“There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm ” ~Willa Cather
Bogong to Hotham (B2H) is a gnarly race and although it is only 64kms in length it is boasted to be one of Australia’s hardest trail races. For anyone who has ever taken part in an event organised by Andy Hewat they will know how meticulous he is to detail and safety. This race is no different, the B2H field is capped at 100 competitors with each competitor needing to fulfill the qualifying criteria of a successful completion of an ultra in the past 12 months of ‘sufficient’ difficulty/ baseline requirement is 6ft track in 6hrs).
This year the field was pretty impressive with a hotly contested front of field talent including Damon Goerke, Mick Donges, Brendan Davies, Matt Cooper, Andrew Tuckey, Andy Lee, Clarke McClymont and David Crinti (DNS). There was a definite buzz of excitement leading up to the race to see who would end up winning the race and what times were going to be made. During the race I even overheard a discussion between two competitors saying they felt a tad intimidated during the briefing due to the depth of talent in the room.
Although the rain was only drizzling, as we drove to the start line it was difficult to make out Mount Bogong due to the fog. More people started the race with their waterproof jackets off rather than on, I knew my temperature would quickly rise with the steep and long climb up to the summit. The race began and soon enough I was sweating and panting….. the climb to Mount Bogong is a relentless 1366metre slog for 9kms. Some people formed congo lines and marched up the hill and other people grunted it out solo style. I joined up with two other guys and they somehow mustered the energy to have a little banter but my heavy breathing required focus and unusual silence to get it keep it under control. Over the new years weekend I had completed the climb and had decided to approach this section conservatively but make a steady pace in order to be safe from the cut off. I was then going to make the most of the runnable downhill section to Big River, survive the second hill to Ropers Hut, run to Langford Gap and from there I would do what I could to Mount Hotham Summit. The closer and closer we came to Mount Bogong the more ferocious the wind became and just before we cleared the trees a walker heading down the mountain told us there was ‘gale force’ winds at the top. To be honest I didn’t exactly know what “gale force” winds really meant but I knew it would be rough for all of us.
Already shivering I stepped off the path and struggled to put on my waterproof jacket as it was flapping in the wind and my hands were too numb to work properly. This was definitely a bad move on my end, I should have put on my jacket at least 30 minutes beforehand as I was already soaked to the bone. Within that time I had lost sight of the people I was walking with but was lucky to find the shortcut path directly to the summit. Once up the top I quickly screamed out my number to the volunteers (you are amazing people) and hurriedly attempted to descend. The weather was simply insane, I was unable to stay on the path and was being knocked side to side like a rag doll. Feeling very much alone and then slightly fearful of taking a wrong path I kept turning around and decided to slow down so I could head down to Big River with someone in sight (NB: this section of the course turned out to be easy to follow as you simply make your way alongside the poles).
I found the descent to Big River relatively fine, there were some very slippery muddy sections but I had expected it to be far worse and even more steep than what it was. The weather seemed less severe once you were in the thick of the trees but I was unable to get warm even though I started making my way up the second climb to Ropers Hut. We could hear huge crashes in the distance of trees falling down and there were several trees that we had to scramble over. I was later told by Park Ranger and course record holder Andy Kromar that the area had been cleared two days beforehand so those trees had either fallen down during the night or during the race itself. Things started to go downhill for me even though I was making my way up the steep and challenging second climb. I was struggling to coordinate my muscle movement, my head was increasingly cloudy and I felt numb.
By the time I made Ropers Hut walking was an issue even though we were already on much flatter terrain. There was an EMT (Duncan) at this station and I managed to slur out that I was cold and needed to change my clothes. Despite being told that the race had been cancelled at Langford Gap due to horrendous weather, I only intended to change my clothes and push on through to that point. However within 30seconds I realised it would be foolish to continue to expose myself to the conditions in the state that I was in. The volunteers at this checkpoint were pretty amazing and very on the ball. They had hiked several hours the afternoon before to ensure they were here for the first competitors. I was rugged up in long johns, down jacket, beanie and Duncan checked my vitals four times in the 2.5hours that I was based there. When I arrived my temperature was 32 degrees and when I left it was 35 degrees.
This race was certainly eventful and even without the weather turning out the way it did it would have been a challenging 64kms. That said I have learnt some vital lessons of things that I can do for future races.
The main thing for me is that I need to realise that my body (5 foot and 45kgs) has different requirements and will respond differently than someone who is 6 foot and 78kgs. Of course this sounds obvious and logical but despite being OCD about so many things with race preparation it is easy to categorise your needs being similar to the needs of the majority of people. Experience has now taught me that I have the susceptibility to cold weather as that of a child. Relatively I would say I lose body heat more quickly than most adults and it can certainly be a race ender as it was for me on Sunday.
Andy Hewat made the call that we were only mandated to bring out light gear as opposed to our full kit. There was conflict weather reports in the days leading up to Sunday – stinking hot, raining, perfect race weather, etc. Andy told me there was still the chance of rain but everything was looking positive for decent race conditions. I want to emphasis that the day before the race we had amazing weather – hardly a cloud in the sky and a temperature in the 30s. On top of that every competitor in the field was considered to be an experienced trail/ultra runner and should know what their personal requirements are.
Whether a race director makes a risk based decision that appeals to the lowest common denominator, or one that appeals to the majority of the field, the mere whiff that there could be rain should ring alarm bells in my head. Bells that scream “bring your beanie, gloves and perhaps your waterproof pants.” This gear would have equated to a few hundred grams of extra weight which is nothing and I have certainly carried more in multistage events.
Well lessons learnt for increased self responsibility for next time! If you see me with a slightly larger pack in upcoming races you will know why!!
Andy Hewat dealt with the situation with professionalism and with the competitors best interests at heart. The volunteers were absolute troopers and I know all of the competitors were grateful and would have loved to have given you a hot chocolate to keep you warm.
Bogong2Hotham will be the first race on my 2013 race calendar. For more pics & videos of the race check out the Ultra 168 facebook page
Just as a side note I did a quick look up of what exactly “gale force winds” mean and its defined as an “average surface wind speed of 34 to 47 knots (63 to 87 km/h)”. The wind gust at Mount Hotham at 2pm was recorded at 96km/h and wind speed at 59 km/h.