Getting Our Geek On – The ‘Iconic’ Bogong To Hotham

Here at Ultra168, we’re big fans of the ‘iconic’ Bogong to Hotham race. Why is it iconic? Well, let’s get into the semantics of what iconic actually means. To many of us, it’s an online clothing store, but the term ‘iconic’ relates ‘to or of the nature of an icon’. So it’s about a person of standing if we’re going to be really technical about this, yeah?

Stu at 6ft track last year going head to head with Dave Byrne. Stu would pull away to win by six minutes and break the long-standing record
Stu at 6ft track last year going head to head with Dave Byrne. Stu would pull away to win by six minutes and break the long-standing record

So who’s the icon as far as Bogong to Hotham is concerned? Well despite our huge man-love for Stu Gibson on these pages and contrary to popular belief, it’s not about one man’s pursuit of this race. It’s about the man behind the man, in this case Andy Kromar.

Bogong to Hotham is iconic because of Andy and what he achieved in the summer of 1996. That year Andy went out and won Bogong, Cradle Mountain and Six Foot track in a 2.5 month period, and as we know, set a blistering record of 6:41 for B2H. There’s also a load of folklore around Andy lugging up chainsaws to the top of Mount Bogong, which only adds to the story.

Now on paper, running 6hrs 41mins for 64kms might appear to be rather soft – that’s until you’ve actually gone out and run the damn thing. It’s not so much the climbing, nor is it the flatter running on the rooftops of the Victorian Alps, it’s the combination of being able to run both disciplines well. Sure B2H may have a lot of flatter running past Langfords Gap, but it’s of no use if you’re buggered from the climbing and that’s what has captivated people to this race and draws them back.

One such person is Chris Gippel, a finisher at B2H this year who very kindly pulled together what you might deem an in-depth look at B2H over the years, analysing the data and the records. This article might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those that love data and stats, this is right up your street.

Will Andy’s record be broken? Yes, it will, but it won’t be done by a first-timer speedy marathon runner. The right person will need to run this course again and again before it happens.

So with that, we’ll hand over to Chris for what will be the first in a two-part look at the history of B2H. In this first part, Chris covers the infamous cut-off at Langfords, historical finishers and age group records. In the final part, he’ll look at the probability of finishing the race and getting past Langfords.

A complete guide to Bogong to Hotham 

The HOKA Bogong to Hotham (B2H) 64 km Rooftop Run is a notoriously difficult race. In 2006, runners were asked to reflect on their experiences. One runner who didn’t manage to finish wrote “All my training is on hills due to where I live but it really counted for nothing. I think you need to run up and down the Rialto a couple of times a week to really let your legs know what they’ll be in for, and add a few million rocks in there too! Anybody who makes the cutoff and goes through to Hotham is a freak and a legend” (by ‘RUN 422’).

The race website ominously warns that “…[in] most years less than half the field made it to Mt Hotham”, so the priority of most runners, or those contemplating it, is simply to finish the race. Runners qualify to start B2H by finishing some other difficult trail ultra, so many might rate their chance of finishing as better than even in the belief that the statistics apply to other older, weaker, or less trained athletes, or that the historical finishing rate is skewed by years with bad weather conditions. While half of the field could justifiably feel confident of finishing, who are they, and what of the others? I analysed the available historical race results to investigate the connection between age, gender and making the cutoffs. What I found will help individuals work out their realistic chance of finishing. I also identified unofficial age group records that runners can aim for. Not surprisingly for a tough race like this, the historical data revealed some remarkable feats of endurance and persistence by trail running legends and pioneers who deserve a bit of recognition.

Available data

The most difficult part of this analysis was compiling a reliable set of historical race result data. The main variables of interest here are, for each year, each starter’s name, age, gender, and finishing time, or an indication that the athlete did not finish (DNF). Official B2H race results are usually provided as a simple list of names and times of finishers. In some years, splits and a list of non-finishers have been provided, and less often, competitors ages were included. A more complete and detailed record was compiled by searching a number of different sources.

The most comprehensive database is provided by Deutsche Ultramarathon-Vereinigung (DUV) Ultra Marathon Statistics . The DUV database does not include any information on DNFs. I added data to the DUV list for winners only for 1984, 1986, 1987, 1989, 1990 and 1992, top three finishers for 1994, and all finishers for 1988, and corrected the 2011 data, using data from the current B2H race website, the former B2H race website and the Association of Road Racing Statisticians website.

