Race Report - Alpine Challenge 100KM April 2022
A race report of the Alpine Challenge 100km Ultra in April 2022. This is the second time I've run this race, and once again had great weather for the 100km / 4000m run. I finished this year in 14:05, beating my 2021 time by nearly an hour.
I first ran the Alpine Challenge 100km back in 2021 as my first 100km - you can read about that one here: https://mtnbeard.com/race-report-alpine-challenge-100km/
I decided to run the Alpine Challenge again in April - there wasn't really a good reason, other than I absolutely loved the course, the event and had an absolute blast. The Alpine Challenge is usually run in November, but due to COVID-19 the 2021 November running had been postponed to April 2022.
My goal for this one was to try to beat my previous time by a small amount.
We once again stayed at Falls Creek itself - given the drive up the hill to Falls Creek can be a little bit tedious it made much more sense to stay up there with an early race start and race finish most likely after dark.
The day before the race I headed out for a cheeky shakeout run to enjoy an absolutely glorious alpine morning, checking out some of the final few kilometres of the course, and take in some views of the Rocky Valley reservoir before heading back to do a final check of mandatory gear and chill out for a bit.
The old man was running his first trail run in the 16km so we went for a walk to check out that part of the course as well.
Later that afternoon was the race check-in, mandatory gear check and then back to the accommodation to chill out and prepare for the next day.
The Alpine Challenge 100km and 100m have a reasonably early start with things kicking off at 0430, but I quite like this start time for a couple of reasons - Hopefully it means finishing at a time that isn't too late in the day (depending on your goals) and it also means you get to be out in the bush and heading up into the mountains for sunrise!
From running the course in 2021 I knew that the first 5km is on singletrack, and it can get pretty congested, so I thought it would be a good idea to try to position myself around people who would be running a similar pace just to get into a groove early on (not that the first 5km of a 100km race really matter all that much).
As the start time approached, I stood a few metres back from the start line expecting it to fill up in front of me... which didn't quite happen. The start went off, and I started jogging up the hill and down the road, at the front, with no-one else behind me.
Whoops. I'm not someone who should be leading a race at any point!
We get to the singletrack and I slowed down to make sure that someone else went in front of me so that I wasn't setting the pace - figuring that I could hang on to whatever pace they set for the first 5km, but also because it makes it less awkward if I needed to jump off and let people past.
Heading down the singletrack at a reasonable but not unsustainable pace is always good fun in the dark, and then it opens up at Howmans Gap and hits the fire trail. Here I jumped off the track for a quick toilet stop - not necessarily because I needed to, but to let the speedier people go on ahead and allow myself to reset and continue at my own pace.
The next 5 kilometres to the bottom of the first climb was pretty surreal, because I was more or less on my own from that point, which was a change from 2021 when I had a bunch of people around me. The descent down the firetrail was full of deadwood and leaf litter making it a little bit slippery and treacherous in some places.
Arriving at the first river crossing - a crossing of Rocky Valley creek - was when I started to see other people again. From here, the course begins to climb up to Spion Kopje. This is a great climb which is particularly delightful as the sun starts to rise, and the fire trail starts to disappear into a heathy singletrack.
There are some great views back across Falls Creek, and the sun is rising as I'm cresting the top of the first bit of the climb (with a little more climbing to go).
Once over the top of the Spion Kopje track, it's a singletrack descent until rejoining fire trail to run across to Warby Corner - This is all reasonably runnable, and I always find it very enjoyable to be running across the clear plain above the treeline.
I thought I'd be clever by donning my hat and removing my gloves in preparation for the sun to come up, but in all honesty I went a little early on that and had cold hands for the next few kilometres...
The track then descends slightly into the Warby Corner aid station. Quite a quick stop here, as I refilled water, thanked the volunteers (and told them I'd see them in a 'few' hours) and then headed off down the hill.
This next section is essentially a 40km loop over Mount Bogong, and then returns to Warby Corner, taking in some epic singletrack descents and climbs, a couple of river crossings, amazing alpine scenery and of course the summit of Mt Bogong - Victoria's highest point.
After leaving Warby Corner, it's a gradual descent down to Roper Hut. At Roper hut the course has re-entered the treeline and then starts a quad-smashing but epically fun descent down to the first crossing of Big River - I try to take this descent somewhat easily, knowing that there is a big climb on the other side.
There is only one way to get across Big River, and that's straight through the river (using a chain to help if required) - A nice refreshing dip. Crossing Big River signals the start of the next climb, so I shove some more food in my face, deploy the poles and start climbing.
Partway up the climb I get passed by a person running in the 100miler, which is an impressive effort to be moving that quickly up the hill!
The climb starts to level out after a few kilometres of climbing, which means that it's not that far to the next aid station. This next section rejoins the Australian Alps Walking Trail (AAWT) and then cruises into the aid station at Cleve Cole Memorial Hut.
The sun is well and truly out by this point, and it's a beautiful day. The Cleve Cole Hut aid station is a good time to refill water, have a chat to the wonderful volunteers and prepare for the glory run across the top of Victoria - Summiting Mt Bogong then descending down the delightful quartz spur on the way back to Warby Corner.
Leaving the aid station it's more climbing, with some intermittent runnable sections, up to the summit of Bogong. Reaching the summit is a good milestone - it's the highest point in the race (an excellent point to stop for the obligatory summit selfie), and you know you're getting close to the halfway point of the 100km race.
