Just a little bit further

Run Larapinta

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Back on new years day - when work was still nuts - I committed to Run Larapinta. A four day stage race out across the Larapinta trail in outback central Australia. The escape and challenge was something to look forward to.

I decided to get into Alice Springs a day early so as to not be rushed and have a bit of time to check out the town. The first afternoon I grabbed some supplies from the supermarket and shuddered at the hot 27 degree heat and forecast 30 degree race days. This was going to hurt as I’ve always run hot and needed some cooler air to stop me forming into a hot dripping mess above a massive puddle. That night I checked out the recommended Monty’s which indeed was a nice venue - and early the next day wandered out to the nicer cafés in the Todd mall. I’d been told if I had time to do one thing in Alice to head to the Desert Park - which I did and was indeed a great few hours to learn about the flora and fauna in central australia and view an impressive native bird show.

Cruisy day - now time to Run Larapinta

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Friday afternoon was registration and briefing time - before a 5:30 dusk run around the trails behind Alice Sprngs. The organisers quite rightly impressed the need to manage yourself and forget about your time for the next few days. It was an environment where you would be asked to take a concrete pill. Bail out points were few and far between - so being highly reslient, self supporting and able to self rescue yourself out of a bad situation was crucial. As reality set in we all sat out our nerves and made our way to the late afternoon start line for day 1.

Day 1 - 19km from Alice Springs to the Old Telegraph Station

Starting on a sandy river bed - we followed a dusty fire trail behind the suburbs of Alice for a few k’s before turning off into the flowing single trail used by the moutain bikers around Alice. With beautifully framed ranges, the setting sun and fresh legs it was a delightful spin. Before long I was tucked behind a group not far off the lead, and enjoying the evening so much I decided to keep the tempo pace for the night. It was a fast pace but not uncomfortable - and as always I was spurred on by the fading light and fun trails.

When the light was so low I was at risk of triping - I stopped to strap on my Ayups and used the opportunity for a quick photo opportunity

Stunning views and sweet flowing single trail. May have bombed the first 19k leg too hard (came 5th or 6th I think). Tomorrow's marathon in the heat will pull me up #runlarapinta

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As I slung my pack back on out flew my phone and smashed it’s screen on the ground. Ooops.

Back cruising I rejoined the gang I’d been running with, a couple of mates - Nathan and Shagger - from Portsea in southern Victoria. It wasn’t long and we were intermingled with the Namitjera (short course) stage runners. Most were pretty aware and quickly parted to allow us to bomb on through - others needed a friendly “passing” call, and a few were oblivious as we kept the buners on and flew past.

Before too long we were down to the Telegraph Station with cowbells, cheering and a finishing chute. Home in 6th place, and a snappy 5:07/k pace - fully aware this would not last through the next few days.

Day 2 - 41km from Simpsons Gap to Standley Chasm

In the pre-dawn chill we rolled out of Alice Springs for the start of a big day 2. It was forecast to be unseasonaly hot - 30 degrees. Since there was only two aid stations (at 16k and at 28k) and as the final stretch from 28k was hard the organisers had set expectations that all runners had to leave that second aid station with a minimum of 3L of water. This seemed at the time like it was being overly cautious - 3L to run out the final 11ks - how naive many of us were!

The start line was in front of Simpsons Gap. It was beautful albeit freezing at dawn - with a huddled crew of about 40-50 runners eager to have our first big day out - and start warming up. From the start an easy pace was set and there was some beautiful undulating single track as we moved out along the trail. I soon again picked my natural spot tucked in behind Nathan and Shagger from day 1 and Aaron. Aaron a young bloke who hadn’t run before starting his adventure - was out raising money and awareness for mental health. Travelling around outback Australia solo and running 18 marathons in 8 months. He’d toed the line at the Townsville marathon only the weekend previous and after four hard days and two marathons in the Malbunka couse of the Run Larapinta race he was due to back up with the Alice Springs marathon the next weekend! A humble and natural runner - and one of the many quiet legends you meet out on the trails.

