On the 21st of October, I once again lined up to compete in the Blackall 100 trail ultra-marathon. This year the race was used as the Australian long course trail championships, which meant the winner of the race would also become the national champion. Having won the race last year at my debut 100km race, I returned this year with a better understanding of what I was getting myself in to.
Last year I had three goal races for the year. My “A” goal race was the Gold Coast Marathon, and my two “B” goal races were the Coastal High 50 and the Blackall 100. This year I decided to only aim for two goal races which allowed me to make them both “A” races.
After I raced at the Gold Coast Marathon in July, I sat down to map out my training plan for Blackall. I renewed my plan from last year, picking out the parts that I felt helped me and I reflected on the things that I could have done better and looked for other areas that I had room to improve on. I also continued with my long-term plan of slowly increasing my weekly mileage.
With the experience of last year’s conditions, I undertook a week-long heat acclimatisation protocol, although as it turned out, the heat was not a factor in year's race. The conditions were almost the polar opposite of those from last year with the area receiving in the vicinity of 450mm of rain in the week leading into the race.
This year the race directors once again were forced to decide to alter the course. They were able to make the call earlier this year, which gave me more time to process the information and adjust my race plan.
As with all runners, in the week leading up to the race, I had a few nagging thoughts about whether or not I had done the right amount of training to handle the challenges of the course. I was able to draw on the confidence I had gained from the sharpening sessions and tune-up races I had done, which allowed me to alleviate most of those concerns.
If you follow me on Strava, you would have seen the mileage that I was logging. During this block of training, I hit my lifetime peek mileage and managed to handle it well enough to place 1st, 4th, and 4th in three 10km races in the six weeks leading into Blackall.
Neither of the other two winners of the race returned this year, so my only guide to my potential competition was from the race preview article published on ultra168.com.au. I did not recognise any of the names, but I was able to look up their results which gave me confidence that I would be able to match it with them.
As a 100km trail race has so many factors that you have varying degrees of control over, it is impossible to have a 100% hard and fast race plan. My strategy was similar to last year whereby I planned on staying with the leaders early on and then increasing my effort later on in the race if I was able to.
This year only one other runner ran with me over the first few km’s. I stayed with him but ran within myself. At about 3km’s into the race we hit the first substantial climb and almost immediately the guy I was running with started to drop off the pace. Having had the experience of last year’s race, I was confident that I could continue alone and execute my race. This year I chose to run a little more conservatively over the first 22km loop and returned to start/finish line where I met my crew for the first time of the day about 7mins slower than last year. I was not worried as I knew that I had kept my heart rate from spiking on the two significant climbs and I was feeling relaxed and in control.
After leaving the checkpoint, the course doubles back on itself for about 2kms. I was able to see the guys that were chasing me, and I was able to gauge how they were looking. Like last year this was the last time that I saw any of my fellow competitors until after the finish line.
This year I had two support crews. One crew was based at checkpoint 5, which I passed through 4 times, and the other crew was based at checkpoint 4, which I passed through 3 times. When I met my crew at checkpoint 5 for the second time (51km) I asked them to call the other crew to tell them to have my fisiocrem and a towel ready. I chose to keep a tube in each crew box this year to try to alleviate the cramping that I suffered from last year. Once I applied it I felt like it had an immediate effect and chose to reapply it at all of the remaining three checkpoints.
In the build-up to the race, my longest long run was about 48kms, and my standard weekly long run is 35kms. They are scheduled at the end of the week when I have already run 160kms or more, so when I got to the 65km mark, I played a mental game where I said to myself “Ok, Its now just a long run on tired legs.”
When I got to checkpoint 5 for the second last time (70km), I got an update that at the 60km mark I was up by about 40min. So as I was still feeling relatively comfortable, I decided to focus on pushing the runnable sections without being too silly, with the aim of getting to checkpoint 5 at the 82km mark before the second placed runner arrived there at the 70km mark. I ended up missing him by about 15mins but my mental game worked in that it gave me an external goal to focus on and gave me a reason to keep pushing. When I left checkpoint 5 for the last time, I had about 20kms to go. Having already run 82km and being pretty carbohydrate depleted I was not in a state that I could do mental calculations to work out precise pacing, but I was still alert enough to determine that if I was in front by ruffly 50mins with about 20kms to go and I ran at an average pace of 5:30min/km (my average pace at that point was 5:17min/km) that it would be near impossible for the second placed runner to catch me.
The real numbers were 52min 35sec over 19kms, which meant he would have had to make up 2min 46sec per kilometre every kilometre for 19kms, this meant that if I did hold 5:30min/km he would have to run a faster pace then the world record marathon pace.
At this point, I knew that if I looked after myself, I was going to win. I then changed my focus to fully constraint on trying to finish the race in under 9 hours. About 4kms before arriving at the last checkpoint, the conditions deteriorated considerably and the rain intensified to monsoonal proportions. The trail became very slippery, and large sections were completely under water. The temperature also dropped, and my hands turned blue.
Leaving the final checkpoint, I increased my effort in the hope of finishing in under 9 hours, but with the combination of the deteriorating conditions and my body being right on the limit of cramping I eventually finished in 9:08:05.
I was interviewed by Brett, who is one of the race directors on facebook live while I ran the last 500m. As a result of winning the race and becoming the national champion, I have the opportunity to nominate for the national team to compete in the world championships in Spain next year. While this is obviously very tempting, I have already set out my goals for next year which mean I cannot take up this opportunity at this stage.
As I have said before, I am fortunate to have the support of my family and especially a very understanding wife that allows me time to pursue my sporting endeavours. My next goal is to return to the Gold Coast Marathon where I will be running in the elite category, and I will be aiming to run under 2:20. I would also like to thank my product sponsor Fisiocrem for supplying me with their fantastic product.