Updated: May 23
I didn’t plan to race last weekend. I didn’t know the Snowies Trail Festival existed until about a week before the event. It snuck into my Facebook feed. I thought it would be great, but I hadn’t done any real training. On the other hand Mutsumi and I we’re looking for an opportunity to get to the snowies ASAP. Suddenly a plan was hatched by my parents for four of us to spend the weekend at Crackenback, and a cabin near Jindabyne was booked for the weekend. I didn’t need any more encouragement: I paid my entry fee and we were on the road to Kosciuszko National Park.
We arrived on the Friday, I registered and grabbed my number at Lake Crackenback Resort, and we checked into Crackenback Eco Lodge. We made our plans for the next two days over a vegetarian barbecue.
Saturday was for sightseeing. But the high country sun was relentless and made the day difficult to enjoy. By mid-afternoon the radiation had worn us down and we struggled back to the cabin for shelter and, for me, some carb-loading. A cool change was predicted to bring rain. Mutsumi was planning to climb Kosciusko while I ran, so while the cooler weather was welcome we hoped the rain would be done falling by 7am.
I was up before 5am to eat and prepare myself mentally. I’ve run much longer trail races and I’ve run shorter trail distances but I’d only attempted 50km once before at the Hieizan 50km in June last year. To date that’s the only race I haven’t finished. To be fair, at the time I was sick with a bad cold and it was raining heavily. That day everything hurt, and I decided at the 20km point that it would be stupid to go on. Now at Snowies I was in good health, but this would be my first Australian race and the course would be different to what I’d become accustomed to in Japan. Over the entire 50km there would be less than 1000m of climbing, and climbing is my strongest suit. To compete, I would have to run the entire course from start to finish.
In the minutes leading up to the 7am start the skies open and rain comes pouring down. And then it stops. About a hundred runners line up at the start, someone says ‘go!’ and we’re off. As we leave the road I’m in third feeling comfortable with the pace. Knowing the course will be slippery I’m careful with my footing. Soon we cross a small wooden bridge and the guy in front of me slips to the left, catching his ribs on the narrow bridge as he comes down. It must have hurt, but he says he’s ok. I help him up as I pass. In the next kilometer or so the guy in first place and I see kangaroos, dear and rabbits. I look back and see that we’ve started building a lead. But it’s still very early on. A lot has to happen before we cross that finish line.
Soon the lead is gone and a guy in a white t-shirt is on my heels. I say go past and he does. Within a couple of hundred meters he’s in first and pushing the pace. The guy who had lead follows while I choose to conserve my energy; we were only about three kilometers in when I started to lose sight of them. By 5km I’m in 8th and the first woman is on my heels. I tell her to go pass, she does and immediately slips in a puddle, coming down in front of me. I help her up and we carry on. Later I learn that this is Salomon sponsored athlete Steph Auston. She would go on to win the race outright in 4:22:30.
At about km 15 I slip and come down while exiting the second arched bridge. That was ok, but at kilometer 17 I catch a toe at the top of a short descent and come down hard on my chest. This time it hurts and I lay there for a few seconds groaning. But there’s no time for self pity. I get up and go. Approaching the Thredbo turnaround I see the white t-shirt guy about 1km ahead of me running like a man possessed. About 100m behind him Steph Auston, putting on the pace but looking way more comfortable. Others are only just leaving the turn around. I think I’m in 10th. Mum and Dad are there taking photos and yelling encouragements. I feel strong enough to pick up the pace a little. The pain in my ribs is dull: manageable. I’m looking forward to the downhill ahead.
By about kilometer 23 I can see the guy ahead of me, but instead of moving up I’m overtaken by the second woman. ‘Outstanding work’ I say, ‘Thank you’ is her dead-pan response. At Ngarigo aid station (30km) I see Mum and Dad again. I’ve caught the guy ahead of me but stop to fill a bottle and apply vaseline to my chafey bits. This costs me a bit of time, but it’s worth it. I catch the guy again about another kilometer down the trail. Before Diggins a guy yells out 16km to go. I feel strong. I blow through the aid station hoping there’s somewhere with water before the next out and back. There is. I fill a bottle and grab a gel.
A couple of kilometers further on my abs are really starting to tire. By the time I get to the turn around I’m hurting and my pace has dropped considerably. With the turnaround I see how far behind the next runners are. I don’t run far before I see the guy I passed earlier, though he looks in very bad shape. More worrisome is the couple behind him who are working together and looking strong. I’m convinced they will soon catch me.
This section of the course is a bit confusing as there are several little side loops for mountain bikes. At one point I go low when I should have gone high, and enter a loop that costs me about 10 seconds. Now the couple were on my heels and I’m unable to hold them off. Well, I think, I’m surely out of the top ten now.
To my surprise only a couple of hundred meters further up they stop and the woman ducks off into the bushes. I say to the guy ‘I’ll see you again shortly’, fully expecting that I won’t be able to hold them off, but when I hear them behind me again I feel new strength in my legs.
With only a few kilometers left to go I charge over the Murrumbidgee and though my bottles are dry I blow through the aid station. I can hear the MCs loud speaker at the finish line now, and as my Garmin ticks off kilometer 50, I think it must be only a few hundred meters to go. But then the noise of the finish line stops and as I enter a maze of switchbacks I think I haven’t seen a course marker for a while. I play the last couple of kms through my mind trying to think where I could have made a wrong turn and come up with several options, but then I look up at there’s a course marker. At kilometer 51 a guy yells ‘think about how your beer is gonna taste tonight!’ ‘It’s gonna be amazing!’ I yell back. As my Garmin ticks of kilometer 52 I spot a guy shaking shakes a cow bell above his head yelling encouragements. I cross the carpark and push myself up the final incline to the finish. I turn around and bow to the course, not paying attention to what the MC is saying. Mum and Dad are there and they tell me Mutsumi made it to the summit of Kosciuszko and is on her way down. Days later I finally check the official results to learn that I finished in 9th place overall. Top ten for my first Aussie race ain’t bad.
UPDATE (9/11/2018): They put me in the advertising for the 2019 event. Check it out here: