Race: Alpine Challenge 100 Miler

Runner: Matt Urbanski

Race Date: 11/23/2019

Location: Falls Creek, Victoria (Australia)

Results: 4th OA, 26:27

Strava Activity Link: https://www.strava.com/activities/2891873517

alpine challenge 100 mile ultra race report australia
Photo Credit: IAN AND VELTA FELLOWES

3 Bests – What aspects of the race did you like the most?

Camaraderie – by the end of the race, I’d chatted with, run with, or somehow gotten to know nearly everyone in the top 10. It was really fun cheering for each other along the way. Special shout out to Dan Beardy – he gave me so much intel along the way and let me tag along for many miles along the way. He lifted my spirits more than once out there!

Novelty – I’ve never raced a “miler” in Australia, and being way out there, hitting high points in Victoria, and racing in a new place was enough of a new thing to keep me enthusiastic long after the good feels went away!

Good climbing! I like long steady climbs and this course had plenty of that. We had an altered course due to fires this year which meant we got to do the 4000’+ Feathertop climb twice!

Not so much – Aspects of the race that didn’t do it for you

I’m not an amazing technical trail runner and there was so much walking for me in this race so that I didn’t wear myself down from steep and technical trail. The descent from Mt. Hotham and from Feathertop were particularly slow and gnarly for me! Many intersections weren’t marked. If you didn’t know the turns and the route, you had to pull out your maps/GPS numerous times. I can see how this would be fun for some, but it broke my rhythm and was a good chunk of lost time trying to figure out where I was going, when a simple ribbon would have sufficed.

Weird factor – What’s the weirdest thing about this race?

We had the course changed on us twice in the final 24 hours before the race, and even had it changed the morning of!

We had to carry a snake bite kit b/c they have 5 different kinds of venomous snakes there!

I drank out of streams without filtering!

Highlights of your race – What did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular?

I stayed steady all day. I didn’t prep amazingly well for this one, and every time I tried to push my effort, the body said “no”! but I could go steady Eddie all day long. So I kept it in low gear and powered through for a solid finish. I was with the eventual winner at mile 60 and on a good day, I feel like I could have been in the race for the win, but given my day, this was solid execution on my part. I managed my core temp well. During the day, it got hot – especially in the valleys, touching mid to high 80s. I got in every stream along the way and submersed myself repeatedly. I was revived every time!

I kept the grumpies out! I got frustrated a few times – I hit my head on a low tree branch, I got pissed about not knowing where I was, I lost a water bottle and did a big climb with no water, but when it was all said and done, I got over that negative shit quickly and was happy the majority of the day.

Lessons for others – Share your pro-tips on the race to help the next runner

Long stretches with no water – 27k from Harrietville to Pole 333 aid stations. There was a spring and a couple streams between there, and over 6000′ of climbing! Hot weather, cold weather – 80s during the day and freezing in the early morning hours.

Kick in the you know what climb in the final few miles up and down Mt. McKay seemingly just for fun!

Lots of false summits (3 for Feathertop) and PUDS (pointless ups and downs) during long descents (Diamantis Spur).

Steep climb up Swindlers Spur on the way to Loch Carpark. Good 2k of steep grade grinding.

Big required gear list. I haven’t carried that much stuff since UTMB.

Poles were super helpful to me, both on the ups and the downs.

Lots of bushy, brushy, overgrown sections. And that makes it all the more fun when you can’t see the ground you’re stepping on and you know there are 5 of the most venomous snakes in the world living out there!

alpine challenge 100 mile ultra race report australia
Photo Credit: Jess Christiansen

Lessons you learned that will help you next time around

It would be great to have crew! I spent way more time at aid stations than I normally do. I did this to access my food from my drop bag (not much vegan fare at the buffet!) I would hopefully be able to have more of my standard gels and fueling too (sadly I had no cold brew this race!) While the crew spots were few and far between, I could have saved lots of time with my normal quick pit stops and standard fueling.

Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race

It’s slow going for huge swaths of this race! It gets technical at times with steep ups and downs. If you keep your legs though, the final 13k are runnable. Many of those kms are on gravel roads and could be fast if you kept your legs under you.

Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?

Yeah! The Alpine stuff up high was vast and wide open. The forested parts feel a bit jungly and dense, especially during the heat of the day, but all in all, this is a unique and pretty course.

alpine challenge 100 mile ultra race report
Photo Credit: Jess Christiansen

Difficulty – Is it a tough course?

Yeah! Any 100 miler is tough and has its unique challenges, but this one was slow and challenging terrain. Add in the long stretches without aid and the poor course markings and you’ve got a good challenge on your hands!

Organized and well run – Did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?

Yeah. Everyone there seemed to know what to expect from the RD and they all just rolled with it, saying it was his style. You have to be flexible and adaptable and smile at it all. If you can do that, then it seems well run, but you should know what you’re in for with this one – it’s no Rock and Roll series race!

Competition – Is there a strong field?

I was in the race and not on my best, but the guys who were in the race were experienced, tough, and talented! The top 3 are all great runners and it was awesome being out there with them.

Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.

5+ hour drive from Melbourne. It takes place in a ski town – Falls Creek. We were able to find an Airbnb easily. Race didn’t sell out but they close registration a little before race day. We rented a car and spent the weekend there. The grocery store there closed at 5pm on Friday night so we were a bit SOL regarding dinner and breakfast. Thankfully, the Stingray restaurant had some vegan falafel so we had something to eat the night before the race!

Aid Stations – Standard fare or anything special to know about the aid stations in terms of what’s available or when?

Standard. Fruit, water, chips (crisps), candy…. I had fruit and then relied on my own stuff so I didn’t have to ask the vegan question at the stations.

alpine challenge 100 mile race report australia
Photo Credit: Jess Christiansen

Weather and typical race conditions

The course was altered this year due to fires that popped up just a day or two before the race (closer to Mt Bogong). We had warm temps in the day and it was frosty and freezing up high at night. Last year the course was altered for snow! It’s a fickle climate up there from what I’ve learned and you never know what you’re going to get!

Gear – Did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next guy?

HUGE kit! And they check it all the day before at registration. Lots of clothing requirements along with a bunch of other things that thankfully never got out of my pack for the entire race!

Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?

Not so much! there were a few spots you could be seen by friends, but in general, it was a quiet course!

How’s the Swag?

Little finisher medal, a long sleeve tech shirt…standard stuff.

The Overall Score – How many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it?

4 out of 5. I was ready for being able to navigate out there, but with the numerous unmarked turns, it would have only taken a simple ribbon to keep us on course, I’m disappointed that we weren’t given those basics. Otherwise, it’s a gnarly, unique, and excellent challenge!

Matt Urbanski is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about him or to work with Coach Matt, check out his coaching page.

alpine challenge 100 mile ultra race report australia
Photo Credit: Jess Christiansen
alpine challenge 100 mile ultra race report australia
Photo Credit: Jess Christiansen