Lamington Classic 2014 – Race report
Since our first outing in 2012, the Lamington Classic has become one of the favourite events on our running calendar. Laid back, unusual and held on some of the most beautiful trails in Australia, there’s a lot to love about the event. It is a two day trail run which claims to be Australia’s oldest. Day 1 sees runners cover 21.1km from O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat to Binna Burra where those doing the full weekend will sleep overnight and run the return journey the following morning. Challenging, invigorating and downright fun!
This year, both Tim and myself were approaching the run with some uncertainty. Having only just returned to running after recovering from injury, I wasn’t sure my slightly out of shape body would carry me the whole way, let alone at a run. I even packed headphones (something I never usually do on the trails) in case I needed to take my time. This is pretty remote track and if I hit trouble in the middle somewhere, it could be a long walk back to civilisation. At least it would be scenic!
Tim was less worried about not being able to run but, after taking home the win last year, felt the pressure of his own expectations. Starting a new business (Wild Runners!) had left him with very little time to work on his own run fitness and he was relying mostly on the time he spends coaching others each week to have kept up some level of endurance.
That said, we were excited to be heading south once again to spend a whole weekend in the bush.
This year, we chose to spend Friday night at the Binna Burra bunk house, leaving straight after work to try to get down there as early as possible. We weren’t sure how this would go as the first year we did the Lamington Classic, we took the same approach, arrived after everyone had gone to bed and ended up sneaking into the bunkhouse and desperately hoping we had the right place and weren’t going to wake up to a family of four wondering who the creepy strangers were in their room. No such problem this year: partly because we knew the drill and partly because we arrived in time to say hi to the small group by the campfire and to claim a whole, nine bunk room to ourselves… something we somehow kept the whole weekend!
Saturday morning, we were up with the birds and off to breakfast in the lodge. For the second year, an option was offered to run both directions, equalling a full marathon, on Day 1. Those runners were starting to arrive as we headed to our car. It crossed my mind that we’d see them again in a couple of hours as we set off from O’Reilly’s and they headed into the second half of their own event. Superstars!
Pay attention because this is where the logistics of the Lamington Classic become really interesting. We drove from Binna Burra down to the town of Canungra. Here is where the runners, except the marathoners, meet on the morning of Day 1 and the magic happens. For those running both days, we want our cars to be at O’Reilly’s when we finish on Sunday and our bags to be at Binna Burra for tonight. So, everyone who hadn’t slept at Binna Burra yet, piled bags into the van that would deliver them back up to the bunk house and we all sorted out car pooling to get us up the other direction to the start line at O’Reilly’s. Add in runners doing only Saturday or only Sunday, the marathon or the marathon and the half and it becomes an impressive juggling act! One runner found out the hard way that you need to pay close attention. He was only running the Saturday event and had left his car at Binna Burra. For some reason he brought his car keys to O’Reilly’s and put them into the box that was to be left there for those of us whose cars were at the Sunday finish line. He apparently had a nasty shock on Saturday afternoon when he went to get in his car at Binna Burra and head home. Poor guy!
Logistics, more or less, sorted out, we all milled around at the start line waiting for our waves. There were a lot of familiar faces and plenty of new, nervous looking, ones too. The start line is very small and the track up here is popular with walkers so we left in waves of no more than ten. We chatted, found out we had friends of friends, wished each other luck and cheered on a couple of marathon runners who were just reaching the turn around point and then we were off!
The first part of the track is a fairly steady incline. It’s nothing too severe but it lasts for kilometres and I knew that my poor, tight, out of practice calves weren’t going to like it. From experience, I simply need to wait for my calves to cramp up, give them the stretching they need and then I can get on with the rest of the run pretty comfortably so I pushed ahead as I felt them complaining. Sure enough, I spent a frustrating kilometre or so alternating running with stretching on tree roots and assuring passing runners that I was fine. And then I was!
It felt amazing to be flying along the trails again. Any trail runner will tell you that this is one of the most liberating and invigorating feelings in the world. I never feel more alive than when I’m leaping over tree roots and soaking in the sounds of the rainforest! I caught up to one of the girls from my start group who had tripped up and ripped her tights open at the knee to reveal a bloody gash. She was tossing up going on or heading back and as we were still fairly close to the start line and she should be able to get back before the last wave, she chose to turn around. Such a shame for her.
For myself, I was off again and feeling great. At one point, we ran through a cloud which made the rainforest still and eerie and then we were back out in the dappled sunshine. The path frequently follows ridges with the trees opening up to reveal spectacular views of the valley on the NSW side of the border and at one point I saw a thin stream of cloud flowing up the side of a ridge to my right like an otherworldly waterfall. That was certainly a first for me and it stopped me briefly in my tracks as I admired its beauty.
As the track began to wind downwards and I began to feel more confident that my body could handle this, I picked up speed. The downhill has always been one of my favourite parts of trail running. This is where you can let loose and fly! Considering my current level of fitness, I knew downhill was going to be my friend today too. I couldn’t count on endurance or strength so I was going to make the most of gravity! I passed a couple of the ladies in my start group and then was alone with the trees again. I did slow down as I crossed the rocky creeks that intersect this section of path. I figured I was well and truly not in it to win it so I wasn’t about to risk another few months of recovery in the name of a few seconds of speed.
