Running in central Australia is not something you get the chance to do often so when a good friend of mine Peter Eason (sub 2.30 marathoner) mentioned he was putting on a 60k Ultra marathon in the heart of Australia …..Naturally he had my full attention. Now picturing a desert ultra-marathon may conjure up images of arduous never ending sand dunes, tumble weeds, excessive heat and camels! However this is nothing like the Alice Ultra! The race is held alongside and around the magnificent Western Macdonald ranges in the Northern Territory and offers unprecedented sunrise views of ranges such as “Caterpillar Dreaming” and “Simpsons Gap”. The whole course is held on the bitumen …and for the most part it is FAST!
I have been to Alice Springs before, in 2009 when I ran the 1/2marathon (the longest event on the roster back then), I really enjoyed my time in Alice but it was a fleeting trip so I was keen to spend a few extra days looking around this time and soaking up the Central Australian Sun! This time I wasn’t approaching the race with my usual M.O of “go out hard, hang on and shoot for the win” no this time I had a plan. My plan was to use the race as a “tester” to gauge my ability for a future qualifying attempt to make the World 100km road Championships in 2014. So the goal was to go out at 7hour 30min (100K) pace – which is 4:30min/km and see if could hold that for 60km….and more importantly what that might feel like afterwards. Thankfully Peter was kind enough to shout me a free bed.…his bed in fact…perhaps the kindest dude I know he actually slept on the couch and gave me the bed to make sure I had a good night’s sleep before the race…that’s the type of hospitality you get from runners, no matter what their level!
Race morning rolled around pretty quick and before I knew It I was standing on the start line (freezing , it was about 6degrees) doing my warm up stretches and trying to scout for someone to run with. The Ultra and the Alice marathon start at the same time and share the same course for the first 28km so I was keen to find someone for those first 28km at least! Just before the gun went I saw Dave Eadie (Badwater finisher/Aussie Ultra Legend) and Nikky Wynnd (female ultra star) roll in but there wasn’t much time for a chat before…BANG it was on! The race starts in the dark and heads out on a reasonably straight-ish road for the first 12km. I settled into my pace of 4.30s pretty quick and found myself on my own with only two marathon runners in front and Dave Eadie no where to be seen! Before the race I had thought it would be a close duel between Dave and I was surprised when he wasn’t right on my tail in the first couple of km’s, something was up with that!
The first 30 or so minutes where pretty uneventful as it was dark and I was just focusing on running on the white lines of the road so I didn’t hit a pot hole, the checkpoints started rolling in (every 3km) and I settled into my nutritional plan nice and early drinking at every station – on the run- marathon style. I was also running with one small handheld bottle (300ml) and 1x Endura gel flask stuffed one (of many) back pockets on my Ron Hill shorts. I was swapping the flasks out every 15km at the checkpoints and I was rolling straight Endura Gel in them, on reflection need to mix this slightly with water as the viscosity of the gel in the cold morning temperature was a challenge to squeeze out. After 10km the sun started to rise and that’s when the real views came out! Stunning orange landscapes rose from the darkness to the sound of nothing bar my footsteps on the road….its safe to say that view kept me entertained for the next 40 odd minutes. ! Once I made the turn towards Honeymoon gap at about 12km my pace picked up and started rolling out some 4:15-20s without thinking, I tried to slow it down but after a few failed attempts figured I would just roll with what my body wanted as it felt super comfortable. Before long the Half marathons where in sight coming the other way – the Half marathoners get dropped at the 21km mark of the marathon and run one way into Alice Springs. I couldn’t believe how pumped all the half marathons where, I was giving so many high fives and words of encouragement I was actually starting to run faster off their sheer excitement alone!…I dropped a few 3:50ks …ops! Another thing that really surprised me about this race was the amount of RACE WALKERS…now usually when a race has a walking option you would be lucky to see 5 people giving it a crack and even fewer actually racing it, however there must have been about 25 race walkers out there and about half of those had the technique and weren’t out for a Sunday stroll that’s for sure. Oh and adding even further to the community spirit of the race the Town Mayor was there too…walking the 21km race!
