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Shoalhaven "King of the Mountain" 46km

Shoalhaven "King of the Mountain" 46km

by Sean Greenhill

June 1999
The Executive Summary
Probably my best long distance race in terms of performance. Also my most physically demanding and debilitating (partly because, I think, I'm now experienced enough, and becoming a strong enough runner, to be able to really draw out all my reserves in a race. Pity it leaves nothing left). The first two thirds contained the most beautiful terrain I've ever run in.

Long Winded Version
I'd only decided to do the Shoalhaven Ultramarathon a few weeks back, when I couldn't get leave from work to run the Gold Coast Marathon yet wanted a long race in about that timeframe. My application was mailed off on the last possible day and I knew very little about the race- just that it started in Cambewarra (a town just outside Nowra) and followed 46K of road and fire trail to Kangaroo Valley.

On the morning of the race, just 18 runners lined up for the big run (a shorter, 32K race, the King Of The Mountain (KOM), started an hour later at 9am). Darryl Chrisp was there, professing that he hadn't done a training run over 15K in months and "gee, I might come last today!" In addition, I felt highly privileged to meet Kelvin Marshall for the first time before the race, fast becoming a legend in Australian distance running circles while still in his 30s.

The first few kilometres are through the quiet roads of Cambewarra, past some spacious properties on asphalt road. My legs felt really "blah" and yet to wake up. I found myself being left well behind by almost everyone (two people really coasted slowly behind me). Ahead of me, a guy with long blonde hair slowly vanished into the distance. I tried to pick up the pace and run him down a few times but the legs still wouldn't respond. I told myself to just hold at my own pace (again, I didn't pay much attention to my watch) and see what worked out.

After a few kilometres the road started dipping and climbing steeply. I found that at the 10K mark (or so) my legs had loosened up and I began to run hard, caught the guy in front and left him behind. I never saw him again. I was surprised how good the legs now felt on the climbs, taking short fast steps up the slopes of some very steep demading terrain, still on the road. Gradually the road changed from asphalt to gravel, then to hard packed dirt and rock. The course plunged into the bush, still rolling steeply. However, I felt good enough at the 11K aid station to ask how far ahead the next runner was. About 5 minutes, I was told.

I suppose, because of the similar distance and nature of the race, Shoalhaven will always be compared to Six Foot Track. The latter is still more gruelling because of the more technical nature of the running surface, and has a pair of relentless climbs that take several kilometres and reduce you to a shuffling walk. The final descent is cruel. At Shoalhaven the climbs are also very steep, but not as relentless. The rolling nature of the course means there are enough downs and flat parts to ensure you run all the way, the effects of which would be quite evident in my legs later on.

At the 19K mark, well up the escarpment, I glanced over to my left and saw thick sub tropical forest leading down the slope to the Shoalhaven River, then arcing up the slope on the other side and away to the hazy horizon. It was such a beautiful sight that I held my arms out like aeroplane wings and shouted out loud, "woo- hooh! This is terrific!"

At the 22K station where the Ultra and KOM courses diverge, I was told that the next guy was now fifteen or twenty minutes ahead. Shrugging my shoulders I left the road and followed a fire trail right up and over the escarpment in total solitude. I set a fast pace and still ran the uphills. After an eternity of being alone, I emerged on an asphalt road at the 30K aid station. My legs were tightening up now but I was still running hard. "How far ahead's the next guy, fellas?" "Four minutes." "Are you serious?" "Yeah, he just left."

I swung onto the road and ran hard for a few minutes, then my pace slipped off and I walked a couple of times. At 35K I looked back and was horrified to see a figure advancing on me. Facing ahead, at the same moment I saw a flash of white- the guy ahead. I took off like a hare, breath rasping as I ran scared from the guy behind and tried to chase down the one in front. On a long downhill which I ran fast, my right quad began to tighten up. I caught the runner ahead, an American, right after that, but couldn't drop him. Then the guy behind overtook us both and took off. The American and I switched the lead until 38K when my right quad cramped horribly and reduced me to shuffling impotence. No choice now but to walk in extreme pain. After 15 minutes I passed the 39K marker, and my watch indicated a time so far of 4.37. I'd thought about sub 5 hours when running hard earlier, a time I'd not contemplated before the race, but now I thought about it again. Could I run 3K in 23 minutes like this? My mind said yes, my body no. Breaking into a shuffling stride, the cramp subsided somewhat. Sweat ran into my eyes but I didn't mind that pain as long as I was going forward.

