Trail Running Australia Mount Solitary Sign

Mt Solitary Ultra Circuit Training

by Shona Stephenson on June 20, 2012

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I only decided on Thursday that I was going to head up to the mountains to train on the following Saturday. I have had a few massive weeks The North Face 100 (TNF100), then two weeks later The Glow Worm Tunnel Marathon (GWTM). After GWTM I really thought I was broken. I rested for 3 days in a row over the long weekend. I can’t remember the last time I had three days in a row off from any exercise. I just did not feel like training. I’m a personal trainer so I spend all day on my legs with over 30 Face Time sessions a week plus my own training. To get three days in a row that was exercise free was just priceless. My hamstring is healed. My hip flexor feels good. My asthma is sorted. I felt like training again. So I took this opportunity to head out to Mt Solitary.
I headed out late. I worked two Personal Training sessions in the morning then dropped my husband and the kids at the movies and I took off up to the mountains. At the start of the track at the Kings Tableland I was spotted by Brendan Davies. We chatted for some time. He thought I was nuts heading out on my own and offered to go with me next time. It was a really nice offer. I will take him up on it next time. He would have waited for me. What a nice guy.

I headed off knowing that I was probably going to be coming up Kedumba under the light of my head torch as it was already 11:30am and I am bound to chat to more people on the journey. It was drizzling and foggy. The clouds were grey, low and depressing. I headed down the fire trail and spotted a few of my mates climbing up the Kedumba trail and at the turn off to Mt Solitary I was greeted my Andrew Vize, Ewan Horsburgh and Marcus Warner. Again I stopped and chatted with the blokes. They suggest a training program for me to follow for the day but I had my own plans. I explained to them that I had never been to the other side of the Mt Solitary ultraso I wanted to be familiar with it. I am still really green in this Ultra world. Ewan again came up with another program for me to follow. ( I will be back at Mt Solitary again to do it). But today I had to stick with the plan that I had told my hubby who was waiting for me back in Sydney. Again I was called ballsy being out on my own. (They dare not say being out on your own and being a female too). They wished me good luck and suggested that I stay warm and safe. I was dressed in only my Inov8 Roclite 268 thanks Barefoot Inc (Resting the 285 for races), injinji socks, compression calf guards (mainly to keep the leeches off) Bra, Garmin HRM Garmin Watch, new Great Outdoor Runners Singlet (Great Outdoor Training is my PT business), compression shorts, TNF100 cap, tri belt and all the mandatory gear I was to carry for TNF100 minus the fire lighters. I threw mine out and I have not replaced them, a bit naughty not having the fire source. I should have replace them before the run, next time.  I also my Gu’s, homemade peanut butter muesli bars and Sustain hydration mix all I packed all my gear into my brand new UltrAspire Omega pack thanks again to Barefoot Inc.Check Out The Omega and Inov8 Shoes . There was still heaps of room to fit some more stuff into the Omega Back Pack. I also carried 1.5L of water in the Hydrapak Bladder and 1.5L of Hydration Mix for the 42km circuit that I was about to complete.
To say that I was not worried about my safety would be a lie. I enjoy running on my own however at times I am usually running scared. A client of mine told me about an Evil Hermit who use to live up the top of Mt Solitary 10-15 years ago scared the life out of himself and his wife and that I probably should not head up there on my own. Another friend suggested that I head out on the Oxfam Trail Walker Track (TW) near Berowra as there would be hundreds of people out training for Oxfam TW. But I know this mountain is the biggest you can get around here. There is also a race coming up in about 7 weeks so I really had to do my reconnoissance of the event. The only option for me in my mind was to run this Mountain no matter what.
