The Shoalhaven King of the Mountain race recap by Jessicah Hone

The Shoalhaven King of the Mountain was to be held at Kangaroo Valley. It sure sounded good: a 25k road/trail race with scenic views, cold but sunny weather, and two passes over Mount Scanzi, this race had it all. Except time to train – I found it while browsing Run Calendar and entered shortly before the cutoff. I had run a trail half marathon earlier in the year, and although I hadn’t done any trails between then and now I knew was much fitter and better equipped for the distance. I couldn’t wait to run it and luckily I didn’t have to wait more than a few days. Very lucky I didn’t have to wait longer in fact – people kept scaring me with tales of how tough the course was and I was starting to worry about how much it was going to hurt. In the end, I decided to just go and enjoy it – I knew it was going to be hard work but I also knew it was going to be a beautiful and rewarding run, so that became my focus.
On the way down, hubby and I talked about my nerves and the gorgeous day and the fact that my desperate search for a pair of gloves the day before hadn’t been successful. We decided that since the sun was out I should be okay. Then we descended into the Kangaroo Valley mist and the temperature dropped like a rock. We laughed because that’s all we could do. I joked about how warm it was going to be at the bakery in town – hubby had packed his mountain bike and I thought he was going to ride back into the village to have a cuppa and read the paper in comfort while I raced.
I got my gear ready – I was wearing my double bottle innov8 hydration vest because I had been unable to find out where the aid stations were located – and tore myself away from the lovely open fire inside the golf club to line up at the start. It was a fairly small group that clustered together (and that was with the 10k runners as well) and I was so focused I didn’t even hear the countdown to the start until I saw a video of it later! All I knew was that one minute we were all standing around and the next surging forward. I was a little disappointed because I wanted to wave to my hubby one last time for luck, but he’d disappeared. I didn’t have much time to be put out though because it was time to work.
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I had so much energy at the start, it was probably a good thing that I got stuck behind some runners I couldn’t get around. At the first beep of my trusty Garmin, I looked down to see I’d made a 4.45k. This is my usual ‘comfortable’ pace but I had planned to run slower so that I could maintain it and finish strong. My ideal pace was 6 minutes, with a goal of finishing in 2.5hours. I slowed a little but I was so ready to hit the trail. The first few kilometers however were around the golf course, we had to make up distance due to a late change in the course route. Several unexpected and sharp little hills had me working before we even hit the mountain. I was enjoying it though, but got upset when I heard what I thought was an extra beep from my Garmin – the damn thing was playing up again. The second beep came so soon after the first, I thought it was beeping to tell me it was failing. Except it wasn’t – the km had passed so quickly as I concentrated on my feet and finding the right pace, I hadn’t even noticed it passing.
When we exited the golf club grounds, I saw a pair of photographers taking pictures of us all. I was absolutely delighted to realise one of the ‘photographers’ was in fact my hubby – he had ducked off to snap the start then find a spot to get some ‘action shots’. I was thrilled to see him and one of my favorite pics of the day is one of me beaming and waving as I recognized him. He followed me for a few metres before I left him behind and fell in with some chatty runners and the next few k were very enjoyable. I’m a bit chatty on the run myself and loved having a rave with some guys who were clearly having a ball and who were happy to include me in their good natured humor.
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Then we hit the mountain and it was every man, woman, and sherpa for themselves. Well ok there were actually no sherpas but there was also no mistaking this mountain for what it was: a bloody big hill. I ran only as hard as I felt I could maintain, sipped frequently from my bottle containing Nuun, and reminded myself I had jelly beans and killer pythons in my vest pocket for when the going got really tough. But a few minutes later I got a natural endorphin kick when hubby suddenly appeared from nowhere to tell me I looked great and to take some more pics. He had caught up on his bike to offer some support, I was tickled pink. I knew the hill was about to get steep so I said goodbye for the last time, and got down to business. As I climbed, I talked to others about their form and stride and tried a few of the different techniques I was seeing to see if that made it any easier. I’m not sure about easier but it was a nice distraction that definitely reduced my perception of effort for a k or so. But the hill just kept going and going and eventually I was just left with the fact that it hurt and there was still a long way to go. It was so long and so steep that I started to see “mirages” – I’d peek around the next corner and see a slight downhill grade, which completely disappeared when I actually got to it, to be replaced with more uphill! I mistakenly called out what I had seen to some runners behind me who then rounded the corner themselves and cursed me roundly when they realised there was no break.
I started to feel like the hill was never going to end, so I turned my attention from trying to see the top, to simply enjoying the view. It was magnificent. So clear and everything was just bathed in sunshine. Everything was glowing and it felt all a bit unreal.
I reached the top and ran with some others at the start of the very steep decline on the other side. I loved how social this run was, just a bunch of people out having a good time and a good run, enjoying nature. The steep hill split us up after a while and I was alone by the time I crossed School Creek. That was another amazing moment. I have a mental picture of that little white bridge that I hope never fades. It was simply stunning and I felt so great. I already had 10k under my belt and less than 15 to go. The race was going too fast, I told myself to pay more attention to the scenery to remember later.
