Event: Wonderland Run
Distance: 20km short / 36km long
Date: Sunday the 21st August 2016
Location: Hall Gap, The Grampians
Organised by: Big Long Run
The Wonderland Run Grampians is a 2km and 8km Saturday afternoon run, followed by 20km and 36km runs on Sunday morning, based at Halls Gap in Victoria.
Absolute freaking intensity! You are engulfed by a whole different world. You are IN the landscape. It will chew you up and spit you out and you will love it. All events based from Halls Gap in the mighty Grampians, starting from School Rd. Due to the arduous nature of the runs, runners need to qualify by having run in other events.
Back at the 2015 Afterglow Twilight Trail Half Marathon, after some discussions regarding the qualification times for Two Bays, somehow Rohan Day convinced Tracy to run the Wonderland 20km in 2016. Remembering that at this point Tracy was running the 12km at Afterglow and had no intention of running a half marathon. *and so it begins*
Even before we had left Melbourne things were ominous, with forecasts for snow down to 800m on the Saturday and a weekend of rain and wind. This was reinforced with the notification that mandatory gear was going to be required for the full run;
❝ Friday 19 Aug 2016 : Mandatory Gear Ruling. Due to wet and cold conditions, and an already slippery course, 36km runners are required to take all the mandatory gear with them from the start. 20km runners are strongly advised to look at the 36km gear list and carry/wear the items on it. ❞
Mandatory gear you may ask if you have led a life of road running, why do you need mandatory gear? The risks are real and the requirements the race team suggest are super important, if something goes wrong it can go wrong in a big way and take hours to be extracted, do not skimp on the mandatory gear.
❝ Gear – Mandatory List for 36km run:
We are not suggesting this equipment will be something you will need whilst running (although the gloves and THIR may be useful whilst running), but if you fall and cannot run or walk out, you may be waiting hours to be rescued. These items will keep you warmer, drier, less hungry and could also potentially save a trail buddies life.
• Gloves – Merino wool or synthetic – something that will keep your hands warm.
• Beanie or THIR (Noggin tube fabric thing) http://www.thir.com.au
• Emergency blanket – lightweight silver type is fine.
• Long sleeve thermal top NOT compression wear. Merino or synthetic is fine.
• Compression bandage min 7.5cm wide x 2.3m long unstretched
• Waterproof jacket. I.E. jacket must be waterproof, windproof and to a level that will actually keep you dry and safe. We don’t care how much it costs BUT it must be rated as such to help save your life if something terrible happens. Suggested is a level of over 20,000mm hydrostatic head waterproof rating. Accepted will be anything from 11000 upwards but be aware if the weather turns bad this will only keep you dry for a limited period of time! Anything under 11000 is unacceptable. 6000-11000mm is only rainproof and waterproof under light pressure. If it rains in them mountains it won’t be light! (Think about being stuck for several hours before you can be gotten out.)
• 400 calories of food
• Mobile Phone. Telstra works best
• Capacity to carry 500mls water minimum
• Whistle for gaining attention to your situation.
Anyone who crosses the line without the mandatory gear will be disqualified from the race and will not have a time recorded. Anyone who podiums will forfeit their place and time also. This is not us being big meanies – we just want everyone to be safe and get home to their loved ones! ❞ — FAQs
It started when I signed up to do the Afterglow 12 km run last November. This was a huge challenge for me as the longest I had run prior to that was 10km. And, this was a trail run. On the day of the run we registered in and were then filling in time ‘til the run started. We met up with a fellow with his bright car who was spruiking a run in the Grampians (hi Rohan). In the chat with him, he, Barney and Darren started to make me believe that this 20 km run through the Grampians would be possible for me. I was concerned about whether I was capable of it but (and I quote, again hi Rohan) “women are always more cautious than men, you’ll be fine”. I always believed it would be fun as I’m a sucker for a challenge and a beautiful location. So a goal was hatched (it wasn’t yet a plan).
Then our 21st wedding anniversary was coming up. I wondered “Do you think it’s a pipe dream or actually a possibility that we could do a half marathon together to celebrate our 21st anniversary (21 for 21)?” Darren believed I was capable, and signed us up to do the Kilcunda half in February, being the closest half to our anniversary date.
And then Wonderland became a plan (or actually two). We signed up on opening registration night for the 20, that was plan A. And plan B, “If I don’t manage to qualify, I’ll drop back to do the 8 km run with Liam, and volunteer on the Sunday.”
And the training began, including borrowing Darren’s run vest to run from Inverloch to Eagle Rock and back “I NEED one of these for my birthday, hint hint”. A training run through the 16 km part of Kilcunda made me realise that this was going to be tough and my expectations were that I would take about 3 ¼ hours to do the run (with a secret hope to achieve 3 hours). This would not be my qualifier for Wonderland by any stretch of the imagination. As it turned out, I did manage to do a lot better than expected, at 2 hours 46 mins, but still nowhere near what I needed. So another attempt was required.
