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  • Writer's pictureMark J. Keenan

Trails, trees and great people.

Trails, trees and great people.

Check. Check. Check.

The Pemby Trail Fest had all of these. And more.

The Friday night run was a cracker. Many people had spent a good few hours seated in a car and everyone was ready to get moving, so when the start countdown finished there were a lot of woohoos.

The first section of the trail was flat and wide, helping the group to spread out. As we ran back past the historic swimming pool we could hear voices cheering us on from the start-line on the opposite side. It must have been quite the sight, looking across the darkness of the water and into the forest, a line of bobbing headlamps blinking through the trees.

Soon we were going up, heading deep into the Pemberton Mountain Bike Park. And we knew it. The ground went up, the ground went down, the ground went up again. All within short sections of track. The trail went left, the trail went right, the trail went left again. Switching back on itself, over and over. If you’d had dinner before the run, it would have been well mixed by the end of the climb.

night run personal decorations

I always find it calming to run at night; somehow it centres me, brings me back into alignment. Maybe it’s the fact you can only see a few feet ahead of you. You don’t know what’s ahead, uphills or downhills, twists or turns. But you keep running anyway, focusing only on where you are in the moment and the short section of track just beneath your feet. And, even though you can’t see beyond the dim edges of the headlamp’s beam, you trust you will make it.

I didn’t know it at the time, but the last downhill section of the trail is named ‘Cool Running’. And it is. Equal parts uphill and downhill, it was a cool way to complete the event, with some nice speedy sections once you’d ground out the climb.

I didn’t run on the Saturday. Instead I volunteered at rego and time-keeping. It was a great way to stay involved and get some rest before what was going to be a long Sunday. Rego was easy and time-keeping even easier; although I think I would have struggled with the latter if the technology hadn’t held up, and if my wife hadn’t been there to help. It became ‘interesting’ quite a few times, with short course and long course runners converging on the finish line at the same time, but from different directions.

As someone who is usually running in the middle to the back of the pack, it was awesome to see the speedsters crossing the line. And even more special when one of them turned out to be my son, Jack, who placed third male in the short course. I don’t think he has stopped smiling since. Equally inspiring to me though were the tail-enders, those staunch humans who grind it out, with determination, meeting the challenge of the trail, head-on. As someone who took up running late in life, I am in awe of the way the trail running community supports each other and everyone is welcomed and supported. Trails, trees and, yes, great people.

The weather was outstanding on the Saturday. Mild temperature, blue skies, no wind. And it stayed that way all day, including the afternoon, when local brewery Jarrah Jacks was besieged by a couple of hundred trail runners and their families, all ready for a bite to eat and a lemonade. It was one of the things which made this weekend so special; the chance for families to get away together, for a weekend, in a beautiful part of the world.

Sunday arrived. I’d spent the evening prior checking and re-checking my preparations. You’d have thought I was planning to scale Everest the way I kept worrying if I’d remembered everything, not running a 50k ultra. Everything ready, I snuck out of the accommodation, leaving my wife and son to sleep, and wandered over to the start-line. The run was commencing at a point less than 500 metres from where I was staying. How good is that!

Twenty-eight nervous runners listened as Melina gave the race brief and Vince gave a run-down of the route. Okay, I don’t know if there were twenty-eight nervous runners, but I do know there was one. Me. Although, I’d run a couple of similar distances last year, this was the first time I would be tackling an ultra-distance event since my injury and taking a couple of months out of training. It was going to be a test and I really wasn’t sure I’d make it ahead of the notional 8 hour cut-off.

But what a place to be tested it turned out to be! The course was stunning. Leaving the start-line, we headed south into the national park, passing the Gloucester Tree and racing down a switch-back section of the Munda-Biddi. With such a small group of runners, I quickly found myself running alone, enjoying the solitude and settling into the rhythm of the downhill.

The first loop section followed the Gloucester Route, an open section of forest with a wide trail and some nice climbs. I was overtaken by a couple of runners here. I hit the Bibb Track at around 1 hour 20 minutes. I’d managed 10k in that time. It was a good pace for me and, though it wasn’t going to be sustainable, I knew I’d not overdone it.

The run along the Bibb, past the Cascades, was wonderful. Dense bush and tall trees, for miles and miles (and miles).

I ran with another runner for a little time but was eventually left behind after we’d made the first aid station. I didn’t mind. These long runs are a chance to reset, to clear your mind, to listen to your heartbeat.

Past a wide paddock, and a green hill where sheep were grazing and the grass looked comfy enough for a nap, the course turned onto some old logging trails. Overgrown sections, with spindly trees and old signposts declaring the original names of the road, took us in a large loop. At times I thought I was going to get lost and go the wrong way. I did, but not in this section.

It was back on the Bibb where I took a wrong turn, shortcutting a hill and following a gravel road by accident. I realised something was wrong when I came across a pair of blue tags on either side of the road. One leading left, the other right. Because of this ‘alternative route’, two runners who were ahead of me, appeared behind me, just before the Cascades. Comparing distances on my watch with theirs, I worked out how far I’d cut out by going the incorrect way and later, near the finish, I would turn around and run an extra 400 metres to make up for this. Because no one wants to have a shorter run than they planned. Right?

As we left the Cascades, I dropped back behind the other two runners, into what I knew was last place. It’s not a new feeling for me, being right at the tail of the field. In shorter runs, I tend to be mid-pack or so. For the long runs though, I’m always nearly at the end. Someone has to do it and I’m happy to be that one and, let’s face it, when it comes to value for money, I get more trail-time per dollar spent than everyone else.

The fastest person finished in just under 5 hours. I don’t even know how that’s possible. I crossed the finish line at 7 hours and 33 minutes. My time is not special to anyone, except me. And maybe to my son and wife who were there to meet me.

And that what’s great about trail-running? The individual challenge, the support of others, the chance to let go and to just be.

Trails, trees and great people.

Check. Check. Check.


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