Warburton Trail Festival – 50km Lumberjack Run 2020 Report


Warburton Trail Festival: 50 km Lumberjack Run Finish Line @ Warburton
  • Location: Powelltown, Victoria, Australia
  • Time: 5:02:22
  • Overall Place: 9/98
  • Full Results

Two weeks post a successful summit attempt on South Americas highest mountain Aconcagua I was hyped to get back to the ultra/trail running scene. The Two Bays 56 km Trail Run back in January was my last outing and at the same time my best, this only increased my hype for The Warburton 50 km Lumberjack Run. I was excited to see what else I could do, to top it off I was going up with a few mates who were to complete their first ultramarathons. So with this in mind to say I was excited would be an understatement.

Run by Tour de Trails and with Salomon Running being the major sponsor The Warburton Trail Festival was set to be a good weekend. I could only afford to enter the one race, that being the 50 km however over the course of the weekend there was numerous races going on. From a 4.5 km run to a 9 km night run, numerous 20-30 km runs, a 50 km run and lastly a sprint where everyones running in a thong! All races taking place in and around the town of Warburton and the trails of Victorias Yarra Ranges.

It was an early start for a Saturday, I was up at 3 am getting in breakfast which consisted of a banana, greek yoghurt, toast with cottage cheese and mixed nuts and a glass of milk. We needed to be at Warburton Football Oval by 6am to register and catch the bus to the start line. It would take about 1.5 to 2 hours to drive to Warburton and I had to be at my mates house at 4:20 am. We planned to go up together, doing these runs with mates is always better than being by yourself. Anyway all went to plan and we got to Warburton Football Oval at around 5:50 am and hopped on the bus.

Starting time was 7:30 am and the bus ride took 40 minutes, we left at around 6:10 am so there was a bit of waiting around, it was a fresh and overcast morning. Once we arrived at the start line as I was looking around I could see why it was called The Lumberjack 50 km. Behind the starting line was hundreds of stacks of humongous tree logs all piled on top of each other.

After some waiting around at 7 am the race briefing started. The race director did a great job of making the race feel very unique. Apart from all the standard warnings that all ultramarathons go through he went into a little bit of the history of the town and why the race was called The Lumberjack 50 km. Turns out back in the day the guys who worked at the old sawmill used to run the trail we were about to run on. However it wasn’t to race, it’s said they used it to get to the town of Warburton in time to hit the pub and play some footy on the weekend. It was also pretty interesting to hear that most of the trees and forrest we were looking had been re-planted about 50 – 100 years ago. On a more personal side note my stomach was giving me some trouble. This morning I’d already had to go to the toilet 3 times and had the runs. For the first time in my ultra running journey I was more anxious about something other than the distance or elevation.

After the briefing it was go time, the way the race started was also very unique. A self titled “weekend lumberjack” cut through a log horizontally. Once he cut all the way through the top of the log would fall to the ground. Once the log hit the ground it was time to run! This nice little touch added a little tension to the start of the race as we waited for the “weekend lumberjack” to cut through the log. Some cheered whilst others stood there quietly, I personally did a mixture of both, I was nervous so was naturally quiet but then I’d start to feel bad and start cheering. It took him about 90 seconds before the log hit the ground, off we went!!

I went out a little harder than normal to try and break away from the pack. If the Two Bays 56 km Trail Run taught me anything it was to not let yourself get stuck behind a massive group of runners, especially when you’re running along narrow trails. After 5 minutes I was fifth and could no longer see the mass of people I started with, ok I thought I can put on the brakes a little bit. I was a little worried I went out too hard because I was puffing to hard to early. Nonetheless after another 10 minutes or so I fell into rhythm. The trail was beautiful, we were surrounded by dense green ferns and forestry, everything was green and alive. However with that came some difficulties; for starters the ground was soft due to an accumulation of dead fern tree branches and other tree branches, it had also been raining much of the week. Also there was some slippery, decent sized sticks that become tripping hazards and descents that were steep and led to small creek crossings with extremely slippery wood planks that were used as small bridges. This made the whole trail a one way ticket to see yourself on your ass. Fallen trees and fern branches that overreached onto the middle of the trail were like obstacles. All day I was jumping over and ducking under fallen trees, I was also flicking ferns out of the way with my hands or running straight through, head down, rhino style. I fell over at least 3 times over the course of the day. This made it hard to gain any real momentum which for me is the key to ultramarathons. Getting into that rhythm not only makes you faster but also keeps you positive mentally.

