As we welcome 2014, it comes with it perhaps one of Australia’s best known mountain runs and also one of its most hotly contested too. This race has had its fair share of misfortune in the last few years, namely the weather. It could be hitting 40 degrees and a total fire ban in place, or we could see freezing conditions with the race halted at the mid-way point – it really is that crazy when it comes to predicting the weather.
What’s exciting about this race however is not just the fact that it retains it’s very pure and community-led ethos, but it invariably sees a stellar line-up of the who’s who of Australian mountain running. Taking a cursory glance at the start-list and I can already pick ten males and half a dozen women who could all easily take out first place. But what really floats my boat with this race is the race record.
Andy Kromar’s time of 6:41, set in 1996 is one of the longest-standing records in the ultra-crown here in Australia. To understand how good it is, no-one can get within breathing distance of it. 2:1x marathon runners have tried and failed and it puts into perspective just how good a runner Andy was at this time. This record, along with Ben Artup’s 3:15 at the Six Foot track marathon are for me, two of the best performances by Australian’s on home soil – and this is why we like to preview these types of races. Community-run, no fuss, no-nonsense quality fields, mixed with longstanding and sublime record-breaking runs.
Hence why we’re breaking somewhat with tradition from the last six months or so in that we’re going to start looking again at some of the very best races here in Australia and giving them a bit of a preview. We won’t be featuring every ultra race in-depth, but we do intend to give airtime to those that are steeped in history, contain quality fields and that are run for the benefit of the community.
Andy Hewat, race director adds, “This years Bogong to Hotham will be my fourth year as director. It is undoubtedly the classiest field yet, not just in my time but most likely since the race started in 1984. The depth of talent is impressive and reflects the esteem that trail runners hold this classic race. Runners can’t resist the lure of the challenge that Bogong represents. With prize money this year courtesy of Hoka One One, the heat will be on up the pointy end for places on the podium. Despite all this talent the course record still looks unassailable. In the 30 years since the first running, only three runners have broken the magical 7 hour barrier. Neil Hooper ran 6:58 in 1985, Andy Kromar also ran 6:58 in 1998 and Stu Gibson scraped in with 6:59 in 2011. But in 1996, Andy Kromar ran 6:41:02 smashing the existing best and setting a record that has stood for 17 years. With all the competition this year, will we finally see that time come down?”
As is our tradition, we’re going to begin proceedings with the ladies. What’s exciting about ladies trail and ultra racing here in Australia is that it’s growing stronger by the year with more ladies throwing their hats, or rather running skirts into the fold. I have to admit that in the recent Ultra168 Australia Ultra Runner of the Year competition, filling the places for the ladies was a far harder job than it was for the mens. We’re starting to see some serious talent hit the ranks, coupled with more heading over to Europe to test their wares, and thus providing more depth and competition to our fields.
Looking at the field for Sunday’s race, there are two very obvious standout names, both of whom have had very successful stints in Europe last year. Beth Cardelli is the current record holder at this race and is probably the favourite to take the Bogong to Hotham ladies crown once again, along with the scalps of many male runners too, including my own . She had a very strong 2013, not only lowering her own TNF100 record, but finishing 4th at the high-calibre Laverado Trail Ultra in Italy too.
Gill Fowler is another name that leaps out of the page, following her amazing sixth place at UTMB last year and for me personally, probably the run of the year by any Australian overseas. She’ll be sure to challenge Beth along the rooftops of the Victorian Alps, of which she knows so well, but we feel that Beth is the one with the slightly quicker leg-speed to bring home the win.
These ladies won’t have it all their own way though. Beth’s Salomon team mate, Gretel Fortmann will also be hanging onto these ladies for sure, as will South Australia’s Steph Gaskell, another lady who had a fine year in 2013, and seems to specialise over the 50-80km distance. Finally Katherine Macmillan has had a storming 2013, winning four of her races and leading GNW100 miler for most of the first 160kms before succumbing late in the day but still taking out a very credible third. Expect the podium to be made up of three of these five fine ladies.
Other ladies that we could see knocking on the door include Kirra Balmanno (Glasshouse Cooks Tour 50km winner), Izzy Bespalov (Top 10 TNF100) and Bryony McConnell.
