Last week I travelled to Brisbane for my second attempt at The Guzzler Ultra 50km event in the Brisbane trails around the Mt Coot-tha area. Its a race I first attempted in 2019 and was entered last year before a date change from July to November and then the NSW to QLD border closures due to covid-19 made it necessary to defer my entry until 2021.
With another wave of covid causing all types of border closures across the nation currently we managed to get across the border on Tuesday of race week. Bringing forward a small family holiday to ensure we didn’t get derailed by government restrictions. It was a good choice as the QLD government announced later in the week that the border would close to regional NSW.
I arrived to this race after a strong block of training, managing to get in enough long runs and mileage in the lead up to stand on the race start confident I could put together a good 50km race. Some small changes to the course from the 2019 edition of the race meant the race would start at the same place as the finish meant about a kilometre walk from the designated parking area to the start. I arrived at the start area about 45 mins before the start giving myself ample time to watch the 100km runners begin their race and then organise myself for the start.
The race starts with a short run along the road to the car park before taking a right hand turn onto the trails. From there we have the first climb of the day and what The Guzzler team call the King and Queen of the mountain. It’s a precursor for what lies ahead as it’s a challenging climb for the next 2km. Although there is far tougher climbs on the course than this initial climb gives the runner an immediate understanding that this race isn’t for the faint hearted, there’s some tough terrain to come. I came to the start of this climb after a conservative start in approx 20 -30th position and was mindful to be relatively conservative on the first climb, this climb is steep in parts and 2km long but is easily runnable in most parts. I took my time and ran this climb and was surprised by how quickly I moved through the field. I came to the top of this climb inside the top 10 of 50km runners. From here there’s a really nice downhill section over some faster switchbacks where we run to the forest floor and to the first checkpoint at the Enoggera Reservoir at 18km. This section from 3km to 18km is definitely the most runnable part of this course and probably the most enjoyable. During this section there are still a large number of rolling hills, mostly short up and down sections however there is some steep, tough hills during this period over mostly forest roads. At 13km the course takes a short turn onto a single trail towards the reservoir. At this point the course is slightly wet under foot after persistent rain the day before, although the weather on race day is perfect, sun coming through now and mild conditions.
After a short time on the single trail I was following a runner closely and missed a tree root across the path. My foot hit this root and I tripped and hit the ground hard. I softened my fall mostly with my hands, I jumped to my feet quickly and kept running. I noticed I had a large scrape on the palm of my right hand and felt some small pain in my right knee. I felt fine running thankfully and ran quickly to try and catch the runner who i was following. As I ran further I noticed the pain in my knee increased and I had quite a lot of blood coming from my hand. I decided to keep running to the checkpoint and try and get patched up by first aid.
Soon after I arrived in checkpoint one at 18km, I didn’t require to fill any fluids at this point and went straight to the first aid. When I arrived there the volunteers were not ready for me and took longer then I’d envisaged to get to me. I asked them to quickly put a dressing on my hand to stop the bleeding and I continued. I lost probably 2-3 minutes here and lost contact with the runners i had been running with. This was frustrating as I was running very well to this point and the people I had around me were certainly enabling this. This left me running alone to the next checkpoint.
Next section of this race is to McAfees Lookout checkpoint at 24km. Just 6km up the road and what looks on paper to be a good section of running is not this at all. This is a difficult section of the course, for the most part of this 6km is either a steep uphill or a steep downhill. It is more challenging terrain over rocky and loose covering forest roads. It is a tough section, I remember in my 2019 race here this section being the start of an unravelling of condition that didn’t really improve. This time around I was feeling much better, however the steep downhills were causing my knee further pain and i struggled to stretch out and run on these, I was forced to contain myself downhill which made for slower going than I would have liked. During this section i was passed by a runner on an uphill section, I was able to keep pace with him on the uphills, and he pulled away on the downhills. Ultimately I wasn’t able to keep with him and he had a good lead on me by the checkpoint.
Again at 24km I still had ample fluids and ran through this checkpoint. I started the race with 1.5L in my pack reservoir and Trail Brew electrolyte in 2 x 500ml soft flasks. At this stage it wasn’t a warm day and I still had plenty to get me to the next checkpoint at 32km. The next checkpoint has the now famous ‘Hell Hole hustle’ section in the course. From leaving McAfee’s Lookout this begins, it’s a fast downhill section and then tight single trail section into a small creek crossing, in this downhill section the terrain is mostly rocky and lose underfoot. I made sure I was carful enough to not have a further fall, the knee is still giving me pain downhill and a further fall could put me out of the race at this stage. On this downhill I was caught by the female winner of the race, she was charging downhill and caught me close to the bottom of the creek, I stayed with her at the bottom and started the climb out of Hell Hole together. The climb from Hell Hole is steep, loose under foot and long. It’s probably the second hardest climb on the course and not runnable for even the best runners. I did my best to hike this climb as fast as i could, the female I was with was very good on this climb and with the race still just over half way i didn’t see a benefit to staying with her, she had about 50m lead on me at the top of the climb.
