Towards the end of last week, the Australian ultra running world was about as up in arms as it could be. Up in the Victorian Alps, winter descended upon the Alpine Challenge course. This left many wondering if the race would, or even should, go ahead.
Facebook groups were alive with chatter, debating the ins and outs of what might happen up in the montanes. In the end, all was fine and extensive plans redrawn to ensure a safe race. A 35km looped race, approved and supported by the Alpine Search and Rescue. Seven checkpoints with radio comms. Four checkpoints with ASAR teams including paramedic or doctor or nurse. 200 course markers. And road access for injured runner recovery at all checkpoints.
Messages I received from those on the ground up in the high plains said all was good and well-thought out. This was despite some pretty strong warnings from the Australian Ultra Runners Association (AURA), advising people to seriously reconsider running. I’ll leave debating/speculation on the tete-a-tete right there as I’m not party to all the facts.
It’s safe to say, there are always going to be risks associated with our sport. The decision to race should really rest with a runner if an event such as Alpine Challenge chooses to go ahead. As the conclusion to the C2K discussion leads to below, we’re adults. We should be allowed to make decisions based upon the information put to us. If an organiser deems it safe to proceed and we trust their judgement in doing so.
Now, despite the controversy this weekend, a race did actually take place. Big hands to the following:
In the ladies 100 miler, Lou Clifton took out the win with the third fastest time of the day in 19:02. Karen McMorrow was second in 21:38 with Anne Bennett third in 27:36.
In the men’s 100 miler, Nikolay Nikolaev took out the miler win in 17:52, following a storming last quarter of the race to burn through the field. Majell Backhausen was second in a time of 18:23 with Luke Barrett third in 19:12.
In the ladies 100km, Morgan Sheehy took out the win in 14:16. Ashley McCormack was second in 14:36 and Leeah Cooper third in 16:21.
Gary Marwood won the men’s 100km in 11.28 followed by Warren Rolfe 11.41 and Baden Chapple in third in 13:06.
Finally in the 60km event, Ruud Kappert won in 6:28 with Magic Freeman second in 7:19 and Benn Coubrough third in 7:34. In the ladies race, Morgan Payne was first in 8:22. Second was Amy Martin just three seconds behind. That was either a sprint finish, or they decided to finish together 🙂 Behind them was Jessica Ronan in 9:36.
Well done to all who braved the snow and made the decision to head on out and race. We need tough races.
Will we see Coast2Kosci again?
At the other end of the scale, the Coast2Kosci 240km ‘road’ race from Eden to the highest point in Australia was cancelled just two weeks out from the start. As a little caveat, I was due to run Coast2Kosci as one of the lucky 51 people selected to race.
Before I begin, I’d love to put a huge shout out to Diane, Paul and the team who work tirelessly to get this thing off the ground each year. They put an extreme amount of effort into the race and it is most dearly loved by those involved. It would be a massive shame if this event were not to take its position on the Aussie ultra running calendar next year. I can only imagine the stress and deflated feelings right now. But I know from looking at comments on Facebook, everyone is hugely behind the team and their professionalism.
For those not in the know, it’s quite standard for races to gain their approvals a few weeks out from the relevant authorities. These things take time and consideration. So what happened? Based on information gleaned via an article from AURA president, Rob Donkersloot, the short of the story is that new bodies are on the scene in charge of issuing permits. As such, the supremely diligent organisers of C2K were unable to submit the new and rather extensive traffic management plans (TMPs) imposed upon them in time for the race.
So what’s really going on here? Surely anyone, at anytime can run along a road should they so desire?
Yes, that’s entirely true. But as soon as the authorities get whiff of an ‘event’ the term ‘risk management’ disappears out the window. Only to be replaced by complete ‘risk aversion’ i.e. make things impossibly hard for what is effectively a community event to get things up and running. It’s as if a 5,000 people event is treated in exactly the same manner as a 50 person event. The pure and simple fact is why would the authorities go to all that trouble for 50 nutters who want to run a stupid distance?
We languish as one of the most obese nations globally. You’d think attitudinally, we’d be doing more to encourage participation and the growth of sport in general. But there are wider cultural attitudes that exist here in Australia. Despite our supposedly outward projection of a laid back nation, we’re incredibly risk adverse and conservative. Rules are rules down under. We’re incredibly authoritarian.
So while 50 of us, if we wanted, could run the C2K course in a few weeks time, totally independent of any ‘authority approvals’, the blinkers are on full show when it’s part of any organised event. Why so? Because in the litigation society in which we live, authorities are paranoid about risk.
The problem is for the most part, attitudinal. And it is rather endemic of Australian authority.
While I get ‘risk’, these ‘good intentions’ are going to have precisely the opposite impact. I liken this to our attitudes on drugs. The simple fact authorities can’t appear to get their heads around (or they simply choose not to and bathe in ignorance), is that people will always take drugs. The same as people will always choose to run on the road. You can’t stop this. No amount of policy will never beat social trends or progression. Regardless of what authority impresses, people will carry on doing what they want.
Yet, they’re prepared to let people take huge risks independently. Such as people popping pills without so much of a clue as to what they’re taking. Or running on a road without the due care and attention of one of the most experienced road ultra runners Australia has ever produced in the form of C2K RD, Paul Every.
If C2K never happens again, I can tell you right now the event will go underground. People will run it as a Fatass or find abbreviated versions to run. And they’ll do this without the expert guidance of a highly experienced organising team doing their utmost to keep runners safe.
The same is true of drugs. You’re either part of the solution and create the safest possible environment for people to do something they’re going to do anyway. Or you can choose to absolve yourself of the problem and effectively say, “It didn’t happen on our watch”. Morally, I know which side I’m on.
The facts of it are that in 14 years of existence, the event has gone off without major incident. We’re all highly experienced runners (and crew) and we accept the risks involved of running a race like this. As someone pointed out on one of the discussion threads I was following. “You’re more likely to be killed on your way to the start of the race than in the race”. For all intents and purposes, this is likely to be statistically true – but hey, when do facts and logic become a part of the conversation?
Admittedly, this is a pretty one-sided piece thus far – and I get that. Don’t get me wrong however. I understand the need for proper traffic management plans and ensuring runners are safe on the road. We just need a happy medium. I don’t want to run in a race that leaves attention to detail low and risk high. But we’re adults. We can make decisions and we accept the risks involved. The state doesn’t need to make these decisions for us, or rather force us to make decisions that are ultimately going to lead to higher risk. Because this is what will happen – the risk has now increased.
The simple fact is that it’s easier to shut something down and ignore potential consequences as ‘not your problem’. Rather than work on a good solution for all. Remember, ultra running is incredibly niche. We’re small fry. And no amount of shouting by any of us will likely get attitudes to change in the short-term. It’s going to take years of education and understanding (bar bucketloads of cash and resource) if we’re ever going to see things change.
In the meantime, people like you and I will continue to go about our business. We’re run on road, trail or in the montanes and we’ll accept the risk. The sad truth is that we could do so in a far safer environment if people opened their eyes a little.