It was a big weekend on the trails with runners making and breaking records at two of the biggest events on the trail ultra calendar, one of them an inaugural, another a rising star in South Australia, plus the Abel Tasman 36km being run and won over in New Zealand.
Yesterday the Yurebilla Ultra (56km), was headlined by a storming Kiwi in the guise of, well, Grant Guise, the man who recently won the Canadian Death Race and behind great Kiwi trail run website, The Backcountry Runner.
Grant nabbed a course record running it in 4:54, leading home a huge field of more than 300 entrants, making the Yurrebilla likely the third largest trail ultra in terms of solo competitors in the country (behind TNF100 and Six Foot Track). Not bad for a race that started with about 20 runners.
Behind Guise, James Duffy took second in 5hrs 7mins and third was Mark Bloomfield in 5hrs 09mins.
In the female category, Joanna Kruk registered another convincing win in 5hrs 40mins with Sally Roffey in second (5hrs 47mins) and Stephanie Gaskell taking third in 5hrs 48min.
Nelson-based trailrunner, Graeme Taylor continued his strong form of late, starting and finisihng fast to take out the 19th Abel Tasman Coastal Classic in 2 hours 27 minutes and 5 seconds, “scorching” the 36km course from Awaroa Lodge back to Marahau.
Conditions couldn’t have been any better, according to organisers. A dead flat sea showcased why its New Zealand’s premier paddling territory as 297 competitors boated up to the start. Once there all bar one ‘took off’ down the airstrip chasing Taylor who was intent intent on not being beaten.
At Tonga Beach, Taylor had “the pretenders” tucked away safely behind. Only the other race favourite Vajin Armstrong ( Christchurch ) looked a threat as he valiantly chased. But the catching up didn’t eventuate as Taylor comfortably crossed the finish line just under 4 minutes ahead. Third was Cantabrian Matthew Pepler, one of eleven to come in under three hours.
One of these was Michelle McAdam who joined the sub-3hr club with not many women members. Being a very good long distance road runner she had the background required for the marathon equivalent course posting 2.58.02 and commenting at prizegiving that the terrain was unforgiving.
Adventure racer Fleur Lattimore knows the territory well but not McAdams history and like every event she enters she gave it her all leaving nothing out on the track. Her second in 3.01.05 was a stunning performance recording a personal best and 12th overall in a quality field. Fleur Pawsey also has a penchant away from the bitumen and she followed eight minutes adrift .
Biggest cheer for the day was received by Huntly Octogenarian Brian Smith who at 80 years young ticked off one of his bucket lists 5 hours 46 minutes and 23 seconds later.
Surf Coast Century
One of Australia’s top road marathoners set the trail world alight in the inaugural Surf Coast Century 100km trail ultra, held in Anglesea, Victoria. First time ultra runner Rowan Walker blew all contenders away to secure the first crown. The Geelong runner knocked off the 100km course in a blistering 8 hours 25minutes.
It was the 2011 Australian Marathon Champion’s first major trail race and his first ever 100km run, his longest prior run – on road – being ‘only’ 46km. He only decided to run the full course two weeks ago, after his pairs team partner, Julian Spence, pulled out suffering injury.
Walker, who obviously has as big a heart as he does lungs and legs having saved his younger brother’s life with a bone marrow transplant in recent years, went out fast covering the first 49km in 3 hours 42 mins, more a marathon pace than trail ultra. Pundits at the halfway mark wondered if Walker could maintain the speed as he ventured into unknown distance territory for him, but splits revealed he was barely 23 minutes behind the overall team leader (sharing leg duties between four runners) at the final major checkpoint at 77km.
“It was a risk making the decision only two weeks out to run the full distance having not done the long distance training or specifics,” said Walker, who has already been dubbed ‘The Terminator’ by impressed spectators.
“I’m a real road runner with a flat stride, and I fell over about five times because I couldn’t lift my feet up enough! So it was a challenge in that sense, but you’re just out there for survival really.”
Asked to compare the intensity of the ultra trail experience to his usual marathon distance, Walker was diplomatic.