The day started heating up soon after the sun was out - and by the first checkpoint at the 18k mark it was already feeling pretty warm. I was still feeling great - so grabbed a water top up and quickly pressed on to the 28k station. By about 25k mark it was getting hot and the legs were starting to feel a bit heavy, then we turned the corner to the ‘Fishing Hole’ which was nothing but a dry river bed of sand and stones that needed to be walked through. The 28k station was a few ks up the river bed - and just when it was in view we had a pinchy climb up over and down a ridge to get to it. By now it was hot!

I took my time at the aid station - some water on the head, some refills and making sure I had 3 litres, and a quick nigari roll with soy sauce that hit the spot. Just as I was leaving I saw some folks I’d droped at the 16k station - so pressed on. 13k to go - this shouldn’t be too bad - oh how wrong was!

The climb started soon after, but was mostly gently for a few kilometers. Then we started the real climb. It was here that I started to see others reel me in - first Nathan and Shagger were past. Then came a few more. By this stage I was feeling it - a power hike up with this steepness and the heat was getting too much and I had to take a few pit stops to bring the heartrate back down. There was a breeze flowing as we rose higher which was delightful and helped contain the body temperature somewhat.

The climb up the ridge was only a few km’s but took me over an hour! For me a power hike should be 12-15 km/hour but up here I was taking over 30 minutes per hour - and I’d realised now the day was baking hot that the aim was to complete and not to kill myself. Once finally over the peak the top of the ridge was highly technical which meant little running was possible. The bit that was runnable I kicked a stone that didn’t move and couldn’t correct myself soon enough, biting the dust hard. After the quick check to find what was injured and how bad - I saw it was mostly my pride and some decent skin off my elbow and hand. Luckily I could still run - I just had to work out how to get up again without cramping. Something that was becoming increasingly present - but mostly manageable. I rolled up - and found a million spinifex grass needless poking out of my skin, clothes and pack. It took a good 20 minutes to pick them all out - and in doing so I realised a few had pierced my 2L Platypus bladder and my 500ml body bottle. Fortunately they were not leaking and only did so if squeezed. That could have been a lot worse.

As I came down off the ridge the descent was into a beautiful green gully with a nice variety of trees and plants - and best of all some shade and relative cool. It was at this stage the trail started to get a bit indistinct and you had to keep your wits to ensure you stayed on the trail. I took the opportunity to take a 5 minute rest in the shade and keep hydrating. Something like 5ks to go - again thinking that’s a doddle to walk out - but again not recognising the fun the trail had yet in store.

Soon after there was an indistinct and unmarked junction. The ‘natural’ direction straight on led to a river bank.. I stayed straight for about 10 metres, but my watch and the map I’d just re-read when taking a break indicated a right direction was required. I corrected one runner who was pretty sure I was on the right path to go right, and then 3 more who came up to the junction. Later that night I found out that a number of runners made the same mistake a few of us almost did. Some carrying on for another hour and half to the same junction marking the split between the high pass we’d just gone over and the short pass they’d incorrectly taken. This mistake turning a 41k epic day into a 50k monster.

From this turning point there was some climbing up over boulders and ledges to rise up and out of the river bed, crest another small ridge, and descend into what looked like the final 1 or 2 kms out through a gorge in the mountain lines. Unfortunately the course kept on giving and as myself and another runner made our way up another dry river bed we saw the blue triangle signs that mark the Larapinta trail pointing straight up a steep face. I think every competitor cursed out loud as another bit of their soul got wrenched out of their spent bodies. Up we went - again slowly hiking and resting.

Near the top - we saw some of the organisers on their way down. They had some water to help out some competitors who it was believed were off course and out of water. At this stage I was feeling pretty rotten - my stomach which had only been a bit nauseous during the later stages of the run (something not too uncommon in myself and others) decided to pull up stumps. I vommitted a few times - collected myself in the shade - and committed to getting the last km done.

