When I logged onto the website to enter the Numinbah to Polly’s 35km trail event there was a phrase on the home page saying ‘the toughest trail event in South East Qld’. Although I hesitated this didn’t deter me. I knew this track well through previous events (Gold Coast Kokoda Challenge) and many training sessions. This was to be my longest distance since completing the Blackall 50km ultra trail last September.
After the usual tasks when arriving at an event I ran into a friend who was completing the shorter distance but she introduced me to her friend who, little did I know, was going to be my companion for a good part of the race.
The 35km course consisted of an out and back 18km then a loop of another approximately 15km.
After being told to be careful of debris and fallen trees on the course due to a wind storm the night before we were off. The first couple of km’s was a great warm up and relatively flat but I knew what was coming so I successfully kept my pace slow.
The next section of the course is called Pollys. Now I’m not afraid of hills in fact I approach them with thoughts like ‘the more pain, the greater the reward’ but phrases such as ‘a killer’ and ‘never ending hill’ has been used to describe Pollys so up I went. And when I say up I mean UP. I think the official stats is 500m elevation across 2km. The general chitter chatter of participants around me had ceased and the deep breathing was heard between the sounds of whip birds.
The ‘hill’ was a rocky, dry fire trail that went up with only a few little changes in elevation. I tried to maintain a steady pace so I had more in the tank for the return leg. I always have my first gel in the first 20-40mins and I know to have them when running on flat or decline when my legs aren’t working so hard to allow my body to focus on digesting it. By the 40min mark there was still no flat long enough to consume a gel and I’m sure I had already burnt off my banana that I had for breakfast so I cautiously took a gel, thankfully with no ill effects. There was more corners and more hills and plenty of debris on the trail. It’s amazing how hard it is to bend under a tree branch and crawl over a large log after hiking up a steep incline!
There is a large tree log at the top that I later overhead a lady call it the ‘vomit log’. I don’t think I need to explain why. The top still seemed higher than the last time I was up there so I was glad to see it. Now for the fun part – downhill. I love going down! Maybe because I have finally worked out how to do it efficiently. I feel like I’m on a bike and my legs are the wheels and as they turn over I absorb the natural beauty of the surrounds. I passed Britt Caling (winner of the 18km) on her way back up and she looked tired so I started to get nervous. I reached the bottom at the 9km turn around with jelly legs. I had a quick drink and when I saw the red frogs on the check point table my inner child made me grab one! I only got to eat one bite because I forgot how hard it was to chew while climbing up hill.
I felt like there were more flat areas on the way back over Polly’s but looking at the elevation I must have been hallucinating!! I met up with my friends’ friend at around the 10km mark and we stayed together, encouraging each other for the majority of the race. We passed a lady who had a fall but she was still smiling when she and her mate told us she was fine so we kept powering on. My legs were surprisingly strong (those early morning HIIT sessions were paying off) and I was feeling more comfortable as I ran further downhill, repeating in my head ‘soft landing’.
I consumed another gel as we reached the only lengthy flat section of the course (although the hottest) along the bitumen road on the way back into the 18km checkpoint. My new friend went to the toilet and I re-filled my water bottle. Although I wasn’t out to beat any time I was happy my Garmin told me we were 2:30hrs in.
We headed off to the next section which is known as Waterfall Creek Circuit and consisted of 16km with 7 water crossings. By the first creek crossing I realised I should have gone to the toilet at the second checkpoint so I quickly snuck into the bush while my new friend watched out for me. The third creek crossing was the deepest and reached just under my knees and although we both weren’t looking forward to getting our feet wet it was strangely invigorating. The rest of the creek crossings were just as refreshing.
The sounds of bell birds kept us entertained as we approached the Chesters Road climb. Around the 22km mark we saw the 50km runners going back out and I quietly thought ‘I’m glad I’m not doing that’. Someone asked if I would like to swap my 35km bib for her 50km. I kindly declined.
We went through the third checkpoint and headed on a slight decline before reaching a left turn that took us on a very steep decline. Fatigue began to set in but this is the feeling I was waiting for. Running on fatigued legs is what I needed to prepare myself mentally and physically for my big events later on in the year (Coastal High 50km and Blackall 100km). We were only about 10km from the finish so I took off down the trail like a roller coaster, stopping a few times to take in the beautiful scenery. I took one last gel as I remembered my running coach wanting me to try and do a negative split (finishing faster in the second half compared to the first) and at this rate I was confident of achieving it.
At the fourth and final checkpoint I ate half a banana and headed for the finish line, about another 8km. With encouragement from my running companion I said goodbye and ran off into the distance. I had a sneaky suspicion that there was another hill (it had been about 3km before the last decent hill) and there it was! My lower legs were very fatigued at this moment but I was close to finishing so I kept putting one foot in front of the other and gradually climbed the final hill. When I reached the top I didn’t know how I was going to run the last section but I dug deep and once I started a jog I got into a good rhythm. I realised I was alone in one of the most charming areas in the Gold Coast hinterland and although I was fatigued I was a happy person! You can’t describe this feeling to anyone unless they have experienced it themselves. The sound of the gentle breeze in the trees and the intermittent chirping of birds made the whole experience worth every effort.
I ran the last 3km consistently and when I saw the roof of the Numinbah Environmental Education Centre I was less than a minute away from finishing. It was really nice to run through the finish line with strangers clapping and cheering you on. The sense of accomplishment is overwhelming and to have the lovely Shelly Ostrouhoff greet me at the finish and telling me I was the 5th female to finish was unbelievable.
The event was advertised as 35km but crossing the finish line my Garmin told me 33km. Nevertheless it was a hard run with great results (official time 4:53:55)
I like running on the road but I love running on the trails. I can’t wait for my next adventure!