Running Australia’s Surf Coast

After running the Big Sur International Marathon on America’s ‘Jagged Edge’ at the end of April, I almost immediately set my sights on a Surf Coast Trail Marathon re-match back in Australia. Last year was the inaugural race, and with ioMerino sponsoring the event, it seemed only right that I would make the 800km road trip across and fly the ioMerino flag.

Last year I was carrying a serious, chronic injury and was in no condition to run a full marathon. And on trails at that. Naturally, I did it anyway and had a pretty horrible day out, taking 6:18 to finish the course, so this year I felt like I had something to prove. Besides, the race had captured my imagination, so I was also keen to go back and actually enjoy it this time.

The course itself is actually quite mild compared to many trail races. There’s no crazy elevation or technical stuff, although there’s quite a bit of beach running and the softer sand can definitely take its toll. This year the forecast was for a mercifully mild morning with temperatures of around 7c/44f, but not due to go much higher than that for the rest of the race. Knowing it would be slightly warmer than last year, I opted for the Vital ribbed long sleeve with my Altitude Tee, and my ever-present Highpoint Necktube to keep my ears warm. And my bad haircut hidden. This is basically my go-to trail gear these days and serves me well across all sorts of activities and temperatures.

Compared to last year, I managed to shave almost 10 minutes off the first half of the course, and passed the half marathon starting line before they took off which made for a much more interesting second half as the half marathon front runners made their way through the field. Damn, those guys are fast!

I slowed down quite a bit in the second half of the race, but still managed to enjoy the spectacular coastal, cliff-top views. After last year’s ‘King Tide’ where the ocean was so far in there was only a tiny bit of super soft sand to run on, it was a relief to find the sand much firmer under foot and made for easier running. Even if that was somewhat evened out by a pretty aggressive headwind. The last thing I needed 30+kms into a 43kms race!

The overall race winner, Damien Angus, polished the course off in a lightning quick 3:10:04. In fairness, Damien is an elite triathlete and Age Group Ironman World Champion having won his category at Kona, Hawaii, so I don’t feel too bad for taking an extra two hours to complete the course myself. I’d hoped to crack the 5hr mark this year, but I’ll take a 1hr+ PR over last year’s lack lustre effort. As for that elusive 5hr mark, there’s always next year…

For an event in only its second year, it’s superbly organised and supported. With fairly easy access to the trails at many points along the way, it’s also a great supporter’s race. It may not have the huge crowds of some of the more high profile road races, but trail races can be quite solitary a lot of the time, so just seeing anyone along the way, cheering you on, is a nice change. I was lucky to have fellow adventurer and ioMerino wearer Kyle Williams make the trip down to the coast to cheer me across the finish line as well which was nice.

It’s a sentiment confirmed by Race Director, Chris Ord: “Last year was special as the first, but this year seemed to up the ante in terms of people being so encouraging of everyone, and so damn happy. And the number one feedback we’re getting is that the volunteers were out-of-this-world friendly and made all the difference when runners were hitting their walls! It is they who really make the event experience top notch for everyone, and as an organizer, I couldn’t be more grateful.”

Today, more than ever, there are so many new events on offer, runners really need to pick and choose the races they do, and each race needs its own identity and draw card to attract runners. I know I had to choose between this and a regional Marathon on the edge of the world famous Flinders Ranges on the same weekend, but in the end, I simply couldn’t resist those awesome coastal views and the great atmosphere.

“The whole reason the Icebug Surf Coast Trail Marathon came into existence was to offer an inclusive, supportive event that enticed runners onto the trail and down to experience the stunning environs of the Surf Coast in particular” Chris explains. “We believe we have a special place here in terms of the coast and the trails along it and we wanted to share it, while also creating an event that was as much about just participating as the winning.”

More than 560 runners crossed the line on event day making the Icebug Surf Coast Trail Marathon one of the bigger trail events in Australia. And I was happy to be warm and comfortable in my ioMerino along the way as always. And not in the last few runners like I was last year!

Running the Jagged Edge

Everyone has a dream or two, and for the past five years running the Big Sur International Marathon has been one of mine. Don’t ask me why, because honestly, I’m not entirely sure. I can’t even remember how I first heard about the race. But ever since I did, I’ve wanted to run it. This is a race that takes in 26.2 miles of coastal road between Big Sur and Carmel on the Californian ‘Jagged Edge’ Coast. And it’s not an easy race to get into. It typically sells out in minutes, and when you live in Australia, trying to enter at the start of their day, means getting up in the middle of the night to try your luck and see how fast your internet connection and typing skills are.

