Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Xterra #4 – Dome Valley

Due to flooded rivers the course has been shortened - the announcement at the start line was greeted by a mixture of cheers and boos. Originally the Superlong was 25km, but this decreased to 21km after storm damage a week ago. Now we were told that we would only be running 16km. The showers which had been passing through all morning cleared as we lined up for the start and many people soon found themselves overdressed.

The first 5km is gravel road, mostly uphill, so the pack soon spread out. I liked being up high with views over an area I haven’t seen before. From the water station at 5km the fun began as we headed straight downhill to the river 100m below. The 4wd track started off grassy with a bit of mud, but gradually the grass gave way to mud and by the bottom it was simply greasy clay. It was amusing to watch people’s attempts to stay upright, and we thought that this was where the photographers should have been! Running down the water ruts proved the best option as all the loose dirt had been washed out so there was reasonable traction.

On reaching the turbid river we reached a junction: an arrow and a Superlong sign pointed left, and a single arrow pointed right. A few men around me decided (correctly) that this must be the Long/Superlong split and headed right, while I turned left and headed downstream parallel to the river (some runners intending to do the Long course missed this turnoff and ended up doing the Superlong instead). Those who took their eyes off their feet and looked over their shoulder saw a thundering 30m high waterfall. The river was in flood and in about 5 places it was overflowing onto the track. The water in the first such place was up to mid-thigh, but each one got deeper until the 4th time I was wading up to my hips. I joked that I’d be swimming if there were any more water crossings. They forgot to tell us to bring our life jackets! We saw a couple of motocross guys tinkering with one of their bikes by our last water crossing – obviously the water and mud were wreaking havoc on their day out as well.

Leaving the river we headed fairly steeply uphill on a wide clay track through native bush. Once again I stuck in the ruts as we grovelled our way up, except for one or two places where there were gushing rapids coursing down the track. I was grinning from ear to ear and several times laughed out loud with glee – I was having so much fun! Part way up I heard someone mention that we’d just done a 15 minute 1km! Eventually we reached the top of the ridge and were spat out onto a gravel road which led back to the water station. Here we expected to turn left and descend to the river again, but instead were directed back along the gravel road towards the event base. Apparently the first few runners did not get this message and ended up doing another loop down to the river.

The race plan hadn’t included this much gravel road, and I didn’t really enjoy slogging all the way back to join the Short course. Dodging through the slower and less confident short course people provided a challenge, and at the bottom of the track there was a particularly steep, greasy clay section where a rope had been fixed on one side as a hand rail. I just let gravity assist and slid/ran my way down. Almost immediately we headed up again, only this time the track was steeper, longer and greasier. So many people had already been up here that what footholds there were had all been churned up. There was a rope on one side and a feasible line up the scrub on the other, but I left these for the less confident people and charged straight up the middle. By the time I was halfway up I had to concede and join those on the edge of the scrub. The ascent eased off but kept on going for a while up to a gravel road, and from there it was all downhill to the finish.

The course may have only been 16km, but it still took me 2:15 hours!