Back Home It says a lot about the human spirit that despite repeated efforts and a less than stellar outcome from an event, that you would want to go back again. Two Bays Trail Run, like the first love that you can never forget, it is the first trail race that will always captivate me. But like a tumultuous lover, it’s the constant threat of failure or rejection that keeps me keen. And so, having come back for a 7th go here, I was wondering what would be the outcome. And given that my record here reads like a pretty piss poor football team (4 starts, 3 finishes, 3 non-starts), chances are… failure?
Fully 6 months out, and entries open. I jump in for the 56, hoping to redeem myself from 2019’s DNF. Almost immediately, an injury that has been threatening for a month or so, suddenly flares and I find myself on the sidelines for 3 months. The rehab and comeback proved that 56 was right out of the question, so the 28 it was. And given I hadn’t raced the 28 for 6 years, it piqued my interest and gave me a new goal to aim for; not long but maybe with a bit of speed.
November and December saw me struggling to get my mojo back. Runs were laboured, cardio seemed well down and run times never showed any sign of speeding up. The closer I got, the more worried I was that even the 28 was going to leave me shattered and well down on expectations. But, as often happens, suddenly it all started to click into place. And in reality, it was nothing more than getting a few long trail runs under my belt. A 31k run on the southern end in late December was a reminder that I wasn’t anywhere near where I wanted to be, it was a really tough, hard run; but I took a few positives away. Firstly, it showed exactly what I was up against, and secondly, it was probably the tough run I needed to get behind me. Have the shit runs in training, not on race day. I was proven correct on both accounts.
I had elected this year to drive down on the morning; get up at 4:20, in the car by 5 to make sure I had plenty of time to get to Dromana and get myself sorted. Long drives to event starts can be stressful, the longer you have to spend travelling, the greater the chances things stuff up. Thankfully no issues, but stress levels were a bit high. I was wired to the max when I got down the start line, and I needed to calm down, and quickly. Thankfully chatting to plenty of people there helped. But as 7:00am approached, I just wanted to be underway.
Arthurs Seat A huge field this year, so much more congestion than 2014 (a nod to the organisers for their ability to attract a field this size 2 weeks after New Years). At 7 on the dot, we were off. A shuffle, (don’t trip on the curb as we waddled towards the start shute) then over the timing pads and were we away. The first section up Latrobe Parade is bitumen, it climbs enough to know you’re working hard early, then as it turns the corner towards Arthurs Seat and crosses the freeway, it increases elevation even more. I’ve already had a few walk breaks, the idea here is don’t get caught up in the rush to get onto the trail to beat the bottleneck as I would expend way too much energy. For me, best just to go with the flow.
Friends Nigel and Jacinta are marshals on the road and leading into the park, nice to see familiar faces. As we hit the first of the steeper hills, many stop and walk and we commence the “strategic hike” up towards the summit. Some people elect to keep running, but the effort looks tenfold to hiking, for very little gain. Two men in front of me chatting as we walked up the steps section, Chap 1: “I haven’t actually run on this course in training” Chap 2: “Have you been on this course at all?” Chap 1: “Oh yes, but only walking”. Before the thought is fully formed in my mind, the words escape my mouth, “And what are we doing now, exactly?” Thankfully they took it as the banter that was intended, rather than the smart-arse comment that it could have been interpreted as.
The climb is otherwise uneventful. 3 and a half k in the trail flattens out, turns right and heads through a section with some flowing single track. A few impatient bastards push past without asking or letting us know they intend to pass. Being fairly tall and robust, the shouldering on the way through doesn’t phase me, but the diminutive woman in front is buffeted like a sandwich wrapper in a stiff breeze. (Anyone reading this who is a new or soon to be a new trail runner, it is courteous to ask if it’s okay to pass, or tell them you are going to do it. If they don’t hear you, ask again. If still they don’t hear you, pass by all means, but do it where it is safe for all of us)
Caught up with fellow Baw Baw Runner, Dave, heading up the climbs. First Two Bays for him, he’s travelling well and I’m sure he’ll keep me in sight for as long as possible.
5 and a half k in and a sharp rise brings us out onto the Two Bays Walking Trail. A group are there cheering us on, cowbells (hear a few of those throughout) and then we commence the descent to McLarens Dam. This is welcome for all, a real chance to stretch the legs out and get some running in. The final part down to the dam wall is steep, the road is full of loose gravel and many of us elect to run on a trail on the right-hand side. Marshals down the bottom can be heard from the top, yelling encouragement as we barrel down then head past the dam itself.
