The Guzzler Ultra marathon is a 50km and 100km ultra marathon held in the Mt Coot-tha trails very close to the Brisbane city. This year’s event was the inaugural running of the event. I made the decision to enter the 50km late last year after discovering it on social media. It certainly looked like a great course taking in the Brisbane trails that go past the three major reservoirs of Brisbane in the 100km and two in the 50km. The course profile looked challenging with 2102 metres of elevation gain over the 50km course and five major climbs throughout the race.
Training for this event didn’t go quite to plan with changes in my family dynamic this year affecting my training schedule quite a bit. I didn’t manage the volume of longer runs I would have liked, however I did focus heavily throughout my training on hilly terrain and building the strength needed to get over 2100m of elevation. I towed the line somewhat under done but still confident I could put a good race together if I raced smart, with a goal time of about 5 hours 30 minutes.
The Guzzler 50km starts with a 3km uphill section for the first major climb with an intermediate timing point here being the ‘King of the Mountain’ and a generous prize for the first to this first summit. I started relatively close to the front of the group with a goal of running conservatively from the start, after a brief uphill and then sharp down hill the climb began and I felt comfortable running close to the front of the race and made it to the king of the mountain point in 17:44 and 11thacross this checkpoint. This was probably quicker then I’d consider a conservative start.
From this point of the race was a sharp downhill section for a couple of kilometres over some really sweet forest trails, running down these hills I was with a group of about four runners and decided to hang at the back of this group and let them set the pace. The next 10-12km featured mainly forest roads with some rolling hills and one moderately big climb before a short single trail section around the Enoggera Reservoir before the first checkpoint at 17km. This section was very enjoyable running, I ran conservatively with two other runners and let them set the pace.
Arriving at the first aid station I filled a flask with water before quickly using the toilet and moving along. With the next checkpoint at 23km there wasn’t a need to take in food or any other nutrition here. I was taking in a gel every 45-60 min with water in my bladder and an electrolyte in two soft flasks my hydration was going well to this point.
While the section between checkpoint 1 and 2 is only 6km this section was mostly a challenging uphill section and the second major climb to McAfees Lookout. While the climb was challenging the terrain was just as challenging on a very loose and rocky fire trail. This section of the trail was not ideal for running in minimal sandals. Having lost contact with the two runners I had ran into checkpoint one with while going to the toilet this section I ran alone while picking off 100km runners as we traversed this section. Into checkpoint two and fatigue in my legs was starting, the hills had began to take the sting out my legs but still feeling pretty good. At checkpoint two was a check of mandatory gear where I needed to show I had my compression bandage to continue. At this point I took the time to refill my bladder with water and one of my flasks with the electrolyte provided. With watermelon provided I couldn’t resist ate a couple of pieces and exited the checkpoint.
The next section of the race featured the aptly named ‘Hell Hole’ and the second intermediate timed section called the Hell Hole hustle. This section was a relatively easy downhill section over narrow fire trails to a small creek and then out the next major climb being Hell hole out. During the downhill section another 50km runner who was moving much better then myself at this point passed me. Hell hole out was the most challenging climb so far, steep and loose, rocky fire trail made for a tough slog to the top. On the Hell Hole Hustle segment I finished 26thwhich in retrospect confirmed that this climb was starting to take its toll on my body. The two hills between 20-30km were tough back to back and left some pain in my legs that would last the rest of the race.
The next section of the race featured more rolling hills before a steep and long downhill section towards the checkpoint at 31km and the Gold Creek reservoir. While the downhill section was nice at this point, I was aware that after the fourth checkpoint we needed to climb back up this hill. I had also started to suffer minor cramp in both my legs. This was something that happened for the remainder of the race, after a long climb my legs started to cramp on each downhill for a while.
Gold Creek checkpoint was a highlight of the race with a great atmosphere at the aid station of volunteers and spectators and a seriously well-stocked aid station. I filled up on more electrolytes in my flask and ate some more watermelon through this checkpoint.
