Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Pinnacles Classic 2011

April is the gruellingest month, breeding
hightracks out of the race lands.
(with apologies to T.S. Eliot).

Pinnacles Classic – 18km and 18 hills. 9th April 2011.
I am now in my second year of fun running but very much still a novice in real running. Last week I heard some running mates talking about an upcoming run over some hills in the Brisbane Forest Park. It is called the ‘pinnacles classic’ and organised by Trail Running Association of Queensland (TRAQ). I asked some details just to be polite, not even thinking of actually running. Late entries by email are still being considered so thinking that they’re limiting the field, I emailed the organisers soon as I can. What can be so hard about a few hills? I thought to myself. Just this year I ran the ‘uphill’ in the recent sandgate run, the ‘incline’ of the Ted Smout bridge in the ‘cliff2cliff’, and the ramps of the Eleanor Schonell bridge in the ‘twilight run’. Those were all ‘hilly’.

The organiser accepted my late entry and emailed me some race information.
The route for the 2011 Pinnacles classic went anti-clockwise.
Runners don’t make excuses, especially not me :-). We don’t even mention little mishaps – like the checkpoint man taking a wrong turn while driving back to base. The post-race website did not mention that, did it? Apparently they went admiring the scenery under the powerlines.
In that spirit of racing etiquette, I won’t tell about my pre-race blues either. Like the night before the event was a restless one. It rained for some time, and I was tossing and turning. Earlier I was packing some things at work and strained my long-suffering lower back. I had an upset tummy and suffering from that ailment we call boris in my homeland. I think the English word is that which precedes diary b in the dictionary. So I had troubled and little sleep. But I won’t mention all that.

I actually had some doubts, fears even, about the ‘hills’. So on race day I drove out to the race site early, intending to run with the ‘early starters’ at 6:30. Westwards past Mt Coot-tha, Chapel Hill, and Kenmore Hills, I drove along green and lush vegetation out to the end of Gold Creek Road in Brookfield. I got there some minutes before the ‘early start'. I picked up my race bib and was pinning it on when old tummy grumbled for some relief. I ducked away to the sheds and missed the early start as a result.

They look serious. It's just a few hills fellows.
I looked around the hills and felt very daunted. I ran Mt Coot-tha last year, but I haven’t ran a series of hills before, and I was worried about what these 18 hills entailed. The hills looked so high and so far. I overheard some talk that 'the aim is not to win but to finish'. Uh oh. There’s chills in dem dar hills.

7:00 and we started off – straight up the first hill. I saw that this trail run is on dirt trails used by rangers only. It is rough and seldom used. There were 70 other runners. I kept pace for a long 1,000 cm, but within a few minutes they’ve all gone from sight past the many bends going uphill.  That was the last I saw of them until the finish, except for one runner who hurt himself. I caught up to him and asked if he’s okay. He’s gallant as many runners are, and said he’ll trudge up to the checkpoint at the halfway mark.

I plodded on, and soldiered on, sailed against the headwind, arrgh. The winding steeply rolling route was marked with white ribbons and I kept checking that I have not strayed off course. I started counting hills. I reckoned I counted 19 hills before I stopped. I was about to call for help, when I finally saw the checkpoint at the race halfway mark. 19 hills and this is halfway? I jogged up, got my race number ticked and checked my watch. 67 minutes for the first 9km.
I chatted a little with the volunteer checkpointers. One looked like gary cooper and the other could easily be the male version of cameron diaz. They both resemble cary grant. They kindly granted me some water, lollies and an electrolyte drink. They told me the return leg was easier, that there was no more hills, just speed bumps. It’s what I wanted to hear, and I wasn’t born yesterday, but I believed them anyway. I wanted to just stay and ask for a ride back with them, but I could not really take the place of that injured runner coming up behind me. I grunted thanks to the grants, (volunteers do make these events possible) and resumed my own battles.

I felt spent but managed to catch another runner, who promptly sped past me again. He was doing drills - speedwalking up hills, and then pausing. I was impressed. He actually walked quicker than I could jog up the hills. There was hills and then some more hills, and then some more hills. but wait there’s more... I got up to 34 hills on my count then I gave up counting them, and I could not jog up them anymore. ‘Speed bumps’ indeed. My donkey. If I see that gary cooper fellow again...

The hills had names like “the mother”, or “brute”. Very aptly named. The inbound section of the trail looked to be closed, even to rangers’ 4wd vehicles. It’s now used only by horseriders and hikers. It was very rough in parts with ruts, loose rocks and gravel, and surfaces slippery from the overnight rains.

On the ‘brute’ my race was over. I lost the battle with my legs. They were no longer responding to my brain, and even though I wanted to keep going, I just could not. My water had ran out too, and was parched. Treading carefully, I finally stopped running/jogging at about the 14 km mark and walked the last 4km and last 4 hills back. I barely managed to catch some female walkers before the finish.

Just a few hundred metres before the finish, I came to the reservoir. I ran 17.7km around the ridges of its catchment just to see this. Had I gone the other way - it was only 300m!
Shrivelled and with my face creased with pain I stepped over the finish line. I felt high.

An exhausted exhilirated straggler. Photo by Granta very cool trail runner.

Seconds earlier, my legs though were rubbery and oozing something. I looked at them. Mud was splattered all along the back. There was more mud there than if I went plowing ricefields (with a water-buffalo) back home. I washed some of the mud off at Gold Creek, only 100m back from the finish line.

My time for the 9km return leg was a bloated 82minutes. Total race time for the 18 km and 18hills - 2h30m. At least I saved the organisers the trouble of searching for me.
A prized trophy. For conquering 81 hills.
Afterwards, I picked up a brochure from the TRAQ tent. There the ‘pinnacles classic’ was described as 18kms of the ‘toughest trails’. Still later back at home, I looked up a website which said that “This is a course for seriously fit runners, with 18 hills over 18km!” I counted 38 hills, but maybe I was delirious. But I would not have dreamt of running this race had I known all that beforehand.

There's a race report, with links to the results and photos.

I may consider running it again. When I grow up.

The equivalent hilly trail run in the Cordillera is the Mainit-Sacasacan trail (approx 17.10'N and 121.0'E). It took me 8 hours to complete a 20km trek (Mainit-Ampawilen including lots of detours), so running the 9km direct route from Mainit to Sacasacan, should only take a lazy couple of hours, there and back.


  1. Hi Martin, that was me that you caught up with on the second half while I was doing my 'drills'!(I was only ahead of you in the first place because I passed you while you were talking to 'the Grants')

    You gave me a bit of a target once you'd passed me again and I think it was that really slippery downhill that let me get away from you in the end.

    Congratulations, finished is finished, whatever the shape :o)

  2. Hi Martin, that was me running my 'drills' as you put it :o)

    Perhaps you'd like to take part in a little outing we have going on Easter Sunday.

    Check it out at:

    Congratulations, a finish is a finish after all.

  3. Thanks Alun,
    I'd love to do the 'wildhorse' but will be away that time.
    You are speedy down those hills. Scary for me though. Have to watch the old legs.
    Will see you at another race sometime.


please leave a comment.