Warburton Trail Festival – 22km Donna Double Race Report

Well well well, things stepped up a notch in the racing department over the weekend. Literally and figuratively. I was encouraged to enter a race in Warburton (Victoria) that might give me a better run for my money than the Adelaide races I’ve entered as of late. The race itself was 22km consisting of about 1200m elevation in a straight up, straight down kind of way (hence the literal step-up). At first I was a bit ‘nah, not sure I’m ready for that’ when I was encouraged to enter. But then, like any seed that’s been planted, after a few days I thought ‘ah well, fuck it, good reason to test myself, good reason to get a weekend in Melbourne in and the worst that happens is I spend a bit of dosh… let’s do it’.

So that’s why, as I alluded to previously, my training has focused on improving my ability over hills. This race would not only test my hill-climbing abilities but was also going to serve a a great exercise in practicing my ability to fly in/fly out to a race and race in a completely new environment. All things that I need to improve on one day if I’m ever going to give myself the opportunity to do some big interstate and overseas races. Plus, challenging myself against better runners will lead to me being a better runner which is the overall end-game as well of course.

Where to start then? Ah yes, how about on a relaxing Saturday morning, day before race-day, watching Jordan Thompson beat highly fancied Stefanos Tsitsipas in a three-set encounter (I’m talking tennis here). The Aussie battler looked down on confidence in the final tiebreak at 4-2 down but came back to win 7-5 showing the most important lesson in sport is to never give up on yourself no matter who you’re against. Bit of pasta down the hatch for lunch and then off to the airport and the busyness of the world for the afternoon flight to Melbourne. Going from Quorn to Melbourne airport in less than 24 hours might be a big shift in people density in public areas however my mindset was pretty relaxed about it all and it was fun to observe everyone!

My support crew for this race was to be family friends the McAuley’s and straight off the bat Craig had the chariot ready for my arrival. The rest of the afternoon I kept a pretty low profile in Vermont South, watched a bit of sport, did some stretching and then off to bed at 8:30pm ready for an early start.

Normal morning routine as of late on the Sunday, coffee, some toast and apricot jam, light stretching and a read of the paper and then off to Warburton the McAuley’s and I went. Arriving into town it’s pretty clear that this was going to be a very cool race. A few km’s down the Yarra River to start with and then straight up Mt Donna Buang which loomed over the picturesque and very green township of Warburton. The game plan in my relaxed head was to: 1) Have a success mindset the whole way through the race, which would be very important on the grind up the hill. 2) Race hard without any expectations on myself and 3) Go ‘to the well’ at the end (i.e. dig deep on the final sprint into the finish line). Three pretty similar goals and all are semi-irrelevant to whatever race I do but I still think they’re helpful. The unknown quality about this race was the level of competition that may be floating around. I’d been told of a solid 14 minute 5k guy plus reports of a ‘fast field’ but this doesn’t really mean much when I can only control how fast I run, not my competition. Really, the better the competition, the greater the likelihood I’ll get dragged along to a better time myself so bring it on!

1st, 4th, 3rd and 2nd in the front row off the start.

Which is exactly what happened at the start as we flew down the easy first couple of km’s down the flat Yarra River singletrack. I was happily in second in a bunch of four runners and thought ‘if I can stick with these guys that’ll be a good result’. Into the start of the uphill the group spread out pretty quickly as we all found our uphill rhythm. Again, sticking in second I was happy. Ten or so minutes later I noticed that the front runner had dropped back to a walk on the steeper pitches, a possible sign of early fatigue and in my view a no-no when ascending a mountain (because the decision making between whether to run or walk is an extra mental task that compromises performance). Sure enough I caught him, went past him and then was even happier as I realised I was in a race in Victoria, I’d tapered very well into it giving me the perfect opportunity to race hard and now I was in the lead! Did I change my speed or mindset as a result? No, I kept my output the same and stayed in my success mindset as I grinded through to the 6km mark. The pitch backed off a bit here and the trail opened onto a fire track which allowed me to pick up my speed. If I could make it back to the same point on the return back down the hill (around the 14-15km mark) in first place it’d be very impressive for a competitor to catch me.

I focused on running very hard across the top (goal number 2) of the Mount and got a couple of gels and some electrolytes into me. It was really enjoyable to feel fit and run fast in a completely new environment showing I had ticked the goal of transporting my fitness and mindset on this fly in fly out mission. I still had to keep focused though with my success mindset and race hard to ensure I would finish satisfied. Into the final few km’s of the downhill fire track section I was still in first place and feeling pretty good. The steep downhill was a little trickier than I imagined on the way up, mostly because I was still bumping into the slower runners and there was a fair amount of leaf litter to slip on too. Plus, my quads were sending some warning signs that they were really hurting. I compromised on my pace here to try and save them a bit plus knew that if I kept pushing hard downhill and had a big slip that’d be a very embarrassing way to lose.

Towards the end of the steep downhill I kept peering at my watch hoping to be within shooting distance of the course record. The km’s I’d covered didn’t quite seem to match up with the distance left to go which meant I thought the course record had slipped away from me. Technology is not to be to trusted 100% though as when I hit the bottom of the steep downhill I knew the course record was well and truly on. Time to go to the well. Chasing down as many other runners as possible (who were in a shorter event) back along the Yarra River I was in the zone. This was my time to put a good performance on the board in a high quality race and I wanted to ensure I finished off strong. Crossing the line in a time of 1:52, approximately 3 minutes quicker than the previous course record, in first place and pretty bloody cooked meant I ticked all my race goals. My Suunto data after the race showed this was one of my hardest efforts with the highest average heart rate recorded for anything over 1.5 hrs in duration. It was very satisfying to put in the effort, time and money to travel over, taper appropriately for the race and then execute the race exactly how I wanted. The bonus was that I finished first.

Finishing in course record time.

Afterwards I relaxed and chatted with the McAuleys and obviously thanked them for their help in accommodating me and driving me around. It certainly wouldn’t have been possible without them. I also leveraged the fact that while I was in Melbourne I should catch up with The Blue Line bosses Brett and Joel and had a full-Melbourne experience this way with a couple of beers and a pizza in a trendy brewery in inner-Melbourne. Another quick flight back to Adelaide and then an easy arvo jog at Eden Hills and life was back to some what normal.

The important lessons to learn from for this weekend were that yes, I didn’t give in at all on the effort up Mt.Donna Buang like Jordy Thompson, which led to me taking the lead earlier than I thought, but also the fact that despite my successes over the weekend, it doesn’t change the way I approach my running. I’ve almost recovered from the race on Sunday (time of writing is Thursday four days later) but life back in Quorn this week has been very similar to the several months beforehand helping to keep me grounded and focused on continuing to be the best runner I can be. That’s what I’m racing for in the big picture. Wins are nice yes but as John Candy knows they don’t change you.

Cool Runnings delivers some gold level material.

But, being dog-hungry to become the best runner I can be, in the big picture, does mean that in the small picture I need some ‘food’ (wins) along the way…next race for me is in a week and a bit from now so for now it’s back to the bat cave/kennel/training dungeon in Quorn…

The Podium (3rd, 1st, 2nd from L-R)

One response to “Warburton Trail Festival – 22km Donna Double Race Report”

  1. Congratulations again for a fantastic performance. It was an absolute pleasure to be a part of your pre run/post run time while in Melbourne. We hope to be a part of the Fraser Team again when you next run in/around Melbourne.

    Liked by 1 person

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