Late November 2017 saw over 300 avid runners and support crew descend on the sleepy alpine resort of Falls Creek, nestled deep in the Australian Alps for the 10th running of the Alpine Challenge, Australia’s longest running all Alpine 100 mile trail run.
Billed as one of Australia’s toughest trail ultras this year’s run lived up to its reputation with massive electrical storms, hail, thunder, lightning, rain, heat and humidity; all combining to take a massive toll on runners in the 100 mile (160 km) event.
Usually the miler claims around 34‰ of runners who DNF in the infamous Mortien Alley, that stretch of trail that runs overnight from Pole 333 to Mount Hotham, Harrietville, Mt Feathertop, Kiewa Valley and back up to Pole 333, so named because it is here “that runners drop like flies”. But this year something strange happened – the DNF rate soared to over 50%. Maybe it was a combination of the storms and a massive downpour as runners reached Pole 333 with either 75 km to go on the 100 mile course or only 15 km to go on the 100 km course but either way many experienced and well known runners took the “easy” option, if you can call 100 km with 4,000 m of elevation gain, “easy”!
David Giannelli (Italy) was the first runner home in the miler in a time of 24.36.43, only 16 minutes outside the course record and he explained that through getting a bit lost on the night section. Jordan Maki–Richards (USA) took out first place in the women’s setting a new course record of 27.28.29.
In the 100 km distance Luke Glappa narrowly edged out Oowan Davies who had led for 95 km, to win in a time of 12.30.27 whilst favourite Nicole Paton stole the show in 14.25.41 to be first female across the line.
The 60 km distance saw a terrific result with women stealing the first three places beating the men hands down. When the ladies were asked where the front running males were—they said they had left them tied up in Cope Saddle Hut. Sasha Lee smashed the course record in all categories coming in a time of 6.12.51 over a course which included over 1,000 m of climbing!! Eather James the first male appeared in 7.46.08.
Run for the first time in 2017 was our new “short course” 36 km event which saw some awesome runs. Local Ben Derrick set a course record of 3.10.56, whilst Marie Shaw was first female across the line in 4.22.37. But even more impressive were the results of Mei–Lian Wyithe, running with her dad, who at 13 became our youngest runner ever to finish the course in a time of 5.44.01 and David Close who at 75 became our oldest competitor to finish in 6.15.40 – incredible running!
While records were being set, the rest of the field was enjoying the magnificence of the high plains and the variable weather, Alpine Search and Rescue and course volunteers were escorting injured runners off the course from Pole 333 and Mt Bogong and ASAR were conducting house calls to injured/collapsing runners and summoning the ambulance. Luckily there were no serious injuries and everyone was back up and hobbling around on the Sunday.
Down one sweep for the 100 km distance I was lucky enough that ASAR allowed me back on the course to sweep the last 100 km runners. I set off equipped with a radio and spare battery, and a mobile phone and 3 spare batteries—there is no rest for some people. What a glorious night to run from Langfords Gap to Falls Creek via 333 and Mt McKay. The stars were out, I had the light of a runner to follow in the distance over some fast flat hardened track, it was awesome to be back out on the course again, then the reality of being on your feet for over 24 hours hit me and I, like many of the runners started to fade, running on just 3 cylinders instead of 4. Towards the end I met up with Freya and James Poynton and helped Freya down the last 300 m to the finish—she was losing her toe nails. Ouch!
Sunday saw the tail of the 100 milers coming in—you have to respect those guys, the last three runners came in between 40 – 42 hours after the start and they actually had smiles on their faces. These are the runners that do it hardest and for me they are the real heroes. Tilly was the last in at 41.42 and we were taking bets at the finish line as to what her final time would be—she crossed the line with only 18 minutes to spare before the cut off.
Listening to Tim Woods at the finish we heard amazing stories about how he only started trail running 18 months ago, because he wanted to change his life and become a role model for his kids, amazing stuff!
I feel privileged to have been able to put on such a brutal run for you to all “enjoy” and safely finish and hope many of you will return in 2018.
Special thanks to all of you who helped raise over $8500 to support Alpine Search and Rescue and of course enormous thanks to Alpine Search and Rescue, our marshals and course volunteers, who gave up their weekend to assist on the course, without them and their dedication and enthusiasm we would not have an event of this nature.
You can read the original article on the Running Australia website as well as many others.