In a nutshell, my running in 2023 was quieter than I had hoped or planned. I had a few great running blocks, ran a few great events, and even managed to sneak in a mountain trail in the Italian Alps! However a lack of consistency meant nothing was as easy as it should have been nor was it as successful as I know I am capable of.
I also lost some very important people to me, all at the same time, which directly had a negative impact on one of my big goal races for the year. I’ve covered some of that in the UTA section below.
My overall mileage for the year was up marginally to 1,665km (+164km from 2022) with 37,310m of elevation gain (+7,546m from 2022). I’m pretty happy with that big increase in vert. It was partially driven by revisiting my love for mountain runs, but it was also spurred on by a Strava challenge run by Semi-Rad author Brendan Leonard who also wrote about silly vert challenges on his blog towards the end of the year.
February: The Archie 50k left me with an empty tank
This was the third time I ran The Archie 50k, a cracking race on the Oscars100 Hut to Hut weekend raising money for the Oscars100 autism support charity. My training went pretty well, all the way through summer, and my effort was rewarded with a 5-minute personal best on the course.
I pushed hard from the start, getting myself forward in the pack before the long bottleneck at 4 Mile Spur. This seems to have worked well, as I never once felt I was blocked by others nor blocking others and managed to keep pushing for the whole day. I finished after 9h15m with zero left in the tank: pretty much as fast as I was possibly going to run on the day.
Before running, I had decided that I’d love a more relaxed Christmas vacation in 2023 so decided not to return for 2024. As I write this the 2024 event is a month away and I’ve got huge FOMO, but I’ve made peace with my decision.
This is the way you want big races to go. This is why we keep turning up.
Crossing the top of Mt Buller ski fields early in The Archie 50k, 2023
May: UTA50 becomes a meditation on loss and love.
My first ever ultramarathon was the Ultra Trail Australia back in 2017. It was a real eye opener and obviously it made an impact; here I am 6 years later still using my feet to carry me to amazing places in the wild. I returned in May 2023 for my second run on this amazing course in the Blue Mountains.
I wasn’t properly prepared, and although I loved the course I finished 10 minutes slower than my first attempt 6 years earlier. Running was an important cleanse for me, because it’d been a shitty month for my family.
Ross running in the Blue Mountains, UTA50 Finish Line 2023 (Sportograf Images)
Two weeks before UTA, one of my dad’s best friends - who was my godfather when I was christened, although I am not a religious person - passed away at age 68. The funeral was the Monday after UTA, which caused me significant travel stress, cost, and worst of all uncertainty.
Then, my gorgeous grandmother passed away on the Thursday just before UTA. She was the marvellous age of 93 years old and throughout my entire life she was, at just 5 feet tall, a larger than life character and a huge part of my upbringing. She had been quite unwell for a few months at that point, to the point that I was considering withdrawing from UTA. Her passing, while a cause for a huge outpouring of grief, also provided some closure after a worrying few months.
And, because the death of two important people to me wasn’t enough of a shitty month, at the halfway point of UTA50 I received a text that my Aunt was being moved to palliative care, with an uncertain road forward.
My aunt Lee passed away a little over a week later, on 23rd May.
All this is to say that I most certainly did not have a clear head going into UTA. The trees, the mountains, the rocks, the rich indigenous history of the Blue Mountains were a perfect 8 hours of meditation for me and as I crossed the finish line I looked up to the sky and gave a little wave to those I was remembering.
Waving to those lost and important to me. UTA50 Finish Line 2023 (Sportograf Images)
September: TOR30: Passage au Malatra, Aosta Valley, Italy
I swear, I didn’t plan a three-week family holiday in Italy just so I could run a trail race in the alps. I promise.
Yes, I had my race entry finalised and hotel in Courmayeur paid for before we even booked flights, but that doesn’t mean the trip was for the run. My whole family agreed - without prompting! - that Courmayeur was the highlight of their trip. Better than Cinque Terre, better than Rome, better than Venice. Courmayeur and the Mont Blanc region was absolutely stunning.
Once we knew the approximate dates for our trip, I noticed that Tor Des Geants was on. The Tor is a highlight of the annual ultra running calendar: a 330km tour of the giants of the Italian Alps. The week-long event is obscure, quirky, and insane: but the location is stunning and the people are phenomenal.
