Mt Cooroora is a prominent peak in the Noosa hinterland in the town of Pomona, Queensland, Australia.
Forming the focal point of Tuchekoi National Park, Mt Cooroora is a 439 metre intrusive volcanic plug. It is a notable landmark and casts its long shadow over the hinterland town of Pomona providing early afternoon relief from the hot summer sun.
It is however most famous for its King of the Mountain running race held in July each year. The history of this event dates back to 1958 with the first modern official race held in 1979. This event sees up to 100 competitors race to the summit and back to the centre of town in what becomes a fast and skilful test of sure-footedness that is not for the fainthearted.
In recent years an event called the Hendrix Mt Cooroora Endurance Challenge introduced a new concept to the mountain. Instead of a singular lap, this event is based on time. The longest event is 8 hours, the shortest is 4 hours. Competitors do as many laps as possible within the allotted time.
My Philosophy for the day
I would use the idea of a time-based event and using the available day-light hours to see how many laps I could complete. I have completed the Mt Cooroora Endurance Challenge twice but that was within an event and on two slightly different routes.
I wanted to see what I could do and answer the question: how many laps can I do in a day, on my own, with no support, no encouragement, regardless of weather conditions.
To make my route easily repeatable I would start at the commencement of the official hiking trail by the roadside and use the left fork at the top of the mountain to summit and then descend by the right fork and continue down the same route.
This was a self-supported outing. I kept food and drinks in the back of my car and used a tap within the park to cool down and fill bottles. I carried a single bottle with me during each lap.
I had no one present to offer moral support or otherwise.
How the day unfolded
My original intention was to start precisely on sunrise but 6:15am would be the moment I set off. It was already hot and humid and I knew the day was going to be difficult. In fact I only had the intention of doing two laps and then reassess how sensible it was to continue.
The first ascent felt terrible. I knew I was far from being in peak condition, but mentally I was ready to push myself. My legs had no power and by the first descent they were shaking. Once the sun hits the rock face the heat is, and without exaggeration, similar to putting your head into an oven.
By the second lap I knew I was going to need some courage. I normally climb in a fluid motion, pausing at only a few locations to lower my heart rate as much as possible. Today it was not fluid. I’d come to a complete stop on at least 6 locations on the second ascent, looking for shade under tiny shrubs or sparsely branched trees. The heat was hard to ignore so I knew I’d need to use mind tricks to focus on other things. The cold drinks I had at the base of the mountain – how the tap water might feel as I let the cold water run over the back of my neck.
It had been a tough month of applying for jobs to earn extra income and I had very little time previously for solid physical activity. Most of the last month I had been sat behind a keyboard trying to sell myself with words.
My mind wandered into some of the frustrations of hunting for work. I’ll often do this when I’m out on the trail and conditions are tough. I’ll let my mind find a thought naturally and then focus on it. I’ll talk to myself, have conversations I wish I could have and say things I wish I could express. I’ll take my frustrations out on the mountain I’m climbing and then, just like that, I’ll find myself smiling. It’s at this point that I know my body and mind have synced and the miles seem to pass by with ease. It’s a feeling of giving in to the situation and understanding pain is just discomfort and endurance activities require patience.
Today was different. Firstly, mountains are different to running, hiking or riding a trail. If you’re running you can ease off, you can slow down, but when doing laps of Mt Cooroora there is only one pace, there is no hiding from how you’re really feeling. You can’t just cruise it in and take it easy. You either climb or you stand still. So with each lap you can easily be jolted out of any positive mind set and find yourself back to where you started, literally.
This is why I set this challenge for myself. I wanted to know what I could achieve and I wanted to explore the unknown. Races, in recent years, have held very little interest for me. But challenges like this capture my imagination. How far can you go when no one is there to stroke your ego? How deep can you dig within your mind when no one is waiting at the finish line? What if there is no finish line? What if you just keep going, on your own, until you look within yourself and surrender and say ok, thats enough?
Today I was determined to push myself to some kind of limit. I needed to feel proud of myself again and today was the day.
By lap 4 I knew it was no longer just physical, it was simply courage and will. When you break on this mountain, you will break and literally not be able to keep moving. I aimed for 7 laps and then I’d take my first good rest and try and eat although with each ascent meaning you have a period of about 20 minutes of reaching maximum heart rate, eating can become very hard so liquids are the only real option.
I sat down on the tailgate of my car after 7 laps. It had taken longer then I’d planned, although my plan was not rigid. The temperature was just too hot. I’d been moving for a bit over 7 hours and I felt cooked. The temperature on my wrist watch climbed up to 34 degrees Celsius but that doesn’t account for humidity.
My body was fluctuating from dizzy boiling hot to feeling chilly on the descents which meant my nipples had been rubbing on my shirt and now this pain had thankfully taken over from the pain within my leg muscles. I laughed about this and how nipple pain trumped quadriceps and calf muscle pain.
In my fancy visions before starting I’d seen 14 laps. Now I was bargaining with myself to keep going. The old trick. Just one foot in front of the other. Just one more lap then reassess. I was willing the sun to start setting and put an end to all this.
At the summit on the ninth lap I felt the elastic band I envisage, snap. I had had enough. The sun was now low and had long disappeared off the eastern trail. To push for one more lap to call it 10 would have been an exercise in ego and perhaps had broken my one rule of daylight hours only. Today was not about ego it was about pushing to that point where you have had enough – honestly. I had no need to ridiculously seek a so-called round number to finish on. I had put up a fight and been yet again humbled by this mountain called Cooroora. I’ll be back next year in the cooler months and once again take up a personal solo challenge. But for now it was time to call it a day and quietly take my shoes off and return home.
(Recorded on my Suunto Ambit 3 – link here to movescount)
Date: Sunday, September 29, 2019
Total Ascent = 3018 metres
Total Distance = 23.3km
Total time = 10hours 1 minute
Total Laps = 9
Total time ascending the mountain = 5:28″58
Descending = 3:12’16