Residential environs Pop out on to Waterfall Gully Road, Mark Taggert there to hi-five me and the start of the sections that traverse the residential area in Rosebud. Lots of spectators lining the street, a few shout outs re my shorts (they are a regular for Two Bays), then down Coolgowie St and the first aid station. My friend Zoe is marshal on the corner, quick hug and I’m off again. I didn’t need to stop here, still plenty of sports drink, the 2 gels in vest pockets untouched so I head on to the boardwalk in the reserve. Stopped to walk just as a runner came past me coughing and spluttering; either swallowed an airborne insect or fluid down the wrong way. “Come on son, get it out!” I advised (a bit loudly, as everyone else heard me). He was fine.
Through the reserve, out on to Yambill Avenue and another friend, Jayne is marshal here. Stopped for a hug and a selfie, just as Dave runs past me. “You have too many friends, you keep stopping!”, he tells me. We have a laugh as he heads up the road. Up Yambill and onto Duells Road, I kept a walk/run pace to stop my HR spiking. I was feeling good, but wanted to keep it easy until I hit Greens Bush. Still ran more of Duells than I would normally, energy was good. The sun was out, although it wasn’t hot (not even really warm) I was already sweating buckets. The back of my shirt and shorts were saturated. Not a heavy sweater, but it was pouring out of me today.
Top of Duells is the entrance to Stefanie Rennick walk and all the grass trees. The mats for washing our shoes to protect against Phytophthora laid out for us to shuffle the shoes as we crossed them. Only now, in this section does it feel like the race is thinning out. Down the hill, along the grassy flat, boardwalk and then the climb back out through the grass trees. A magic little section in between before crossing Browns and heading up Hyslops.
As I approach Browns I remember a friend said she’d be there spectating. I hadn’t seen Chrissy for months, agreed this point was the best vantage point for spectating. She said she was going to hi-five everyone she knew. Bugger that, I went in for the full barrel sweaty hug, all the while apologising for being so sweaty! Funny thing is, there was a Running in the Burbs girl next to Chrissy, she must have thought I was heading directly for her. Most likely relieved when I veered away. It was great seeing her, we had a laugh that it’s been so long since we caught up, then I was away again.
Hyslops is always a bit of a chore, but worth it to get to Greens. Tegz and Kellie were there, squeezy duck making an appearance again, quacking at us all as we passed. No sign of the 56k runners yet, which was a good sign for me, meant I was still tracking a decent time. Steadily up Hyslops, lines of runners ahead and behind, I quickly check the watch, HR still under 155, the time within a few minutes estimated for 3 hours, I was feeling good. About 400 metres before the aid station, 56k leaders come flying past us in the other direction. Cracking pace, we are all in awe. Just as I hit the trail of the end of Hyslops, friend Zack comes past in 8th, looking comfortable. Hit the aid station, fill up the bottle with Vfuel and walk out taking a short breather.
Greens – worth the entry price on its own 12k, 1:20 on the clock. Head into Greens. The elevation plot always makes this section look like 2 hills with a general trend of down as you head towards Boneo Road. But it has a few dips and rises, creeks, natural variance in the trail etc. If you’re strong, this section can be a blast, if not, it can drag for ages. I settled into a groove pretty quickly. Running all the downs, the flat, and most of the climbs unless the HR went massively over 170. At 15k the trail slowly climbs back to the highest point through here. It was on my training run 2 weeks previously that I really started to struggle beyond here. Even on the flats I was laboured and just devoid of energy. But now I was still running 6:30/k pace and feeling in control, and thinking I could keep this up forever (never happens, you eventually just run the tank dry, but it’s nice to dream). A brief shower of misty rain hits us, very cool and refreshing. Could have that all day!
16k mark, tree down. We’d been told about that online, and at race brief, but trail running guppy brains here forgot… Stop, climb through and help another runner get over a limb, then off again over the peak (190 metres) which heralds the start of 4k basically down, albeit very gentle. Get on the back of another runner and decide her pace is ideal for this section. Keeping a respectful distance so I don’t trip and take her out with me, we move steadily along the trail. Occasionally picking up other runners, occasionally being passed. I’m still keeping an eye on the HR, but sometimes looking at the pace and the time. My rough plan is to be into Boneo about 2:20, so far I’m about 4 minutes off the pace, but okay with that.
