This Sunday just gone saw the second running of the Mt Solitary Ultra. What a great event this is.
I ran this last year and managed to capture 3rd place with a time of 5hrs 15mins. This year I had every intention of running under 5 hours.
The morning couldn’t have been more perfect, not a cloud in the sky, nice and crisp. For some reason though, the foul weather gear was mandatory so this increased the weight of my pack somewhat. I haven’t invested in any lightweight technical gear yet – now on my wishlist.
Looking around at the start I had a feeling the pace would be hot from the word go. There was Salomon athlete Matt Cooper looking very relaxed, Brendan Davies backing up from his 2.43 effort at the M7 Marathon last week, 2 time TNF100 winner Andy Lee, last years 2nd place getter Tony Fattorini and Jonathon Worswick amongst others.
The first couple of km’s are flat then the course snakes downhill for 3km’s which, if your not careful, smashes up the quads. Well if you look at the table below you can see that I wasn’t that careful! Compared to last year I was about 20 seconds per km quicker. Bad mistake…
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There was a group of 4 of us charging down the mountain, Andy, Brendan, Matt and I. I was thoroughly enjoying myself and my legs were feeling great. Once we made it the single track at about 6km’s in Matt Cooper was gone and I never saw him again
Andy, Brendan and I made our way gingerly over a long log to avoid the water. We all commented that this was pretty tricky on shaky legs. Once across the log the climb to the top of Mt Solitary started. Andy showed his strength here and pulled away and I had to work hard to keep up with Brendan. I was actually able to power hike at almost the same speed as he was running – this just goes to show how steep it was.
About three quarters of the way up Tony comes rocketing past looking super strong. At this stage I was regretting my fast start as I was really beginning to suffer. I was now in 5th place as Brendan slowly moved further and further away from me until he was out of sight.
As I got closer to the top I decided to have the first of 3 Hammer Nutrition bars. Each bar is about 180 calories and they taste pretty good. However, during the race I really struggled to get them down. I had planned on having a couple of bars before the aid station at Furber steps, filling up on food then having my last bar around Kedumba.
Mt Solitary has lots of rocky outcrops and it is quite overgrown. I was getting everything snagged and the terrain was slowing me down. Technical terrain like this really doesn’t suit my skills and I knew I was losing time on the guys at the front.
Coming off the top of Mt Solitary I was surprised to see Tony. Sadly for him it turns out he had missed a couple of turns and run some bonus kilometers. I think he was struggling with the pink markers as he is color blind. Minutes later Phil Whitten came crashing through full of beans. I think he was as surprised to see as anybody. Before the race he said he was expecting a 6hr finish as he wasn’t in great shape. Well bugger me, the way he shot off down the side of the mountain was quite breathtaking. I felt like a geriatric in comparison. My legs were wobbly, I was feeling unsteady and I just couldn’t keep up.
Once on the runnable single track Tony was out of sight and I managed to run past Phil as he was changing his shirt. This section of the course up to Furber Steps is awesome and I was concerned about how slowly I was running. I really wasn’t moving well at all, my legs just werent responding. I ate my second Hammer bar and just slogged on as best as I could. Thoughts of pulling out were being seriously entertained at this stage.
The climb up the Furber Steps wasn’t much fun, however I was thankful for an excuse to not run. I saw Andy charging down the stairs and he said I had about 5 minutes until I got to the top. I thought doubling that time would be more realistic – and it was. Next to pass me was Tony! This was a pleasant surprise and I was genuinelly chuffed to see that he had caught up to the front pack. He looked great and was flying along. Not far behind him was Brendan. That meant Matt Cooper was still in first place and must have been motoring.
Once at the top of the stairs I filled my bottle with water and had 2 cups of coke. I was feeling a little spaced out of it at this stage and only saw quarters of banana to eat. I ate one and then took off. BIG mistake there.
I gingerly made my way back down the stairs and passed a few familiar faces. I was concerned how close to me the other runners all were, I remember cursing to myself that they must have made up a lot of ground on the runnable sections where I struggled. Damn the fast start!
The next section is mostly downhill – not something I’ll forget for next year! Lots of time can be made or lost here and not surprisingly I lost a lot of time! Guy Telfer passed me as I was moving downhill. I did my best to hang on but I could feel my legs starting to seize up. I couldn’t believe that my body was able to feel worse than it already had been. I tried to keep Guy in my sights but soon the downhill sections were too long and he made the most of the terrain whilst I winced with every step as pain shuddered through my lower half.
Training for a road marathon DOES NOT condition the body for relentless kilometeres of steep downhills. Only downhill running will do that – of which I had done zip!
A kilometre or two before the climb up Kedumba Jonathon Worswick strolled past me. He kindly asked if I had everything I needed which I promptly replied ‘yes’. No idea why I said that as I had already eaten my last Hammer bar and had absolutely nothing left for a grand total of about 550 calories! I was in the pain cave and suffering like never before. I actually thought about this whilst running and had to chuckle at how pathetic I was feeling having only run 35 km’s or so. I was just thankful that I wasnt in a 100 miler that day!
Jonathon was willing me to stick with him which I feebly tried to do for 5 or so minutes. I then had to let him go as my legs cramped quite severly.
I was now in 7th place and even though I had long since given up on a good time I really didn’t want to lose any more positions. I was feeling so low but the competitive fire was still there. My mini goal was to hit the stream at the base of Kedumba as quickly as I can and make sure no one passes me. I knew if I did that then I had a good chance of maintaining my position as the remaining 7km’s or so are all uphill.
Once at the base of Kedumba I took at HTFU pill, stopped feeling sorry for myself, jumped in a bush and found a sturdy stick to take some of the pressure off my legs. It was then a case of just ploughing on up as best as I could. Once at the top of the climb I saw Ewan with his kid. I was really bonking badly at this point (all I could think about was food) and I don’t think I was overly sociable..
This part of the course really should have been runnable but again I was reduced to a pathetic walk. Eventually, the finish came into sight and I did my best to muster up a jog and that was it, I had finished.
Somehow, I was only 9 minutes slower than the previous year and finshed with a time of 5.24. I quickly consumed about 2 bananas, 2 oranges, a power bar, a meatball sub, can of soft drink, powerade and a coffee in the space of about 10 minutes. Magic. However, I didn’t start to feel alive until later that evening after a couple of beers.
Humbling course – deserves a lot of respect. I doubt that I’ll ever make the same mistakes again. I probably made up 2 minutes in the first 5km on last year and lost 10 minutes overall. Not worth it.
Matt Cooper came in first in an astounding 4.41 with Tony also doing superbly coming in under 5hrs too.
I know I can do a lot better on this course and I really think I can go under 5hrs. I’ll be back next year with a different game plan.