Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Point to Pinnacle 2012

Race day for the 18th Point to Pinnacle, billed as "The World's Toughest Half Marathon," was not off to a good start, at least for me. I woke up at 6am and was straight to the toilet for an "natural break." I knew I was not feeling well in the day or two leading into the race, but this was a bad turn of events and kinda not what I needed!

In the next two hours before race start I was on the loo on average every 15 minutes. Thank goodness there were no queues (woo! hoo!) otherwise it could have got messy. I couldn't even eat my four pieces of room service toast (at $3 each) and these went begging, as did my last opportunity to fuel up for the race.

Fifteen minutes before race start at 8am and I was still not sure that I would race. It was only when the clothes bus departed for the finish line at 7.50am that I was actually committed to racing - after all, gotta get my gear back somehow. Any other race and I would not have started. Any work day and I'd be at home.

I have wanted to do this race for a few years now and a couple of months ago took the plunge, entered the race and bought a plane ticket for my first trip to Tassie. I had been crapping myself ever since as the magnitude of the race sunk in and now, with minutes to go, I was still crapping myself - only literally this time :-(

The race starts off from Wrest Point on relatively easy terrain, with some rolling inclines and even descents (!) as you make your way around Sandy Bay before the first testing climb at 1.5km. This hits you like a bat to the face but is only 300m long before it flattens out again and turns left onto Davey Street where the climb proper begins.

The early climbing is through beautiful tree-lined South Hobart on the lower slopes of the mountain. Lots of people come out to cheer along the runners and walkers who have left an hour earlier. The atmosphere here is wonderful and there's a real community spirit.

I felt ok at first - which is to say I didn't need to go to the toilet but it wasn't too long till I started feeling queasy. I was conscious of trying not to push too hard when I was clearly ill and just focussed on getting economically to the finish line.

Before long I had started to take walk breaks - the first of these at only 3km into the race. With almost the whole race ahead of me I knew this did not bode well. There were lots of other runners around me and for the next 6km we played "leap frog" as I would pass them when running only to see them go by as I walked. It became a bit of a running joke (no pun intended) and I am sure they wished I would keep running or walk the whole way! The average gradient through this section was a relatively manageable 5.5% and it was a very enjoyable part of the course; the kind of place you could happily ride or run every day.

At around 9km you turn right off Huon Road onto the aptly named Pinnacle Road. There's a sign here indicating 12km to the summit and there should be another one indicating "the real stuff starts now" as the road becomes noticeably steeper at this point; averaging 7% from this point through to the summit.

By now I have started to pass walkers and so the crowd gets bigger again. Which is bad news for me as I have put off going to the loo for as long as I could and now really need to go. The roadsides are thick scrub and don't offer any opportunity for a quick pit stop. I cannot run any more (puts too much strain on the sphincter) and so I walk purposefully, willing to come upon one of these toilets they promised would be out on course.

Two kilometres and twenty minutes go by with no porta-loo in sight and no breaks in the scrub. It is getting really bad right now and I am almost at the point of contemplating an emergency stop and to hell with the modesty!

Thankfully I find a walking track off the side off the road and I scurry down it so I am out of sight. The next sixty seconds of action is too graphic for the public internet - let's just say I found relief and thanked my stroke of genius in carrying a few sheets of paper "just in case."

I returned to the roadway - a beautifully photogenic switchback - and continued my upwards journey. A further two kilometres of run/walking ensued until I reached a picturesque aid station at "The Springs." This place was rockin' with music playing and heaps of people cheering us on.

Twenty metres after you leave this oasis you get to the 14km mark and the gradient here makes all that has gone before seem a bit feeble. The next four kilometres grind up at an average 8% and any convictions I had to run evaporated as I joined the legion of walkers with still one-third of the race ahead (and the hardest third at that).

Thankfully I had lots of company and an informal group of sorts began to form. There was the guy in the green rugby top, the girl with her dad (Alice and Bernard), myself and a uni-student called Bri with the brightest pink top on I saw all day. Apart from "green top man" we began to share stories and encouragement - all very valuable commodities. By now my fingers had swelled up too and felt like tiny sausages attached to my palms. (This seemed common-place in our little group.)

