More than just a trail race, this is a festival of outdoor sport! Based at Lake Crackenback Resort & Spa, just a short drive from Jindabyne, the running events are held in conjunction with TreX Cross Triathlons. For those not in the know, TreX Triathlons are the off-road equivalent of your traditional tri, combining an open water swim in the lake, with an undulating mountain bike course and a run that takes you along flowing single track. As much as I’d love to have done the triathlon, I was here for the 50km trail race, held on the Sunday along with 21km, 11km and 5km events.
Race organisers had managed the challenging Covid restrictions brilliantly. The check-in process was friendly and efficient, as were the busses that had been organized to cart the competitors from Crackenback Resort down the valley to the trout hatchery for the 7am start. The cold morning air made for a crisp start, but the picturesque setting and nervous energy meant it was barely noticeable. Besides, it took little more than 10 minutes after kick off for the first few small climbs to get the sweat flowing.
The course is a meandering, undulating, gradual climb along the Thredbo Valley. It’s almost entirely single track, following the riverside mountain bike and walking trail from start to finish. The early kilometers pass quickly, with a few punchy climbs to test the pins. The twists and turns break up the rhythm, so you’re constantly kept guessing about what lies ahead and never fall into a state of monotony, which can occur when events follow wide fire trails. Support on course is minimal, after all, you’re in pristine wilderness well away from any major centres. But when you arrive in a checkpoint you’re met with plenty of cheers.
At about the 22km point you arrive back at Crackenback Resort. It’s the main hub of the weekend’s festivities and therefore a hive of activity. Having been running alone at the front since about 3km into the race, getting a bit of support was a welcome moment. I had been feeling a bit fatigued and started to question my ability to maintain the rage. To add some context to the situation, only a couple days prior I had run Australia’s biggest ascent (16km with 1,900m vertical gain) and subsequently spent two days hiking and camping on the main range. To be honest though, I felt good on the start line, which is why I was happy to set sail. After grabbing a couple gels and a 500mL soft flask from my wife, I said bye to my baby girl Willow and continued on my way.
The next section of the course continues up the valley for a 13km out and back. By now it had started to get very warm and the tree canopy much thinner. This exposed section, coupled with the rising temperatures, made the rest of the race a genuine test. I was starting to get a few cramps and a bit of a headache. Seeing the occasional kangaroo and several deer were welcome distractions, but there was a constant feeling of terror as I had convinced myself I was being caught from behind. However reaching the turnaround point my lead had grown from 6 minutes to 8 since the last check. Regardless, the entire last hour of the race was quite stressful!
My plan was to roll home in the final 13km, as it was tending downhill. But the body wasn’t up to the task, nor was the course the free-flowing descent I had envisioned. There were still some small climbs to navigate and plenty of twists and turns, so my pace never really increased when compared to the way out. In retrospect, if I take into account the relatively high temperature of the final hour, I guess I could consider I rolled home a little…or is that clutching at straws?
After an hour of constantly looking back, I finally arrived at the finish line, to be greeted with a big cheer from the crowd and most importantly a smile from my little girl and wife. I could barely take another step, slouching on the grass in the shade with a massive bottle of water. It turned out I needn’t have been so worried on the run home, as I had managed to stretch my lead to 16 minutes.
The Snowies Ultra capped off an awesome week in the mountains. It’s such a fun, family-friendly event, held in a special part of the country. Next year we’ll be making a return, and maybe I’ll give the triathlon a go!
Shoes: The North Face Vectiv
Running Vest: CamelBak Zephyr
Fuel: 3 x Spring Energy Hill Aid, 2 x Spring Energy Long Haul, 1 x Spring Energy Electroride
Finish time: 3:46:35
Full results: https://www.trailrunaustralia.com.au/results/
Images: Photography by Shioban