Cleland 50, South Australia

The Cleland 50km was a bit of an unknown for me. The route map looked very complicated but the elevation chart wasn’t too daunting and I knew that last time I’d run there in the Cleland Conservation Park near Adelaide (when I did the Yurebilla Trail on my own in November 2016) it was freakishly warm, which would be unlikely this weekend. I felt very calm beforehand, looking forward a lot to the run. I had studied last year's results and added an hour for my finish time to the time of someone I knew who had run. The day before the race I drove into the park to check out the start line and parking. It was thick fog and that real cold damp feeling. 

Race morning the weather had improved. It was windy but I didn’t need tights to gloves. Everyone except me and two others (including the guy I knew) wore an ultra vest; I was slightly spooked about not wearing mine but I double checked on the frequency of the aid stations: very frequent. And you could send drop bags to the aid stations, so I sent on my head torch and a jacket because the website warned you could be out there after dark.

The course was indeed complicated and not always signed well. A couple of times I had to ask hikers if they had recently seen any runners, and twice I had to wait for runners behind me so I could be sure I was going the right way. But I didn’t actually go wrong, phew.

Most of the race was in the forest and sheltered from the wind. It was a mix of single track and fire trails. There were little red wildflowers. We did a nice stretch on hillside single track on Mount Osmond with excellent views over Adelaide. We climbed to several lookouts, including going over Mt Lofty twice. I thought it was all fine going, not too repetitive, not too hard. The field spread out and after the first hour I was running alone without seeing anyone else for long stretches at a time.

We returned to the start/finish area after 23 kilometres, where a solicitous first aider asked if I was drinking, eating and weeing ok. Yes to the first two, and I was very keen to wee but hadn’t seen anywhere sufficiently secluded!

Lap two was not only longer but harder. After a while we ran up to a lookout and on the way down some girls were muttering "I know what’s coming...". What was coming? I turned onto a reasonable downhill on a gravelly trail; but just before I turned off to run it I had spotted a runner in the distance going on straight uphill, so I asked someone (who happened to be standing at the turnoff) why I was being sent downhill and it emerged that I would be coming back this way later. So from then on I knew whatever I did I would be doing in reverse in due course. And it was worth knowing that.

We went down down down into a gully, followed the creek for a while and then started on what was going to be a very long and extremely steep uphill. It was mostly grassy and was tough going for a long time. There would be a bend, maybe a brief respite, and then more climbing. A few runners were hurtling downhill and I wasn’t sure I was looking forward to that either. We went back into the forest, and there I saw my friend chatting to an emu through a fence. I hadn’t seen him since the opening few kilometres and I was expecting to finish long after him, based on what I knew of his marathon times.

Eventually I got to the next aid station and continued into a loop. I think it was along here that I saw what looked like a furry rock just off the trail; some hikers were fumbling for their cameras so I guess it must have been a koala but I didn’t have time to stop. I got back to that aid station and had a cup of black coffee. It was delicious. I also collected my drop bag with my head torch; I didn’t know what time it was but I didn’t think it was getting dark any time soon. 

There were five kilometres to go and I was tired. The emu had been joined by lots of kangaroos. The steep downhill was really hard for me. It wasn’t slippery but it was so steep I felt out of control the whole way down. I just made myself keep running and I was relieved when it was over. The following climb back up the gravel trail was not as bad as I had expected (nothing could be bad after that awful descent) but the bit from the top to the finish line was agonisingly long. The trail undulated along and around every bend I wanted to see the finish line. I passed a woman and made it my goal to remain ahead of her. I was really running on empty by then.

Just before the finish I saw a kangaroo by the trail. Soon after I rounded another bend and the finish line was right there. The clock showed the time of day rather than elapsed time so it took me a while to work out how long I had been running. In fact I couldn’t work it out but I asked that woman whom I’d been keeping ahead of, who finished right after me. I had done 6 hours 49 minutes which was a lot faster than I had expected based on my review of last year's results. My friend finished five minutes later having run the same time as last year, give or take. The first aid lady was again very attentive, which was nice because usually nobody actually asks how you feel after a race.

I hung around for a bit then got in the car and drove to Hahndorf. What a contrast to the serenity of the bush! Sunday of a long weekend and the place was jam packed, people and cars everywhere. Nice scones, too.


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