18k aid station, I slow down, drink more Vfuel in my bottle but don’t get a refill here. Realised so far I haven’t taken any food from the tables, nor had any gels. Mental note to see how I feel at Boneo, but at the moment not feeling the need for food. Running out of the aid station, on the other side of the creek as you climb the stairs, noticed a plastic cup placed at the base of a tree. I muttered a few oaths, ran a bit more, then decided to go back and grab it. Runners behind me immediately asking if I’m okay (don’t you just love trail runners?). “I’m fine, just cleaning up…”
Stash the cup in the vest and continue. Cleared paddocks on our left indicate we are a few k from Boneo. The weather is warmer here as the canopy opens out. But it is still really good conditions for a January trail event. The first of several trips and near ankle rolls along here, getting a bit tired and complacent. Photographer around the corner, concentrate on staying upright, smile and keep moving. Not too much longer and I can hear the cars on Boneo Road, then the cowbells and very soon the sounds of people near the road crossing.
Boneo Road, aid station oasis 22k, 2:27 down. 33 minutes to get to Cape Schanck from here; which is probably off the cards. I stop for one last refill, forgot to eat but not worried, 40 minutes tops and I’m finished, I hope… First part out of Boneo is soft sand on a climb. Walk up, start running at the top then notice a small ache in my left calf. Cramp? The pain recedes as I continue on. A number of walkers along this section, popular to walk the 5.5k between Cape and Boneo. Dodge a weave past a few, catch a runner, get passed again. Story of my day.
At the 24k mark, the pain in the calf has returned to the point that I stop to massage it. A group of about 6 runners with Chantele Melchori at the front (the engine!) came past. Chantele asks if I’m okay, yep I’m good. The massage felt good. I catch that group of runners and tag on the back. Just as we start to descend to Burrabong Creek (and a date with the Stairs of Spontaneous Poetry), the track narrows and we get views over the bay. A group of walkers has stepped off the trail to let us past. Suitably impressed with our efforts, they cheer us on calling out our names on our bibs. “Way to go Chantele!” “Looking good Stuart!” “Well done PB or…”, “PBor…”, “P BW?” Then peels of laughter as I run past and they suddenly get what my bib is!
The final descent to Burrabong is narrow with overhanging trees. Following the runner in front, I judge when I need to duck and when I can just wiggle the head. Misjudged one and gave myself a nasty smack on the head. No stars in the eyes, but it slowed me down. Across the bridge, then climb the stairs. I know it’s only a few k from here, but the climb up here finally takes me over the edge, energy-wise. First time all day I had to stop and take a long breather. Getting going again was hard, and Chantele’s crew had got a good 70 metres in front, no way to peg them back.
Those last 2 k’s dragged as struggled with energy. Kept going as hard as I could, the sound of the surf making me aware I was close. Then the first sighting of the lighthouse and eventually I could hear cheering and the PA at the finish line. Lots of walkers here, all being very lovely and giving us room to get by. Last bit of trail and friend Paula yelling my name and getting a photo as I hit the final 200 metres. Then the final corner turned, spectators on either side as I gunned it to the finish line.
The End 27.66k, 3:04:47 on my watch. Given the last 2k, I’d thought 3:07/3:08 was going to be more like it. A huge hug and get my medal from Karen, grab a coke and walk around for a few minutes. Legs too sore to sit down! And being at the finish line was like being home. So many familiar faces, stories being told of success, failure or just highlighting some of the better stories of the day. It was great to be back.
The day not yet finished: Nick and I having a swim back at Dromana, then head back out to watch Belle finish her 56k. The original plan was to watch her through Browns and Boneo. She was too quick for us at Browns, and when she came steaming through Boneo still on PB time, we then had no option but to see her finish at Cape Schanck. And PB she did, topped off the day for all of us.
So, after a bit of an indifferent finish to 2019, I start it off with a strong run. Need to keep building as the plan this year is Run Larapinta in August. Before that, sweeping at Hut 2 Hut, racing at Duncans 50 and maybe a couple of the Trails+ 50 mountain series to get me ready for Larapinta.
You can view the original story on Les’s blog and read his other reports