“Look, a ten kay hurts, a marathon hurts, this distance hurts, they all just hurt in different ways. That just hurt from 40 kilometres onwards. It was intense for a long period of time, and I walked up hills thinking ‘I never walk up hills’ It was tough, very tough.””
Accomplished trail ultra runner, New South Welshman Jonathan Worswick, ran a strong race, registering second place behind Walker in 9 hours 10 minutes while David Hosking filled the final podium place with a 9 hours 43 minute run.
Worswick, who has had a full calendar of ultra trail runs in 2012 including two Oxfams, The North Face 100 and Mt Solitary Ultra, said the course was fast, flowing and fun.
“It perhaps suited marathoners like Rowan, but didn’t quote play to my strengths of technical trail running – I like bigger hills and rocks.”
Accepting the 1-Litre beer stein for his sub-13 hour finish, Worswick noted: “That’s perfect – I’ve been thinking about a beer for the past 25 or 30 kays!”
Pocket rocket trail queen, Sydneysider Shona Stephenson, smashed the course in a time of 10 hours 18 mins to win the women’s category, maintaining her string of major trail victories in 2012, having won the Coastal Classic and the Oxfam Sydney 100km.
“I found the first sixty kilometres easy – I always start fast and just hope to hang on. But then the back half started to hurt, a few of those hills got me,” said Stephenson.
“And then my shoulder gave way and I realised I didn’t have any more energy gels. But I loved the fact that there relay teams were up with me so I had someone to talk to most of the way.”
Second solo female over the line was Amy Hinds, a Tasmanian Ironwoman who has never run a full 100km before.
“I’ve run the Cradle Mountain (80km), but never this far,” said the personal trainer. “It was tougher than I thought it would be. The hills in the second half really got me. But a beautiful course.”
In third place was Mandy Lee-Noble, who ran with her husband Christopher Noble.
“For most of the way. She left me for a while there!” said Christopher.
“But he always reels me back in over the final seven kilometres.” added Mandy.
And so he did, the couple crossing the line together.
In the teams category, it was a come from behind win for Peak Adventure, with well-known adventure racers JaradKohlar, Alex Polizzi, Alex Houghton and James Pretto managing to reel in the Team Giant duo of Mitch Anderson and Damian Angus, the pair’s elite-level Ironman credentials transferring rather well to the ultra trail.
The super Salomon team, comprising some of Australia’s top ultra marathoners, came third.
For the rest of the four hundred or so runners (teams and solo), the day on trail was not about the podium, but about enjoying the amazing scenery as they stepped along the singletrail route that tracked from Anglesea to Torquay via famous surf Mecca, Bells Beach. They trail runners then turned back towards Anglesea, passing back through the start/finish to continue on out through hinterland bush to Moggs Creek and Aireys Inlet before a final beach run home.
Runners finished throughout the night, a generous cut-off time of 27 hours giving plenty of time for the group of eight Geelong schoolgirls to finish and prove detractors wrong. They stuck to race plan, moving conservatively through the course, with six of the eight finishing proudly. Two were pulled from teh course by their coach and supervisor on course, ultra runner Michael Tong, after knee and ITB niggles, Tong playing safe and withdrawing them - despite their disappointment – before any full blown injury.
Not running conservatively at all, but also blowing away the expectations of many, was 16 year old Lucy Bartholomew. She smashed the course in 12hrs 13 mins, only just under two hours shy of winner Shona Stephenson. And even then, reports are that she could have gone faster but was running with her Dad, who struggled more than she. Despite Dad’s encouragement for her to move ahead, Lucy was happy to stay with her Dad on her promise, and finished strong, smiling and laughing across the line.
It was a weekend trail running festival of sorts, with the Salomon Trail Run Series taking place on parts of the SCC course the following day. The race four finale of the popular outings which has introduced thousands to off road running over the past four months again attracted well over 1000 runners taking on a short (8km) and long (15km) course. The lure of a warm down run was too much for SCC winner Shona Stephenson, who backed up to win the long course event and thereby the inaugural Concrete Shoe award for the fastest cumulative time over the 100km SCC and the long course Salomon Trail Run event.
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