This was a weekend of racing!
The Wonderland runs are in Halls Gap in the Grampians, Victoria. I got married in Halls Gap 3 years ago and spent time camping there when I was growing up so it’s an area of the world that has a special place in my heart.
Last year I did the 36k but this year, they had on offer a 60k for the first time. The course started out of Halls Gap approx 30k then joined up with the 36k run course so I would at least know the second half of the run!
The night before I was sitting talking to my friends who were doing the other races and told me I had 2400m elevation in my course. Nice. One of these days I will learn this information before I do these races!
On the Saturday, I did the 2k and 8k with my friend Nicky. The 2k is targeted at kids. I haven’t done it before but it was really fun. It was amazing to see the kids run their hearts out along the trail. Very cool.
Next up we had the 8k about 45mins later. Again, I ran with Nicky. We chatted the whole way round. Even got a comment from the guy we were running behind that we were very talkative!! When we got to the hilly sections, I had to stop myself from power walking up them like I usually do as these runs were purely meant for fun rather than running hard. Hence why it was great to share it with a friend and spent some quality time together!!
Since the 60k was a new course, I made sure I went to the race briefing on the Saturday night. The race organisers were very strict about mandatory gear (understandable, the weather is super unpredictable around that area) and that there is cut offs along the course that I needed to pay attention to as I was well aware I would be towards the back of the pack so didn’t want to get pulled off course if I could avoid it!
Sunday morning saw me up to get the bus at 5am. I ended up on the second bus headed out of town. The bus driver missed the turn and braked really hard before reversing up the road to the turn. It certainly woke me from my dozing!!
When we arrived, they said that the race would be starting in 5mins. Time to duck to the toilet. Line was too long. Ducked to the bushes instead. I managed to squeeze on my hydration pack hose/mouth piece onto my shorts so initially I thought I had peed on myself. Thankfully that small anxiety moment passed quickly! Now I was ready to go!
From the race briefing, the course sounded pretty technical and tough for the first 14-ish kms, then a 10k section of fire road and a very hard decent down from Boroka for 3kms to join the 36k course. The total distance would be 63.5k but since it’s on trails, I figured I would run a bit further as I never run the best possible line!
I had been sick earlier in the week so I figured since we started in the dark and cold, I should wear some warmer clothes than what I usually do. I usually just run in a singlet and shorts. No matter what the weather as I get hot running so I figure I can toughen up for 5 mins as I warm up. This time, I have still be coughing when it’s cold so I made the decision to leave my thermal top on until I stopped to take off my head torch.
The start of the course was in the dark so thankfully it was on a wide trail section before we headed into the more technical section. It was really pretty at one stage to look across to the trail to see all of the head torches making their way up the climb.
Initially the trail was pretty easy, rocky steps but then it got more and more technical. There was sections where I was happy I was following a couple of other people and muddy footsteps on the rocks so I knew where I was going. The course was well marked but there was points where I had to stop, look around and figure out where I should be going. I had the course uploaded onto my Garmin but I know the course accuracy isn’t the best, especially on trails as it sometimes told me I was off course when I hadn’t gone off a fire road!
I knew I was in trouble for the cut offs when it took me an hour to do the first 5k then 2 hours to 9k. Hmmmm. My predicted 10 hours might be a little unrealistic!!
I’m not sure exactly where, but I managed to keep going along the trail the wrong way for about 700m. My Garmin told me I was off course but I wasn’t sure it was exactly right or not as there was two parts of the trail I could go on. There was a couple of people ahead who had decided to turn back towards me when they got to the end of the trail and realised we had all taken a wrong turn. There was a bunch of muddy footprints so clearly there was a lot of others who made the same mistake! The ribbon on the tree was really obvious when we found it so I have no idea how we all missed it!
I really enjoyed the trail and exploring a different part of the Grampians that I hadn’t been to before. Plus we got to see a beautiful sunrise as we climbed up and along some ridge lines, across some rocks and along trails. Loved it!
The fire road section wasn’t that interesting, but for a slower runner like me, it was well needed!! I had lost so much time through the trails, this was the opportunity to make it up. I had a guy Rob who I kept leap frogging throughout the whole day. I was faster on the uphills and he was faster on the flats and downs so we would catch up with each other and did so for the whole course until the last 13 or so kms when I was pushing and ran away from him. Thankfully we caught up at the end for a congratulatory hug and chat!
The first aid station was at around 14k, managed to refuel with water and kept going. The fire road was hilly, but not overly steep like some of the trail sections I had already done. I pushed and ran some of the smaller uphills which I usually don’t. Usually I run flats and downs and not the hills but I had the cut offs in the back of my mind so had to keep pushing. It was a tricky balance of not pushing myself too much so I had something in my legs to get through the second half that I have done before and know it’s tough!!
Once I got to the very tricky, technical descent down from Boroka lookout, I quickly realised why they kept saying it’s tough and take it easy!! I felt like I was back in Mount Macedon running the second half of the 50k course. It was full of tree roots, rocks and super steep. I’m not great descending at the best of times as well! So I was super scared at times and made sure I took my time. I certainly didn’t want to be rolling and ankle or breaking any bones this close to my A-race!!
