It was with a dash of trepidation and a good dose of excitement that Kristin and I entered the inaugural Bustard Express. Not only was this the first edition of this novel, off-road day/night trail race, but it was also the first time that we had competed on the same team in an event.
The heavy rains leading up to the race were not unexpected – this is the Far North after all, and March is arguably the peak of our annual wet season. We had completed an epic reconnaissance run over the course a week before the event – it was wet, very muddy and considering that I had never run a trail race, I was wondering what we had got ourselves into.
Race day vanquished those concerns, as the Tablelands produced a humid but calm and pleasant afternoon, and I think everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief. Kristin and I entered as a two person “duo” team, and we were suitably impressed by the number of other teams entered – including quite a few “trios” and “quadrupos” – along with a large contingent of brave (and in my opinion barmy) solo runners, who were aiming to run non-stop by themselves for 4 hours in the North Queensland bush. The 4pm start also meant that the last 90 minutes of racing would be completed in the dark, and in the bush dark is very dark. Headlamps and careful foot placement would become vital once the sun set.
The organisers did a good job briefing the competitors and the race started punctually. Each of the first team runners and all the soloists had to complete one opening lap of the 3km “short” course, before being able to nominate successive laps of the short, 7km “medium” or 14km “long” loops. Kristin and I chose a mix of short and medium laps which we decided would enable us to achieve a good balance of speed, overall accumulated distance and recovery. Chatting to runners from the other teams, I discovered that we weren’t alone in strategising. One of the all-male trios that we ran neck and neck with during the first 15km had their game plan finely tuned – they would run only 3km laps in their bid to rack up the most mileage. I was confident that Kristin and I could complete a total of about 50km within the 4 hour time limit. Considering that we each run only 20-25km a week, I admittedly harboured a few doubts about the sanity of such a target, and I knew that we would both be sore afterwards. Nonetheless, we were determined to push hard on every lap, and I felt that Kristin ran particularly well on every one of her runs – sometimes perhaps too well, given that the faster she went, the less recovery time I had!
The afternoon cooled and night set in. Having bought our headlights the day before, we were both novices in the apparent art of night-time trail running, but it’s remarkable how quickly you learn when you have to. For me, the course took on a different complexion – at one point, I remember seeing two shiny eyes peering at me from the scrub next to the trail…no energy gel could have provided more of a boost than those eyes did!
Seeing the lights of the finish zone at the end of each night lap was great – a strange, glowing oasis in an otherwise pitch-black void. Seeing Kristin emerge from the dark on the last lap was special. We were both tired and happy, and I knew we had gone well.
The organisers and volunteers did an excellent job, which is doubly commendable for an event being held for the very first time. Thanks to everyone who helped put the race together (particularly Rob Miller), to the Mareeba Mountain Goats (Steve, Rudy, Megan and Shane – your track is awesome), to all those who assisted and came out to support on race day, and to all the other runners – the teams and the solos – who put the Bustard Express on the map. See you all again next time.
One half of Team “Legs” (partnering with Kristin Soda), Bustard Express March 2012.