Simon Fairweather showed his adaptability and inner strength in completing his longest ever race; as did ACT Minister for Territory and Municipal Services (and hence, Minister for Trails); Corrections; Housing; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs; and Ageing – Shane Rattenbury MLA – whose victory was as much a victory of sheer will, with the limited training time afforded by a hectic political schedule seeing a relatively fast first half contrasted with a grinding battle over the northern hills as ultimately his deep love of Canberra and the innate instinct of a champion, coaxed him home in 12:06:21.
Trevor Fairhurst joined Paul Smith as former Sri Chinmoy Triple-Triathlon multiple champions of yore, returning to tackle this newest addition to the Canberra endurance calendar, finishing just ahead of first-time 100km runner from Mongolia, Bayarkhuu Batbayar, whose only communications with race officials all day comprised smiles and nods, with the biggest smile reserved for the finish line after 12:35:19. The furthest 20-year-old Adam Huttner-Koros had ever run before is a Half-Marathon, yet when he saw the race advertised, felt he must give it a go – and after 5 months of dedicated training, finished fresh and sparkling in 13:01:25.
Never having been staged before, every winning time in every category goes straight into the record books. Some will take a lot of beating: none more so than the outright fastest time of the day, set by the All-Male Team of "@runcanberra" – Matt Fenech, Rob Walter, Martin Dent and Philo Saunders – whose combined 6:59:46 over a demanding course was a world-class performance, finishing almost exactly one hour ahead of "Tuggers parkrun" team of Andy Hogg, Tim Cochrane, Gareth Candy and Jason McCrae in 7:59:44. Martin Dent's time for Run3 over Black Mountain of 1:26:02 was almost 24 minutes faster than the next quickest time on the day; indeed, the race became a competition between "@runcanberra" and event officials, who only barely managed to have all the transitions and aid stations set up in time before this whirlwind phenomenon passed through! Third home in the All-Male Teams was "Misfits" – Guy Jones, Keith Cassilles Southgate, Andrew Fisher and Peter Young in 8:18:34.
Aimee Davenport led "Team Here We Go" in the All-Female division with a fantastic first leg of 2:11:23 – 9 minutes faster than the next best time over this leg – with Margaret Helmsley, Hannah Every-Hall and Tiffany Bonasera all running strongly to secure the win in 9:17:56; from second place "Running mums" – Emily Stacey, Sarah McRae, Allison Jones and Kelly Candy – in 9:45:30; and third placed "Gazelles" in 10:29:38 – Regan Field, Richelle Turner, Caroline Scott and Beth Sargent.
"Enough of the Puffs" bravely entered the Mixed Teams division with 2 male and 2 female runners – proving that when all members are champions, that is exactly the best combination! Their winning time of 8:10:09 saw them beaten by only two of the All-Male teams. Dave Osmond ran the 2nd fastest time for Run1 and Louise Sharp backed him up well; then Elizabeth Humphries ran the fastest time for Run3 by over 12 minutes of 1:59:58; and Stuart Doyle brought the team home with a leg record for Run4 over Mt Majura and Mt Ainslie of 1:42:58. Second Mixed Team was "Formaggi che corrono" in 8:33:33 – featuring a record Run2 leg over Mt Arawang and Mt Stromlo from Hannah Flannery of 2:30:49, complementing the work of Bill Taylor, Denis Mungoven and Cameron Mackintosh. Third were the "Grey Knights" – Elle Knight, Jeff Grey, Stuart Grey and Gerard Wildie – in 9:24:52.
Organisers are all gratitude to the Gungahlin SES, who manned many road crossings and drink stations; to Sports Medicine ACT for providing medical support throughout; to the ACT Government for sponsoring their Canberra Business Event Centre as the magnificent venue for the Awards Presentations (and start and finish – hence the uphill finish!); to Hammer Nutrition for supplying the wonderful HEED replacement drink for all aid stations; to "My Rainbow-Dreams" vegetarian cafe for catering the pre-event pasta meal; to members of the Canberra sporting community for helping out on the day, including Ben Lee, Michaela Watt, Carinna Tong, Phil Essam, Steve Appleby, Tom Landon-Smith; to members of the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team from Canberra, Sydney and Geelong; and to Martin Fryer for his major role in course design; and to all runners without whose participation this event could not have happened!