(Posted - 22 Sep 2012)
One of Australia’s top road marathoners has set the trail world alight with first time ultra runner Rowan Walker blowing all contenders away to secure the inaugural Surf Coast Century crown. The Geelong runner knocked off the 100km course in a blistering 8 hours 25 minutes.
It was the 2011 Australian Marathon Champion’s first major trail race and his first ever 100km run, his longest prior run – on road – being ‘only’ 46km. He only decided to run the full course two weeks ago, after his pairs team partner, Julian Spence, pulled out suffering injury.
Walker, who obviously has as big a heart as he does lungs and legs having saved his younger brother’s life with a bone marrow transplant in recent years, went out fast covering the first 49km in 3 hours 42 mins, more a marathon pace than trail ultra. Pundits at the halfway mark wondered if Walker could maintain the speed as he ventured into unknown distance territory for him, but splits revealed he was barely 23 minutes behind the overall team leader (sharing leg duties between four runners) at the final major checkpoint of 77km.
“It was a risk making the decision only two weeks out to run the full distance having not done the long distance training or specifics," said Walker, who has already been dubbed ‘The Terminator’ by impressed spectators.
“I’m a real road runner with a flat stride, and I fell over about five times because I couldn’t lift my feet up enough! So it was a challenge in that sense, but you’re just out there for survival really."
Asked to compare the intensity of the ultra trail experience to his usual marathon distance, Walker was diplomatic.
“Look, a ten kay hurts, a marathon hurts, this distance hurts, they all just hurt in different ways. That just hurt from 40 kilometres onwards. It was intense for a long period of time, and I walked up hills thinking ‘I never walk up hills’. It was tough, very tough.""
Accomplished trail ultra runner, New South Welshman Jonathan Worswick, ran a strong race, registering second place behind Walker in 9 hours 10 minutes while David Hosking filled the final podium place with a 9 hours 43 minute run.
Worswick, who has had a full calendar of ultra trail runs in 2012 including two Oxfams, The North Face 100 and Mt Solitary Ultra, said the course was fast, flowing and fun.
“It perhaps suited marathoners like Rowan, but didn’t quite play to my strengths of technical trail running – I like bigger hills and rocks."
Accepting the 1-Litre beer stein for his sub-13 hour finish, Worswick noted: “That’s perfect – I’ve been thinking about a beer for the past 25 or 30 kays!"
Pocket rocket trail queen, Sydneysider Shona Stephenson, smashed the course in a time of 10 hours 18 mins to win the women’s category, maintaining her string of major trail victories in 2012, having won the Coastal Classic and the Oxfam Sydney 100km.
"I found the first sixty kilometres easy - I always start fast and just hope to hang on. But then the back half started to hurt, a few of those hills got me," said Stephenson.
"And then my shoulder gave way and I realised I didn't have any more energy gels. But I loved the fact that there relay teams were up with me so I had someone to talk to most of the way."
Second solo female over the line was Amy Hinds, A Tasmanian Ironwoman who has never run a full 100km before.
“I’ve run the Cradle Mountain (80km), but never this far," said the personal trainer. “It was tougher than I thought it would be. The hills in the second half really got me. But a beautiful course."
In third place was Mandy Lee-Noble, who ran with her husband Christopher Noble.
“For most of the way. She left me for a while there!" said Christopher.
“But he always reels me back in over the final seven kilometres." Added Mandy.
And so he did, the couple crossing the line together.
In the teams category, it was a come from behind win for Peak Adventure, with well-known adventure racers Jarad Kohlar, Alex Polizzi, Alex Houghton and James Pretto managing to reel in the Team Giant duo of Mitch Anderson and Damian Angus, the pair’s elite-level Ironman credentials transferring rather well to the ultra trail.
The super Salomon team, comprising some of Australia’s top ultra marathoners, came third.
For the rest of the four hundred or so runners, the day on trail was not about the podium, but about enjoying the amazing scenery as they stepped along the singletrail route that tracked from Anglesea to Torquay via famous surf Mecca, Bells Beach. They trail runners then turned back towards Anglesea, passing back through the start/finish to continue on out through hinterland bush to Moggs Creek and Aireys Inlet before a final beach run home.
Runners are expected to continue finishing throughout the night, a generous cut-off time of 27 hours meaning they have until 11am tomorrow (Sunday) to finish.
Some will still be crossing the line for the Surf Coast Century while others head out to compete in Sunday’s Salomon Trail Run Series, the race four finale of the popular outings which has introduced thousands to off road running over the past four months. There are short (8km) and long (15km) courses on offer and entries will be taken in the morning until 8.30am.
1. Rowan Walker 08:25:31
2. Jonathan Worswick 09:10:08
3. David Hosking 09:43:48
1. Shona Stephenson 10:18:58
2. Amy Hinds 10:38:18
3. Mandy Lee-Noble 10:52:50
1. Peak Adventure (Alex Polizzi, Alex Houghton, Jarad Kohlar, James Pretto) 07:26:09
2. Giant (Mitch Anderson, Damian Angus) 07:36:40
3. Salomon (Mick Donges, Andrew Vize, Matt Cooper, Gretel Fortmann) 08:14:09