100k in the Blue Mountains with one of the strongest field of runners to hit an Aussie ultra… it’s going to be a quick race! Having not long recovered from Alpine 100, it was a great stretch for me to practise some quick feet and to also run to my strengths… “In every step”.
I liked the idea of getting back to the Fairmont resort before sundown which would mean the possibility of completing 100km’s without the use of a headlight. That was as far as my game plan went.
With the biggest line-up of ultra runners (1100+) it was almost a ‘carnival’ like atmosphere at the starting line. Ryan Sandes, Jez Bragg, Mick Donges, Grant Guise, Vajin Armstrong, Andy Lee… and in the females our own Gretel Fortmann, Beth Cardelli and Julie Quinn… it wasn’t short of elite runners with a massive input of home grown talent.
Ckpt 1 – 18km : 1;40 place 3rd
Under a brilliant clear sky we hit the trail… 6:54am. Pace up front was quick as we floated across single track all the way to Narrow Neck (Ckpt 1 – 18km) in 1;40. The group including Davies, Tuckey, Donges, Armstrong and myself with Andy Lee and Ryan Sandes a little ahead and a steam train of others behind. Hitting the landslide section bought on a very surprising ‘roar’ of cheer from the escarpment above, where our ever energised Team Salomon/Suunto crew was already cheering us on (quite an amazing sound through the valley).
Running gear for this event was pure trail and minimalist, including Salomon Speedcross 3′s, Salomon trail short tights, Salomon EXO race top, Suunto Ambit and Salomon slab 12 race vest (which I learnt in first km that I was still using the water I first filled it with from brand new… made for interesting water next 54k! – Good imagination!) Through Ckpt 1 without a stop and headed for one of the most amazing fire road trails along Narrow Neck.
Finding it hard to match the pace of the other front runners on the road sections I settled into my own pace and just enjoyed moving freely with a view. By Medlow Gap I was joined by Team Salomon N.Z team mate Grant Guise (who provided some great company and entertainment throughout the run… thanks Grant) as well as Andrew Tuckey. Running together proved a nice option, especially when we hit the turn off to Ckpt 2 which had no markings due to some adventurous vandals.
Ckpt 2 – 38km : 3;22 place 8th
In at Dunphys Camp (Ckpt 2 – 38km) at 3;22. No stop except for compulsory gear check and off to hit one of my favourite (unknown at the time) sections of the race – Iron Pot ridge. A scenic out and back along a gnarly single-track, all run to the tunes of two local aboriginal men playing the didgeridoo on a rocky outlook… what a memory. Back down along grassy trail, where after losing sight of some of the leaders caught back up with Andy Lee and Grant into Ckpt 3 – 54km in 5;07.
Ckpt 3 – 54km : 5;07 place 8th
Ckpt 3 also marked the first rendezvous with Team Coops (Martin – Dad, Renate – Mum) and the amazing support of Naima, Sam, Vizey, Oli and the Salomon/Suunto crew. Having a guy run besides me with a camera stuck to his head and one on a stick definitely made for a smile on the run. This also marked the much welcomed change of water bladder, filled with water that tastes like water!
Heading out of the Megalong valley and up Nellies Glen I felt a good groove and due to a good hydration plan by Grant (aka. Stealth Kiwi) passed him not long before the start of the climb up Nellies. Expecting the sound of his footsteps to come up on the trail, I lost myself in the rhythm I was finding running the technical trail up the climb, Getting into Ckpt 4 – 67km in 6;23 solo without another runner in sight.
Ckpt 4 – 67km : 6;23 place 6th
Greeted by smiling Sam (and his stick-cam) along with the Salomon and Team Coops crew, including a very welcomed hug and kiss by Leeah, my wife and 4 month baby girl Harlow. Quick water change and it was off for the Kedumba Valley… but not before passing the sights of Echo point, the Three Sisters and about 300 tourists also taking on the giant staircase on this serene Saturday afternoon (I couldn’t blame them).
The long fire road down to Kedumba found me meeting Mick Donges, who whilst was still moving well was struggling a bit with keeping his own groove going. Saddening to see Mick not his usual self, I would never count him down and out and know all too well how times like these pass over an ultra distance. Credit to Mick who didn’t come good again, but managed to still cross the line in a touch over 13 hours.
It was now that I also smiled at the amazing work and organization of Tom and Alina (Race organisers) they had put into this event… this came as I hopped over 2 major river crossings without a drip of water on the feet, thanks to Besser block stepping stones which laced the crossings… Thanks Tom and Alina… You definitely ran your own ‘ultra’ organizing this epic adventure.
Ckpt 5 – 89km : 8;59 place 5th
At Ckpt 5 – 89km in 8;59 still running solo, and seeing that my goal to hit the Fairmont without headlight achievable. Forgetting to pick up any nutrition at the Ckpt other then water (maybe due to the excitement of seeing such an amazing group of people) I left still full of energy – the kind that’s sourced far deeper then the coke would have given me anyways.
Hitting the single track along the escarpment sent me into flow mode again with one big smile. This section definitely made it worthwhile running with speed through the first 90k as it gives you some of the most amazing scenes over some of Australia’s greatest landscapes.
Hearing nothing but my footsteps, waterfalls and my daughters’ favourite song ‘I love the Mountains – I love the rolling hills…’ I managed to get all the way to the grassed lawn section of the Fairmont resort before (unfortunately for Grant) his crew let the cat out of the bag that the stealth kiwi was quickly approaching. I turned to see Grant at full stride with one massive grin on his face ready to push me all the way to the line… And he did.
Finish – 100km : 10;22:04 place 5th
As I made my way under the most impressive finish banner in a time of 10;22:04… a smile full of content, humbleness and connection beamed throughout my whole body.
Laughing with Grant and supporters on the finish line was a great way to end an amazing outing. To see all the faces that had spent the day running the race with me, sending their energy and smiles at every checkpoint, especially that of my little baby girl was more than enough to be ready to run another 100… (which maybe may have suited me more
Congratulations to Ryan Sandes for an amazing run (this guy really does have wings), Vajin, Andrew, Brendan and Grant who all ran a superb race. A big thank you one more time to race organisers Tom and Alina, Team Salomon and Suunto, including Naima, Sam, Oli, Vizey and Gretel (who unfortunately succumb to stomach illness), the gear you provide is superior to any on the trail and most importantly… to Team Coops…
You make me smile every step I take.
To follow my next ultra trail, training or profile… Check out www.mattcooper.com.au
Matt Cooper ‘Coops’
Team Salomon Australia