Race Blog- Up the Buff- 25km trail race
Post by A+ Athlete Michael Fittler (@fitzbang)
I woke on Sunday morning to the sound of my alarm, anticipating the rain to follow, the sound I've woken to every morning in the past week. Nothing, for the first time in a week I can see the sun rising out the window. Unfortunately that doesn't stop the 100mm plus of rain that has fallen over the Gold Coast area in the previous few days. The course, even though its hilly is still going to be a mud run. After I throw down some breakfast, a handful of blueberries, banana and mars bar (yeah not the best idea I've had) I grab the keys and head off towards the Eco Village in the beautiful Currumbin Valley. During the drive I go over the past months training, the strength sessions, long runs, hill session and more core and mobility work than I’m used to.
I arrived at 615am, giving myself a good 45mins before I line up on the start line and the gun fires at 7am. I collect my number, 64, and push off over the side where I go through my warm up. A few quick things to get the body moving, mobilise, activate, mind and muscles switched on. At 650 they call in all the runners for the day and go through the pre-race brief then we walk over to the start line. I line up with a pretty big challenge in front of me, 25kms, the longest run I will have done to date and what many people say is the hardest trail run event in South East Queensland. With over 1000m of elevation average gradient of 6.4% in the 25kms and the steepest section a whopping 26%, this is going to be a battle for even the most experienced runners.
As the horn sounds and 220+ runners take off up the road of the eco village I find myself on the right side of the road quickly falling into a comfortable rhythm. I push forward and sit on the back of the 20 lead runners. We round the first bend after about 400m and start the first climb. We follow the road up past the houses of the Eco Village the hills get steeper and longer as the metres tick over where some of the runners in the front group have already started to walk. I’m unsure if this is excites or scares me as I’m still pushing up the hills at a pace I find comfortable, slowly closing in on a group of 6. As we reach to the top of the last hill on the tar road 4 of us turn left and head down a small decline to a gate where the first aid station is set up. 3.5kms down and feeling good.
Feeling the hurt
The next 5kms out to the first turn around point was hard. With the undulating terrain and the soft muddy ground making it hard to find a consistent rhythm. But I felt strong and as I was coming into the run around point I counted 8 people in front of me. I caught the leading female and for the next 6km we yo-yoed back and forth and by the time we reached the 3rd aid station at 12.6k there were 4 of us within a eye sight of each other. From that aid station we spent the next 1.6km climbing up to the highest point on the course, 231m above sea level. The bushland opened up into paddock farmland during that climb giving a great view back down to the coast, a must see if you want to put up with a little pain to get there. At this point my legs were starting to feel heavier than in any of the lead up runs that I did during my pre-race training. At 14kms we had climbed nearly 700m and with enough time at the top to get your breath back before we travelled down the steepest section on the entire coarse, Strawberry Hill, 26% over 1km. By the time I had reached the bottom my legs were cramping hard. Both quads felt like they were being stabbed with each step I took and with 10km to go I had to play it smart if I was going to make it to the finish line. I eased off the throttle and let the others go off ahead. The competitive person inside of me was yelling “what are you doing?”, but I knew I needed run my own race.
As I arrived at aid station 4 I had been passed twice but at this time I couldn’t care less. I knew I had 3.5kms back to the last aid station and from there its all down hill. I got back to the bottom of Strawberry Hill and managed to walk up the steep muddy hill slipping only a few times. I felt sorry for the other 200 people who still had to make their way back up it as it was already a swamp on the side of a hill. At the top of Strawberry Hill I took a few deep breaths to regain some composure and took off with the stabbing pain in my quads still hanging around. At this point I cursed myself for being so stupid in regards to my nutrition and neglecting to have a specific fuelling plan. As another person passed me we made our way back down to the last aid station and turned back onto the road and headed up the smallest of inclines. My legs couldn't go with him and I had to walk until I arrived at the top. With the final incline complete it was all actually all down hill from there. The final 3 kms were fast, downhill on tarred roads but all I could think about was crossing that line and stopping my quads from hurting. As I crossed the bridge I knew the finish line was around the next corner. I got that finish line burst of energy that every runner seems to get as they approach the finish line and crossed in a time of 2:21 which was good enough for 16 overall on the day, 5th in my age group.
To say I was stoked with the result would be an understatement, but theres always a question in how I would have gone if I had any kind of nutrition plan. But as everyone says when it comes to trail running and ultra marathons, you only make this mistake once. Hopefully I have learnt my lesson and I'm smarter for it. I must say of the race, I have never been to a race where the other competitors were so friendly, people were cheering you on and giving encouragement as you went by. A great atmosphere and location for this race put on by Those Guys Events.
Having a specific training plan to follow definitely helped leading up to the race as this would be my first official event for some time, with improvements in strength, endurance and running efficiency definitely noticeable prior to the event. The benefits of the strength training had my legs in great condition for the mammoth elevation of the race even though I let myself down in other ways. My legs were stronger than most, always being able to push further and harder than others up each climb. The running plan of a mixture of fartlek, hill sprints and long runs gave me great confidence leading into the race. With the benefit of hindsight I would have completed more specific downhill running to condition the quads for the higher loads and impact experienced when running fast downhill. All in all the pre-dawn starts to train before work was worth it and I had no doubt that I would be able to compete and I will definitely be back to push myself to the next level.