My time: 14:54:54 (2017 edition of the Hounslow Classic)
The Hounslow Classic is off the charts in terms of steep climbs over the 68km distance. In 2016, I cramped solidly for 10 hours and bailed after 42km. A lot of lessons can be learned from a DNF. Namely, how to cope when shit hits the fan. In 2017 I came back and got through it. It wasn’t pretty, but with a course like Hounslow, the only tactic really is to go slow and keep moving. This event suits really strong hikers well as there are 4 massive climbs and 4 quad smashing descents. So what’s like to attend this crazy thing.
What’s the overall vibe like?
The start / finish which serves as the main checkpoint you go through a couple of times is in an amazing location. You get to arrive and stare your next however many hours in the face. It is beautiful, but a little daunting. The event doesn’t pull huge crowds, especially for the 68km on Saturday. Sunday there are more people tackling the shorter courses. In a nutshell, it’s a pretty chilled place to be before kick-off and a welcoming place to collapse when you’re done.
What’s the course like?
I don’t know how really to describe this. You start with a cruise across the cliff tops, navigating a few stairs on the way. Then it’s down into the Grand Canyon, as you navigate your way along the creek. It’s amazing, stunning, beautiful scenery down there. Love it. But all good things come to an end and at about the 16km mark, you have to haul yourself out of there. It’s easy enough to begin, then punches pretty steep at the top. Then back to the start area for a breather after 20kms is done. After here you boost (not really) along the cliffs the other way, and on to the easiest section of the course. Open fire trail with nothing to climb. Which is wonderful, because it’s about to get bat shit crazy. Perrys Lookdown is a long way down, a lot of steps and bloody hurts. Perry should have chosen somewhere else to look down. At the bottom you have a creek crossing, which is usually filled with a few bodies, some half-dead runners wondering what happened. Once you have composed yourself, get excited!! You get to climb up to Lockleys Pylon, which by km’s is not massive, but after what you have just done, it can get you. Plus it can get a bit hot as you come out of the rainforest. Once you are at the top, you wind across The Pinnacles on some sandy single trail and drop dead at the half way point. Far out. There is no easy bail-out option here, so you have to head back. Just saying because I sat there for ages wondering how I could go home and cry, and it was too hard to work out, so I clunked my way back.
The second half is cranky in reverse. Everything becomes a blur. And then dark. The final reverse loop in the Grand Canyon is one of caution vs one of setting up camp and never coming home again. It’s tricky underfoot, on smashed (need a better word to describe the sensation) legs, and there is a climb you cannot see in the dark. You feel it. I sat on a rock and cried as I couldn’t get my torch to work. Amazing what happens when you press the on button. And that sums up what Hounslow did to me, I left my mind and my body and said I am outta here, you 2 figure out how you’re getting home. All said and done, it’s the hardest but most rewarding event I have done. It’s slow, it hurts, it’s not really a lot of running at my level – but gee it’s satisfying when you’re done.
What are the aid stations like?
You hit the main station a couple of times so you can leave whatever you want there. There’s plenty on offer, but good to know you can bring a 10-course meal should you wish. The halfway point is pretty low key, but well-stocked.
How well marked is the course?
I am guessing it’s well marked but I knew the course like the back of my hand. Yes I trained there a lot, and it still hurt a lot.
What’s the parking like?
Plenty of it.
Is it good for spectators?
The hub is a great spot for the family to chill. In between your drop ins they could probably take a trip to Blackheath and back to mix it up.
What was the weather like?
Perfect the few years I have been there. Be prepared though, it could be hot, and cold on the same day.
Where can I stay?
Check out the cabins in Blackheath. Low cost and short drive.
Where can I eat?
Plenty of options in Blackheath or drive the 10 mins back to Katoomba
How do I get there?
It’s about 2hrs drive west from Sydney / Sydney airport. You could catch a train if in no rush.
If you’re game, give it a nudge, it’s worth it. It’s one of my favourite places in the world and the course brings out the best of it.