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Deep Space Mountain Marathon

Plenty of kangaroos in Orroral Valley

My 5km jog on Saturday morning didn't fill me with confidence.  It wasn't hard, but I wasn't cruising as easily as I would have hoped the day before a big race.  It was humid, and I always think that has an enervating effect, but nevertheless, it made me wonder how I was going to manage the 42km Deep Space Mountain Marathon the next day.  Have faith in your preparation, I told myself!

I drove down to Canberra on Saturday afternoon and stayed with relatives on Saturday night, sneaking out at 5:30am for the one hour drive to the Orroral Valley where the race started from the site of a dismantled space tracking station.  I love the mountain country south from Canberra and enjoyed the unhurried drive on a beautiful cool Sunday morning.  Four years ago, I had completed my 660km hike along the Australian Alps Walking Track at Namadgi, just south of Canberra, and the race would be along a small section of the same track.

Early creek crossing

There wasn't much going on when I arrived at the start location apart from hundreds of kangaroos grazing nearby.  I walked and jogged a little to loosen up then went to the start line for the race briefing by the organiser, John Harding.  He was a good marathon runner, and I ran second to him (2:32:13) in the one of the earliest Canberra marathons (1977), nearly 40 years ago.  We've both changed a bit!


I knew the race would be low-key, but the field was much smaller than I anticipated, with just 20 runners.  The later events - Half Marathon, 10km and 5km - had larger numbers.  That didn't bother me much and I quickly moved to the back of the field as we set off on the short (and only) stretch of sealed road up a gradual hill.  I'm learning to settle into a rhythm early in a race without worrying about what everybody else is doing.  With age, it is easy to get into oxygen debt quickly if you go out too hard.  I think it probably has something to do with the cardio-vascular system starting more slowly.

Beautiful sub-alpine scenery

The course was a double out-and-back to the site of the old Honeysuckle Creek Space Tracking Station (hence the race name), climbing over the shoulder of Mount Tennent, along a fire-trail that had some very steep ascents and descents, and undulated the rest of the way.  My plan was to run as many of the hills as I could on the first lap and then try and run the same hills on the second lap.  I had confidence that my comparative advantage would be up the hills and that's the way it worked out.  By the time I reached the highest point on the way out at 7.5km, I had moved into the front half of the field.  However, I didn't make up much ground on the descents, which were positively scary and dangerous in a few places.  Loose fine gravel and exceptional steepness had me fearing my feet would skid out from under me at any moment and I took very short steps, just hoping to stay upright.

I was tired at the half-way point, reached in just over two hours and surprised to learn I was now seventh, though with three or four more runners within a kilometre behind me.  I told myself that if I could run up all the hills on the second lap, nobody would catch me and I might even catch some of the runners up ahead.  At the turn on the second lap (3/4 mark of the race), though very tired, I was indeed closer to the runners in front and further clear of those behind.  I broke my rule about running up all of the hills with about 8km to go, but my legs were almost non-functional.  Neverthess, I moved into fifth at this stage and was now less than 200 metres behind two other runners.

Running in to the finish

Unfortunately, this was the highest elevation point and there followed the 4km of downhill, some of it steep and some very steep, and the two runners got away from me.  When I emerged from the forest, with 2km to go, they were both still in sight, and I managed to close to about 100m of fourth place by the finish.  My legs were totally hammered by the end, and my chronic right heel injury was sore, but I was happy with my run, finishing in 4:08 with 42.3km on my Garmin.  Given the course topography, I don't think I could have done much better, and I thoroughly enjoyed the challenges of the climbs and the beautiful alpine and sub-alpine forest running.  There were times on the run, even when exhausted, when I thought life couldn't get much better for a near-65 year old.

For today, I just walked 5km, and though my right heel was a bit sore and my legs still stiff and tired, there didn't seem to be any new injuries.