GLASSHOUSE MOUNTAINS TRAIL RACE: 80KM MAY 2006
You wake up Monday morning and reflect on your weekend. Through the fog of tiredness you remember chugging through the night, through the bush, over trails, up hills and down dales. Night running presents challenges that day running doesn’t explore. But with that comes a sense of adventure and achievement that sets a night ultra apart. You really feel alive as the sun rises on a new day after running all night. Welcome to the world of the Glasshouse Trail Races. Set amongst the spectacular basaltic monoliths that form the Glasshouse Mountains less than an hours drive north of Brisbane, this series of trail races kicked off at 1:00 am on Sunday May 14th. Comprising a three race series each having races of varying length from 11 km to 100 miles, the first leg was made up of an 80 km, 50 km, 30 km and 11 km race. Run over fire-trails, gravel roads and singletrack through rugged bush, plantations and farm land, these races attract runners from all over Australia with the occasional international starter, including a Japanese lady in this years 50 km. Race Director Ian Javes, an accomplished ultra veteran in his own right, has built a fantastic runner focussed race series. There is some sort of magnetic attraction to the Glasshouse Trail races. It is not just the trails and the distances. It is the complete package. There is a growing community of runners that oscillate around these trail races like satellites around some celestial body. They come together periodically when the stars line up and the ultra calendar dictates that it is time to run the trails of the Glasshouse Mountains.
Thirteen of us lined up under a glorious full moon at 1:00 am on the Sunday morning for the 80 km trail race. This race serves as a lead up training run for the major event of the trail running calendar, the Glasshouse 100 miler in September. But this run is a race in it’s own right. From the start John Pearson spelt out his intentions by surging to the lead. After missing the 100 miler last year through illness he was keen for redemption. Nic Moloney went with him and the two of them disappeared into the night. After a 3 km loop we passed back through the start-finish line before the long descent towards the village of Beerburrum. The field was soon spread out and on the long open sections you could see headlamps bobbing along like fireflies in the distance. The broad moonlight meant that headlamps were sometimes superfluous on the open trails.
I settled into a rhythm with Phil Murphy. John and Nic were up ahead and the rest of the field spread out behind us. 10 km and the first Check Point (CP1a) was a welcome chance to grab some fruit, biscuits and fluids. As hard as it is to imagine running all night there were volunteers manning the checkpoints and even a couple of hearty soles who were helping out and travelling from checkpoint to checkpoint as support crew before fronting up the next morning to run the 11 km race! The Caboolture Road Runners also do a great job of helping out with course marking and aid stations.
From CP1a the track leaves the gravel road and heads up over the infamous Hamburger Hill (so named because in the 100 miler runners traverse it 4 times and the rough surface turns their feet into “mince meat”). Only 4 km long this leg seemed strangely innocuous tonight, and the Beerburrum School loomed up out of the shadows. The school serves as the start-finish for the other two race series in July and September. Past the school and we turned onto the bike path that follows the main Tourist Road back to the north.
The clear firm path made for easy running and the pace was picking up with the relatively fresh legs. Through the next checkpoint (CP1) with more biscuits and watermelon and it was just a short hop further along the bike path to Moffat’s Road where we were turned around by Bill Thompson (100 mile ultra veteran) and sent back to CP1. Bill lives nearby and sitting in the dark with a blanket across his knees and just a clipboard. Nothing strange about ultra runners!
This short out and back leg allowed us to see where everyone was. John and Nic flew past us and I swear they sped up when they saw us. After we had turned around we ticked off the rest of the field one by one. I was surprised that we were all still so close together but that nearly everyone was running alone. Close to CP1 again and Phil missed his footing and fell heavily. The result was a nasty gravel rash to the knees and hands but not enough to slow him down. From CP1 we headed back west past CP 1a and up the long climb to the start finish area to complete the first 30 km of the race. Dom Brown had worked his way up to join us as we laboured up the hill and we now ran as three.
The start-finish area was a welcome site and hot soup was on the menu. We grabbed whatever we needed and shuffled off into the night. As the night grew longer even a short stop meant stiffness would creep into the legs. The cold air was descending and the moisture made a halo of light around our headlamps in a surreal glow. The next section skirts the base of Mt Beerwah and is notorious for the rough, steep undulations that drain your reserves. The technical downhill sections were made tougher by the rising dust that obscured your vision. Oh what fun we were having now! The conversation was waning, as the night grew longer.
Once freed of the forest we were back on open forestry road and the pace quickened with the easy footing. But the long raking hills still tested our strength. We could see for miles now in the crisp clear night but there was no sign of Nic or John. The next aid was at CP6. This checkpoint is notorious for ending races being approximately 100 km into the 100 miler. It’s known as the Bermuda Triangle of the Glasshouse Mountains: runner go in but never come out! Further back in the field, Dave McKinnon would spend quite some time here duelling with his nausea before going on to finish. While we refuelled a light emerged in the distance so we took off on the long windy section to CP7. After the initial hills this leg was relatively flat and the pace picked up yet again. We ran in silence. Time seemed suspended. The world around us slept while we ran through the night.
