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April 2000 - Glasshouse 50km Trail Run Reportby Sean Greenhill
It was a strange feeling to be driving north out of Sydney last Thursday night, when most runners were arriving in the Olympic City to take their part in history by running in Sunday's Host City Marathon- the public marathon held over the future Olympic course. Over 5500 competitors were readying themselves to pound Sydney's streets while I was heading for a small town two hours north of Brisbane to do a trail run which attracted 25 entrants.
The April Glasshouse Trail 50, 30 and 12K races are a sister to the "big events" held in the same locale in September/ October- the 100 and 50 Mile races. They are organised by Ian Javes, one of Australia's best ultra runners in his own right, now making a major contribution to the nation's other competitors.
When I ran the 50 Mile in September, it was done in temperatures of around 35 C under a blazing clear sky. On Friday morning it started raining and never really let up till I got back to Sydney. I arrived at the Glass House Motel around 8pm Friday night, and the following afternoon drove out to the start where Ian was setting up his tents, BBQs etc for the next day. He took out a copy of the course map and pointed out a few changes that had been made because rain had made some sections of trail virtually impassable. The 50K, to start at 5.30, consisted of two laps of a key shaped 25K (a loop, with an out and back on the eastern end of the loop, and the start at the northwestern corner of the loop). Some was on trail shared with the 100/ 50 Mile, others (like Hennessy's Hill) I had yet to see. Ian explained he was going to camp at the start overnight, glanced up at the grey sky, and uttered a quick prayer that it wouldn't rain again, as he had just laid out dolomite arrows over the course. His promise lasted a few minutes, then the skies opened again.
When I rose at 4am the following morning, I opened the door and looked up into a clear sky. Should be a good race, I thought, and had a shower and readied my gear. When I stepped out to the car, the rain had swept in again, and the drive to Lookout 589 (the start) was slow and treacherous as it was almost impossible to see through the downpour. "Mad dogs, Englishmen and runners" I joked to Ian at the start. I was the only NSW entrant in the 50K- all the others were doing the Host City Marathon. Peter Gray, of Sydney- Melbourne and Nanango 1000 Mile fame, had drien up from Melbourne, and the other 23 entrants were Queenslanders. THese included Melanie Jonker (who had driven from her Brisbane home at 2.30am), Kerrie Hall (twice finisher of the 100 Mile) and Adam Barron, second place at 1999's Fifty Mile. Pretty soon, the rain stopped, but a fog settled in over the bush and the road where we stood. It looked like a scene from Hound of the Baskervilles. Although the sun was rising, it was still pitch black because of the cloud and fog, so Ian delayed the start till 5.45 so we could have some light to see.
So it came to pass, we were off and running through the blue- grey gloom along a dirt logging road, past the lookout, and down a bitumen section of road. I surprised myself as I seemed to be pretty close to the leaders- definitely not part of my plans, which were to finish in around 6 hours. We swung off the bitumen, past a gate and onto some rough muddy walking track. The trail nazis started to overtake me, and before long I was running next to the legendary Peter Gray. Or rather behind him, and he fed me a stream of commentary on the trail conditions he could see up ahead. The trail descended down the side of a ridge, through another gate, and onto a soaked section of flattish fire road. The sky was still grey and threatening, but there were only passing showers during the race- although it came down steadily again not long after the finish.
The trails all pass through a mixture of pine plantation and native bsuhland (parts of the latter are preserved as the Glasshouse Mountains National Park). This section of fire road, which was not part of the 50 Mile course, wound through silent bush, up a rise, and the runners then left the fire road onto a section of walking track. In fact it was little more than bush bashing in spots, but Ian and his crew had marked the course excellently and navigation was never a problem. By this stage I had fallen in with a loose group of five other runners, and we started walking as the trail ascended Hennessy's Hill. Not as bad as some other hills I have done (not as severe as Duane Spur at the Bogong- Hotham, or as long as Staircase Spur from the same race or Pluviometer at Six Foot Track), it still came as a nasty shock for us all, and we were reduced to pulling ourselves up by tree branches because our shoes were slipping on the muddy slope.
