Kalgoorlie Pipeline Ultra 2021
The Kalgoorlie Pipeline Marathon has always been an event that is close to my heart, having lived in the town myself for roughly 3 and 1/2 years, between 2013 – 2017. I was saddened by the cancellation of the 2020 event due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, so was not going to let the 2021 event out of my sight. It was fabulous that the 2021 Pipeline Marathon event went ahead, it is always superbly organised by a local couple - Grant & Rhea Wholey, who are local legends in their rights. Grant has a mission to complete upwards of 100 full marathon distances. I have completed the Kalgoorlie Pipeline event four times prior, with the 2021 event held on the 18th of July, and the first time an Ultramarathon distance had been mapped out and offered for entrants. The running community in Kalgoorlie is used to dusty red dirt trails, and if you ever manage to land yourself in this dusty mining town on a weekend, please ensure to attend the local Parkrun at Karkurla Bushland Park. The local community is super supportive, even if you aren’t in the running circle – and for the most part, the Kalgoorlie Pipeline Marathon is not included in any run-event calendars. Often falling into the ‘if you know’ about it basket…
This comes as no surprise as the drive from the big smoke of Perth is a measly 600km, and when factoring in pit-stops and walkabouts to stretch the legs the travel time easily pushes to 6.5 – 7 hr one way. My preparation for the 2021 Pipeline was fairly inadequate to say the least, not with regards to kilometres in the legs but more so planning commute and accommodation. The Saturday before the event I didn’t manage to leave Perth until the early afternoon, and after grabbing a quick bite for dinner (PSA: If you are vegan or vegetarian – pre-pack your nutrition as Kalgoorlie is a miner’s town and doesn’t cater) before settling into my mates for accommodation at 8 pm. An unfamiliar bed, pre-race jitters, and late-night catch-ups were not conducive to sleep. However, most trail runners and ultramarathoners are used to some form of sleep-deprived delirium – I totalled maybe a broken 2 hours. That certainly added to the fun of the sandy, dusty, washed-out undulous straight for miles trail next to a water pipeline – which supplies the town of Kalgoorlie with water from Mundaring Dam in the Perth Hills. Another factor that affects Pipeline marathoners every year is a stark contrast in temperatures and conditions faced with desert running. Being an inland town, during the winter months Kalgoorlie can have freezing temperatures overnight but with clear skies rocket up to maximums of 28 degrees upon sun-up. The 2019 event in particular, at 7 am with the Marathon start it was a mere 1 degree, so one needs to consider layering and how to best transport layers upon removal between extensively spaced and minimal aid stations. The wind is also another condition needed to be factored in – they don’t call it the Windy West for no reason. Kalgoorlie is prone to willy-willies (small tornados) and freak storm events, including dust storms before storm fronts as they roll in over the countryside.
The marathon and ultramarathon distance in the 2021 event both started at the same time and in the same location on the outskirts of Coolgardie (mother of Kalgoorlie). To add the additional 8km required for the Ultra distance, a loop out into the arid land bush was organised. This was a whole other basket of fun, as the split off from the rest of the trail occurred close to the 32-33km distance mark. And by this point in time, the pack had well and truly spread out. Lucky, trail runners are used to running some distances without seeing a single soul. To make it all more interesting again, some sections of this loop were like running a steeplechase – with metal fence wiring and trees down across course. I was in an utter delirium by this point in time, and desperately looking for other runner’s footprints in the anastomosing sandy wash-outs, fearful that I had missed the loopback or sighting some of the flagging and that I was running aimlessly into the outback of Western Australia (not going to lie, I still kind of was). I managed to make it through the loop intact, however maybe not with my sanity, and re-joined other marathoners and half-marathoners (who had started at Kurrawang community two hours after) on the trail back into town. In previous years the course had tracked into the back of the golf course, the final hole on the famous Nullabor Links – the longest golf course in the world. In this year, 2021 course we cut through active mining leases (namely Mungari operations for Evolution Mining), and also crossed various service tracks and level train crossings. By the way, another mode of transportation to the town of Kalgoorlie is to jump on the Prospector train from Midland or Perth depots (my recommendation is to do it at least once in your lifetime). And I pray for all passenger’s sake that the café now accepts EFTPOS payment rather than solely cash.
Another talking point amongst avid trail runners is vert. Regarding Kalgoorlie Pipeline vert, the short answer there is none as the course is relatively flat – but it is domed, so between the towns of Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie there is an overall gradual incline/decline but the trail itself is as straight as a tack – will make you envision mirages in your ultra-delusions. There is a little bit of elevation change as you leave Coolgardie, but Vert.. ha, at least as most trail runners know it - it’s not even remotely close to that. The 2021 course finished at Ray Finlayson Sporting Complex, and it was amazing to have a stadium/oval finish as opposed to the funnelled finish-line into the café front of the golf course of years past. The crowd actively cheered every participant despite the distance run and were so supportive in every sense of the term. This is one of the reasons why I love trail running when compared with the super competitive road races in Perth. And also, why I love and fondly reminisce my time spent in the town of Kalgoorlie, the local community always back up every major event that is organised within the town and brings in the ‘city folk’ regardless if they joke about the entitled city slickers from time to time, they are always welcomed with open arms.
Another noteworthy point of all trail runner’s stories and adventures is to fondly remember the events by the injury, blisters and stacks that occurred. The scars lost toenails and general wear and tear, the aches and pain only aid the tale of the journey that was had. For example, the 2021 Kalgoorlie Pipeline event for me saw blood blisters on both insteps of my feet leaving me waddling for days not only for my hip soreness for once. And over the weeks that followed, I gradually had to clip back or remove all bar my big toenail on my right foot. These types of recounts would irk non-seasoned trail runners; however, trail runners live for it and recount the war stories that we put our bodies through with joy and fervour. We also tend to recount our events on the trails by portions of nature that the general public tends to miss out on especially if they live in built-up and urban environments. The Kalgoorlie Pipeline event due to the temperature changes mentioned earlier in the piece is one of the few events where I have encountered a snake seemingly in what should be its peak hibernation season. Funny things happen in the outback; however, it is the joy of these seemingly uncommon and chance encounters with nature that may the trail life so wonderful. Even when I run in the city/ around the area in which I live within fringe suburbia in Perth, I never run with headphones in or music – as I live for Biophilia and listen to birdsong, feeling the sun and breezes against my skin and taking in the smells of the bush, wetlands and forests in which I am running. It is an experience of mindfulness, one which we tend to miss out on when we are caught up in the craziness of our busy work lives.
Finally, my absolute favourite thing about attending the Kalgoorlie Pipeline event is the trophy, not just because I want to have one make the return trip with me to Perth. But, because of the sheer craftsmanship that goes into their creation. The trophy itself is a piece of local Diamond Drill core (Victorious Basalt -which hosts some minor gold mineralisation), mounted on some cut and fabricated local Goldfield's Eucalypt to look like the Water Pipeline, which provides the event with its name. It is such a creative and fitting piece of work for the event – and I ensure to thank Rhea and Grant every time I trek to Kalgoorlie for the event. It is an even more fitting trophy for me, being a Geologist by career, so the award endears both my love of Geology and my love of Trail running. In 2021, I was stoked to come away with a bookend to back up my result in 2019, and for now, I’m still a bit flabbergasted by it but I am excited to admit that I hold the CR for the female ultra-distance – however, it's even about the time or pace for me, its always about the journey and the fun had along the way. You often have the best and most unlikely conversations and connections whilst on the trails, and I love the trail running community with all my heart.