When I first heard that Margaret River was going to be hosting a 80km Ultra marathon race my initial thought process went like this- What a location, It’s a Rapid Ascent race so the vibe will be awesome, all my friends will be there, If i miss out it is high likely i’ll go into a FOMO induced coma… I need to be there.
Rapid Ascent put on some amazing events. Their Victorian trail series wrapped up last Friday at the Studley Park night trail race. They are no stranger to hosting scenic and challenging Ultra Marathons. The Victorian Surf Coast Century is one of their flagship events. Their races are always vibrant, warm and welcoming with a strong community feel. It’s a value which the Rapid Ascent team has managed to uphold no matter how large or small their events are.
I was heading over to WA to spend some time with my 6 year old son Dagon, so it was the perfect opportunity to do a few recce (reconnaissance) runs and scope out the course and township. The logistics of running large portions of the course with a 6 year old would no doubt prove challenging, so I opted for a series of shorter runs in a few different locations, to get a varied taste of the route and experience. We booked an airbnb bush chalet just out of town ($130 a night), packed the car and headed down. It was about a 3 hour easy highway drive south from Perth city with a couple of leg stretches throw in. I needed to distance myself from the unrelenting time and distance based questioning coming from the seasoned navigator and explorer Captain Cook in the back seat. “How far to go?, How many minutes?, How many kilometres? How many bags of wheat and beans (lollies) do we require to feed a crew of 14 (just me) for 280 days (3 hours) at sea (in the car)? etc…..
Margaret River and surrounds has some of the most magnificent natural beauty in Australia. The people of the area share common environmental values of sustainability, respect and conservation. This makes for some incredibly untouched natural surroundings including world class white sand surf beaches, deep and dark winding limestone caves, raw, rocky and rugged coastlines, thick natural bush lands, lush Karri tree forests and with all the local furry, scaley and spikey inhabitants to go with it. It’s the perfect setting for a “back to grass roots” ultra marathon “experience”. I say experience because the fun isn’t just restricted to the race. There are countless wineries, breweries and local produce outlets to sample, and by sample I mean gorge. What better excuse than an ultra marathon to eat and drink pre and post race?
And for the kids the Chocolate factory, Caving and the Berry farm were big hits with Dagon, with lots of tasting, testing, decision making and playing in the surrounding parklands. In regards to activities, adventure running is the new kid on the block here, with surfing, kite surfing, fishing, diving and mountain biking all headlining activities for the area.
We prepared for our first run and packed large at our chalet, with our Salomon hydration vest, filled with water chest bottles, Atone bars for fuel and snacks, first aid kit, snake bandage, extra phone battery, jackets, Victorian Ultra Runners Thir and head torch. Although not entirely needed it was great for Dagon to run through all the safety gear and be involved with what is needed when we go adventuring. It turned out he was also keen to wear the vest which made for some great running for me having a mule, and some spectacular stacks for him (no harm, just purely frustration).
We headed out to Margaret River main break and river mouth for our first run. Here you’ll find one of the world’s most famous surf breaks (a common theme between Rapid Ascent races – Bells Beach on the Surf Coast Century) with the Margaret River Pro a fixture on the Pro Surfing World Tour. For such a popular location the area has done an outstanding job of minimising the impact of the human traffic on the environment. This section of the race is on the The Cape to Cape track. The Cape to Cape Walk Track runs for 135 kilometres along the Leeuwin-Naturaliste Ridge, between the lighthouses of Cape Naturaliste and Cape Leeuwin in the far south west of Western Australia. It features spectacular coastal and forest scenery, a fascinating geology of cliffs, caves, headlands and rock formations and an ever-changing display of vegetation and wildflowers.
