Oh the bliss of the trails. We are so spoilt here in Tasmania and Endorfun Freycinet Mt Graham did not disappoint.
Saturday 30th June was a typical Tassie winters day – cold and rainy when we met at Campbell Town for Stu and Toby to hop out and ride the remaining 100km to Bicheno. Luckily the forecast for Sunday’s run was good and by the time we rolled into Bicheno that afternoon, it was looking good.
We arrived at our digs for the night, lit the fire, made sure the kids were snuggled with a movie, then took the half hour drive back to Coles Bay to register and have mandatory gear checked.
There was an exhaustive list of bibs and bobs required for this run, but nothing too crazy that we didn’t already have in our kit – roll bandage (didn’t want that happening!), space blanket (didn’t want that happening either), head torch (run started at 8:30am – so definitely didn’t want that happening!), water, food and thermal top.
We collected our numbers – complete with our names on the front (still love this at each Endorfun event!), thankful that there was no way we could mix them up this time (hello Launceston 10!). The room at Freycinet Lodge was buzzing – plenty of competitors had chosen to register early, and we met up with Gabby’s regular trail running crew from Hobart.
After a bit of chit chat, and ogling way too long at the Find Your Feet pop up stall (Gabby snapping pics of the new Suunto 9 to Toby), we hopped back in the car and headed home – ready to eat our weight in lasagna and settle down for the night.
During our drive back, we talked about our expectations for the next day. As both of us were doing this event for the first time, there were none (except I really didn’t want to re-sprain my ankle) .
So we decided we’d run together – a decision that turned out to be perfect.
Next morning was a 6am wake up. We had a quick brekkie of banana on toast in the dark morning, packed our Salomon packs, and pulled on the usual Runphoria trail ‘uniform’. We love to run in our Lululemon Circuit breaker II skirts – comfort is out of this world (zero chafe) and they’re a bit cute (although we did get asked whether we were a netball team at the top of Mt Graham, but more on that later…)
We grabbed a coffee to go at the Bicheno Bakery and were on the road arriving at the race start line at the foot of the impressive Hazards at 8am.
Buzzing with excitement and a few nerves (I don’t usually run this distance on trails – so was a bit curious as to how I’d go) we caught up with friends, snapped some pics and before long, headed up to the trail head for a start.
Straight out of the blocks, this run climbs – up to the Saddle between Coles Bay and the famously picturesque Wineglass Bay.
Gabby started in her usual strong form – whereas I was a little more cautious and hung back just a tad. It wasn’t easy (cue lots of heavy breathing) and as we neared the top, the track rounded a huge pink granite boulder and there, standing on the side of the track was Gabby.
“We’re running together – right?” she says, and I smiled in return (couldn’t talk a great deal at that stage) and we set off together.
The track from the saddle to Wineglass Bay has recently been upgraded from granite stone pads to timber steps…lots, and lots of timber steps. And anyone who has run a descending trail that includes steps knows that they’re not that regularly spaced. Me, being so uber cautious of my weak, recently sprained ankle, took it very easy and once again, saw Gabby disappearing through the trees, while I stood on the track and let a LOT of people past me.
But sure enough, after the first 3k, not long before we landed onto the soft white sand of Wineglass Bay – there’s Gabby at the side of the track waiting for me.
At this point, the still, clear winters day sees the morning sun hitting the beach and it’s so warm, we decide to strip off the long sleeves and get moving along the short, steep soft sandy beach.
By the time we leave Wineglass beach behind us, about 30 mins have passed and I’m already thinking about my first fuel – 2 Clif Bloks, and seeing as we begin climbing straight off the beach, it’s only a few minutes later that I dig into the front pocket of my Salomon vest and grab them.
In order to maintain energy and hopefully avoid the extreme fatigue that can sideswipe me out of nowhere in the closing stages of long runs, I plan to have Clif Bloks every 45 mins, with bite sized pieces of Ems Power Cookie bars every 15 mins or so.
The next 5km are up. Just straight up. We climb incessantly up Mt Graham, eventually reaching an elevation of 550m. And it’s such a great track, with plenty of obstacles, twists and turns, narrow ledges on the edge of rocky outcrops and even some scrambling straight up. It certainly keeps us entertained – as does the banter with fellow runners.
Once we’re up and exposed, we start to get a feel of why this run is so special.
Turning behind us, looking west, we get a view taking in Wineglass beach nestled in front of The Hazards granite peaks, all bathed in brilliant winter sunshine.
We stop and smile at each other – this is just gorgeous! As we take one of many opportunities for a photo, a fellow runner stops and asks us if we’d like him to take a photo, We eagerly agree. He appears as relaxed as we are about this run – it’s the trail running way. You run in some amazing places – it’s a shame just to barrel through and never stop to look at the view.
