Maroondah Dam Trail 50km


It's been a long time since I have genuinely felt this nervous leading into a race. More than the usual doubts that go with any race and how fast I can cover the course. This time it was based on the fear of whether or not I could actually make the distance. Quite simply, I never got close to the level of long runs that I thought I needed. Still, in a strange way I was enjoying the feeling.


Since the terrain was going to dictate my time it was best not to worry about time. Instead I just wanted to stay relatively comfortable for most of the day, but always keep moving forward. This required a different mindset than I am used to. No clock watching, no thinking too far ahead. Just making sure I was making progress, no matter how slow. Walking was more acceptable especially when things get steep.

The Day

Up at 04:30. A breakfast of cornflakes, honey and low fat milk giving about 1400kJ (333Cal). Enough to restock my liver and be digested before the 08:00 without any GI tract issues. Then a pleasant drive over hills. A bit of fog to remind me I was into the misty mountains. The car in front used a bit of creative driving to avoid a kangaroo.

Registered. Race gear on. Slightly different lead in is being bused to the actual start line. A shuttle of nervousness and anticipation. A few words about the course and the day. Then it was go time.

Start to Dom Dom Saddle (0-10km)

Just prior to the start I downed 250ml of water, priming my stomach and to top up the 600ml of sports drink I was carrying for this section. With the gradient, and expected bush bashing it was possible the first 10km were going to take a long time. A suitable low key start. I was off and running. It was strange. There was an urge to go faster and keep the front runners in site, but other than that it didn't feel like a race. Really it reminded me of the past warm ups prior to the weekly track runs in my triathlon days, except the scenery today was much better.

Single file was the only way we could run this section. Quite a technical trail. Lots of small bumps, twists, holes, sticks and anything else to keep you thinking hard about foot placement. The sides of the trail and even some of the trail itself was a tangle of bush and thorns. Plenty of cuts and scratches were gathered on the way.

About 3km in a familiar voice commented on my running style. Deano joined me, and we had plenty of time for a catching up and shit talking as the trail went vertical and our run was slowed to a walk. Despite the slow progress, the time passed quickly. Broken by me wondering how some thorns can undo my triple knotted shoe lace. As we crested the climb I was giving Deano a fair serve of trash talking. His reply was to rocket downhill at a stupid pace and leave me behind. My descent was slow and uncoordinated and I was worried this was going to set the scene for later in the day.

Up and down again on a more open track and into the 10km aid station. 'Wow' I thought seeing it had taken 80 minutes to cover that distance. I finished off my bottle and changed to a my new bottle on no time.

Dom Dom Saddle Return (10-20km)

This section is a loop out and back from the drink station, around one of the two hills that make up Dom Dom Saddle. Mainly some slight downhill, finishing with a climb back up. In my mind it was the section where I should assess what the first 10km had taken from me. Were my legs struggling? Was my nutrition right so far? Is the effort level reasonable? I gave myself this section to sort of all of it out. I wanted to set myself up to run well for the last 30km.

However, I had now the terrain was so much harder than I had antipicapted. Instead I was just going to run when I could and see where that got me.

The Dom Dom loop was very different. Maybe 6-7km of constant descent on a soft wide and non-technical trail. Here it was easy to run fast. Soon enough Deano was back in view and I would have caught him if not for a quick splash behind the bushes. Still I got maybe 10m off him before the climb back up to the aid station. I walked, he ran.

Uphill there were plenty of position changes. So much so I wondered if I really had any sense of pace compared to those around. Maybe not, but I just kept moving up. Eventually I heard the sounds of the 30km starting which meant two things: I was 2 hours in, and I was nearly back to the aid station, which would be the 20km mark. Five minutes later I was changing drink bottles.

Monda Track (20-35km)

Out of the aid station, across the Maroondah Highway and up. Encouragement from the sidelines pointed out I would be passing plenty of the 30km runners. It didn't take long for the first to come into view.

