We were to start 2018 a little earlier than usual with the X-Marathon race moved to January to avoid clashes with XPD and Godzone. This meant we needed to be ready for some hot weather. The field looked very competitive and for various reasons we were all a bit unsure of our fitness (for Bern and Leo it was from doing lots of racing, for Josh and Hugh it was from doing none!) but were looking forward to a good hit out before Godzone in a month’s time.
The event centre was in the little town of Marlo at the mouth of the iconic Snowy River. When we got the course after the registration process we found out that the race was centred around the river with a couple of paddles on it and crossing it in one of the bike legs. We did not take long to mark up the maps and get our gear boxes checked in. We were a little disappointed that there did not seem to be much route choice and the navigation looked straight forward (from the maps at least). We liked the smaller number of longer legs though. There was plenty of hills with the 20m contour interval making it look deceptively easy!
Leg 1: Packraft/Trek down the Snowy River
We were to start at the historical McKillops Bridge, one of the few places vehicles can access and cross the river in what quite a rugged area of bushland. The long bus ride in down the steep dirt track gave us some idea what we were in for (and caused the race to start late as Serge under estimated how long the busses would take).
The paddle started with a short run for Hugh and Josh as there was a checkpoint (CP) on a hill overlooking the river and the team was allowed to split. Bern and Leo cruised the couple of km down the river whilst Hugh and Josh “ran” up the hill (a 200m climb) to collect the CP. We did OK in this despite trying to take it easy and emerged in 2nd place a couple of minutes behind the East Gippsland team who had Rob Preston and Tim Boote do the run.
From there it was about 30km of paddling the packrafts down the river. This was pretty relaxing with a couple of fun rapids and great scenery (including a few lads sitting in the river downing beers!). We settled in behind East Gippsland and tried to take it easy. Bern and Hugh had one swim when a rock after a small drop caught them by surprise, but quite enjoyed getting wet!
Things got a bit harder after that with the end of the paddling meaning a short hike out from the river, with the catch being that it was about 600m of climbing in less than 3km with the temperature well into the 30s. We kept a steady pace, finding the only CP quickly and arrived just behind East Gippsland.
Leg 2 – Hilly MTB
The mountain bike leg took us along bits of the Great Dividing range. Which was nice, but there were lots of undulating hills, many of which were too steep to ride. We passed East Gippsland early on and we had a very uneventful ride until the steep decents towards the end. The track was sketchy and quite rutted at times, which was fine but intense on brakes. About half way down Hugh got quite a surprise when his brake leaver pulled all the way to the handle bar and did nothing to slow the bike down. Unfortunately this meant the rest of the leg was spent going slow relying on just the front brake, or running because it was just too hard to control the bike without a rear brake. We got there in the end and were still in front but we did not expect our lead to be very long. This was confirmed as both East Gippsland and Wild Earth arrived as we packed our bikes.
Leg 3 – Buchan Caves Rogaine
This was another split leg. It started a bit slow for us as one of our maps of the Caves Reserve (which showed where the CPs were) was missing. We managed to transfer the CPs to the map we used for the MTB, but it did not show the detail of the trails very well. Hugh and Josh managed to muddle their way around despite that and were back at the TA inflating rafts when Bern and Leo got back having collected their 4 CPs.
Leg 4: Buchan River Packraft
The Buchan river looked pretty small – and it was with little flow and lots of shallow water so once again (look at our race report from last year to understand why) we spent a lot of time walking down the river carrying our rafts. We did this reasonably efficiently and got to the caving section still holding a 15 minute lead (but still took the time for the obligatory “Leo on a digger” photo).
Leg 5: Caving
The caving was untimed so we had an hour to get it done which seemed quite generous. We rushed through as we wanted time to see what we could do to fix Hugh’s rear brake. After a bit of mucking around finding the entrance we found the CPs in the cave very quickly and were back at the bikes in less than 20mins.
We transitioned and put some slightly newer pads in Hugh’s brakes, with Josh providing some light entertainment for the other teams with his wild animal giving birth impressions (yes he was emptying his stomach). We hoped he would recover better than at Wildside! The new pads made a slight improvement to brake performance but they still only slightly slowed the back wheel so it was going to be slow careful descending for Hugh.
Leg 6: Hilly MTB 2
This MTB leg including a crossing of the Snowy. McKillop’s bridge is pretty much the only crossing within 50km so this one was to be using a packraft to ferry bikes and us. It is also worth noting that the course notes actually said this was a hike a bike leg so we were wondering what was in store!
We walked down the steep decent to Basin Falls and figured the overgrown track on the other side would be a bit of a challenge. We popped all the bikes on our raft and swam it across which worked pretty well.
We had no trouble finding the “track” but really we were just following the ridge smashing through low post bushfire regrowth. Not great when you have a bike but we were expecting it so once again plugged away and got it done. Wild Earth caught us up this hill and passed us just before the CP at the top. They looked pretty keen to go fast so we did not try too hard to match their speed and kept at a pace we could manage (we were all pretty cooked by the hot weather). We enjoyed the cool swim to the CP at the base of Raymond Creek Falls and crossed paths with East Gippsland as we left – they were not far behind.
The rest of the ride was straight forward and we were happy to arrive at the TA only 4 minutes behind Wild Earth. A quick TA saw us leaving together and were not overjoyed to be in yet another sprint finish to a long race!
Leg 7 – Kayak down the lower Snowy River
It was meant to be a 4hr paddle down the river with a few CPs at the end providing some route options and interest value. Wild Earth got on our wash pretty quickly so we took it easy and tried to save ourselves for the end. With paddling CPs it is often an advantage to be the first to get there as getting two boats and 4 people punched in can take a while. Both teams had the same plan and we lost the initiative when Wild Earth got a small jump on us running back to the boats after a CP that was a little inland (which also involved a close encounter with a snake and a swim in murky canal water). From there they grew their lead as we queued for the next CP and we did not have the pace to catch back up. We came out second best in this sprint finish.
Well done to Wild Earth as they put a good race together, coming from a fair way back on the first paddle. We were happy we did what we could and had a good hit out before the next big challenge – Godzone in 4 weeks.
Once again Serge and Maria put a great course together which was beautiful, epic and physically challenging. X-marathon continues to get better each year.
Thanks to all our families and supporters who made the race possible and fun. Special shout out to Bern’s Nan for having us all in the family home for the weekend. Best accommodation ever!
Our race video is here.