Our photographer, who introduces himself as Richard, surprises us by taking his responsibility very seriously – offering to snap us from various angles in front of different views (NOT on his phone…) –once done, his parting comment is that he thought we were a netball team (it’s got to be the running skirts and matching kit)…and then he’s off.
Being notoriously bad with names, Gabby and I both commit his name to memory in case we come across him again. “Right Gabby, its Richard….isn’t it?” (10 seconds later), “he’s wearing that visor has a beard – we’ll definitely know him again”.
On we go across the short plateau with the last pinch up to the Mt Graham summit a couple of hundred metres ahead. The terrain is kind of like most Tassie highlands – button grasses and black peaty soil and, we soon discover, plenty of water lying around. Admittedly it did rain the day before, but earlier that morning as we stood in the Carpark pre-race, applying our standard half a can of Bushmans leech obliterator, a friend, Simon, reassures us that there are no places on this track you’re likely to get a leech…
Back up on the plateau and Gabby, who’s in front of me, rounds a bend and lands straight in a black, peaty puddle. Her first comment is “Thank you Simon…”
We splash our way across the plateau, interspersed with old boardwalk across the really boggy patches (Simon!). The boardwalks are falling to pieces and we take a fair amount of care crossing. But running trails is a constant balancing act – one second you’re sliding on a wet, track edge into some waist high grasses, you correct yourself to prevent this only to find your other footing isn’t secure either and you almost go over that way. It’s constant arms flailing, giggling with the joy of feeling slightly out of control – this is what we love.
As we slow to get up that last pinch of Mt Graham, we are caught up by Kevin and catch up to Bouch – both Gabby’s trail running crew from Hobart, and another guy who we later learn is Jason. Up over the summit – pausing for photos (Kevin stopping for the full Titanic experience), and the view opens up before us.
The sun is still high and bright – there doesn’t appear to be a cloud in the sky. We look south to Schouten Island and further than that can see the peaks of Maria Island and an expanse of the bluest water in between. Yet another moment on this run where I draw breath and fully appreciate what we’re doing and how lucky we are.
The moment gazing ahead is brought to an abrupt halt as we are headed down….loose rocks, some boulder sized (think hands and bum kind of descending) complete with chest high plants that are so ‘hardy’ their leaves are like razor blades and their branches end so abruptly at the tracks edge, that if you overbalance in their direction, it results in a nice scratch. I’m currently sporting two…on the same arm….in the same place (ouch).
With the mountain behind us, our spirits are high down the other side, although we are only 9km in. I take in some food, a drink and our little group gets ‘chatty’. Well, Gabby and I get chatty – and poor Bouch, who is running between us on the single track, must feel like he’s in an echo. We’re both kind of talking to each other over the top of him – not really hearing one another – so it’s no surprise he’s having to listen to much the same comments from both of us – neither of us realising it. At the bottom of the steepest descent Bouch rolls his ankle (was it possibly on purpose to get away from running between us?). Seriously though, thankfully he isn’t hurt and he’s up again after a moment and continues running along with our group (noticeably moving position so he’s not between us like before…)
We continue our descent around Mt Freycinet and into the bush. We’re running on forest floor now – carefully dodging tree roots, rocks, and zigzagging our way through this luscious forest. Sunlight streams intermittently through the tree canopy, there’s no wind, the temperature is pleasant, and our group is flowing at a great pace.
Without warning, Gabby slams on the brakes, turns around and hugs me. We are experiencing long missed trail bliss of running together and we just want to acknowledge that. Kevin calls out “…is everyone else getting a hug, or…?”. More giggles ensue and we keep running.
After about 17km of running through the bush, we hear water – waves crashing to be exact, and our relatively closed-in forest suddenly opens out to reveal an expanse of blue water stretching and sunshine. This is the far end of Cook’s Beach.
We pass by a couple of runners who have taken a break to take in the view, but we don’t pause here and continue on headed slightly uphill, back into the forest. Things are a little more open here, there are more patches of sunshine which is delightfully warming, and the track widens a little, which is important as we start to meet a few people here.
We pass by one fellow competitor as we are walking (with purpose) up a small hill. He doesn’t appear to acknowledge us at first and at about 18km through the run, this concerns us. Gabby, in particular stops, turns and speaks to him. He doesn’t answer. She’s about a metre in front of him and asking him “are you right?” “do you need anything?” over again. Nothing. Crickets. He’s wearing a huge pair of headphones (how did we not notice that straight off), must be listening to some hectic stuff in there to be so completely zoned out, so we keep going – once again chuckling at Gabby’s attempts to make contact:
It’s about this time (after running for a good hour with this group), that we think it’s high time to introduce ourselves to the guy who has been leading our pack for virtually the whole time – listening to our banter, chiming in occasionally. I had no idea that we didn’t know him already, so we introduce ourselves to Jason (who keeps a steady pace, let me tell you).
