Exciting conditions greeted a record crowd of more than 700 runners at this year’s Saucony Surf Coast Trail Marathon, a monster swell creating challenging coastal conditions including giant waves turning parts of the course into an adventure coasteer as much as a trail run.
While some of the world’s best big wave surfers reportedly hopped their lear jets from locations across the globe to take on mountainous waves reaching over six metres at Bells Beach, marathon and half marathon runners took on a rollercoaster ride along the Surf Coast Walk between Torquay and Fairhaven, the extra high tide forcing participants to rock hop along beach sections, including Bells, much to the amusement of surfers and big wave spectators.
While the swell pounded, the sun still shone and the racing up front was hot with Geelong’s Brett Coleman and Francesco Ciancio duelling for most of the length of the marathon course. Coleman was battling for his second podium title having won in 2014, while Ciancio was chasing his first win having registered second and third placings previously. Come the final finish line climb up the stairs at the Fairhaven Surf Lifesaving Club, it was Coleman who proved faster on the day registering a time of 3:04:15, little more than five minutes in arrears of his first year winning time. It was a close fought contest, however, with Ciancio, Australia’s current 100km champion, only 59 seconds behind. In third place was Surf Coast resident, Sam Maffet in a time of 3:09:40.
“It was brutal,” said Coleman at the finish line. “The main difference from when I first ran it was back then it was a King Tide. This year it felt like a super king tide with massive swell. I was above my knees in water at times!”
Despite walking some of the rockier sections, Coleman still registered a super fast time on what many regard as a deceivingly tough course even when the swell isn’t running. “I was hooping to actually sneak in under the three hour mark, but not today, the conditions were just too tough. Frankie and I ran together most of the time and had a great little battle, it was a fight for sure!”
In the women’s marathon, Glen Huntly based runner Nicole Paton, who earlier in June won the Mount Macedon 50km, backed up with a solid win in a time of 3:52:29, seven and a half minutes clear of Hannah Clark from Abbotsford who took second place in 4:00:26. South Melbourne’s Amanda Meggison was third in 4:09:12.
It was a satisfying win for Paton, who was bedridden in the days prior suffering a cold virus. Hers was a last minute entry that panned out perfectly, but not before being pushed early on by Clark.
“I have never run against her and she took me out of my comfort zone as I had been planning to start out easy,” said Paton. “I tried to push the pace on the few technical downhill sections as I thought that would be my advantage with my mountain running experience. I think the difficult conditions with the high tide were also in my favour as they made the race much harder for everyone, which made it more like an ultra and most likely set the road runners back more than it did me.
Paton began her ultra trail running journey less than a year ago with a background in hiking and backcountry snowboarding. Her move to the trails has paid off, the weekend’s win adding to an impressive scoreboard to date with a win at Macedon, another at Wilsons Prom 100km which included a course record, and a 10th place at Ultra Trail Australia 100km. She next plans to tackle another local event, the Surf Coast Century, in September.
In the teams event, it was a pair of athletics runners – more used to the soft sponge of the track or a short cross country field courses than that of the Surf Coast sands – who came out triumphant. Team Richterson, made up of accomplished cross country runners Sven Richter and Stawell Gift Carnival winner (1600m handicap) Oscar Robinson. The pair put in a stellar run to cross the line overall first in a time of 2:56:48.
In the half marathon, past full course champion and recent Australian trail running representative at the World Championships in Italy, Kellie Emmerson, took line honours, her 4:53/min per kilometre pace – impressive given the conditions and sand stretches – spurred on by last year’s marathon winner Tameka Day giving hard chase. Emmerson’s 1:43:11 was in the end enough to hold back Day who crossed four minutes in arrears in 1.47:11. Keeping them both honest was Sara Dingle who took third a minute and a half further behind (1:48:41).
In the men’s half marathon it was Geelong Cross Country Club runner Ron Thomas who put his off road running skills in frame, but extended his usual distance specialty of 15km to the half marathon to take the line in a winning time of 1:33:57. His was a slim win, however, with on the day entrant, Sho Waller, from Fitzroy, snatched second place barely 8 seconds behind. Taking third place was elite triathlete, Sam Hume in a time of 1:36:10.
Created to throw a spotlight on the Surf Coast Walk, the Saucony Surf Coast Trail Marathon has developed a reputation for attracting both dedicated trail runners and those crossing over from road and multisport. In particular, it has become a favourite target for those tackling their first half or full marathon, lured by the welcoming community that congregates around the Surf Coast event annually.
One such runner was Jamie Moxham from Upwey in the Dandenongs, who despite a severe injury to his foot, took on his first-ever full marathon. Inspired by mentor and coach, Frank Welburn, who once ran the event (and finished) with a broken foot, Moxham battled it out at the rear all day, but never looked like giving up despite being in constant pain.
“I got to the start line with one goal: make the 21km cut off (which) I did with seven minutes in the bank,” recounted Moxham. “From there all I had to do was as Frank told me: put one foot in front of the other. Perpetual forward motion. More times than I can count I had to say to myself ‘My yes is bigger.’”
“I was not giving in. Everything hurt, my foot almost numb. Less than a kilometre to go and around the corner there was Frank (Welburn) holding a medal yelling ‘This is yours but not yet. I’ll give it to you when you get to the end’.”
“The last instruction from Frank was ‘When you hit the sand you run, you sprint up those stairs and this medal is yours.’ I gave it everything I had, and followed his words. Not only did I get the race medal but Frank also presented me with the amazing award in his name,” said Moxham.
Each year the local Surf Coast Trail Runners group hands out a special award named after Welburn to honour a competitor who epitomises the spirit of trail running through their strength of character, determination and humbleness. This year, Welburn personally handed the award to Moxham amid the cheers of well-wishers who agreed that he had shown courage out on course and represented what trail running was about.
Says organiser, Chris Ord from Anglesea-based, Tour de Trails: “The thing I love the most about the event is that it not only attracts so many people looking to achieve a first marathon or half marathon or even their first trail run, but that it creates a crucible for moments like when Jamie crossed the finish line. There were tears. There was a lot of hugging and people were genuinely happy for Jamie. It was quite literally like a family celebration.
“While the athletic feats at the front are absolutely impressive, just as impressive and equally inspiring are the efforts like Jamie’s. And this weekend there were many examples along the Surf Coast, none of them dampened one iota by the menace of the odd King Tide wave roaring in – in fact, I reckon they loved the experience all the more for it. After all, that’s what we’re out here for – to appreciate Mother Nature in all her wild glory. And perhaps push ourselves outside the comfort zone in doing so, and come out the other side our lives a little richer for it.”
Runners travelled from across Australia and the globe to participate in the Saucony Surf Coast Trail Marathon, with entrants registered from afar afield as the United Kingdom, Ireland, the United States and New Zealand along with every Australian state represented. It was, according to organisers, the largest field ever hosted at the event “along with the largest waves ever encountered!”
Full results are available at: http://tomatotiming.racetecresults.com/Results.aspx?CId=16&RId=28502
The Saucony Surf Coast Trail Marathon is supported by Saucony, the Surf Coast Shire, IO Merino, Bomboras Kiosk, Surf Coast Trail Runners, Trail Run Mag, The Happy Runner, The Running Company Geelong, Tailwind Nutrition, Pro Feet Podiatry, Torquay Sports Medicine Centre, Aireys Pub, Rogue Wave Brewing, and Kongo Industries.
IMAGE credits Supersport Images (competitor imagery available)