Meet Aleks, a local Manly lad who loves trails and adventure just like us. He is a valued member of the VipersRC and can be found sending it on Viper Hill all times of the year.
How did you get into running and what do you love about it?
I’ve always ‘run’, though for many years it was only when I was chasing a piece of leather. If it wasn’t football, AFL or futsal I wasn’t really that interested.
In 2016 my then girlfriend (now wife), Jess, decided she wanted to do the UTA 50km – a tough trail run through the blue mountains with over 2000m of vert. Obviously I said no, because... well because at the time I thought it was a bit crazy. For the first run she talked me into doing with her (Manly to Spit) I didn’t even have joggers and ran the route in my brothers indoor soccer shoes.
From there she talked me into doing the race with her, and before we got to UTA I was already hooked. My interest escalated pretty quickly, with my first 50km run in 2017, first 100km in 2018 and first 100 mile in 2019 (Western States).
Jess seriously regrets getting me into the sport.
Running for me is a way to escape and to be free of distractions. It’s why I always prefer trails. It’s a great way to just be with your thoughts, and explore your limits.
Why Western States – what drew you to want to enter the lottery?
After quickly falling in love with trail running I started consuming documentaries at a rapid rate. ‘Life in a day’ and ‘Lighting the fire’ and definitely two of my favourite running docos and both revolve around the mythical Western States.
I became obsessed and it went to the top of my bucket list immediately. I don’t really put stuff on lists and not do anything about it, so putting my name in the lottery was a next logical step. Obviously I didn’t expect to get in first year, but once I did I couldn’t say no.
What was the key to your preparation?
My preparation was tricky with my wedding 9 weeks out from the race and a lots of interstate travel with work. For me the key was sneaking in runs whenever there was a ‘half opportunity’ like running from work to my partners parents to dinner, doing a 6km run at lunch, or an easy 15 – 20km before football on a Saturday. These easy kms helped slowly crank up the weakly mileage, while fitting in around my life.
I had two sessions I always looked forward to the most, for very different reasons.
First was a 2 – 2 ½ hour long, slow distance (LSD) run on trail. For me these runs were just so much fun and a great way to get outside and explore.
The second was hill reps on a Thursday night with the vipers. Great guys and hard hill reps – what more could you want?
The atmosphere was absolutely incredible. It’s a really small race (in terms of runners) with only 359 starting the race, but the community around the race is huge. The energy from the supporters, media, and crew is indescribable. At registration I was surrounded by people I recognised from documentaries and the news. I managed to have a chat with both Camille Herron and Courtney Dauwalter while collecting my race bib.
The people of Auburn also really do make you feel welcome, not just on race day, but in the lead up too. I was incredibly fortunate to have me and my crew stay with an Auburn based family. Rob and his wife Ellie (sorry, I’m sure I spelt that wrong!) were so hospitable, offering advice and opening their home to us.
The event managed to be both a small town event and one of the biggest days in the running calendar at the same time. Truly amazing.
What was your favourite part of the course?
For me a clear favourite was the high-country, which is more or less the 40km after you get over the race’s high point at emigrant pass right at the start of race. This part of the course is defined by snow, rolling ridgeline running, a few sharp inclines and breath-taking views.
What was the hardest part and how did you push through?
About 60kms into the race, my quads simply fell apart. Running uphill was fine, flats were OK, but I couldn’t descend anymore. Unfortunately this happened about 10km into a 20km long downhill. This is quickly followed by the hardest climb in the race (Devil’s thumb), another massive descent and then another big climb out of El Dorado creek.
My stomach also went pretty bad at this point, and knowing I wasn’t even half way was just the icing on the cake.
I entered Michigan Bluff aid station where I saw my crew. At this point I was limping, wasn’t really eating and feeling pretty sorry for myself. There was about a two hour window where I wasn’t sure if I would make the finish.
What got me through?
Knowing I got to pick up Jess as a pacer at the next aid station was a massive mental boost, I was really looking forward to running with her.
Even better though was another runner, Niwad, who gave me a magical cream to put on my quads. I don’t know if it was a placebo or not, but within 20 mins I was running the downhill again and more importantly I made the call in my head that I was getting to the end no matter what.
There was lots of pain to come, but this was definitely a mental turning point and I knew from there I’d be able to get to the line.
The finish on the track has so much history – could you feel it?
For the last 1.5km or so you can have your whole crew running with you, which for me meant running with Jess and Alex who had both also paced me throughout the race, with Alicia waiting at the track. Running with them was really special.
The track itself was something else. I could absolutely feel the history and had imagined myself running down that track so many times.
When I was on that home stretch though my mind went back to all the tough moments on the trails, all the lows I had overcome. I was overcome with gratitude to be able to be there and enjoy that moment.
This too shall pass.
You can find Alex running with the VipersRC you can follow them on insta @vipers.rc