And then the wheels fell off, for me at least. Pain flared on the outside of my knee in the familiar site for ITB sufferers. I watched the others pull away, unaware in their trance like state that I had even left them. I jog-walked into CP7 readjusting my goals to merely finishing. The wily ultra veteran Roger Guard caught up with me as I entered the checkpoint. He grabbed a juice and surged on, chasing Phil and Dom. I stretched and rested before jogging out behind him.
I knew this path well. The light was seeping through the trees and the birds were raucous high above. I had been here before. I love this part of the course at this time of the day. With over half the race behind me I settled into a run/walk routine that kept me moving forward without aggravating the pain too much. From CP7 to CP8 the trail is flat, sandy, forest path, then open gravel road. The long straight road leading up to CP8 allows you to see who is coming, with runners doubling back along here on their return. There was no-one in either direction.
Shortly before reaching CP8 John came running back towards me in the lead. Soon after I met Nic. The chase was on and I offered them both encouragement. I reached CP8 where we run a loop of 8 km. Still no-one behind me. While I was out on the loop Phil came in to CP8 and was surprised to find that Roger had passed both Dom and I and was hot on his heels. The race for third was on as Roger worked his way through the field with a massive negative split.
Halfway through the loop at 8 I realised that my knee wasn’t getting any worse so I cranked up the pod as a distraction and pushed harder. The 50 km runners who follow this course behind us would be catching me soon and I used that as motivation. Back at CP8 after a long climb the 50 kers were starting to file in. I didn’t bother to check how far behind me the next runner was. I knew it would be Rodney Ladyman. We had run together the whole way last year. He would be keen to catch me there was little I could if he did.
The road out of CP8 was busy with runners, coming towards me. I recognised some of the faces. Dave had regrouped but was washed out. The only female in the 80, Tamyka Bell was running with David Elm who was making his ultra debut. Bringing up the rear was Colin Mackey. The sun was warming things up and I was keen to get to the finish before it got too hot. The next section involved the notorious Powerlines. So named because it followed the powerlines, notorious because of the rutted and dramatic rises and falls that require hand over fist clambering at points. The 30 km runners were now on the course and after passing a few on the long downhill into the rough, they motored past me on the climbs, unaware I’m sure that I had been going for 8 hours by now. I kept looking back for Rodney. No sign.
One last long scramble out of the Powerlines and I knew I was home. I looked at my time for the first time in hours. I was still under 10 hour pace. My knee now ached continuously so I turned up the music to drown it out. Flawed logic but it seemed to help. Back through CP6 and the familiar volunteer told me it was only 4 or 5 km to the finish. Forget the sub 10 hours. I was going low 9 hours. As a cruel twist from CP6 you can see the huge downhill and climb that is to come. The road was now specked with runners, 30 kers I presumed. None of the 50 kers had caught me yet. I wondered how far ahead Dom was? I thought the guy ahead of me might be him. I pushed hard and when I reached him and it wasn’t the energy just drained out of me. But it didn’t matter. I knew the finish was just around the bend. I dug deep and ran hard again, determined to finish strongly. Around the bend and there was the finish. Claps and cheers washed over me as I ran through the finish shute. 9:04, nearly an hour better than last year, despite my knee.
John had hung on for a deserved victory in an amazing time of 7:45. Nic was second in 7:54. Phil had run back from CP8 looking over his shoulder and was more than happy to make the podium in 8:31 and just keep ahead of Roger: 8:33. Dom’s debut exceeded his expectations with 8:40. After me was Rodney in 9:23, bettering his time from last year as well. Previous 100 mile finishers Joe Raftery and Louie Commins ran strongly 10:05 and 10:49 respectively. The two Daves and Tamyka all finished emotionally together in 11:34. Colin brought up the rear with a tough effort of 11:53.
People ask us why we run these crazy distances and it’s always hard to find a satisfactory answer. But if you could be out on the trail as the morning light creeps into the sky. If you could hear the birds coming to life with the break of a new day. If you could see the first rays of sunshine illuminate the eastern cliffs of the towering Mt Beerwah as your legs find a renewed vigour with the warmth of the sun permeating your being. Then you would know why we run these ultras. And you would know why the Glasshouse Mountains holds a special place in the heart of the ultra running community.
If you’ve ever entertained any thoughts of running a trail race or better still a trail ultra, then this is the place to go. With trail races starting at 11 km, 30 km and 50 km, then 80 km, 100 km and the grand finale of 100 miles, all standards are catered for. The Glasshouse Trail series have become a major feature of the trail running calendar. You never know, you just might find yourself standing on a gravel road at 1 am with a headlamp on your head and a camelbak on your back next May. I know I will.