2007 Australian Mountain Running Championships - Report by Stuart Doyle
After watching a nice close finish in the senior women’s, and hiding behind a 4WD out of the cold wind, it was time to warm up and get going ourselves.
John reminded us all that it wasn’t placing, but time that counted most and with that advice I decided to race without a watch, as I did at oz champs last year, cause we all know they just add extra weight, right? Anyway, the tactic was run as hard and fast as possible for 3 laps and see what time that delivered, pretty simple really.
Anna Thompson started us off, and straight away Scott McTaggart, Mark Bourne, Adam Leane and Stephen Brown formed a lead pack. At last year’s champs I was content just to completely ignore everyone else and ran pretty much my own race until half way (when I got into a ding-dong battle with Stephen Brown, in the days before he became super-fast) but this year I was obviously in a slightly different frame of mind, because I found myself thinking about where I was in relation to the others almost straight away and feeling like I didn’t want to get too far back. Luckily for me, after a minute or so of going up the ‘cliff’ for the first time, I realised I could keep in touch at a comfortable pace, which was a good sign because the worst feeling is to be struggling on the first few minutes of up hill in a mountain race that’s going to take an hour. (I know the feeling because this happened to me in my ill-fated attempt to qualify for the oz team at the oz champs at Mnt Buffalo a few years back).
Anyway, back to this race. Things were going well up the ‘cliff’ (the first steep up hill section), the others weren’t getting too far ahead and apart from a couple of surges by I think David Hosking, no one was threatening to pass me (I kept expecting Darren Kolsky to pop up but he never did). To my surprise and delight there were quite a few spectators on the way up and it was nice to get the constant positive feedback. As we got to the steeper bit before the summit of Majura I was feeling pretty good and also happy that I was still in touch with the pack, although as expected Scott Mctaggart had already opened up a good lead.
A smiley Davo greeted us at the top, and like a top class waiter, offered us drinks (did you get any takers Davo?).
Now the moment of truth!
The first down hill. I had done a lot of work on my downhill running leading into this race. At ACT champs I got shown a lesson in how to run down hill, and in hind sight it was a stroke of fortune that Neil Labinsky showed up that day otherwise I never would have known how crap my downhill running really was! I’d done a lot of talking to myself (it’s true!) and I knew if I had any chance of getting under the qualifying time I’d have to go for it without fear and nail the down hills.. So in the end the choice was easy, as I knew I could never live with myself if the reason I didn’t qualify was because I was too scared to fang it down hill. How soft would that be?
So off we went on the rollercoaster ride, Leaney just ahead and Mark Bourne ahead of him. Bourne was hammering, in fact we all were. I must admit I didn’t really relax much at all on this first descent and almost lost it a couple of times, especially on the really steep pinches coming down off the top of Majura. Surprisingly, the rocky steep part (just after the relative calm of the ‘rest area’ at the saddle half way down), felt a lot easier now that I was fanging it full speed. There wasn’t any time to worry about stepping on rocks, so without the worry, it was fine!
By the end of the big descent on lap 1 I was completely stuffed. Not good! The challenge was that I not only had to run the downhills fast, I’d have to relax as well otherwise it’d take too much out of me for the up hills. I realised I’d have to relax on the next downhill otherwise it just wasn’t going to work. The next two up hill bits through the forest (still on lap 1) I spent recovering and knew I couldn’t afford to do this on each lap.
Round to the start of lap 2 and Mark had opened up a bit of a lead on Leaney, but I’d managed to not loose too much on Leaney.
This next lap was the tough one. Not fresh, not half way there, but having to run hard. For me I was trying hard to find the perfect pace and effort. I didn’t want to back off too much, because you can end up loosing heaps of time on a ‘soft’ lap but also didn’t want to over do it and fall in a massive heap and crash and burn on the last lap and lose even more time. Luckily the sight of Leaney up ahead sort of put me in this trance and before I knew it we were almost at the top and I’d run most of the up hill in a good hard pace, my mind off in la la land somewhere.
The second descent was out of control. I came very close to doing a face plant on the really steep pinch coming down the summit fire trail. My legs just couldn’t keep up with my body and for a terrible moment it seemed my upper body would continue on down the mountain ahead anyway and wait for my legs at the bottom. This all happened in an instant and the worst was over. For any down hill skiers out there, a bit like crossing the tips of your skies in the middle of a black run, and then recovering without crashing. Anyway, this freaked me out a bit but I knew I had to just forget it and try and relax with the knowledge that was the worst little bit of the course. The rest of the down hill went much better and I found I was starting to get the hang of it. The bottom half was great this time and I managed to gain a bit of ground on Leaney on this section. At the bottom of the main downhill, I felt this sudden massive stabbing pain in my right big toe,”ouch” (edited version of what I said) but put this down to just losing a big toe nail and hoping the problem wouldn’t re-emerge on subsequent down hills. The good thing was that I wasn’t nearly as stuffed at the bottom of the forest this time, which made the two smaller ascents in the forest much quicker than lap 1.
It was now 2/3rds in to the race, I’d done what seemed like 2 good fast descents and I was still feeling ok. I’d gone over and over this race in my mind before the day and the recurring theme for me was the need to put absolutely everything into the last lap. There was no way I was going to fail to qualify for lack of trying. To have a good go and fail is fine. To not put your best in and fail would be unforgivable for me.
Heading past the spectators at the bottom of the cliff, launching into the final lap, I heard John Harding say to someone “fourty one” and my mind I quickly realised this must be my split for lap 2. A quick calculation (always a good sign when you can still do mental arithmetic 2/3rds into a race!) and I calculated I was probably on track to run about exactly the qualifying time. If this wasn’t motivation nothing would ever be!
