Ironwood 24hr Endurance Run – Chris Gippel
Race Date: August 20-21 Results: 2022
Black Hill (30 minutes from Newcastle)
Ironwood 24 Hour Endurance Run is a boutique event hosted by Nick Stabler, Mel Allen and Chris Hayes of Wooters. This was the inaugural event, with a modest number of entrants, 5 individuals and 31 team runners in 5 teams. The goal is to build up to about 160 participants, which would be a cosy number to fill the rustic, compact Event Precinct, comprising a patch of grassed land for camping and setting up your esky, table and chair, a stable for Event HQ, portaloos, marquees, braziers, BBQ, power boards, hot water, even a pool for cooling off. If you can run on water, snakes, chips and oranges you don’t need to bring a thing. Sponsors were Yoga Loft, Up n Adam, Back in Motion, Pure Performance and Run Lab. Three timing boxes set up on the course provide live progress updates. You can check your situation as you run.
This is a really casual race. Just set up a little camp next to your car, toe the start line at 10 AM, then run as many loops of the 7 km course as you can before 11 AM next day (yes, you actually get 25 hours, but you must start your last lap by 10 AM). Its up to you whether you stop, sleep, take food and drink or take nothing. Nick recommended some gear to carry, but it was not mandatory. Given the choice, I carried nothing except poles. I ran in a pair of fairly well-worn Saucony Endorphin Speed road shoes (what??) because they are lightweight and comfortable. I did modify them by screwing 6 small metal studs in each sole. For the sceptics, the studs gave exceptional grip, are still there, and I did not feel them through the soles. Poles are a no-brainer for me. I train with them, and I can carry and use them for 24 hours. I used a head torch and waist torch, as my vision is not great these days.
I didn’t stop after lap 1, but had a quick drink and food break between every other lap. I consumed 300 – 800 mL of Tailwind per lap, a few gels, a few muesli bars, 2 bananas, about 8 small boiled potatoes and about 3 big cups of warm black rice porridge. All FODMAP friendly. Food and drink, gut and digestion, energy levels - as good as could be expected. As the race progressed, the temptation to linger, have a chat, warm up by the brazier, change clothes or sit down, was growing. Deep into the night, barely making forward progress, I almost convinced myself I needed a nap at the end of each lap. This was only avoided by my policy of never sitting down, and not having a bed set up. The cow bells stopped after lap 2, not reappearing until lap 17. However, there was always someone by the brazier ready with encouragement. In particular, Chris Hayes, Safety & Medical Director, who checked in with me at the completion of every lap. I only ran one lap with others, the first lap. After that, it was mostly solitary, but the course comprises an east and west loop joined by a middle section where on most laps you will pass someone going the opposite direction.
It would be fair to ask why I was running in this event. I don’t run big weekly totals anymore as my joints complain and I don’t get faster anyway. But I have been compensating with frequent cycling sessions, and a focus on steep rocky hills with poles. I have had an entry to Great Southern Endurance (GSER) 100 miler rolling over for a few years, unable to compete for various reasons. This year is looking clear for November, but I needed to renew my qualifier, which is minimum 100 km and 4,500 m ascent. Sixteen laps of Ironwood would theoretically get me 112 km and 4,480 m ascent, so I set that as my target, intending to stop once I’d achieved it. I was hoping to get it done and have a sleep, but that didn’t work out at all. The course was difficult, technical, steep, rocky, uneven and slippery. I’m not complaining, it's what we do, but it was slow going. My vision and stability have deteriorated to the extent that after lap 1 I knew I would not be running much of the trails at night, so my first goal was to get 7 laps done by dusk. After that was done, I knew 16 laps was achievable.
The star performers were Gary Brown and Jenni English. Gary was stretching himself, but it was clear he was on a mission to do 20 laps. Jenni was ticking off consistent laps. The youngsters, Steve Sutton and Mark Allen, were looking strong and cheerful during the day. I was happy to just plod along towards 16 laps, trying to avoid a fall. During the night I got some intelligence that Mark and Steve had retired for a nap, so I kept going. When they restarted, they ran past me at speed (going the other direction), so the sleep clearly had revived them. It didn’t last long though, and we were all plodding again. On course, Mark casually revealed that I was in second place. As I ran lap 16, I had second thoughts about stopping. I figured that if Mark was going to get second place, he should pass me on the trail, not as I sat in a chair. So, I set off for a stealth 17th lap, increasing my pace in case Mark got ideas. He did get ideas. In fact, he hammered out an amazing final lap and got within 49 seconds of me. I had no idea how close he was.
Overall, it was a brilliant weekend of running in a bucolic setting with a fine bunch of people.