Matt Dunn alongside author Matt Crehan (right) early on in the race.

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Surf Coast Century 2020! We asked Bogong supported runner Matt Crehan to share with us how his race day went. Matt placed 4th at the Surf Coast Century in 2019 – you can read more about his background here, and read his first blog post in this series (with 4 weeks to go) here.

Surf Coast Century 2020. It’s an overcast December morning. Two hundred or so runners – along with their designated support people – gather in small groups on Anglesea Beach, ready to tackle a 100km journey along the beaches and trails of the Surf Coast. There is the usual nervous tension in the air, but this year it is somewhat dissipated by all the smiles across the faces of ultra-runners that are finally able to line up at a race again, post-lockdown.

I had a time goal to break 9 hours and managed to come across the line in 8:49:11. Also managed to take second place in the process, so all in all quite a successful race. But it certainly didn’t come easy. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever struggled through any 100km race as much as I did with this one, despite it being my quickest.


Pre-race

It was a bit of a stressful week leading into the race. I kept my running volume very low, just a few short spins around Yarra Bend, as well as a couple of swims. Enough to keep the body moving, without adding any extra stress on the body. The stress came in other forms, including having our accommodation cancelled due to “maintenance issues” two days before the race. This created a very last-minute scuffle to try and find a place that could accommodate our group. We had six of us heading down for the weekend. Nathan and Andrew were both having a crack at their first 50k, Matt and I taking on the 100, with Klay and Meg helping out as support crew. Quite the party. In fact, it took a bit of self-control to not get carried away on the Friday night, with beautiful weather and great company making for good beer-drinking conditions. Luckily we were able to control ourselves, and were all up bright and early and full of anticipation on race morning.


Matt Crehan (left) with Matt Whitaker at his heels.

Surf Coast Century Leg 1: Sand and rocks

Keen to get a feel of who I was racing against, and perhaps due to race morning excitement, I took off reasonably quickly. A local runner form Geelong burned off the line, but I kept him within sight, chatting with my training partner Matt Dunn to make sure we didn’t get too ahead of ourselves. After a quick 4km out-and-back along the Surf Coast Walk and Anglesea Beach, we passed the start line again and made our way to Torquay. I was a little disappointed to hear that we weren’t going to be running under the iconic Anglesea Cliffs this year, but after a brief diversion up onto the Surf Coast Walk, we were back onto the sand.

I really enjoy Leg 1 of this race. There is a lot of sand running, but as it is low tide it is generally pretty hard packed, except for a few short sections such as Bells Beach. There is also some nice technical running over rocks and around a couple of headlands. It means going in the water and getting wet feet, but I love the variation it brings, and can be a bit of an advantage if you can be quick across technical terrain.

I was aware of someone at my heels for quite a few kilometres and he eventually introduced himself as Matt Whitaker. We chatted for a bit and I was surprised to hear it was his first 100k, considering his current position in the race. I moved ahead a little over some of the rockier stuff and got into Checkpoint 2 at Torquay Surf Beach in first place and slightly ahead of schedule in a little over 90 minutes.


Singletrack.

Surf Coast Century Leg 2: Flowing singletrack

I didn’t stop at Checkpoint 2. Looking at my splits from last year, I realised I spent a bit too long in the checkpoints. Didn’t feel like much at the time, but it added up overall. So straight through I went, giving a thumbs up to race director Sam Maffett and continuing back onto the Surf Coast Walk back towards Anglesea.

Leg 2 has a lot of really nice, flowing singletrack, particularly in the Eurabella section. These trails are quite popular with mountain bikers as well, and there were quite a few out on the course this morning. It was no real issue for me to just jump out of the way for a second as they passed, but I did play a bit of cat and mouse with a pair of riders who were faster than me on the downhills, but I kept catching on the ups.

The first point where we were allowed crew was at Checkpoint 3, at the 31km mark. It is a real boost to see familiar faces on course, although it felt a little rude just grabbing my bottles and keeping on running through.

It was not long after this point that I started to have a couple of issues. My legs were starting to feel a little worse than I would have hoped for at this early stage in the race. Not cramping yet, but I was starting to feel little twinges that made me think they weren’t far away. I thought I’d try and stay in front of the issue by having a salt tablet, but in hindsight I wonder if this just led me to be thirstier, as from this point on I seemed to never be able to get enough water in. I was aware of Matt Whitaker running 10 or so metres behind me for some time, and when I stopped to refill at the unmanned water point at 38km, he went past and took the lead. He stayed within sight, and we came into the halfway point at Checkpoint 4 within a minute of each other, in a little under 4 hours.


Surf Coast Century Leg 3: A few hills…

In my haste to try and fix my cramping issue at Checkpoint 4, I refilled my bottles, grabbed a potato and a Clif Bar, but forgot to grab any of my gels or shot blocks. This would prove to be a bit of an error as I didn’t have crew access again until 75km. I had a little in reserve, but not much.

