Race review: Maroondah Dam Trail Race

In 2016, I ran the Maroondah Dam 50k.

It was my second ultramarathon and my second trail race (yes my first trail race was a 50k).

I struggled, I got lost, I made a great friend and I created a steaming pile of unfinished business out on the Tanglefoot loop.

The course was new and the signage poor and the long and short of it was 10/30 people failed to take a turn and ended up with a DNF with only 47 of the 50km complete.

In 2019, I was determined for redemption. Historically, I’m pretty hopeless at any research or specific preparation for an event. I don’t like the spoilers. I like race reports as a learning exercise, what can I learn from your mistakes, but don’t tell me about the course features. I’d like to come across the stairs or river crossings or epic ridge lines myself.

But this was going to be an exercise in learning and growth, I mean, recce runs and copious research really works for some people, I’d be silly to not give it a go.

So I read the race reports, downloaded the map and instructions, discussed my previous mistakes with my work colleagues and come race day I felt I was ready, I knew what I needed to do.

And I still fucked it up!

Race day started off like any other, with porridge, banana, black coffee and Taylor Swift.

The two hour drive to the start was just enough time for my breakfast to digest and my nerves to settle.

I arrived with enough time to register, chat with my mates in the Glimmer Gear tent and joke about some people’s lack of social media skills in 2019. Insta-what?

It was an unusually cold April morning but my mum has always said the weather turns on Anzac Day and this April 28 was no exception.

The fog and mist blanketed the picnic ground and surrounding dam wall. It was fresh enough to see your breath in front of you and to wish you’d packed those gloves.

For those of you who love a course description the first section of the course is a 15km climb from 0 to 1000m on a gravel 4WD track.

The long climb into the clouds peaked at about the 15km mark and descended into the rainforest Tanglefoot loop.

The Tanglefoot Loop is a bit notorious in the history of this race because well… everyone gets lost.

Each year the organisers have briefings and “improve” the signage but each year someone misses the turn (seriously put a Marshall there already!)

I generally don’t like criticising races but it’s an on going issue that could easily be resolved by putting a Marshall there, not complicated signs (see below!) that require reading on the run and figuring out if you’ve been at that point before when the whole area looks exactly the same.

Signs aside, the trail is exquisite. Lush green undulating single track that winds around a big loop.

I didn’t finish my business at Maroondah Dam in 2019. Once again I missed the turn for the internal loop, but I did improve on 2016.

Belting through the Tanglefoot loop I was feeling fresh and fast. I had overtaken quite a few people who had passed me on the slow climb.

When I saw the sign that said “have you done the internal loop? Don’t forget to do the loop”, I figured the loop was coming up and it was a warning not to miss it. About 1 1/2 km done the track I realised that sign was in fact the sign to turn right (around a gate) to do the loop. So I turned around and went back and completed the loop.

By the time I finished the loop, I was back at the back of the pack, once again chasing down the same people, but I took it in my stride, kept smiling and kept telling myself that Jim Walmsley stuffed up Western States twice before eventually breaking the course record.

I continued to catch people on the downhill going back to Healesville, as the constant rain had turned the hill into a bit of a muddy slip and slide.

With 5km to go, I found myself catching up to a lovely red head. It took me a while to place the face but it was Mel Urie, who I had heard on the Rich Roll podcast and the only Australian woman to complete the Epic 5, that’s 5 Ironman distance triathlons, on 5 Hawaiian Islands in 5 days.

Mel and I ran together and chatted for the next 5km, as the hills and steps flew by. This 30 minutes is why I love trail running, the random people you meet and get to share the trails with is unlike anything else.

We crossed the finish line in 7 hours 25 minutes, 35 minutes faster than my first attempt in 2016 and this time I actually completed the entire course and even added an extra 2.5km at least. Improvements in all areas. I might not have turned when I should have but this time I recognised it and when back and fixed it.

I’ve heard a lot of people talking online lately about comparison being the thief of joy but I think that all depends on your perspective. I could have focussed on being 5km heavier than in 2016 or still getting lost despite my study, but instead I’m choosing to look to the friends I made, the way I handled my mis step and my improvement in time as the truest reflection of my day out on the trails.

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