I did a secret race last night. You know the kind you sign up for when you’re volunteering at another race and get some of that trail runspiration…well particularly if you’ve existing guilt and looking for an excuse for a run and to join in the fun…
I had also secretly run the 25km Don Valley Doozie as my training run the day prior. I had been very disciplined. I was not racing, I was training so I kept my focus on my heart rate and managed to keep it at 150bpm through the entire run. I just trotted along and did my thing putting some efforts when I got to hills. This was a bit hard given how flat the course was along the aquaduct, but I managed to push myself up Martyr’s 27 degree incline, hike up the paddock and then run the up bits on the way back as well and push myself down Martyrs (which wasn’t up, but I wanted to simulate the fatigued I felt in UTA50 last year down Kedumba). My plan called for 3.5 hours, but I had it done just over two and a half hours and I had really managed to do my post two hour uphill efforts either. The guilt fairy sprinkled some of that dust that leaves you feeling like someone has just built a brick letterbox on your chest.
The guilt fairy sprinkled some of that dust that leaves you feeling like someone has just built a brick letterbox on your chest.
My coach had set me a 45 minute recovery run from my Saturday long run at Zone 1 heart rate. As I had sort of completed the training the day prior, I felt I needed to complete the balance of it. Suzie and I had been discussing whether to do Little Joe’s Night Terror run for training while we were handing medals out at the finish line for the Donna Double (22kms, 1000m vertical) and the more sedate 14.5 Aquaduct run (a shorter version of the one we did a day earlier).
The night run would be perfect, but would have to keep it secret. A race isn’t training, yet this had the potential to fill in my missing volume. With vertical elevation over a short distance; 500m over 9kms and it was at night so that was also a good excuse to get some night running practice in on unfamiliar trails in preparation for UTA. And there were a bunch of other trail runners that we could do it with. I could treat it as a training run, but perhaps lift my heart rate expectation given the vertical. So we signed up to the run in-between hanging bling on runners crossing the finish line and I would complete my training with a secret race.
We made the dash back home to pick up shoes, running gear and head torch and made it back in time to take our place at the start line.
The arch was across the Warburton Rail Trail path and lit up like a poverty-stricken Christmas Tree.
The arch was across the Warburton Rail Trail path and lit up like a poverty-stricken Christmas Tree. Perfect. The temperature was great, the atmosphere was awesome. It was dark. We had head torches. 3,2,1 boom. We were off.
I trotted down the bitumen path. My heart rate climbed. I kept an eye on it. I debated whether I was training or racing. I was training. UTA100 is the main aim. This is my make up session. I threaded past a few slow runners and put a spurt on here and there to get around groups. The field quickly thinned as we headed off the path and onto some single trail.
I had no idea about this run apart from the description. I had briefly looked at the profile during the day and it went up, around and back down. We had also been told to be aware of some slippery, gravelly sections on our way back down. So I took it easy. When the hill started, I took my queue from the running in front and hiked. I wasn’t racing so this was all great training getting used to avoid obstacles in the dark and avoiding tripping over or worse.
I blinded Mark at a road junction as I hiked past and started running a flat bit. The flat bit soon turned to elevation and I recalled Six Foot Track. This looked the so familiar. I thought “Noooooo….!”, but that feeling soon went as I hiked on.
Soon I heard Rick Astley floating through the bush. “Never gunna give you up, never gunna let you down, never gunna run around without you…” or something like that. The aid station was at 3kms and they were rocking the 80’s. As I went past I shouted “Rick Astley!” and then it was turned off. As I headed up the hill in the silence that I had seemingly just caused, I started to sing the lyrics. Now the 80’s was a while ago and I couldn’t remember all the words. When the guy next to me remarked that if I could sign with such gusto heading up the wall of earth that we had just started on, then I should have plenty of stamina. I responded “I might, but I can’t remember all the words as the blood is not in my brain right now…”
Up I continued…28.8% gradient! Is there such a thing that isn’t the roof of a church steeple?
