This weekend we see some ultra action back again on the South coast on what is probably some of the most stunning trail in Australia, the Great Ocean Walk. Regardless of its name, this race isn’t a walk (unless you want it to be), but rather a mix of sand, bush, single track trails and running along (and in and out) of cliff tops.
I’ve personally run this race twice in the past, and I do regard it as one of my favourite 100km ultras here in Australia for a few reasons. One, the above in that the scenery is about as stunning as it gets. Secondly, in that if you can run this in around 13-14hrs, you can do it all in daylight and sneak in just before the sun goes down to catch a glimpse of the 12 Apostles at the finish line. Lastly, because the organisation is second to none and run by one of the most experienced runners / race directors in Australia, Andy Hewat.
You can literally encounter four seasons in one day on the South Coast with this race, not to mention the abundance of wildlife that inhabits the course too. Again on a personal level, I’ve come face to face with killer koala bears on the trail down here – let me tell you, these things, when they’re awake are not the cuddly little creatures we see smacked out of their brains on eucalyptus leaves, resting in trees!
But enough of the killer koala stories! Who’s toe’ing the start line this Saturday at 6am? As usual, we’ll lead with the ladies and give you the low down on who’ll be looking to take the honours come Saturday evening.
The ladies race
Up front there should be some good racing among the ladies, with three names sticking out as potential podium placers. First up is Gill Fowler, one of Australia’s best right now over any mountainous 100 miler. If this was an out and back like it used to be in previous years, I’d have put good money on Gill taking out the honours overall.
Locally, we’ve all known Gill’s had talent for years since she became the first women to break the 24-hour mark at GNW in 2012 (back when it was really hot), but she burst through onto the international scene with a fantastic sixth place at UTMB last year and has gone from strength to strength since then. She’s raced a lot this year, with seven major races under her belt, including three wins at Cradle Mountain, the Razorback 64kms and the Wilson’s Prom 60km. She also placed a highly credible fourth at TNF100 in a star-studded ladies field and recently finished fifth at the illustrious Wasatch 100 miler over in the US.
If I’m honest, its hard not to see her winning this one, as well as placing very high up in the field overall if she’s kept her form since Wasatch.
Beating on her door though will be two ladies in the form of Katherine Macmillan and Lucy Bartholomew. Katherine has had a similar jam-packed year to Gill, having raced a fair bit and in the process scoring two wins and numerous podiums. Like Gill, she recently ran (and won) a 100 miler at the You Yangs, and she also took out the Macedon Ranges 50kms too. She placed second to Gill at Cradle Mountain earlier in the year, but also has some speed to go with her trail running ability, finishing second at the Canberra 50kms too.
Lucy Bartholomew is a young girl on the rise and looks to be finding some form again following a win earlier in the year at the Two Bays 56kms ultra, and then more recently at Surf Coast 50kms. She also finished just outside the top ten at both Tarawera and TNF100 this year too. Lucy clearly has buckets of potential, and is still very early in her trail running exploits. It will be great to see her develop over the coming years, while being selective about her races and managing herself as she develops her racing potential.
The mens race
As with the ladies, the mens line-up looks pretty good too, with last year’s winner, Blake Hose returning to defend his title, following a cracking run of 9hrs 28mins in 2013. Blake has had a light year on the racing front, as I believe he’s had the odd injury or two, but hopefully we’ll see him return here with a blast.
Blake finished a highly credible second to Stu Gibson right at the beginning of the year at Bogong to Hotham, joining a very selective bunch of guys to sneak in under the seven hour mark in one of Australia’s toughest and longest standing races. He then followed that up with a huge sixth place at the Sky Running world championships over in France, marking him as an Aussie that can certainly mix it with the best in Europe, and part of that team that scored three guys in the top ten.
Joining Blake up front for a battle will be local race director of the Surf Coast Century, Sam Maffett. He doesn’t race too much, but Sam is a very tidy runner, with some solid results this year. In January he finished third at the Two Bays 56km ultra, before a huge effort to finish tenth at TNF100 in a highly competitive men’s field and comfortably finishing sub 11 hours.
Dan Beard is another local guy that forever races here and is always on or near the podium, as he was last year in a time of 11:04. He managed a top ten at Bogong to Hotham at the start of this year as well as being the bridesmaid at Maroondah Dam and Wilson’s Prom 100kms with two fourth placings. Someone who will always be there or thereabouts come the final few kms.
Two other local runners vying for a podium are Tom Gamble and Cameron Gillies. Tom recently won the You Yangs 50kms, as well as second placings at both Macedon Ranges 50km and Maroondah Dam 50kms. Clearly he has the leg speed, it will be all about converting that and maintaining it across to the 100kms. Cameron is coming into some good form having secured second placings at both the Adelaide 6hr (77kms) and the Tan 100km Ultra in a time of 8hrs 23mins. Damian Smith, another perennial racer on the South Coast will be a name to watch out for too come the closing stages of the race.
That’s it for us, anyone we’ve missed? Who do you think will be top dogs come Saturday night?
Feature image credit- Trails Plus