• Elliot Cooper

Sri Chinmoy 105km

Updated: May 23


Ready for the pre-dawn start.

My Garmin is shrieking like a cricket. 4am. Time to get up. I check my phone which tells me it’s 3am. What? Daylight savings time started at 2am. It’s 4am or it’s 3am. I’m entirely unequipped to understand the situation. I rise and stumble around until I remember where there’s a clock that isn’t connected to the internet or a satellite. The microwave says 3am. Microwaves, is that how satellites send information? Help. There’s a clock on the wall. Also 3am. Crap. I’m awake now, but I get back into bed to keep my legs warm for another hour: I’ll need them today.

At 4:30am I message Matt to make sure he’s awake. He’s awake. He picks me up at five-fifteen and parks the car off Wendoree Drive. It’s dark and a bit cool, maybe 2 or 3 degrees. At the Rond Terrace start line we stash a bag of warm clothes and mill about a bit, chatting to the faces we recognise in the darkness. Brandon Davis is there. The big BD. He seems relaxed. I point and tell Matt, “that’s the guy who’s going to win today”. A tall guy starts a race briefing. Then, after a moment of silence says “go”, and we go. Passing the main group, I see Kelly-Ann and we wish each other luck. Matt and I settle in to our pace next to Brett Eastern (1st place at Kowen Moonlighter), and another guy, Glen (I think), both of whom are veterans of the race. Me and Matt and Brett and Glen circle around the lake clockwise, then turn south and pass behind the Great Circus Tent, and on to Red Hill.

At Red Hill I hear my name. It must be a Gunrunner, but my vision is blurry. I squint. The same voice says, “I didn’t even make it over the lake”. Not fully grasping the situation I join the trail thinking, ‘gee, that looked a lot like Kelly-Ann.’ I run most of the way up Red Hill feeling good in the legs. The stomach? It’s ok, there’s a toilet at the top. And... it’s locked. Huh... Matt goes ahead. We are up and over Mt. Davidson, through a drain pipe under Hindmarsh Drive, music echos in the pipe raising the tension: this is going to be a good day of running. I get out of the tunnel and see Matt up ahead darting off the course for a pit-stop. I overtake and catch another runner before the ascent to Isaacs Ridge. His name is Damian. We talk about recent running events. He has done the Great North Walk 175km. At the top of the climb I wait a minute for Matt to catch up so we can run together, but by the end of Isaacs Ridge it’s becoming clear that, while we’re moving at a very similar pace overall, our strategies vary enough that there doesn’t seem to be much point trying to remain side by side. Beside Damian again I say “gotta keep those toes up”. We cross under Yamba Drive on the bike path, then onto a moment of single track. The Garmin clicks over 20kms, and I catch a toe. I’m a Pancake. The damage is nothing worse a few scratches: knees, left thigh and shoulder, a bruise in the ribs. But as I hit the deck I let out a cry of protest. I guess I’ve been a little on edge at work lately. My bear response was ready to trip.

I pick myself up and limp a few steps before giving up the performance. There ares still 85kms to run. I let Matt and Damian go ahead as I seek an end to my stomach trouble. Rejoining the course a guy comes up fast holding a baton, he’s the first of the relay runners, well ahead of the pack. “Better to have an empty house than a bad tenant” he says with a laugh and I laugh with him.

I catch up with Matt on the approach to Mt. Taylor, he’s taking it easier than me on the uphills. That’s fine, climbing is my thing so I push the pace a bit. Nonetheless Matt is with me as we reach the top. We round the Trig marker and head for the descent. Like on any steep bitumen descent the underfoot is horrible. I overtake Damien here, wanting to be done with the unsettling surface. At the aid station a guy fills my soft flasks for me while I grab some watermelon. “Looks like you took a tumble. You alright?” “Yeah” I say, “that was just a bonus” we laugh, I reach for more watermelon. Matt is already moving out, I want to stick with him so I yell “thank you” to the volunteers and go.

For a while Matt and I work together. We talk. We’re feeling good. We’re moving well. It’s through a fence. It’s under a road. It’s trans-suburbia and on to Cooleman Ridge. A few of the relay teams are passing us now. This is good because we can feel relaxed about being overtaken, and confident in our race strategy. We skirt around the east side of the ridge before a steep scramble to the top. I snap a couple of pics before we head out west of the ridge for a few sweeping turns before traversing the ridge a second time. We’re working together, but at Krathner street I start to sense that Matt is running stronger than me today.

