What it's like to run 58km in a storm... Five Peaks 2018 Race Report
Originally this weekend was mean to be the weekend myself and my partner Rachel headed over to Victoria to tackle the Buffalo Stampede Ultra. It was meant to be a training race for the UTA100 coming up in May. When the Five Peaks course dropped it was a pretty easy choice to stay local and run that instead. It was a great decision as the Buffalo Ultra was canceled due to freezing weather.
I was treating the Five Peaks as a mini Baffalo; two thirds the distance, two thirds the elevation, and coincidentally two thirds the weather. A storm rolled in during the race, and while we didn't have the bone chilling cold - we were all soaked to the bone dodging falling branches.
2018 was the first year for the Five Peaks, and the first Ultra by Trail Running SA. The course is pretty much the Yurrebilla Trail in the reverse direction to the Yurrebilla 56km Ultra. It was also the first run of my new Gamin Fenix 5X (I'll write about that after a few more runs). By the numbers it was a good race, 58km / 2400m elevation, traversing 5 peaks in the Adelaide Hills. Never more that 12km from the Adelaide CBD with spectacular views the whole way.
The day started pretty good, for once I wasn't playing a gig till late so I could sleep and focus on putting in some good kms. I skipped a carb filled breakfast which was probably a bit of a mistake, shoved some limited gels and mostly liquid fuels into my race pack and met my bubbly Uber driver.
The race kicked off at Foxfield Oval, I was in the second of three waves. As the start was called the first of the rain started to fall. The course kicked off on some wide fire trail, with everyone finding their place before the tight single track leading up to the first summit, Black Hill. Body felt good going into the first decent and into the second accent, the calf burning Chapmans Track into Morialta. A mix of sweat and fog covered everyone at this point; while it wasn't exactly raining, it definitely wasn't dry. It was that awkward type of weather, kind like the point between needing to turn your wipers on and hearing then screech across your wind shield. There was just enough moisture to dilute my sweat and send it into my eyes rather than wash it away comfortably, or let it dry.
I kept to a pretty tight schedule with my liquid nutrition, downing the right amount of fuel before hit the first major aid station at Norton Summit. Coming into the station I felt great, energy was surging, I was flying along the road sections. The aid stop itself was slow, I made mental notes to improve a few things. Usually when I'm coming into an aid station I have my bottles empty of liquid and I've already added in my Torq powder - a top up of water and I'm ready to roll out. Not the case as I ran into Norton Summit, lesson learned, and that is why we do practice races before the big one.
The decent into Horsnells Gully was a welcome relief, it doesn't seem too bad when you are going down it. Both the decent and the accent out of the gully were uneventful. Except for a background feeling of exhaustion. No problem. Apply more race fuel to affected area, and continue. Plucking a piece of watermelon from the aid station at the top of Coach Rd, I exited the cover of the trees and pounded along some fire trails. The peak of the storm was hitting and I was very exposed. Feeling a bit of a chill as I dodged fallen limbs and prayed that the trees held on to the bigger ones overhead. I decided against putting on the rain jacket, I knew I would be in the cover of the Mount Lofty Ranges in a few kilometres. That exhaustion wasn't going away.
I'd covered a few 20km runs in the months preceding the race so I knew I had it in me, distance wasn't a problem. But as I accented the highest peak, Mt Lofty, I couldn't shake the feeling that my energy was low. I grabbed one of those emergency Coles gels and sucked one down. I was low on fuel and the stuff I had wasn't filling the gap. Usually I have Torq gels, and I fill the gaps with Tailwind or Torq powder race fuel. But for this race I was lacking the gels and it was showing. I was willing myself up the climbs, not exactly losing many places but not exactly picking anyone off, and definitely not feeling great. For the Five Peaks we accented the summit of Mount Lofty, something the Yurribilla trail doesn't do. It would have been a rewarding view if we weren't running this race within a cloud. The wind and cold were really hitting here, the aid station volunteers did a fantastic job to help me fill my bottles and get me on my way. It would have been a hard day out there and I was very grateful for the help. I made sure I ate extra things to try and get the energy up; chips, lollies, and more.
Now the part I'd been looking forward to, the long decent to Brown Hill Creek. I pounded away on tired legs but it didn't feel all that amazing. The tiredness wasn't shifting and even the downhills felt like flats at this point. I managed to hold more than a few 6min kms on the downhill, looking back it's hard to be unhappy with the effort but at the time I was really low. It's cut from the video recap - but I was struggling here.
I sucked down some more fuel and met some cows before ticking off what I thought was the fourth peak, Brown Hill. It was the fifth peak,and I hadn't realised that Norton Summit was a peak. Maybe I should have read the course documents a bit because, because this is where my head started to go south. I was tired, I wasn't unhappy, I was just tired and I wanted it to be done. I'd crucified myself on the downhill for sinking into every step. I'd tried to refuel to correct the unhappy fog in my head; I've learned over time that my head clouds from lack of calories at the end of races. The extra bits of fuel we're making much of a dent.
It's great to reflect over this part of the race. For me it was the weak point. It's always my weak point. My inner voice saying 'you didn't do enough long runs', 'you didn't train enough', 'this is what you get for not hitting your weekly goals'. Looking at photos now, my stride was strong and my times say I was moving well, not great, but well. And it was just a training race, so its no big deal. But that voice was still chanting.
Add to this that I wasn't well prepared; only a couple of coles brand gels, no solid carb filled breakfast, didn't read the course information properly so I didn't know how many KM's I had to go, etc. All lessons learned. I ran into the final aid station and asked what kilometre I was at - "44 kilometres in, 14 kilometres to go". I sank even more. My watch was telling me 10km. It was a new watch and I was right to distrust the figure in front of me. I couldn't stand the thought of doing an extra 4km - it doesn't sound much in the scheme, but this is the place I was in.
What I now know was the race was billed as a 58km race; it was measured as 56.38km, the final figure on the watch was 56.6km. And the aid station I was at was at 46km into the race. The watch was right. I should have paid attention to the course documents. It was an uneventful trudge to the end once I got to the highest point in Belair I was able to force a jog to the finish and crossed the line at a nice pace. 7:17.59 was my official time.
Looking back I'm being hard on myself, this race was about remembering all the little things I needed to do to get myself back to race ready. This was all for the UTA and Five Peaks was a perfect training race - 56% of the elevation change, 56% of the distance, and I ran it in 52% of my goal time. I got this.