Run Larapinta 2017 Malbunka (Long) Course
Since completeing South Africa's week long, multi stage ultra - Kalahari Augrabies
Extreme Marathon last October I hadn't done much in the way of racing. I entered early on the Lost Island Ultra in Fiji for April next year but for me that seemed like too long of a wait and I needed something big to run before then. It took only a few clicks of the mouse before I stumbled across Run Larapinta, a 4 stage multi day race right here in Australia near Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. A couple of emails and a phone call to the race director Sam and I was entered and ready to train.
I didn't have too long in the way of training but just enough to be ready to run for four consecutive days. Unfortunately, during my three months of training my work got unusually busy for this time of year which was good financially but terrible for sticking to my running schedule. I missed a couple of crucial long runs and had to shorten others, I did almost all of my training on flat pathways and only managed a 5km and a 7km trail run in the three months. This had happened before when training for Turkeys Lycian Way Ultramarathon which is the toughest race I have ever done so I knew I could get through Run Larapinta with such limited training.
Once training was over and I was on the plane to Alice Springs I met three enthusiastic girls on the plane, Sarah Boettcher, Deb Nicholl and Danni Roberts who were all running the race as well. Both Deb and Danni were also from Brisbane and were doing the long course with me where Sarah had trouble with being sick while training so opted for the short course. I had also met Troy Lum, another Brisbane runner who knew parts of the Larapinta trail quite well as he used to live and run in the area.
After landing and getting to my accommodation, I settled in and relaxed as much as I could with the anticipation of the race on my mind. The next day was the first day of the race but in the evening so I still had the whole day to unwind. I got up early to walk up Anzac Hill and look around Alice Springs. By the time I had to get to registration for the race in the afternoon I had already covered 12km on foot, probably not ideal when you have 20km to run that evening!Stage One
When it was finally ready to start I was feeling good, the sun was starting to get low and everyone had their head torches ready. Soon enough we were off! I started off quicker than I planned and after 2km I decided to slow down and let some other runners pass. The trail was moderately easy for this stage and after about 11km the sun was down and the headlights were on. I was holding onto 9th place at that point and even though my goal was to just finish the race I was hoping to maintain a top 10 spot, it would be a tough call due to only training on the road but if I held back a bit and was somewhat strategic then I thought it could be possible.
I held onto 9th place until the end and Deb was only a minute behind me across the finish line. It was a great start to the race and I was still feeling good afterwards. I just had to quickly get back to the accommodation, shower, eat and then rest up for the 40km the very next morning!
After a good nights rest and not feeling too bad after waking up I made it to the bus to drive to the start of what would be the toughest stage of the entire race!
The drive to the start was long and once we finally got to the start we wanted to jump right back in as it was freezing! We all got a few photos with some great scenery and then finally walked to the start line for the second stage.Stage Two
Everything started off well, Mark Burgess ran in front while I ran with Troy and Gary Philpott, another fellow kiwi. It was windy and technical but runable and quite enjoyable, we spoke a lot of previous races we had completed and funny stories along the way. Once we got to the 17km aid station Deb had caught up to us, she was the first one to leave followed by myself and Troy while Gary was having some trouble with his pack. This is where everything started to unravel for me!
Not long after the aid station there was a big climb to the top of the Macdonnell ranges, the sun had come out in full force while I slowly hiked up the side. It didn't take long for Troy to catch up and pass me, he was looking fresh so I was a little jealous! After a gruelling climb to the top I was really not feeling great. The trail along the top was rough, with sharp loose rocks scattered all over. Eventually the trail started going down hill and I stumbled my way down to the bottom. Once down the track didn't get any easier, I had to navigate through the gorges and dried up river beds, there were huge boulders we had to climb over. The heat was really getting to me so I sat in shade under a bolder and filled up my water bottles with the remainder of my reserves. I felt a little better after the rest but it was taking an extremely long time to get through.
Eventually, 23 year old Aaron Royall caught up to me. Aaron had been travelling around Australia running marathons to raise funds and awareness for the Black Dog Institute which deals with mental health. We spoke for a bit until I saw him hopping and springing over rocks and realised he was in a far better position than me so I backed off and let him go on alone.
I came across a man from the short course who had run completely out of water and not looking too flash, I gave him a bit of mine and let him know there were others not far behind and I would ask for help when I find someone. I carried on and came to a rock wall about 40 meters high, the arrows were pointing directly up it. I was confused as it seemed quite dangerous and scary for some people. I climbed up to the top and there was absolutely no trail and after searching a bit I could see far off on my right Kristen Brace on another trail, I was in the wrong spot! I scurried down the side through prickly bush and made it back on the right path. I caught up to Kristen who also seemed a little unsure of where to go but we both soon figured it out. She was feeling just as bad as me so we pushed each other along until we got to another climb, completely spent we decided to sit down and rest in the shade. A hiker came up behind us with another short course runner who was also struggling (and also had no water), the hiker had radioed in for help and there were race marshals on their way with water. Eventually Gary had also caught up but was looking like a mess. He sat down with the rest of us and said that he's never experienced this kind of heat before. It was like the aftermath of a war zone!