There’s an aid station before the Narrabundah Hill section where I fill my empty bottles and have some coke. We pass a soloist who appears to be bonking badly. Matt mentions he’d noticed that guy at the start with nothing more than his phone and one gel. Is that guts? Is it inexperience? I guess he did well to stay ahead of us for 35kms. There’s a bit of walking on the Narrabundah Hill ascent, but the descent is fine. We get over the fence another of the many short sections on the Centenary trail. A group of mountain bikers come from behind dangerously at high speed. There’s nothing to do but get off the trail and wait for them to pass. Matt is ahead and hasn’t seen them yet so I call out that there are runners on the trail and hope they’re not as dangerous as they look.

I cross Cotter Road and arrive at Mt. Stromlo feeling a little shaken by the force of the mountain bikers coming down the single track. About a kilometer into Stromlo Park I catch up with Matt. “Those bikers were scary” I say, “Yeah” he replied “they weren’t slowing down”. The ascent is slow. Matt stops at the facilities. I continue slowly and before long he’s back by my side, but when relay runner passes us Matt has the legs to follow. I’m starting to hurt and don’t want to push this uphill so I let them go. “I’ll see you on the descent,” he calls out at a switchback. In that moment, I think that I will.

At the Stromlo Summit Kelly-Ann and her friend are watching out for Gunrunners. They give me some water, which I need. It’s hot now and I’m drinking a lot. On the descent the earth is loose, and my legs are starting to stiffen up. I can run, but I start to realise catching Matt will be hard. Each time I get a view of the course ahead I look, but he’s never there. In this situation it’s a game of overall pace. I need to run each kilometer a few seconds faster than he does. Walking is the enemy. At Stromlo exit aid station and I gratefully accept another flask refill. A runner sits in a chair looking like he’s done. I wonder if he’s a soloist. From over the road the course leads towards the Denman Prospect development (hey ACT government, how about some housing that’s affordable? Do you think that might be an idea?). This place once belonged to trees.


Butters Bridge

The track winds down to the Mologolo River then back up to Butters Bridge, an $8M steel and concrete monument apparently named after a character from South Park, built so that rich white people are protected from the topographical variations of the Molonglo Valley when they walk their labradoodles. This way the connection with nature will be seamless. Yep. So picking up my pace now, a winding track gets me to the crossing on Coppin’s Crossing Road. Kelly-Ann & Co. are there egging me on. I get a flask refill of electrolytes while I chomp on a Cliff bar. It’s over the road and onto a swooping southward loop before finally heading north again to the second time gate at Coombs.

Mutsumi runs out to me saying Matt has just gone through. This is good news but I have a few things I want to do. I ask Mutsumi to get my spare shoes and socks, I want to change them both. I get my flasks refilled, grab some fruit, Mutsumi gives me the egg salad sandwich she’s brought me. It’s amazing. I tear off my shoes and socks and smother my toes in vaseline before putting on fresh socks and new shoes. Feeling way better I move out, still chomping sandwich. Mutsumi runs with me until the river. She’ll come to meet me regularly around the second half of the course. It’s going to be great. I cross the Molonglo again and heading up to the Arboretum I pull out my phone and call my parents on speaker to let them know how I’m moving. They’ve got the live tracker up on their screens at home and Mutsumi has already sent them through photos. We are connected.

The Arboretum boundary track is uneventful, but I enjoy the views across to Mt. Painter and take a moment to sunscreen up. Mutsumi comes down the path snapping photos, “Do you need sunscreen” she asks. “No, I just took care of it.” “Great, see you at Black Mountain substation” Wow, I think, she’s really on top of this support thing today. The westward hook through Frost’s Hollow is an off-trail change of atmosphere lasting only about a kilometer before rejoining an access road at the bottom of Aranda. A slight drop under Gungahlin Drive brings runners into a south hooke around Black Mountain. Ahead I see a figure I recognise. Brett Eastern beat me by 26 minutes at Kowen Moonlighter. When I lost sight of him on Red Hill this morning, I thought that would be the last time I saw him today, and yet there he is, keeping a steady pace marginally slower than my own. I close the gap and pass him with an encouraging word, knowing that a climb was coming and that climbing is what I do best. Behind me now is a relay runner on the chase, but she can’t catch me. I make the clockwise loop and summit looking for an aid station that isn’t there. A couple of guys point down the trial and tell me it won’t be far. At the aid station I refill a flask. Kerry-Ann & Co. give me ice which put it in my hat. One of the soloists, Kevin Chan, is there not looking good. I feel fine. But where is Matt?

