Razorback 40km version 2
The last few weeks have been stressful for all the wrong reasons. Work pressures, long hours at the desk, trying to get my brain to absorb that one extra piece of information. The only way to balance this way of life is to head to the mountains.
I left work at 3pm thinking I would get to Harrietville around 7.30pm. Melbourne traffic! Close to 9pm I arrived at Harrietville. Set up my tent, rechecked all my mandatory gear and fell into a deep sleep with the sound of the river and the light rain slowly washing away the dust storm of tax laws still trying to spin in my brain.
Alarm went off at 4:55 and I just wanted to stay where I was. It was the best sleep I’d had in around three weeks, but no time. Needed to get dressed, organised and pack the tent and car all before the 5:45am briefing – and still needed to pick up my race bib as Melbourne traffic meant I missed the check in and full briefing the night before.
Cold drip coffee in the system, gear check completed, race number attached. Ready to go.
Running Wild events are so unpretentious – almost everyone I adore in the running scene pops up at them from time to time and I was so happy to see Babi, Clare and Vanessa.
As I chatted to Babi at the start line I suspected something wasn’t right with my head torch. I had packed two extra sets of batteries so I very quickly changed them. Then the thing snapped off the headband. As the count down to the start was progressing, I fumbled and quickly managed to get it in place and we were off.
We started jogging up to the start of Bungalow Track. I have been running up this track to the summit monthly throughout Summer and my coach Matty Abel, has been challenging my own thoughts and perceptions of what is a runnable versus hikeable climb. I knew from my last run up here that I could run way more of this first ascent than I did the previous year and though the plan was to keep it easy for the first 20km, I suspected I would still make up a bit of time from the last year.
Within the first 100m up the track, I realised my head torch was completely fucked. The light was so dull that I could barely see where I was going and the bright lights from the competitors running behind me was actually making it worse. Every time I ran, I tripped as the shadows were jumping out at me and I couldn’t distinguish them from the tree roots. So I stood to the side of the trail, let everyone pass and then reminded myself that I knew this trail. I couldn’t run it with my shitty dim light but I could power hike it. My eyes adjusted once all the other competitor’s bright lights sped off in the distance and I vowed to keep the last woman within dim eyesight (the glow of her head torch helped here). And I just hiked and longed for daylight. When the sun rose, I realised I was only on the tail end of all the competitors I had let pass me. No one was more than a few hundred metres ahead of me. I was about half way up the mountain at this stage and whilst I tried to jog a few sections, I’d gotten a bit lazy and for the most part just kept the power hike up. When I got to the hut, I suspected that was my fastest time up there, but I didn’t have time to savour the moment. I had to keep going to the summit.
Now the sun was beaming in my face and I couldn’t see a bloody thing. Oh the irony.
Whilst some people may go out to pubs or nightclubs to socialise, it is on the summit that most of the socialising is done by ultra-runners. I totally forgot I was even racing as I stopped to chat to all my friends and bask in the glow of the sunrise over the mountains. There was no where else in the world I would have rather been.
Off the summit and along the Razorback to Diamantina Hut. Here is where I left all the F bombs of the day. The altitude in this section triggered my asthma and I could barely breathe. I also kept tripping over my feet. Having a very sore right side after face planting on Friday, I wasn’t keen to smash myself up again. Yet I kept tripping over and over. And then I saw a snake. He just slithered onto the trail, looked right at me, stuck his tongue out a few times and then slowly slithered away. It was quite mesmerising to just stop and watch him for a moment. I was pretty happy after that.
Stopped at the hut to fill up on water and have a laugh with more friends. Thank you James for hugging me in my sweaty disguisting state. Some more puffs of the ventolin and then off for the long descent down Bon Accord. I remembered the fear I had the year earlier running down Bon Accord as it was so overgrown and I suspected every sound was a snake. Having just seen a snake, I was ready to suspect every twig and stick of something more sinister.
My asthma was pretty out of control at this point and I did wonder if I should turn back to the hut and pull out. I’ve only DNF’d once in my life and so I wasn’t taking this decision lightly. I thought it through and considered whether this was something I could manage or whether it had the potential to be life threatening. I suspected that as I moved to lower ground and away from the grasses on the high plains that the asthma would improve and thank goodness I was right. Within the first km of descending, it went away. Maybe it was just that my brain was preoccupied with snakes at this stage and breathing became less important.
I am very scared of descending on technical trail. Mostly because I am a clutz. The fear of falling is very real – I have all the scars and scabs on my knees to prove this. That said, the instruction from my coach was to push the last half and I had to stop making excuses. So I just did my best. Eventually we got to a less scary decline and I could run properly again – though I did spot another two snakes in this section which caused my run to look more like a high knee Bambi canter.
Shortly before Washington Creek, I passed a woman I had been running just behind most of the day. I asked her how she was. She said “terrible.” I was shocked. I was so surprised that anyone could be feeling less than 100% amazing. It was getting very hot at this stage which I suspect triggers a bit of my mania and I was having the time of my life.
I ran on, through Washington Creek and finally, after years of training up here, understood why people say this is a nice runnable section to the finish. I’ve always been too buggered to enjoy this section but today – oh it was just dreamy. I was having the time of my life and I kept thinking “there is no place I’d rather be.”
Last year, I ran the Razorback in the 8 hours and 22 minutes that I left my nanna’s bedside while she was dying of pancreatic cancer. I had spent almost every moment that I could with her from the day that we suspected something wasn’t quite right. I had taken the day to go gather some strength for myself so that I could be there for her when things turned really bad. And they did. She passed away within weeks from the race.
I remembered running this section of the race last year. I was very alone on this section, being one of the last finishers, and I had allowed myself to scream and cry the whole way to the finish line.
I also remembered that when I returned to my nanna’s bedside post race, she wanted to see my photos of the mountains. She had the same spirit as me – it was nourished by nature.
The day she was diagnosed with cancer, she said she didn’t mind that she was dying but she would like to go out to a lake and go fishing before that happened, to visit the valleys one more time that had filled her soul with joy. Unfortunately she was never strong enough for that to happen.
So my message is, remember how lucky we are to do the things we do. Yes it might get hot, yes it might be a bit tiring. You might be scared by things like snakes, heights, face planting, but doing these things is such a privilege.
Thank you Paul Ashton for giving us the privilege to run in these beautiful places.
P.S – I finished the race in 7:26. 56 minutes faster than last year.