I turned onto the single man track all by myself and felt very lonely. This feeling soon passed as I hit my rhythm on the technical trail. I love this section. The trail is at times hard to follow. I have to use my intuition to navigate the trail. Feeling the landscape and reacting with it. I was soon at the bottom of the valley at what I fondly call Dead Wombat Creek after my running partner Mia drank out of the creek to shortly after swallowing the water discovered a dead wombat in the creek.  (Check out this blog. It will have you in stitches.)Dead Wombat Creek Blog
I waded across the knee deep creek and re-joined the track and headed straight up the ridge line of Mt Solitary. This climb like most plateau climbs just gets steeper and steeper the further you climb.  It then got muddier and muddier. Slippery. I was then cursing my old comfy shoe choice Inov8 Roclite 268 as I have worn the tread off them and wished I wore the Inov8 Roclite 285. They are newer and the tread profile is deeper so I would not be sliding so much. I was working hard just to stay upright and not fall backwards when I thought I spotted a white figure of a man up ahead. It was just my brain playing tricks on me. I thought I’d call it the ghost of Mt Solitary. It was the ghost of the Evil Hermit. At least in my head the hermit was now dead and he would not be chasing me down the mountain or worse up the mountain.
I continued on up the steep climb and I my pack got caught on a fallen tree. It broke my elastic tie on my water bottle holder on my brand new pack. Bummer. Sh1t. I thought. I love the water bottle holder on my pack. I almost gave up on fixing it but I was soon able to rig it up so it still held my water bottle.
I climbed on to the top, up the rocky bush stairs and I was greeted by a walker. “Hi There”, He said.
“What are you doing dressed in cotton?”I asked him. He was in danger of getting hyperthermia. It was cold and drizzling. I suggested next time he wears a thermal, wet weather jacket and a running singlet. He was happy to see me. He had only seen one other person all day heading in the opposite direction. It is called Mt Solitary for a reason.
We chatted about the gear I was carrying and that it all fitted into my pack. We chatted about kids and family and then I noticed my heart rate was dropping into recovery mode when my alarm from my Garmin 910 went off and I decided to keep moving before I got cold. That’s a really nice feature of the Garmin 910.
I turned away from the lookout and headed up the mountain along the top of the ridge line when I was hit with a bitterly cold south westerly gale forced wind. I looked to see if there was a view but the low cloud and fog blanketed the mountains. I accepted that I was going to be looking at only fog and grey sky for the run and that I would be battling a gale forced wind for the length of the mountain. I reached for my gloves feeling the temperature drop and I was bummed to see that I only had one. I must have lost the other one on the climb. I wore my one glove and headed further up the ridge.
The track is technical, ruggered and at times hard to follow. I took it slow. I chose to consume few calories and go low on the gels and played it safe with my pace. My goal for the day was not to break records it was just to complete the course in one piece mainly in zone 2. I ran on feeling very lonely, slightly scared that the Evil Hermit would jump out at me any minute. I reminded myself that he was now the White Ghost. I was soon hungry. This means I was running really slow. I only get hungry if I’m not trying hard enough. I ate my peanut butter, oat and golden syrup muesli bars and continued on slightly bored and just happy to have my yummy peanut muesli bars to keep my mind off the loneliness I was feeling. I was the only one on the mountain.
I passed many empty camp sites and took my time to follow the correct track. There were many trails heading off in all directions making it difficult to navigate. I soon realised that there was yellow or pink tennis ball sized dots spray painted on the trees. I followed them perking up a bit knowing now I was not going to get lost.
Man this mountain just does not stop climbing. It just goes up, up, up and up. It looks flat from a distance but there is almost a 200m difference from the east end of the plateau to the west end. I was happy I checked it out before the race in only 7 weeks. I ran on taking my time, going easy, knowing that I was the only one out here and if I fell I was going to be by myself for some time. The track soon became rocky and I had to use both of my hands to vault through the sandstone gaps as I descended the mountain. It took my about 2 hours to make it to the west end of the mountain. I was even more bummed that I had lost one of my gloves as I had to use both of my hands for large sections to descent off the western side of the mountain. One hand was nice warm and protected from the rocks, the other was freezing, wet and getting scrapped by the sharp sandstone. I slipped and almost fell down a sandstone rock face. I was lucky to regain my balance to make it down the the ridge. I looked at my watch and I was going so slow.
