Australian Alpine Ascent - Race Report

Committee Member Michael Taylor (MT) shared with us his race report from the extremely challenging Inaugural Australian Alpine Ascent...... which is "designed to be the world’s most gruelling set of single day challenges held within daylight hours"

I picked the Australian Alpine Ascent as a target race before it even existed when Elite Energy announced that they would be hosting an event in the Snowy Mountains roughly based on the Norwegian Norseman (Norseman is a full iron distance when conditions permit) concept. In a nutshell it’s a 3k swim in Lake Jindabyne, a 130k bike ride (Jindabyne to Dead Horse Gap, Thredbo, Charlottes Pass and finishing at Perisher – around 3000m ascent) and then a 30k run (Perisher to Blue Cow terminal on trail then road to Charlottes Pass and finishing with a run on the Main Track to the top of Mount Koscisuzko). An additional challenge is that it’s unsupported by the organisers so you need your own handlers to clear up your transitions and provide sustenance on course. You also require a handler to run the last 10k with you for safety reasons. Elite Energy set the race up so that to be a AAA Finisher you would need to get to the top of Mount Kosciusko in 10 and half hours. AA Finishers and A Finishers had different time cut offs.

I had the best possible support crew. Fellow BTC members Fast Dave Grant and World Duathlon Champion Dean Degan. My girlfriend Lee was also racing the standard event – no doubt the toughest standard race in Australia. We drove up to Charlottes on the day before the race for a bit of course familiarisation. At the pass the rain was driving sideways, the wind was gusting at 120 kph and the car was wobbling . I’d told myself that the worse the conditions the better I would go but I started to think it could get interesting. 

 

At race start they announced the swim was to be shortened to 1.5k as the differential between the water temperature (around 22C) and the air temperature (low single degrees) was apparently too great according to TA rules. I’ve done enough long course races not to feel too disappointed by this so quite happily took the start line. Swim conditions were good and I managed to get into a small group of 3 or 4. I came into T1 to be given a time penalty for going left rather than right around the final buoy – I was pretty peeved as I’d asked both an Elite Energy personnel and the water safety at the start and was told the final buoy was for sighting only. Anyway, nothing to be done and I proceeded (with Dean’s help) to dry off and put on arm warmers, bike jersey, compression socks (for warmth), gloves etc. 

 

I left T1 in about 18th position. The ride was flat for about 2k before heading up Alpine Way towards Thredbo. I was riding a Giant Propel with a 52-36 which made the hills very manageable and I don’t think I could have been on a better bike. It was cold but not quite freezing and the sun was breaking through. I steadily passed riders on the way up to Dead Horse Gap and started to enjoy myself on the way down. Deano was kindly leap frogging back and forth in case of any needs but I kept with the same kit and tried to stay as aero as possible on the descents. I got back down to Jindy in good shape. The ride to Perisher is relentless but I’ve now ridden it 7 or 8 times so knew what was ahead and kept my heart rate below 150bpms and aimed to keep power below my FTP as far as possible. Dean was giving me updates and by the time I got to Perisher I was in 6th and by the time I hit T2 after ascending to Charlottes Pass (inside the ski terminal at Perisher) I was in 3rd.  3200m (net gain of 1700m) climbing, 4:38 duration, normalised power 243 watts and 139 average heart rate (max 152), max speed 81.4 kph, average speed 27.5kph.

 

The initial 4k was a trail run out to (or rather up to) Blue Cow Terminal. I’d decided to adopt a 9 minute run, 1 minute walk strategy to break up the run and allow my body a chance to absorb any nutrition (difficult at altitude). The weather was cool (2 or 3 degrees) but clear and light winds. I wasn’t concerned with pacing as such but rather aimed to run a sustainable tempo. This section was out and back and I got a good view of the guys in 1st and 2nd coming back down the hill. They were quite close and running well. The final 1k up to Blue Cow is very steep –around 15 to 20% trail. My 9:1 went out of the window a little and I focussed on fast walking. The 4th place competitor passed me (running and smiling) at this stage and I thought that he’d either blow up or he was a gun. On the way back down I got a view of the athletes behind me. No one was all that close but 3 or 4 were not all that far either.

 

Back at Perisher the run reverted to road with a steady ascent to Charlottes Pass. Dean was shadowing me in the car so I didn’t have to worry about nutrition and it was fantastic to have the support. I knew I was travelling well , ticking off the k’s at around 5:00 to 6 minutes (with the variation being with the minute walks). At Charlottes (around 19k into the run) the course was back on trail with Dean (World Duathlon Champion) running with me. I was feeling good but not quite conversational good (sorry Dean). My stomach was sloshing around a little so I dialled back the hydration but otherwise I felt completely in control in familiar Energylink territory. About 22k in we passed supporters Lee (who had raced the standard) and Dave and exchanged a few words. They were kindly walking up to the finish at Rawson’s Hut. I was still maintaining a good tempo and was slowing only due to the increased steepness of the trail. With about 5k to go I turned around to see that the lead female competitor (appropriately named Wendy McAlpine) had closed to within about 100 metres. I could tell that Dean wasn’t overly keen about us being overtaken and especially not when I was walking and still in good shape but I stuck with the 9:1. We gradually eased away and by the time we got to Rawson’s (about 1.8k to the top and 3.6k to the finish) she was out of sight. We made reasonable speed to the top of Australia and paused for a quick photo. The guy in first was already home but we passed 2nd and 3rd on that final section (with them coming the opposite way). They were probably about 7 or 8 minutes in front. Close but never quite close enough for us to see or chase (that guy was a gun). We jogged back down to Rawson’s for the finish. Lee and Dave had got there just in time (thank you) as the finishing chute was low on numbers. The goal for the run was between 3 and 3:15 and I’d run 3 hours flat. I’d finished 4th outright and won my age group by about half an hour. 

The finish area at Rawson’s is a little bare to say the least. The food options were cup a soup, chips, Coke and hot cross buns.  Not quite everything I’d been dreaming of but did the initial trick. My poor supporters were probably colder than I was and we still had an 8k walk back down to the car at Charlottes. I loved the race but some of logistics were a little unkind.  

Great work MT, super impressive! Thanks for all your help this year on the BTC Committee !