Wednesday, 2 December 2015

The Vertical K... Mt Donna Buang by Rapid Ascent

‘Let’s race to the top of that mountain’ said no one sane. Ever. ‘Yeah, and we can throw in one of Australia’s steepest streets too!’. While they were at it, they thought ‘And we can race your road bike mates as well!’

Need I say more?
And so I find myself here at the starting line in Warburton, about to head off as a participant in Australia’s first officially sanctioned Sky Race; The Mount Donna Buang Vertical K.  A Sky Race? It’s a race that has over 1000m of elevation gain, 1098m to be precise – that’s why this bad boy has been named the Vertical k!

The 8:30 start time allowed a very leisurely morning, up at 6:15 for a stretch, shower, coffee and a cliff bar and in the car at 7:15 to arrive at 7:45. Parking was a cinch and I quickly found Erica, Dion, Cheryl, Ashley and many other friendly faces. I took advantage of the warm up course and got in a very easy 1.5km before making it back well and truly in time for the start. There was lots of chin wagging and nattering before the gun went off at 8:30.

And you finish up there he says!
It was rather strange lining up beside the bikes, and there were a few friendly rivalries going on. The first 1.5km was a very easy, roughly at 150 BPM pace (I need to tweak the race day setting on the watch) alongside the Yarra river on a lovely walking trail, which turned onto the road before we hit the wall: Martyr Road. 

This is apparently one of Australia’s steepest residential streets. And steep it was. 60m of elevation gain in 400m. Many of the young, brave, foolish runners had run out hard and many were caught out on this first up. Half way up the hill the heart was pumping hard, but my breathing controlled as I felt like what was cruising up the hill. I happily passed many, said a few choice words myself and even saw Stuie for a very brief on the move chat. He was moving very well.

At the top of the road we entered the trail 60 m higher than we started (214m), and then had the only drop in elevation as we were swept beneath the trees on a very narrow and twisty path, littered with all sorts of jumpable tree debris. This short and fun section opened up alongside a very green field, which was stunning to look at. It also went up. Many runners were now walking/hiking and I ran as far as I felt comfortable with, overtaking a few before power hiking myself. Today was a day to pick your battles with Donna, not your fellow runners.
This section was soon over and we entered the forest again. 

The trees were a mix of gums and ferns, of varying ages and sizes. It was damp and soft underfoot – beautiful running if you could, it was still one long climb! This section saw lots of leap frogging. You’d run a bit, pass a few people and walk when the man ahead did. Someone fresh would pass you then you’d be inspired to chase them again. This went on for a while on some lusher trail. Some sections were tighter than others and the scrub caught your legs, other parts opened up for some deft passing manoeuvres. The only sound was very hard breathing and the birds…

With roughly 400m of height gained, the field had now thinned, and I was no longer being passed too often, and when I was it was a great game of cat and mouse as the terrain varied and the running/power hiking intervals changed. At this stage I think we all realised that we were being led by the strongest runners. As soon as the elevation was right, those in front would run again and we’d all follow. This strategy really worked well, as I was able to pick up a place or two with each ‘run’. Although tough, it was quite enjoyable.

At 550m of vert I was more than happy to let people know where we were and how the ‘k’ was tracking. Looking at the Strava stats some sections were 30-35% gradient inclines! At about 700m the trail flattened a little, and we got in a few really good 300-400m sections of running. Again, it was a real cat and mouse game. You’d chase down the person in front, pass where you could and hold on till the next elevation rise. Occasionally you’d get pinged and have to chase them again, but it was all great fun. Around 800m the group I was playing with split, I managed to pass Ashley, but the lady in front was too strong. I could just keep her in my line of sight, but then round the next corner she’d be gone.

After what seemed forever, and nearly an hour in we finally hit the road and the battle with the bikes would begin! Except it was a real peasouper of a fog and you could barely see 10m ahead! I could just make out the lady I’d been trailing and was pacing well. The first couple of bikes to pass me seemed to cruise on by, and that was it. I wouldn’t see any more until the finish. About half way along the road section I hit the 1000m point, and was also caught up to by a great bloke. He was racing his brother in-law on the bike and we had a great chat as the legs felt like lead. 

We finally spotted the last section of trail and after a quick drink we went on our separate ways. Or at least we did for about 100m when I passed him again. Then he passed me when I hit the hike. And I passed him when he’d over done it. We were chatting away and taking the mickey out of it for the last 600m section of grass and stone. The trail kept on going up, but up spirits were up as we mustered as long of a run as we could before hiking again. Finally it flattened out and the sights and the sounds of the finish line were in sight! He had about 50m on me and I was hoping he’d won his battle. I wasn’t going to catch him but I’d won mine. I’d run up a bloody mountain!

Yup, I did it!
I thought my time was around 1:10 for the 7.9km of vertical goodness, but the auto-pause on the watch (yup, another settings change to come) had really done a number on me. In fact it lost about 5 minutes worth of numbers on me!

My finish time for 7.9km in distance, and 1125m of sheer up was 1:15:16. I was stoked with that, I’d conquered the vertical k in less than the 1:30 time I was hoping for.

Will I do it again? Yes, I’d love to run with friends and either have a car at the top, or enjoy a longer, safer run down the road to return in pure speed. I’d also love to take on someone on the bike as well. It’s such an element of surprise and a twist on the usual run.

Cheers again to Rapid Ascent for managing the event. The atmosphere at the start was cool and calm, and the top was really buzzing. 

Go on, give it a crack next year. 

Cheers for now, TheFish


  1. i've never tried something with that kind of elevation gain to it - you have fantastic climbing legs to be sure! congrats lachie!

    1. Thanks Patrick. You've gotta give one a go, but train hard! I'm glad I threw in the extra sessions near the end. Best thing I did. This was a race I just wanted to compete in and complete.

  2. Great read Lachie. Reckon the short,but sharp climbs to the top made the heart work overtime. Might think of this one for next year!

    1. Cheers Les. Always appreciate your support! Definitely give it a go for next year. The whole thing made the heart work over time ;) Hope to catch you on the trails soon.

  3. Great to see you go upstream Fish

    1. Thanks mate, it was certainly upstream. No easy floating on this one.