Arriving at Hendersons Picnic ground at the bottom of the dam in the dark early morning, to get the bibs (number 501) and meet with the same usual runners, the trails+ family: Cathy and Michelle, Mark, KathyMac, etc.
Soon after, the bus takes us out to near Dom Dom Saddle where we will start the race at 8am. The sun has been out for a little while but it is still freezing and humid at the start (it rained all night).
I'm wearing my jacket for the first 10km on an out and back trail with 2 brutal climbs. It starts nice enough on a wide forest track but then it gets really steep up, steep down, and steep up again. On that last climb we start seeing runners going down, a few guys, then Kellie the first girl chased by KathyMac soon after. At the top I find Ash volunteering at the tiny aid station and cheering everybody. And down I go again, I switch on my music and start flying down, thinking I might be killing my quads earlier than necessary, but they'll die anyway at some point, so might as well enjoy it while I can :-) I pass Mark, then Cathy and Michelle, still climbing. And then I pass Andy the sweep and I'm alone on the trail.
Back to the aid station at the start, and out again, this time for a 10km loop around Dom Dom Saddle. I'm all alone, and it's only going down, slightly, so you have to run really. I don't seem to be able to catch up to anyone though. We turn in a track with a big wild junkyard on the side... And then as I'm starting to climb again on the other side, I start hearing 2 girls laughing behind me, I first think Cathy and Michelle have caught up, but no, it's 2 other girls and a guy. We arrive at the aid station together where we meet Brett who probably just sent off the 30km runners (they started 2 hours after us from that same point, but were spared the out-and-back and loop). So now we are chasing them.
The trio stops at the toilets and I take a head start (haven't felt my stomach the whole race, that's a nice change!), thinking it might be useful when we start climbing. Plus I'm still freaking cold. And indeed they very soon catch up to me, pass me, and then jog just ahead of me. Well I'm glad for the guidance: we are going up a wide grassy fire break, not really a track. At the top we meet the actual track, and signs announce Mount Saint Leonard (the top of the course, after which it's all downhill) in 18.5km. Looks like we're not there yet! And then I lose them and run pretty much alone for hours, with either my music, or the songs of the birds and the wind in the eucalypts. This a just brilliant, we are in the middle of an awesome national park, I wouldn't want to be anywhere else.
The marking is almost non existant, except for turn offs that are very very well marked, hard to miss. It is based on the principle that you don't need any marking to go straight I guess, but then for scaredy-cats like me always afraid of being lost, there's not much to reassure you. Fortunately, I sometimes see other runners. Kelvin passes me, having run 6 foot Track just yesterday, and now running his 20th Maroondah Dam in a row! We chat for a while, he complains about his legs uphill, but he quickly leaves me in the dust afterwards :-)
At some point Mark arrives behind me just in time to call me back as I take the left side of a fork instead of the right. We run together for a while, make it to the top of a sort of a balcony with open views on the forest under us. The view is just... awesome, you can see the forest recovering from past bushfires in the area (the race has been moved from Feb to March to get away from bushfire season), and I feel privileged to be running here. We both stop for photos before heading out again.
Then I'm faster downhill and leave Mark behind, but he catches up uphill. We are now running on a wide track between giant eucalypts growing on both sides. Cockatoos and all sort of birds are singing, the wind moves the trees that creak eerily, you don't need an ipod here :-)
And suddenly on the side of that track, an aid station, two vollies with a small table. They offer to fill up my bladder, but as they tell me it's only 3km to the next one, I don't bother, I still have enough water, it's so cold I don't drink much anyway. Mark catches me again at that aid station and announces 10km to Mt St Leonard, and we head out again. Further down I get lost at an intersection and wait for him to show me the way, removing rocks from my shoes in the mean time. And then we keep going down and down and I lose him. I'm a bit stressed by the lack of marking, when I arrive at a picnic ground with tourists and lots of non-marked side tracks. Sometimes you have to pass the intersection to see the white arrow painted on the ground further down. Well, I find my way eventually, but no aid station where announced.
Actually the next aid station is around 37km at the bottom of MSL. And Mark has caught up again, so we head out together, climbing over some logs to get to the track, sign announcing the summit in 1.2km. And somehow I paused my GPS... We climb together, it feels much easier than 5 years ago. We even catch up a girl from the 30km. Mark tells me how he now has a tradition of making a detour to climb the radio tower at the top to get the view before heading down, and I decide to join him. Not like I'm running for a podium or anything ^^. And it might be my one and only chance to climb that tower ever. So here we make it to the top where military are training, surprised as we go the wrong way, trying to point us back on course. We also have to tell the other girl not to follow us. And here we climb to the top of the radio tower, and the view is well worth it!
Then he sends me off downhill, telling each other to take care. I suddenly understand what they meant by dangerous downhill. First, it's steep, really steep, but that alone wouldn't be a problem. But then it's also covered in branches, twigs, barn, a deep thick mat of them, you don't touch the ground, you have to be super extra careful to not roll on it. I slow down and take extra caution, and fortunately it's not long until I touch ground again. Between overgrown vegetation. And then steep down again, I pass the girl from before, and start making good speed, with music again, down down down, it's only downhill now and I get excited, music again, queen-of-the-world mode. All the more when I start passing more late 30km runners. And a group of 50km runners who skipped the loop because they were too slow. Then it starts going uphill again, offering me a rest from the stomping downhill.
And then a wide sandy track goes downhill at a perfect slope and I take some speed again, pass a the 50km trio from before, and a 30km guy in pain, at full speed. And start suffering from stitches that force me to slow down. More uphill as a welcome rest, and the trio pass me again. I keep up with them and even pass them again downhill, and arrive before them at the last aid station 4km from the finish. But they don't even stop and pass me while I'm drinking some electrolytes (it's finally warming up now). And then I never catch up again, there is too much uphill for what I expected to be a long downhill to the finish, so I decide to just take my time walking and enjoying, don't feel like forcing myself to run up any more. We are getting close, I recognise the area, and then an intersection with no marking, except an arrow coming from the left and turning where I come from... I assume I should follow it in reverse, in the absence of any other marker, and a hiking sign points that way for the lookout anyway. So here I climb to the lookout, stop for a few photos, ask my way to a group of tourists who don't seem to understand a word of what I'm saying but point me down anyway. No marking at all, I'm probably off course, but all trails should lead back to the dam at some point, shouldn't they? I got sort of used to the lack of marking so I'm not as stressed about it anymore.
So I enjoy the view, make my way down to the dam, take more photos,
cross the dam, and there I finally find a marker again. Then it's only down the stairs to the picnic ground, across the carpark, and to the final stretch between fences to the finish line! Where Brett welcomes me.
I'm done well under 7h :-D Mark follows only about a minute later.
Kellie won the female race in 4h41, KathyMac finished 2nd in 4h59 after a final mad dash for sub 5.
Cathy and Michelle got lost, chatting all the way, and arrive 1h later.
Then Andy with all the markers and the last 50km runner.
After that I was unable to walk properly for a few days. My quads were completely smashed! But I had fun the whole way, so that was worth it :-) Took Monday off as a rest day and massage before returning to my beach run on Tuesday. I have less than a week to recover before Rollercoaster.