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Altra Centennial Park Ultra (Sydney) Race Report and Photos

 

The sun came up. The sun went down. And still they ran. Time after time, the competitors in the 2012 Altra Centennial Park Ultramarathon lapped Sydney’s most iconic park. Twenty-eight times around the jogging path would mean 100 kilometres; 14 times for 50km. How many would be able to reach their goal? Everyone knows that someone will not finish in an ultra – we all just hope it’s not us.

On a brilliant spring morning, 90 men and women set off on an all-day odyssey. It was a varied group: a young gun marathoner and a veteran ultra champion, a makeup artist and a landscaper, a financial columnist and a blogger, a manny and a firie, a lawyer and a food advisor, an astronomer and a personal trainer, teachers and consultants, students and soldiers – they all came with a single purpose: to push themselves through a new challenge, whether it was a PB, a win, a record, or something else entirely.

 

With so many runners cruising the path, the volunteers at the aid stations and road crossings were indispensable. They provided hydration and inspiration in equal amounts. The number of times they told runners how strong they looked was inversely proportional to how bad they actually looked – a role usually reserved for crew.  This race would not have happened without them.*

 

The first finisher was the winner of the men’s 50km race. Although it had been very close between emergency trainee doctor Alex Matthews and the Blue Mountains’ own Brendan Davies for the first few rounds, Davies’ laps were consistently about 10 seconds slower than Matthews’. In the final three laps, Matthews powered home, aware that the world’s number 11 100km runner was on his tail, pushing him to a 3:10:22 finish – a PB and good enough to qualify for next year’s 50km world championships. Davies’ hard work paid off as well. Besides taking out the silver medal, he finished in a time of 3:14:46, potentially quick enough to be selected for the 2013 50km World Cup team. Fitness industry guru Chief Brabon was third with 3:39:41. Eleven more males came through the chutes before we saw the ladies begin to emerge. Sydney’s Lisa Carroli pushed through to top the women’s field with a 4:42:30. Emily Hames Brabon, making her ultra running debut, came in second with a 4:55:15. And in the hotly-contested third place female finish (how often do you hear that?), Sarah-Jane Marshall laid it all on the line to charge ahead of Lisa Harvey-Smith and finish in 5:04:42, just nine seconds ahead of the astro-physicist. Additional 50km finishers would trickle in over the next several hours, with the last one coming across the line in just under 8.5 hours.

 

The 100km athletes were still hammering away as the prize giving for the 50km runners took place. Maybe they saw those giant cheques for $1000. Maybe they smelled the catered lunch. Maybe they envied people taking showers. Maybe they were just ready to be finished. Whatever it was, something pushed those ultra ultrarunners to dash for the finish and lay down new course records in both the men’s and women’s events. Newly minted doctor Tim Cochrane led the men’s race for the first ten laps, but somewhere around 35km, he hit a wall and local legend Chris Truscott overtook him. Cochrane eventually DNFed, leaving the field to Truscott. With no one else attempting the 15-minute splits he was recording, the only question was whether Truscott would make his sub-8 hour goal and qualify for the Australian 100km team for the 2013 World Championships. Although he did slow to 16-, 17- and even 18-minute laps in the second half, Truscott held on to his dream and finished in an impressive 7:51:43. Fresh off a major win in Vanuatu, ultra-running champion Jo Blake ran a solid race to finish in 8:11:59. Victoria’s Kevin Muller completed the men’s podium with his 8:58:40. Trail Goddess Beth Cardelli was tipped by Ultra168’s Dan Bleakman to win the ladies’ title, and she did not disappoint. Cardelli assumed her usual position up the front from the word “go” and didn’t leave the leader board all day, finally clocking up an excellent 9:21:50. The morning belonged to the young females, with 25-year old Felicity Copp taking out silver with 10:45:30. High school maths teacher and mother of three Sabina Hamaty – who had contemplated downgrading to the 50km just the day before the race – propelled herself through the finish in 11:26:28, just one minute ahead of The Australian’s Annabel Hepworth.  Who knew third-place female finishes could be such nail-biters? Only in lap races can this kind of excitement build, as the crowd eagerly awaits the contenders’ emergence from around the bend, and strains to see them push past the giant willow tree and re-order the rankings.  The long straight-away leading to the timing mats at this race is spectacular, both for the runners and the crowd.

 

Throughout the day, runners, volunteers and spectators were raving about the level of support this race received from its sponsors. The podium gifts and sponsorship of The Timing Guys from naming sponsor Altra Zero-Drop Footwear meant that competitors could be assured of a professional, perfectly accurate, well-rewarded race. Thousands of dollars in prize money from major sponsors PureSport and Ord Minnett helped attract a top-quality field. The products donated by Skirt Sports, Injinji, Knucklelights, and the Sydney Running Centre meant athletes throughout the field were able to go home with loot. The services from SWEAT and Michelle Cochrane gave many the opportunity to train harder and relax longer. The subscriptions from American running bible Ultrarunning and Australian Run 4 Your Life helped spread the gospel. The beverages that 4 Pines and Torbreck contributed were an unexpected treat for tired, thirsty runners and their crews when it was all over. And the delicacies on offer from Brookfarm, Annie’s, Fruit at Work, Thomas Chipman, and Pic’s Really Good Peanut Butter had runners pressing on despite fatigue in the hopes of having just one more go at the aid stations.