The track becomes quite tight as you approach Binna Burra, with the mountain climbing on your left and a pretty steep drop off on the right. This is where some of the best views are to be had and it’s hard to keep your eyes on the path ahead so, where the trees opened up to reveal the majesty beyond, I allowed myself another brief moment to stop and marvel.
The track here begins to climb up ever so slightly and I could feel every centimetre of it today. It didn’t matter though, I was running and I was loving it. Then, before I knew it, I was in the home stretch! Tim was waiting to cheer me home and gave a big yell as I approached then fell in step behind me. I felt on top of the world streaking along that last section of track and then I was under the Binna Burra arch and crossing the line. Day 1 – done!
This is where the Lamington Classic really detours from your typical running event. Instead of packing up, shaking hands and going home. Most of us took showers, ate lunch, stretched, rolled and relaxed. We sat by the campfire and shared stories from today’s runs and others. There were plenty of scratches, bumps and bruises and lots of laughs. A couple of the marathon boys enjoyed some well earned beers and a couple of the ladies running tomorrow were game enough to join them – much to everyone’s amusement. They pulled up pretty well for Sunday’s run too!
In the evening, there is a casual dinner and presentation evening. We all carried our tired bodies up to the tea house and enjoyed a generous serving of good food to fuel us for tomorrow. Dinner is another chance to connect with fellow runners and we had some wonderful table buddies to pass the time with. After everyone’s bellies were full, Digger, the organiser and a running legend in his own right, hopped up to give the customary history lesson before the presentations. I love that too about Lamington Classic: you get a chance to learn a lot about the race itself, the characters that have populated its story and the region.
I was thrilled to discover that the downhill had been very kind to me and I’d scored third place in the ladies! Tim had given a blistering performance to score the first place position. Considering neither of us had been certain about our trail fitness, we were happy campers. It was a good night.
Sunday dawned and we all packed up our gear and delivered it to the truck that would take it across to O’Reilly’s for us. We would once again leave in waves on the return leg. To ensure we all get there at roughly the same time, these are sorted based on Saturday’s results, with the fastest guys leaving last, at 830am. As we all got to know each other yesterday, this makes for a fun chase when you pass or are passed by friends old and new.
I was off at 8am. Monique and Audrey, the speedsters who came in first and second yesterday, were not racing today so our wave included just two other girls, Shona and Rose. I knew Shona, who had run the marathon the day before, would be off out of sight early on – and I wasn’t wrong. I also knew that Rose had only been a minute behind me yesterday and today we were facing a pretty steady uphill run. My plan was to run the first section of the race as strongly as I could, knowing the steeper climb in the middle would be tough, and then look forward to the downhill run home. So that’s pretty much what I did. I felt pretty good for the first few kilometres which wind back and forth, with only slight inclines to warm my calves up on. They seemed to appreciate the gentler start and I didn’t have to stop and stretch. As we hit the steeper terrain, I could feel my pace dropping off in line with my fitness and one of the guys from the group behind passed me, closely followed by Rose who was powering on the uphill. I would have loved to stay within sight of her but that was never going to happen with the way she was attacking the climb. I just had to run my own race which is really what I love best when I’m out in remote terrain like this anyway. Not far from the top, Tim passed me with a quick hello and pat on the back as he whipped past. He was flying along and seemed to have a very comfortable lead on the runner behind. I happily picked up my own pace as we hit the top and was thrilled when we got to the long, downhill stretch to the end. Once again, I was flying free! This bit of the run is always fun for a few reasons. There is the rush of the run itself, the knowledge that you’re nearly there and, with the staggering of the waves, this is also where all the runners begin to converge and cheer each other on to O’Reilly’s. It lasts much longer than you expect but is also over all too quickly as the track becomes concrete, the friendly hikers more frequent and the arch into O’Reilly’s suddenly passes overhead.
It’s done for another year and I’m back baby! Running, how I’ve missed you!!
Post-race, everybody hops into the O’Reilly’s pool and most of us lined up for a shower to rinse the morning’s effort off. By that time, lunch begins to come out and we once again share stories and sandwiches. Digger and his amazing team, work hard to collate the results while we relax and recover.
When the numbers were crunched, the presentations began. Tim had held his lead and secured first place on Day 2 and Overall.
As expected, I hadn’t seen Rose again for the rest of the run and she came second to Shona and won the 2-day event. I pulled out the third place for day two and, as I had been pipped by different ladies on each day, managed 2nd overall for the 2-day event. I’m still smiling!
Full results have been finalised and can be found here. A huge well done to everybody who got out there on any of the days and distances. I think we can all agree that the team that organises this each year does a wonderful job and I’m so grateful to have such a fun, grass roots event to look forward to each year.
Lamington Classic, look it up for 2015!