This next section of the race has some rolling hills up and down until the 30km mark. This section is a tough grinding section of the race. With my knee giving pain and fatigue starting to set in I felt this section was the first time I was less engaged mentally. I was not at my best during this section, I was currently in 9th place on the course, still running quite well but feeling poor mentally. During this time I was thinking about quitting at the next aid station, my knee was far from perfect but also far from stopping me running. It was a mental excuse i was making because the day was getting hard. I never really thought seriously about dropping out, but when these thoughts enter our head its important to stop them and focus on running and the things we can control. Last 2-3km of this section is a downhill section to the Gold Creek Reservoir checkpoint. On the downhill section I was passed by another runner and then near the bottom I passed a runner who was struggling, net gain zero and i arrive at checkpoint 3 in 9th pace on course and feeling ok. Legs are showing obvious signs of fatigue, mind going better and 18km left to run. I filled all my water carrying devices at this checkpoint. Tailwind Electrolyte in my soft flasks and 1.2L water in the bladder. I had a cup of coke as i left the checkpoint and continued on my way.
The next section of the course is a lap of the Gold Creek Reservoir, this is a challenging single trail. From my 2019 race the course has slightly changed and the reservoir is run the reverse direction. This means the first half of this section is much easier, much flatter and less technical single trail, the second half is hilly and tough. It’s another section of the course that looks much easier on paper as it is. During the second half of this section I struggled quite badly physically. Each hill was becoming tough, the short hard climbs were taking their toll. In these races we certainly prepare for the big climbs as they present a recognisable challenge but the death by a thousand cuts of the short, steep climbs and then straight into a short, steep downhill and repeat take their toll. Over the final quarter of this section I was passed by a further runner. This runner was clearly running better than me at this stage and I had a brief chat and didn’t attempt to stay with him. I was readying myself for the climb out of Gold Creek and then being mentally engaged to the finish.
Back to Gold Creek and then up the 2-3km climb we go down to the checkpoint. This is a tough climb but over this section there was a steady stream of runners coming down the trail which helped keep me going. I hiked this climb for the most part and ran the less steep sections. I was feeling better than the single trail now and getting ready for the grind to the finish. At the top of this climb there is 12-13km to the finish, the first part is a long section of forest road, these roads are wide and smooth. There is a number of rolling hills, however nothing super steep. At this stage of the race I am running fairly well on the flat and downhill sections and less steep uphills, when the road gets steep I am happy to hike. During this section my focus is on ticking off the kilometres to the finish, its not pretty but it’s what I have to do at this point. There are a number of good downhills where the running is feeling more comfortable and I am able to ticking off some kilometres quicker.
I get to what I think is the bottom of the trail and a sign saying 5km to go. I’m excited by this sign but aware that soon enough is the toughest climb on the course. 4km and the sign says ‘Kokoda awaits.’ They just love to make this race hard, even mentally at this pint, physically everything is hurting, mentally I’m going ok, but now i’m thinking about Kokoda. i still have memories of it from two years ago. I get to the bottom of the Kokoda trail and there is young lady out on her mountain bike ride going up. I follow her, she’s quicker, I’m hiking. Kokoda is a brute of a hill, its a hill that starts of steep and gets steep as you go up. The first part isn’t that bad but it just keeps going. The lady on her mountain bike gets 3/4 the way up before turning around, I congratulate her, that can’t be easy on a bike. She says I can’t do the last part, I think i wish I didn’t have to.
I get to the top of Kokoda and there’s 2.5km left to run, mostly downhill, mostly over a fairly technical trail. All of this section my legs don’t want to cooperate. I do my best to run this trail, Kokoda has smashed me (again). I’m mindful of the time on my watch and know I’m ahead of my 2019 time. I get to the bottom, I can hear the race headquarters, i turn into the finish straight and cross the line in 5 hours 50 min in 10th place. I’m 10 min faster than my previous effort here and that will do me. I’m happy.
This is a tough 50km course. I certainly don’t envy the 100km runners doing Hell Hole Hustle twice and the second time at night and Kokoda after 96km. The major climbs are tough, and well placed to make sure you always know there’s one around the corner. If they don’t get you the small steep up and downhills in-between do. It’s a course I’ve had two cracks at now and still don’t think I’ve got the result I’m after. rarely does everything go to plan in an ultra which is why we keep coming back. I left everything out there in this race, but I can’t wait to come back for more.
The two major gear choices i made for this race were my shoes. I ran this race in Vivobarefoot Primus Trail FGII. This was first race in shoes since 2018, I ran this race in 2019 in Gladsoles Sandals but decided I needed more protection for the harsh terrain. I’m not convinced I was quicker because of shoes but the Primus Trail is a shoe i’m excited to run in.The second gear choice was the Naked HC Vest. This is the new iteration vest and I’m super impressed by this one. I’ll have a review on these pages soon but it’s a great piece of running equipment.
Congratulations to The Guzzler Team on another great running of this event.It’s a seamless operation, its a great course with a beautiful atmosphere. I’ll see you next year