 

So, that’s what happened at the pointy-end. What about the rest? Well, nearly everyone finished the 50km; a majority of the 100km runners did not. But for some, this race wasn’t just about finishing. Blind runner Ben Phillips’ goal was to stay on his feet for 12 hours and run further than he ever had in his life. He did. Romantic Jesse McCoullough – who thought the course looked like a ring – wanted to dig a diamond out of his sports drink powder on the last lap and propose to his girlfriend. He did. (And Lyndsay accepted.)  Heather Dwyer wanted to run a 50k in the year she turned 50 and thought she could probably do it with the 11-hour cut-off. She did. Philip Sicklinger wanted to run 100km even though his taxi didn’t show up and he arrived two hours late. He did. John Nuttall wanted to set a new 6-hour record for his age group. He did (69.676km – record to be ratified by AURA). Myles Bouvier-Baird wanted to use the race as a training run for the Melbourne Marathon. He did. Marathon Man Trent Morrow wanted to continue working to complete 12 marathons in 12 weeks. He did. Ben Goss wanted to spend the last kilometre of each lap deciding what to eat at the aid station smorgasbord. He did. Sven Fuerst wanted try his first 100km a week after a sub-3 finish at the Sydney Marathon. He did. Karen Hagan wanted to fly in from WA to run an ultra where her sister could crew for her. She did.  There were winners and there were losers, but they weren’t who you would expect. Both female winners missed the ambitious goals they set for themselves but still beat everyone else in the field.

 

One runner trudged on for 11 hours and 40 minutes, ignoring the stiffness, vomiting, and delirium before accepting the fact he would be one lap short at the bell – yet he still left with a smile on his face and a promise to come back next year. Some limped out with massive blisters but were posting exuberant FB comments from the prone position while St John Ambulance tended their wounds. Others fell over – more than once – yet refused to yield.  A few looked so fresh they might have done a second run later that day. There was such a positive vibe around one just couldn’t help but feel good.  As Brendan Davies put it: “It’s an event for runners put on for the betterment of the running community. I will support this type of event over a massively hyped up overpriced corporate money making mass participant event any day!”

 

*The volunteers did so much – and yet, still they wanted to do more. People helped before the race. People helped after the race. They drove, they picked up, they carried, they cleaned, they remained for hours in the hot sun, they answered questions, they monitored runners, they did it all. They refused to take reimbursements for the ice they bought or the cookies they baked. They wouldn’t be removed from their sun-soaked stations, despite enticing offers of cold water in the van. Lollypop cop Deanne Lum gently but firmly warned people off who were about to park across the course. Carrol Lapsys – due to deliver her second child in two weeks – sprayed runners with her misting bottle. Striders Superstar Barbara Becker poured cold water into runners’ socks. The ever-dependable Wayne Townson brought his carving experience to the fruit cutting area and dashed off when needed to buy more cups (we went through over 4000!). Sean “Supersam” Muller and Linda Christison, who has Parkinson’s Disease, captained the main aid station for 12 hours straight. Indefatigable Greg Puttick rustled up the marquee we needed and dropped it off on his way to a wedding. Achilles President Ellis Janks, ultra-runner Simon Fourter and Ironman Keir Semmens spent the day before the race at the RD’s house loading gear – and then bumping it into the clubhouse at the park.  Capital-to-Coast RD Bob Red came in from Nowra to volunteer. Sydney Swans die-hard Kerry Ross prepared hundreds of sandwiches on Saturday and then was with us from dawn to dusk on race day.

 

Drama teacher Louise Arnott scheduled her own running around when she was needed to help at the race. Sherston and Tim Sheridan took a positive view of their time together, saying that vacuuming the clubhouse and loading the van was like a date.  Perpetual funnyman Martin Welzel showed up on foot just as everyone else went home to provide invaluable assistance – and good humour —  as we struggled to dismantle all the equipment in the dark. The Australian Army’s Jacki Townson leant her considerable organizational skills to registration and volunteer coordination.  Bakers extraordinaire Silpa Parmar, Linda Barwick, Cindy King and others prepared cookies, cakes, slices and sandwiches for the masses. Gloria Andrejewski, Lilly Sorenson and Zoe Whitaker all stayed longer than they were scheduled to.

 

Clare Holland, Andrew Butler, Amy Maxwell and Garth McInerney jumped in when there was no one else to do jobs that were required. Elite runners Jo Crackett and Cecily Parsons made sure we had the requisite pregnant ladies working their butts off to continue last year’s tradition. Beth Myers, the Palmerlees first Australian nanny and now a management consultant, came before dawn and worked for a few hours, went for a run, came back and worked some more, gathered up some friends and returned again. Aussie 100km rep Terence Bell spent his last weekend before moving overseas dedicating himself to other runners. Coach-to-the-Stars Sean Williams positioned himself in the cockpit to give runners their splits and to encourage them to keep up good form.  And Luke Palmerlee, who was supposed to be on crutches because of his stress fracture, threw caution to the wind and spent the day running vollies back and forth in his big, white, kidnapper’s van and loading/unloading gear. You were all amazing and made the race what it was. Every runner expressed their thanks – multiple times – for the assistance you provided. Thank you, each and every one of you.

Race Listing

Click here for full details of the 2012 Altra Centennial Park Ultra in Sydney, Australia.

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