Mind Alpine Challenge - records shattered

Paul Ashton

Records tumbled in brilliant running conditions in the third Mind Alpine Challenge held over 2 days in the Alpine National Park in North East Victoria over 20 - 22 March.

This event, organised by Mind Australia, to raise funds for people recovering from series mental health challenges, is quickly establishing a reputation as Australia’s toughest trail run, surpassing the famed Western States Ultra marathon in North America, in terms of testing participants to the limit. With two distances 100 miles (160km and over 7,000m of ascent and descent) and 100km available participants could choose from Solo Endurance, Team Endurance and Team Relay participation as they tested themselves over some of the toughest, highest and most exposed country in Australia.

This year 68 runners fronted the start line (record number 1), up from 18 runners in 2008. The quality field included 49 men and 19 women (record number 2), up from one female runner in 2008. Participants came from Singapore, Queensland, NSW and Victoria and were supported by a team of 25 volunteers manning first aid, radio, transport, sweeps and a plethora of other roles as, well as participants individual support crews.

A pre run briefing attended by over 100 runners, walkers and supporters saw pictures of the course from 2008, learnt about great places to get lost, which rivers to fall in to, and where the snakes were likely to be - needless to say everyone listened with rapt attention before turning in for a few hours sleep before the 0430 start.

Dawn was a fair way away when race director Paul Ashton turned off “Road to No Where” which he had used to motivate the runners!!!! Then they raced off into the darkness following glow sticks for the first 500 metres to ensure that they were on the right track before crossing Rocky Valley Creek and heading 1200m up Spione Kopje to the High Country. Phil Whitten set a blistering pace arriving at the Warby Corner checkpoint in less than 2.25 hours before setting off for the ascent of Victoria’s highest mountain, Mt Bogong. All bets were on – would Phil get to the summit of Mt Bogong before the support crew had walked in from Mountain Creek? A four and a half hour climb – would the killer climb slow him down? Or would he finally realise his potential and sail on through?

In an outstanding display of very relaxed running, Phil blew the course record of 32.45 away finishing in a blistering 27 hours (record number 3). An amazing run!

Out of the 19 women, Delyth Lloyd quickly established herself as the gun runner to watch and she finished in first place in the time of 34.47, nearly an hour and a quarter ahead of Jessica Robson’s 2008 winning time (record 4).

In the mid field, runners started to struggle as they entered the first night phase with a climb up to Mount Hotham, Mt Feathertop and down the dastardly Diamintina Spur in the dark. This section was reputed to have more swearing than the rest of the course combined. Many runners found the going tough and were forced to pull out, notables including Andrew Hewatt, Innes Smith and Lisa Lucas. In all 16 runners, or 24% of the field failed to finish (record 5).

Whilst the 100 milers continued to push over Mt Feathertop, the 100km runners and the relay teams moved across the course without too much difficulty (one lost a shoe in a river, and some experienced minor navigational problems).

Joe Murphy set a 100km men’s record of 16.51 & Connie Stevenson took out the women’s record in 21.40 (records 6/7).

With the bulk of the field in, there were still runners out for their second night, Queensland duo - Tamyka Bell and David McKinnon toughed out the conditions, putting in a superb performance of grit and determination to finish in 46.07 hours nearly 19 hours behind the leader. Doing it tough, they showed their mettle arriving for breakfast the next morning, happy and smiling and talking about a return in 2011.

In the relay teams competition, Team Outer-Edge completed the 100 mile relay in 27 hours straight followed by Team Mountain Goats in 45.40.

Meanwhile back at race HQ there was a bit of consternation about the 2 Singapore teams – both attempting the 100 mile course in temperatures that we now approaching freezing. A midnight radio call from the sweep activated the event rescue plan and four runners drove to Tawonga Huts with sleeping bags, tents, food and stoves to affect a rescue. Both groups were easily found huddled in their emergency space blankets in sub zero conditions and quickly warmed up and supported out. Eight hours latter everyone was back at camp, exhausted but safe.

All in all, some great efforts, best was the camaraderie that existed between participant and the fantastic support provided by the runners own support teams and especially by the team of volunteers who appeared over the internet and by phone offering to help out. Without them this event would not have been possible. Thanks Guys you were great.

Also a special thanks to everyone who went out of their way to raise sponsorship. To date we have raised in excess of $40,000 from this event.

Funds go to help people living with mental health challenges to rebuild their lives, reconnect with their community, family and friends and rediscover the joys that we all take for granted.

Special thanks also to our major sponsor Elmtree and our supporters who helped make it all possible including; 3AW, 2XU, Tough Stuff, Buff, Epirb Hire, Running Wild, Outer Edge, Stewart Pettigrew Design and Salomon.