In August 2018, I ran the Run Larapinta short course stage race, known as the “Namatjira”. The short course consists of four stages covering diverse sections of the Northern Territory’s incredible Larapinta Trail – kicking off with an 11km sunset run on trails around Alice Springs; Stage 2 – 20km; Stage 3 – 22km; Stage 4 – 30km.
Wow, this was an absolute cracker of an event for my first multiday and I would HIGHLY recommend it to anyone even thinking about signing up! I opted to “just” run the short course event. I say “just” the short course, but it isn’t actually “just” – those kilometres add up and the dusty, rocky terrain of the Larapinta trail is seriously unforgiving. Don’t be fooled by what MAY look like low mileage to you. Of course, if it looks tooo easy, then there’s always the long course option – the “Malbunka” – I guarantee that won’t be easy.
Here are a few thoughts if you’re considering taking on the challenge (…like I say, DO IT!):
- Get used to carrying a heavy-ish pack. The mandatory gear plus 3 litres of water fairly adds up and I was like a little hunchback with my pack stuffed full. I actually had the luxury of using a different pack everyday thanks to my “all the gear” number of hydration vests, but even for the short 11km run on the first night, you are required to carry all of your mandatory gear (thermal, windproof jacket, a pretty substantial first aid kit etc etc). Some days require you to start off with 3 litres of water too. This isn’t “the capacity” for 3 litres as is the case in some races; this is an actual 3 kilos of sloshing water, and you’ll be checked and not allowed to continue in places if you’re not carrying the full 3 litres. Just make sure you’re comfortable running around with a loaded pack on your back over uneven ground.
- Don’t expect it to always be desert hot. Yes, this event is held in Central Australia – dry, dusty, hot Central Oz. Yet, deserts are cold at night… and in the early morning… We had frost on the tent overnight at Glen Helen and the start line of the final day was sooo cold! You warm up quickly as the sun comes up, but a pair of arm warmers are a handy addition to the gear as you can whip them off easily as you start to warm up. I did also take a hot water bottle for the tent, and I was not alone… and did not regret it!
- The desert is not flat. I heard it time and time again before this race: “Oh it’s a flat one”. While this may be typical trail runner speak, you’ll find yourself scrambling in parts, climbing rocky switchbacks and running high up on spectacular ridgelines
- Embrace the rocks. Sometimes, literally, you may be embracing the rock. I mean, really, you’re going to see more rocks than you’ve probably ever seen before.
- Recovery – to ensure you can get up and run day after day, recovery is essential. I used a Tailwind recovery drink for the first time and took a spikey ball on the bus for before and after each stage. I’d also say to take a foam roller and a yoga strap etc to help that essential maintenance in between stages. It wasn’t uncommon to see people stretching out on yoga mats which they had brought along for the trip
- Pre pack your gear day by day to save you having to sort it with a tired head, or possibly in the confines of a tiny, dusty tent. This is quite honestly the most organised I’ve ever been….
- Chat to your fellow runners. Unless you’re at the front of the pack, this will feel more like an adventure than a race. If you do want to be front of the pack, start fast to get ahead on single track. We were often stuck in a slow moving conga line from the start, which wasn’t an issue when we weren’t chasing podium spots, but it would be harder to do so if you found yourself back there. I guarantee though, you’ll make some good friends over the days! You are also given a “bib” to attach to your back as well as your front, which is a lovely little touch to remind you of everyone’s name as you run up behind them! I recently lined up at Tarawera in NZ with a fellow Larapinta buddy and have maintained contact with quite a few fellow runners since the event. The camaraderie is second to none.
- “Pack your concrete pills”. Those were the words of the race director at the initial event briefing. You’ll be in some remote sections where all the help at hand will be other runners or hikers on the trail. As we were told in the briefing, you’re going to need to swallow that concrete. Bear in mind, Day 2 may be shorter mileage wise than Day 3, but it took me a whole hour longer because of the terrain – don’t be fooled!
- Download maps.me – don’t expect the trail to be wonderfully marked. You are relying on the course markers of the Larapinta trail itself – designed for hikers, not runners. Morgan and I ran together which made it easier to sense check if one of us veered off course, if we had missed spotting the blue Larapinta trail arrows (which you’ll get to know intimately)! One of us would frequently miss these. If I was alone I would have been using the maps app a lot more to check I was still on course.
- If you’re tossing up between the short and the long course; I would say a definite highlight of the short course which the long course guys didn’t see at all was Stage 3 running around the incredible Ormiston Pound loop. Yet, I was really envious of the long course runners summitting Mount Sonder at sunrise on the final day. I say “really envious”, but let’s be real, my legs were pretty happy not having to do that by the time day four came along 😉
- The bore water you’ll be drinking at Glen Helen is not especially tasty. Some of the more experienced people grabbed big tubs of water to take from Alice Springs. I would probably go for that option next time. Especially when it is SO dry, you’ll be drinking a lot more than you expect
- It’s dry. I know, you’re thinking, “yeah Sarah, it’s the desert, of course it’s dry.” But I mean – moisture sucking; skin cracking; really, really dry. I was choking on the first night running along in the dust with the driest throat ever! My buff came in handy worn across my face to stop inhaling so much dust on occasion. Also, you’ll be pleased to have a good lip salve and moisturiser. I’m not big into skincare, but really…. you’ll be thankful for it.
- You’re in Alice Springs – take the time to explore afterwards. We hired a car and drove to Yulara to see Uluru and Katja Tjuta . Just be aware (because we weren’t!) that Alice Springs is actually six hours drive from Uluru. A lot of people choose to fly instead of drive.
The Rapid Ascent team put on an absolute cracker of an event and I can’t recommend it enough. It was an absolutely incredible experience, and I’d be sorely tempted to head back for some long course action, thank you!
More information on – http://rapidascent.com.au/runlarapinta/ or by all means, give me a shout if you have any questions about the experience! (and thanks Mat Hull for the free photography too – feature image, credit. Thanks x)