I first competed in this event in 2008 and enjoyed a close battle with 5 time champion David Osmond. We both won two peaks each in close finishes. After 4 peaks, almost 5 hrs of running and 5000m of vertical I finished second by only 18 secs ! It was awesome !
I have returned since then for a few peaks here and there but this year I decided to once again compete in all 4 days. I had got into great shape for the Hounslow Classic SkyRun in October so it seemed like a good idea to extend my season a few more weeks. I was excited to return to my local mountains and race some other mountain goats. Sean & Mel from Mountain Sports had taken over running the event for 2015 and they always put on a good show. I joined the 4 Peaks Facebook page and I saw heaps of other runners I knew were also coming.
One runner joining the fun was my La Sportiva team mate Tom Brazier. Tom had recently finished 3rd at the Hounslow Classic Ultra. He also competed in 4 peaks last year and was keen for more. So keen in fact he almost showed up a day early for the Mystic Hill Climb ! Gill Fowler, another La Sportiva athlete, was also planning to run but had no problem arriving on the right day.
Team La Sportiva for 4 Peaks – Gill Fowler, Tom Brazier and I
Tom was staying with my family and I in Mount Beauty so we had plenty of time to discuss the courses, other competitors and our race aims. I was super keen to use my Hounslow form to compete for the overall win and Tom was happy to just blast the day one course on Mystic and then run the other climbs as part of some extended loops for some good ultra training. So we figured we would be mostly sharing the driving and just run our own races.
DAY 1 – MYSTIC
It rained all night before the Mystic stage and Tom was like a kid as Christmas. He was very excited to smash it up the climb and then bomb the descent in the slippery conditions. I was thinking, climb strong and conserve the quads on the steep and now extra slippery descent. Runners go in small groups every 5 minutes from 8am but we both ran in the last group that goes at 8:45am. This is the tradition for those looking to win the event but not everyone knows this tradition or others choose to go earlier for tactical reasons.
Ash led us off at a solid pace and it seemed everyone was content to sort it out on the main climb and descent. The lead swapped several times but I hit the Mystic summit in first place but without much of a lead so I knew it would be tough to stay in touch with Tom when he attacked the descent. Ash also bombed down the descent and I lost contact with both of them. After the steep descent it is fast firetrail all the way to the finish back where you started. I ran well on this section and finished 3mins down on Tom and two minutes on Ash but I was happy. In touch with the leaders but no damage to the body.Tom on the other hand was now in the lead and was keen to go for the overall win !
After Day 1 – The La Sportiva Yellow Race shorts needed a wash!
DAY 2 – MT FEATHERTOP
The rain continued to fall on and off overnight and we knew we were in for some wild weather on Feathertop. The 8:45am gang gathered again in Harrietville but we were also joined by David Osmond (who was doing his last day) and Luke Preston (who was just doing Feathertop). Luke shot off from the start line and no one chased too much as we knew he is fast, had fresh legs and was only running today. But eventually Ash picked the pace up and closed the gap to Luke. Ash seemed keen to keep the pace on and passed Luke with Tom and I sitting back a bit.
Ash had finished 2nd on day 1 so we had a plan for Tom to hit it out hard if the pace dropped and I would then mark Ash and let Tom get out of sight. Then I would also attack the group (Can you tell I’m a ex-cyclist?) and then both of us would run for the win. And it worked, it was so fun to pull of a plan ! It was hard work to catch up to Tom but as we charged on together towards the summit we heard the thunder roll in and the rain came down. We were going hard at it and pushed on. We were climbing well on the summit section when about 400m from the summit we were told to turn around by the officials. With the lightning so close it was too dangerous for the guys on top or for us to go any further.
Tom, Gill & I on the descent off Mt Feathertop. It was the first time I’ve used my OR Helium jacket….so good !