I was feeling pretty good at this point- going pretty quick and my legs didn't feel sore or tired from the climb at all. Just before the top we passed a fern filled valley filled with morning mist- a pleasing sight. Then we reached the top and set off through the bsuh again. Soon enough we reached a dirt road where the first aid station was waiting. My bottles were still half full so I skipped the aid and kept going. This section of trail was a bit "up and down" and covered in pieces of timber from recent logging operations. It started to drop and came into clear on the edge of farmland. We ran along the edge of a plantation (of macadamia nuts, I think) and plunged into the bush again, passing through the wettest section of the course. There were a few largish pools (including one part where a flowing creek followed the trail for 20 metres or so) and plenty of mud. I emerged from this section with a badly gouged wrist from a fall and plenty of cuts on my legs. The course followed a logging road for about a kilometre and arrived at the next aid point, on the edge of a pine plantation. I refilled my bottles with gatorade and headed back along the route I came, back through the bush and mud again.
Up until this point (about 14K in) I had felt pretty good and I had started to entertain thoughts of a 5.30 finish, which i would have been thrille dwith given the tricky conditions. Howwever, my legs started to feel heavy at this point- not tired, just no "oomph" in them. I guessed it was the effects of a too- fast start, but it may also have been a result of the humidity, as I found breathing difficult on this section on both loops. As I passed back through the plantation, the sun came out briefly. I wished it to return behind the clouds, as I didn'twant the rain to bbe evaporated and raise the humidity further. After a few minutes it did so, and a brief shower followed. I reached the checkpoint on the road again, then turned left and followed the road. This section I knew, as we had run this part during the Fifty Mile. It went down a sleep slope, up the steeper far side, along the top of a small ridge, then downhill again and along a logging road back towards the start of the second loop. Last year the horizon had been filled with the bulk of Mt Beerwah at this point, but today its deformed Matterhorn shape was completely lost in cloud and fog. The road turned right and rose and fell several times before heading through the middle of an old plantation now mostly barren of trees. I could see the roofs of the tents at the start, and eventually reached there after a 2.45 loop, just as the 12K runners were about to start. Some of them applaused, which I found uplifting.
I refilled my bottles with gatorade, drank some coke, debated whether I should take a beer and decided to wait till after the race. Then I was off again on the second loop. This time, the logging roads had been churned up by 50K and 30K runners and I found the going nastier and slower. Then the 12K runners started to pass me, as did another 50K runner. Going up Hennessy's Hill the second time around, it started to rain again and I started swapping jokes with the 12K runners, to the effect that they must have been better runners than me, as they were fast enough for the 12K. "I don't do 50K because I'm good, I'm not, I do it just because I'm too slow," I said. Some of them professed disbelief.
Past the ferns and onto the road and the aid station again, I skipped filling my bottles but did take a few cups of coke. By now I was walking some parts of the trail. I didn't feel tired, just slow still, and mentally a bit bummed too, I suspect. Had I been in a positive frame of mind I could probably have kept running. The muddy out and back to the pine plantation seemed to take forever, but eventually I got there, refilled my bottles, swapped a few jokes with the guy staffing it and set back again, passing, among others, Peter Gray, Kerrie Hall and Melanie Jonker. I started glancing at my watch, trying to work out if a sub six hour finish was still on, and eventually told myself it wasn't- another example of my negative state of mind at this point. However, when I reached the road again, and the aid station for the fourth and final time, the guys reckoned I looked better than before! I had my bottles partly refilled ("safety blanket", I told them) and set off for the last 5K. I was feeling a bit queasy by now- I had taken no solid food (a mistake) and the gatorade and coke must have made an unpleasant frothy mixture in my stomach. Still feeling slow but not tired, I navigated the last few hills, put on a couple of minor surges, and crossed the line in 6.10. It started raining again.
Adam Barron fetched a couple of cans of beer, and we sat down and started to sink them. I got most of the way through mine before a wave of nausea hit me and I vomited up everything I had consumed that morning. I felt a lot better after that and finished the beer, but decided a second wouldn't be wise. Adam eventually went home, Peter Gray came in through the rain, and eventually I congratulated Ian on his effort, promised I'd be back in October (for the 50 or the 100- not sure which yet) and was on my way.
As with his efforts last year, Ian put in a great effort in organising the races. I took a map with me, but never needed them. The course was well enough marked to do without. The October races include Australia's only 100 Mile run, and one of only two (I think) trail 50 Mile races, so they deserve solid support. As for my own race, it was neither good nor bad, but I'm taking as a good sign the fact that I didn't fall apart like I did at Six Foot Track two months ago. From now, the build up to Glasshouse in October starts.
Sean has also written the following articles that are published on CoolRunning Australia :
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