So I set about that final lap, on a mission!
One part of me wanted to start going bananas straight away, but I knew I’d have to still do the first half of the cliff conservatively otherwise I’d crash and burn way too early. In the ACT champs I had felt like walking on this section on lap 3, but this time I was feeling much stronger and I felt like I was running it quicker than lap 2. By half way up the cliff (at the little downhill bit) I noticed I was closing in on Leaney, who was still some way up ahead. Dave Baldwin was at the top of the cliff and gave me some encouragement, which is like gold at that stage of a race, so thanks Baldy. Then up on to the saddle and some more friends there helping me on and my mental state was improving by the minute and I knew I was caning the up hill on this last lap. I could see Leaney up ahead, but in my mind I replaced Leaney with Switzerland and said to myself, that’s Switzerland (as in a place in the team for the world champs there) up ahead. It’s not that catching Leaney isn’t incentive enough (and I mean that in a nice way, as he’s a really classy runner and I’ve never beaten him in a race before) it’s just that in a prophetic moment, I somehow knew in me that I had to at least be with him at the finish to get a qualifying time.
Going up the last ascent of the summit trail and now I felt like I could let go with the ‘rocket blasters’ (as John put it) and within about 30 seconds I think I caught about 20m on Leaney and passed and put another 10m on him. I knew with someone of his calibre you can’t just sidle up next to him and say “hey old chap, fancy a race to the finish line?” (I tried this tactic in ACT Cross Country Champs and he blew me off the course in the final 500m, even though he was coming off a long period of sickness on that particular day!). Anyway, I digress!
So when I went past I put the biggest surge in I could muster, and I could hear Leaney respond and he didn’t let me get more than about 10m in front to the summit, where once again a smiley Davo offered us drinks and encouragement.
The final descent.
I had two incentives now, qualification and now 4th place to add to that. But I was a bit wary of crossing my ski tips again, so took the foot off slightly at the nasty bit and I could hear Leaney instantly close in on me, hmmm, won’t try that again! So it was fang city from now on! One part of me (a large part) wanted to go the wussy option and slow down, but it just wasn’t an option and I knew whatever minor pain and fear lay ahead, it would just be a temporary necessity. I really nailed the bottom half of the course on this final lap and really for the first time I ran the flat bits (at Majura saddle and the horse styles) really hard as well. In to the pine forest ascents for the last time (oh how I’d miss them) and put everything in, no more controlled up hill running style, just an ugly scramble as fast as I could. One last fang down the rocky little section from the horse styles to the bottom trail, then up into the last bit of single track. The last little nasty steep up hill section in the forest and I gave it everything and was utterly exhausted and almost fell around the corner at the top for the last windy downhill single track section.
On the home section now, almost hit several trees in the windy downhill single track, it would be no exaggeration to say I was going ballistic! Then finally, out onto the fire trail for the final run home. I wanted to sprint this, as I had no idea how close I was to the qualifying time, and imagine not sprinting the final 300m and finding out you just missed out! In recent years I’ve really been unable to find the ‘top gear’ sprint that I used to have when I first took up running (as a legacy of playing soccer where sprints are common) but to my sheer delight suddenly I found myself up on my toes and really sprinting, it felt bloody fantastic!
It’s that feeling where suddenly you seem to use a completely different set of muscles and energy system that’s just sitting there in some pocket of the body waiting to be used for 30 seconds or so before it runs out. Luckily it lasted and as I sprinted for the line I imagined the blue line they use for world records (in the swimming TV coverage) and imagined it was just in front of me, only it was for qualification.
Across the line. I needed 62:40. The question, what was my time? The answer was as sweet as a Swiss Hot Chocolate, 61:52. I don’t know if it was relief or simple joy but I almost burst in to tears (I didn’t want to scare the kiddies though).
I’m ecstatic with my run, was always nervous about an up-down year and it turned out to be a stroke of fortune that Neil Labinsky ran the ACT champs and showed me how crap I was on the downhills, which gave me just enough time to do a quick DIY ‘crash’ course in downhill running so that I could run out of control down hill, but a lot quicker! J
I thought I was in with half a chance of making the qualifying time but predicted I would be pushing it to run under 63 minutes (based on a flat out training lap I did last week on the course I thought if I had a really good run I’d do about 62:40) but I’ve felt my running’s been improving week by week lately and I guess the extra week since last week it improved a bit more. The main concern in my mind was that I’d have find over 3 minutes from somewhere.
So I’d done what in my mind I thought might be possible and then some. I managed to find 4 minutes 15. I even managed to pick up my first ever championship victory (Australian M40 champion) I couldn’t ask for more.
It was a wholly satisfying experience and the fact that I felt sick for the rest of the day and night and have pulled up very sore and sorry is some comfort to me that I didn’t leave anything out on the course, apart from a few layers of rubber off my shoes.
And without wanting to sound all sort of soppy or ‘hippy-like’, I have to truly say that the following thoughts came to me later that day. I know some of these things are stating the obvious, but sometimes it’s good to reflect on what we can take for granted, and be thankful for those things;
The really great thing about the race, once all the dust (mud?) settled down, was that there were others to race against and others there watching and cheering on to add to the experience. That’s what makes it all worthwhile.
I’m looking forward now to another chance to fly the flag for Australia and am determined to use my opportunity in Switzerland in September to do my best representing us all there with a wonderful bunch of other like minded and wonderfully talented runners, young and old from this little island we call home.
Bring it on!
Thank you all.