A lot could be written about the outcome of this stage but it was the right decision to stop runners. No race is worth that sort of risk to competitors or officials. The stage results were neutralized and the time gaps from day 1 would be those we took into day 3. It was a shame we weren’t rewarded for our efforts but only back in Harrietville did we learn that there was two young gun Orienteering guys from the U.K and three elite National team XC Skiers also in the mix. These guys had started earlier on Day 1 and 2 and it now meant there was about 10 guys within 5mins of the lead.
DAY 3 – MT FEATHERTOP
We would again ascend Mt Feathertop but this time via North-West Spur Track. This was due to Bon Accord track up Mount Hotham being potentially at risk of flash flooding. Gotta love the mountains! I was one of the few who had done this track previously but it was 10 years ago and I only hiked it. But I remembered it was steep ! The 8:45am gang lost a few members but gained the young U.K guys, Peter and Ralph. They loved the idea of some extra time to sleep and to be racing those in contention. The XC Ski guys kept with their early starts and it made it a race within a race.
Tom, Ash, Peter & Ralph took off from the gun on the river singletrack to begin the day. I lacked a bit of hunger to push super hard to go with them. I had left a fair amount of effort on the final climb in Hounslow and I figured Tom could hold his own and I would just climb at a solid pace and clean up any damage if the other blokes blew up. The first 3k’s undulate along the river then you hit “The Wall” as the bottom section of N-W Spur Tk is known. It’s 2 kilometres at about 35% gradient according to My Garmin data.
Check it out on Strava – https://www.strava.com/activities/424870759/overview
I lost a few minutes here to Tom and the U.K guys but caught Ash who was feeling the first few days in his legs. From that point I slowly increased the effort but never caught sight of the front three. Tom later told me they pretty much attacked the sections that suited each of their styles so it was just about full gas the whole way. This time we made it to the summit ! The weather was still wild but thankfully no lightning. The section from MUMC Hut to the summit is superb running and an awesome example of skyrunning ! I finished 4mins down but happy to still get up there that quick. It showed the legs are strong but the mind was not so willing. But I was happy to see Tom bust himself to hold the lead by 15 secs !
Ash Bennett, Tom and I got our Mt Feathertop summit selfie a day later than expected !
DAY 4 – MT BUFFALO
The last day saw the top 4 guys within one minute of each other and three others, including me, about 5mins down but keen to still go for it. Tom only had a 15sec lead over Ralph in second place so knew he had to at least stick with him. But both also had to run a fast time to hold off the early start gang. It was really nice to all shake hands before the start knowing that we would soon all be racing hard for the win and that we were all feeling 3 hard days of racing. Tom went out fast off the line and I stuck with them until the first road crossing.
Tom, Ralph and Peter lit it up on the next section and Ash and I couldn’t go with them. We kept up a solid pace but Ash eventually lost contact with me too. I ploughed on and it was only at Mackeys Lookout when I had a Gel that I said to myself “If you’re having a Gel, it’s a race so get going!” Where was this motivation earlier ! So I slowly ramped up the pace before going all out for the last few k’s along the traversing section. The running is awesome through here and the finish was at the top of the stairs in front of the old Buffalo Chalet. A spectacular finish spot and the final stairs had Sean Greenhill grinning and many a competitor cursing him !
I was happy with my run but disappointed for Tom that he had lost the stage and the overall title. But although he was naturally disappointed too he knew he had been beaten by the strongest guy there and had done far better than he expected. It turns out that like all the other elite ultra runners, Tom is fast !
So 3rd overall for Tom & Gill and 7th for me. It was a great weekend of running, racing and chilling out. Tom was great to have stay (my kids love him !) and it was such a contrast between the hard racing and the lazy afternoons. I could get used to that ! I’ll definitely be back for 4 Peaks in 2016 !
Winner Ralph Street, Ben Derrick & Tom Brazier. Winner Meg Reeves, Lucy Bartholomew & Gill Fowler
Recovery, Shoes & Recovery !