At Margaret river, the track comes down the beach dunes to the north, across the river mouth and along the footpath directly past Margaret River main break before vanishing back into the coastline bush land. It takes in unobstructed views of the small coastal township of Prevelley, the surf break and the parallel rocky coastline. We arrived at the trail and parked at main break (surfers point) carpark before heading down along the trail towards the river mouth, where we ran the beach sections and played on the rocks as the sunset over the ocean. When you get down on the beach at the river mouth section of the trail you really get a feel for the power and size of the swell and waves. They roll in heavy and hard over the rocks, battering the coast, creating a constant roar. It’s another element that adds to mother natures sensory overload on this course. Don’t be scared to drop the pace, suck in a few deep breaths and take in your backdrop. It’s a bucket lister.
The following day we headed back out to Prevelley. We jumped back on the trail at the boat ramp. Here the race trail actually runs through the al fresco area of the White Elephant Cafe overlooking the surf breaks. If you are craving a soy latte mid race (as you do) this would definitely be a race highlight. The mod-cons are short lived and it’s back into mother natures backyard heading off into the rugged, sandy trails of the Margaret River headlands. The sections of beach and trails offer a nice diversity, and you can find yourself running sideways staring out at the mesmerising waves and sea spray. But be warned, the sharp, windswept, limestone rocks camouflage well and having your eyes on the trails is a must to keep upright.
The sandy coastal undulations aren’t big enough to break your stride but it’s the kind of course that can sneak up on you. The accumulation of rises, troughs and sand need to be accounted for. It would be easy to become distracted by your surroundings and forget about your race endurance strategy. It’s becoming apparent that sticking to a plan and course knowledge are going to be 2 valuable assets to go into this race with. It’s not the type of course you wan’t to go out too hard on because you may never get a chance to “coast” and recover. Getting into a conservative rhythm here is going to a difficult task, and sometimes stopping and starting will be a must to take in the surrounding beauty. If you are planning on scoring any PB’s here good luck, as you may be better setting your KPIs on scoring a selection of classic red wines, a block of sea salt infused milk chocolate and a wheel of Margaret River Port Cheddar cheese.
Our next stop was the Boranup Forest section of the race. The trail is buried within the tall, thick, ghostly Karri trees. It feels as if the towering karri sentinels are looking down at you with arms crossed saying “what are you doing here little people?”. The trail sections we ran here flowed really well. They are hard packed, tight, low traffic, single trail with a few easy tree and log obstacles. Dagon surprised me with the speed which he could dart through this single trail. The trail is cool and shaded by the giant leafy onlookers so you can crank up the tempo without to much energy input. This was our favourite section of the course. It was everything that trail running was about and we were totally engulfed by the trail and surrounding forest. We stopped and walked to take it all in chatting about which trail to take, we jumped logs and took photos, we stood in silence listening to the sounds of the forest and we talked about how to navigate our way back. It was a true adventure and we weren’t in any hurry to end it. This section is close to the race start at Hamelin Bay, which means you’ll hit it with fresh legs and happy thoughts.
Hamelin Bay was our final destination. We parked at the boat ramp and headed straight to the beach. In the late 1800s Hamelin Bay beach was the location of a jetty, established to service the local timber milling operations. One of the timber railways extended onto the Hamelin Bay Jetty, which was built in 1882 and extended in 1898. The local friendly sting rays can be found weaving around what’s left of the pile ons in the knee high deep shoreline. We followed the coastal track south along the point towards Hamelin island just before it drops down along the beach. The start line is no compromise on views and sets a high standard of what lies ahead to the north. The protected waters and long sweeping views of the bays in either direction really deliver that immersive feeling of adventure and exploration. Even without the race atmosphere, the curiosity constantly tugs at you to follow the trail further and further. But that would ruin all the surprises. I’m really looking forward to this race. It’s going to be tough, challenging and strategic. But most of all it’s going to be an experience. The team at Rapid Ascent have done a cracking job picking the location and course. Oh and did I mention it finishes at a brewery? Cheers and bring on race day!!!!!!
more info here … Margaret River 80km Ultra Marathon