Tassie Trail Fest Race Director Chris Ord is a good and decent man. He loves trails, and his races here in Australia give people the chance to experience some amazing trails. While his company Tour de Trails gives people the opportunity to experience some more exotic trails across a number of days in more exotic locations like Bhutan.
His Surf Coast Marathon, for example, on Victoria’s Surf Coast, is an amazing entry point for road runners to cross over into trail running in an accessible way, on trails that are more mild than wild. So you could be forgiven for thinking Tassie Trail Fest is much the same. It’s not.
Tassie Trail Fest is a beast that will grind you into the ground one gentle bit of trail at a time. Those three days of trail madness will chew you up and spit you out. It seems innocuous. The trails don’t seem that extreme. And the distance all seem more than reasonable. And to be sure, no one will force you to do run all 100kms of events across the course of two and bit days. But if you do, you’re in for a hiding.
Located in Derby in the North Eastern part of Tasmania, (that’s the island off the bottom of mainland Australia for our international friends), the Tassie Trail Fest series of races happen on the newly built Blue Derby Mountain Bike Trails. For some reason, Chris seemed to think running on these trails would be a fun and novel idea. It’s fair to say Chris has a very odd sense of humor. The trails are a maze of ups, downs and switchbacks that leave you dizzy and with no real idea what direction you’re headed in at any given time. Nothing new for many of us navigationally challenged trail runners, but these trails take it to a whole new level and by the end of the weekend your GPS data is going to look like a bowl of spaghetti.
And here’s the thing: what makes for great riding, can make for some pretty challenging running. On the upside, the ups are all designed to be ridden so are mostly run-able. At least on fresh legs. On the literal downside, the downs are also partly up. On a bike, this no doubt makes for some awesome, roller coast fun where your momentum will take up through the ups, and nicely around the berms with little or no effort or pedaling required. But on foot, it’s a whole different story. Those ups and twists and turns all force to push when you should be bombing a nice even downhill, and you find yourself using muscles you never knew you had taking numerous sharp corners in row. Yes, all of those extra manoeuvres are a lot more challenging when you don’t have a bike underneath you.
Then there’s the races themselves. The event begins with a marathon (and a bit) or half marathon (and a bit), on Saturday morning, before generously giving you the afternoon off to recover. But come Sunday, the temptation to indulge in a series of non-stop trail goodness will test you in ways you never thought possible.
100km or even 100 mile trail running events are not unusual. So you could be forgiven for thinking it would be easier doing such a distance with breaks in between. But you’d be wrong. Breaking the distance up across multiple events seems somehow more challenging than doing it all in one hit. Sunday starts with a 14.5km (and a bit) loop that’s demanding enough to test the average runner’s ability to even be back in time to drive to the next event - a half marathon that starts about half hour down the road 3.5 hours later. Assuming you make it there in time, you then run a grueling half marathon (and a bit), before driving back to town with possibly a few hours to recover before the night run - another 14.5km (and a bit) loop - kicks off.
Those that have managed to run every race up until this point, will have covered somewhere around 99kms across the two days. In this year’s inaugural event, some had clocked up more like 110kms by this point allowing for the extra bit of sight seeing some runners did when they missed a turn off during the marathon.
If all that hasn’t been enough for you, Chris has cruelly scheduled a 2km ‘Dash for Cash’ (which should probably be called a ‘Crawl for Cash’), time trial on the Monday morning. Logic would suggest you might like to do that on fresh legs at the start of the weekend, but oh no, Chris seems to take great delight in seeing who’s up for the challenge by doing it after smashing out Heaven knows how many kilometers over the preceding days. The winners certainly made it look easy, but for the rest of the mere mortals out there, it looked a lot like hard work.
You’ll have to forgive us if we’ve made it sound like this event wasn’t amazing - it was! It was all sorts of awesome. Just don’t turn up expecting a walk in the park. Or the forest. If you want to take it easy out on those trails, you’ll want to have a couple of wheels (and the rest of a nice mountain bike) underneath you while you’re out there. If, however, you’re up for a trail running adventure like no other, some superb trails, amazing natural wilderness, a great vibe, and the chance to push yourself to the limit, one race at at a time, make sure you stick Tassie Trail Fest on your calendar for next year.
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