Estimated age on B2H race day was accurate to plus or minus 1 year in most cases, but a few might be out by 2 years. Results for all starters (finishers and DNFs), including athlete age, were only available for 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001.  The final data compilation was fairly comprehensive for finishers (including 360 finishers of an estimated 398 all time finishers within the 12 hour cutoff), and complete for winners, but the data for DNFs should be regarded only as a sample.

The cutoffs

Making the cutoff at Langford Gap, a race distance of 35 km, is generally regarded as more challenging than making the cutoff at Mt Hotham, having made the Langford Gap cutoff. In the first 10 editions of the race (1984 to 1995) the cutoff was 5:00 hr at Watchbed Creek, a then race distance of about 32 km.

In 1996 the cutoff was changed to 5:20 hr at Langford Gap, a then race distance of about 34 km. In 2000 the cutoff time was extended to 6:00 hr, but the distance was extended to 35 km by taking the course along the Aqueduct Track. These changes might help explain why the race distance used to be given as ‘about 60 km’ but is now accurately measured at 64 km.

Langford Gap
Langford Gap

There is a 7:00 hr cutoff at Omeo Road crossing, but covering 5.5 km in 1 hour should not normally present a difficulty for anyone making the cutoff at Langford Gap. Similarly, making the 12:00 hr cutoff at Mt Hotham is not normally a major obstacle for those still in the race at Omeo Road, but there have been a few DNFs in the second half of the race.

In the past, race directors sometimes extended leniency to athletes regarding cutoffs. In 1996 Max Scherleitner, aged 65, was 1 minute outside the Watchbed Creek cutoff but was allowed to continue. He took advantage of this good fortune by becoming, and remaining, the only person in the 65-69 age group to have ever finished the race. Scherleitner did make the modern Langford Gap cutoff, so we shouldn’t quibble with his achievement.

Over the period 2006-2011, considerable leniency was shown for both the Langford Gap and Mt Hotham cutoffs, with 29 cases of athletes exceeding the Langford Gap cutoff being allowed to continue, and 20 given finishing times exceeding 12 hours.

To be consistent with other years, I retrospectively cut those 20 finishers from the database I compiled. In 2012, an unexpected turn of the weather necessitated termination of the race at Langford Gap. The conditions were atrocious and 12 of 70 athletes did not make the 6:00 hr cutoff, but they were all recorded as finishers and the shortened race is still regarded as an official year. I excluded these results from the analysis, as I was concerned only with the full race.

The number of races that have been held

The B2H website states that the 2016 race was the 29th edition of the event. The race was first held in December 1984, and also in December in the 3 following years. There was no race in December 1988, because the race month was changed to January.

So, from 1984 to 2016, the maximum number of races that could possibly have been held is 32. The B2H website states that the race was officially cancelled in 1991 (rain), 2004 (bushfire damage), 2007 (bushfire damage), 2013 (weather/fire risk) and 2015 (weather/flood risk). That’s 5 years when the race was called off, which makes 2016 the 27th edition.

Some might argue that 2004 constituted a race year, because an out and back run was held from Mt Hotham to Langford Gap, but this was not an official race and no results are available. Regardless, it seems that the 2016 race was not the 29th edition.

Historical finishers

Finishers cover a wide age group and wide range of finishing times (Figure 1). The fastest runners are nearly twice as fast as the slowest. Females have made up only 11% of the finishers, and the available data indicate that no female aged 50 and over has ever finished.

Older males have demonstrated the ability to finish, with 11% of male finishers aged 50 and over and 4% aged 55 and over. For females, age and finishing time are not significantly correlated, but for males the correlation is statistically significant.

These observations are consistent with the findings of Knechtle et al. (BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation, 2014, 6:31), that for women and men, elite marathon race times don’t vary much between 20 and 35 years, but they start to increase at the age of about 35 years, with men faster than women at all ages, more so after age 49 years. The implication for B2H is that, statistically, it is progressively harder to make the cutoff as athletes age beyond 35 years, more so for women.

Age versus finish time for those under 12 hrs, for all years on record.
Age versus finish time for those under 12 hrs, for all years on record.