Rather than the incredibly difficult 330km (or the 450km option!) I opted for the rather pedestrian, by comparison, 30km across the Col du Malatra at an altitude of 2,925m above sea level.
This event was easily one of the absolute highlights of my running career to date. To run in a foreign country is one thing; to be surrounded by the sheer scale of the Alps is another. For context, most of this race was above 1,500m elevation and the whole middle third at a higher elevation than the highest mountain in Australia is 2,228m high. I was one of only a few English speakers, which made for a very humbling journey.
Honestly, this run was for laughs. I had no particular goal other than to see the wild side of an amazing country. I finished after 5h45m and made some incredible memories.
I keep getting their email newsletter and I have more than once wondered how I could make it work to get back to Courmayeur for another go at this stunning course… or perhaps something a tad longer?
Cattle grazing in the Alps above Saint Rhémy-en-Bosses, Aosta Valley, Italy
November: Tricked by the Great Southern Endurance Race 56k
I hadn’t run GSER before, and didn’t know much about it. As the home to one of Australia’s few alpine hundred-mile races it had a bit of a name as a tough event but I figured the 56km loop couldn’t be too bad, right?
I told myself this event was purely for fun, and my training (or lack thereof) basically reflected that. Reader: don’t go into a 56km race unprepared.
Thankfully I had some training which meant I finished the course and had fun, but it took Darren and I over 13 hours to finish. The sun was setting as we crossed the finish line after a very long day (my longest day out, ever - 2.5 hours longer than my 2nd longest run) out in the Victorian Alps.
I made a bit of a mistake with my planning here. I was familiar with the first 20km of the course, having hiked it two weeks earlier with my son. Unfortunately, I was entirely familiar with the remaining 36km.
Arriving at the top of Bon Accord Spur, the final descent to the finish line in Harrietville, we made the mistake of allowing ourselves to think we were almost home. “Just 10km to go”. Good work guys… that’s 20% of the entire run and it’s a pretty technical descent.
Tough as it was, I loved the course and look forward to giving it another go at some point in the future.
Grins all round with Darren on the top of Mount Feathertop in Victoria’s High Country, 12km into the GSER 56k 2023
2023 Goal Review
- Run 2,000km consistently throughout the year. Preferably not all in December. haha! I was pretty inconsistent, had a huge January and April, and a pretty big December (188km). My lowest month was May, 115km (including the 50km at UTA).
- Build strength I did an OK job here. My dumbbells from 2022 got augmented with a bench and barbell, and although I wasn’t super consistent with my strength work it was a key focus in the 2nd part of the year.
- Parkrun below 21:00 Nowhere close. My fastest in 2023 was 24:13 (30 seconds slower than 2022, over four minutes slower than my PB in 2019). I did zero attempt at a faster parkrun and very little speed work. Probably time to stop setting this goal.
- Volunteer more Better than 2022, at least - I volunteered at the Surf Coast Trail Marathon and Rollercoaster Run.
Goals for 2024
- Train consistently within a ‘seasonal’ framework. Annual KM isn’t my goal, but I intend to race twice with a ‘season’ of training. I’ll aim to put in a solid training block before my first race (Buffalo Stampede, late March) and then another solid build block before a 2nd ‘A’ race in October or November. This gives me a few months in the Winter to have fun, run when I like, and try to keep fit without pressure.
- Keep up the strength focus Much of my training since about November has involved weekly weight sessions. It’s been a huge benefit on long hilly runs; the additional leg strength seems to greatly help with fatigue after a few hours.
- Volunteer more. Honestly, Ross, get your shit together here.
Events for 2024
- March: A-race 1, Buffalo Stampede. 42km, 2000m ascent and 3000m ascent.
- October/November: A-race 2, possibly another visit to GSER56k or Ultra-Trail Kosciuszko 50k.
- Winter B-Race 1: I’ll likely check out the short or medium course at the Trail Running Series, 3x monthly 10k(ish) for a bit of fun.
- B-Race 2: Surf Coast Trail Marathon, June. Love that event!
Cover photo: Finish line, TOR30 in Courmayeur, Aosta Valley, Italy. Photo from the event organisers.