A little while ago I was debating with my coach about what run to do as a lead up to the Tarawera 50k in November. After coming up with a few options, he suggested the Hume & Hovell 22km would be a perfect practice run, and at that I booked it in. I knew that it was near a place called Tumbarumba – which was a cool sounding town – but I had no idea where it was, apart from southern New South Wales. If I’d known the terrain, and actually believed the elevation profile of the race I probably would of thought for a second before registering. Turns out it was the perfect hit out before Tarawera and the mountains of New Zealand.
I’m sure most race reports simply outline the race itself, but given I’m a runner by default I feel there is more to talk about than the few hours on the trail. As I’ve mentioned numerous times in previous blog posts, one of the things that I love about the running community is the people. So with that in mind, I was on a plane to Sydney to catch a ride with the very talented, but English, Jamie. Jamie is a ridiculously talented runner, who manages to disengage the nerve impulses between his brain and his feet to allow him to run on mashed, mushed, blistered, torn, cut & toe nail-less feet for hundreds of kilometres. He’s all kinds of special.
Having nothing but a destination, we hit the road to tunes, bad karaoke and chocolate, and made it as far as Wee Jasper tucked between some hills near Yass. If you want a beautiful spot to camp then I suggest you go here. The Billy Grace camp ground not only has the perfect location, it also has hot showers and toilets…winning! With green rolling hills, a beautiful flowing stream & blue sky, the trip was off to a great start. A scrumptious meal of campfire cooked steak, garlic asparagus and roast vegies filled our bellies & ensured that day 1 ended on a delicious high.
The plan for day 2 was simple – head to the campground that was to be the start & finish of the trail run. For a trip of around 200k – it took us a solid 8 hours mainly because of an awesome little town called Tumut. It’s not only a fun name to say, it is also a cool place to hang out on a sunny spring day. After perusing the main street & grabbing a hot chocolate – using his super ‘anything-outdoor’ skills Jamie noticed a shop called Tom’s Outdoors. Well hadn’t we just found heaven! Tom and his staff were an absolute delight to meet, and we spent a good hour or more perusing the shelves filled with high quality products sourced from all over the world. Tom was a wealth of knowledge of the area, and had stories for days about adventures in the Snowy Mountains & around the world. Tom’s Outdoors also happened to be a sponsor of the race we were heading to, so it wasn’t long before we were catching up again at the race HQ.
Eventually making it to Henry Angel Trackgead campsite – my trusty driver proceeded to get bogged in the first bit of mud we found. Our new friend Tom came to the rescue though and pulled the big van out with ease. I’m sure I had said at the time that I wouldn’t mention this, but sharing is caring. Here’s a photo for evidence.
Race day was an early start for those of us staying at the camp ground with the PA system in action from the wee hours as the 100km & 100 mile races got underway. Tucked into a nice warm sleeping bag I said a silent prayer for those tackling the big distances, and hoped they’d all make it through the day in one piece. Finally rising from my slumber, I found ice sparkling on the tent & realised that it had got a wee bit chilly overnight. With the fire going, the staple camp breakfast of fried eggs in a wrap was soon in my belly, and we were waving of our friends in the 50k before we knew it.
Eventually the time came for the 22km to get underway, and with that the buses had arrived to shuttle us from the finish point to the start near the Mannus Creek campground. The Hume & Hovell track itself is somewhere in the vicinty of 600km+ and beats a path from Yass to Albury through the rolling hills and steep mountains of Southern NSW. With four distances to choose from, the Hume and Hovell trail run takes in only a small part of the entire track, but it certainly picks some of the most scenic. Little did I know what lay ahead as we mingled at the start, waiting for Peter’s watch to hit 10:30, and the participants to take one last pit stop before we set off.
Beginning with an undulating run along a wide open road, the course followed a river until it opened up into a beautiful lake at the first water point about 5k in. For most, this undulating road was flat; for me it was hilly. With nothing but a treadmill to practice hills on, I had never run an ‘undulating’ road in real life; ever. I quickly realised that it was going to be smarter to hike the uphills and run the flats and downhills, so that’s what happened from then on.
As we left the road and head off into a paddock I was quickly reminded of just how much rain they’ve experienced in the area recently, as my feet disappeared into muddy holes as the track followed the fence up & up. Once the trail had left the paddock, it was single trail all the way home. In some parts your feet had to practically land in front of one another to avoid either taking a slip down an edge, or hitting the edge of a well trodden imprint in the ground and rolling an ankle. Not to mention the bark, sticks & rocks that littered the trail, and the trees and branches that had fallen across it in recent weeks. With a short downhill reprive at the boundary of the open paddock, the track went under the canopy as it went up, and up, and up. It just kept going up. And up. At this point I was reminded of something Jamie had said, “I think they’ve just squashed the elevation profile so it looks steeper than it really is”. Nope – you were wrong Jamie.
Finally, a noise piqued my interest and I found myself looking up at a angel in disguise tooting something & asking if I wanted anything. With a quick refill of water, some red frogs & a thank you, I was pointed toards the path that headed downhill & with that I was off. Having no ability to practice running downhill, I loved the freedom afforded by letting go, thinking ahead with each step, and running through the wild! And then it went up again.
At some point the 50k runners passed me going in the opposite direction. They were mountain goats – gliding over the terrain like it was a flat running track. I remember thinking that I hope they don’t pass me on their way back. They did – when I had about 2km to go.
Just before the crest at the top peak of my race I passed my friends doing the 50k – they looked strong and with a quick ‘well done & keep going’ we were off again. Hitting the top of the race was exhilarating, from there, in my mind, it was down and flat all the way home. It wasn’t. It was down for a long time though, and I was mighty glad we had the short steep ascent on the otherside and not the long slow one on this side. Down, down, down the track went – cutting into the edge of the hill and following the valley and the sound of the river below all the way. At the apex of the valley, a small waterfall offered some respite from the sun, and a little splash on the face was required before the downhill continued all the way to a swing bridge that was a target in my mind the whole way. It was here that I though the track was flat all the way home. Having not paid attention to the profile map, it turns out it goes up again, and then undulates all the way home. As someone very aptly put it at the finish, “even the flat sections were hilly”.
By the time I’d hit this last 7km section my legs were pretty tired. They’d been slapped in the face by the hills, and whilst I made a deal to never stop on any ascent, and managed to stick to it, it was pretty slow going by the end of it. It was clear that these little Birdsville legs weren’t designed for mountain goat trails.
The bridge near the finish line was a very welcome sight, preceeded of course by one last stile, and a run through mud up to my ankles for good measure. I was pretty excited to cross the finish line & get that medal around my neck. It may have only been 22km, but it was the first race that I’ve ever tried to run & I was super proud of my effort.
The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent watching the runners come in from all the different events – and I was again reminded of the capabilities of the human spirit. Without doubt, every single time someone crossed the line, my eyes welled with tears. When you get to witness people do the unthinkable, it is something very special indeed. Getting to cheer our friends across the finish line, watch the first of the 100k runners complete their event, or be woken by cow bells at 4am for the first of the 100 milers is something to remember fondly.
The terrain was brutal enough over 22km, and I take my hat off to all those who stood on the start line of their unknown. It was beautiful and crushing, scenic and brutal, flowing and jarring, all at the same time. To those who picked the route – bravo – it was everything you want in a challenge. Just enough to take you to the point of despair, and then a little break to bring you back from the edge.