Race Review: The Inaugural Portland 3 Bays 60km Trail Ultra

I’m a little behind in my race reviews.

Interesting because racing hasn’t exactly been a focus of my year this year.

I had a moment, well several moments if I’m being honest, earlier in the year when I literally prayed/begged to the universe to just be able to run 1 km. It felt like one of those cheesy come to Jesus moments in the movies where the protagonist pleads with God/The Universe/Beyonce that they won’t do “insert bad habit here” anymore, so long as “insert wildest dream here” comes true.

Well that was me. Except I just wanted to run. I swore I would never race again if I could just run. I found everything about being injured so frustrating and embarrassing that I just wanted it to be done, I wanted to be me again.

Flash forward 6 months and I find myself on the start line for the inaugural (first time ever!) Portland 3 Bays 60km ultramarathon.

I was nervous and excited and absolutely shitting myself. I’d never run in this part of the world before and I didn’t know what to expect. Looking at the course map and elevation profile and I wasn’t too concerned. Boy was I about to be proven wrong.

So before I go on about how this race kicked my arse, let me spell out the event for anyone considering taking on the challenge in 2019.

Location: Portland, Victoria, Australia
About 360km from Melbourne. It’s about a 4 hour drive

Distance: 60 km ultra (Saturday), Marathon, half marathon, 10k, 5k and kids race (Sunday)
Price: $100 for ultra marathon
Inclusions: Medal, aid stations every 7-10km.
Course: 90% off road, includes fire trail, trail, beach and grass. Mostly coastal cliffs and single track.
Shoes: Trail shoes
Max elevation: 1300m
Cliff top stairs

There were some epic stairs and I’d never seen a wind farm up close before. They were just beautiful. Say what you want about how they look on the landscape but without them maybe there wouldn’t be a landscape at all.

Wind farms in the distance

Prior to this, I’d never really run with a crew before. Most races that I’ve run I’ve either gone on my own or my other half was running as well.

This time we made it a family affair. When I got to the aid stations, I was greeted with hubby and the two pooches who were just stoked to be near the beach. The story of our first holiday with the pooches is one for another day. I had mixed emotions regarding the “crew” situation. I had everything I needed with me (except water refills). I was stoked to see them when I got to the aid station but between aid stations I felt pressure to move faster and not keep them waiting. At one stage, around the 40 km mark, I think if they weren’t there to see that there wasn’t something deadly wrong with me, that I would have pulled out. 

My favourite part of the course was the Secret Forest. It was lush and green and beautiful. I wish it had lasted longer.

My least favourite part was the sand. The never ending sand. There were two main beach sections (although they were so bad I could have blocked other parts out of my memory).

A lost shipping container 

Usually running on the beach is quite stunning and this coastline was no exception. The issue, the part that made it so hard and soul destroying was the strange consistency of the sand. It was like a perfect Creme Brulee. Soft and fluffy and fine underneath and a thin crispy layer on top. Not perfect for running at all.

I tried running closer to the water, only to find my feet sinking and slushing around in a 7 Eleven slurpee of sand so tried to escape to higher ground only to find layer upon layer of powder. There was nothing you could do but slog it out. I honestly don’t know how far it was, but it felt like a lifetime.

Prior to the race, I literally had no idea what I was getting myself in for. As a new race, there wasn’t really much information available at all and I didn’t really take the time to do my research so twist and turn, every change in terrain was a pleasant surprise. It was the perfect way to see the area. It’s a mind blowing place and I think everyone, whether you’re a runner or not, should get down there and hike the Great South West Walk. It felt like a bit of an adventure movie. I’m sure part of Lord of the Rings could have been filmed in Portland if NZ was too busy.

You get a fair idea when you start to come back into civilization. You run through (literally!) a wind farm and a few large industrial sites, a stark contrast to the isolation and natural landscape just 20km down the trail.

As you turn into Portland, it starts to become evident that there isn’t that far to go. The course takes a strange route around the docks until you start to see the finish line. And it was the biggest finish line I think I’ve ever seen at a trail event. I’m not just talking about the arch or the large bell you ring at the end, there was literally a party at the finish line. The UpWelling Festival was in full swing. There was tents and foodtrucks and live music, even local craft beer.  It was pretty insane.

But when I think back on my weekend in Portland, its not the cliffs or the sand or the medal, not even the craft beer, that I will remember. It will be the dedication of the volunteers who stood out on a cliff “aid station” waiting for hours for runner, the race organizers whose passion for running and the local trails was infectious and the craziness of the handful of folks who signed up for $10 at the finish line to run the road marathon the following day. The trail community in Portland is like no other. It might be small but its mightly welcoming.

Can’t wait to come back next year, already booked the AirBnB.

7 thoughts on “Race Review: The Inaugural Portland 3 Bays 60km Trail Ultra

  1. TracyJ says:

    What a fantastic review of this wonderful part of the world. You have certainly captured every section of the ultra trail and just how stunning the GSWW is. Good luck in 2019. Hope you find some good firm sand to run on.

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