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2000 Mt Wilson to Bilpin
by Sean GreenhillSaturday 19 August 2000
It was a perfect day for running on Saturday 19 August, as 300 runners invaded the solitude of the northern Blue Mountains for the Mt Wilson- Bilpin classic. Sydney's winter has been particularly bleak this year, freezing mornings and days where the wind just never stops howling, but this day the sun was shining out of a clear pale blue sky, temperatures were pleasantly cool at the start and remained moderate all day.
I drove to the start at Mt Wilson with the Tillers, Phil Hugill and Tim Austin. Most runners park their cars at the finish- Bilpin- and catch race buses to the Mt Wilson start, but we went straight to Mt Wilson. I do truly think that the terrain around here- the northern section of the Blue Mountains National Park and the Wollemi National Park- is far more spectacular than the more heavily touristed southern Blue Mountains that we see in all the guidebooks. Off to our right as we drove higher and higher along Bells Line of Road was the network of gorges, plunging ridges and deep forest that belongs to Wollemi- including the ancient Wollemi Pine. Off to our left, the remarkable geography continued, and rising above it all was the massive basalt cap of Mt Banks. The upturned pie shape of this remarkable formation is visible from most of Sydney at sunset. In 1804 George Caley came through here trying to cross the Blue Mountains, and after fighting his way through the gorges he ascended Mt Banks, saw the 300m metre walls of the Grose River Valley in front of him, and turned around, concluding that what he called "the Devils Wilderness" was impassable. A few kilometres past Mt Banks, we too could see to our left the massive Grose River Gorge to our left, and its huge southern walls staring acrosss the valley at us.
Turning off Bells Line of Rd to Mt Wilson, we arrived at the start, the large park known as Silva Plana field. Just like before Six Foot Track, you spend most of the time before the start wandering around catching up with all the old faces. Among others, there was Ian Wright, who Martin Fryer and I ran with in the Brindabellas a few weeks back. Darryl Chrisp was there too, looking lean and fit as usual, and saying he wasn't training much. This is usual for Darryl- to listen to the man you wonder how he could be fit enough to finish the local fun run, then he goes off and runs sub 5 hours at Six Foot Track.
We were strung out in the middle of the field, then, just after 10am, off we went. We ran up onto the bitumen road, headed along it for a bit, then swung off onto a fairly rough 4wd drive track that went down, down, down. I didn't remember this bit from last year. The first few kilometres consisted of following this rough track as it rolled downhill steeply, then ascended sharply enough to have most people walking. I ran for a little while with Steve Montgomery, a workmate who has notched several sub 5 hour finishes at Six Foot Track. For the first hour or so, Monty and I were never far apart, but I ended up running most of the time with fellow Striders Jim Screen, Mike Hansen and Sharon McAllister. We passed some magnificent lookouts in this early section, staring out at the Wollemi wilderness- last year I was shouting out aloud "this is terrific!" at these points.
There were a lot more downhills in this race than I remembered from last year- although I did remember the treacherous section arter the 10km mark, where the course followed a rough bush track which was not a lot more than grass and vegetation trampled down by previous runners, and covered in rocks, tree roots, deadfall etc. This line went down another steep slope, then cut sideways across the slope, so your footing was always pretty dicey. When we turned off a decent fireroad onto this section, for some reason I took off fast and plunged downhill over that obstacle course pushing as fast as I could. I leaped over some fallen logs, but behind me I could hear Sharon's harsh breathing as she tried to keep up with my effort. After two kilometres of this stuff we crossed a small dried out creekbed and ascended steeply up some more technical stuff. Down below I could see Jim and Mike- so my hard effort hadn't left them behind after all, which I was sort of hoping it would accomplish. I did remember from the Bogong- Hotham, however, than Jim was a much better downhill runner than me.
The trail came out at a fenceline, and Jim and Mike ran past me, as my legs were tired and sore from the hard downhill. I hadn't felt that good from the start, and now I was labouring along. Sharon went past me as well, so I decided there was no way I'd let her leave me behind. Staring at her feet a few metres in front, I held pace with her, although my calves in particular were stiff and sore, and my quads heavy.