I knew the next 15km was pretty much all uphill to the top of Mt St Leonard, but I didn't expect what was dished up at about the 22-23km mark. It is best described by one word... vertical. Walking had my heart rate skyrocketing. I was working way too hard at less than halfway through 50km. But I was passing plenty of the 30km runners and a couple of the 50km guys. I realised this was ridiculous and I would really suffer later, but I was loving it.

Once past the vertical, things evened out to more reasonable climbing with a few dips of reprieve. Stuff that I used to consider steep, but already I was changing my definition of that.

Over these kilometers my legs were refusing to run. It wasn't an energy or nutrition issue. Instead it just seemed like my legs had taken such a battering they just weren't working very well anymore. On the small downhills I forced myself to run, but it just plain hurt. I actually preferred going up. This was mainly because I could walk which caused a lot less pain plus had a lot less guilt attached. For a running race I have never walked so much in my life.

The clock meant nothing and I'm sure I didn't even consider looking at my watch anymore. Instead I spent a lot of mental energy battling the self doubt and really wondered if I would be able to finish. Surprisingly not many people passed me. In fact, I may have passed just as many back. Realising this gave me a mental boost. Compared to others, maybe I hadn't destroyed myself. If I had then I should be overtaken by many more.

The trail leveled out. I tried running again. It actually felt okay. All those previous kilometers of walking had allowed some level of recovery. This brought me into the 35km aid station. Just before the last rough and very steep ascent to the top of Mt St Leonard.

Mt St Leonard (35-45km)

Another bottle swap at the aid station. I was very happy to see the new one was still ice cold. Pleased I had frozen the later bottles over night. The icy cold goodness of water, maltodextrin, electrolytes and raspberry was so refreshing. My legs were feeling better and there was just a positive vibe at this aid station. In and out in minimal time. Standing still won't help me. The years of triathlon and focus on fast transitions was still with me. As a result I over took a few here. Free speed in my book.

Over the gate, a short 200m and it was skyward. This section was short, but very steep and rough. I walked hard. Yes that doesn't sound right to me, but when my heart rate is in 10km race territory, my legs are burning, and I'm gulping in as much air as I can, then it is hard walking. The top is a false top, not quite the highest point on the mountain, but the highest we hit in the race. Then it's time for a new type of fun.

9km of descending. The first section is labelled on the map as steep and dangerous, recommending trail shoes. I wondered if my Asics DS Trainer's were up to the task. So far they had proven their worth and having watched plenty of other runner's over the course, I am convinced not all trail shoes live up to their title. So down I went.

The first section was about the steepest I'd ever run down. It was rough, plenty of loose rocks, but quick and runnable for me. Threats of cramping in my right adductors forced a little modification in my style, but I was traveling quickly. My legs hurt with each footfall, but I was enjoying the ride towards the lower contours. I wondered what all the fuss was about, it wasn't that dangerous, and still quite runnable. Then it got steeper. I was now on a steep learning curve. There is downhill running, and there is DOWNHILL RUNNING. The first I have learnt I am good at. In fact it is one of my running strengths. The latter is new territory. The skill required exceeded my technique and fatigue levels. It was a struggle to stay upright, walking down at an excrutiating slow pace. There were still a few slips and slides, but no serious falls.

After what felt like forever the trail became a little more friendly. It widened out, was smoother and the gradient was no longer severe. Here I made myself run. The pace felt okay, but the pain each stride brought was bringing tears to my eyes. Strangely I was really hoping for the trail to go uphill. 9km of downhill is ridiculous. Usually in the tougher parts of races I find higher levels of concentration work best. This time I was being better served by dissociation. Removing my mind from the task at hand had my body on autopilot. My legs kept running, but I was taking in the scenery and removing myself from the pain.

The trail became familiar. I was on the section above Donelly's Weir. Where I had run a few times in past years. Until today, it was a section of trail I used to think of as steep. The weir came into view and I descended into the final drink station.

