Steve Hanley

A big adventure in the Victorian alps? Who could say no? OK so I guess this was looking to be quite a big effort and is indeed hard to complete. The Alpine Challenge in November most recent years is a 60km, 100km or 160km (100 Mile) foot event through the Victorian Alps. Alex and I were both keen to do this event, we had enjoyed the Razorback Ultra (also by Running Wild Victoria) a lot, Alex had also come down for one of the shorter distances in 2015. We both wanted to see if we could make it through our longest runs yet, 160km non stop (or what the Americans call a 100 due to their old school measuring system (miles)).

As Tom said when he and Paul won the event together in 2014, this was a run with 6 big descents, 6 big climbs and 2 flatter sections. I was chatting with both Tom and Paul over dinner on Wednesday prior to doing this event, they had just come off doing XPD but both were reminding me how beautiful the race was and sounding wishful to be out there again (next year maybe?). Thinking about it and using Tom's times and my rough plan of around 28 to 30 hours for myself to finish I was estimating my times to each region of the course and still wondering what I was about to start this weekend.

I know coming into this I had not really trained or focused on the event enough, earlier in the year I put a lot of focus and big km weeks in before UTA100 which worked well. Coming in to this I was a bit too relaxed thinking of it as a big adventure in the mountains or like a huge Adventure Race foot leg (fortunately not surrounded with a mountain bike or kayak leg) which I simply had to get through, possibly largely on mental toughness if my body decided it did not want to keep working. Thus with no weeks over 100km since doing Sydney Oxfam Trailwalker in August and not really thinking heaps about my prep for this day out I knew it was going to get tough somewhere.

 

My Mother, Sister and Nephew had come down to the mountains with me as support crew and to have a mini family holiday, we stayed at Howmans Gap YMCA, though with a 4 year old we may have kept a few runners awake a bit too much on Friday night sleeping in the bunk rooms and maybe if I do it again I should choose a cabin. Fortunately Alex was also staying at Howmans and thus he gave me a lift to the start at Falls Creek in the morning rather than drag a support crew member out of bed each (his support had another car so could pick up that car later in the morning). Thus we were up at the start line ready to go around 4:10am on Friday, though in reality they did not check us off or anything until we amassed in the start corral at around 5 minutes to go, still it would be bad to arrive late so earlier was fine (and we could wait inside this year which was warmer).

Gear wise I had two 750ml cycling botles in my Salomon SLab vest, a 1.5 litre bladder in the back with a litre of water in in just in case (I did not use any of that for the whole event so probably will not want to carry it if I do this again) and all my compulsory clothing and gear. I wore the new ARNuts cycle jersey so I could use the rear pockets for food. Carried my camera in the left shorts pockets on my iRule AR shorts (until it rubbed some wounds into my leg 100km in and I had to swap it to the other side). Used the right shorts pocket for rubbish. I wore my flouro pink NB running hat and my Oakley Jawbone sunglasses. Lights for the night time were my new 2016 AYUP running light unit and a B2000 battery (which did last through all the darkness both Saturday morning and all the following night on lowest power setting), just, it cut out as I began the climb out of the Kiewa valley on Sunday morning as dawn hit. I wore a pair of Montrail Bajada shoes I got cheap from wiggle that worked well for Trailwalker, slathered my feet in Gurneys Goo and had on Dirty Girl trail gaiters and Wright Socks double layer socks I wear for Rogaines and Ultras.

My food for the event was what I did most long runs on pretty much Gu brand gels, Clif brand shot blocks, a few Clif bars when I could stomach them, a few muesli bars also when I could stomach them and from recent Rogaines I noticed I could often eat jam sandwiches so white bread Jam sandwiches (with a bit more salt shaken onto the jam) also when I could stomach them. I put High 5 tablets in my bottles when I collected new bottles from support and sometimes when refilling, otherwise just plain water from the creeks/rivers on course.

