On top of being a fantastic event in a stunning location, the Hounslow Skyrun 21km was to serve a dual purpose for me: being a stepping stone back towards longer races (after dealing with a back injury most of the year), while also being much needed practice at a distance which I’ve often struggled with. I’ve always said that I like races which are less than 10km or more than 50km; as these are the distances where I feel like I know how to pace myself. Between those distances – particularly events that take me between 2-3hrs – it can be difficult to strike the balance between “going out hard” and “saving myself for the end”.
Despite a bit of rain the night before, only a few clouds lingered for the start of the race and just a slight chill in the air made for near-perfect running conditions. To spread the field out before hitting single-track, we began with an 800m loop of the Allview Estate, during which Loughlinn (Locky) Kennedy, Ryan Carr, David Thoeni and I quickly formed a lead bunch. When we hit the single track of the Western Rim Trail, I stayed at the back of this bunch while Ryan led the way.
I was purposely saving myself for the faster stuff to follow the handful of short, sharp pinches scattered along the couple of kilometres before Govetts Leap. Hence, I remained back in fourth place and let the other three get away a little bit, but ensured they were just in sight.
As soon as we passed Govetts Leap and the track widened, I started to pass the other three and built up a tiny lead by the time we reached Neates Glen (to begin the descent into the Grand Canyon). I could head footsteps not too far behind me as I started to make my way down the stairs, and was half-expecting someone to come flying pass me at any minute.
Surprisingly, those footsteps grew gradually fainter, until I heard nothing at all. I was free to enjoy cruising through the scenic Grand Canyon in solitude. Halfway down, when the track starts to get a little steeper and more technical, I heard the footsteps again and it didn’t take long for Ryan to appear.
It was at this point I made the mistake of paying too much attention to Ryan and not enough attention to where I was going. Although my blunder would have only cost us a minute, I lead Ryan briefly off-course, which allowed David and Locky to catch us as again. Reunited, the four of us continued down into the Grose Valley, with Ryan and Locky quickly hitting the front.
By the time we reached the bottom of the valley, Ryan was out of sight (however, in thick bush that doesn’t mean much) and I was close on Locky’s heels, while David was close on mine. We continued in this formation, until just before reaching Junction Rock, where I surged into second and could soon see Ryan again.
It’s not long after Junction Rock that the climb along Rodriguez Pass to Govetts Leap begins, and it was time to make a move. As soon as the incline began I started to wind things up and take the lead, progressively increasing the intensity. There was no looking back at this stage, and I settled into a steady climbing rhythm.
The bit of recent rain had left its mark, with plenty of water running down the cliffs onto the track, making for some refreshing splashes as I power-hiked up the steep steps. It was only when I reached the top that I allowed myself to steal a glance backwards – just a couple of kilometres to go, and no one was in sight.
Satisfied that I had paced myself well, I was able to just enjoy the final stretch as I made my way along the top of the cliffs to the finish line; the distinct sound of cowbells signalling when I was close. I crossed the finish in 2:01:27 with David, then Ryan, and then Locky, all following in quick succession a few minutes later.
Perhaps it just that I’ve had good runs both times I’ve run at this event, but I regard the Hounslow Classic as one of the best events to experience running in the Aussie bush. Much of the course offers a feeling of remoteness despite never being particularly far (by Australian standards) from Sydney, and spectacular views follow you along the entire route. Though I offer a word of caution to anyone considering running at this event: be prepared for a few stairs!