The Great Ocean Road Running Festival claims to be ‘Australia’s most stunning running event’ and I was excited and nervous to finally run the marathon (well slightly more, at 44km!) on the 16th May 2021. This event had been on my bucket list since 2014, and I had originally registered to run in 2020, but Covid 19 brought an end to that! My registration was automatically transferred to 2021, and in January this year, with exactly 4 months to go, I made the decision that I was in- border closures and quarantine risks permitting!

My base level of running was quite low, having lost a lot of motivation during 2020, however I planned out a program which gave me the minimum safe level of training to give the run a red hot go! I knew the course was ‘undulating’ and had a total of 442m of elevation gain so hill sessions, on both interval and long runs were a must. Throughout my training, I felt strong, albeit slow, and as the day approached, I felt confident that worst case scenario, I would be able to get though at ‘training run’ pace. I was, however, hopeful I could make it in between 4 hours and 4.15.

As race day approached, and living on the safe isle of Tasmania, I was nervously watching the Covid situation in Victoria, desperately hoping all my training would not be wasted with a sudden outbreak across the strait. Typically, 3 days before I was due to fly out, Victoria recorded a case of community transmission, with multiple high-risk exposure sites. With no option other than to pack and cross my fingers, I was relieved when the situation was contained, and I excitedly boarded the plane to Melbourne, 2 days before my run.

With a weather forecast of 7-13 degrees and a 90% chance of 3-6 mm of rain, I imagined I would be running for 4 hours in a torrential down-pour, but having trained in such conditions for the previous 4 months, I did not let this deter my high spirits. Arriving at Airey’s Inlet, just east of Lorne, on Saturday afternoon, the weather was fine, however quite windy and cold so I decided that regardless of how the rain situation looked the next morning, I would definitely run with a light-weight jacket. A decision I was thankful for, in hindsight!

My race plan was to try and average a pace of 5 min 20 sec, which would allow for the hills and still average a 5 min 27 sec pace for about 4 hours overall. With this plan in mind, the day before race day we drove the course, between Lorne and Apollo Bay, and I quickly realised it would be very difficult to pace for the first 30 km of constant up and down, up and down hills. I changed my race plan to run by feel and hope for the best!

Lining up at the race start along with 975 other runners, we were counted down from 10 seconds to go and without a starting gun, we all moved off. Although technically the run started uphill, I barely felt the rise and I was quickly heading down the other side. The gradient on all of the downhills were such that I couldn’t run slower if I wanted to and I although I was comfortable rolling down the hills, I was worried I was going too fast to maintain. The up-hills felt easy and I had to consciously pull back my pace, still covering the first 11km in 55 minutes and 22km in just under 2 hours.

The constant elevation rise and fall took its toll on my left knee by 9km, and I felt the familiar tendon pain I usually only experience post 30km. I had taken Voltarin in anticipation of this and took a couple of Panadol to get me through. By the time I hit 30km, my calves were tired of the relentless undulations and my pace slowed to a crawl as the course became flatter for the last 10km. Despite this, I somehow managed to regain some strength for the last 2km to finish just under 4 hours 15 minutes. That finishing feeling was given an extra boost when, obviously wearing my TRR gear, I heard the Tasmanian Road Runners get a shoutout as I crossed the line!!

Throughout the entire run, the spectacular scenery was a welcome distraction and, strangely enough, 4 hours felt like it was over in no time! Every corner and every rise revealed stunning sights that changed as often as the weather did! Despite the terrible forecast, the first 3 hours were mostly sunny or cloudy- perfect running weather! Towards the 3-hour mark, the wind picked up and the temperature felt as though it dropped 5 degrees. Fortunately, the expected heavy rain was more of a drizzle and although cold, was not as bad as I had feared. Crashing surf and rainbows were a constant throughout the entire run, proving just why the event claims to be ‘Australia’s most stunning running event.’

Notes and tips for future entrants!

  • Train for relentless elevation changes! With no flat sections for nearly 30km, the calves get a constant workout!
  • There are regular drink stations and plenty of portaloos along the way!
  • Book accommodation as early as you can! There aren’t many options and the roads are very very windy and slow so you need to allow plenty of travel time. Despite only being 44km, it will take nearly an hour to drive between Lorne and Apollo Bay!
  • If you have a support crew dropping you off at the start line at Lorne, plan for them to head through to Apollo Bay straight away! The detour takes about 1.5 hours, however my man then got caught up in the spectator/ support crew traffic as the detour re-joined the Great Ocean Rd at Skenes Creek. He was stuck in traffic for a further hour, only 5 km from the finish line! Luckily, I ran with my jacket and used the time between me finishing and him arriving, to cool down by walking down the road to meet him!

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Written by: Rach Perigo

Images courtesy of Supersport Images (official Great Ocean Road Running Festival event photographer)

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