I had been looking forward to the second trail section all race, and when I hit it I just felt so happy. Some mud and soft clay stuck to the bottom of my shoes making it hard to use my feet properly (making a short sand section harder than it should have been) but I was mostly bounding along and just when I started to get a bit tired, I was astounded to see the leaders fly past me – was I nearing the turnaround already? I called out encouragement to everyone that passed me and then when I hit the turnaround myself, experienced my first slump. One second I was running fine and strong, and found myself in fourth place for the women. The next second, two other women and a couple of men blew past me and I thought I would never pick up again.
I made it back to the road and you could have knocked me over with a feather when I saw a familiar figure on a mountain bike. Yep, it had taken him a while to catch me but there was my hubby, loyally following me around the course! It was a big boost to see him and over the next few k he kept popping up in different places and it was such fun. I joined up with a guy and a girl for a while and he took pictures of us laughing, talking, and waving. I was loving the race again and once more felt it was all going by so fast. We spoke about how lucky we were to be out there running the beautiful l course on a beautiful day in Kangaroo Valley, and I savoured it so much remembering the tough time I had after the birth of my third baby less than 8 months earlier, when a life threatening infection saw me laying on my back in a dark room for almost two weeks, unable to even sit up. Out there on the road with 17k under my belt I felt like the luckiest person in the world.
And then I hit my second pass of the mountain. The runners I’d been running with dropped me and headed on up ahead. I slowed to what I call my JKR pace (Just Keep Running) because I knew things were about to get really hard. Hubby caught me and stayed with me for a little while, but this side of the hill was so steep he couldn’t ride it. He pushed his bike and called out encouragement that kept me going. He had me toss my empty bottle for him to collect when he got to it, to lighten my load. Just hearing him call out “you’re doing so well” when I was running so slowly I was practically walking, was enough to keep me going. I refused to quit and ran the whole damn thing. The hill was shorter and steeper going this way, but with my own personal one-man support crew I actually found it physically easier. Mentally the road was a grey wall rising up to the clouds so I focussed on running one step at a time. I glanced back at one point and saw a woman gaining on me, I made my peace with the fact that I was about to be overtaken again, and I just forged ahead as steadily as I could.
I was on my own again when I reached the “summit”. Knowing that I had run it both ways was such a boost. I had 5k to go, I had already run 20 rough and steep kilometers but I went over the crest and immediately was filled with energy. I started to sprint, my legs just wanted to go so I went with it. I feared I’d be braking hard on the descent but I shortened my stride (forming a mental picture of my running buddy Melinda’s feet when she runs helped me pick up my cadence) and blazed down that hill. I looked over the edge at one point and when I saw how high up we were, I decided to just focus on speed and not scenery any longer. When hubby eventually caught me, he was shocked. He could not believe how far I had run in such a short time and how fast I was moving. He kept repeating himself “you’re making up so much time, you’re doing great, this is excellent” and I could tell that he was really feeling it . It was a special moment as he is a confirmed  non-runner but right then I felt he was really in the race with me.
Short quick steps helped me not only run the last 5km at very close to my parkrun pace, but to catch and then pass a number of people. In my mind, after 22k it was a race at last and I wanted to finish in the top 6 women. I pushed as hard as I could and with 1.5k to go, started to wonder if I would hold the pace. I did not want to be overtaken now that I was about to come sixth. I entered the grounds of the golf club and headed up the long driveway to the finish. A marshal said “good girl, 5th woman” and I was so surprised I took a few paces off course to high five him!
Running that home stretch and hearing the PA announce “Jess Hone from Running Mums Australia” was one of my proudest moments. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  I threw my arms in the air, my head down and my body forward, crossing the line with so much emotion. A volunteer steered me into a chair and handed me a drink, and for a few moments I couldn’t believe I’d really done it. I got up and congratulated some other competitors before I saw my trusty hubby waiting just at the edge of the finish area. I hugged him and we shared a few minutes of excitement and achievement together. I had smashed my goal and finished in 2:19:40, with an average pace of 5:41 min/km (note: several of the uphill kilometers were significantly slower than this!)
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I knew two other RMA girls were running it too, so I watched the finish line keenly for their arrival and then screamed as loud as I could (as loud as I could after 25k that is!) and then raced over to congratulate them and introduce myself. Hubby had told me he saw one of them on the trail and had called out “Running Mums Australia” and a word of encouragement, he was really proud to have recognized the symbol and she gave a brilliant grin in return. That singlet working it’s special magic again!
Looking back, I really feel it was the support I received on the course that made all the difference. The other runners were great, there was a real spirit of comraderie and adventure about the whole thing. But it was the support from my wonderful husband that had an incredible impact on my physical and mental state. Although he didn’t do the entire course with me, the two of us were definitely in it together. At the end I found I had consumed no gels, jelly beans or lollies along the way – I was running on the pep I got from seeing him pop up every now and then. I did drink 250ml of Nuun and am now a convert to that brand for kick and hydration. I was so happy that I never found the wall, and that the joy never left me. I was on such a high for the next week, I kept telling everyone that I had such a great race that I honestly felt like I’d won!
The race was a truly special run that I will look back on for the rest of my life. I plan on going back next year, but nothing will beat this first time.

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