After its Winter hibernation, Australian Marathon racing comes back with a bang in September – with some classic races across most states.
Whilst many will claim to be unique, tough, unusual or even ‘full of singletrack’ none of them will match The Kowalski Classic against those four criteria.
The Kowalski – both the 50km and the 100km are very unusual races. They require much more than merely strong legs and big lungs. There is so much bike handling involved! Even when comparing it to the mighty ‘Whaka 100km’ at the trail mecca of Rotorua, New Zealand, the Kowalksi comes out with more single-track.
Imagine a typical Monty Python scene, or Chevey Chase in ‘European Vacation’ – a character asks a random passer-by for directions to get somewhere. What follows is a never ending list of turns and twists. You think it is over, and the passer-by stops speaking – but they are merely pausing for breath before continuing “turn left here, at the lights take a right, pass the bridge and after a little while (non-specific distance) at the bough of the silver-grey tree, take a right and you’ll see a junction….ignore that”
This is how my conversation went with Kowalski legend, and course designer, Alan Vogt. I was planning on riding the 50km loop and asked for some guidance as to what the route might be. I received via email a list of trails that included no less than 59 individual changes in trail and instructions, some of which went like this:
You will climb this hill for a little while, then look for a RIGHT turn on single track up the hill (it has sticks across it and looks seldom used).
Now imagine trying to follow this whilst riding! I can’t stress enough for those who haven’t ridden there – the volume of trails and options are overwhelming. The condition of those trails also blew me away.
Having left a very wet Sydney, I arrive to blue skies and perfect trails. Little puddles to splash through are as wet as it got. I also had the pleasure of a brand new bike – which we all know are at least 20% faster than the bike they replace. I knew it would be a good day out.
As with previous years, the races start and finish at Kowen Forest. This year however, the race is ‘Sparrow first, Kowen second’. This means that riders who raced the 50km last year will now get to ride the amazing trails that they missed out on in Sparrow. I headed to the Start / Finish area, checked my 59 instructions and a squiggly map and headed off.
I rode for nearly 3.5hrs, and don’t think I rode the same track twice. The choice is incredible. The idea of racing it, as it was last year, is daunting. Going ‘pretty fast’ on the trails is quite easy – they really beg you to lay off the brakes. Going ‘race fast’ however is plain hard – finding the edge of your tyres, and also your nerve is key to speed.. Remembering to find time to drink and eat – when all you’re doing is gripping and twisting – is also a huge challenge. This is a race that rewards great bike handling more than hours logged on the roadie.
Speaking with Alan, he is really keen on challenging riders perceptions of the way in which a trail flows, or is meant to be ridden. Some sections that most of us will know as fast downhills have now become climbs – and some of the climbs from last year now feel like new trails when ridden in reverse. Rest assured, you are kept on your toes!
Sparrow really is in great condition and trails towards the edge of the forest: Nutcracker, Pig Hollow, Heavy Cow Loop are all personal favourites – lovely smooth flowing trails that allow for as much speed as you dare. Don’t get me wrong, there are some climbs – its not all downhill (although it does seem more down than up), and all the mini-accelerations really take it out of your legs by the end. You don’t feel like you should be tired, but you are! This is a hard race from a very different perspective to most marathons.
Getting home, and taking a look on GPS trace of the ride I did, I got quite close to the ‘actual’ race route – and I rode some amazing trails either way.. Will I realise on race day where I went wrong? Probably not. It will be a blur of trails and turns and arrows and riders to follow. I am sure though that ringing in my ears I will have the phrase “LOOK FOR A NEW LINK TRACK UNDER THE BOUGH OF A TREE FOLLOW THAT DOWN UNTIL TRACK RUNS OUT, THEN HEAD ALONG THE CREEK LINE” and it will make me snigger I am sure.
God bless the Kowalski Crew for putting in so much hard work, they have created an amazing trail network that just keeps on giving, and surprising.
A final point to mention is that the race also happens to be the 3rd round of the 4 race Maverick Marathon series – so you can be sure the field will be super strong, with all the contenders looking to get their 3rd scoring race registered and really set their stall out for the series. New 2015 bikes, fresh kit, legs that have been well-wintered and probably the odd surprising result always make for an interesting event.
So – whether you are up at the front racing for points and prizes, or you are finally trying to prove to your mates that you really a demon on the single-track, get your entries sharpish around it – they are closing soon. It will be the most fun, easiest, hardest race you have ever done, and might even lay claim to being the most single-track per KM of any race in the world…what’s not to love about that?!
For full race details and entries head to the Self Propelled Website