Anyway around the 21km turn and back out towards the main road I went, I noticed the next ultra guy was about 10min back and then not far behind him was Dave Eadie….running with Nikki. I had seen Dave pace Nikki before so I assumed at this point that was his plan and resided to the fact that I may be on my own for the rest of the race and was a little disappointed we wouldn’t be racing together this time. On the upside I was feeling good still buzzing off the excitement of the half runners and well within my comfortzone. Once I hit the main road I had a little out and back before taking another turn at the 32km mark and heading towards the stunning Simpsons Gap. Turning off the main road this time I was on my own, this was ultra territory and only the 60km runners would go this way….from here on in it was me, my shoes and the Alice scenery. OH no….I could feel it coming and there was nothing I could do about it……the dreaded toilet stop! I had already stoped few times in the race (over hydrated I think) but this one was different it was the big one! I was just about at Simpsons Gap and knew there were some toilets there, I had to run past the bike path turn off/check point and out to Simpsons gap and back as part of the course, luckily the Check point crew (Wonder woman…which was a little surprising to see after 38km of running) offered to fill my bottle while I make the out and back trip I took her up on the offer and sprinted past. Around the turn and straight into the toilet (my first ever actual toilet stop in a race…EVER). I looked at my watch and told my body it had 45sec to do its deed and be out of there….I will save you the details but safe to say it was a power stop and under my 45sec limit!. Back on the road and rolling out some 4:10s to make up the time, I collected my bottle from the checkpoint and made the turn onto the bike path…..21.1km to go!
The bike path section is 18km long before joining back to the road for the final 5km. The bike path is bitumen but unlike the road its narrow, twisting and deceivingly undulating…at no point can you see more than 100m in front..…It is just enough to break the rhythm you have had for 40 odd kms and start to turn the hurt on you. I had a bit of a rough patch in here, I think I didn’t expect it to be so twisty, I split the marathon at 3:05 and then the 50km at 3:40 but I was starting to hurt…not fitness wise but just mentally wise and was starting to long for the end of the path. After some interesting checkpoint interactions with Nuns (everyone is in costume here!) I was spat back out (to my relief) on to the road for the final push home. The last 5km were actually quite enjoyable, I starting picking the pace back to sub 4.30 (had run some 4.45’s in the bike path) and started assessing my body….it felt good…tight but good. I felt as though another 10-15km at that pace wouldn’t have been the end of the world…albeit wouldn’t have been easy! A 3:59min/km to finish and I was done smack on goal time 4hrs 29min and change, 1st place!
The Alice Springs race offers a great environment for any runner (ultra or not) the community really supports this event and that can be seen in everything from the race day volunteers and random supporters (standing on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere) to the large prize purse on offer and fully catered presentation dinner afterwards. The dinner especially is a great event where everyone gets to relax together, its quite an intimate and fun prize giving featuring the who’s who of Alice Springs including the mayor. The event was made that much more special because it was the Northern territories first ever Ultra marathon! And Steve Moneghetti had come along to pace the half marathon and talk with the runners! I have met Steve before when we paced the 2011 Gold Coast marathon together for Pat Carroll but it was nice to catch up again, this time in a more relaxed environment……that being Beers in the pub that night!
Ron Hill Advance Singlet (KSR Branded)
Ron Hill Advance Racer Shorts
Compressport Trail compression undershorts
Compressport Calf sleeves
Adidas Adidos 2 shoes
2x Banana , 1x Endura Coffee Gel
Water from CP’s and Bottle
1x Endura Gel every 15km (Vanilla and Raspberry flavour rotation)
2x Salt tablet every 60min
Endura Maintain & Optimizer recovery mix.
Endura Max drink. Beer!
Thanks Again to Andy Dubios who helped me get to the start line in top shape, Peter and the Alice springs crew for a terrific event and of course my wife Tymeka for letting me go on Holidays without you!