Eventually I’d ran 10 km, one fifth done, I was feeling good both mentally and physically at this stage, I was holding a top 5-6 spot too! Something I’m not used to. It definitely added some anxiety though, I skipped the first aid station at the 10 km mark and continued on strong. I want to shout out the race director here, he was at each road crossing greeting and encouraging us, he didn’t have to do this and the gesture was appreciated. After a couple more km’s I came to the most difficult part of the course, a 500 m vertical ascent over 3 kms with a grade of 30%. I tried running the first third of the hill but eventually chucked in the towel and power hiked the rest. I’m a slower power hiker than most of my fellow runners and was passed by 3-4 others. Although I always tell myself not to worry about placings in ultramarathons it was demoralising to be passed by so many people in such a short timeframe. After about 15 minutes of uphill hiking I was fed up, others were passing me, I wanted to run and the goddamn hill wouldn’t come to an end. Yes we were surrounded by beautiful ferns and gum trees but it was taking me 18 minutes to complete 1 km and my legs were spent. Eventually though I got to the top, my legs felt like bags of sand. Have you ever done walking lunges and then tried running? That’s what it felt like. What goes up must come down though and the uphill was followed by a nice stretch of downhill running. This brought some life back to my legs, I also made sure to get in a good amount of water and a handful of coco cola lollie frogs. I was happy again.

After a good 30 – 40 minutes of relevantly flat trail running I came across the next checkpoint. It was about 20 km into the run and set up in close proximity to a significant landmark, we had to run around a big but very old tree. Named The Ada Tree it’s said to be over 300 years old! We had to run for about 200 m to the tree, touch it, then turn around. Once I touched the tree and turned around I stopped at the checkpoint area grabbed a nut bar and some lollie snakes, then took off stuffing my face. Eating and drinking whilst running is an art form, and I suck at it. I struggled to breath as I stuffed my face, I felt like an unfit smoker trying to run at full speed. I started passing other runners who were placed behind me they were making their way to The Ada Tree. I started wondering if I was going the wrong way, surely we wouldn’t be running the same trail all the way to the finish line I thought, I must be going the wrong way. I asked other runners as I passed “am I going the right way” they all said yes so with a bit of doubt I continued on. Turns out I was going the right way, we just had to run back via the same trail for a couple km’s, next time I should probably look at the map before the race. It was good running on the same trail for a couple km’s though because I got to see my mates, as we passed not much was said, just a quick hey mate and good work, then they were gone. This was the point were my stomach started giving signs it wasn’t going to last the whole race without me having to make a stop. “I’ve got a a bad feeling about this I thought to myself”. The terrain was giving me the s**t’s too, not literally but I’d had enough of having to stop, duck under or leap over a fallen tree and then run again only to have to stop again. Also the goddamn ferns were scratching and smacking me in the face, arms and legs. I’d push some ferns away with my hands then I’d encounter some more and put my head down and barge forward rhino style, then I’d be ducking under a tree, it was really starting to p**s me off, I couldn’t get any momentum going I just wanted to run! Time went by and the trail continued to get to me, I was getting frustrated and the negative energy started to effect my performance, I was slowing down. Noticing this I checked myself and reminded myself, your on a beautiful trail, your privileged enough to afford to be here and your lucky enough to be fit and healthy enough to be doing this so cheer the f##k up! Although I was telling myself this I wasn’t feeling it, the negative frustration which led to anxiety had taken it’s hold on me. I started wondering; maybe I’m doing too much and my brains telling me to rest? This is my sixth ultramarathon in 6 months, I’ve climbed 3 major mountains in 12 months and trekked the Kokoda Trail in 5 days maybe it’s my body telling my brain I need to rest. Time went by slowly and I continued to slow down.