We got going on time and the descent down the single track to Howmans was really nice to run on even surrounded by people, we were all holding ourselves back a bit anyway so cruised on through that. The descent to the first river crossing kept going at a pretty sensible pace. Once we hit the first river and started the first big climb I noticed I was going a bit harder than I think I should be and decided to try to back it off a bit. Alex caught and passed me and that was the last I would see him on the day (he had a fantastic race), I settled in and tried to keep myself in check. Though I admit I did notice often in the first 100 I was going a bit harder than I should be and it defintiely shows that was the case when my legs pretty much stopped working well after the first 100km was done

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Bogong summit was a pretty spectacular spot and though I had to back off to avoid cramps a bit approaching it I really enjoyed it up there. Descending down Quartz Spur was not so bad, even with the fallen trees to climb through (better than last year I hear as most of the spurs were like that then). I was hanging out with another guy doing the 160 at that point and it is great to see he had a fantastic race (28h5m) in the end. It was getting a bit harder to convince myself to run when I got back up to the high alpine plains approaching Warby corner for the second time but it was just a case of keep on moving and see how it all goes.

It was great to see support at Langfords gap and then head out to more familiar terrain on the AAWT toward Hotham. I took photos of Mt Feathertop often through here as I would not be on it in daylight, still a gorgeous day and the alpine trail up here was in great condition. Got through to Hotham, I got to Mt Loch check point to see support again in 14h50m or so and that also seemed reasonable, if I could hold a good pace from there I should still be able to go under 28 hours. However as it turned out my lack of good prep was about to hit me in a big way. It was incredible descending Bon Accord spur as the sun set, really great views, then I got into the thick under growth of the track down there and pretty much began crawling pace for the rest of the event. If I do another event like this I will probably try out poles and get used to running with them on hard terrain as it could save my ankles a bit more. More training of course would have helped too. Anyway I started getting caught and passed by people through this section and that kept happening for the rest of the event.

After a bit of phaffing at Harrietville (eating, sock change, more goop on my feet, toilet visit) I got moving out of there at 18h30m into the race. Later than I had hoped to be there, however not too bad really, though at this point I already knew I was crawling and up for another 45km of bush walking at a slow pace rather than running. In Razorback I had managed to get from Harrietville to pole 333 in 4h30m, however that was fresh in a 64km run. This was 115km into a 160km run so different completely. I had hoped I could manage it in 6 to 7 hours. In the end it took me 9h30m (more than twice as long) including 2 hours to get the 4km down Diamantina Spur this time round. The clearing work Parks had done on Diamantina made it difficult as all the branches were slippery underfoot, however it made the track obvious and I must say Parks did an incredible job over the whole course making it really good on the vast majority of the course to move through.

Once I started climbing up toward Westons hut after Blairs hut I had to stop to have pain killers as my ankles were so sore I could hardly move them. Two short stops (this and one closer to Blairs to check maps) had me getting a bit cold, however movement got me warm enough once more. My HR barely ever went over 100 again after Harrietville which showed how much I was indeed crawling (I should be able to climb at 130 something even when exhausted). I stopped briefly to have an injection (first insulin since Harrietville) and remove excess clothing ocee the sun hit up in the alpine regions approaching Pole 333 again. I finally got a bit of life back at this point and could sort of push my climb pace to 109 bpm, still a crawl but really just getting it done. I got caught and passed at pretty valley pondage by the lead woman who was having an awesomely strong finish and it was great to see how motivated she was and how well she ran up toward Mt McKay.

The last 10km were hard but I thought I could just keep walking as fast as possible and due to reading the course instructions on the website thought I only had 6.5km to go so there was a chance I could finish in under 30 hours. However once I got to the top of Mt McKay I realised it was definitely further and to simply deal with that. I had been really hoping to find a Coke left for me at the pondage, however fortunately near Mt McKay some Japanese that had competed in the 60km drove by and had a redbull they handed me while giving me a cheer which was great of them. Then I just had to get back down along to the Falls Creek resort and I would be finished.

It was great to see how well Alex ran (3rd place, 26h31m), well up on his estimated best planned times and having a great day out, I did not have the best day out but it was a new experience, I know the course now and I guess there is definite incentive to maybe return so I can try and do this race better. Still it is amazing country and definitely worth visiting to see if you have not, thanks to Paul and his volunteeers and rescue people and all the other runners for the fun weekend out in the mountains. I finished my first 160km run (7200 metres of climbing) with some great Victorian Alpine scenery in 30h25m, 15th overall in the end.