The last stretch. In the background is the infamous Mount St Leonard which had induced so much pain.
Please check out for more brilliant photos from the day.

Donnellys Weir to Finish (45-50km)

A handful of 30km runners plus some volunteers were at the final aid station. Some words of encouragement snapped me out of the mind fog I was lost in. "looking good, are you feeling alright?"

"No, not at all," I replied. "is that coke?" The girl at the aid station gave me a wary look as she confirmed what was in the cups. I had a sense I might have been coming across a little crazy. A cup of coke followed by a water chaser was more refreshing than I expected. The caffeine was definitely needed. I swapped my drink bottle for another cold one and I was off running again.

This last section was relatively flat. My bread and butter. I had a new found energy and my legs picked some speed. I checked my watch and realised I might get under 6 hours. Much faster than the 6.5 hours I guessed I could do.

One final uphill. It still required a good amount of walking, but I was able to push it a bit and get into a run sooner. Then a short drop down and my feet hit bitumen. Here I knew I was finishing and I enjoyed the spectacular views from across the top of the Maroondah Dam wall. The emotions of the day choked me up a bit and these extremes are part of why I do it. Off the wall, down a couple of steps and into the finish chute.

On the clock was 5:48:52. 33rd place out of 102 overall. I lot better than I had hoped. It was definitely one of the most painful, challenging, interesting and enjoyable races I have ever done. I'll looking at the other Trails+ events coming this year.


  1. Congratulations Jason on a great race and terrific placing and time. T0UGH COURSE! Keep up the good work. Enjoyed the read. Frayney

    1. Thanks Frayney. Great to see your awesome effort in the 30. You should have a got my email from the other night, but again.. good luck with your upcoming marathons over the year. Enjoy the ice in Antartica.

  2. Good read.
    We tend to forget what it's like to take on a newish challenge. 4th MD50 for me so I didn't have all that unknown stuff going on.
    Seems like you should have more confidence in your abilities!

    1. The newish challenge is one the reasons I've decided to give ultra a try. Glad I have. I remember seeing you out ahead of me near the start, and looking at the results you stayed further in front as the day progressed. Well done.

      If I have things right, you are organising the Rollercoaster Run. A very appealing race, unfortunately I won't be able to compete there due to other commitments. Maybe 2013.

  3. Great report. Realised when I saw the photo we passed each other a few times. (Blue singlet, white cap) I seemed to walk faster up the hills then you'd fly past downhill. Suspect you might smash that time next year now you know the course. Well done

    1. I scan through the photos and I now remember. Amazing how everyone varied their speeds compared each other depending on the terrain. Well done on the day Steve. Were you happy with your result?

    2. Absolutely stoked thanks. 14 mins faster than last year but I was pushing the limit. Highest average HR I've ever had in an ultra! Might see you at Macedon if you're keen on trail ultras. Cheers

  4. Good reading Jason. Good to hear we are all in pain and redefine our limits. Cheers, dandyrunner

    1. Dandyrunner, your photos are amazing. I'm sure I echo everyone else who takes part in the races you photograph, by giving a massive thank you for time and effort and generosity in making them available for everyone.

  5. Wow! That's a pretty impressive time!
    Thanks for the laugh. I was chuckling at the part about the aid station girl with the coke. I'm sure she was expecting you to be a little less honest with how you felt.

    Great report!

    1. As always, thanks again Tea. I don't think I was capable of anything less than honest. Only whatever was going to be blurted out first.

  6. Just caught up with this Jason. Good race and report. I liked "for a running race I've never done so much walking in my life" - sounds similar to Six Foot. You'll have to have a crack at that one year. Just make sure it hasn't been a wet summer ;)

    1. Thanks Ewen. 6FT has been floating round my to do list for a while now. So I will get to it some time. I think my ego is what struggles with the walking element of trail ultras, however it was a brilliant challenge. I want more.


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