I went up to do the double Run Larapinta and Redback MTB as there was only 2 days between so would give me 8 days exercise out of 10.
This also tied in with being made redundant (I chose the date as it Was dragging out) and relocating back to Auckland from Sydney. The trip up to Alice springs is the start of 6 weeks of travel.
I chose the shorter Run Larapinta because the distances per day weren’t excessive and I thought I could manage them. This based on the past. I training I don’t run back to back days, tried to do my long run off road; generally, behind ST Ives Showgrounds. Some time I had the luxury of doing back to back MTB and run in either order sessions.
My goals were to finish, enjoy myself and see a unique part of the world.
Entry was easy, just select the options including transfers, accommodation at Glen Helen, start and finish transfers, meals, merchandise. Brash the credit Card
I flew up Thursday, went to the meet and greet as I was staying at the race HQ (Mercure), then assembled bike with the intention of a ride out to Simpsons Gap in the morning.
Friday I was awake before 5am, so quick check of the weather amp said zero degrees outside. So headed out on MTB wearing puffer jacket and shorts. Rode on footpath then cycle way out to Simpsons Gap arriving just on dawn. Quite amazing how the waterway just cuts through the ridge. Then a ride back into town, it warmed up when the sun rose. Rode a couple of MTB tracks back into town which had me worried about how technical Redback was going to be.
During registration saw Mrs TimG and her bunch of North Shore Ladies (9 in total) who had come to do the run, take selfies and enjoy themselves).
Stage 1 – Friday Night
The 1st stage started at 5.30pm with an 11km run around the back of town on a combination off 4WD trails, MTB trails. The idea being that it would get dark at 6.20pm and you finish the run using your head torch. I started running with Mrs TimG and enjoyed catching up with her, then when she slowed to check on her group, ran on by myself. The trail after dark was not overly technical so nice easy running. Interesting to see the light trail of oncoming runners when you looked back over a rise. I enjoyed the run, then a bus ride back into town.
Stage 2 – Saturday morning
This started with a bus leaving at 5.50am to be driven to Hamilton Downs Homestead/Youth Camp. The dive in left the main road just on dawn so could see the barren scrubby landscape with a few cows.
The start was by the homestead, stage length being 22km, and billed as the Queen Stage. The opening 6 or so km was on sandy 4WD track which was a great running surface along the flat to the first chasm and short climb out into the next valley. Here we joined the trail that the long course runners were doing and got to the water point. It was compulsory to leave with 3 liters of fluid and this was checked. From here we ran some delightfully single track through bush and out for a couple off km.
Then the wall appeared. This was to be a sole destroying climb that zig zagged up and up, then you hit a false top and it climbed again, with altitude the temp also climbed into the low 30’s. This climb, false summit repeated itself a couple of times. Once you got to the top after selling your sole, you continued along the ridge line, with 360 degree view. The majesty of the barren country was huge, as was the seemingless nothingness in all directions. The trail continued along the ridgeline, never flat but mostly runnable.
Then the ridge stopped and the step decent started. This started as a step tech open decent down a sheer face before coming into a chasm between the ridges, this was a walking, cambering decent, down into the heat of the gorge. The walls in may paces less than 10m apart. The ground was rock and sand, with the odd plant growing where it could, The scenery spectacular and like nothing else I had run though before. Eventually the gorge leveled out to start climbing again, much gentler, then descend again when you went over a higher point. At some point water must flow and have flown through this area. It was Jurassic in places and you could envisage finding lost dinosaurs in there, except this is a popular walking trail that people do carrying 20kg packs.
Now those who were looking at their GPS watches about this point discovered 2 things; 1. The course was long, 2. The final wall you came around the corner and there was a wall of rock in front of you, the logic said go down, but the little blue trail markers said go up the wall. This was a scrabble up some very red rock; and the fore mentioned heat trapped in the chasm. Once over the top, and down another technical descent of rock stairs finally came to a marshal and sign to Stanley Chasm. I asked how far to the tourist attraction and was told about 300m so gave up and continue in the other direction the 500m to the finish.
The chasms were some of the most beautiful places I have race with the scenery right in your face not some distant vista.
I the visitor center go coffee and 2 sausage sandwiches and a cookie from a fundraising barbeque; these were inhaled, perfect recovery nutrition before the bus back to Alice Springs.
The dinner at the Mercure that night was a lot of fun and laughs
Day 3 Sunday, stated early with having to check out and be on a 6am bus to Glen Helen Resort. Once there got organized to run as start was at Glen Helen
Stage 3: stated with a run into Ormiston George, this was open undulating country, crossing the Finke riverbed; think dry loose sand, before running on perfect trails, A large part was over an area burn out in the last 12 months, so just blackened moonscape, running towards the hills as knew that was where the gorge is, I one point I took a wrong turn and was happily descending down the wrong trail when the guy behind yells out that I have gone the wrong way, so back up the trail and onto the correct one. I would probably have worked it out eventually, and had to backtrack. The trail seemed to go on forever, but at the 12 km point got to Ormiston Gorge. At this point cheered myself up with a large handful of lollies and telling myself the I was half way through the whole race, 40km done, 40 to go. I think it was the lollies not the distance that made the difference.
