My decision to enter the Beach to Brother marathon came soon after competing in the 2017 race. I was disappointed with my effort in last year’s race and how I raced contributed to some real suffering over the last 10km.
My training for this year’s event was mostly trouble free, in this preparation I slightly increased my mileage from recent marathons and was able to put together a good block of training. I was confident going to the race that I’d be able to put together a good race due to this training. Much of my training had been on the course as the race is held in my home town of Port Macquarie, Australia. I decided to run this race in Gladsoles trail sandals, which I had used in last year’s race and was very happy with running in them on this course.
Beach to Brother marathon is such a unique race and has many variables that mother nature can decide to contribute to its difficulty. Last year it was extreme heat that made the race very difficult, this year the weather report looked favourable for good conditions reporting mild temperatures.
Race morning started with those mild temperatures and fine conditions that were welcomed by all at the start line. My goal this year was to break four hours and my tactic to achieve this was to run patiently throughout and run my own race regardless of where my position in the race was.
I started with this in the forefront of my mind and ran the first kilometre in a small lead group of 5-6 runners. After the short climb up to the top of Flynns Beach I took the lead of the group and rolled through the flat and downhill section onto Flynns Beach. I was a little surprised when only one runner came with me to this point and we had about 100m lead by the time on the sand. The other runner was another local runner and friend of mine Clifford Hoeft. Cliff and I ran the next section to Lighthouse Beach mostly together, on most of the uphill trail sections I pulled away as I envisage Cliff took these relatively conservatively and I did the same on the downhill sections and was easily caught. We reached the Tacking Point Lighthouse together with a good lead over the rest of the field.
The section along Lighthouse beach to Lake Cathie is a long 10km stretch of beach with a detour mid-way down the beach into a nearby trail before going back onto the sand for the remaining 5-6km. I gained a short lead at the lighthouse Beach aid station as I didn’t need to fill my flask. This section was nice running with relatively hard sand despite an incoming tide and a light southerly headwind to run into. Exiting the beach to the trail onto a nice gravel road and both myself and Cliff picked up the pace along here and rolled through this section to the aid station before going back onto the beach, I filled my water flask and was back on the sand just behind.
By the time we had come back to the sand the wind strength had increased and running into this section was more challenging. I decided to focus on my own running, and be patient running into the wind. The incoming tide was starting to make the sand softer and by the coffee rock section before Lake Cathie there were a few sections where I got wet with waves crashing against the rocks or needed to go rock hopping over the coffee rock section. In this section of the race I had put some space between myself and Cliff and I exited the beach at Lake Cathie with a few hundred metre lead.
A short trail section around Lake Cathie and I felt great going back onto the beach for the section to Bonny Hills. By this stage the wind was quite strong and the tide had made an initial coffee rock section of about 500m unpassable without rock hopping over. I had expected this section and was prepared for the coffee rock, running in sandals makes this section slightly more challenging as it is easy to catch a toe or roll an ankle. It was on this section I slightly rolled my right ankle and fell onto my knee, while only a small fall I got up with some pain in my right knee. The rest of this section is beach and into the now strong head wind was tough running, I exited the beach at Bonny Hills still in the lead and feeling good.
From Bonny Hills there is a section of both up and downhill grass and trail over Grants Headland. My knee by this stage was quite sore and all the downhill sections aggravated it more, I was still running quite well albeit in some pain. On the very tight single trail over Grant’s Head I was caught behind some half marathon runners and unable to pass, at this stage Cliff caught me. The trail between Grant Head and North Haven Surf Club was relatively uneventful as we ran together and both ran relatively conservatively. Reaching North Haven with 10km to go I stopped for water briefly before heading off for the last 7.5km before the 2.5km summit to North Brother Mountain. It was at this stage when Cliff accelerated ahead of me on the breakwall and I didn’t have the legs to go with him. I made the decision to run my own race knowing that the finish to this race is as tough as they get.
At this stage of the race the marathon distance was certainly starting to hurt and by the aid station with 5km to go I was feeling okay but my pace had slowed. From here it is mostly uphill until the base of the mountain and I had lost confidence that I was going to compete for the win. Cliff had run off looking very strong and I concentrating on surviving to the mountain and then doing what I can to get up. My goal of a sub 4 hour finish was still looking good.
The last 2.5km of this race has over 500m of elevation up a single trail, mostly stairs leading up the North Brother Mountain. Very soon into this climb I was aware that I didn’t have much if anything left and it was real test of my mental will just to get up the climb. With about 1.5km to go I was passed by another marathon runner. He was climbing the mountain very strongly and there was nothing I could do when he went past other than congratulate him.
Close to the top after taking a left hand turn the trail flattens out and there are a few runable sections mixed with further climbing. I tried to run these sections and hold onto my sub 4 hour goal but when I did both my calves started to cramp. I decided to power hike these sections and do the best I could. By this stage you can see the top of the trees and start to hear the crowd as the top is not far away. I was able to break into a run as I got near the finish and crossed the line in third place in 4:01:19. Just shy of my 4 hour goal but satisfied with a third place.
Big congratulations to Clifford Hoeft for winning this race, he raced a great race and was the strongest runner on the course today. Very happy to see him to be the first winner of this marathon local to our area.
With 24 hours of reflection I am happy with my race. I left everything I had on that course and can honestly say there is nothing more I could have done on the day. If I had my time again I would have raced the same way and gave myself a chance to achieve my goals.
The difficulty of this race was again magnified by the conditions, the wind and tide made the beach sections really tough and this contributed to the remainder of the race as it sapped energy from you that was really required for the brutal hill at the end. One of the beauties of this race is the mystery that the weather can create and how the coastal conditions change so much with the conditions. We may be waiting years before this race has conditions that will make it easier, it will be a different challenge every year..
This race is a must do NSW coastal trail race. It is super well organised and such a beautiful coastal course. The views over the coast from some of the spots on course are some of the best in the country, not to forget the amazing scenery on top of North Brother Mountain. It’s a race that gives me everything I love about competing in marathons, a tough challenging course, beautiful scenery and fantastic on course atmosphere.
Personally, I really want a sub four hour finish on this course, I certainly believe I am a good enough runner to achieve this and will undoubtedly be back from another crack at it next year.