On the descent, I realised that I wouldn’t make the first cut off at 30k. I sort of already knew that but thought that I might be able to get down the descent a little quicker than I did. I could hear the finish line announcing runners coming through so it made me worried that we were going all the way down to the start line of the 36k. Thankfully, we joined after the main climb to the pinnacle which involves very steep steps and would take me a long time to get up! There was still a bit of climbing to go to get to the first check point at 30k at the Sundial Car Park.
When I got there, I had a chat to the guy who was in charge of the cut offs, Clarky. I was 15mins over the cut off and had resigned myself to the fact that I would be pulled off the course. However, Clarky had a chat with me, asked me how I was going and said that we would be able to reassess the situation at the next aid station which was also the next cut off point. I had 30mins to get there and knew that was not going to happen. I was very clear with Clarky that if I was going to stop, it would need to be his choice. I wouldn’t pull myself off the course.
So I kept going. Up the rock stairs from Wonderland car park to the Sundial Car Park. I made sure I didn’t push too hard. I figured again that I wasn’t going to make cut off so resigned myself to that point. I thought about how grateful I was to be able to experience the new part of the course and that my recovery would probably be a bit quicker than running the full 60kms. Or however far I ended up running with the extra detour and lack of clear lines to follow!!
When I arrived at the Sundial Car Park, I saw a friend of a friend who grabbed my pack to refill it and said that people were still being let through on the course. I was surprised as I was 30mins over the time! But again, had a chat to Clarky who said that I was able to keep going but the next check point at 10 hours was a hard cut off. If I didn’t make it to that point in 3 1/2 hours, then I would be pulled from the course.
At this point, I realised that I wanted it. I wanted to make cut off. And it was time to go. The course was only 14k but it involved a hard 7k to Mount Rosea with loads of rock stairs on the way up and descent. Thankfully I had already run this part of the course so knew what to expect and also I knew that after I got down the scary rock section, then it was an easy descent that was runnable most of the way to the Borough Huts camp ground at the last check point before the end.
I kept saying to myself – how badly do you want it? The answer every time was, I really want it. So I kept pushing.
I had some company of two lovely people Matt and Bronwyn on the descent and a bit of the climb. It had started raining so the rocks were a little slippery. They were lovely and assured me that I wasn’t holding them up and were happy to stay behind me so I didn’t feel pressure to push too hard. Plus it was nice to have someone to confirm that I was still on the right trail as well!
I managed to get to the Borough Huts at 9 1/2 hours. 30 mins before the hard cut off. Hells yes! I wanted it so I was going after it. My friend Nicky and her friend Sonja who had done the 20k and 36k earlier in the day close to the end of the trail before the check point. It was lovely to have a couple of familiar faces!! They helped me at the aid station before heading off home.
As I was leaving the aid station, one of the volunteers told me that if I pushed, I could make the last 15k in under the offical 12 hour cut off. In the race briefing, they said that if we made the 10 hour cut off and didn’t make the 12 hour, we would still get a medal for completing the whole course so it wasn’t a firm cut off. But when the volunteer told me that I had a chance of making the overall cut off, I realised that yes, that was something in my grasp and I wanted it. I wanted to officially finish in under the 12 hour cut off.
I caught up to my new friend Rob again on the fire road. We had a quick chat about how we were going and I kept running. I knew that I had to keep pushing for the 12 hour cut off and there was a few tough little up hill pinches to get through yet. I am really bad at maths when I am running especially but I realised that I had 12k to go and 2 hours to do it in. That meant I had to average under 10 min/kms to get in under 12 hours. That was when I knew that I would make it. Especially since I knew the course and once I got through the hilly part, it was very runnable and easy to get through. I got to the last aid station at 5k to go. Had a quick chat to a guy who I had seen a few times before who seemed pretty impressed I was still going and running strongly. Pretty happy!! I told him that I knew I was going to make cut off, quick refill of coke and kept pushing.
I was doing a walk/run the whole way and kept that going through to the end. My legs were pretty dead by the end and I had some blisters that had popped and likely reforming as I was running so wanted to minimise the carnage as much as possible. Not sure that was really possible by that point anyway!
At the very end, there was a lovely man Patrick who was running up and down the walking path, joining the runners on the way in to the finish line. It was the best. I really do love this community. He had been doing it for the end few hours which was lovely!
I got to the finish line in 11:43. Snuck in under 12 hours and managed to make the 10 hour cut off! I heard later that the cut offs were a guesstimate as it was the first year of the new course so they were also learning about how long it was going to take for people at my end of the race to get through.
One of the main things that was awesome was that I got through without any stomach issues!! I feel that I am finally making progress on this! Especially since I was pushing harder than I did at the You Yangs 100k I did a month ago. So excited! Especially since I had to take some gels from on course as I didn’t have enough to get me through the course as I had grossly underestimated how long it was going to take to get through. This course reminded me of Wilson’s Prom 60k. Just as tough but a bit more technical in some parts. It was such a beautiful course. One that I will certainly be recommending to my friends who want a tough but honest course in the future.