The low winter sun is in our faces through the next couple of kms and I’m thankful I changed out my head band for the Runphoria visor before the race began. It was only to be matching in the group photo, but I’m grateful for it here. Being closer to the coast, our track is predominantly sandy with tree-roots sticking up out of it, and I need to see where I’m landing. I’ve been so careful all day to watch every footing – not wanting to again roll my weak ankle injured just a couple of weeks back, that when my good foot gets stuck under a tree root and I lurch forward, I’m thinking “shit – here we go”.
But I’ve taped myself up tighter than a country footballer and when I land heavily on the dodgy ankle to prevent a face plant, it holds steady. Thank goodness – I was sure it was going to be the ankle or the front teeth that copped it, but thankfully it’s all good.
It’s not too long and we emerge from the bush onto Hazards beach. I’m not a fan of beach running (Convicts and Wenches is such a tough mental game), so I’m really happy that Gabby and I are together here. There’s only the slightest breeze, no headwind, and we can see runners stretched out in front of us. Gabby, Bouch and I stop for photos and a caffeine gel to get through what will be a tough final 10km, while Jason continues on doggedly at his steady pace. We set off and before long, catch up to a few friends – some sporting some injuries. It’s been a tough run. We check people are okay before continuing on.
General chatter about the length of the beach (anything to take the mind off it) soon gives way to silence as we fall instep beside each other – knowing we are both just heads down getting this bit done.
Thankfully the beach is firm and flat enough to easily run on and I take a minute to be grateful for nothing hurting at this point. Past trail races have seen the hip flexors screaming at me, and having not run any further than 25km on a trail in the last 12 months, (which ended in extreme fatigue), this is a big deal! Those weighted lower body strength sessions combined with daily hip mobility and strength routines must be paying off.
As we reach the end of the beach, the red arrow directs us up into the bush – different terrain again. This one is almost like a pine forest – with a clear forest floor. Who do we spy up ahead, but a man, with a beard and a visor – Richard! We’ve passed quite a few people on the beach so it’s likely we’ve caught up to him. Gabby sings out “Richard! Richard – hi!”
We’re coming up behind him up some steps and then we realise…it’s not Richard. Not even close. As we pass him, we’re stifling giggles like naughty schoolgirls. “Not.Richard.” Gabby hisses at me – we have to run along like nothing has happened.
As we settle in on this final stretch of trail 5-6km long, Gabby checks the time. We’ve been running for 3hrs 15mins – a little quicker than I expected – and she casually mentions that we could probably make it back under 4 hours. That’s 5km in 45mins, that’s 9mins/km….easy, right? Not on this track. Not after over 3 hours of trails, just when the fatigue is peeping its menacing head into view. After a moment of umming and pondering, and a little rest, I’m all for it. There were no time goals with this run, but now that one was presented, why not?
We agree to continue along steadily, resting when necessary. Which happens a lot – especially in the last 3km.
We are traversing some of the most beautiful scenery – atop granite cliffs dropping to clear aqua water, and well-formed tracks – but also including steps and inclines and gosh my calves are tired.
We run, then rest, then run, then rest. We pass by a lovely lady that we’ve seen periodically along the track. She smiles and says “please don’t look tired you two – you’ve been smiling all day”. The kms go by, splits are 7mins, then 8.20, then 8.30 – getting under that 4 hours is going to be close.
The second last km is the worst, with me stopping so frequently, that Gabby has to run back to me and she’s patiently coaching me along. Which isn’t easy for her! She did well not to grab me and shake me…I did complain a bit. The main thing that stuck with me was that she said it will be all over very soon and we’ll wish we were back out there. Which was true – this had been my best trail race by far. And it worked. We met up with the wineglass bay track and within a minute, we were rounding the corner, down the ramp and crossing the finish line in the carpark.
Done. 29km, 3hrs 56 mins. 9th and 10th girls.
We hug hard. It’s been so long since we ran together for pure enjoyment and this run reminded us exactly why we do it.
We’re met by Stu, Toby and our kids – a table full of food (thanks Endorfun) and cool water.
Tired (nearly 4 hours on your feet is a lot), but so delighted to be home, we have a few finish line chats (oh there’s Richard…) and watch other competitors cross the finish line.
An hour later, we are (gingerly) siting in the pub – burgers and beer/cider in front of us, absolutely earned after today. Little do we know we are about to experience the worst DOMS in our calves EVER over the next week, – a constant reminder of our efforts today, but it has definitely been worth it.
Gear: Salomon S-Lab 5 sense hydration vest | Garmin Fenix 5s/Suunto Ambit3 | Salomon Sense Ride trail shoes | Linebreak compression socks | Lululemon circuit breaker skirt
Fuel: Clif Bloks | Shotz caffeine gel | Em’s power bars
Fluid: 500ml water | 500ml Shotz electrolytes