I did this one two years previously so was quite looking forward to running it again, although two years ago it had a different sponsor.
It is a chilly eight degrees on a July Winter’s morning and once again I find myself, with the family, in the event village for the Plenty Gorge trail run.
As with all the trail events in this series, there are three distances.
I chose to run the longest distance (17-18K) while the family opted for the shortest distance of 6-7K.
My training for this event has not been as frequent as I would of liked but in the week leading up to the run I got a couple of nice big runs in and most weeks I have been running a fast 5K with the Warrandyte River Runners.
In fact, on the Saturday before the run I set an new local PB with the river runners, taking my time (with them) down to sub 24mins.
The point to this is that although I have been lacking in the long endurance runs, my overall running is pretty good at the moment, my regular 5K races is keeping me quite nippy and the strength work in the gym is beginning to pay off.
SO I HAVE A STRATEGY
Burn through the first 5K, then settle in to a sub 6min/K pace for the rest of the race.
The burn part was partly to get a good strong start but to get ahead of the mob as the first 5K contains two tricky and narrow sections that tend to get congested.
Well, my strategy paid off and I managed to blast through the first section in less than 30 minutes and miss most of the heavy traffic.
THE CHALLENGING PART(S)
What makes this particular trail run a favourite of mine is that it is quite technical.
The 17K distance compels one to get around in about 1:40, decent 2 hour half marathon time and the initial 5K make that feel quite possible as there are wide sections where it is easy to pass people.
However, the course is predominantly single track with undulation and your time is split evenly between either descending into a gorge for a river crossing, climbing out of a gorge with wet feet or hacking your way along some very rocky single tracks chocker with undulation and switchbacks.
Between 9 and 10Ks in to the long course, you find yourself in the company of middle and short distance runners as all three course share this section.
After cutting along the side of a hill, with some spectacular views of the gorge below, you momentarily descend before starting a short sharp climb up to the main fire track where the long course people take a left and head away from the finish to begin their extra loop.
The initial downward section is a nice change, it is wide and fairly easy on the feet but the two-way arrow signs remind us all that we will be coming back up this hill towards the end.
THE LONG LOOP
The next 6-7K is what makes this course so fun. Already tired from the previous distance covered and with freshly wetted feet, we are presented with a large section of muddy single track and hills that seems to pop out of nowhere.
I had actually forgotten about a lot of the hills and whilst talking to one of the other trail runners after the second drinks stop I commented:
“It’s all good. The worst is over now”
Only to have to shout back to the runner at the 16K mark:
“I’m sorry. I totally forgot about this hill”
A very sharp climb of about 30 meters of ascent up a 22% Gradient which has your thighs screaming about half way up.
That last (proper) hill – that 22% job – is the worst of it and the final ascent up the fire track to the finish is relatively easy in comparison.
My finish time is about what I did when I ran this two years ago.
I trained more for the run in 2014 but I am a stronger, faster and more consistent runner this year so I think my time reflect a lack of training more than anything else.
My grail time for this course is sub 2 hour, maybe 1:40 if i can get the endurance and trail strength.
Given my new permanent digs in the hilly Eastern Suburbs of Melbourne I think I am in a good location to meet my training requirements for 2017.