In its fourth year, The Blackall 100 took place on Saturday 21st October, 2017 with participants running a course covering the Sunshine Coast Hinterland Great Walk. The 100km event was the Australian National Long Course Championships and in 2017, a Western States Endurance Run qualifying race, while there was also the option to tackle half of the course in a 50km event.
Random person: “So you ran the Blackall 100?”
Me: “Well, yeah, but just the 50km”.
Three months have passed and I have run two trail marathon distances and two ultra marathons in that time. I like CrossFit, sprinting and short, fast stuff. Now I’m feeling like I awkwardly have to explain I “only” ran 50kms… Who am I again?
I recall listening to a running podcast a while ago, with a female ultra marathoner, who clearly conveyed the message: “you are capable of more than you know”. As I approached the finish line of the Blackall 50, about to hit a sub 6 hour run when I had been anticipating at least an hour longer, those poignant words echoed through my mind. You really are capable of more than you know.
The Blackall 50 is what I’ve been calling “my bonus run”. With Tiree Ultra being my absolute goal “A” race and my first “ultra marathon”, I hadn’t anticipated wanting to run my second ever ultra six weeks later. And yet, since I pulled up relatively well from Tiree, and was keen to be a part of an event full of so many familiar faces on local trails, I decided to bite the bullet and have a wee run around the Sunshine Coast Hinterland with a few others. I did remark that I was mainly signing up for the banter, and to see other people running, which is somewhat ironic for someone who only a year ago thought that running 50kms on trail sounded like a ridiculous prospect, reserved for the friendly lunatics I met out on the Noosa trails. 50km trail run, “for the banter”; right-oh.
The Blackall 100 is somewhat notorious for runners suffering from heat stroke in the 30C plus conditions. As I returned from Scotland (not known for its 30+ temperatures) and found myself training in record October heatwave temperatures here on the Sunshine Coast, I was severely regretting my sign up. Tiree Ultra may have involved horizontal hail but while this presents its own challenges, in all honesty, give me the cold over a humid, hot race anytime. Fast forward a couple of weeks and as if by magic my cold and rain dance worked, a little more effectively than expected as we fleeted from stifling heatwave to a cool change complete with severe flash floods and subsequently, a Blackall course change. It is quite incredible to think that last year the race was hit by bush fire, closing down the same loop which this year, was cut out due to floods and swollen creeks and understandable safety concerns.
Arriving early on the Saturday morning, just in time to see the 100km runners heading down Kondalilla road to begin their big day out, I was greeted by NUTRs and Sunco Runco buds and a few others who I’ve met in previous races this year (or via Instagram!). The atmosphere was great and from my perspective, a super mix of pretty chilled, with a big dose of anticipation and a lot of excitement to get out there and get it done. As the start line countdown finished, off we trotted down the road towards the National Park. Admittedly, there was more on road here than I had estimated, but not to worry, as soon we were off of the road and running through a beautiful section of bush. I love the Linda Garrett Reserve as it has a magical, jungle feel to it – sweeping vines; huge fallen tree trunks; tall eucalypt forest overhead; thick roots underfoot and the odd section of water to leap over (“leaping” at the start; not so much leaping on the home stretch) and with all of the rain, the rainforest was lush and cool and damp. Needless to say, carrying the GoPro and gimbal again, I had the camera filming through quite a bit of this section!
The first checkpoint came sooner than anticipated, but unsure of how long I was going to take across each section and in no particular rush here, I made a point of stopping at each checkpoint to ensure I was running with two full water/Tailwind flasks. Unfortunately, with the course change this year, the removal of the beautiful Gheerulla loop also meant the removal of my favourite section. The Gheerulla loop is known for two good switchback climbs, beautiful views and fun single track. I 100% respect that safety must be the number one priority for all involved, but I sorely missed this more technical section as I found myself trundling along what felt like a heap of forestry road. There were still some climbs, but they were long slogs on wide track. There was a minor creek crossing (or two?) and what to me, felt like alot of downhill. This may be because I really need to learn to run downhill. Others fly by me on the downhill as I currently resemble a tentative granny teetering slowly down, not wanting to spill her cup of tea on her pinny. That being said, I’m probably unfair to granny ultra runners out there crushing the downhills like Emelie Forsberg.
