“…no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were alive in that corner of time and the world.”
– Hunter S. Thomson.
Saturday, November 5, 2016.
I rose before my alarm, leapt out of bed, knocked out a 3 set combination of 60 push ups, 21 pull ups and countless crunches followed by some heavy bag work. I cooked a full English breakfast while choreographing a new Parkour sequence based on Thom Yorke’s ‘Lotus Flower’ dance and washed it down with a pint of tea before knocking out 33km of sprints, barefoot on grass. I tied the lacers on my rare Union Jack Nike Mayflys, jumped through the window of my 68′ Ford Mustang and drove to Carcoar; I had a head full of music and a mission from God…
…and then I woke up; really started living the dream.
The Carcoar Cup Ultra-marathon 2016: A race report, by Stephen Lomax .
I had a Carcoar Cup entry and a goal: I needed to finish the Carcoar Cup Ultra-marathon (60km) (approximately 950m climbing) in under 7 hours. Success would secure my qualifying race for the Six Foot Track Marathon 2017.
Let’s do it!
Before that though, I’d like to express some gratitude and share some genuine love.
Thank you to the beautiful small town and people of Carcoar: organisers, volunteers , supporters and other runners -all of whom went the extra mile to smile, cheer, help and were present to make this event so cool. Your town is beautiful and your event is top notch. I wish you every success for the future and will do my best to spread the word about how great your town is and how awesome the running festival is, too. Although in your early years as a running festival, you’re on a par with The Six Foot Track Marathon race for quality experience.
This festival will stand the test of time, as already has the town, and the massive potential is clear given the location and the conditions and the spirit of all who live, work, pass through and rest a while here.
Thanks to my Mum, Dad and Son and also to his Mum for being a good Mum and a reasonable and amicable ex-wife, also to their supportive family- old and new.
Thanks to the Cardelli’s for their friendship and support, in particular Beth for many tough and inspiring hours out on the trails last year and generally being an outstanding athlete & key role model (please take time to read Beth’s blog to learn much about the sport of Ultra-running, done very well, with the right attitude and outlook); also for Brian and his Dad for their hospitality for mountain runs and also the Berowra Bushrunners in general for some really cool runs over the past couple of years in particular the interval sessions with the small group which grew and to all who’ve been friendly and helpful and supportive. You know who you are. You’re a good bunch.
Thanks to my mate Steve and his family, who helped me last year during a rather difficult period and demonstrated true mateship.
Thanks to my bosses and all their friends who have helped me beyond measure and given me insights into life that can only lead on to greater things.
Thanks to Ness for ongoing mental support from a world away but really not so far at all.
Thanks to Nat & Dee for walking into my story at different pages, and guiding me on to greater running achievements.
I’d also like to thank Marc and Mel and family whom both done well in the shorter distances, and whom came and said hello after the race- little things like this go a long way.
Congratulations to every other runner in every category and event.
There was no shortage of runners and others who made the effort to share the joy of the day, including the very positive Larissa, whom I met after the event, and whom took out the female win and also Gary Mullins who placed well in the marathon and with whom mutual congratulations were also shared.
God bless you all and if I’ve missed anyone, you too. Good on you all.
Please take time to click on this link1 and discover what Carcoar has to offer as a town- and click on this link2 to learn about the awesome running festival the Carcoar Cup is, for all ages (and official Six Foot Track Marathon race qualifier in the marathon and Ultra categories.)
OK, Academy Award speech done, here’s the report:
In a nutshell, I went into the race with a positive attitude, excellent specific and base training and enjoyed every moment. I was, well prepared and I gave my absolute best. It was tough. I had no idea I was gonna place let alone win, and once that belief became a reality, I ran with it and held on to it until the finish. It wasn’t easy, but really all that it required was that I run my best possible and not give up. I wish for every person – runner or not- to experience moments of pure glory in their lifetime.
Work hard, believe in yourself, never give up.
Smile whenever you can.
I packed my sturdy Kathmandu backpack with all my essentials, like food and water and a second hand pair of New Balance Minimus road runners, and threw a tent in the boot of my hired Nissan. I drove out of a dark and gloomy Gosford, on the Pacific Coast, and headed for the green and pleasant land of Carcoar, in the Central West region of New South Wales.
I’d never been farther west than Oberon before, so I was really excited to be road-tripping to a town I’d never been, to race an Ultra-marathon course I’d never seen. En route, I took in the splendid and familiar sights of the Hawkesbury River, Berowra and other suburbs of Sydney’s North Shore, the Hills area and up and over the stunning Blue Mountains, through Bell, Lithgow, Bathurst, Blayney and then to destination unknown: Carcoar!
“Poetry, music, forests, oceans, solitude-
they were what developed enormous spiritual strength.
