mercredi 8 avril 2015

Rollercoaster run 2015

Saturday 21 March is my second last day in Australia, and my last race there too: the RollerCoaster Run, well named after the hilly trails up and down and around Mount Dandenong. I had run the first edition in 2012 and remembered a tough course. Compared to most runs in Victoria, this one is pretty hilly and steep, even though it does not quite compare to the (French) Alps yet.

So here I am, early cold morning (well, since then I flew back to France and was reminded what "cold" really means...). It is still dark and Melbourne is shining in the distance.

We get our bibs from the volunteers (yes that's me hidden in the Trails+ hoodie. I told you it was cold!)

In the spirit of Rohan's races, you could choose a fancy nickname to appear on your bib. So mine says "Runnin' Gremlin", specially for Benj ;-)

Race director Rohan and all the volunteers are dressed up in funny costumes, as well as some runners.

Morning lights start to shine, the start is scheduled at 7.20 as soon as there is enough light, for the first wave and the one-loopers, and 7.30 for the second wave with us two-loopers.

So here we go! It starts downhill (we are at SkyHigh at the very top of Mount Dandenong), which is my favourite (do not think that you will have to climb back up, do not think...). And easier as a warm up, with my calves already complaining... Well I guess I didn't quite do the tapering thing last week, with it being my last week in Australia, so no wonder they're tired already :-)

We go straight down down down, and then the track becomes flat-ish with a few bumps on this balcony with awesome views, and I start slowing down. Plus my right Achilles sends me worrying pain signals when I run uphill, sort of a cramp / contracture / I'm-gonna-pop-at-any-time, so I am forced to slow down.

After that comes the big big downhill on a wide gravel track with many switchbacks, where I had tried to chase Ash on our TXR training run a month ago. And once again I have lots of fun zooming down and passing everybody. Until I slip in one of the switchbacks and land hard in the gravels, tearing knee and hand open. And we are only 3km in...

Well I guess I'm still lucky, I was back up and running before the two guys behind me had time to finish asking me if I was alright. But a km further down a guy was lying down in a space blanket, surrounded by a few people, and I heard later that he had broken his ankle and was picked up by the ambulance at the Doongalla aid station at the bottom of that hill. Bad luck...

And then we hit the bottom, and the Doongalla aid station. No stop yet, we go out on a loop that will take us back to that same aid station in 10km. Via the infamous Dodds track. Infamously steep Dodds track. We start down on the road from the aid station,

then U-turn on a slowly ascending trail where I chat with a guy who announces me that "this is not climbing". Yeah, I know :-) Warm enough to leave the jacket.

And then suddenly a curve and here we are: the bottom of Dodds track, punctuated with Rohan's signs. Like "yes, it's a hill, get over it", or near the top "and there's more", then "and even more". But somehow I manage to keep a good pace and even overtake a few runners who struggle to push up the slippery gravelly earth unravelling under foot. And I make it to the top quite happy! Even taking a few photos along the way, nice colours of the eucalypts in the morning sun. Shame the photo does not display the smells and sounds.

It is a nice early autumn morning, and I'm determined to enjoy every single moment, knowing all too well that two days from now I'll be back in the cold of Grenoble (even though spring officially starts today there). My stomach feels alright, I feel good, and I run up and down most hills, when they're not too steep. We are now running back down to the Doongalla road, and I start meeting a few late one-loopers. There's this guy who really seems to struggle, he's yelling indiscernible onomatopoeia at himself. At first I encourage him, but then I'm quickly sick of his noises and I speed up to get away from him. I'd rather be alone and listen to the birds in the eucalypts. I didn't even take my ipod. And then here we are on the road again, with a slight ascent back to the aid station, where I force myself to run.
 First stop at an aid station, I fill in the collapsible bottle I was carrying (empty. Compulsory gear only said to have a water container, not necessarily to have water in it ^^) and eat some fruit before going out again, up towards Sky High. Well, not without a few ups and downs of course, or that wouldn't be a roller coaster :-)

A bit further, a photographer was positioned in a downhill. He caught the TXR runners, Megan, Heidi, Justin, running happy! :-) all doing one loop (because "no one else is stupid enough to do two").

I went past a bit later, very focused (but no less happy!)

