There are trail runs and there are trail runs. The Roller Coaster Trail Run throws in some grueling surprises just as you get comfortable. I competed in the 21.5km race and learned a little more about trail running and, once again, proved why trail running is the best running for me.
I thought the Two Bays Trail was tough. Roller Coaster was, in my view tougher. While both runs have some steep ascents, the Roller Coaster Run’s inclines are both steeper and much longer. And while the steep stair case at the end of Two Bays is hard work, the hills on Dodds Trail, at the 7km mark of Roller Coaster, and final ascent to the finish line – 3km of steep climbing on a gravelly substrate had me checking every step.
Looking at the two runs, you can see what I mean.
As you can see, even though Roller Coaster is 7km shorter the inclines are both longer and steeper (look at the scales on the left axes to see what I mean).
Roller Coaster starts at the Sky High restaurant at the top of Mount Dandenong. Running through the trails, there’s a real sense of serenity. Although the race crosses a couple of roads (we were well looked after by marshals at these and many other points along the trail), there’s a real feeling of being away from the hubbub of everyday life.
One of the best things about trail runs is the on-trail comraderie. And I heard perhaps the best line ever while running.
As happens often, I end up running alongside someone and we struck up a brief conversation. My running buddy and I were chatting about the massive hill at Dodds Trail and he told me never looks at the profile maps before a race. “They totally mind-f*** you before you run,” he said.
I ran the 21.5km event this year. As the elite runners in the 43km event passed me they encouraging. In fact, almost every runner that passed me or ran alongside me for a time was encouraging.
While everyone is a competitor, everyone is your friend on the trail.
Once I was past Dodds Trail, the next 8km or so was quite comfortable and I was feeling confident that I’d hit my dream finishing time. I usually set two finishing times as goals: a realistic one based on recent training performances and a BHAG – a Big Hairy Audacious Goal.
The killer hills on the last few kms put the BHAG out of reach and pulled me back to reality.
Like my recent experiences at Two Bays and Afterglow, Roller Coaster cements everything I love about trail running. The smaller crowds compared to city races, on course comraderie, environment and atmosphere make city road races far less inviting.
When I ran the Run Melbourne in 2015, it took about 20 minutes for the crowd to clear so I could cross the start line and the course was constantly congested. While there are times on the trail where things get pretty tight, slower runners always pull to the side when it’s safe and runners seem far more aware of what’s going on around them and far more considerate.
The Roller Coaster Run is not a good candidate for a first trail run or half marathon. It’s very tough and even in the great conditions at this year’s race it was very hard work (and I’m feeling it 24 hours later). But if you’ve run some trails before it’s a great race run by a great crew, supported by excellent volunteers and filled with great runners of all levels who support each other on the course.
And the race medals are all sorts of awesome!