By the time I reached Kangaroo Valley for the last K I was going hard again, overtook a KOM runner, and hauled myself into the finish in 4.57.50. I couldn't believe it. I couldn't believe the stiffness and pain that overtook my right leg almost immediately either. I caught up with Darryl before he left (he definitely didn't come last), then slumped on the grass, utterly drained and debilitated from the days effort, especially the last 11K.

When I got home, I climbed the two flights of stairs to my apartment dragging my right leg stiffly behgind as though it were paralysed- the quad was (is) horribly stiff and sore. The rest of me feels totally drained, but happy at my ability to draw such an effort from myself and run a fast(ish) time. I consider it a better run that either the Canberra 50K this year or last year's unexpectedly fast (5.44) Six Foot Track. And now I'm strong enough physically and mentally to run down other competitors. But, geez, I'll look strange walking round the office for the next few days.

For the record, multiple Brindabella winner Trevor Jacobs won this race, followed by defending champ Peter Goonpan, and then Kelvin Marshall. I don't know if I'll be back next year, but, until you hit the last 16K of gravel road (ugh) there is hardly a more pleasant venue to run in. Bring your own special drinks for the aid stations unless you want to drink water, and carry some fluids also- the aid stations are a long way apart. It's just you and nature most of the way.

Sean Greenhill
Sydney, Australia

Sean has also written the following articles that are published on CoolRunning Australia :
  1. [Dec 2004] Coast to Kosi 236km
  2. [Jun 2004] Poor Man's Comrades 96km
  3. [Sep 2003] Glasshouse 100 mile
  4. [Jun 2003] Western States 100 Miles
  5. [Jun 2003] Auburn Journal interview with Sean before WS100
  6. [Jan 2003] Bogong to Hotham 60km
  7. [Sep 2002] Glasshouse 100 mile ( + photos)
  8. [Aug 2002] Katoomba to Mittagong 137km
  9. [Aug 2002] 12 Foot Track 93km
  10. [May 2002] Sydney Trailwalker 100km
  11. [May 2002] Thin Blue Line 88km
  12. [Mar 2002] Six Foot Track 46km
  13. [Feb 2002] Cradle Mountain Run
  14. [Sep 2001] Glasshouse 100 mile (DNF at 110km)
  15. [Aug 2001] 12 Foot Track 93km
  16. [Jun 2001] Wilson's Prom 100km ( + photos)
  17. [May 2001] Sydney Trailwalker 100km
  18. [May 2001] Lost In The Dark Run
  19. [Apr 2001] Brisbane Water Bush Bash 50km
  20. [Mar 2001] Six Foot Track 46km
  21. [Feb 2001] Cradle Mountain Run
  22. [Dec 2000] The Blue Labyrinth 50km option
  23. [Oct 2000] Glasshouse 100 mile (DNF at 100km)
  24. [Sep 2000] Royal National Park 50km
  25. [Aug 2000] Lost Worlds of Kuringai 56km
  26. [Aug 2000] Mt Wilson to Bilpin 35km
  27. [Jun 2000] Started the Glasshouse Trail Email-List
  28. [Jun 2000] Shoalhaven "King of the Mountain" 46km
  29. [Mar 2000] Six Foot Track 46km
  30. [Jan 2000] The Toughest Race in Australia - Bogong to Hotham
  31. [Sep 2000] Glasshouse 50mile/80km
  32. [Apr 2000] Glasshouse 50km
  33. [Dec 1999] The Blue Labyrinth - Original Route
  34. [Aug 1999] Cities Marathon
  35. [Aug 1999] Mt Wilson to Bilpin 35km
  36. [Jun 1999] Shoalhaven "King of the Mountain" 46km
  37. [May 1999] Sydney Morning Herald Half-Marathon
  38. [Apr 1999] Canberra Marathon and 50Km
  39. [Mar 1999] Six Foot Track 46km

Feel free to E-mail him at bigmig@tig.com.au.

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