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Shoalhaven "King of the Mountain" 46km
by Sean GreenhillJune 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
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 has also written the following articles that are published on CoolRunning Australia :