We had the opportunity to have a holiday in the Gold Coast in July, so the Gold Coast Half became the next goal. Could I do this in under the required 2 hours 15 mins? If I didn’t achieve the qualifier here, I wasn’t going to manage it this year. Once again, the training ramped up. This time with assistance and support from friends as well, as they regularly came out for training runs with me, and adapted their own training plans to help me fulfil mine. And, now I had my own run vest (hints work) so I didn’t need to fight the hoards at the drink stations. I was nervous that I wouldn’t qualify, and I was just as nervous that I would. And I made it! 2 hours 5 mins and qualified. Eek! Now I had Wonderland coming up!
Fear, excitement, nerves, all vied for dominance over the next few weeks, right up until the day of the run itself. A wet day after a couple of very wet days made for what was going to be a slippery run, and the raincoat was on the body not in the pack. When we arrived at the start line just before dawn, everyone was huddling under the shelter near the start so as to not get too wet. We did so too, but did note the funniness of trying not to get wet when we were about to do a multi-hour run in the rain. The cut-off for the 20 km run was 4 hours and I was hoping for somewhere between 3 and 3 ½. We started in Wave 3, and off we went. At first, we were all avoiding the worst of the puddles so as not to get our feet too wet, and then we started heading up. The uphill sections were tough, slippery, and above all, beautiful. These were through the walking track from Halls Gap to Wonderland, the Pinnacle and Sundial, and included the Grand Canyon and Silent Street (not so silent as we went through). A slip on a rock had me grabbing a very small tree to stop me from sliding off the track toward the creek (and Darren’s hand on my bum to catch me if required), but for the majority of this section it was a conga line with most people walking at various speeds through the steepest and slipperiest bits, and requesting to go past where they could. Uphills are not my forte, lots of people passed me. That didn’t worry me, as long as I could make the Sundial cutoff time (first 7 km before 2 hours) I’d be fine. At 1 ½ hours, the Sundial aid station. Yes! I made it! Here was where the 20 km and the 36 km courses separated, with the 36ers continuing up Mt Rosea. I followed the 20 km markers.
All thoughts of dry feet were well and truly gone as we ran through the puddles, with one section like a small creek, with the flow down the path. This turned out to be water running from underneath the boardwalk up further, and was impossible to avoid, even if you tried.
The rocky section, “Where does the trail go here? Oh, there’s a flash of tape, or a yellow triangle, this must be the right way”. We ran for a while with a group and talked about songs. Prep for the curry-oke that night? Maybe. “Which song is stuck in your head?” Swapped ear-worms. Continued on.
And at about the 10 km mark, it got muddy and we started going downhill, yes! This was what I like! Now it was my turn to start asking to pass when safe. Oh, so much fun. Darren warned me not to overstride as we were going downhill, but I wasn’t doing that, it was more like mincing along (visual imagery required here) so as not to lose balance and tumble. But it felt like flying. I loved it. Then a patch of mud went sideways with my foot in it. Oops. Fall forward, soft mud, roll over, helped up by Darren. Passing runner asked if I was okay, “Yep not a problem, keep running”. Still smiling.
At about 13 km was the Lake Bellfield aid station. My kids were volunteering here. Into the aid station, big cuddles, bib tearaway torn off, yes we’ve made it off the mountain, continue on. It was so good to see the kids there, a real boost. At this point I’ll mention the costumes. So many of the volunteers got into the theme of the run and dressed as characters from Alice in Wonderland. It was really wonderful. And Liam and Kiran? The Mad Hatter and the March Hare.
Then, for a short stretch it got easy, flat(ish) footpath beside the road, caught up with a group, they got too fast for me, lost said group. “No worries, keep running, only 1 parkrun to go now”. At 17 km “This is HARD!, I’m tired, I’ve had enough, the little hill in front of me is almost as daunting as the huge one at the start of the run, less than one parkrun to go, I can do this”. Ran to the bridge, crossed, turned back toward Halls Gap and heard someone say “Only 1k to go”. “Yay! I really can do this”. A couple of hundred metres down the road, a family were picnicking and cheering and telling us “only 1k to go”. “What?!” Very Alice in Wonderland.
Running down the path through Halls Gap was an amazing experience, so many random strangers cheering us along and we could see the hall that was being used as the finish line. Turned in, crossed the line, I have never been so glad to see the finish. We were given our medal & thir. Then beamed with excitement and adrenaline and exhaustion and ‘N-dolphins’. And the time … was 3 hours 3 minutes. I so want to do this again!
Thank you to Rohan and Matt and the other organisers of the run, it was amazing. Thank you to Rohan and Barney and Darren for believing I could do it when I didn’t believe it myself. Thank you to all the Tuesday and Thursday night Westerfoldians who adapted their runs to fit in with my training.
Thank you to Wendy for running ridiculously long distances with me, just coz, and Ross for being there to support us when we did. Thank you to Kiran and Liam for supporting my efforts and cheering when I needed it. And another thank you to Darren for being there for me all the time, and helping me achieve such a wonderful goal/plan/dream.