What do you do when all your events are cancelled? Make up your own! GARY BOYCE gives us a race recap of his Twisted D.E.E.R. 50km Ultra.
With event after event either being postponed or cancelled, I thought why am I training? I get up, go for a run, come home and repeat. Running was losing its purpose and I was losing my love for the trails. I had read and talked to other runners and the same vibe was flowing through from them – the motivation for trail running was losing some magic.
Originally, I thought I would create a run for my wife, who was training for a 100km race, and have a small group of running friends where I would be their mobile aid station. We would use this run as the final big run before taper time (sure have missed tapering for an event!). I messaged our friend Vicky Rounding to see if she was keen for a 50km, and she was. From there, we started working on who else would be keen for an ultra in an area they were not familiar with and which had never been used for such an event.
Unfortunately, Vicky picked up an injury and this meant she couldn’t run. The positive side to this meant we now had the idea of inviting a few more people we knew to come and run. Between the two of us, we could be their support crew. With events like Five Peaks, Wonderland and Yurrebilla all being cancelled, we floated the idea that maybe could do something special. We could create a small social run for our friends and create a race-type feel to the event to help fill the void of those events being cancelled.
I knew people would love the course I had put together but they would be tested by the technical single tracks, relentless climbing and rough trails. I have been running in this area for nearly three years, winding and weaving my way through areas I never see anyone in. Over the years, I have been lost for hours and days navigating and putting together routes that have become my favourites to run. Many times, I have pulled up and sat on a rock, eating and jotting down course notes of where I had been, what I had seen and just enjoying the beauty of my surroundings. I have discovered hidden single tracks anyone else out there simply would not see and, wow, are they missing out on some fun!
I wanted to keep secret the Twisted D.E.E.R. 50km loop until a couple of days before the big day. There were a few reasons for this. It would create some excitement and tension not knowing the course or the elevation. I didn’t want the runners to be able to do a recon before the run – I wanted everyone to discover it together, similar to the way I had discovered it. I wanted them to get that feeling of “wow!” on the day. I wanted them to remember that feeling of going out and exploring somewhere for the first time. I wanted to bring back some of the “trail magic” people were losing.
I had taken Vicky out exploring a couple of times in the area and she knew how beautiful some parts were. We organised a weekend to catch up and plan the event. Richard (Vicky’s husband, who ran on the day and was our amazing finish-line burger maker), my wife Tamika (who this original run was for and also crushed this course on the day), Vicky and myself nutted out the details for food, drinks, aid stations and, most importantly, how we could make this fun. We were all so excited and energised for the event after this, and run day could not come around quick enough. We had some surprises to work on in the lead up so the runners could feel they were part of something special.
We decided that 50km is something to celebrate, no matter if it is a social run or an official event, and the best way to do that was with merchandise. I emailed Carlie from Custom Design Signs a run/event brief and some ideas for an event logo. Custom Design Signs is a South Australian supplier based in Maitland. All businesses have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, and I thought by creating some cool merchandise for our runners, it would go a little way in supporting a local business. Carlie, to no surprise, was amazing in creating a fantastic logo. We then came up with a hoodie design incorporating the logo, event name and the course map on the back. Thank you to everyone who purchased the hoodie and also the trucker hat that Carlie designed. It was awesome on the day seeing so many of you wearing this merch and really added to a race-day feel.
We had another surprise lined up for our runners. Nothing says race day more than a race bib. Nathan at Ablaze Industries Pty Ltd was fantastic in helping us out with running bibs. Nathan incorporated our logo and customised an awesome bib for us. Companies like this have been heavily impacted by so many events being cancelled. We are so thankful to Nathan and his team at Ablaze for their friendly service and product quality, but also for creating an awesome bib our runners can now use as a souvenir from the day.
I took a punt and contacted Clif Bar & Company and explained to them that we had this plan for a social run with a race-type vibe. They immediately wanted to help us out and I couldn’t believe it. There we were, an unofficial event, and Clif wanted to donate their products. They wanted to support the runners on the day and be connected with the community when so many events had been cancelled. It truly is gestures like this that make our trail running community special. I can’t thank Clif enough.
NOTE: Due to transport company issues, the stock never arrived on time. This was through no fault of Clif and we are now looking at ways of getting this product to our runners.
Excitement was building the week of the run and the common question was, “When is Gary releasing the GPX file for the course?” My plan was always to provide the course notes and GPX the Friday before. This would give people enough time to study up but no time to sneak out for a look at the course. With this information, I also put together a Google Maps list with information for support crews so they could navigate easily to locations around the course to see their runners. We were mindful this area was new to many and we wanted not only the runners to enjoy the day, but also their support crew.