I finally got up to carry on with Kristen right behind me. We went up another climb, down a bit and then one last big climb. The race marshals were coming down to help the others, they said a couple of things to me but I didn't have the energy to even acknowledge them. Again, both Kristen and I had to sit down and rest, the sun still pelting on top of us, we were both at our absolute worst! We both got up again to finish the climb and down to the bottom. Finally we were on the home stretch, a nice clear dirt path for the last few hundred meters, I decided to jog on to the finish and finally I was there coming in 6th place overall.
I never expected to struggle as much a I did on that day, the combination of the heat and last few kms of rough terrain really took it out of me. I was a bit nervous about how I would feel running the next days 30km!
After waking up early the next morning I was surprised how good I was feeling. My legs were slightly sore in some spots but far better than expected and nothing to be worried about. I was quite tired though and it gave me the sense that I was in for another long day.
Soon enough we were at the start line again, the count down began and we were ready to get going and warm up. Apparently quite a few of us were feeling far better than the day before as it was a fast start. I stayed with Kristen as she was keeping up a nice pace that I could stick with. Aaron was right behind me and was happy with how the pace too so the three of us started up a conversation and talked for a few kms until Aaron decided to pick it up and take off. Aaron was very humble but it was clear he had trained really well for this race and was flying under the radar quite a bit, the same went for Kristen too!
The two of us stuck together for the majority of the race, only ever separating when I had a thorn in my shoe that I had stop and get out. At one point I took a really hard fall after tripping over a rock, it was only the second time I had stacked it during a race, the other time being in the Buffalo Stampede Grandslam last year! Luckily I wasn't broken and got up and kept going. Kristen was able to maintain a good pace for the rest of the day and it definitely helped me. There were a couple of points where I started feeling unwell and I would have stopped and walked if I were by myself but I kept up with Kristen and the feeling went away. We eventually crossed the finish line together coming in 6th and 7th overall, both feeling so much better than the previous day.Stage Four
The final stage of the race was the longest at 45km. We started an hour earlier than the scheduled start time due to the unexpected hot temperatures so the first few kms were in the dark. Right off the bat Gary and Troy took off up the first big climb. I was right behind Deb and Aaron behind me, there was no running involved as it was a massive climb up to the top of Mount Sonder. The three of us were having a really great time chatting away which was made better when Kristen caught up to us. I got my GoPro out while Deb and Aaron were taking selfies and getting shots of us all, out of all of the four days this was the most enjoyable and fun. Once close to the top and after watching the spectacular sun rise Gary and Troy were coming back down fast, they were really pushing each other!
The four of us made it up in no time, Deb was the first one to start the run back down followed by me and then Aaron and Kristen after Aaron finished up with more selfies. I soon passed Deb and was really surprised how fresh my legs were feeling, I wanted to take advantage of this and really gunned it down the mountain and quickly as I could, giving high fives to the other runners that were making their way up.
After getting to the bottom and nearing the first water station, a big rock flicked up and smashed into the bone on my ankle almost crippling me (rocks were not my friend in this race), I stumbled around a bit trying to get through the horrible pain and even wondered if the race was over for me. I stood there for a short moment before Aaron and Kristen arrived and stopped to see if I was ok. Kristen said the same happened to her and the pain would pass, she was right! I started jogging and then running again until I caught back up with them, by then it was fine. We all stopped to fill our water when Deb caught up, she bypassed filling up and charged on ahead with Kristen hot on her heels. Aaron was having some trouble with the water, I attempted to help but I think I made thing worse when his water started pouring out of his pack. Eventually it was sorted and we were both on our way.
Aaron was once again running really well, there was still a long way and another mountain to climb so I backed off a bit and before I knew it he was completely out of sight! Most of the track was pretty runable until I got to the next mountain which really took it out of me. I took my time on the climb up, taking in the views and seeing Mt Sonder way off in the distance, it was crazy to believe I had run all that way. Getting to the top was a huge relief, I knew it was downhill and then flat the rest of the way. I was struggling a bit in the downhill section as it was extremely technical with loose rocks (that I kept kicking, destroying my toes) all over the place. Finally I made it down the bottom for the long flat stretch to the end. Again, it was extremely hot and difficult for me to keep running, I decided that I would run 800m and walk 200m. This worked really well and kept my mind focused too and after a few km I was on a road for the final stretch, to my surprise I saw Deb up the road turning into Glen Helen Lodge where the finish was. I started to pick up the pace and finish strong, I ran through the lodge, down a set of stairs onto the sand alongside the beautiful river and pushed past the finish line!
I ended only being a minute behind Deb, Aaron had charged ahead and won the entire stage and coming in 2nd overall for the 4 day race. Troy was the series leader with Deb in 3rd place, Gary 4th and I was (surprisingly) in 5th place and 2nd in my age group (Aaron 1st) and Kristen 6th.
It's always an amazing feeling to complete these types of events and Run Larapinta was no different. It offered me a lot and gave even more, the scenery, the amazing people and the challenge. I never expected a stage like day two to be in this race, when you think of desert you usually think 'flat', however this was anything but! The temperatures were not expected by anyone, especially for this time of the year but I am glad how it turned out as it's always a great story to tell and an even greater accomplishment for everyone.
Coming in with inadequate training and getting 5th place overall really opened my eyes to see the possibilities of what could happen if I had a near perfect training build up to a race like this. I have the Lost Ultra Island in April so maybe I might start taking things a bit more seriously from now on ...