After the descent the track soon became more run-able and I soon ran into a group of walkers near a camp site. They were all dressed in thin plastic ponchos. Again I stopped and chatted to them about distances and time frames and assured them that the summit was just up ahead. I ran on and I was happy to see the other side of Mt Solitary. The track became easier to follow and well marked. I started to make better time as I ran through the wet track. I felt heavy. I was carrying all my mandatory gear  for TNF plus 3L of water and my split times were reflecting this. I’d rather be safe but heavy rather than light and dead. Before long my pack lightened as I consumed more fluid and food and I was running past the Golden Stairs in no time.
I past the stairs and decided that if I felt good I would head up the Furber Stairs as part of the training. I’d already spent 2 hours on my legs with Pt clients so the added time up the stairs was not that necessary.
As I ran along the Federal Pass I felt full of energy. The track was well known to me. I was heading closer to home and I felt great. I passed a few ladies near the Landslide and I stopped and chatted to them for some time about training, running and where we I’d been and how far I was going. Again I was reminded to move on by my Garmin and I past them at the appropriate time on the Landslide. As I ran on I noticed a few fresh rocks had fallen onto the path. One rock was big enough to chop a gum tree in half at the trunk with the force of its fall. The split the splinted trunk and the sand stone boulder lying next to it was the evidence I needed to see that the cliffs above were not stable. With this thought I started moved faster along the track and soon called out ahead to the climbing group in front of me. “Hello, hello, hello”. I called ahead in my most unthreatening voice. I hate scaring walkers on these tracks. I think I have found the perfect way to alert them of my presence without scaring them. Just say “Hello” to them and they will turn around and let you pass.
I hooned passed the walkers, past the scenic railway which was now surrounded in scaffolding and I headed up the Furber Stairs. I was feeling good and I was making great time. The stairs stung a bit but they were over soon enough. The minute I was at the top I headed straight back down again. I passed the same groups of hikers who I past on the descent and I was stopped again. They were all interested in what I was doing and where I’d been and where I intend to go. It dawned on me that I still had about 20km to go so I better move it.
I ran down the stairs taking it easy, saving my legs taking only one step at a time holding onto the railings and sliding my hands along the banister for balance when I noticed a leech attach itself to my glove. How lucky was I to to have a leech attach to that hand with the glove on and not the other. I quickly flicked it off.
The Furber steps finished and I turned left and followed the Federal Pass. I love the Federal Pass this track is made for me. I just love running on it. This lovely track soon joins the Dardanelles Pass and I am guided upwards for a tiny 100m climb that just hurts before to much of my relief I start to descend into the Leura Forrest. Ah at last I am on the home stretch.
I ran past the creek and turned right onto Sublime Ridge Track and I soon started to worry. The streams were the most full I have ever seen them. I started to get worried that I would make it all the way down to the Leura or Jamison Creek Crossing and I would not be able to cross safely. I reminded myself that Dead Wombat Creek was lower than the last time I crossed it back in February so I should be okay.
I consumed my last gel for the day and I headed up Sublime Ridge. I am starting to like Sublime Ridge, even the climbs. I ran up the ridge and I soon was descending the ridge, letting my legs go under neath me. I hit the bottom at Leura Creek and then started the climb again. I took this time to organise myself. It was getting dark. I’d been on my legs for almost 5 hours, and the light had faded. It was still raining, it had been raining all day and the flog was starting to close in and the temperature was dropping. I put the batteries in my head torch and tested it to see if it worked. Not very smart of me not to have tested the batteries out before hand. I had some luck and the light worked so I put it on my head and ran on up the final climb of Sublime Ridge. I then let go again and enjoyed the final descent of Sublime Ridge and prepared myself  for the climb out.
It was about 5pm and my husband called. It was hard to understand him, the reception was bad, I only had one bar. “Just let me know that you are okay”. He said.
