Almanac Athletics: So you want to run the world’s toughest half marathon?

I’m officially a mad man, not clinically diagnosed as such, but I’m convinced I’ve gone mad. To many doing a single 10km fun run would be enough to satisfy athletic excellence, while others would gladly stop at a single marathon. Some are crazy enough to do the same marathon 40 times (which accounts for the six men who have started and finished all 40 Melbourne Marathons – I’m 35 starts and finishes behind them), and some run in conditions varying from hot and humid to cold and wet.

 

Then there are those who have done an event that is as unique to Hobart as it is to world running. The Point to Pinnacle is marketed as the “World’s Toughest Half Marathon”, even if the actual distance is longer than the standard 21.1 kilometres. To put everything into perspective, the start line, or the Point, refers to the car park at the Wrest Point Casino. The finish line is usually at the Pinnacle, at the top of Mt.Wellington some 1200m above sea level (I mention the term usually because last year it was lucky to be 10 degrees at the Point, -10 degrees at the Pinnacle and bucketing down, so the run was basically a point to point run in the interests of safety). The simplest way to describe the course is that the first 10 kilometres is basically climbing up a few hills, and the last 11km or so is climbing up a bloody big hill, with the final 5km steeper than the first 6km. There are two sections, one for runners and another for walkers, with those walking starting an hour before the runners but only being allowed to walk where the runners can employ run/walk strategies.

 

I mention the term madness because for someone to travel from Central Queensland to Hobart just to do this once is mad enough. This year is the fourth time I’ve done the event, so there must be something in the Hertz water that convinces me to return each time. A handful of locals have done the run/walk some 20 times, although nobody has completed all 23 events. Personally it’s never about chasing a particular finish time, it’s always about getting to the top in one piece and seeing if I can help others (mainly walkers) along if I can, even though I’m not a local.

 

Having now completed this event four times, I feel as though I can give a checklist of what someone needs in order to complete this task. Naturally, my coaching expertise doesn’t officially expand to running, so much like financial commentary, please take this as advice only and not a directive of what to do on the mountain.

 

THE GUIDE TO A SUCCESSFUL POINT TO PINNACLE COMPLETION

 

(1) Train as much as possible on undulating roads/mountain passes: Hobart isn’t a flat city, and the course leading up to the mountain reflects this. If you live in an area where it’s safe to run up a mountain range then it would be an advantage. Getting used to altitude will help, especially as it seems every year I struggle to get fluids in post-race until returning to Wrest Point without feeling like I’m going to vomit on the bus. Of course it’s not compulsory to go back down on a bus as some crazy runners ran back down the mountain to the casino or wherever they parked, but it’s a lot easier and more comfortable!

 

(2) Practice running decent distances without hydration, unless you plan to carry your own: Space on the mountain to set up drink stations is scarce, with only a couple of tables at what’s known as “The Springs” (about 14km into the run) and “The Chalet (about 3km from the finish) on the mountain climb itself. Even the first drink station is at a service station about 4.5km into the run when most marathon drink stations on a flat course have a table set up at about the 3km marker. There is no rule against carrying your own supplies. Many walkers use a camelback or their own bottle between stations to keep hydrated.

 

(3) Mental toughness will get you a long way, especially towards the end: Emotions as we know can vary wildly throughout a long event such as this one (I actually remember saying to a walker on the route that it’s like you’ll say t0 yourself “Why am I doing this?”, then you’ll say at the finish line “Let’s do it again!”, then tomorrow you’ll ask “Why did I do this?”). I’m sure the runners won’t want to give up unless it’s physically impossible to carry on, but the mind will really play tricks with you when all you see after the drink stop at The Springs is a road slanted up.

 

(4) If you’re not confident about running, enter the walk section: More people enter the walk than the run, and quite often you’ll get encouragement from runners and vice versa. Just remember to keep moving forward as there is a time limit of 4 hours and 40 minutes to complete the course (or 3 hours and 40 minutes for runners).

 

(5) Embrace the views the mountain offers: Most marathons, half marathons and fun runs are basically run on city streets that don’t really offer a decent view that you could classify as a Kodak moment. Once on Mt.Wellington, if you look left for most of the way after you pass The Springs you get a great look at Hobart City, the Derwent, the Tasman Bridge (which from experience is a little hairy to walk across because of the winds and narrow footpath) and the surrounding areas. Of course once at the finish line just about everyone takes out the phone camera looking for the ideal Instagram shot. Yes, I’m guilty as charged, and in fact was tempted to actually run with my tablet recording the experience, but I figured dropping something reasonably valuable wasn’t worth it.

 

(6) If you’re entered in the run, feel free to walk on the really tough sections: I know I did! In the end I may have achieved a 2:40 if I was able to run in the last 5km but the legs were shot and I couldn’t do anything but walk, meaning a 2:55 was as good as it got in terms of time. There is an incentive to run sub 2 hours for the event in the form of a special cap, but in reality close to elite pace or supreme fitness is needed.

 

This ends the running commitments for the year, and I’m able to have a month off where I don’t have to train hard for anything. Next year the running adventures will take me at this stage to Wangaratta, Port Macquarie, Canberra, Melbourne and then back to South Africa for a second crack at getting a Comrades Marathon medal. Now it’s time to head back to the mainland in time for the first ball on Thursday, for an Ashes series is back on the agenda and three days of cricket beckons.

About Mick Jeffrey

32 Year Old, Bulldogs Member and tragic. Reserve Grade coach after over 225 combined senior/reserves appearances for Brothers AFC in AFL Capricornia. 11 time Marathon finisher, one time Ultra Marathon finisher and Comrades Marathon competitor 2017.

Comments

  1. Great piece Mick. Enjoy the Ashes.

    Not sure if you’ve seen it, but one of my hockey coaches in the UK helped run the Unogwaja challenge @ the Comrades Marathon. Came out of be story of Phil Masterton-Smith, who rode 10 days from Cape Town to run the marathon in ’33. So they get a group of 12 to do what Phil did every year. Truly, truly, another levels of nuts.

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