Age group race records

A lot of attention has been drawn to the longevity of Andy Kromar’s 6:41:02 hr race record, set in 1996. It is a remarkable record, but Stu Gibson has gone within a few minutes a couple of times. Kromar still works as a ranger in those mountains. Apart from being an elite athlete, he had the advantage of being one of the few acclimated to the altitude and well-practiced on the course. On the other hand, current runners have the advantage of modern and lighter gear, more water stations, and in

On the other hand, current runners have the advantage of modern and lighter gear, more water stations, and in 2016 most of the fallen logs were cleared from the track prior to the race (ironically, by Andy Kromar). What most people don’t realise is that there are two unofficial records of even longer-standing than Kromar’s, and another just as long. Dawn Tiller’s 25-29 year record and Clive Davies’s 55-59 year record were both set in 1995 (Table 1). Max Scherleitner’s 65-69 year record, set in 1996, might prove the most stubborn to break. These age group records are unofficial, so don’t expect a trophy, a pat on the back, or any other kind of recognition, if you break one. The B2H presentation ceremony is a

These age group records are unofficial, so don’t expect a trophy, a pat on the back, or any other kind of recognition, if you break one. The B2H presentation ceremony is a low-key affair limited to the podium. However, now that these age group records have been documented, runners can go on personal missions to try and break them. Certainly, there are great opportunities for females aged 50 and over.

  Female records Male records
Age group Athlete Time (hr) Year Athlete Time (hr) Year
18-24 Bartholomew, Lucy 7:48:42* 2016 Hose, Blake 6:56:31 2014
25-29 Tiller, Dawn 8:29:38 1995 Kromar, Andrew 6:41:02* 1996
30-34 Cardelli, Beth 8:09:47 2014 Kromar, Andrew 6:58:25 1998
35-39 MacMillan, Katherine 8:54:45 2014 Gibson, Stuart 6:43:43 2016
40-44 McConnell, Bryony 9:36:45 2014 Goerke, Damon 7:35:48 2014
45-49 Fien, Sarah 9:42:42 2016 Fryer, Martin 7:37:00 2009
50-54 Davies, Clive 8:24:07 1995
55-59 Weste, Griff 9:05:45 2002
60-64 Jones, Brian 10:18:39 2010
65-69 Scherleitner, Max 10:52:15 1996

Join us in a few days for more of what Chris has analysed and what the probability of finishing the race is like.

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I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

3 thoughts on “Getting Our Geek On – The ‘Iconic’ Bogong To Hotham

  1. Great work Chris. I will correct the error in year counts on the website. I started counting from where I took over in 2011 but that was clearly wrong. I don’t count the 2004 out-and-back as a race.

    A couple of important errors though in your account, that need correcting. The cut-off was changed to 5:30hrs not 5:20hr in 1996. Well it was definitely 5:30 by 1999 when I first ran it. At that stage there was a 6:15hr cut-off at Omeo Rd allowing only 45mins from Langford Gap. The start times were always variable. There was no finish cut-off until I introduced that in 2013 at 12hrs to stop runners trashing themselves to get through Langford Gap and then walking to the finish. Mind you runners are still trashed getting through the halfway cut.

    In fact when I took over there were multiple start times and multiple events/distances. In 2010 there was an out-and-back to Cleve Cole Hut; a marathon to Omeo Rd (via Wallace Hut); the 35km Bogong to Langford; the 29km from Langford to Hotham; king and queen of the mountain; fairy floss and jumping castles. Well I might have exaggerated with the latter but you get the picture. The cut-off for the early starters for a few years was actually 6:30hrs through Langford Gap. Most of the 2010 results were lost when the one time RD for that year went AWOL.

    In 2011 I returned the race to the single start time (set at 6am), deleted all but the original B2H and the 35km option and reset the cut-off to 6hrs rather that the really tough 5:30hrs, to ensure survival of the race. I had run the race 6 times for only 3 finishes (mostly under the old cuts) and wanted to return the race to the traditional format that had attracted me to it.

    In reference to comparing times from different eras, it will always be fraught with problems. The condition of the track has been improved. But this year runners had to run a couple hundred extra metres via the summit road to the finish. In the past the mandatory gear was simply a spray jacket. Not the full kit runners carry now. It is what it is. And worth adding that when Andy Kromar set the record he also set the Cradle record which also still stands and then the 6FT record. A feat unlikely to be repeated. No-one has got near his Cradle time. Stu has come so close twice to his Bogong time and also taken the 6FT record. It would have been great to see them going head-to-head.

    Great work Chris. I look forward to the next part.

    1. Thanks for adding this Andy. I see this as a bit of a living article that can be added too. I thought Andy set the records for everything that year, but didn’t want to add in case I got it wrong. Thanks for the comments again.

    2. Thanks Andy…I knew there would be some inconsistencies, because I noticed a lot of them when I was searching through the data. The old cutoffs were confusing, as there are various conflicting accounts. I didn’t want to bother you with my data requests, as I know you are not responsible for a lot of the historical data. Hopefully this article will flush out the missing data, and we can compile a complete database.

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