2015 Hounslow Classic Skyrun

The Hounslow Classic 23k SkyRun was brilliant ! I have spent the last week or so happily reflecting on the event, the course and how the race unfolded. But when I sat down to write this I also kept thinking of how much has changed for me in 2015. So in my first running blog I have told that story as well but feel free to skip to the race report !

For a long time I have mixed cycling & some running and have managed to go okay. I have got some decent results on the Road & Mountain Bike and some good running results. The common element to all my best results was hills or mountains!  If it involved a steep climb or a summit finish I was usually at the pointy end of the race.

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                                           On my way to a win on top of Tawonga Gap in the 2014 Tour of Bright

In the last few years I put in a lot of hours on the road bike and managed to get a few wins and podiums in my favourite race – The Tour of Bright. But there aren’t a lot of those sorts of races so I started to lose some motivation to spend 12hrs+ on the bike each week especially with a young family. So at the start of 2015 I thought I would “retire” from racing and just keep fit running & riding with mates.

But then I saw some info about the La Sportiva Mountain Running Series. It got me interested with all the races in the mountains and all promising lots of steep climbing and summit finishes.  A few of the races were also near home (Mount Beauty in Victoria) so I thought I’d do those atleast. So I did a bit more running and a bit less riding to start 2015. I managed to win the 22km races at the Mt Feathertop Razorback Run and Mt Buller SkyRun and loved the atmosphere at the events.

So I entered the Buffalo Stampede in Bright, Australia’s first officially sanctioned SkyRunning event. I had heard such good things from locals and other runners who had done the inaugural race. I took on the 32k at Buffalo and went hard up the climb to take the KOM but cooked myself on the return chasing the eventual winner and trail running star David Byrne. I came home in a cramping mess in 7th place…. Smashed and disappointed but I was hooked!

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               Telling Caine Warburton how I blew up out on the course & finished 7th, Caine caught me and took third.

I met so many people at Buffalo and everyone was super supportive and offered advice on how to improve. I was also invited to stay with the La Sportiva Mountain running team for the rest of the weekend which was awesome! They are all elite runners but know how to relax and have a good time too. Tom Brazier is in fact the most relaxed athlete I have ever met!

So I was very keen to keep racing and it was a matter of choosing the next event to do and commit to some proper training!  The next SkyRunning race was the Hounslow Classic in the Blue Mountains. It was another Mountain Sports event run by Sean Greenhill & Melanie Michael who put on Buffalo Stampede. The course looked brutal and the scenery amazing so I signed up for the 23km SkyRun.

After Buffalo I had stayed in touch with David Byrne who won the 32km and backed up two days later to come second in the 42km! David gave me some training advice and from there it progressed to him becoming my coach. His confidence in my ability was greater than mine and he thought it was achievable in 6 months to improve enough to win Hounslow!

I committed to some solid training as David set about turning my cycling legs into running legs. He slowly upped my time spent running each week, as well as increasing the vertical a bit but surprisingly the biggest focus was on improving my speed. I trusted him fully and it was only when I did some local trail races that the improvements in my speed were so noticeable not only on the flat but also on the climbs.

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Not long after this I was also contacted by Matthew Adams, the manager of La Sportiva Australia, who offered me a place on their mountain running team. I was already running in La Sportiva shoes so it was a great match. I would also receive other gear from Outdoor Research, Mund Socks and Bogong Equipment but more importantly the support of a team. The rest of the team members were great and have certainly answered a lot of my questions!

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Hounslow SkyRun -23 kilometres with 1700m+ of climbing and lots of “technical” terrain, steep climbs and stairs!

THE WEEKEND

I flew up to Sydney on the Friday and caught the train up to the Blue Mountains. I was met at the station by Matt Adams who took me directly to the event village at Govetts Leap. I walked straight over to the lookout and was blown away by the view. The cliffs were huge and the landscape beautiful. I couldn’t wait to run!

Govetts Leap Lookout, Blue Mountains National Park
A view from Govetts Leap Lookout of part of the final climb on the course.

I went and registered and Sean Greenhill nabbed me to do an interview for the race weekend video. He introduced me as a favourite for the 23km and a few others also started to wish me well and say I might win. I have to admit for the first time in a long time I felt a bit of pressure and the nerves kicked in. An evening run along the clifftops with Matt did nothing to ease the nerves. I was really surprised by this section as I thought it would be easier running and I knew this wasn’t the technical section!

So on Saturday we were up early to watch the start of the Ultra. Team La Sportiva had Tom Brazier, Isobel Ross & Ewan Horsburgh running. It was awesome to spend the day watching, supporting and photographing the Ultra racers. But it was also a long day spent thinking about my own race. I felt a bit lethargic and tried to stay off my feet but it was hard to as there was lots of people to chat to and lookouts to explore. But seeing a brilliant run by Ben Duffus to take the win, Eric Holt come second in his SkyRunning & Ultra debut and teammate Tom Brazier take third was certainly motivating !