I came to realise that spirit, as much or more than
physical conditioning, had to be stored up
before a race.”
– Herb Elliot.
It’s a breathtakingly scenic drive of just 4 hours from Gosford, a touch over 3 from Berowra, 2.5 from Penrith and as little as 1.5 from the Upper Mountains. As a runner, this is particularly refreshing and rewarding ; the last spiritual preparations in the final phase of the ‘taper’ phase of race day preparation.
Carcoar is over 700m above sea level and sits on the Belubula River. It’s a National Trust classified village full of history and charm, surrounded by beautiful green rolling hills, farmland and mountains.
I arrived in the centre of town and located Carcoar Court House, a grand building from the 19th Century, now a museum, housing many artefacts and displays from a cross section of the towns history.
I was greeted by a small room full of cheerful, friendly volunteers who quickly ascertained what race I was doing as we were overlooked by a portrait of Queen Victoria on the wall.
I collected my bib number 13, and said something like: unlucky for some! but I’ll be alright. They said 13’s a wonderful number and I felt joyful and agreed. I was then invited to purchase a Carcoar Running Festival Cap and a ticket to the Pasta Night. I bought a hat without hesitation but hadn’t finalised plans of where I was staying at that stage, so I decided to hold off on the pasta night. The plan had originally been to travel down with a running buddy, visit the caves, do the bus tour of the course and have dinner at the pasta night fundraiser. However, as Robert Burns said (I’m translating here) [“the best laid plans of mice and men, often go wrong! ]” Oh well, I wasn’t about to let anything stand in the way of a wonderful weekend and what I was fast promising to be a pure spiritual running experience, so I pushed on, solo.
I eventually pitched my tent by the Carcoar Dam and a had a ‘couple’ of cheeky ciders (by which I mean 10) across the course of a long and relaxing afternoon. [I’ve edited this bit to say that since breaking free of my addiction to alcohol, I am not proud of such excess and I have to wonder what I might have achieved without it.] It’s a real beauty spot,the dam, with rolling hills all around and a view of the turbines up on Blayney Wind Farm. The constant, silent spinning of the turbines on the horizon and the ambient sound of nearby families having peaceful fun times by the Dam and on the water was a super relaxing way to spend the day before a race.
Historically, I’d always been rushing around the day before races which, whilst never having completely held me back , I’d identified as a habit that needed changing. Indeed, although life is said to begin outside of your comfort zone, I’ve come to learn that a successful taper and final pre-race preparation, is best taking place place squarely within your comfort zone and inner .
Sunday, November 6, 2016.
I arrived in town at about 06:45, full of excitement and nervous energy, well prepared from consistent training, the last month of which was race specific, and crowned with an effective taper and a relaxing day before the race.
It was a fresh and clear 6 degrees with some brilliant sunshine and I was wearing a fleece and a buff to keep warm before the race. As it was a hilly 60km, I felt no need to stretch or do any other warm up, as the start would be slow and the hills would work soon work their magic on the legs.
A small crowd of runners and their family, friends and supporters, along with people from the town and surrounds, were gathered by the village store- this was the best (or only!?) spot in town to soak up the early morning rays that were coming from between the historic buildings on the other side of the street. November in Sydney might be hot or humid with summer well underway; November in Carcoar was fresh even for a pom like me!
06:55 and Andrew, the race director, called for all Ultra runners to make their way to the start line for the start. We moved from our ‘warm up’ area and made our way up to the start line, as a crowd of people took photos and cheered. Greetings, nods and smiles were exchanged between runners and all, and I exchanged a few words with a friendly runner (whose name I missed because my memory is appalling but I couldn’t later locate the name on the bib from the photos.) We briefly chatted about being wrapped up nice and warm – I was wearing a fleece with two buffs, one as a scarf (the other one would later be used as a beanie!)
I came well prepared, as you always should when heading in to the unknown or indeed any race or event and I’d been wise enough to check weather reports and also lucky enough to have camped out and experienced weather conditions in the area.
Compared to Sydney or the coast and everywhere in between, running conditions were absolutely fantastic for a November morn! If you’re considering doing this race, make sure you check out the weather reports, you’ll be pleasantly surprised if you do, and may well regret it if you don’t. Don’t think November, exposed to the elements, it’ll be too hot. Maybe take a fleece and some buffs and sleeve warmers, gloves, just in case the wind picks up or you find yourself walking parts of the course. (It did and I did- I had my beanie and fleece on and off a couple of times out there!) We had 30kmph chill head and sidewinds doing that loop of Neville!ch
07:00 with an announcement from Andrew Baulch, the race director, claps, cheers and well wishing- and the very unique cracking of a whip- the very horserace-sounding Carcoar Cup 2016 Ultramarathon was underway!
