Prepped and ready for adventure for the Wild Earth Coastal High 50 trail race in the Gold Coast Hinterland. Ready for a weekend of camping, trail running and relaxing with family & friends, but the weekend didn’t go as planned.
Gold Coast Hinterland residents were experiencing some of the worst bushfires they have encountered in September this year. Over 300 trail runners were heading to Lamington National park to run 50km from Binna Burra to Springbrook, through some of the most scenic trails in the world for the 5th annual Wild Earth Coastal High 50 trail race.
Unfortunately, the weekend didn’t go as planned as the race organisers cancelled the event due to the dangerous conditions. A very smart decision considering bushfires were burning not far away from the trails in which we planned on running.
Ness, I and the two girls were sitting in the car South of Brisbane questioning what to do, somehow it didn’t seem right to be driving into the one area authorities were advising to stay away from! We had a house sitter at our home and a car full for a weekend away so decided to book last minute accommodation in Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast and not go to the Binna Burra lodge camping ground. The views from the balcony into the Hinterland from the hotel room showed just how catastrophic the fires were, with an orange sky and smoke haze stretching kilometers across the ranges.
Waking up Saturday morning gave us an insight to just how bad it got through the night. The devastation was huge, ferocious winds had the wall of fire spotting a couple hundred metres ahead of itself. The iconic heritage listed Binna Burra lodge was burnt to the ground after standing for almost 90 years. The rainforest trails in which we were to run were now blackened, smoldering and reduced to ash.
The show must go on!
Trail runners are some of the most supportive and understanding bunch going around. Messages of support to Chris and Matt the organisers of the event were flooding in, along with our Gold Coast running mates distributing the checkpoint food to the volunteers and firies working on the ground.
Virtual WECH50 Strava Run launches
With finisher medals, singlets and bibs good for 2019 only and the event to go on, Those Guys Events decided on hosting a virtual 50k running race, whereby you could run 50k during September and October, post it in a running app strava then get your bling. A great idea to keep the event alive for its fifth year.
The rules were pretty simple. Run 50km between 07th September and 20th October at a location of your choice and you will get your race bling. I looked forward to this as it gave a chance to run with some mates over this distance close to home for a good reason. However as I read on it become more interesting.
Additional prizes were awarded to runners who recorded the fastest race time or recorded the most elevation in their 50km run. Now I figured I wouldn’t be the fastest but would give the elevation challenge a red hot go. A Suunto 9 watch was up for grabs and I’m almost due to upgrade my Garmin watch as it has copped a beating on many of the OCR and trail events over the years.
The planning begins
I figured if a 50km run with as much elevation I could do was to be attempted I’m going the full monty! The Coastal High 50 trail race attracts some very strong runners in the trail running scene so in my mind the competition for this title was going to be strong to claim the title of KOM (King of the Mountain)
The actual race itself boasts around 2,030 metres of elevation gain. A pretty decent effort for any runner. A quick thought suggested anywhere above 4,000 metres elevation on the run should get the title.
I frequent Mt Cootha trails so set out on a couple of recon run’s to find a climb that would get me the most elevation over the shortest distance. Reservior, Scorpion, Powerful Owl and Kokoda trail’s were all climbs I’ve trained on so went ahead and tested the climbs for the challenge to do as many repeats as I could do.
After some testing and calculations, Chapel Hill in Mt Cootha seemed to be the pick off the climbs, boasting between 140-150 metres vertical gain over a 550 metre climb!
I figured I would run the elevation attempt on the 12th October, a week before the competition closed. Two reasons for this: it gave me time to prep for the run and allowed one extra week to attempt again if things didn’t go to plan. Another cheeky strategy was I kept the activity private so that anyone else that was attempting this challenge wouldn’t see it and trump me 1 metre!
2am alarm, 3am kick off, the start of a big day ahead
I pull up in the car at the bottom of the Chapel Hill trail at 2:50am, the rain is coming down which we hadn’t seen in weeks. The plan was to do as many reps as possible, calculations estimated around 42 consecutive repeats would get to 50km and close to 6,000m elevation.
To put this elevation into perspective, Mt Kosciuszko is 2,228m above sea level!
The boot of the car was loaded with Edge Electrolytes being my main source of fuel and liquid, SIS Energy gels, revvies bananas, peanut butter sandwich, ginger lollies, water plus a few other snacks to keep the calories in.
The first hour went pretty quick as I squeezed in 6 laps. The second hour 5 laps, then seemed to settle in at around 4 laps for every hour after that. Up to the top of the trail, turn around, down to tap the yellow gate, back up again!
Close to 5:30am I hear some yelling from the top of Chapel Hill as I’m about to complete the 13th lap. Rob Martin calls out, he’s looking fresh with a mate from Cairns ready to head out on their trail run around the mountain. They join me on a down and up lap which helped greatly to break up the monotony of repeating the track on my own.
The next few hours seemed to take forever, up and down the same track. Thoughts of the devastating fires through the Gold Coast and the effects of that on the residents and wildlife kept my mind focused on the job, as well as chatting to the many hikers on their morning walk and a few texts back and forth with some mates broke up the climbs.
Every 3 or so laps I’d refuel from the boot of the car parked at the bottom of the hill and rub out the legs with a bear trap or massage roller. The couple who owned the house at the end of the road would often come out and say hi, I suppose we got to know each other well over 9 hours!
What was the hardest part of the run?
Definitely the fact this was a solo run. A planned event has hundreds of runners, checkpoints, volunteers helping and encouraging, music and locals lining trails clapping and offering support. This morning was just me and my thoughts. Certainly there were times where I’d question why. After a few hours it became a mental challenge more than physical.
The run had to be completed in 10.5 hours which was the cut off for the race itself. Getting into 30+ climbs for the day, my legs were really starting to weaken and the constant grind up the mountain taking its toll. I’d reached around 4,800 metres by climb 32 which was 35km in the run and I was slowing down a bit on the grind. I decided anything over 5,000m and it should have the lead so finished Chapel Hill with 33 repeats. I then ventured around the rest of the mountain to get some runnable track in to make up the 50km run.
By the time I’d finished, I was cooked! Quads were like jelly. But worth it! Huge shout out to Matt and Chris who turned a positive outcome on such a terrible situation. 2019 CH50 will certainly be a year for the race we won’t forget in a hurry!
Not only did they run two 50km events for the year but with everyone’s help, donated over $14,000 to Wildcare Australia.
Thanks to Amer Sports Australia for my new Suunto 9!
And thanks to squats…lots of squats!
Would I do this again? Hell’s yeah!
50.15km virtual trail race – 5,241m elevation https://www.strava.com/activities/2781466450
01st: King of the Mountain Elevation Challenge
Time: 9hrs 09 min