A steady build up in training through November and early December had me in high spirits for the upcoming Bogong to Hotham race. Unfortunately a minor chest infection followed by a minor Achilles problem put an end to those plans and for the first time in years I missed a race due to the risk of causing further damage. Not wanting to miss out on the party, I still headed down to the Victorian Alps for the event to participate through managing a checkpoint rather than competing. It was hard at the race briefing to have to tell the other runners that I wouldn’t be racing the next day and I was doing my best to avoid using the dreaded word “injured”.
Watching the race unfold from the Warby Corner checkpoint at the 26km mark was a whole new experience for me. All the runners were incredibly friendly and grateful but it was extremely interesting to witness the different mentalities that each person had. Even at the front of the race, some would come in with a look of absolute determination and seemed completely immersed in the mental battle they were currently raging against their bodies while others were laughing and chatting away, almost oblivious to the fact they had just completed the hardest part of one of Australia’s toughest mountain races. As the competitors continued to roll in, some admired the enormity of the surrounding Bogong High plains and the wild flowers that covered it, while others diligently scanned the trail immediately in front of them for any potential obstacles; some took advantage of the opportunity to stop at the checkpoint and refocus, having just ticked off another one of the milestones on their way to the finish line, while some would run straight through with just a wave and smile before disappearing over the crest of the next hill. The fast approaching cut-off time to reach Langford’s gap (35km) started to play on people’s minds as the day progressed. Few become disheartened, many were overcome by a sudden wave of extreme optimism accompanied by an acceleration in pace and some seemed almost indifferent to it. When the time arrived that runners passing through the Warby Corner checkpoint would need to run sub-3-minute-kilometers to reach Langford’s gap in before the cut-off, I was expecting to see heads drop and runners to begin questioning whether they should continue. Clearly I underestimated the psyche of ultra-runners as not a single frown was to be seen. In fact people were more than happy to crack jokes about the fact they would not be finishing the race; if anything, the pressure was now off and they could just enjoy their beautiful run in the mountains. Ultra runners are truly a remarkable breed of people!
When the race was done and dusted, 44 competitors had completed the epic event within the cut-off time, lead by the remarkable performances of Stu Gibson (6:44:24 – coming very close to the 17 year old course record) and Beth Cardelli (8:09:47 – beating her own course record in the process). Kokoda Spirit Racing teammate Dave Coombs also pulled out an outstanding performance to finish 6th overall in 8:04:08.
In the days following the race I had the privilege of checking out the Buffalo Stampede course, hiking it in its entirety over 3 days with Delina Rahmate and even paragliding over parts of it. To say the least, the course is very different to anything I have raced on before. The Pomona and Kawerau King of the Mountain races are the only events I have seen which are steeper and more technical, but they are 4.5km and 8km respectively. I can’t wait to see how I fare climbing up Mystic Mountain after 68km.
Since returning to Brisbane I have been slowly returning to running with a good amount of hiking, strength work and cycling supplementing the lack mountain running. Rob and Bob from Allsports Physiotherapy (Indooroopilly) have been doing a fantastic job helping my Achilles get ready for the rigors of ultramarathons again, and so far it has been strengthening up well. While I certainly still enjoyed my experience on the sidelines at Bogong to Hotham, I am hoping (and doing what I can to ensure) that it will be the only race I have to skip for 2014!