This section of trail was a good contrast to the previous technical stuff. In fact, the race is one of constant change- what you see around you at any given point will change within the next couple of kilometres. Sharon and I left the fenceline and came out in a farm paddock that marked the 15K point, refilled at the aid station (of which there are plenty in this race- most people run it without carrying any water or food, although I did) and re entered the bush. I pulled away from Sharon as the trail plunged down another 4wd drive track, followed another fence, then hit a bitumen road as we approached Mt Irvine. Not really a town, but more a collection of properties and English style gardens, Mt Irvine is about as "out of the way" as you can get in the Sydney region.
Running along the road here, I started to come good and ran hard, pumping my arms high in order to help drive my legs along. Sharon faded out of sight behind and I reeled in several other runners along this pretty, silent stretch. Approaching the 21K mark, a number of bushfire brigade vehicles were parked alongside the road, as well as several spectator cars, to make sure that runners picked up the turnoff and descent to Bowen Creek. Among the gathered crowd at the turnoff were Nick and Kirsten Themsen. I swapped some banter with Nick- "is there a camera here? Wait, I have to do my hair" and swung onto the six kilometre downhill of firetrail. I took this easily at first, taking my time as I ate two powerbars slowly and washed them down with several mouthfuls of water- I wanted to have plenty of energy for the climb up and out. Monty's parade ground voice rang out and he jokingly shoulder charged me aside as he pushed hard downhill. After finshing my food, I ran hard as well, but the downhill started beating my legs up again so i eased back a little on the throttle. Opposite I could see the firetrail as it switchbacked up the far side of the Bowen Creek gorge, and knew that this was where I'd be going before too long.
There's an aid station at the bottom, where a bridge crosses Bowen Creek (approx 28km), then runners head up and out along a trail that is never really steep enough to force you to walk- if you're still feeling okay- but works you plenty hard. On the other hand, if you've already given your all, you'll feel very bad on this uphill, and sure enough I caught many runners on this uphill. I ran all of it, except for a minute where I walked with Rod Lovell, who was doing it very hard. I was shocked to see a guy who does so well in the 10Ks suffering here, so I walked briefly to give him some moral support, then set off again. There's another aid station partway up this climb.
Further ahead, I could see Monty's bright red cap, and knew I stil had a chance to catch him before the finish. I didn't push madly, just kept going steadily and concentrating on picking off, one by one, the runner immediately in front, figuring I could work up to Monty this way. The fact that I could plan this strategy and carry it out indicated that my Glasshouse training was going well- obviously I was in best ever shape in terms of speed, strength and endurance. Finally, after the 32K aid station (which I deliberately skipped) I caught Steve, asked "geez Monty, what's the matter with you?" and kept going upwards. Monty called out that I was obviously having a much better race than last year- "what was your time then?" "4.05 or so," I replied, but I was injured and unfit last year.
The track came out on Bells Line of Road for the last mile of the race. I ran right on the bitumen, rather than the shoulder or dirt footpath, so I could get maximum foot turnover, and pushed some more, catching a few more runners and being overtaken by two. The road twisted and turned a few times, and as the finish line- the Bilpin Community Hall- drew into sight, I was really in pain. About 15 metres before the finish, I glanced over my shoulder and saw Monty right there, having silently stalked back up on me. We both ignited a frantic cprint and he crossed the line about two seconds ahead, with a final time of around 3.18.20 or so. A few metres past the line, I was able to clasp Monty's hand with a painful smile, then sank down on my haunches, utterly spent. But today I'm feeling fine- a good recovery.
I have my doubts about whether this run really is 35K (I thought maybe 33K- mainly because I don't feel I could run 35K of that stuff in 3.18) but it's a classic none the less- a painful, tough scenic classic. The downhills in the first half especially can beat your legs up badly, but there's plenty of superb scenery into the "Devil's Wilderness" and tough technical running for the mountain goats out there. After the race, I was talking to a bushfire brigade volunteer about a questionairre that they intend to post out to all competitors asking for suggestions on how to improve the event. The aid stations and course marking were fine, but I said that if they could add an option with an extra 10 or 15K so those who want to run ultra distance could do so, that'd be most welcome. But that's not particularly important- next year the usual devotees- including myself- will be back at the starting line for this quietly growing classic.
Sean has also written the following articles that are published on CoolRunning Australia :
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