Then the biggest curveball was thrown when Garmin had their technical problems. We now had issues with runners not being able to get their GPX file on to their watch. Runners were then looking at using their phone with a GPS app to navigate their way around the course. With this issue affecting so many and being mindful of how new the area was to so many running, I decided I would mark more sections of the course than I had first anticipated. I used a system of two different coloured ribbons to aid navigation: one colour when a turn or attention to the course was needed, both colours together to indicate a turn, and the other colour to indicate they were on the right path after making the turn. All markers would be on the runners’ left-hand side and, hopefully, if they saw them on their right, they would then check their map/notes and make any necessary adjustments. Three days of course marking and I was confident our runners would find their way around. I also thought getting a little lost would add some bonus kms at no extra cost, so why not enjoy them if that happens?
What was great about the problem with loading the GPX file on to watches was the reaction of all the runners. Quickly, people shared ways of uploading the file and made sure everyone had a way of navigating the course. This is one aspect I have always enjoyed about the trail running scene: the caring about each other. It is something we need to keep at the forefront of our minds, now more than ever. Look after each other!
The Friday before the run, Vicky and I checked that we had everything we needed, from tables and chairs to pumpkin soup and burgers. We individually bagged lollies and a trail mix for runners to grab on the day. We were set! Now, we could relax and enjoy Sunday watching the runners push themselves to the extreme.
Sunday was an early start. I arrived at the start/finish area just before 6am and set up a little race-type village. We had speakers playing music, a table set with race bibs and runners merchandise, all pre-bagged for collection, and coned-out a starting area. We had been blessed by the weather gods and were in for perfect running conditions. The pre-run brief started at 6.50am, after which we opted for a novel way of starting a race – we played the song Jump Around by House of Pain. When the song stopped, the pain, I mean, the fun of the run would start. Just after 7am, the runners were off. It was such a good feeling to see them running this course and we couldn’t wait to hear their reaction to the area.
Vicky and I headed to the only manned aid station we were setting up at approximately 22km. On the way, I stopped at the 43km spot to set up the unmanned aid station with water, Coke, lollies and chips. Later, at the finish line, we would hear from our runners that, unfortunately, people had messed with this aid station, tipping the table over with all the items on it and stealing at least three bottles of Coke. Thanks to Kean and Dej, who restored the area for the rest of the runners and, again, we apologise to anyone this impacted.
Once the aid station at 22km was set up, I dashed over to a nasty little climb to take a few photos. I couldn’t believe as I was running down the fire trail to the hidden single track of the climb that I could see runners already on their way. I got halfway up the climb and within two minutes, Matthew Tilley and Jason Keep were making their way up. Both looked strong and were enjoying the course. More runners made their way up and were all looking good. A few more photos and then it was back to the aid station to help Vicky look after our runners.
Everyone coming through the aid station was full of energy and excitement. Their smiles and comments about the course so far were the exact reaction we were hoping for. We made sure everyone was refuelled and ready for a much tougher second half. Vicky stayed at the aid station for our final runners to come through and I headed back to the finish line to set up.
It wasn’t long before our first runner home for the day crossed the finish line. Matthew Tilley had completed his first 50km trail ultra in a very impressive time of 5 hours and 42 minutes. Such an impressive performance, given the course was not fully marked, he had never run the course or that distance before, and it had 2,300m-plus of tricky elevation.
It was a little while before our next runners started to come through. There were a few messages and phone calls from runners who had gone off course but we were able to get them back on track. We heated the pumpkin soup and salted potatoes Vicky had made. Runners who had ordered burgers received a freshly cooked one when they finished. One of the best finishes was when Ryan Causby crossed the finish line and we literally handed him a burger. Who needs a finisher’s medal when you can get a finisher’s burger?!
Runners were coming home more frequently now and the finish-line vibe was building. Runners enjoyed some well-earned food, Coke and music, and everyone clapped, cheered and encouraged each runner home. The common topic of conversation was The Devil’s Rollercoaster. There were plenty of swear words, laughter and stories about this section!
With the last runners safely home, it was time to pack up and the day was done. We had created our own fun when opportunities to do so were limited. Thank you to all the runners who came out and made the day special. A big thank you to Vicky, Richard and Tamika for all your support and help to make this happen. Maybe next year we will do it again, but until then, and until our events return, go out and create your own fun!