We hiked. I passed a couple of people as I hiked and I stopped to catch my breath occasionally. I have climbed hills before where I needed to use my lips to help me climb up them and this was another one of those beasts. There was a remark at the start “I wonder how they got a bulldozer up that hill to make that track?” and I started to image Elvis the helicopter lifting a big D9 to the top of the hill and then just letting it gradually slide down to leave this trail in its wake. I stopped at times and looked around at the trail of headlamps below me and got took some runspiration from that. An evil thought came to me “Hah, you’re not here yet.” And as I turned to look at the lights above me, I thought “Shit, I’m here and they are there…” Up I continued…28.8% gradient! Is there such a thing that isn’t the roof of a church steeple?
Usually you can see the crest of a hill as the sky becomes the background behind the trees, at night that’s more challenging, there was no clue as to where the crest was, but eventually I could see the trail flatten off. I recovered a bit and started running. The two guys I had been hiking with at the top fell away behind me (although the person in front kept pulling away). I thought I’ll just keep them in eye sight and go from there.
The incline started to decay as the track wound around toward the west and around the bend it dropped down. “Is this the steep slippery section” I thought as I slipped on some loose gravel, or do we hook around somewhere and go down that wall because that would be really slippery. I hadn’t seen any lead runners loop back past me so didn’t really know. I just kept following the reflective ribbons marking the course.
The decline got very slippery. I picked my path carefully. I didn’t need to injure myself on a training run. So I made sure my foot was planted and looked for foot holds and inconsistencies for strategic foot placement. A large flat rock with a course surface, perfect, run across to that and diagonally down the slope. Some slight slipping, not falling, skiing. It was going fine, small steps, high cadence, feet angled down the hill for the largest gripe surface. It didn’t last very long and soon the track flattened to what seem to be a nice gentle decline. I checked my heart rate on my watch, it seemed ok. I increased my cadence a bit. I’ll try and catch that person in front of me. It took a while but I managed to catch them eventually
I told them that my shout out of “Rick Astley!”
was an observation not a criticism…
“How’s it going? Was that the steep slippery bit they were talking about at the briefing or so we go down that hill we came up.” “Not sure” she said. I hopefully responded “I think we’d almost be at the aid station at the 6km mark at the bottom of that hill…”. So I pushed on hoping we were almost at the aid station. Off in the distance I could see the reflective tape on a traffic vest. Yeah! I pushed on and grabbed a drink of water. Team Moxham, Jaimie and Ali were manning it and I told them that my shout out of “Rick Astley!” earlier was an observation not a criticism and I thanked them for their volunteering before I ran off into the darkness.
I caught up with the same lady (who had passed me when I was drinking the water and clearing things up for the DJ’s). Hey this was the downhill bit. This is fun. I’m going to have a crack here. So feeling good, I increased my speed. Picking my way down the trail. Missing tree roots and leaping branches. This is great. My head torch illuminated my path. Agility was the key here. Agility and not tripping on anything.
On I went, a big group of people emerged from the darkness. Gave a high five to some kids as I cruised past and down some steps. Ducking under large logs, slipping on some moss, crossing a couple of bridges, I could see the large information board on the highway. “I’m almost back”.
Adrenaline kicked in as I hit the bitumen pathway again. This is a little uphill, but its short. I saw the pub go past. That’s at the entrance to Warburton. Just the main street to go. I pushed onwards. My heart rate was up. I was breathing hard. Screw it, I cranked it out. Heart rate into zone 3 and pushing zone 4. Leave it on the course. You were slack yesterday now is the chance to redeem. I pushed myself. I saw Greg at the road crossing and flew past “Can’t talk…breathing”. The finish line. The Christmas lights. I flew. I crossed the finish line. High five to RD Chris. High five to anyone else. The crowd parted as I tried to slow. I’m one of those runners with inertia and it took me a while to slow down. Sort of like the ducks that fly gracefully and land one the water. The crowd became the layer of resistance as I landed. It was over. I was sweaty. Sarah came and greeted me. What a great run. It was so enjoyable, except that hill, but that would be all great by Wednesday as the memory fades and the endorphins adjust reality!
PS I realise the irony that writing publicly about a secrecy kind of defeats the secret part of it…
The secret race…