Thursday, 12 April 2012

the wild horse criterium

The Wild Horse Mountain criterium 2012 (8th April).
Within cooee (for non-strayans, cooee is aussie for a stone's throw, or as the flies crow) of the better known Glasshouse Mountains, Wild Horse Mountain sits on the east side of the Bruce Highway in Beerburrum. 'Morning has broken tulad ng unang umaga, and blackbird has spoken tulad ng tumatawang kookaburra', when I zoomed down there early (thanks to that cat stevens, I still had yawning moments) to take part in another Sunday mass event - the annual wild horse criterium.
The run course is a 11.6km circuit with three events: the '12'-, '36'- and '60'-km corresponding to one, three or five loops around Wild Horse Mountain respectively. I wasn't too loopy to do the '60' but maybe silly enough anyway to enter the '36'. I tried to find a loophole to maybe just do a '24' (25 km of the Nerang state forest run is as far as i've ever ran before) but there's no such option in the event. I could have ran two laps but would have been classified as 'did not finish' or DNF. 
The wild horse criterium is a Trail Running Association of Queensland (TRAQ) event.
A number of cars had already taken up both sides of the roadway to the site. These belong to those remarkable ultra runners who started in the wee hours under the moonlight at 0330h for the 5-lap '60'km criterium.
A redoubtable ultra runner doing his rounds.
Many of them were well into their fourth lap when I turned up at the registration tent. Other cars and many other runners gradually arrived.
Just before the 10:00 am start time of the '12' km race, the two sides of the  full length of the access road to Wild Horse Mountain were now flanked by runners' vehicles. Soon the place was as busy as the markets at New Farm where I would sometimes mingle and de-stress after a torrid session with the newfarm parkrun mistress. 
This criterium is not a 5km sprint event and the morning sun was grazing the tops of the trees as the 7:00 start time approached. 
The runners looked very relaxed and lazily congregated, before being drawn like moths to a flame towards the muster point. The sun was radiant, shining brightly through the tree trunks.
We set off at around 7 o'clock going clockwise around the northern and eastern quadrants of the mountain. The course had a bit of everything: dirt, rocks, ruts, mud, creeks, weeds, etc. It was mostly lined by an honour guard of tall pines and smaller patches of native gum scrub. I must have contracted tunnel vision at the end, in the light of day. Isn't it supposed to be the other way around? Perhaps, but I saw no light at the end of my vision.
I started out slowly, trying to go easy and not risk a fadeout on the final lap. Pacing myself on holey ground, I had to concentrate intently, lest I roll an ankle on the treacherous parts of the grassy trails - a runner in front of me almost fell over when he stepped in a rut. The low points on the tracks were like troughs, holding water from the recent rains, and was quite muddy. Sometimes spiky twigs and lantana and other weeds form an obstacle course, along with fallen branches and rocks that even goats would fear to tread. But us intrepid runners were not to be denied nor deterred. I did my tour of duty at my own pace. The couple of girls at the halfway checkpoint was like a breath of fresh air, a source of fresh cheer and drinks really, as they checked off our numbers and handed out water and sweet drinks and easter lollies, and best of all, kind words and smiles. During the first lap, I could hear many of the runners chatting and joking as we ran along. Slowly though the conversations died down as deeper into the woods and into the race we went. Skirting around the south and west of the course, we hit a series of six or seven long straights. These led west and then north paralleling the busy Bruce Highway. Passing vehicles produced a collective and constant hum, that  sounded like the buzz from a packed stadium. I felt like being cheered on but kept plodding. We're now on a bit of rough scoured trail which came to Tibrogargan creek crossing at the highway. The creek was a few metres wide and flowing at about knee depth. The only way around or across the creek was a tiny fallen tree at the downstream banks. I somehow managed a balancing act on this tree for two or three big steps, enough to get across and keep the shoes dry. The homestretch from the creek is a slightly inclining and winding little tester on the western base of the mountain.

Throughout the first lap I had four runners within sight - a couple of clubrunners from Noosa, and an older gentleman and woman. They were running so relaxed and effortlessly, and were even chatting along like they were strolling down Hastings Street. I was huffing and puffing just trying to keep up with them.  At Tibrogargan creek under the Bruce Highway bridge, we all lingered around the crossing not sure which way to go. Someone remembered the directions and across the creek we went. The little pause gave me the chance to catch them and get ahead back to the start line.
However I lost all that I gained plus a bit more as I stopped for about three minutes for a toilet break and to top up on water.
The four were already a few hundred meters ahead when I got back on the anti-clockwise second lap. We retraced our steps down creek and up molehill, past plains and flats, cut trails and dumped fill, and forest and bushland, on the straight and narrow and along the crooked winding tracks. I caught the older man and woman sometime past the halfway mark, but the Noosa runners had increased their lead exponentially. By the time I got back to the start/finish for the third and final lap, they had already disappeared down the road with at least a kilometre headstart.
This third lap is new territory to me. On my second pitstop (I stopped again this time for about four minutes), I changed into some fresh dry socks, and changed my wet tyres (muddy heavier track shoes) with a pair of dry tyres (lighter racing shoes). Then I topped up my hydration pack with about 1.5litres of water which I hoped would last me the full last lap. The elders had again went past me, but I was not worried about that (the elders of today don't show respect to their juniors anymore:-)),
I felt okay from the start of the final lap. However I'd already consumed more water than planned some ways before the halfway checkpoint. So I had one more short stop there to refuel. And then I got back on the road, hoping to be still trotting when I got to the finish line. Past halfway, I somehow caught and tipped my cap to the elders, and held on to the finish.

I would like to give thanks to all involved, in one way or other, big or small. Great effort!!!
Congratulations to all the runners too. I hear about 200 runners started in the three events. A very good turnout indeed. Well done all. 
Here's some of the 70 starters for the '36' km event.


Photos below taken from wild horse mountain.
overlooking the bruce highway.
The glasshouse mountains. the three tallest are beerwah, coonowrin and tibrogargan.

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