I exit Black Mountain dreaming of an apple (I am so sick of Cliff bars), I spot Mutsumi “Is there an apple?” I say. She grabs one out of a bag and slams it in my hand. “Matt is only a few minutes ahead” she says. Without missing a step I pass the Centenary Trail marker happily chomping on my apple. At the Dryandra street roundabout Mutsumi is there again. I grab coke and water “Go, go, go” she says, as I push on to Bruce Ridge.


Go, go, go!

But now I’m hurting. ‘There’s no point in walking’ I say to myself. I force myself to run. There’s no point in walking. I know this course, I think, it’s nothing. I force myself to keep lifting my knees and reach the north end of the ridge, emerging at the top of Dryandra Street. Spotting me Mutsumi says “you’re looking good”. Not quite feeling it I say, “I need energy”. “Ok, I’ll get you an energy drink and meet you at Dickson College.” She takes the car and I take the footpath out onto Mouat Street. Shaun Bradbury (I think), running in the opposite direction yells ‘looking good Elliot.” People keep saying it so I guess I should believe it. On the bike path I’m surprised to overtake a relay runner. I descend into one of the great canals of Canberra to pass under Northbourne Avenue, and then again for Cowper Street. On the bike path it’s just one foot in front of the other, and before I know it Mutsumi is running out to me again. She says she arrived there just in time to see Matt go through. Aid station guy tells me, “The last guy was cramping up real bad. But you look good.” That’s three. Has running 80kms miraculously improved my looks? I ask for electrolytes and water, in the meantime I eat fruit and chug energy drink. “Ah, energy drink,” says aid station guy, “that covers all the major food groups”. I’m good to go.

The route follows the southern bank of the canal to its terminus in Mt. Ainslie Nature reserve and continues south for some distance before doing a U-turn and heading north to the power lines track to the north shoulder of Mt. Majura. Here I grab out my phone and put in a call to mum and dad, who I said I would call after Black Mountain. “Sorry,” I say, “I’ve been busy running”. I know there’s a guy behind me, and I don’t want him to catch me. And he doesn’t. I get to the summit. Michael Thompson is manning the aid station. He fills a flask for me while I pop up to the trig marker. I come down and grab the flask and a banana and keep moving. Not far to go now.

I’m careful not to fall on the descent. The surface is steep and loose. Good. I can’t run the up hills but I take to a strategy of swinging my arms vigorously and making my steps as long as I’m able. It seems to be fast enough to keep a decent pace. Anywhere close to flat I run. Over Hackett ridge and east to the back of Mt. Ainslie. ‘There’s no point in walking’ I say out loud now, ‘There’s no point in walking!’. Down on the fence line I pass a guy sitting on the fence mumbling something about DNF and I yell “OK!” like a crazy person. I pass another guy with a thick coat of sunscreen on his face “great work” I say, thinking he’s a struggling relay guy. I later learn that this is Aston Duncan who is running solo and who placed first at the Bush Capital Ultramarathon this year (I was 3rd). I didn’t know it yet but passing him means that I would beat both the guys who came 1st at my two previous toughest Australian races this year. At the 100km aid station the relay runner behind me catches up, but I grab a cup of coke and a banana and keep running towards that last obstacle: Mt. Ainslie. I climb and climb. Ascending the ‘back door’ route where Mutsumi has come down to meet me halfway. I hike until I can run, then run the rest of the way. I summit and without pausing at the last aid station we head down the concrete path. I want to move faster but the wavy concrete creates a jolting syncopation in my rhythm. Oh how I wish that idiotic path would be torn from the mountain! In this moment I’m reimagining the course for next year: the descent could follow the power lines route, or the quarry route. Anything but this horrible wavy concrete shit. Off the concrete we move through the environs of the War Museum. The pass of Anzac parade is made with core muscles ablaze. With a couple of turns the lake is before us, and I try to lift my pace for a strong finish on Rond Terrace. I thrust my arms in the air as I cross the line. Mutsumi snaps photos. Martin Fryer gives me his congratulations. Matt is there. He can hardly believe it. He tells me I’ve finished in 5th place, he in 4th. I can hardly believe it. We can hardly believe it. A trophy is thrust into my hand.

Mutsumi, Matt and me have made something special: a great race, a great day, and a great result. Never did I think it would feel so good to sit by the lake on the grass at Rond Terrace.

Post-race Rond Terrace sit down.

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