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Cradle Mountain Run1 Feb 1997 - This article first appeared in the US UltraRunning Magazine - hence it was written for an american audience
Tired of those long-winded pre-race meetings? Can't stand those little plastic hospital bracelets? Looking for a nice run in a southern clime to fill in the big February gap? Then the Cradle Mountain Run in Tasmania might be perfect for you. It's not perfect for everybody, though - just those looking for a real challenge.
The Cradle Mountain Run is an Australian classic. In 80 km it traverses the famous Overland Track, which starts at Cradle Mountain and ends at Lake St. Clair, crossing the high central plateau. The Overland Track is one of the great Meccas for Australian bushwalkers. The run compresses all of the fabulous scenery that most people see over a week's time into a single breathtaking, kneebreaking day. It is run entirely in wilderness. The aid station crews hike in one or two days before the race, and once yau're started, there is no place to bail out until Narcissus Hut (62 km). OK, if you are really hurting at Pelion Hut (35 km), you can quit there - it's only a three hour walk out. Otherwise, you are pretty much on your own.
There are 3 aid stations where volunteers offer coffees, cookies, and streamwater, butmost runners are entirely self-sufficient. The race organisers require that you be very experienced and carry warm clothing, food, matches, a survival bag, and an elastic bandage, so when you get bitten by one of the three species of snakes found in Tasmania (all poisonous), you can wrap your wound and lie motionless until you are rescued. (No worries, mate - this reporter only saw two of the three species during the run). Volunteers patrol the trail, tracking runners and offering first aid. Ultimately, though, participants must be well conditioned, have good wilderness sense, and run within their limits.
It is a very different experience from big runs in the US; Australians were bemused with my stories of diesel generators, floodlights, attendants in wet suits, and handmaidens with blister repair kits at the American River crossing when I tried the Western States. Races in Australia are low key. The pre-race meeting was held on the porch of the tavern at Cradle Mountain Lodge, which otherwise is a pretty fancy destination resort. It took ten minutes, which included advice from the ranger that stream water near the backcountry cabins "might be a bit dodgy, because not everybody does the right thing" and a trail report from Jeanette Collin, a runner who normally gets to the starting line by walking up the track. We had our numbers written on our hands with magic markers, and were given numbered ribbons for our packs, to leave on the track for the sweepers in case we detoured into the bush to do the right thing and never returned.
At six the next morning, before even the wombats were awake, 47 runners gathered in the mist on the buttongrass plains near Waldheim, and Bob Richards sent us off with the command, "Ready? Go!"
This year the run followed a long stretch of wonderful summer weather, and the track did not live up to its moist reputation. However, there was plenty of water along the way (some runners only carry cups for scooping it up as they go) and everybody got their feet wet. In fact, the warm and dry weather may have slowed the top runners a bit. The three big climbs seemed reasonable (about 1,550 meters in total) and the trail was well maintained with long stretches of "duckboard". Each year the track gets faster as it is improved; this year a women's record was set, and last year a men's record was set. Runners came from Tasmania, New South Wales, and Victoria to compete; for some, it was their tenth run.
Favourite Tim Sloan was gunning for Andy Kromar's record of 7:25, set last year. However, he had to run alone, because Kromar did not enter and the other top contender, 1995 winner David Ross, pulled a calf muscle a week before the race. Tim raced hard against the clock and even though he stopped often for water, he bettered his previous best by 30 minutes, finishing in 7:43. The next finishers were Jamie Evans (9:29) and Leigh Privett (10:35). Michelle Carington- Smith set a new women's record, finishing in 11:06, ahead of Sue Gray (11:45) and Sue Wright (12: 11). In all, 33 runners finished the course, one retired at Pelion Hut, and the rest (and maybe the smartest) finished at Narcissus Hut after a mere 62 km, then rode the boat down Lake St. Clair. Everyone was off the trail before dark, and all made last call for dinner at Bronte Park.
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