Googong Challenge Lives Up To Its Name
Athletes who ignored the message contained in the title of this race did so at their peril. The inaugural Sri Chinmoy Googong CHALLENGE provided just that: an enervating, exhilarating test of skill, strength, technique and perseverence.Googong Dam nestles in a wooded valley about 10 kilometres south of Queanbeyan. As the purpose of the reservoir is to satiate Canberran's thirst for clean water, there is no swimming permitted, with the surrounding bushland declared a protected nature reserve.
Only 30 minutes' drive from central Canberra, the beautiful Googong Reservoir and the great tracks and trails of the Googong Foreshores Nature Reserve afford a haven for fishermen, paddlers, walkers, runners and mountain biking enthusiasts.
The Long Course athletes faced the starter a little after 10 am, setting off on the first 5 km run leg, a scenic stride around the foreshores with a few steep inclines hinting at things to come. Short Course entrants followed 30 minutes later with an abbreviated, but still challenging 3.3 km version of the same course.
Then it was a rush down the long steep boat ramp to the second leg and the paddles waiting at the waterline, an exaggerated descent thanks to the present very low water level.
Googong Reservoir was in a meditative and reflective mood, offering a most accommodating surface upon which to paddle, dip and glide. While the course may have been a trifle shorter than the advertised 5 km loop, completed once by the Short and twice by Long-Course athletes, fast times were the norm with nary a hush of breeze impeding the paddlers' progress.
A makeshift bike compound housed an impressive array of mountain bikes at lake's edge adjacent to the paddle exit point. Alighting from their craft, athletes had just experienced their final flat and calm moments for the day, as the mountain bike course presented its credentials immediately with the severe little ascent back to the top of the boat ramp.
Then it was away onto the Western Foreshores Trail, following (as the name suggests) the western foreshore all the way down to the southern extremity of the reservoir. This was where the Short Course thankfully concluded their 12 km journey at the London Bridge Woolshed, transitioning to the final 3.3 km run which forayed into the surrounding, more foreboding hills and returned to the finish via the famous "London Bridge," a natural limestone formation arching over Burra Creek.
Jeremy Logan took line honours in the Short Course race, setting the inaugural course record and leading all the teams home in the process. Annie Mather of Adrian Walsh' (Mixed) Team followed minutes later, with Team "Va Va Boom" in hot pursuit providing the day's most exciting sprint finish.
Long Course athletes meanwhile were flung from the cauldron into the very heart of the fire. The relatively mild gradients of the Western Foreshores Trail give way abruptly as the course veers into the rugged bushland of the Queanbeyan River catchment. Twice the course plunges to cross the swift-flowing river, a welcome wade after recent rains. The descent into and climb out of Gelignite Crossing are not for the faint-hearted or the under-trained. Nevertheless the incessant grinding peddling is rewarded with the sweeping panoramic views from the crest of the climb, and a blissfully delicious sweeping descent to Flynn's Crossing (and the next climb!)
Adrian Keough showed excellent strength across all 3 disciplines to power home first in the Long Course in 3:27:16, a respectable marathon time which may give a hint to the nature and degree of difficulty of the course. Julie Quinn came in right after the leading males and looking fresh as she did at the starting line, setting the mark for females of future years with her time of 3:55:29.
An "Honourable Mention" in the Long Course must go to AROC stalwart Tom Landon-Smith, whose chain broke while he was leading the field powering through the hills. Tom was so distracted by his misfortune that he took an inadvertent short-cut while running his bike back to the transition compound, rendering himself ineligible for any awards - though he did complete the run course in fine style.
London Bridge Woolshed formed an idyllic backdrop for the post-race recovery area, with the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team's renowned vegie-burger barbecue service ensuring all athletes stayed around for the awards presentations and beyond.
Athletes and officials then teamed up to provide taxi services for those who did not have their own helper, and needed to return to the starting point at Googong Foreshores Boat Ramp to retreive their kayaks, seemingly left there in another era.
Banter post-race focused mostly on the challenges posed by the 'undulating' bike course in the Long race, with exclamations varying from horror to absolute delight reflecting the full range of experiences encountered on this course which demands respect, and left no-one sitting on the fence. Most vowed to return to 'tame the beast' next year.
Special thanks from the Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team to the authorities of Googong Foreshores Nature Reserve, and to the Queanbeyan SES who provided support and communications both on water and on land across the entire course.
We look forward to Edition II - "Back to Googong," in Spring 2006.