If you read my Tiree 55km race report (thanks), you’ll have seen that the the iPod shuffle chucked out some cheeky musical crackers like Toca’s “I need a miracle” and Sia’s “I’m alive” as I was struggling in gale force winds along an exposed Hebridean beach. In light of the slight boredom I began to suffer on these forestry tracks (sorry Blackall – this is all just a learning process for me, and one of those learnings is how much I love single track and exploring new trails), and the fact I ended up in no mans land towards the end of the race, not seeing anyone ahead or behind me for what felt like forever, I turned to the iPod shuffle to keep me trudging along. At one point on the dam loop as I was fiddling about with the iPod, Charlie Boyle, the eventual winner of the 100km race sailed past me uphill, reminding me how amazing these lead runners are, and how slow I am… and how much I was just generally zoning out and faffing about at that stage mid race instead of getting it done!! I’m not generally a fan of music on trail runs, but a tune or a podcast in one ear can distract me enough from the slog to get me “restarted” and to keep me going. However, as I was slogging up a long, misty, uneven forestry trail, the podcast selection kicked off with a particularly cheery (!) interview with an older guy who had suffered a severe cardiac arrest at a ParkRun, complete with all the gnarly medical details, and so looking for something a little more motivational, I pulled the pin on that one, only to switch to one about severe, paralysing mountain running accidents. Needless to say, I might research the content of podcasts a little more before I blindly load them onto my iPod pre race. It gave me a little, ironic chuckle at least.
I have made it clear in my social media posts that for me, Blackall was about the PEOPLE. The community I have been lucky enough to find since starting trail running last year, was THE highlight of the race for me. Who can’t love running into a checkpoint and seeing a running buddy standing in the rain, dressed up in wetsuit, flippers, mask and snorkel?! A friend dressed up in a Tutu, ripping open your nutrition for you and telling you to get the hell outta the checkpoint as you hang around, posing for silly photos and enjoying some general chit chat… The smallest things just bring fun and a great mood, taking your mind off the next however-many-kms ahead of you altogether. This race was also the first time I’ve chased someone along a trail singing Flower of Scotland (I use the term, “singing”, loosely) – as I spotted @runningwithlois up ahead of me on the trail. Lois is an Instagram friend, who I first met in person at Lamington Eco Challenge and as it transpires, used to horse ride with one of my besties back home in Scotland… yes, the world is small. Check out the Blackall video for the footage of that!
While there was some fog and a bit of rain and while I heard many complaints about the mud, to be honest, in comparison to being knee deep in peat bog, it really wasn’t bad at all. For me, it was pretty much perfect running temperature and significantly easier underfoot than Tiree the month before. That being said, while I loved the conditions for the 50km, I know the 100km runners were faced with increasing rainfall, significantly cooler temperatures than you would ever expect here and an ever deepening mud bath. But at least for the 50km runners who didn’t have to tackle the dam loop twice, all those muddy minerals are good for your skin, right?
In spite of the beautiful Gheerulla loop being replaced by the not so exciting dam course, the volunteers and runners I had the pleasure to know, see and high five made this race one to remember for me. Oh and not to mention the fact that I arrived at the Finish line, confused and unable to see the Finish arch which had disappeared from its earlier location; so instead amidst the torrential rain I followed my stomach and the sign for Hot Food, which as it transpires, was also the Finish line 😉 Winner winner, chicken dinner. I have had a lot of comments since the race about how I smile my way around, but really this is just a reflection of someone who has found a passion for being on the trails, enjoying these new experiences and seeing everyone crush their expectations!
My Finisher photos convey my feelings of relief and joy, more than any words can, and as I rang the famous Blackall bell I had no idea that I had come in 5th in my category and 12th of 112 females running the 50km with a time of 5:56:49. It doesn’t feel very “British” to say so but, hey, not bad for my second ultra and someone who has only in the last year discovered an interest in this longer stuff! You really are capable of more than you know. Yes, you.
A huge thank you to the organisers and the wonderful volunteers who made this event the great success it was. I look forward to working the Checkpoint sometime and giving back – because really, you guys make it. And to Morgan and Megs – the best supporters ever. Thank you xx
Final results below and a link to my Strava here. There must have been some invisible women passing me in the last section, because I definitely have no recollection of that happening! Weird.
Gear I used for the Blackall 50, as seen above:
- Buff Headwear bandana
- Salomon Slab Advanced 12 Hydration Pack along with Hydrapak bottles with straws. I have reviewed this pack here.
- Oiselle luxe tee. Again, zero underarm chafing hurrah.
- SOAS shorts. I’ve reviewed these shorts here.
- Injinji Compression Toe Socks. Soaking wet feet for the race again, and again, no blisters.
- Hoka One One Challenger ATR 2 shoes.
- Garmin Fenix 3 – Rose Gold.
- GoPro Hero 5 Black attached to the GoPro Karma Grip.
- Mio Fuse heart rate monitor – you can see this on my wrist.
- Nutrition was predominantly Tailwind, supplemented with Clif Shot Bloks.
More info on the event can be found on Run Queensland’s website.