Our small and colourful, mixed group of 16 jolly runners, gently trotted our way past the crowds of supporters in town and up, ever steadily up, through the beautiful rolling hills beyond. It was a real buzz!
I was feeling good from the get go and had no idea of anyone else’s running pace or form, or indeed how quickly I’d be able to move through the 60km, so I simply moved by feel and stayed within the middle of the group, with an eye on the gap between the leaders and how they were moving on the climbs ahead.
I’d studied the course academically, knowing the elevation and the distance, and I’d watched the very brilliant YouTube video click this link which was created by Master Potter (and hard-working race day photographer) Louise Purcell. Louise made the lovely bespoke tea cup/mug trophies which were given out at a fun presentation in the Court House after the events had finished. For some amazingly beautiful, bespoke Pottery, please click this link.
Had I been a little more prepared socially I would have made use of the free Bus Service on the Saturday which took people on a tour of the course- another brilliant idea and one off the many elements which contribute to making the festival a unique and charming event. As it happened, I all I knew was there would be hills upon hills upon hills! This is not an altogether inaccurate assessment.
I was starting to feel really, really good and was comfortable with the hills due to my specific and general training for the last four months in which I’ve steadily worked hard to restore the loss of peak fitness, at the end of the previous year.
A handful of kilometres in and some hills beneath my feet, and I was soon was starting to feel really comfortable and settled in the race, and whilst experience was telling me that this feeling alone shouldn’t guide my pace, I felt it was time to move up to the front of the field and have a chat with the runners. A few more awesome kilometres of views and steady hills later, I ran alongside runners Jonathan and Ross and had a quick natter with them both about the course and the hills and the Mountain ahead, and really how nice it was to be running through such a scenic spot.
Now, I love to take a photo or two when I’m out running, even in races, and this race was certainly no exception. The added value of this particular instance was that, to my surprise and delight, after around 8km, I was leading the race! So, I decided to take a few selfies while I had the chance, as, at 40 years old and a pretty average runner, I might never get the opportunity to lead an Ultra again! I fully anticipated the possibility of being overtaken at any moment, and I mentioned this in a lighthearted, jovial way to Jonathan as we pulled away into a clear lead from the field and proceeded to run and chat together for a good many kilometres, with a bit of a breaking away and then re-meeting out on the Neville loop and then onwards into town until we reached the centre of Neville.
There were a total of 10 drinks stations on the course, manned by friendly , helpful and cheerful volunteers. I didn’t make a stop at every one, but made sure to say hello, smile (sometimes pure joy, sometimes through the pain) and acknowledge everyone I could and exchange a few words of gratitude as I passed or stopped. I stopped for a welcome swig of water or Powerade a few times, or to place my gel wrappers in a bin or take on board some gels.
It doesn’t take much effort, even at the lead of a tough 60km race, nor does it cost a thing; I certainly feel it makes all the difference if you can shift your focus from the very internal sport or running- endurance or not- to the external world of the surroundings. In this case, in particular, the lovely people who have made an effort to help, support or join you you on your journey be they the RFS, race volunteers, supporters, local townsfolk – some on horseback! or runners.
We passed the aid stations in Neville several times on our loop of the town and the best part of the loops was seeing all the marathoners and passing the Ultra runners on the loop. I exchanged waves and hellos and mumbled a few words here and there, some clearer than others; I was really grateful to the many lovely runners who smiled and waved back and gave words of support and congratulations; someone was good enough to tell me I was in the lead by 4 minutes when I left Neville for the final time to head up towards the long steady road to Mount Macquarie.
The panic set in! Only for a moment, as I guess it brought home the worst case scenario, leading a race from the front, so I pushed on and enjoyed the moments.
It was an amazing feeling-I knew the race was not over yet and if anything, I’d have to start to increase my effort and maintain strength and, no more, no less- just see what I could do. Common sense told me that if I was gonna lose the lead, then it would happen over the next crucial section of the course where there was a somewhat challenging climb up the mountain. I wasn’t gonna let that happen if I could help it.
For the first time in the race, I decided to switch on my headphones. It was definitely time for some Oasis classics and the part of the race between Neville to the start of the big climb was flavoured with some of my favourite music, as I started upping the pace to threshold in places, making sure I held and wherever possible steadily extend my lead.
I kept pushing hard and passing Marathon runners and exchanging a hello, a few words, mumbles or a wave and prepared myself for the final climbs. It goes on a fair bit at this stage of the race, much like my report – we must endure to reach the beauty…
The relief I felt when I got to the final aid station and the volunteers said it’s about 6 km to go and all downhill was amazing. I had a swig or two of water of powerade- can’t recall which -and blurted out: “Jesus Christ, oh my god, am I pleased to see you! thank god for that!” before saying goodbye and thanks and heading on down the most amazing downhill section ever. Apologies to the aid station couple if this was a little confronting but, having done a fair bit of bible and spiritual reading, I think Jesus would be ok with this.