I had run the second half of the 100k course as a training run in the lead up, and it had gone really well, giving me the confidence that I’d be able to run all the hills come race day, even with the first 50 in my legs. However, today my legs had other ideas. Anything faster than a 5:30 km and my twingy legs would feel like they were right on the brink of cramping, and it became similar for any of the gradual inclines. Much to my frustration, this continued throughout the rest of the race, I even managed to get a cramp running one of the downhills! I cannot emphasise enough how annoying this was, especially considering that I have really enjoyed this section of the race in the past. My fitness level was there, I had the energy to push on, but my legs were just not playing ball. By the 60km mark I felt like I was really slowing down, imagining that Matt was getting further and further in front. To my surprise, he appeared on the track in front of me as we neared the Distillery Creek Picnic Area. I ended up in the lead again as we hit the checkpoint. A bit of confusion led to me not having crew within the checkpoint here, but it was only another 7km to the next one at Moggs Creek. I finished Leg 3 still holding a little bit of a lead, and was very thankful to be able to restock my supplies.


Surf Coast Century Leg 4: A bit of everything

I left Checkpoint 6 in the lead, but well and truly in the hurt locker. I was surprised that I hadn’t seen anything of previous winners Ross Hopkins or David Eadie yet, expecting them to come rushing by while I struggled through Leg 3. I momentarily thought to myself that maybe if I can keep hobbling through and keep these cramps at bay, I might be in with a shot.

Those thoughts didn’t last long though as I soon saw Ross coming up behind me on the climb up to the ocean lookout. I kept moving, ran straight past the lookout (sorry, Sam), and went I as fast as I was able on the decent down. I couldn’t keep him away for long though and he passed me on Old Coach Road. We said a quick hello, and both pretended we were feeling good. Or maybe it was just me who was pretending, because he was definitely looking better than I felt. It did surprise me that he didn’t get too far in front, at least for the first few kilometres. He just stayed frustratingly out of reach – a little bit up the road, with me unable to do much about it.

As the kilometres ticked by, I started to slow even more and shifted my focus back onto breaking 9 hours. Trying to do maths after 7 hours of running is always fraught with trouble. By the time I left Checkpoint 7 at 84km, I thought that goal was slipping away too, as even 6-minute kms were becoming a struggle. But I knew I would be annoyed at myself if I didn’t at least give it a good shot, and with the help of a couple of double espresso gels, I was able to getting moving again and pick up the pace a little.

At around 92km I hit Urquharts Beach. I had been dreading this section for a while – 3km of soft sand is not what you want with 90km in the legs. But to my delight, the sand wasn’t too bad, and I was able to keep moving OK through here. Those stairs off the beach hurt though!

From here, I could basically smell the finish line. I checked my watch a couple of times, hoping that my foggy maths was right and was pretty confident I was in the clear. As I wound my way along the path off Anglesea Beach, I could hear Sam on the mic and couldn’t wipe the smile off my face, especially when I turned the last corner to see the finishing arch up ahead. I crossed the line in 8:49:11, about 10 minutes behind Ross, with Matt Whitaker rounding off the podium with a fantastic first 100k effort to come in 3rd. Shout out to my training partner for the last 12 months, Matt Dunn, as well. In his first go at this course, he was also having a tough day, but managed to really turn things around in the latter stages and come across the line in 6th.


Final thoughts

I’ve been trying to work out what the issue was. It may have been the heat. While it wasn’t overly warm for December, it was still quite humid and I found I was often running out of water between aid stations. My nutrition seemed to work well – I didn’t have any really low energy patches, just frustratingly didn’t have the legs to pick up the speed in the second half. The obvious answer is that I just went out too hard, but I honestly think I ran within my abilities for the first half, and was very close to my predicted splits. Perhaps my legs weren’t as conditioned as I had hoped. I managed to get a decent amount of training in during the COVID lockdowns, but compared to last year when I was racing every few weeks, my long run legs probably weren’t where I needed them to be. I had done a couple of 50km training runs in the lead up to the race, but there’s a big difference between 50 and 100km. Maybe it was just a combination of all these things. Or maybe it was just one of those days. It’s nice to know that after 20+ ultras, I’m still learning with each one I do.

Before I finish up there are a few thanks that are in order. A big thanks to Meg and Klay for their expertise, mad Instagram content and support for Matt and I during the race. Thanks to Sam and the team at Rapid Ascent for managing to stay optimistic and pull off such a great event in this tumultuous year. Thanks to La Sportiva and Bogong Equipment for the support they’ve given me in the lead-up to the race. I wore the La Sportiva Jackals for the race and they were great – no blisters or feet issues whatsoever (they didn’t stop my cramps though, might have to get their research team onto that). And, finally, thanks to those of you who read along with this blog. I've received a number of positive comments about it, which is always nice to see. Bring on 2021!

Matt Dunn and Matt Crehan (right) celebrating.



Matthew Crehan is supported by Bogong Equipment and La Sportiva Australia.

Follow Matt on Instagram and Strava.


See our range of La Sportiva running shoes here.

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