This will go down as one of the most memorable races I have ever done, for all the right (and a few wrong) reasons.
It should probably also be noted that this was another stupid idea in the life of Hailey. This course had more elevation than any other marathon I had ever attempted and was held just one week after the Backyard Blister. Don’t try this at home.
Like all other races planned for 2020 this race had been cancelled. So when the new event company emailed us to advise of the 2021 race, Roger and I jumped at the opportunity to visit beautiful Bright and the Victorian Alps. We had been longing for mountains…
After a long car trip with a night’s stop-over at one of the worst hotels in Canberra (you get what you pay for!!), we arrived in Bright to stay with some good friends at an Air BnB house located 5mins from the town of Bright (and the Bright Brewery Finish line area). We unpacked and got settled catching up with our mates, while Joan (our 18 month old) got settled and eventually fell asleep. Joan had travelled so well, having slept for 90% of the car trip from Canberra that day, what a little legend.
After a few busy days (and much stress, that’s a whole other story for another day) it was the night before my race. We had been advised of a very frosty start (0 degrees C) so I made sure I had warm clothing and layers to remove once the day warmed up.
My alarm went off at 4.45am and I got dressed, ate breakfast and walked to the bus stop which would transport us to the start line on the top of Mount Buffalo. I wanted to get to the bus early to get a seat at the front, as I’m not a good passenger and frequently get travel sick. I was very happy when I rocked up the bus and was the first person to arrive and so had my pick of seats, one right up front with uninterrupted views of the road. The bus filled up pretty quickly and we were off along the dark, quiet roads of Bright headed to the start.
As we approached Mt Buffalo Chalet, we began to spot more and more snow on the ground and scattered on the tree branches. When the bus finally stopped and we got out it was actually snowing, which is actually the first time I have ever seen snowfall.
What a great way to start the day, let alone a race.
Our race started at the cricket pitch just in front of Mt Buffalo Chalet (1,317m elevation) and I chatted to some runners while we shuffled and tried to keep warm in the time leading up to the race. We were advised that due to the cold weather our course had been changed, which meant we would do 2 laps of the caves and upper area near the chalet before heading down onto the usual course. What I later realised was that this meant we got more elevation than advertised, ha ha
The Buffalo horn sounded and we were off and running!
The first two laps around the top of the mountain were a bit quicker than planned but I was trying to warm up and I was still able to talk so it wasn’t all bad. I chatted with many runners and most of us were just excited to be back at an event after such a long period of no races. I soon warmed up and removed the rain jacket that had been protecting me from the snow. I really enjoyed the drop down off Mount Buffalo and saw a few familiar faces along the way like Mike the Pirate (ah har). It was pretty rough underfoot for some of this downhill as it was mostly uneven rock that would snap your ankle in a second. Shortly after the pictures below I rolled my ankle and fell onto the rocks, but managed to get up and shake it off.
Eventually we dropped down to about 150m elevation and the quads were definitely feeling it. The run into Eurobin Creek Aid Station was beautiful and green, and to my surprise my housemates and Roger (with Joan of course) had all come to see me and wish me well. It was an overwhelming surprise as it had not been planned, but it was exactly what I needed to give me some motivation for the first climb.
Leaving the aid station we ran out onto the road and the ascent began there. We dropped back into a trail on the left hand side of the road as the sun started to make it’s way out from behind the clouds. The climb up Keating Ridge was not that long, but it was bloody steep and I thankfully shared part of the climb with a friend (and Hoka One One athlete) Michaela. She was still recovering from an epic performance at the Coast2Kosci race and was helping pace a friend to the finish.
I didn’t even try to keep up with Mic and her friend, she’s a seasoned athlete and they both looked a lot stronger than me going up that hill. They went past me and I kept stopping to get my breath back and take in the view. It was now a gorgeous sunny day and a much better temperature than when we had started.
A few more people overtook me, mostly locals who knew these hills well. Then there was me… who had been training on the flat for my first Big Backyard race which had been held the weekend before. Hmmmm… not the best prep and so my plan had been to just take it easy and finish in one piece. I got to the top of Keating Ridge and it was a beautiful spot.
The descent off Keating Ridge was just as steep as the way up, and I slid on my butt a few times as it was quicker and soft. We dropped down into the Buckland Valley which was pretty much at sea level, and then we started the biggest climb of the day up to Clearspot at about 1,000m elevation.
This climb was the longest, toughest climb I have ever taken in training or racing (not that I ‘race’ as such). It had everything. And when you got to the top, it turned and went higher. Then higher again. I think I cried. I promised myself that in future I would not enter a mountain race without zero mountain training. I’m not very good at keeping promises to myself, but I knew I just had to keep moving. Keep taking in water and food and stop when I needed a break to catch my breath and rest the legs.
Eventually, after much swearing and cursing and tears, I reached the top of Clearspot and gave it the bird. But again…. how good were the views?!
The aid station at the top of Clearspot had been amazing. I filled up on Coke and jelly snakes and tried to prep my weary legs for the steep descent down to Bakers Gully. It was here that I met Luke and we started our pity party. Misery loves company. We descended another steep ass trail, which mostly involved sliding on our butts. I actually think you could do it much faster on a toboggan and suggested perhaps if we ever come back we should carry one.
There was a small aid station just before our next and final climb, and it was going to be another steep one. I mean, check out the first start of the climb (below), the photos don’t do it any justice but if you’ve run this before you know what i’m talking about. And the ascent does not stop where you see that last part of the hill in the photo, oh no, it keeps going, and going, and going, and going…..
Luke and I decided to take a pit stop on a log that was thankfully placed about half way up to Mystic Mountain. Two other runners ended up joining us too. I was starting to feel queasy and couldn’t get much food in now, but I was determined to not let that stop me. I had come too far to quit. Sitting felt great. My legs were busted and I think even snails would have beat me up that hill.
We eventually got moving again and laughed about how many people overtook us as they were making it look easy. But what an amazing place to be, and how lucky were we to get to run and explore these trails, these mountains. I took a lot less for granted these days since the world got turned upside down. This was life. I was living it.
The views at the top were a welcome sight and I managed to get some food down at the aid station at the top. There was just one last descent into town, a town that you could see calling us in the distance. A friend Gerald caught up to us here and the three of us descended the last hill making groans and jokes the whole way. Our toes were mashed and our quads were burning from the steep descents, but we weren’t going to let that stop us.
Eventually we made it to the flat below and it was just a few more kilometres into town to the finish line. We all wanted to get there in under 8 hours which meant that we had to start running. And we did. For a bit. We alternated the run/walk for a bit and then when people started to catch us again we decided we should run the rest of the way.
When we came into the finish line our group had grown to 5 people and we all smiled and congratulated each other that it was over. We had done it. What an achievement on such a brutal course with zero hill training. I was chuffed and wanted a seat and a cuddle with my girl and my man. You could not wipe the smile off my face. So yeah, I’d probably do it all again. But hands down that was the hardest marathon I have ever done!
Happy running 🙂