With a lap of the Gold Creek reservoir for 6km before returning to the aid station I felt like this section of the race could be good and relatively flat. I was incorrect on this assumption with the single trail around the lake featured many short, sharp uphill and downhill sections and some technical trail that was difficult to gain a rhythm or any efficiency. The second half of this trail was easier but this section took longer then I’d hoped and fatigued me more than I expected. I got back to the Gold Creek checkpoint at 37km feeling pretty fatigued and flat at this point knowing that the next 3-4km was going to be one of the most challenging climbs on the course. I took my time at this checkpoint taking in watermelon, filling both my flasks and eating a few handfuls of lollies. I left this checkpoint straight into the long uphill climb.
This climb was both leg and soul destroying. My legs were hurting and I’d developed a pain in my lower back. After reaching the top of this climb there was long section of about 4-5km of fire trail, rolling uphill and downhill. By this point I was struggling to run freely, the climb out of Gold Creek had shown up my condition. I battled cramp in my quads and calves through this section and had to walk almost all the uphill section. Three 50km runners passed me during this section. It was at this point I knew my 5:30 goal time wasn’t going to be reached and a sub 6-hour finish would be respectable. From here there was a long downhill section before the final climb of the course and I was able to run this section out was able to pass three other competitors that to my surprise were struggling as much or worse than I was. This kept my motivation high and I was telling myself to push to the finish.
In the last three kilometres of the Guzzler course is the Kokoda climb. I had read in the course description how this climb is famous for it’s steepness and had this climb in the back of my mind as I ran the downhill. By this point I had run out of fluid in my bladder and one flask and had 200m in one flask to get me to the finish. I had been trying to conserve my fluid on the downhill as my bladder had run out half way down this point.
Onwards to Kokoda and they saved the best for last. This climb would be a brute at the best of times but after 48km of an already tough ultra it’s difficult beyond words. While not the longest climb on the course, the steepness is unmatched and hiking this hill was a serious challenge that took all the strength I had at the time. I was forced to stop and gather myself a couple of times during this climb and again once I reached the top. On reaching the top a volunteer let me know there was 2km of mostly downhill running left to the finish. This was nice to hear.
Kokoda had cooked me though and running even downhill at this point was a serious challenge. I was quickly passed by a runner I had earlier passed on the downhill and then another with around 500m to go. The competitor in me wanted to try and go with them on both occasions but there was nothing I could do to raise my pace at this point. As I got closer to the finish I could hear the finish and looked at my watch showing 5:59, I raised my effort marginally over the last 150 metres or so to ensure a sub 6 hour finish and got to the line in 5:59:39 for 16thoverall.
On reflection I’m satisfied with my race result and effort but mindful that I wanted a bit more from this race. I’m not sure I could have given more then I did when things got tough, but I leave the race with a sense of unfinished business and wanting to not let this course beat me. I did under estimate some of the major climbs, the placement of the climbs between 20-30km really took the sting out of my legs when I was feeling great and I wasn’t able to recover on the single trail around Gold creek before the next brutal climb at 37km. From here it was mostly survival and I wasn’t able to run my best over the final 10km.
You either win or learn in long distances running. The guzzler taught me that in ultra distances races even at the 50km distance you can’t fake it if you haven’t done the work. In shorter distances, particularly road racing you can rely on smart pacing and give your best effort when it gets hard. In difficult trail ultras there is nowhere to hide, if the distance doesn’t undo you then the hills and trail terrain will and it might have been both that got me. I have a lot to learn to improve at ultra distances. I ran this race like a seasoned marathoner and wasn’t able to adjust enough for the hills and terrain.
I’m pleased to have been part of an inaugural race that’s likely to be a feature of the Australian ultra scene in future years. For a first year race The Guzzler was a fantastic event. From the entry process and information pre race to the posting out of race numbers and event singlets, these guys had the runner at the forefront of the experience. The course is a beautiful mix of the best trails Brisbane has to offer. It’s a tough 50km course with the major climbs all requiring respect. The finishers glass coffee glass was a nice touch and a welcome alternative to a medal that ends up in a shoebox in my cupboard.
The highlight for me was the atmosphere at both the start and finish and in particular the checkpoints along the course. Thank you to the organisers and volunteers who made this race so special. I’ll be back next year fitter, stronger and hopefully smarter.