• Elliot Cooper

Kowen Trail Marathon 2019

Updated: May 23

I’m a bit of a homebody when it comes to choosing races, the more local the better. Kowen trail races are so easy to get to and friendly on the wallet: for Canberrans there’s literally no excuse. [One caveat here: by some unknown evil, Kowen Moonlighter has been scheduled one week before the Sri Chinmoy Canberra 100. Running 100km races two weekends in a row is tempting, but I won’t do it this time. And I must choose the SCC100.] Last year I couldn’t run this event due to a broken collar bone, so I was excited to finally have the chance. And today would be even better because Mutsumi would run too. She had signed up for her second Kowen half marathon and was excited to be running her first race in a while.

A week earlier on a long run with Brett (left) and Steve (right).

A week before the race on a long run with the TFW crew, Brett was boasting about how he came 2nd at the Kowen Marathon last year (incidentally, he also came first at the 2018 Kowen Moonlighter). Brett’s a strong guy, and much quicker at the marathon than I, but on the trail we’re pretty comparable. By this calculus I felt comfortable declaring that I would “try to get on the podium”. But now it was 5am on the day of the race and somewhere an alarm was crying out. The first thought is that outside the warm embrace of the duna the air is icy. But there’s no use in delaying the inevitable. In a dark kitchen get down some coffee and oats, then jump in the car. I pointed the vehicle in the right direction while Mutsumi took charge of the defogging instruments.

At Wamboin RFSA, race director Pam Muston was wrangling the runners into the hall for the gear checks and the race briefing. I hadn’t seen her since Neverest in March so I was finally able to congratulate her on being the first ever female finisher of that race. On June 9 she’d run the Gold Coast 100km where she’d placed 8th overall (4th woman) in 10:59:20. These are extremely competitive results at the steepest 100km race in Australia and the flattest 100km race in Australia, within a few months! If you’re wondering how she does it, I’ve heard a rumour that Pam’s training involves mowing 10 hectares with a manual push grass cutter.

I’m not very good at paying attention to race briefings. All I remember is John Harding walking around with two dogs and a camera. I’m also distracted by an internal struggle regarding whether to take the windbreaker off or leave it on. At 7am we’re off. The first section is uphill and perhaps due to my ultrarunning mentality, I’m not concerned about being with the leaders. I’m in 5th for most of the road section. A couple of guys come from behind and move up ahead before leaving the bitumen. I’m already regretting the decision to leave the windbreaker on and at the entrance to the single track I make the strategic decision to take it off. I lose valuable seconds and a couple of places, but I instantly feel better and move back up to my former position.

After the single track there are a couple of hills that separate those on an early surge from those with a more conservative strategy. I’m caught by a younger guy who is pushing hard up a steep incline. We stick together for a while and begin chatting. Lachie is his name. At one point he leads over a fence, which doesn’t seem right and about 200m later when I see a marker off to our left we have to jump another fence to get to it. No harm no foul. Lachie is definitely quicker than me on the uphills but then we get to a long descent and I leave him behind.

For a while I’m running strong, and taking a peak behind me I can’t see anyone. Then I realise a couple of hot spots are developing on my feet. I’ve forgotten to apply vaseline. I have the Vas with me for emergencies, but I’m not going to stop to take my shoes and socks off now. The only thing to do is tough it out and hope the hot spots don’t turn into nasty blisters.

At the next big climb a couple of runners are catching up. Time to pick up the pace. I bomb the next downhill to increase the gap. I check my water bottle and blow through the aid station, there’ll be another in 3km. The scenery opens up to an area cleared of trees. I grab some water and realise a runner is close behind me. He catches me at the next corner. We chat, he’s a local runner named Siqi. He has done the UTA100 this year and today is his first time at Kowen. He’s compact and climbs like gravity doesn’t apply to him. I wish I only weighed 60kgs, too. But, I’m not lagging much behind on the flat and for several kilometers I’m almost able to match his pace. On every downhill I catch up again. The pace is better than what I would do on my own. Then there’s a steep climb and Siqi crushes it. Soon after we round the next aid station and he’s way ahead.

For a while I’m by myself. Occasionally the guy who’s been battling to catch me since about kilometer 10 gets a bit closer. I know I’m in his sights and I respond by taking risks on the downhills to keep my lead. At some point a different runner comes from behind and passes looking fresh like he’s just started his run. I later learned this is Rick Storrier, who finished 2nd at the CBR24hr ahead of Matty G. There are a couple more aid stations, but I don’t need anything. Then I see Bradley Temperly and another volunteer ‘woot woot!’ing as each runner comes through. Bradley mentions something about a climb, but it looks pretty easy.

Coming round a bend I see that this is not just any climb. Suddenly the earth bends skyward at an absurd angle. I can see Siqi near the top and I hear “woot” greetings for two runners behind me. There’s nothing for it but to put hands on knees and power hike. I look back to see the battler is being overtaken by another runner I’ve not seen since about kilometer 4. He’s climbing powerfully and catches me at the top of the climb. I’m not sure at this point, but I’m afraid this takes me out of the top ten. I stay as close as I can, but there are a couple more shorter climbs that allow him to get a lead on me.

I look for one more gel which isn’t there. I know the finish is getting near, nothing to do but give it everything I’ve got left in the tank. I crest another long climb to find many 12km walkers, one of them asks “is that your big climb at 37km?” I look at my watch. “Uh, I’m hoping it was the big climb at 39km.” A little further and I reach the single track out leading out of Kowen Forest. I always get a boost from single track, and suddenly feeling great I flow into an all-out dash. Now I’m out on the gravel road getting faster. Now on the bituman I’m pushing to the point of gasping for air, but I know I can keep it going. And then 20 meters ahead I see the guy who caught me on that absurd climb. I soon catch him and he looks across at me with tired eyes, “ah, that’s ok” I hear him say to himself.

I take the final left into the Wamboin RSFA and see Mutsumi then Mum and Dad cheering and taking photos. It’s a great feeling crossing the finish line. I don’t feel so tired. It’s great to see my family there. Mutsumi has run 2:15 in the half placing 64th. A couple of minutes off her time from last year, but a good effort and she is happy. We chat with Gunrunners Donna and Bruce who’ve also done the half, and head into the hall to line up for food. I could feel myself crashing and the food suddenly doesn’t look so appetizing. I spot Lachie and ask how he went. Seems like he couldn’t maintain the pace, but he still did better than he thought he would. Finally I get some food in hand and I force myself to eat. The bacon & egg roll quickly brings me back from the brink, but it wont be for long. We then head to a cafe in Queanbeyan where we order schnitzel, milkshakes and salad, and happily chomp away while spending time with the folks.

Crossing the line * Mutsumi nearing the finish * with Dad

So how does my effort stack up? My position was 10th overall. I didn’t get on the podium. But my time of 3:44:45 would’ve beaten Brett’s 3:46:42 second place last year. The bar was clearly raised this year, and understandably so. The Kowen Marathon is now a qualifier for the Sixfoot Track, and now that I’ve qualified I suppose I have to enter.


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