After the excitement of our competition, we move into the preview for the first big mountain race of the year, Bogong to Hotham. Steeped in history, this is a brut of a run with over 2,200m of climbing in the first 22kms alone, made of up two killer climbs that suck the life out of your legs before you hit the high plains and run in some of the most beautiful country on this planet.
This race is a personal favourite of mine and with limited numbers, it attracts some fine talent each year, who for a few of them ‘that’ record remains a target to beat. Last year, Lucy Bartholomew obliterated the ladies course record by around 30 minutes in what I think was one of the best performances by an Aussie lady on home soil.
For the men, Andy Kromar’s 1996 record of 6:41 remains the hugely elusive target. Stu Gibson is the only guy to get anywhere near it i.e. within a few minutes, along with the highly talented Blake Hose who ran a 6:56 here a few years ago too. I’ve said in the past that I think there’s only two ultrarunners in Australia who could, right now break the record. One of them is Blake, the other is a guy running this weekend, Ben Duffus.
When he’s on form, Ben is unstoppable. He’s had some seriously big results in his running career to date, the highlight being third at the world sky running champs a few years ago in a stacked field. The last 12 months or so haven’t been Ben’s at all, but having a sneaky peak on Strava tells me that Ben’s been putting in some serious kms on both foot and bike. Will he beat the record? Hard to say. Is he going for it? I’m sure publicly he wouldn’t play himself up there, but as a leading athlete, it’s sure to be in the back of his mind, but probably not seriously until the second big climb is over and the legs can start kicking on towards the final descent and climb up to Mount Hotham. Ben has the goods to give this one a shake, but it could possibly be a little too early for it on his first attempt.
Another highly exciting name on the starters list is Julian Spence. Typically a man for flat bitumen, Julian has a 2:26 marathon to his name, but also some trail pedigree too, winning the GOW 100kms a few years back. Another quick Strava peek shows that Julian’s been putting in some pretty hefty training weeks in terms of distance and speed, but perhaps not so much in terms of the climbing. Indeed the match up between Ben and Julian is a pretty interesting one, the former being more of a climber, whereas the latter very nippy on the flats. Julian’s had a few runs on this course, mixing it with some other big names in Aussie road marathons, so he knows what to expect.
The big thing about racing B2H though is not so much how quickly you can climb, but how much you have left in your legs to motor along the high plains after Langfords Gap. That’s where the race is won or lost and records are broken, or as most likely here, preserved.
So who else is worth a punt on race day? Etienne Blumstein-Jones ran second at the Mount Buller Skyrun earlier in the year and should feature in the upper echelons of the results table. Joel Fitzgerald has also performed well at this run in the past, as well as grabbing fifth at the Buffalo Stampede ultra earlier in the year and a top twenty placing (18th) at UTMF in 2015.
Eric Holt, a Blue Mountains local oozes raw talent too. He finished second to Ben at the inaugural Hounslow Classic a few years back as well as winning the Alpine Challenge 60km back in 2015 too. Really good chance of a podium here and he’s been up and training on the course so my spies tell me.
Konrad Legge grabbed sixth at this race here last year and is known for putting in the seriously big vertical kilometers too, expect him to feature again here and go low 8s.
Damian Smith is a massively consist performer over the big mountain stuff too. He had another cracking year in 2016, which included three podiums in three races and a sub 24hr GNW 100 miler in that too. Expect him to feature in the top five for sure.
In the ladies, there are some equally mouth-watering match-ups. Top of the list is perhaps Gill Fowler, one of Australia’s premier mountain runners and massive pedigree in the big hard long races. In 2016 she began the year by winning the Razorback run and then finishing it with 12th at Grand Raid Réunion – La Diagonale des Fous a monster of a 100 mile race. Gill has bags of international mountain pedigree having finished fourth at Lavaredo Ultra Trail and winning the Monte Rosa Walser UltraTrail in 2015.
Hot on her heels will be Katherine Macmillan who finished second in this race last year and has raced a lot in the last few years. In 2016 she won Maroondah Dam, the Princes Park 100km Urban Trail Run and the Walhalla Wound-up trail race, as well as finishing second at the Great Ocean Walk 100 km, Macedon Ranges 50k and Duncan’s Run-Hundred. Expect her to podium here again for sure.
Another hardcore mountain goat starting in the ladies is Nicki Rehn, a three-time finisher of the infamous Tor des Géants, where in 2014 she finished seventh. As a Canadian national, Nicki’s also got the Fat Dog 120 miler to her name as well as the Canadian death race. Hardcore.
A couple of other ladies to keep an eye on are Ingrid Donald and Britta Wella, both with good running experience in the ‘Viccy Alps’.
All thats left to say is that it looks like a hot one, so climbing up and out of Duane Spur will feel something akin to hell as runners hold on for dear life. Enjoy the suffering people.