Despite regularly run training for years, I still don’t think of myself as a runner, but just something I do as a by-product of rogaining and adventure racing. I’ve tried my hand at a few trail running races up to 50km in length in the past (never a road race though) and sit comfortably in the middle of the pack.
When the Coastal High 50 was first advertised, it caught my eye as an appealing course for a number of reasons: I liked the idea of a point to point course, I figured the technical single-track sections and net downhill nature of the course would suit me and having previously run the first 5km of the 50km, I knew the trails had the potential to be beautiful.
Event organisers Those Guys Events seemed to have their pre-race package pretty dialled in for a first time race. The level of pre-race information was just right, they are obviously very social media savvy with a great website and branding and all the touches of a professionally run event. The entry fee felt steep to me, particularly given the relative cost and effort gone in to organising a rogaine or adventure race, however the price point must have been right given the event sold out in its first year. And having organised a number of races myself, I could only imagine the hoops Matt and Chris must have jumped through in terms of permits to get this event off the ground. It’s exciting to see more of these areas being opened up to competitive events however it’s our responsibility as users to make sure this is occurs in a sustainable and low impact manner.
The other talking point in the lead up to the race was the difficult pre-race logistics which were looking to require a very early 1:30am wake up call to get to the finish line in time to register and catch the shuttle to the start line. Fortunately I had two mates, Mike and Sean willing to join me on the journey meaning that we could camp the night before at the start line and they would shuttle my car around. Ultimately, I think these logistic hassles are worth it for a point-to-point course. The mandatory gear list including head lamp and thermal also seemed excessive, but again this might be due to permit reasons.
Anyway, to the race itself. Somehow I found myself in wave 2 of 10, which suggests I had nominated an over-optimistic finish time when I entered the race months earlier. With over 2/3 of the climbing in the race in the last 1/3 of the course, I knew I had to get to the 36km mark at Numinbah Valley in good condition to finish strongly, and as such I had good intentions of starting conservatively. Ultimately, these intentions all went out the window. Shortly into the race I was caught by Todd, who runs with the NUTRs, and he was happy to sit in behind and chat pretty much through to Check Point 2 at the 36km mark. Conversation ranged from people we knew in common, races we’d done and why our GPS watches were out by 3km relative to each other in just the first 20km of the race. Highlights were the beautiful, twisty rain forest trails, cracking views once the clouds lifted and nearly stepping on both a brown snake and a red-bellied black snake within five minutes of each other after leaving Check Point 1 at Binna Burra.
A quick look at the race 6km in (Language Warning!)
Coming in to Check Point 2 at Numinbah I knew I had been taking it too hard and not been diligent enough with drinking. I could feel the wheels starting to fall off, and the 3km slog in the airless heat of the flat valley road didn’t help things. Also, no coincidence I was starting to struggle given my longest training runs had only been up to 34km in length. The climb from Numinbah up to Apple Tree and Check Point 3 is only 7km on paper, but it was done at a grovel. To put some numbers on it, I did the first 36km of the race in 3:48. The final 14km took another 2:40 (those in the bunch around me took around another 2 hours to finish the course). The last kilometre of the climb took me 2 minutes longer than my 5km PB. I got to have all those lovely thoughts of: “why am doing this, slogging up another hill completely smashed when I could be at home with the family doing fun things – never again!” I think I’ve perversely started to enjoy this line of thinking in races now because I know the feelings associated with them will be completely repressed a week later.
Things started to pick up a bit in the last 7km of the race as the trails returned to some stunning rain forest single track with beautiful creek crossings. A short decent gave some recovery time and I was able to power hike the last climb to the finish in good order. This last climb is certainly runnable though, and racers with the legs at the end of the run could make some major time on this climb. All done in 6:28, good enough for 41st place in a field of about 170, but not in the fashion I had hoped.
Would I recommend the race? Definitely yes – it’s well organised, a stunning course and if you can arrange the pre-race logistics it is a rewarding experience. Would I do the race again? Originally, I had planned this race as a one off chance to check out the Binna Burra and Springbrook trails. But after having a sub-par performance I’d like to go back and see if I can execute a better race plan. Having run more than an hour faster at the Washpool 50km where I felt great in the last hour, I often reflect back on why that race went so well. The two key factors that I can identify are firstly that I started at the back of the pack and cruised the first half of the course with people running slower than I would normally be inclined to run at, taking a little longer to recover at check points. And secondly, at Washpool my GPS watch died in the first hour, leaving me to run to feel, as opposed the Coastal High where I was constantly checking it for pacing and distance information. For my next trail race, I’ll leave the GPS watch at home, make sure I start in a slower wave and just run to feel keeping the heart rate down over the early stages of a race. Just a shame it is a full year to wait for the next Coastal High 50.