“I’m okay, about 5km to go” I lied. It was really 7km to go. I did not want to worry him. He knew that I lied too because he was tracking me on my iPhone.
I tucked into my rhythm and headed up the climb in now darkness. I was all alone and I was starting to get a bit depressed. The day was grey, foggy and raining for my entire run. It was now pitch black except for my light and my back up hand torch. I then wished that I was not all alone and that one of my running mates who I saw earlier in the day would come looking for me and run me out of the hell that I was experiencing.
“Just run to the Mt Solitary sign”. I urged myself. This gave my brain a little goal. I knew I had about 5km until I saw this sign. This was where Bernadette Benson passed me at TNF. So I really don’t have fond memories of this section of the track. I pushed on feeling strong in my body but starting to feel a bit light headed. My vision was starting to get a bit rocky. I was really hungry. “You can have what ever you want at the top I promise” I said to myself. In my head I then decided to have a McChicken Meal. It use to be my favourite when I was a teenager.
I pointed my hand torch into the foliage on the side of the track to give myself something to look at. Come on where is this sign. It seemed to take forever to come. I checked checking my Garmin and counted down the kilometres and made small math equations in my head trying to figure out how far I had to run.
Finally my hand torch located the sign and I was able to run straight past it. I ran to the Kedumba track and I soon slowed to a power walk. I was feeling miserable. Again I wished that someone was running with me. I looked behind me just to check that I was not being followed. I counted out my rhythm and turned the corner, powered up the fire trail past the swine fence and I knew I was about 2 kilometres away from the gate where I parked the car. I pushed on and walked under the over hang and I was soon close to the top. The fire trail flattened out and my legs just started to run on their own. It so was weird. They had a mind of their own. It was as if they knew what gradient was run-able without using too much energy. Then the gradient got steeper and I felt dizzy again and I slowed to a walk for a minute or so before my legs started running again. I spotted the white wooden painted gate at the end of the trail and I ran to my car.
I quickly jumped into my car. I’d been on my legs for 6 hours and 15 minutes. Running for 5 hours 45 minutes. I always chit chat to other walkers when I’m out training. I turned on the engine and headed straight out of there up Kings Tableland Road. I was starving. I was feeling light headed and I needed food fast. I probably really should not have been driving. I then remembered I had a chocolate milk in the car. I rummaged through a few bags and found it. It was still half frozen. Never the less I drank it all up, and then soon started to freeze. I had the heater on full blast, and I was shivering. I pulled out my polo fleece and said I could put it on when I got to a red traffic light.
I then started to curse every green traffic light I saw. My teeth were chattering and I was having problems concentrating on the road. I did not get a red traffic light before Blaxland. I turned in the the Macca’s, found the drive through bay with difficulty and went to order my McChicken  meal when I was then distracted by the Filet ‘o’ Fish Fish. This then confused me more and I spotted the Chicken Wraps. They looked like the healthiest thing on the menu.
“Hi There can I take your order?” The attendant asked.
“Hi, yeah, ummmmmmmm” I said I then got flustered knowing that there was a cue behind me. It was raining and no one wanted to get out of their car. “Yeah, ummmmmmm”. I have not had Macca’s for years, I can’t remember the last time. I think it was when I was pregnant with my second child and my eldest was asleep in the car and I did not want to wake her. So I had not had  Macca’s for about 5 years.  It’s all changed and in my confused state I must have sounded like a stoner. “Ummmmmmm. I’ll have a medium chips and a chicken wrap”. I said.
“That will be $8.45″ I think she said.
Bugger I should have ordered a coke. I collected my meal and I swallowed the chips in about two mouthfuls. I then started on the wrap. I have to say I was very disappointed. The wrap was foul and the chips were thin and greasy. Instantly just like any Macca’s meal that I have consumed in the past I got a stomach ache. I should have got the Filet ‘o’ Fish a Fish. Or maybe I should have got Aportos.

I can’t wait for the Mt Solitary Ultra.