Ok, so the title is a little misleading. Whilst I might have managed to take out the win in the 2021 Archie 55km at Hut2Hut, it was most definitely not a bullseye.
Thanks to my little NZ run (which left my body destroyed for many months) plus COVID, Archie was my first race in nearly two years. I started training specifically for it in November however the body had other ideas. An old hip injury flaring up at the start of Dec which meant no sessions for six weeks. I love running but easy running every day of the week is a tad boring.
Thankfully it managed to right itself (whadduya know – physio exercises actually work) and I was back doing sessions from late Jan. Being realistic, I adjusted my goals and decide to use Archie as a training run ahead of the Grand Slam at Buffalo Stampede.
Training run? Pfffff. Ofcourse that went out the window as soon as I stood on the start line. I wanted to race.
The gun went off and we immediately headed uphill to the start of Four Mile. I wasn’t feeling great. I was super nervous and over thinking everything already. I settled into second place whilst the first female disappeared into the distance.
Four Mile has a reputation, one that it has earnt. It is scrappy, technical and slow going. It has a rather treacherous, rocky outcrop which you have to scramble across. Thankfully I had run it a month earlier so had an idea of what I was getting into.
I tried to keep the effort easy but didn’t exactly have a great run. My bladder started creeping out of my pack so I had to adjust it a few times (and then about a million more times during the rest of the race). My shoe lace came undone. I needed to have a wee stop. But I made it down and into the first aid station feeling relatively good. I ran across the timing mat and back outta there.
The next 17km runs alongside the river. It is undulating and scenery is beautiful. I imagine it would be really a really fun run if you weren’t overthinking everything and constantly stressing out that you should have carried poles. We crossed the river about 13 times and while I normally avoid river crossings at all costs (NZ scarred me deep), I actually quite enjoyed them. Probably because it gave me a reason to walk for a minute or two.
I reached the next aid station, Pikes Flat, at the 28km mark. There is no better feeling that running into an aid station during an ultra. All you aid station volleys – you da best.
I wasn’t feeling great but their cheers immediately perked me up. I filled up my bottle with black gold (coke) and smashed some chips down. I also noticed a girl leaving the aid station who looked suspiciously similar to the first placed female.
The next 22km was where the real work began. It was uphill the whole way, climbing around 1600m. I overtook first place in the first hill and, suddenly buoyed with energy, kept pushing to put as much distance between me and her. I was running anything that was remotely runnable but, damn it was getting hot. And damn, I wish I had poles.
I had made the decision to ditch the poles after looking at the elevation profile and proclaiming to my friends that it was “pretty much all runnable”.
They looked at me with knowing eyes, saying “Are you sure Luce?”.
“Yep, I’m sure”.
At one point, I picked up two large sticks and proceeded to hike with them. Unfortunately they weighed about 60 x what my carbon poles weigh and my pencil arms grew weary after 200m. They were quickly discarded back into the bush.
I was greeted with a lovely surprise at the 40km mark when I ran into a good friend. She joined me for a few kms and tried to distract me from the fact that I was getting very tired and was finding it hard to eat. I was slowly winding my way up a soul destroying mountain bike track that was dusty and seemed to switch back on itself 100s of time. It was at this point, I boldly proclaimed I didn’t like racing and I would be retiring as soon as I crossed the finish line.
That went out the window as soon as I ran into the Howqua Gap aid station. The awesome volleys filled me up with coke and sliced oranges, and cheered me off towards the finish line. The last 9kms has you running all the way up to the Mt Buller summit. It is brutal but this section also has some of the best views of the run, so make sure you take a moment to stop cursing and look up.
Running down from the summit was the best feeling. Knowing that there were no more hills to go up. Knowing that I had sealed first place. Knowing that soon I was going to be able to sit down.
I didn’t find a second wind in those final few kms. Instead, I plodded my way down and enjoyed the views. I rounded the corner into the Buller Village Square where I was greeted with my cheering friends and family. Actually that was the best feeling.
First female and 5th overall. The result I had hoped for but not what I expected.
Whilst my rendition of the race may make it sound quite brutal (which it was), it is a truly wonderful race. The aid stations were amazing! Not only where they manned by some of the most enthusiastic and passionate volunteers, they were stocked to the brim with anything you could want. Chips, lollies, fruit, potatoes, toasted sandwiches and more.
The finish line set up and atmosphere was also awesome. The Buller Village Square is perfect to accommodate spectators and we proceeded to hang around for the next 4 or 5 hours, cheering on finishers with a beer in hand.
Am I tempted to take on the 100km next time? Maybe. Just maybe…..