It was a KSR team affair at the Nerang State Forest 50km this year. On the start line was Caine Warburton (who was the returning champion and course record holder), a bare chested Dave Coombs, Dan Nunan and myself. I might add that my father and I are pretty much following the same race schedule (at least) until Kokoda challenge in July, as he was there as well. Although none of us were expecting the day to be a walk in the park, with the course pretty much undulating the entire way, we all were approaching this race as a “lead up” race (with the focus on bigger things to come!). My training in the lead up to the race had been going really well (see earlier blog post) and after an easy week and a pre-race massage with Craig, I was feeling great going into the race both physically and mentally.
10 minutes before the start of the race I had my breakfast of a hammer gel (raspberry – yum) washed down with water and next thing I knew we were all off on our way. Caine let off the start line, and it was definitely a good thing that I hung back behind him given I didn’t even know if the first turn at the trail-head was a right or a left (for those who haven’t run the course but want to in the future: it is a right!). Within a few hundred meters we hit slippery mud and tentatively negotiated the slop. Given this was pretty all that I had seen of the trail, I was beginning to wonder if the entire 50km would be as muddy (was it going to be like Kokoda Challenge 2012 all over again?). I was actually really impressed at how well my Hoka Bondi B’s handled the slippery conditions but still had my fingers crossed that the mud wouldn’t last. Fortunately it didn’t take too long for ground underfoot to solidify and Caine and I quickly fell into a rhythm (at this stage Dave and Dan were holding back a bit).
The course involved heading out to a turnaround point before coming back via a slightly different route to make up a total 25km loop (so the 50km runners do the loop twice). The way out was definitely that bit harder with several steep climbs coming out of the creek crossings, but descending towards the first turnaround, Caine and I were both feeling pretty fresh. Climbing back up towards the trail, we had a chance to checkout where the rest of the field was and could see that Richard Quirk was hot on our heels with Dan Nunan not far behind him. Dave was a couple of minutes back but looking extremely cheerful and fresh, so we knew he was definitely running well within himself at this early stage.
Despite the gentler nature of the second quarter, disaster struck for Caine as his foot (which had been giving him some grief in the lead up to the event) started to bother him and at about 20km he made the call to pull out at half way to minimise the risk of doing further damage. It was a tough call but in the end the correct one as it would have been reckless to potentially jeopardize his chances of performing well at Kokoda challenge in July. I could tell he was still feeling fine aerobically because after he made the decision, our pace seemed to quicken considerably (I am yet to have worked out if that was to help or hinder my chances at going under his course record). We reached the turnaround in 2.02.41, and Caine said his farewell before retreating to an ice-bath. Unfortunately Dan was also to join him on the side-lines with an old calf-injury flaring up.
Although I was now technically running on my own, the 17km and 25km races had started, so I was still seeing plenty of people on the course and played the mental game of just reeling in the next person. Seeing Dave (who was still looking ridiculously comfortable) and my Dad doing well was also a great moral boost. The way out felt quicker this second time even though I covered the leg a couple of minutes slower. I grabbed my water bottles and gel-flask from Mum (who had been crewing for me the whole day – Thanks Mum!) for the final time, I headed back up the long road climb wondering when I would bump into Richard Quirk. To my surprise I reached the top and still hadn’t seen him but I didn’t have long to ponder this before the heavens open up and the rain started pouring. Although it did ease back at times, the rain continued for most of the final quarter.
When I reached the final descent (which is 3km long!), I relished the chance to stride out without any regard for latter consequences and apart from the super slippery section near the end (that lasted only a couple of hundred meters), I covered the final couple of kilometers faster than any other part of the course. It was a great atmosphere at the finish lines with a crowd cheering as I crossed the line in 4.12.51. Caine and Mum were waiting for me at the finish line with congratulatory words and more importantly: food. Richard finished strongly to comfortably seal second place before Dave pulled out an amazing sprint finish to hold off the up-and-coming Chris Dunn for third. Mandy-lee Noble had a great run to blitz the women’s field, with Kerri Hodge and Vivienne Buss rounding out the women’s podium. My Dad had a good day (considering he was truly only treating it as a training run with his biggest weekend of training ever the week before!) as well, so despite the upsets of Caine and Dan DNFing, it was still a highly positive mood in the finishing area.
It was wonderful to have the opportunity to race on part of the Kokoda course before July, especially given I had the chance to run most of it with a KSR team mate. Having run the Kokoda course before I can definitely say that the Nerang State Forest 50km is a great test for anyone thinking of attempting the Kokoda challenge , with similar (although somewhat less hilly) terrain. The race seems to be growing in popularity every year, and I can definitely see why!