Running the Yurrebilla Trail or How I went from Crazy to Craz-i-er
"There's only one thing worse than running Yurrebilla... not running it!" - Yurrebilla Trail Ultra Website
My video of Yurrebilla 2011:
This update to Faster Uphill has been delayed by one word: Yurrebilla (That was true a week ago – since then a second word, “procrastination”, entered the picture). Yurrebilla is a 56km annual trail race through the Adelaide Hills, which follows the Yurrebilla Trail walking route. I finished in just over 7.5 hours, which I was happy with. The winning time was a little over five hours.
The race started in three waves with slower runners starting first. I was in the middle wave with two friends at 7.30am. Proving the rainy forecast wrong, it was a crisp, clear morning. I had a video camera on a chest strap in an attempt to record my experience of the race – I had tested it once briefly, but this was still an experiment. I knew I would have to change batteries half way, and I also knew that the video would never see the light of day if I did not complete the race.
After a short pre-race briefing we shuffled past a small group of photographers then launched off along the narrow, winding gravel and dirt tracks of Belair Park. Through the tunnel, then we were passing the first aid station. We were almost at the back of our wave, having deliberately set off slowly, knowing that this race was about the “long game” with plenty of hills to come. The first hour and a half was pretty straightforward with some hills but nothing too awful. Nathan took off ahead just after Brown Hill Creek leaving Jeremy and me. The sections down to Brown Hill Creek and through the farmland before The Old Mt Barker Road were beautiful. At The entrance to Cleland there was a welcome aid station with RICE PUDDING (!) in egg-cup-size plastic containers and with fruit compote on top. I don’t know whose idea that was but if I ever meet them I want to shake that person by the hand. I also had energy drink and fresh fruit. The well-stocked aid station became a pattern throughout the race, but this sticks in my mind because it was the first.
Then it was downhill to join Waterfall Gully briefly, dodging the weekend traffic, before diverging to the left up the steep ascent to Cleland Wildlife Park. Now that was a hill! We cleared the 20km mark at Cleland with Jeremy’s wife and children cheering us on with a “family aid station” featuring moral support and fresh, home-made brownies. They became my adopted family for the race, which helped keep my spirits up later, when they appeared at various stages of the race with the brownie box and plenty of smiles and cheers.
I had trained on and knew the next section well from Greenhill Road down Horsnell Gully then to Norton Summit. We continued across Greenhill Road and along a narrow path next to a vehicle dirt road, with a few naughty people following the non-Yurrebilla dirt road and continuing along it in a shortcut. The Trail proper veers left here by a house and takes a short, scenic loop. This was a lovely spot offering panoramic views and making Adelaide look like a toy city. It was laid out so neatly that it looked like you could step directly from the green slopes onto the beach at Glenelg (and I wasn’t even delirious yet!)
We were managing water well – I was carrying one water bottle, which I refilled at aid stations. I had originally thought of using a running backpack with a bladder, but I was glad I hadn’t taken anything extra, as the aid stations provided drinks, gels, even vaseline.
I met a few people I knew going down into Horsnell Gully, and passed an older man dressed from head to toe in striking orange – including, rather impressively, sparkly orange trail-gaiters. I found out the reason for this at the finish line, (I couldn’t resist asking!) when he told me his son owned a coffee shop in Melbourne which was painted completely orange throughout. He had sponsored his father by providing all-orange clothing for the race, but had forgotten the most important part of sponsorship, which was the name of the business. The ascent from the bottom of Horsnell Gully seemed to go on forever. Eventually it peeled off onto the road and down to the scenic village of Norton Summit, which I’ve only ever been to when running.
We ran along another stretch of road, then into Morialta, which to me is the most striking part of the route – eventually running along a narrow path which coutours around with a spectacular view of golden cliffs and a ribbon of a waterfall far below. The route was well-marked and the two easily-missed turn-offs were obvious with red arrows. At the second were the volunteers of the Best Dressed Drinks Station, whose craziness was almost as great as their kindness (how’s that for a back-handed compliment!). There was a flapper, a man in an African fur suit and hat, and people blowing party kazoo type things. A real party vibe, which belied the multiple trips up and down the hill by the volunteers, carrying supplies. A quick drink and we were off up the hill.
It was on the downhill to Montacute Road that running started to become really unpleasant. It was as if my downhill muscles were so exhausted that my knees were just cartilage on cartilage. For the rest of the race I longed for uphills. We did walk some of the downhills but with a tactical stretch of the hamstrings every now and then, things improved. The ascent of Black Hill wasn’t as bad as I’d expected – just a matter of alternating walking and jogging, and walking the steep gradient where it turns right at ninety degrees to follow the spur directly uphill. We passed a few people going across the top of the hill, trying to keep the running going for as much of it as we could. We spotted an echidna hiding in a ditch just before the start of the descent to Ambers Gully. It was tempting to join it, but I resisted and it was a long jog down to the finish line.
Approaching the finish on a single-track footpath, it was hard to think of a gentlemanly way to decide who should go first. By coincidence I was in front of Jeremy when the track widened out and I just gradually increased the pace. Just before the line I heard the crowd cheer and it ended with Jeremy and I doing a sprint finish. Some of those who had already finished had decided to stay behind to cheer the finishers, which was great to see and there was a fair bit of clapping, cheering, and (as at the aid stations) FOOD and DRINK! There was a real buzz at the finish with people so happy at their achievement, standing around talking. I got my finisher’s medal, which is the first time such a medal has actually meant something to me, as I felt finishing really was an achievement.
Yurrebilla has been the high point of seven months of exploring trails in Adelaide, my new home. This week I discovered Anthony Bishop’s fantastic blog Sweet Vertical, including his entry about running this year’s Yurrebilla. He talks with obvious love of his exploration (day and night) of various obscure trails around Black Hill. Hopefully I will explore some of these in the next year. See also Terry Cleary’s article on Yurrebilla turning five. I hope to run Yurrebilla again next year and beat this year’s time. Next on my list is the Six Foot Track if I manage to enter (last year it apparently filled up within ten minutes).