For me, that meant waking up at 2:30am to fire up the computer and, beyond my wildest dreams, I managed to secure a spot. Which is probably just as well because they’ve since announced they’ll be moving to a lottery system from 2016. So no more ‘the quick and the dead’. It will be pure luck from now on. Having entered, I then had to start the hard work. I’ve been carrying a chronic injury for well over a year, and the last marathon I ran was the Surf Coast Trail Marathon last June when I had a very, very tough day at the office and dragged myself across the finish line in pain, well after most people had already gone home.

I don’t enjoy training of any sort, but over the past 6+ months managed to stay disciplined enough to work hard with my rehab trainer and work towards being marathon ready. At least I hoped I was. In the few months before the race, I completed a few Half Marathons, but still wasn’t 100% certain my body would be up to a full Marathon. And let’s face it, America is a long way to go to run half a race. So I was more than a little nervous.

Usually marathoners have a ‘taper’ week in the lead up to a big run, where they take it easy so they can go into the run with their body well rested and ready to go. Naturally, I did the complete opposite. I landed in the US a week before the race, and proceeded to run every trail I could find. It wasn’t conventional wisdom, and it could well have been my undoing, but the temptation to get out there and run a bunch of new trails was too much to resist. In fairness, I did have a day or two off, but still managed to cover more than 106kms/66miles in the week leading up to the race – which was easily my heaviest weekly running load in well over 12 months! In fact, I rarely ever run that far in a week!

Running the race itself consisted of waking up at around 3am in order to catch a 4am bus from the finish line, all the way back to the starting line, a little over 26miles away. Needless to say it was cold and dark at that time. Naturally, I had my ioMerino on, but I also have a confession to make. I’d gone to Walmart a few days earlier and bought a cheap tracksuit to wear at the start line. Yes, I know, synthetic sacrilege, right? But race protocol for a cold race morning like this, is to wait til the very last minute before the race starts, then take off your outer layers and leave them at the starting line where they are collected and donated to charity, and there was no way I was going to leave my beloved ioMerino there. (Sorry charity people for the crappy Walmart tracksuit!)

Starting a race in the early hours of the morning, but then running for around four hours always has temperature challenges. And it’s even worse when you’re running from cool, windy shade, to full sun and back again – the range of temperatures can be pretty significant. Not to mention variations in your own body temperature. Typically, I’d say the temperature ranged from a little over freezing at the start up to somewhere around the 20c/68f mark – and yo-yo-ing everywhere in between throughout.

While some runners went for shorts and singlet, I knew the cooler weather would be uncomfortable and opted instead for a Vital long sleeve with an Altitude T layered over the top. This kept me warm at the start and through the cooler sections, but thanks to its natural breathability and temperature regulation, meant I didn’t overheat when it warmed up. Even when I worked up a bit of a sweat and ended up a little damp and the wind picked up, the MicroMerino® kept me warm. It’s one thing to read about these benefits, but when you’re out there and your comfort really depends on it, it’s nice to know there’s substance behind the promises. Running a marathon is difficult enough without also having uncomfortable clothes to contend with. Oh, and I also wore a Highpoint Necktube ‘bandana’ style to keep my ears warm. In cold and windy weather, I really suffer from sore ears, so the Necktube was exactly what I needed. It may have been soaked with perspiration by the end, but it still did the job nicely.

I managed to finish the race in pretty good shape all things considered, and the body held up well – as did my ioMerino. I’m constantly surprized at how many runners are still wearing synthetic DriFit style running gear, or even worse, ‘Killer Cotton’ in these sorts of conditions. I kind of want to grab them and ask them what the hell they are thinking, but the middle of a race probably isn’t the best time to do that! But I’m more than happy to do it now: If you’re a runner, and you run in cooler conditions, you must try ioMerino. Ditch the synthetics and the cotton – (You know Search & Rescue teams call it ‘Killer Cotton’ because of how poorly it performs in cold weather, right?) – and get some ioMerino on you. Like me, you’ll probably wonder why you didn’t try it well before now. And if you’re already wearing it, welcome to the club!