The dreamy mixture of pain, fatigue, emotion, relief and still the adrenalin buzz that someone might just appear at any moment and that I still had plenty of juice left in the tank should anyone want to battle out to the finish on these last 6 kilometres was like: pow! It was all runnable, non-dangerous downhill on more or less even ground, finishing with a crazy steep down section to the town under the main road flyover and into Carcoar. You could easily run at 85-100% of your maximal output for about 5km of this last section…I didn’t fancy this, given that my legs felt as though they’d ran a Sydney Marathon PB since around the 35km mark. Also, as I couldn’t see any other Ultra runners in my field of vision, hadn’t looked at a timing device all race and had no goal time other than sub7 hour run (can you believe it!?) conservation with a steadfast effort was sweet enough. I suspect this will be different next year!
I can’t recall the number of times I looked over my shoulder to see if anyone would come charging over the top of some hill for a battle finish, but once the ground levelled out, I was moved to some deep emotion, and I realised that I’d bloody well gone and won it! I started to weep with joy.
Coming into town was amazing, the sound of the crowds grew and a really awesome group of supporters were clapping and cheering and people were happy and waving at marathon finishers and generally enjoying the whole day down there. It felt good!
I stopped to shake hands and say thank you to Andrew the RD, (after one final glance over my shoulder to make sure no one had closed the gap!) and Andrew kindly pointed out the finish line to me, where I went for a final dash and a quick chat (I was probably elated and spent to have made much sense at this point!) with the lovely volunteers I’d met in the Courthouse the day before.
I did eventually find the pub after meeting Marc Person at the finish line for directions and then Mel Sel & family, and we had a nice chat about the epicness of the races. Mark is a bloody good bloke and it was funny that he should be wearing a Scotland jacket and I was wearing an England 1966 World Cup Winners jersey which I’d bought on premonition a month or so before the race
The course is amazing. I put it on equal footing with Six Foot for scenery, as you’re right in the middle of the hills and run up and down a mountain, with stunning views all the while. If you’ve ever been on a bus back from Jenolan Caves after the Six Foot Track Marathon Race or travelled Bells Line of Road, you’ll have noticed the beautiful green rolling countryside of NSW on the horizon. In Carcoar your rich in amongst that kind of horizon. I ran past cows, sheep, pigs, horses, birds and more in the fields and hedgerows on all sides., it was like being a kid on holiday in the country again, just running free.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading this report and will share it with your running friends and family. I hope that you will help me to give back with your support by showing an interest in Carcoar even if its to like and share the Facebook page and peruse the event and raise awareness with others so they can be aware and see if its for them.
The presentation ceremony was in the Court House and was amazing, full of cheers and claps and words and emotions and fun. The best, safest and most fun way to ‘have your day in court’!
I wish to return again next year and see if I can do it all over again; hopefully with a few more familiar faces down here. I genuinely hope that the race attracts more competition from ordinary, unknown, happy-go-lucky runners like myself, who will come and have a wonderful racing weekend at the very least and experience and a shot at placing or indeed winning a tough 60km Ultra-marathon at best.
My message is: be inspired. If I can do it- so can you. I’m nothing special, just an ordinary bloke who loves to run around all day long, (preferably with no shirt on!).
I began running in 2013 after quitting smoking, when I was slightly overweight and very unhappy. I’ll probably never be part of an Olympic team, or run a sub3 marathon, but that doesn’t matter, because the path I choose is transforming me from within and has lead me to a better day. It’s love of running and determination and not giving up, in spite of whatever life throws at me, that has bought me to this place. It hasn’t been easy but there’s always someone worse off.
I don’t want to get too heavy and start throwing words around like God or the Universe, but let’s just say that I’m thankful for this day, and every day, and its my genuine wish that others will follow their own simple path and find their own glory; or at the very least the pub afterwards. Maybe start with one and try and complete the set!
I’m proud to say I really gave my best out there and in training, and enjoyed every bit of it; I’ve steadily and deliberately learned a world about running since my abysmal Sub3 Marathon failure in 2014. It’s been a tough and worthwhile journey re-discovering why I began running and what really makes it such a beautiful thing to be able to do. I resolved that enjoying running was more important than results and proved that you can still improve, run PB’s and meet new challenges and achieve success, while having fun, chatting, smiling a lot, taking selfies and stopping to enjoy the views.
Carcoar Historic Village may be named “The Town That Time Forgot” however, it will, for me, be the Town that I will always remember.
After the race, I spoke to my son on the telephone, as I often do after races, the last time being after City 2 Surf. He always asks me if I came first! This time I was able to say yes. With a short Dad speech about the taking part being more important than the winning, I called it a day; it was a really perfect one.