Race review: Surf Coast Trail Marathon 2021

I’ve heard of these unicorns they call a “good day out” but I never really understood what exactly people were talking about.

I’ve heard comments like “it all just clicked” and felt my head titling to the side like a confused Labrador. You mean, it didn’t hurt, feel like torture, make you question every single life decision you’ve ever made? I’m confused. You mean it felt good?!

But then I saw one, a unicorn, a good day out.

Surf Coast Trail Marathon wasn’t in my plan for 2021, but after 2020, plans are overrated.

I signed up about a week before the race when it looked set to go ahead with Covid restrictions in Melbourne lifting (again).

I was in two minds when I signed up. I was feeling more than a little under done in my training for Brisbane Trail Ultra 110k after my lead up races all got cancelled and figured either this would show me if I had what it takes and also provide a chance to race if everything else got cancelled later (spoiler alert: it did).

It’s not really a secret that I love the Surf Coast Trail Marathon, for a long time I’ve just hated its timing. It’s usually the week before the Gold Coast Marathon and I’ve been chasing the sub 4 for years (and Gold Coast is arguably the fastest marathon in the country), so I haven’t run it as much as I could like, rather spending my time freezing my arse off as a volunteer Marshall or aid station attendee.

Southside 2016

I won’t go over the course details again (here’s the last time I ran it,) but the weather was significantly different to 2019.

You never know what you’ll get on the coast and you can’t trust the forecast. 2019 was like being in the spin cycle of a washing machine but 2021 was almost perfect.

Start line 2021

There haven’t been many events lately, so it was great to catch up with so many people at the start line. I was so distracted that when the race director said go, I wasn’t in the start corral and I hadn’t even connected satellites to my watch!

I had no expectations and just shuffled along the beach. I was keen to march to my own rhythm and just see how it went.

From the get go, it felt surprisingly easy. Usually the sand kicks my arse and I am ready to get back into my car as I pass it on that first loop back past the Salty Dog.

After the 5k-ish shuffle down on the beach, the course follows the Surf Coast walk. You travel down the main boardwalk of Torquay on the concrete footpath (super weird if you wore trail shoes) and then after the caravan park you cross the mouth of the river where it meets the sea and follow the gravel path to the Ironbark basin.

There were heaps of people out and about so there were many dogs to stop and kiss.

I honestly couldn’t believe how easy it felt but I had no clue how fast I was going, I wasn’t even looking at my watch. As we started entering sections of soft sand, I just kept saying to myself, “it’s easier to run” and kept on going. Walking in the sand takes forever and feels like a slog. I wasn’t going to the bloody sand win!

The Surf Coast Walk is what the fast folks would say is “very runnable”, which essentially means it isn’t rocky, rooty or in any other way technical. The trails are smooth and don’t require too much concentration. It’s not the same as running on flat bitumen but if it wasn’t for all the beach sections, you could have a pretty decent dip at it if you were so inclined.

Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t flat, but most of the hills are runnable, so that’s what I kept telling myself, it’s runnable so bloody run it. (Yes I do a lot of talking to myself during these events, because well talking to myself out loud might attract some unwanted attention.)

2021 elevation profile: disclaimer that first bit is literally sea level so it might be a bit out 😂

So I did. I ran the bloody hills and I never run hills, I walk them, because you know I’m saving my legs for later (when “later” is I don’t bloody know!)

I started to struggle just after half way. The sand and the waves were insane. It wasn’t so much that the sand was soft, more that it was squishy and sloppy. It felt like clay stuck to the bottom of my shoes.

But I trucked on. The half marathoners started soon after I passed their start line, so fast people with headphones in and fresh legs soon came bombing down behind me. Some were polite, some just rude AF. One kid who had been running all of 5k at this point promptly told me to “keep pushing” as he passed me, it was not in an encouraging way either. He was lucky he was running so fast, I tell ya.

With around 5k to go, I set my sights on a sub 5 hour finish time. I channeled my Old Ghost mantra, lift your feet, it’s just a ParkRun and went for it. It certainly wasn’t anything to write home about, but I did it. 4:55 and change, about 18 minutes faster than in 2019.

Annoyingly, I pulled up great the next day. Clearly didn’t try hard enough! Until next year SCTM!

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