Friday, 26 August 2016

Glenbrook Trail Marathon

Running Wild - the race organisation
Most people may think it slightly crazy to get off a long haul flight (or 3) to Australia and then head out to run a race, but the purpose of my fortnight-long visit was to hang out and catch up with family, "almost" family, and friends. My plan was to get a good long run in before meeting up with them, and then I'd be happy to just chill for the holiday.

With that in mind, I found myself heading up to the Blue Mountains within 24 hours of arrival, in order to run the Glenbrook Trail marathon. I knew it was the end of "winter" but I was in Australia and it had been in the 20s during the day so I was rather shocked to see a layer of frost on the ground and see the thermometer registering -1.5 degrees.

Not the flattest run ever!
The race rules included carrying a 500ml container for water and your own silicone cup to avoid plastic cups causing litter at the feedstations. I did not think I was likely to suffer from dehydration/heat problems (hypothermia was a possibility as I was just wearing a t-shirt and skirt), so my aim was to keep my water container "collapsed" in my pocket after drinking the contents, and just use my cup at the feed stations.

It was also a first for me to have to read the pre-race notes about snakes and other nasty beasties (the course description mentioned a resident black snake), what to do in case of a bush fire and to sign a disclaimer!! I wondered what on earth I was letting myself in for.

The beautiful Blue Mountains
There were 3 separate races on the day - my 42.2K event headed off first at 7:30am with the 34K setting off shortly afterwards, and then the 25K runners leaving last.

As we were the first runners off in the early morning frost, we even startled a few wallabies as we headed out of the carparks of Euroka Clearing and up a steep sharp climb on single track which really got the lungs and heart warmed up. We passed a waterhole (but luckily it was too cold for the resident black snake to be in evidence) and turned onto a rough forest road. Although only about 5km into the race, this was the steepest section to run as the gradient was about 20% for about 350m. However, once up this slope there was a nice runnable firetrail along to the Mount Portal lookout (over the Nepean Valley....but I didn't actually stop to take in the view and see if I could spot the Sydney Harbour Bridge way off in the distance!!).

"What goes up must come down" so the steep slope had to be descended due to the out and back nature of this route segment. By this time, the 34K runners had started so although I got to see a couple of people in my race ahead of me after they had turned round at the lookout, it was more interesting to fly past (well not I;m such a poor descender) almost the entire field of the next race as they were slogging up the hill!!

The first aid station was at about 10K, but as I didn;t feel I needed a drink I carried onto the next 2K of "fast flowing single trail". This was really pretty but did consist of rather a lot of large steps (the Blue Mountains are famous for steps on their trails). Unfortunately my stride wasn't quite the right length to be able to negotiate them easily so it wasn't all that "fast flowing" for me.

The only tarred section of the race was 100m uphill along the main road before another steep descent into a valley. There were a couple of friendly marshals directing runners off the road and onto the trail, but I took fright as I heard them shouting something about snakes to me (as it turned out they were only asking if I had wanted a jelly snake, so how I wished I'd taken the time to listen properly).

The rock-hopping descent down to the creek was made easier by some "steps" carved into the sandstone, but at the bottom I wasn't quite sure which way to go. the trail to the right looked bigger so I started heading that way, only to be called back by two helpful guys who'd seen me heading off the wrong way, so I turned round and followed them up the creek.

Red Hands Cave
This was a beautiful section to "run" as we wound round rocks and trees, crossed the creek several times, dipped in and out of lush forest, skipped over sandy pools and dodged under sandstone overhangs for several kilometres. The trail gradually climbed up passing the culturally significant "Red Hands Cave". This cave is believed to have been a safe place for indigenous women and children (the Darug people) and contains axe-grinding grooves and hand stencils dating back 1600 years.

The next aid station was at the end of this narrow trail and so I grabbed a drink of water before hitting the fire trail which gradually rose over the next 5km to the highest point on the course. It was definitely starting to heat up as the sun rose higher and I was glad to be in dappled woodland. I passed a couple of runners and then linked up with Christian, an ex-pat Brit and so we ran together, happily chatting away.

Out on the wide fire trails
Another out and back section to Nepean Lookout along a gum-lined firetrail saw Christian drop back and me close down the man in front (Stephen) though I'm not sure how happy he was about this. We had to negotiate a couple of barriers on the firetrail and unfortunately I came a cropper on one of these. I tripped on some roughness underfoot while trying to get through the narrow gap and then next thing I knew was that I was lying on the ground having hit my head and grazed my right hand. I tired to get up and run on but realised that I had completely winded myself as I was gasping for air. Stephen ran off ahead of me but Christian came up to my aid and made me stop, catch my breath, wipe the blood off my hands and wash the sand out of my face and mouth before running on with me (yeay - you can count on Team GB to look out for each other!!).

The next section was purely for the marathon runners - another out and back stretch along Pisgah Ridge. Initially this was a relatively wide non-maintained firetrail so Christian and I could still run side by side and chat, but eventually it became very narrow with overhanging branches at heights that they could catch either your head or your ankles. This section was described as an "added bonus" as the route planners had extended the single track to include a steep descent to the turnaround point and taken out some boring loops around the clearing/carparks at the start/finish.

As I headed back up through the thick bush, my right hip started to ache and so I dropped off my the pace a bit, wondering if I had actually clattered it in my fall (sure enough a bruise did develop later). Due to the out and back nature of this section, I could see fellow marathoners behind me and realised that is was unlikely that I'd be caught by the next lady, which seemed to give me a new lease of life (as did finally overhauling the early leader of the race who seemed to have "blown up" big time).
Great medal

Back on the main fire trail again, I passed Christian and knew it was just a case of trying to maintain my pace to the finish. It was hard to know who was in what race at this point as all 3 race routes had converged, though I reckoned I could work it out from our relative running speeds.
Although the last 5K was reputed to be "fast", it did seem rather long to me, and I had to force myself to keep my cadence up and keep pushing on. The ladies' CR seemed to be within my reach, even though there was a "false" sense of approaching the finish. The course took us back to the car parks of Euroka Clearing, but we popped about about as far away from the finish line as it was possible to be. A steep downhill past picnic sites and parked cars led to a sharp turn and an final uphill sprint to the (very welcome) finish line.

Food and drink = made for me!
Prize giving
The finisher's medal represented the Red Hand's Cave which we'd run past so long ago, but it felt so well earnt. Despite the fall, I managed to finish second overall (behind Stephen) in 3 hours and 16 minutes, taking a good 12 minutes off the previous ladies' CR! The prize was a voucher for food and drink in the local town, and so as my relatives had driven all the way out there to meet me, what better way could I spend my winnings than on taking everyone out for lunch!!??

Run done - I could now chill for the rest of my fortnight's fact, that's all I could do, as I'd actually done myself a lot more damage than I thought in the fall, developing bony bruising and swelling in my knee, so much so that I couldn't walk without pain for the next fortnight!

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