Thursday, 2 July 2015

Hounslow Classic 2015 - Part 1

My life is less a story in search of a headline, than a series of disorganised stories in search of chapter headings. To try and capture some of the current madness, I am just going to put a lump of it under the banner of “Hounslow Classic”, a 75km event I am running (walking, scrambling, crawling, crying) through in October 2015.  Blackheath - Govett's Leap - Evan's Lookout - Grand Canyon - Govett's Leap (again) - Pulpit Rock - Perry's Lookdown - Blue Gum Forest - Lockley's Pylon - the Pinnacles; then turn around and run the same way all the way back again.  Time to start training.

I know other runners have all kinds of impressive looking training plans, but my brain tends to work along different lines. Like all good preschool teachers I believe that play is the key to learning. Unlike most preschool teachers though, it usually applies to my own life. Yes, I am a big kid. So here is how a not very serious preschool teacher trains for a seriously tough 75km ultra running event on an unbelievably difficult course. 

First arrange some kind of scouting of the area.  A romantic week end away with the wife that is coincidentally in close proximity to the course makes for a good starting point.  You have to make sure you at least try keeping the Domestic Harmony Index in the black (however at some point you know that you are going to screw up somehow and send the DHI screaming into the red zone).  I stumbled upon a tiny cottage called Albert Hall in Leura catering for couples wanting one night stays. Small, simple, perfect for us (the lovely Cait is small, and well, I am simple). Nutrition is important and was covered by ZEST Restaurant in Leura.  What a hidden gem of middle Eastern cuisine.  Hydration requirements were nicely covered by half a bottle of red wine. Training should also include a day at Scenic World doing all the rides and walking the Rain Forest Boardwalk. I got lost on a training run last year and had a great time thundering around the rain forest board walks all alone in the dawn and have wanted to return with the lovely Cait ever since then. It is such a brilliant creation. Today was the day. In return I had to ride the Skyway and assorted rides. Hanging by a thread over great heights is not one of my favourite things, but quid pro quo as she was walking with me on the morrow.  I have to admit I had a ball.

enjoying the views from the Skyway
How cool.  The floor becomes see through and you can see how far you are going to fall to your death
2.5 km of board walk along the rain forest floor.  Not a "real" bushwalk, but heaps of fun
The Hounslow Classic starts in Blackheath, but today the lovely Cait and I were starting from Govett's Leap, heading up to Evan's Lookout, down Neate's Glen, through the Grand Canyon, Rodriguez Pass, Junction Rock, then back up to Govett's Leap ("leap" being a Scottish word for waterfall). I had mapped it out to be about 14.5 km. This turned out to be quite short of the actual  distance.  By "quite short" I mean "way off".  It finished up being 19km according to both our GPS watches.

Views from Govett's Leap.  Run down from the left, up the right, then repeat.  Add some extra bits to make it longer.  That's the Hounslow course in a very big nutshell.
the lovely Cait and some idiot photo bomber
We set out our usual jaunty selves along the Cliff Top walk. Our first water crossing gave me an opportunity to sprawl across a rock and practice my mermaid skills.  After the first photo, the wife suggested that a mermaid should possibly keep his legs more together.  Take 2.

The Little Mermaid

Govett's Leap with all the those lovely stairs winding up the cliff face
Evan's Lookout is spectacular and we spent a while here ooohing and aaahing appropriately. As we wandered up to the Neate's Glen car park we encountered a distressed woman redirecting traffic as her husband attempted to reverse a very large campervan along the road. Apparently even enormous warning signs are not large enough for some. Great big vehicles, little tiny brains.

We arrived at what we guessed was the Neate's Glen car park. An abundance of signs had guided us here, but no sign actually announced where we were. We asked a couple donning enormous packs “is this the Neate's Glen car park ? Is that the track down to Neate's Glen?” They had never heard of the place, yet appeared to be heading off into the wilderness for what looked like a month. We left them to their fate and set off down what seemed to be the right trail (it was).

There is little to be said for the walk through Neate's Glen and the Grand Canyon. I am embarrassed that given all my wanderings, I had never been through this part of the world. It is breathtakingly beautiful and I have no idea why I have never done it before. We were doing a longer loop, but the short cut back up to Evan's makes it a brilliant 6km loop, and it was lovely to see so many families enjoying it.

Neate's Glen

Grand Canyon

Someone got a little excited about walking behind a waterfall (but really, who wouldn't)

We, however, were off through the Rodriguez Pass. Bright yellow warning signs had the lovely Cait looking at me enquiringly, but she trusts me (silly woman). Maybe she was feeling a little less trusting grasping a steel cable as she later crossed a cliff wall; but she didn't fall, so all good.

The climb down to Greave's Creek is not a simple dawdle along a trail. In places it becomes a full scramble over rocks, and lots of scouting to pick up the trail. Eventually we hit clear trail again and moved along nicely. However, at one point we saw a couple down below us who were clearly lost and heading towards Beauchamp Falls along a smooth and slippery (and increasingly dangerous) water course. We yelled for them to stop, and led them back down stream to the point where they had missed the creek crossing. As they set off, we wished them luck. I thought the man might need it, as the woman looked less than impressed at proceedings and there were so many places a man could fall to his death with just an innocent nudge.

Greave's Creek met up with Govett's Creek, and it was a pleasant stroll. We found a clearing with a creepy wooden hut which the lovely Cait refused to enter (possibly my ill timed Ivan Milat joke didn't help). After a bite to eat by the lovely Govett's Creek, we set off again.
The Milat Meditation Centre

By now both our GPS watches suggested we should be near finished, which obviously was not the case. I began to worry that the “lovely walk” I promised was becoming a horrible slog, and maybe I had missed a turn. Cait was pushing on fast up front, but I felt obliged to mention that last time in this area I has seen more than a few black snakes.  She thanked me for the advice, and suddenly I was pushing on up front. Eventually, though, we reached Junction Rock, I breathed a sigh of relief, and we headed west on the last stretch up towards Govett's Leap. Not, however, before the lovely Cait came to within a half a whisker of taking a massive plummet down a waterfall. I won't mention that we were only crossing because I misread a sign and it was actually a needless recrossing back to the right side.

From here on it was a long up up up, with endless zig zags and small water crossings. It was strange to look at the time and think it was only early afternoon, because it was so dark in places that it felt like night was rapidly closing in upon us. It seemed to be taking forever. To my surprise, the lovely Cait turned to me and said that if I needed to spend a bit more time than usual up here training, she would understand. I kindly thanked her for her support, but by now was secretly thinking I was mad for signing up. I had been concerned about the extra distance, but the lovely Cait was thundering along. She was proclaiming her gazelle like performance as she leaped from rock to rock, whereas I, ultra runner in training, was struggling. At last we hit the base of Govett's Leap and the beginning of the final climb.  Along the way, Cait made friends with what was later identified as a Superb Lyrebird. It just kept hopping and flying alongside her all the way to the very top. A very special way to end the day (and partially took her mind off the fact that I had majorly underestimated the distance).
Cait's little mate
Govett's Leap

A great day out, a good work out, a lot of course knowledge tucked away and the beginnings off a race strategy (“don't do it”); all made even better by a stop off at Wentworth Falls to pick up some Mountain High Pies for dinner.  A good start to the training cycle.

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