As it has done so since 1979, the fourth Sunday of July was host to the Wimmers King of the Mountain festival in the small town of Pomona in the Noosa Hinterlands. There are so many unique aspects to this amazing event that make it so special to me (despite the fact this was only my second time at the race!). The word “festival” is truly justified as people from all over the region flock to the markets, rides, music and entertainment running throughout the day. Various competitions such as the Primary School relay and tug-of-war bring out the fantastic community spirit, while the shorter race options give everyone an opportunity to participate. Even the main event itself, the 4.2km Bendigo Bank International Mountain Challenge, celebrates each and every one of its 100 competitors, individually parading them in front of the crowds that line the streets. Never have I seen the Aussie attitude of “having a go”, be so well epitomized!
After taking my turn in front of the exuberant crowds, I took my place on the starting line. Keeping up the traditional trans-Tasman rivalry, Sjors Corporaal and Lance Downie who had finished comfortably ahead of me at the sister race last November, the Kawerau King of Mountain, were lining up beside me. Two runners bolted from the start line when the gun went off and I found myself at the front of the chasing pack as we started the gradual uphill climb towards the base of the mountain.
On the short, sharp descent infamously named “Heckler’s Hill” (the real ‘heckling’ comes later on the way back!) I moved up into the lead and for the rest of the gradual climb to the mountain base focused on holding a comfortable rhythm. I could still hear heavy breathing right behind me when I reached the little goat track making the start of the serious climb. However, I refused to look back to see who it was coming from, instead focusing on running the sections I had picked out earlier in the week on a training run. However, for the most part the rest of the ascent was a hand-on-knee-hiking-slog, with the intermittent use of chains to haul my body ever closer to the glorious summit.
After a quick mark of yellow zinc on my arm at the top, it was time for the fun to begin! Hoping off rocks, and swinging off trees, I could see Aaron Knight and Lance Downie working their way up, but due to the way the course splits near the top, I had no idea if there was anyone else between me and them. As I had experienced last year, when I reached the main stream of runners coming uphill, they would quickly heed to the shouts of the wonderful on-course volunteers and move off to the side to allow me to pass without hindrance. Although I was concentrating too hard on my next foot-placing to say thank-you at the time (my apologies for my rudeness), their words of encouragement were very much appreciated!
While last year I felt as though my legs had completely given out when I got back down to the base of the mountain, this year I at least felt as though I could still run with what (at least remotely) resembled a normal stride. The gradual decline towards the finish was perfect for just focusing on turning my legs over as fast as possible. Heckler’s hill always feels considerably longer when going up it, but once at the top the streets lined thick with the cheering crowd lifted my spirits ever higher and the last couple of hundred meters where incredibly exhilarating.
In 23:47 I had defended my title, and soon after crossing the line I turned back to celebrate with the fantastic supporters. While doing so, it was exciting to watch Lance Downie hold off Aaron Knight for second place, with Sam Maffett and Sjors Corporaal finishing not long after. It was such a privilege to once again be a part of such a wonderful event and I can’t thank race director Barry Stewart enough for not only running the day so well, but also for holding a spot for me when I couldn’t commit to whether I would race or not until only a few days prior!