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Tom on his way to 3rd place in the 68km Ultra and enjoying a post race laugh!

After a relaxed team dinner celebrating Tom’s result I enjoyed a great night sleep that had me jumping out of bed on race day, keen to take on the course and other competitors!

THE RACE 

12049147_760592650753320_9176077697089983767_nOnly the first 500m was on bitumen. It was uphill and designed to spread the field out…it worked !

I felt relaxed and the nerves were gone on race morning. I figured I was fit, David Byrne had given me a simple race plan and I would just do my best. The vibe on the start line was great and I went easy on the 1km start loop and hit the first section of single-track out to Pulpit Rock in 8th place. Jake Bresnehan & Ruby Muir bombed past me and I was back to 10th but feeling good following the pace set by Wes Gibson. At the turnaround we were 40secs down and I felt super relaxed so I was happy. I tested the legs up a small climb to pass Wes and they felt great. I love to get that sensation early in a race…it was game on!

I ran with New Zealanders Ruby Muir and Kristian Day back towards Govetts Leap. They were awesome at giving me the heads up as there was two way traffic on this narrow section. Everyone was awesome and let us have plenty of track and were cheering for us. I passed Ruby & Kristian just before Govetts so I could run my own rhythm to the Grand Canyon. Andy King gave me a time check at Govetts and I had maintained the 40 sec gap to the leaders…..perfect!

The next section along the top was awesome. Enough climbing to make me smile but also some flatter sections to relax and eat & drink. By the time I got to the turn off into the Grand Canyon I had moved up to 3rd and was 10 secs off the lead. But then we hit the “technical” section!

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Some early stairs on the climb up to Evans Lookout.             Plenty of this sort or running in the Grand Canyon section !

The two guys up front, Jody Wall & Charlie Brooks disappeared down into the canyon. I was soon caught by Jake and Kristian. I tried to stay with them but Jake was descending like a demon and Kristian used his superior speed on any more runnable sections. I was next caught by Ruby Muir who put on an absolute descending clinic. I have run with some amazing descenders like Andy Kromar and Ruby is right up there. She makes it look so easy and graceful at warp speed. I chased her as best I could and tried to follow her lines through the technical sections. Doing this helped me minimise my time losses heading into the final climb. Most importantly I didn’t panic and saved the quads for the final climb.

The pre-race plan was to be in touch with the leaders when we hit the final climb. David felt if I was within 5mins of the lead I could still win it if I climbed super well. This also relied on the theory that some of the leaders might have used too much gas in the first 20km. So when I hit the 20k mark I gritted the teeth and hit it hard.

I quickly caught Ruby who seemed to be doing the opposite to me and choosing to climb more conservatively. I then caught Kristian who wished me well and told me his climbing legs were gone. But I knew this young fella was very classy and I thought he might come good so I upped the pace even more. Next to try and catch was Jake Bresnehan, who is a local, and I knew he had the Strava KOM on this climb so I was happy he didn’t have more of a lead. I caught up to him and in a great sporting  gesture he told me there was one more in front and that he had a 3min lead.

So I went for it. I didn’t know of Jody before the race but I had already learnt he was a very fast descender so I hoped he wasn’t also a very fast climber! I just thought if I went as hard as I could then the result would sort itself. I loved the climb more and more as it got steeper and with more stairs. I had the head down in climbing mode for a while before finally spotting Jody. I knew I would catch him soon but was he saving energy for that moment? So I backed it off a bit, closed the gap and when he spotted me I hit it FULL GAS! (That’s cycling speak for attack!) It worked and I opened a gap pretty quickly.

Just after the waterfall with about 1km to go I had a first real look back to see if anyone was coming. I couldn’t see anyone and it was the first moment I allowed myself to think I could actually win!  So I backed off the pace a bit, ran smart, but still hard, to the point on the track I had explored before the race. At this point you can see for about 500m behind you and there was no one! I now knew I just had to finish for the win.

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Climbing to the finish. Clarke McClymont took this photo. He was injured but was out there on the trails all weekend.

So I got to enjoy the last 500m with people clapping and cheering along the cliff face as you climb the final section up to Govetts Leap. I loved the final few hundred metres up the finishing shoot. Race Director Sean Greenhill congratulated me and I jabbered away about the race and was possibly making no sense at all. I was also quickly congratulated by members of the La Sportiva Team and other runners. It was such a relief to win after feeling a lot of pressure from myself to do well. I enjoyed the finish line buzz for the next few hours watching other runners finish and share stories. Everyone loved the course, it was tough, scenic, fun and what we all wanted. The Grand Canyon section was a clear favourite but I loved every part.

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Thanks to everyone who helped make this such an awesome weekend. The atmosphere was superb and I’ll be back next year for sure!

And special thanks to Matt Adams, La Sportiva Australia, Outdoor Research, Mund Socks, Bogong Equipment, Mountain Equipment and Mountain Sports for everything!