2021 - My Year in Running

Lockdowns continued... volume suffered... but we had some races.

Posted by Ross Poulton on Mon 21 February 2022

As I've done in the past few years (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020) I have put together a rear-vision-mirror view on my year in running.

After the shitstorm that was 2020, 2021 wasn't that much better in a lot of ways. The one positive was that we started to get Covid vaccinations available to us later in the year and overall society got better at dealing with this pandemic.

I managed to run a few events in 2021, but overall my volume was way down on 2022. I lost my mojo a little bit, mostly due to other life goings-on. At the start of 2021 we decided to sell our home of over a decade to buy a vacant block of land to build an energy-efficient house1, and in September I left my consulting gig of almost 20 years to start a new career in management2. These two changes - rather large changes, to be honest! - left me mentally drained. Any spare time tended to be family-focused, rather than excited about going out for a run.

I'm forever grateful that my family and friends were not directly impacted by Covid-related illness in 2020 or 2021. Lockdowns are hard on everybody, but we were in good health and tried to make the most of things whenever we could.

So what running did I actually get around to?

Thankfully a few events that got cancelled during 2020 were able to take place during 2021. Surf Coast Trail Marathon was back, as was Buffalo Stampede. Unfortunately we couldn't make it to Wonderland Run, which once again fell during one of our metro Melbourne Covid lockdowns... we have transferred our entries to later in 2021.

February: The Archie 50k

The first event I ran in 2021 was a new one to me - The Archie, the 50k "little brother" of the Oscars100 Hut to Hut race. Technically not a run - an alpine adventure for autism is the tagline - this is a beautiful but challening run at Mount Buller in Victoria's skifields. To add to the challenge, Oscars100 is held at the tail end of Summer in February each year... it can be hot, the course has about a million snakes, and to top it off it's hot and full of snakes.

The course drops precipitously from the ski village to the Howqua River. That's an elevation loss of over a vertical kilometre in about 6km of horizontal travel, which is absolutely brutal on the legs. It then slowly follows the Howqua River upstream (complete with a dozen or so wades through the river) before a horrendous climb back up on an old logging trail to the Howqua Hut in the shadow of Mt Stirling. The course finishes with some alpine singletrack and a summit of Mt Buller- this event is just beautiful. Bloody tough, but beautiful. The idea is that it gets you outside your comfort zone, perhaps letting you spend a day in the mindset of one of the two boys these races are named after (Oscar and Archie are the sons of Andy and Michelle, race directors.)

Other than having a rough idea of the difficulty, I didn't quite know what to expect going into this event. It lived up to it's reputation though!! At about the 42km mark I heard a massive, huge, thunderous clap from the heavens above. No rain eventuated but the lightning show that followed was awesome - and close. Too close.

The race organisers sensibly closed the course until the electrical storm passed, but in the meantime I had sat still under shelter for 45 minutes at an aid station about 5km from the finish line. Once the lightning subsided, the final stretch was a mental and physical struggle: the delay had sapped my energy and enthusiasm. My finish time was 9:45. Nearly ten hours on your feet is a bloody long time.

Buffalo Stampede Skymarathon

The Buffalo Stampede, held in April each year, has been somewhat of a bucket-list race for me since I started trail running. I was signed up for the 2020 event, which was unceremoneously cancelled by the event's previous organisers due to Covid restrictions. Thankfully the new owners re-envigorated the event and looked after us previous entrants, welcoming us back to Bright and Mount Buffalo in Victoria's High Country just after Easter 2021.

Like The Archie, the Buffalo Stampede marathon course is an absolute beast. Starting at the Chalet atop Mount Buffalo, we were surrounded by a fresh drop of soft white snow creating a winter wonderland. This was quite unlike anything I've experienced on a run before!

Due to the snow and general cold weather the course was altered a little, taking out the slow ladder section through the Chalwell Galleries 3 and adding two shorter simpler loops in the snow before a quad-smashing descent down the side of Mt Buffalo. I've run down that trail a handful of times before and have loved it every time - this was no exception!

The rest of the course was brand new to me: through the scenic Buckland Valley, up the soul-destroying climb to Clearspot, down the almost-a-cliff descent off Clearspot, up the more-of-a-cliff-than-Clearspot climb to Mystic Lookout, and the final bomb down to Morses Creek before the relatively light jog to the finish line.

After almost 7 hours of pain and sheer joy I was finished, and promptly went to find a cold beer. Thankfully the finish line was on the grounds of the Bright Brewery... how convenient!

June: Surf Coast Trail Marathon

Ahh, an event near and dear to my heart. Somehow this has become the marathon I don't bother to prepare for yet enjoy anyway, year after year.

SCTM was the first marathon I ever ran (in 2017) and I've happily gone back for another go each year since - excepting 2020 for plague reasons. 2021 was my slowest year so far, with a 5:32 finish time but I had a heap of fun running it with Paul. We were joined by Andrew (who went on to run a smashing time) and Lachlan (who had a bit of a fun jog here and there but very helpfully played chaffeur for the day).

I actually don't have too much else to say about SCTM. It's just a wonderful event: well organised, excellent volunteers, a picturesque-but-not-deadly-hard course, and overall just a great vibe. I'll be back in 2022 and beyond.

August: Random marathon on Mullum Mullum Trail

After not running much through the middle part of the year, I kinda accidentally ran another marathon. Darren was aiming for a 40km loop as part of his Surf Coast Century 100km training, so I joined in for a 20-25km section as my weekly long run. I was feeling good, the conversation was engaging, so I just rolled with it and ran the rest of his run. 42km in 4:29:39, technically my fastest marathon ever 🤣

2021 Goal Review

  • Run 2,000km consistently throughout the year. My year was crazily inconsistent; I ran a total of 1500km with 29000m of elevation gain. Some weeks had 60km, sometimes I had multiple weeks in a row of 5-10km total. This was my lowest total volume since I took up running in 2016.
  • Parkrun below 19:50 I hardly focussed on fast running in 2021, and unfortunately parkrun was not operating for much of the year due to Covid restrictions. My fastest time was 22:21.
  • Volunteer more I did a dreadful job of this.
  • Build strength I did a dreadful job of this - but at the time of writing (late February 2022) strength work has been a consistent part of my training routine so far this year.

Goals for 2022

  • Run 2,000km consistently throughout the year
  • Build strength I have signed up for a mountain running training plan which includes 1-2 leg strength sessions each week. So far it's paying off!
  • Parkrun PB That'd be 20:00 or faster...
  • Volunteer more

Deja vu!

Events for 2022

As of writing, I've just returned from The Archie 50k at Mt Buller. My second time on this course was an absolute ripper - I will need to write some more about this at some point.

In April I'll front up to Buffalo Stampede Skymarathon again. I'm hoping for a repeat of last year's snowy start line but the chances are slim!

Because I can't help myself, I'll join in the fun at Surf Coast Trail Marathon again in June.

August brings Wonderland Run. I've decided to step back a little this year and run the 20km for "fun", rather than the significantly harder 36km course. It should give me some time to hang around at the finish line and cheer on other runners for the afternoon.

Cover photo: One of the 12(ish) crossings of the Howqua River during The Archie 50k in February 2021. Thanks to Darren Hetherington for the photo

  1. More on this later in the year - but we're waaaaay down the solar passive and energy-efficient building rabbit hole!! 

  2. I'd like to write more about this transition, too - so far, about half a year in, I am really enjoying my new role managing a team and leading them to deliver successful projects. 

  3. If you ever visit Mt Buffalo I highly suggest a walk through the Chalwell Galleries, it's a beautiful short loop with the most wonderous cave ladder!