Building up my mileage and endurance with a most pleasant trail run in one of Sydney’s most majestic national parks.
- The Jabulani Challenge 22km held on 9 April was my first running event for 2016 and my second trail one since moving to Australia. The other possible distances in Jabulani were the shorter 12km and the ultra 45km (which must be completed under 7 hours!).
- I had no idea about the event until Yanti suggested that we run it as part of our long distance training leading up to our ANZAC Day 40km Challenge which was happening two weeks after Jabulani.
- The course of Jabulani takes you around Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park, starting in Bobbin Head at the Gibberagong picnic area. The park is not far from where I live (north of Sydney city centre), about 30 minutes drive (18km). It is a beautiful park and I’ve had the priviliege of running here once with Yanti sometime late last year.
- Ku-Ring-Gai is the name of one of Australia’s aboriginal tribes.
- By the way, I’m really happy I have Yanti as an amazing running buddy who is into trail running too! She gets me.
- Jabulani is actually a Zulu word which means “be happy.” Proceeds from the run is to benefit disadvantaged children in South Africa.
- Our run was to start at 8am that Saturday morning (45km starts at 7am and 12km at 9am), so Yanti picked me up at around 6:30 and we made way our to the national park. As you enter the national park area, getting to the picnic area involved driving on a very winding wavy road. We had to be on lookout for cyclists too as there are plenty.
- As we descended into the car park lot, there was a lot of fog in the air. I worried about running visibility as I wasn’t sure if it was going to stay foggy. Initial temperature that morning was 16C and I decided to leave my rain jacket behind, even though I was shivering a little. Eventually the fog would subside and temperatures in the afternoon went up to a sunny high of 27C.
- The scene of the race site was electric as you would expect. No loud music going on here, just the chattering of runners and the occasional emcee announcements. Race day is always exciting. However as the gun-off time neared, they decided to blast out up-beat music to get the engines started!
- My plan was to finish the 22km trail race in 4 hours or less (I aimed to hit a minimum 5km per hour, who knew what the course was going to be like). When the emcee called out the 22km runners to arrange themselves according to expected finishing time, I headed for the last corral and found a 3 hours 45 minutes one. Yanti was nice to want to start with me, although I was confident she’d run a faster time.
This day was also my first attempt at running with my newly-acquired hydration bag, the red Salomon S-Lab Adv Skin3 12 Set. I honestly did not have time to test run it ahead of Jabulani so I went against ‘no new things on race day’ practice and prayed that the bag wouldn’t give me too many problems. It didn’t, thankfully. Although I did fiddle with the bladder drinking hose a bit (I recycled and used my 1.5L Camelbak bladder), I wasn’t used to how it is positioned on this bag but it was not a hindrance to my running.
- As we’re waiting for our turn to run, I listened to the emcee for safety briefings. The one that particularly caught my attention was ‘stay alert for snakes in the bush!’ The emcee quickly added that the snakes may have been frightened off by the 45km runners who had started earlier. I sure hope so!
- Since there were about 385 22km runners, it was not feasible to flag off everyone at one go because of the narrow trail course. So not wanting to cause stress out the course, the organisers only allowed two runners to go at a time at the start line. Since we were out almost at the back of the pack, it took 30 minutes for me and Yanti’s turn.
- And we were off! We ran around 200m from the finish line before we reached the entrance of Gibberong Track Mangrove Boardwalk. It was beautiful here – a nice introduction to the course, a serene boardwalk surrounded by mangrove trees.
- The trail overall at Jabulani was a combination of riverside tracks, rainforest, grail, steep hills, a handful of creek crossings and at some points running behind people’s huge backyards. Tame enough for the casual trail runner but challenging enough to make you grit your teeth to power through some of those tough inclines.
- In the first kilometer an official photographer was already positioned to snap photos of runners. Well I suppose this is alright, we were all still looking fresh and perky! Later on, the photographer would move and be located at the last kilometer of the course, taking photos again of us runners who look worn out after battling the trail.
- There were moments on the course when the traffic had to slow down because of the buildup of runners on the narrow paths. This is common in trail running so you either had to be patient or ask courteously if you could take over. I took over some folks, and a few others overtook me.
- After running for about an hour I hit my first water station at km6. They served us potato chips, gummy bears and bananas. I munched and ate for about 2-3 minutes before heading back off into the bush.
- The race route is clearly marked with pink ribbons flapping in the wind. Where there was a fork of roads in front, one is clearly marked ‘wrong way,’ so it is almost impossible to get lost.
- There were many steep hills on the way so I approached them patiently and power walked through most of them, saving my energy to run fast downhill instead The sun was getting higher and hotter. But it was still pleasant to run.
- The next water station didn’t make its appearance until 10km later. This was located at the Sphinx memorial entrance. I was two hours plus into my run and I was hungry already, so I munched on a protein bar to refuel my energy.
- As I was eating, a male volunteer was manning a garden hose that was hooked up to a drinking water supply from a nearby truck. A lady volunteer behind the water drinks station stopped him from refilling the plastic cups and said that the end of the hose nozzle was dirty from debris and leaves when it presumably fell to the ground earlier. The guy chuckled and as he cleaned the nozzle he said, “my nozzle is dirty, eh?” The lady giggled and I nearly choked in amusement when I realised what his implication was.
- After a good two minutes break, I felt reenergized and proceeded to run towards the Sphinx Memorial. This memorial is unique – it’s a replica of an Egyptian sphinx carved out by a World War I soldier after returning from war. It was part of his therapy from dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder after the war.
- Going down Sphinx Track involved going down many stairs carved out of the hills. I bounced on this stretch gingerly and quickly, and managed to overtake a Filipino lady whom I had been talking to earlier. Somehow she was impressed that I still had energy to go full on ahead, to which I replied, “I already ate!”
- This last 5km stretch was pleasant, there was hardly anybody around as the crowd had thinned and I assumed most runners had already completed. There were still a few back of the pack runners in the area. I really enjoyed going through some of the bush tracks and hill descents, alone and in serenity. This is why I love trail running – it’s so therapeutic!
- As I approached my 20th kilometer, I somehow managed to go off the official race course and ended up sidetracked in a boggy marsh with a bunch of other runners! Apparently some of the pink ribbon markers had blown away in the wind and we got veered off track. We knew we weren’t on the right path because we could see some other runners on the track above us.
- In the process of trying to climb back on the right path, I ended up knee deep in muck, water and mud, wetting my shoes, socks and tights! So much for having stayed dry for the first 90% of the run – this race wasn’t going to let me leave it clean and dry!
- As soon as I got back on the right course, a photographer was waiting for us. I concentrated on not slipping on rocks.
- As soon as I saw the course leading up to the boat yard where the yacht club was, I knew the finishing line was not far. Some volunteers were on the side cheering us on, it is always good to have moral support.
- As I approached the race pen, I saw Yanti who was already waiting for me. I yelled out and ran as fast as I could to to the finish line.
- I made it below 3:45 with a timing of 3:38:10! Couldn’t be happier!
- So what did I like about Jabulani? The gorgeous route, the amazing volunteers, the clearly marked course (except the part where I got lost!), ample nutrition and refuel options, the other runners who were friendly and courteous and just the overall experience in running in one of Sydney’s most historical national parks. This event begs a repeat! 45km next year, perhaps?
I first picked up running in 2011 after losing 20% of my old weight through playing dance and fitness video games. My favourite running mantra these days is “MAKE IT COUNT!”
To get in touch, email me at fairy[at]myindo.com or tweet me at @runfairyrun. Thanks for stopping by!