After leaving the summit the course heads off down a somewhat poorly defined footpad that is tricky to run on in some places, and starts to descend down Quartz Ridge. I love this descent, it's a somewhat technical ridgeline which drops away steeply on either side before re-entering the treeline to work its way back down to Big River.
It's around here that my stomach starts to feel a little funky - nothing too bad, just not great. I'm still able to eat and drink and run, it's just mildly uncomfortable. I was planning to refill water and Trail Brew at the Big River crossing and get some more food in on the next climb.
At the bottom of the climb it's time to cross Big River again - This time there are a few rocks to help crossing, and it's a good opportunity to take on more water especially given the extended climb. The climb back up above the treeline is about 6 or 7km and is very much a grind - it's not steep, it's just an extended fire trail grind up the hill.
Starting the climb my stomach has decided it wants no more of these shenanigans and I start to feel a little nauseous - made worse by trying to eat some food that may have been sitting in the cupboard a little too long and tasted more than a little funky.
I put my head down and just grind away at the hill and keep trying to eat - eventually it starts to level out and get above the treeline. Despite not feeling well, this is a great point in the race because out of the treeline you have some amazing views back out over the mountains, and it concludes the bulk of the climbing for the race. The back end of the Alpine Challenge 100km course is very runnable (for those who can still run well at this point, which is not me...)
The return to the Warby Corner checkpoint is mostly flat with a few uphill sections. After filling up with water at the checkpoint, the next 9km or so is generally pretty flat (almost downhill and runnable). It's all above the treeline so the views are pretty spectacular. There's a small section of fun singletrack that links the road to the Langfords Aqueduct. Hitting the aqueduct is a sign that the Langfords Gap checkpoint is not too far away, which for those with a support crew this is generally the first chance they get to see you!
I came into the Langfords Gap checkpoint feeling a little uncomfortable, I think mainly from not being able to eat properly over the last few hours, but as always it was a relief to see my crew who shoved some food (mainly 2min noodles) into me. After a roughly 15 minute stop, it was time to get up and keep chipping away. I got passed whilst in the aid station by 2 people - 1 of which was the guy I had been leapfrogging with earlier in the day, the other being the person leading the women's race.
I mostly run-walked the next section along the fire trail until the climb up to Cope Hut, where the course crosses the roads and it's buttery-smooth singletrack across the AAWT. Around the SEC hut I passed the guy I'd been leap frogging with again, which wasn't exactly intentional - I just happened to be moving a little quicker at the time and fully expected him to pass me again.
At around the 80 kilometre or so mark the course hits "the bogs". This is a section of track before pole 333 which is very swampy and this year was no different. It tends to make it a little slower as you're negotiating the course. A few brumbies through this area as well to add to the views in the late afternoon / evening light
The Pole 333 checkpoint is the point where the 100 mile runners spear off for a little jaunt out to Harrietville. For me though, a quick stop and a chat to the volunteers at Pole 333 saw me moving on towards the the Pretty Valley Pondage checkpoint. At 93km the Pretty Valley Pondage aid station can be nice to give a last little kick to the finish line, but I'd asked my crew to make sure they were at the finish line for when Rachel finished, rather than come see me because I was feeling well enough to grind out the last 7km (plus I run around the mountains like an idiot all the time).
I just grabbed water at Pretty Valley Pondage, then started the uphill fire trail grind to the top of Mt Mackay. It's not steep, and is honestly actually pretty runnable - but at 93km in my walking pace wasn't that much slower than my running pace, so I mostly walked with the exception of a couple of flatter bits, and was treated to an excellent sunset.
Then the climb up to the top of Mt Mackay is pretty short and sweet. On the descent back down Mt Mackay I passed the guy I'd been back and forth with all day, as well as the leading women (not entirely sure where I passed her - maybe at Pole 333 or Pretty Valley) who were both heading up the hill. After the Mt Mackay descent it's across the 'desert' - the singletrack that links to the fire trails. I actually did most of this section in the dark because the cloud was coming in which made the torch difficult to use, and it wasn't completely dark so it was actually easier to leave the light off.
Leaving the desert and onto the firetrail it's mostly downhill from this point, which means running despite my legs very much not being in the mood to run, and it's only a few more kilometres before hitting the ski run for the final descent.
Although my watch had crashed a couple of times I could tell I was going to beat last years time by a fair margin which I was absolutely stoked about, so the final descent was honestly pretty relaxed, and coming around the corner into the finish chute was a huge relief!
This year I finished the Alpine Challenge 100km in 14:05 (beating my previous time by 50 minutes!) and 5th place overall. I wasn't expecting to beat my last time by nearly an hour, so I'm absolutely stoked with that finish.
After finishing I hung around the finish line to see the first woman finish, and was waiting to see the person I'd being leapfrogging all day finish but after stopping started to get cold quite quickly, so had to head back to the accommodation to warm up.
While I was out running, dad had finished his first 16km trail run in an absolutely excellent time, and Rachel had finished 3rd female in the 60km run. As well as playing my support crew at the checkpoints - I absolutely couldn't do this effort without the support!
The Alpine Challenge is set amongst some absolutely gorgeous scenery. I love the Australian alpine area, as well as the camaraderie amongst trail runners which is what keeps drawing me back to these events. The next challenge for me will be having another crack at the Great Southern Endurance Run 100 Mile event in November!