About this time I also formed the view that many runners in this race are actually walkers in disguise; the only difference being the runners won't "admit" they need to walk and hence get one less hour to complete then course.

The views from this part of the course were nothing short of spectacular; looking back over Hobart and the start at Wrest Point which now seemed such a long way away! They certainly provided a great reward for the hard work being done.

Soon I began to see buses coming back from the finish which was a little demoralising as it felt like I still had a long way to go. At this height the terrain changes too as there are few trees and just rocks and scrub (though I am sure a botanist would pick me up here).

Ultimately the road does a sweeping left hand bend and you can now see the Pinnacle only a few kilometres ahead. Even cooler is you can see people making their way to the top in a continuous human snake. So many photographic opportunities and me with just a crappy camera :-(

In the last couple of kilometres we started to hit some cloud and what was a beautiful view faded to near zero visibility in the blink of an eye. Buses with their lights on emerged only at the last minute and it took some care to stay left on the narrow road and let them past. It is a real tribute to the organisers that they were able to arrange for these buses to transport the capacity field of over 1900 to be pre-assembled in convoy at the top for our return.

One thousand metres and a woman behind me begins counting them off as my watch ticks over three hours (!!!) Something I have looked forward to (and feared) for many months would soon be over. I was happy and sad at the same time.

Rounding the final bend I can see the finish line - well finish timing mat - and I cross it as proud as for any race I have done in 25 years. After a strange little detour into some odd outhouse building to collect our medals it was off to catch one of those buses I'd watched wistfully heading down the mountain.

I cannot recall any other race - especially a long and difficult one like this - where you get to travel along the exact race course shortly after finishing. Of course, in this instance there really is no other choice. The thing that struck me most was that 21km is a really long way ... and that this is a serious climb. Of course, both of those facts should have been abundantly obvious to me by now, but sometimes it is a different perspective that can provide the real insight.

The advantage of staying at Wrest Point and getting a late checkout was that I could have a shower before returning to the race presentation function for some food and drink. And what a presentation it was. Inside a room/auditorium that could seat all 2000 of us was a great spread including pumpkin soup and a Cascade beer (brewed only 3km from where we were drinking it). Throw in a bunch of great spot prizes and it was one of the best race days I've ever seen. The organisers are to be congratulated for their wonderful efforts, real top shelf stuff.

So as I sit on the plane home writing this I can definitely say this is a fantastic race and one all runners should have a go at. I definitely intend to be back!


  1. Well done! My legs were hurting just reading that!

  2. Great report and great photos. Well done. What an achievement.

  3. Good to hear from you Paul. You make it sound tempting, but geez, 21k up hill?! Spectacular views a good pay-off. May combine it with a visit to the sister one year.

  4. Paul,
    It is great to read of your continuing running and racing. It was a shame that what promised to be a testing challenge became something of a gruelling ordeal, but in the end, provided good grounds for feeling satisfied. Well done. I look forward to the account of next year’s Point to Pinnacle, but also hope to read of other running, riding or swimming adventures before that.
    Your mention of boarding the flight to Tasmania reminded me of two of my most fondly remembered flights, both on the Melbourne-Hobart route, and both similarly associated with a tingle of anticipatory excitement: the first on route to climb the rugged and remote Federation Peak after a weeklong expedition through the inaccessible Southwest wilderness – long before the damming of the Huon and Serpentine drowned Lake Pedder and opened up the Southwest for casual tourists, and the second was a return to the Southwest to traverse the even less accessible Western Arthurs.

  5. I came across your post when I was looking for some photos of the P2P. What a great achievement when you weren't well!!! Wonderful photos too. I'm hoping to do this run too. Your blog post certainly makes it feel a little bit more doable :) Loved your post!

  6. Hi - just read your post due to a link in another blog - will be doing this event for first time this year and terrified of the cut-off time and possible conditions but loved your photos. Just hoping to make it to the finish in time for the last bus at this stage!

  7. Grear write up and fantastic photos, Paul! I'm contemplating signing up for this year and was looking for reviews, not surprised to see you on my top results :)


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