There was one more steep ridge to climb then downhill to home. I gingerly and slowly made the final climb, and equally gingerly the steps down. Then I hit a managed trail, and a gentle downward incline - where I could slowly run out the last 500 metres to the finish. At the end I felt pretty weak but was delighted to have just got out of the heat and the generally un-runable final 11kms. What and epic day out.

Later that afternoon and evening, as my skin crawled, my head ran a constant headache and I couldn’t keep any food or fluids down - I realised that the heat on the course had taken a proper toll on me. I definately had mild heatstroke - and as I lay miserable in bed at 8pm was pretty sure depending on how I felt in the morning - it was either the short course or nothing the next day.

Day 3 - DNS

Day 3 was meant to be an easy day. 30kms from the Ochre Pits to Ormiston Gorge. However from 5am the next morning when I awoke I knew I was too weak to toe the line. Not only that I couldn’t face being in the searing heat again. I was glad I did pull the pin - as I watched the crew take of at 8:15 in the morning with the day already starting to warm up.

I then carried on with our bags and a few other supporters onto the Glen Helen homestead. Nestled in front of a beautiful cliff wall with the only remaining water in the Todd River since it last rained 6 months ago the homestead was just that, a proper bush retreat from the harsh outback.

Took a rest day today - because heat and heatstroke from yesterday left my spent. Not a bad spot to be.

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I grabbed a much needed breakfast and caught a lift with an organiser onto the finish point of the short and long course. Myself and a few others then sat and chatted under a large shelter as the short course runners ran through 13ks into their 21k course, with a loop around Ormiston gorge to complete their day. It was getting hot and I was still slowly regaining strength after yesterday - so I had no regrets from siting the day out - except the beautiful parts of the trail I’d be missing out on.

Day 4 - Mount Sonder to Glen Helen homestead

The organisers the previous night had made the sensible call to start everyone off an hour earlier as it was going to be another 32 degree day. Whilst I was reasonably rested, eating again, and pretty sure I could push through the longest day (45km) - I couldn’t bear the thought of a few hours out in the raging heat again. I decided to step down to do the 30km shorter leg instead. This meant starting at 7:15 and not running up the stunning Mount Sonder.

I deliberately kept it conservative and ticked along very easily on the generally flowing single trail. At around the 15k mark we had a 400-500m hill to climb, and whilst it was warming up the breeze and still coolish air kept it pretty comfortable. The views back to Mount Sonder was stunning - and whilst on any other day I’d have loved to run up it - today I was pleased to just be soaking in it’s presence.

Mt Sonder framing the last days run.

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As I came down of the hill - with around 10kms to go I felt that today was going to be comfortable and a great way to finish out the challenging Run Larapinta event. Unfortunately by around the 23km mark the heat was so strong again and my core body temperature was getting too high that I had to temper the pace down to a jog/walk. Whilst frustrating as I had the legs and energy to run home - the heat meant I had to slowly slog it out to the finish. Crossing the finish line at just over 4 hours - and immediately plunging into the cool and refreshing river.

The remaining afternoon everyone could relax, and cheer in the back end of the field - some of who were out in the baking heat for 12 hours. The evening saw the final presentations - and a big feast, with the homestead again catering really well for a hoard of hungry runners.

The next morning a bunch of tired but immensely satisified trail runners jumped the bus to the airport and back to our normal lives.

An incredible event in an incredible place. Thanks to the organisers, Rapid Ascent, for not only putting on such a challenging and great event in a wonderful place, but also being flexible and sensible in dealing with the extreme conditions that raised the risk out there significantly.

A few days ago with heatstroke and an absolutely spent body I could curse this stunning race - but now back at home I feel I have unfinished business on the trail and a desire to be out in those amazing and remote mountains again. Run Larapinta 2018 anyone?