Followed later by Kirsten aka Crazy Pants, in a crazy costume :-)

And then on the final climb up the track to Kalorama, about 20km in the 21.5km loop, we met the first guys coming back down for their second loop. Because the novelty this year is that the second loop is in reverse, so we have to fun to run down the big uphills (Dodds ^^), and up the big downhills (the switchbacks where I fell at the start, and Trigg track). So here comes one guy, two guys, and then Ash coming third, I give him a high five. I meet the first girls a km later, they have just started their second loop, and are carefully going down this very steep and slippery track connecting with Trigg track, that we are painfully climbing. Shelley at the bottom ask me how I'm doing: "cold" is my answer. We are almost at the top and the wind is picking up a bit, but the climb is enough to warm up. An aid station at the top, then the 0.5 Trigg track that is actually much wider now than last time, and then the final climb to Sky High with a bit of road. 2h40mn for the first loop.

There I have to do a "huge" detour to find the toilets block, up and down and up more stairs, where I pass a few broken one-loopers who are done with their race and with their legs... Fortunately I'm in a much better shape than them! On my way back I meet all the TXR runners who have finished their one loop, they all give me high fives and encouragements, a great boost as I get started on my second loop! :-D Thanks TXR! And here I go again for a second loop that will be harder (now going down the steepest hills and up long gradual climbs, instead of the reverse), but yet almost as fast as the first one :-)

We go down the road, where I meet Bernie finishing his first loop. Then a little detour to avoid going across runners finishing their first loop on the quite narrow Trigg track, and then back on course for the biiiig slippery downhill that lots of people are still climbing. And slippery it is, even I get scared down as I can't quite control my speed on such a slope, which would be fine without the risk to bump into someone climbing up... So I have to go towards the grassy side to stop, then tread carefully for a little while, then when I find a window with noone ahead, I let go full speed to the bottom and up the other side. Yihooo! Then back on that wide track where I had met the first runners, but it's immediately quite different from the first loop as I'm pretty much alone, which I appreciate :-) all the more with the extensive marking of the course!

At first I still meet quite a few runners, one-loopers and two-loopers, for quite a while, something like 6km, and then the sweeps George and Olivia who says farewell as she knows I fly out tomorrow. The sun is way up by now and it's warmer, I'm glad I'm not carrying a bag but just my small collapsible bottle which I can roll in my pocket when it's empty. I also drink a lot at the aid stations, and eat a gel half way through the race.

Doongalla aid station again, the clown vollies are still up and cheerful. While running that loop I see two kookaburras flying just in front of me across the track! Awesome! I'm waiting for Dodds track to finally have some fun running down it, well deserved after climbing it some 30+km ago. And when I finally get to the top, after playing cat and mouse with the same runners all the way up, I don't deny myself the pleasure of running down full speed. My legs are still fine and there's not much left so no need to save my legs for later. I slow down to say a word to that girl who I passed, then was passed by, repeated times without a word in the past few kilometres, telling her it's the last downhill so better enjoy it, but she downright ignores me (which tends to annoy me), so I decide that she won't see me again and speed up even more to leave her in the dust. In that same downhill I also pass Grace, who then catches up when getting back yet another time to Doongalla aid station.

After that starts the long uphill on that switchbacks track which I had been fearing for a while. But with Grace just ahead of me as a target, I power up to chase her all the way up, which helped me go faster than I thought possible. We chat for a while, then she is faster, then I caught up again, and then good surprise for me there was some downhill and I ended up being the pacer for a while :-) then I managed to keep up in the final big climb, where she told me she only had a few minutes to make the time she wanted, so I pushed her, and she pulled me, telling me to come with her. And then we ended up running together up the road to finish in a big all-out sprint on the final grassy flat :-D Crazy ! But she made the time she wanted, and I'm quite happy with the result too: 5h34 for 44km and about 2100m+. Over 1 hour faster than in 2012. Shelley gives me my medal.

Good surprise to find the TXR girls, Amanda and Kirsten, still waiting at the finish line. Who tell me I was bouncing like Tiggar downhill, I guess I found my next running nickname :-)
Finish photo by Kirsten

Finish star jump - photo by Shelley

We hang around for a while, taking photos and cheering for all the finishers. Couple on the run Sue and Mark finish a bit later with their trademark kiss. Then Bernie half an hour later.

I also find Ash who finished third a while ago and is still around chatting with everybody. Great spirit!

Some links:

Afternoon at Grants
To wrap up a great day, we head off to Grants picnic ground to buy souvenirs, feed the birds,

do a last walk on my favourite Coles ridge road at sunset, with the wallabies and kookaburras, and even a special guest Puffing Billy honking for a while just below us!

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