Today I was lucky enough to be able to run through Melbourne’s majestic Dandenong Ranges with the Dandy Runners. The touted runs were 16, 21 or 28kms. For me what distance, I was aiming for the 21km as I am commencing my training for the 21km Roller Coaster Run through the Dandenong’s and then the Geelong Half Marathon in April.
At about 6:50am on a mild Saturday morning – 14C I arrived at the Basin Theatre ready for the 7:00am run off. Not knowing a sole (yup, a poor attempt at humour) I gathered round as Peter gave us our last minute instructions and we set off. I settled into an easy pace and soon picked up Patricia (hey, someone else with the trailroc235s) and Ben – finally some other runners who were in some Inov-8s. My search was over!
We got chatting as we headed up Doongalla Road and into the National Park. The conversation flowed easily and we took a left hand turn onto my first Mt Danedenong trail run. The first ascent began and the group soon spread out as everyone found their comfort zone. Not long into the run we hit the first and only drink/toilet stop and everyone regrouped before we took off into the unknown down what I think was the zig zag track. I could be completely wrong here J Well; the unknown for us newbs but Peter and the more experienced group members knew exactly where we were going. A short climb and a gentle descent and we came to our first junction. Again we regrouped and headed left – into the first of many climbs. At this time I was feeling really comfortable and enjoying the run with Ben – not far behind the front runners but for me a great pace that had the HR at around 155bpm.
The climb seemed to go on and on but eventually we hit the peak and again regrouped – a quick head count and off again. At this stage a big Kudos to Peter who was cool, calm and confident and really kept things moving. It was a privilege to be able to run with someone who has experience in these hills. We were continuing the climb towards Kalorama and I was able to sneak a look out to my left and admire the views that Mt Dandenong is known for – you can see most of Melbourne’s Eastern Suburbs. An incredible way to start a Saturday morning and why I am starting to love trail running. Before we knew it the climb was starting to take its toll and my HR was hitting 173 BPM. Fortunately we hit a crest and after allowing the rest of the runners to catch up we again continued the climb. I must say I appreciated the chance to take a breather and hit the energy gel. A check of the watch and the HR had recovered to 140 BPM.
The trails at this stage were well marked (though I don’t remember their names – love to know what they are guys, hit me with the comments) and wide enough for vehicle access and for runners two or three abreast. The Inov-8 Trailrocs (hit the link for a great Aussie retailer) again served me well as I could pick my path among the stones, roots and car ruts and ran with confidence. I made the mental note to catch up with Patricia too see how she was finding her pair. Ben was wearing his Terrflys and we found both shoes really suited to the terrain. Finally the climb was over and we hit Kalorama – we’d actually came up and out behind Mt Dandenong Tourist Rd and started the mountain trail to Sky High – the pinnacle of the mountain. A short burst up the road and we took a right hand turn into a side street and quickly found the trails again. At this stage I allowed myself a smile as I recognised this track section, I’d run it during my Sky High run a month or so ago. This was probably the steepest section of the trail so far and quite technical. The terrain was very exposed – dry and dusty roots, ruts, rock and clumps of grass – and single file or just wider.
I dubbed it ‘heart break hill’ and found it was part of the Roller Coaster Run. I managed to successfully run this section, really enjoying springing from rock to rock, from dust to rock to grass clump to rock as we navigated our way to the top. A well-earned rest awaited us at the top as we regrouped before heading down a fast section of track – with mud! I smashed through the puddles (apologies to the girls so close to that section) and continued the gentle but steady climb to the top. From here I think we turned down the channel 10 track which was a wider track that still required you to really place your feet but was a nice come down and recovery section after the climb.
When we reached the next junction Peter mentioned that we could tackle a 500m section of hill or go a little further and sort of circumnavigate it. Do the hill I said.
Well, it certainly was a hill. A straight and tight track with a continual incline, again the rocks and obstacles required to test your metal. It was a challenge but I really enjoyed it. I think I managed to get about 2/3 of the way up the hill before I pulled the pin and walked a little before another short burst of running, a short walk, a little more running/ rock hopping before running the last 200m or so. A very tough hill but so rewarding. As a point of reference we were almost at the transmission towers visible at the top of the ranges.
A head check and off we went, and off I nearly went was we commenced our descent of the mountain. Was it a rock, a root, an unseen hole? Something caught me off balance and I almost came a cropper. Was it the grip of the Inov-8 trailroc 235 or amazing core strength or just pure luck? Somehow I managed to avoid going horizontal and kept my momentum and recovered to continue running. I had given my ankle a tweak and I hit the soft grass, then the track, as I tried to control my momentum for a while before gaining my rhythm again. This part of the run lead us down to another track which was nice and wide and I enjoyed the conversation with Ben and Patricia.
This section was a flatter section with some gentle ups and downs and we soon hit a road that would lead us back towards the Basin. We were about a km or so down the road before I felt my right calf go wobbly, then twinge and I had to pull up and stretch it out – thanks Runners World for the tit bits on handling cramps. I tried to push a tree over for a minute or so then the old push back on the single leg stretch and it seemed to calm the calf down and I could catch the rest of the runners. It did take a little tweaking of my stride and finding the flattest section of road camber to keep it at bay, but after 500m or so I found a rhythm that was comfortable and I caught the group again.
All to soon Peter had pulled us up and the option to continue on for the 21km loop was offered or we could take the track back to the car park to keep it at about 18km. Brave and foolish Lachie so wanted to continue on – it had been one of the best runs I’ve ever done and was really enjoying it but sensible Lachie with the tweaked ankle and calf said this is where I say goodbye and I’ll catch you next time. A couple of other guys were heading back as well so we followed Peters directions – a lovely long downhill section that was not too technical was the perfect way to cool down and practice my hill descents was all that was needed to get back to the car.
All in all everyone I ran with today was warm and welcoming. I loved the trail running. The pace was perfect – those who wanted to run on could and we always waited for those who needed a little more time to get up the hills. For someone wanting to do the Roller Coaster run it is the perfect way to learn the tracks and learn about trail running. My thanks to everyone – looking forward to the next time I can run the Dandenong ranges trails, the best of Melbournes running trails!