Then it was 8km around Ormiston Pound a lop that you climbed up into, before descending, and running across the flat of the Pound. This had multiple dry sand river crossings before coming to the Gorge, The gorge was wide, and the base varied between sand, sharp rock and river smoothed boulders. The whole time your ankles were at risk. At some point in the gorge we had to climb out and up the side to a view point with great view directly down into the gorge; rather than continue on the flat through the gorge. I detoured to the viewing platform to look and take photos after the prior day’s not going to see the tourist attraction. Then down to the finish. Total distance 20km.
Bus back to Glen Helen where the wind had decided that it would blow sand continuously into everything. The event staff were trying to put up 80 tent’s for those of us who had taken that option to sleep in. They did a brilliant job. Tent, sleeping mat, pillow, chair and sand. What more could my tired body want. After spending the afternoon either on the Glen Helen resort deck, walking down to the waterhole in the gorge, eating lunch and dinner, listening to a hilarious daily prize giving and next day briefing it was off to the sand bed. The sand had moved from outside to inside the tent.
Day 4 - Monday
The long course were on buses at 5am so the campsite awoke prior to that.
We were on bus at 6am for a 7am start. The wind if anything had got worst, giving a temp of 8 degC feeling like 0, We had to carry first aid kit, thermal, matches and windproof jacket as safety gear. I started stage 4 in my jacket it was so cold. The trail undulated along the side of the range crossing numerous dry watercourses on nice good runnable trail for the first 12km to the water point; where we again had to leave with 3l of fluid. There was only one climb for us, it was called “hilltop” and was a big hill to climb.
From the top could see Glen Helen Gorge; just behind the lodge, so knew where we were going. The descent was step and I’m not a descender so quite slow going, then dropped into a spot of dense bush, unlike what had previously seen, must be just the right soil water combo. Out of the bush onto the flats similar to yesterday, undulating and burn out, following a nice running trail. Eventually came to a T in the track with 3.5km to go to Glen Helen, we had run this the previous day in the opposite direction. Just after this when I may have relaxed as the end was near, I went over hard on my left ankle. Though perhaps need the first aid kit as well. Walk gingerly on it, the a few run steps over the next 50m to decide it was okay, but wouldn’t want to roll it again.
The final part was around side of resort building to finish on the sand in front of the Glen Helen Bar. Crossed the line to a sense of relief, and joy that had completed 4 days of running through some unique countryside.
Because most people were staying/trapped at Glen Helen Resort there was a real community atmosphere with sitting on the deck watching the finishers come in. The last finishers got huge cheers especially the long course who had done 47km on the last day. The party stayed all afternoon and until the dinner, huddled in our jackets and race hoddies in the freezing desert, with a solid layer of red dust getting into everything. The prize giving fun after the even diner, and the prized well deserved. The finisher cups will get used, unlike a medal.
Summary a great standout event in a unique pace. The short course hugely achievable as shown by the North Shoe selfie brigade lead by Mrs TimG. I would seriously consider doing the race again, maybe even the long course.
Must go onto bucket lists; because 1. Stage racing is very different from endurance races, 2. The scenery was fantastic and a part of Australia everyone should see.
Tuesday morning packed up and got on buses back to Alice Springs or the airport.
Wednesday register for Redback MTB race and a social ride in the dust
Stage 1 – Thursday morning, Stage 3 – Friday morning, Stage 5 Sat morning
The race started at a leisurely hour of 8.30am. The best description for the mountain biking here was “like Mars, but only with more rocks”, this was so true as the trails were endless flowing cross country trails with a bite at every wheel turn. The trails flowed very well but you couldn’t relax as the surface changed so frequently from rock to gravel to sand to a different type of rock. The trails used for stage 1 were some of the older trails and a mix of 4WD track and single track through mindless scrub, abandoned cars, more scrub. There are no significant climbs North of town but endless ways to go up and down small rolling hills of rock. The above describes stages 1, 3, 5 & 6. The trails were fun but the concentration required was relentless as any errors were punished hard. I lost skin on 3 stages, nothing major but blood flow and scrubbing gravel out in the shower afterwards. There are endless miles of single track,
Stage 2 Thursday Afternoon was a 300m time trial up ANZAC hill, this short stage ripped your lungs out and left you hurting. As a fat slow early starter I sat at the top and watched the better riders come in, fastest at nearly a third of my time, great evening entertainment.
Stage 4 Friday Night. This was the same stage as stage 3 but after dark. Therefore need your own lights, was good having ridden the trail during day a tried to remember some of the trick, surfaces. I had an over the bars crash early on so was a bit bashed and nervous. Just some grazing on elbow and shoulder. Head okay, no sense knocked in. Overall took about 4min longer (over 1hr 30min) so not much slower.
Stage 6 Sunday
This was the longest stage at 45km, and mostly trails we had already ridden but in the opposite direction. I thought a lot of the trails network flowed better and more fun. The heat had returned and the temperature was back into the 30’s as finishing. Great to finish
Overall there we two of us who did the double (Run Larapinta and Redback), great to have 8 out of 10 days racing on easily achievable distances each day, with plenty of time to recovery and socialize between each stage. Easier to race than to write this up!!