Onto the mens race and it’s a case of throwing any number of ten names into a hat and picking them at random for a podium place.
On paper, Stu Gibson is the only guy in the last 17 years to get anywhere near the age-old record for this race, and even then he was 18 mins adrift. Stu has been cursed with injury over the last few years, but by all accounts has been coming back strongly and is never a guy to discount. You can be sure as hell, he wants a piece of this record before a certain Marty Dent sticks his hand in the air for some Bogong action.
Another ‘biggie’ on the list is Blue Mountains stalwart and multiple TNF100 winner Andy Lee. I see Andy fairly regularly at the Glenbrook training centre of excellence (i.e. lower Blue Mountains trails), and have been stalking him on Strava of late to see what he’s up to – the man is ready is all we need to say, and has been posting some pretty mean training times along the Oaks Fire Trail. He eats hills for breakfast this guy and you can bet your bottom dollar that he’ll be one of the first up at the Mount Bogong summit come Sunday morning.
Then there are two young guns whom could all feasibly mount a serious challenge for a win. Blake Hose is a 21yr old from Geelong and recent nominee for our Male Ultra Runner of the Year competition. He spanked a quality field down at GOW last year and is according to sources down Victoria way, ‘one to watch’. Then there’s Tom Brazier from the Canberra stable whom by all accounts is a serious athlete to contend with. A winner at the Sri Chinmoy Centenary race, we’ve been hearing some great reports about this guy and how he’s still got a long way to go, even on current form, which is pretty darn good. If you want my dark horse tip to take this race out, then Tom is our man.
In contrast to the young guns, we have some quality ‘veterans’ that could quite easily show these young bucks how this mountain racing lark is done. Damon Goerke has been around the blocks now for some time and is always a standout performer at this race, expect him to be right up there. I’ll never forget being passed by him three years ago in this race coming out of Big River. He was running up and out of there while I was hanging out the back of my ass – amazing.
Although maybe a vet in terms of age, this guy is probably the quickest man in the field in terms of judgement by marathon distance. Rowan Walker is a real speedster when it comes to the road, smashing out a marathon PB of 2:18 and a former Melbourne marathon winner to boot. He’s notched up a couple of impressive wins in the ultra distances, but it will be interesting to see how his road speed stacks up against the mountain goats.
Then there’s perhaps one of our picks for the win, Rob Walter. A unit of a guy, who’s size belies his true talent and speed. One of the rogain/orienteering crew (like Gill Fowler), that seem to excel in trail and ultra racing. Rob spanked out a hugely impressive sub 10 TNF100 last year and I do believe is a real quickie over 10kms too. This guy is due a big win and I have a feeling we could see it on Sunday.
Then in amongst the ‘rabble’, which is a slight understatement when it comes to the calibre of this field, we have the likes of Jono O’Loughlin, Joel Fitzgerald, Chris Wight, Dan Beard, Rob Wildig, Marc Pearson and Dave Coombs. All extremely talented runners and all very legitimate challengers for a podium too should form, weather or training dictate.
Indeed, there are probably a few more names that we’ve missed on the form guide that deserve a mention, but it goes to show the absolute quality of runner that enters this race. For such a small field it really does speak volumes for the kind of race Bogong to Hotham is, in that it can stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of TNF100, a totally different race on the other end of the spectrum as far as commercialism and grandeur is concerned, yet retain a level of equality in terms of quality.
If you live in Australia and you’ve not done this race, go get yourself a qualifier and give it a bash. It’s 64kms of pain you’ll never forget. If you’re one of our overseas readers and want a race to do in Australia, then I’d put this one on your bucket list. Andy, race director finishes, “Bogong was my first ultra back in 1999 but I didn’t complete the course until my second attempt in 2003. I still remember vividly that finish and how beat up I was. Yet I couldn’t wait to come back. I love that course: pure, simple and classic, point-to-point with huge climbs, brutal descents, rugged single-track, wide open plains and jaw-dropping panoramic vistas of mountain ranges lined up all the way to the horizon. My only regret with becoming race director is the disappointment in not being able to compete. But the privilege to become the custodian of an event that holds so much history and that all the others are measured against, well how could I resist. Lets just hope that mother nature finally cuts us some slack and we get some decent weather!”