I struggled to the third checkpoint at the 32 km mark, it was at a large campsite and tents were everywhere. For the first time in the race I stopped to refill my water, I also got in a bit of food which consisted of a handful of lollies, another nut bar and a coke. After about 3-5 minutes I took off. I left still in a negative mind-frame but was told by a cheery spectator that I was crushing it and the next 10 km was all downhill. I put on a smile and thanked him but in my mind I was like “oh yeah, sure, bulls**t the next 10 km is downhill”. However he was right, the next 10 km was fantastic it was all on a gradual decline with reasonably clear trails. After about 2 km’s of running I started to become positive and motivated again and with that I looked at my watch and realised I only had 15 km left, thats significantly less than my weekend training run. All of a sudden I started pushing, my legs were sore but they’d been much worse before. I got into rhythm and the momentum had me flying for the next 8 km. The only worry was my stomach, I knew I wasn’t going to last until the finish line, it became quite a distraction, nonetheless I reached the 40 km mark in no time.

At around the 40 km mark the course took us off the trails and we hit the road for a while. After running 40 km my knee’s hated the impact of the road, every step made my knees ache. But it was expected and was manageable so on I went, the monotony of running on the road really hits you after coming off the trails though. At least I wasn’t stumbling on fallen ferns, ducking under fallen trees or getting smacked in the face by fern branches I said to myself. At about the 45 km mark I left the road and was met by a river crossing, I was looking forward to this. Part of the course requires you to cross the Yarra River (one of Melbourne’s major rivers), some might not look forward to getting wet but to me it added some excitement. At the crossing the water was close to waist deep and the torrent was pretty strong, nothing crazy though. Conveniently a fallen tree was set across the river where we were so this was used as our point of contact that kept us on our feet. The water was cold but felt amazing on the tired, sore legs, it rejuvenated me. For the third time I came back to life, well at least until my stomach decided it couldn’t hold on any longer. I couldn’t help it I had to go, terrified I looked around for a private, convenient place to unload. The problem was I was now on a public walking path that took walkers around the Yarra River so there was people everywhere. After about 1 km I was happy to discover the run took us through a caravan park. This was my opportunity I thought, there had to be a toilet here and yes there was. However I also realised I had to make a decision; I could go to the toilet and not s**t myself or not go, risk it and sub 5 hours. I was so close to the finish, I’d nearly made it the whole race without going, surely I could hold on for another 5 km I told myself. However as I approached the toilet I thought f**k it, no I can’t, I’m going. I paused the timer on my watch so at least my watch would say I subbed 5 hours and went to the toilet, only to find out I needed a code!! I would not last another minute, one of the people at the caravan park walked passed and I asked for the code. Luckily he was a good bloke, first he laughed at me a distressed runner who probably looked wrecked as you do after you’ve run 45 km+ and then he told me the code. I’m happy to announce I made it just in the knick of time.

Once off the toilet I was back running on Yarra River walking track and making my way to the finish line. The whole last 5 km or so was run alongside the Yarra River, it was beautiful. However to be honest with myself I could’ve ran these last few km’s faster but mentally I’d had enough, I also assumed I’d been passed by a few runners when I went to the toilet so top 10 wouldn’t be possible. I’m not saying this is acceptable thinking though because it’s not, but I’m human and it was what it was. I was in a negative frame of mind, I was sore and tired and honesty just didn’t care anymore. I hate admitting this but I didn’t give these last 10 kms everything I had which disappoints me because that’s something I pride myself on. Anyway with a time of 5:02:22 and a place of 9 out of 98 runners I finished. Mixed feeling at the end, happy to finish, happy to come top 10 but disappointed in myself that I left something on the table and gave in to my mind.

Thank you Tour de Trail for putting on a spectacular event, the trails were annoyingly beautiful! A massive shoutout out to race director Chris Ors for leading the team and keeping the machine going and lastly a humungous thank you TO all the volunteers, these races are not possible without YOU!!

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