Training Camp: Kings Canyon/Glen Helen

I’ve lived in Central Australia for nearly five and a half years now and have come to know many of the tourist destinations surrounding this area such as Kata Tjuta, Uluru, Devils Marbles, Rainbow Valley, Chambers Pillar, Coober Pedy, Glen Helen, Ross River Homestead, Gemtree Fossicking, Palm Valley, and the Larapinta Trail. I’ve been to all of these over this time, camping at each one of these, many with my wife Fiona. But there is one place that has eluded me. One place I’ve had to hold out for until the timing was right.

Fiona and I decided six months ago that we would be able to go to this place after Ironman Cairns. The desert heat would have been way too much in the Outback Summer and we figured we’d make a holiday out of it. With the first week of training behind us, it looked like our holiday would now become our first Training Camp of the season. The destination, Kings Canyon.

Friday I went to work early while Fiona had a half day off. It was a public holiday for “Show Day” where locals and indigenous from around the Northern Territory descend upon Alice Springs to go to the Show. It was also Territory Day which is the day of their independence and the one day a year that fireworks are allowed. The next day would be the 4th of July celebration with work with a whole ton of unhealthy food that we can’t eat now anyway. Seemed like the perfect weekend to get away.

I was home by 2:30pm and we were on the road heading south along the Stuart Highway by 3pm with the Ford Escape 4×4 packed with Percy, Sami, and spare fuel. We headed about 150km before turning west along the Ernest Giles Road. This 4×4 trek included 100km of unpaved surface but saved 1 hour and another 100k by not heading further to the Lasseter Highway. It started to get dark but we finally hit the pavement. Phew. By 6:30pm we were pulling into Kings Canyon Resort.

Fi kindly paid for the basic “Backpacker Lodge”. At $139AUD the room had a kettle with tea, TV with 2 stations, and a shared bathroom down the path. We had forgotten the vegetarian sausages in the fridge and oil so we decided to just go to the restaurant. There was live music at The Outback Grill and Bistro but we headed over to the posh resort where we could have had a room for $390/night and Carmichael’s Restaurant named after the guy that discovered the area. Although we are giving up alcohol for most of the season, since we treated this like a holiday we opted for some wine. I was ecstatic about seeing Gabbiano Chianti Classico. I can’t buy this in Alice Springs but was able to get this wine from a vineyard that will soon celebrate its 1,000th birthday, here, in the middle of nowhere. $55 done.

We were seated 15minutes later and had an incredible meal of scallops, bruschetta, Barramundi on sweet-potato, and a mushroom risotto. The meal was amazing and a must for anyone heading to Kings Canyon. We headed back and went to bed. Although I wanted to run for 30minutes upon our arrival, it was already late, dark, and I forgot how tired you can get when travelling.

Up at 7:30AM and we had a Clif Bar, Banana, and a V energy drink that I’m now done with since it tastes like cough syrup. We drove over to Kings Canyon ready for our run.

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It was nice and cool so it was long sleeves and shorts, a camelpak of water and gels. We weren’t going to waste 3-4 hours for the walk, we were running. We took off along the river first and then we turned to the Rim Walk. The HR immediately went from 120 to 158 as the very steep and strenuous climb was a challenge to run up. The views were amazing over the canyon formed 450 million years ago from an initial crack and stream of water. We continued along past a ton of tourists as this was also school holidays across Australia, so many people were around. We continued to run all around the rim up and down near vertical steps and over very technical and challenging ground that has been weathered for so many years. 57 minutes later we finished the run of 6.8km. But, we still had another 90minutes to go. Instead of try and go back up to the Giles Track, we hopped in the car and drove 20km down larapinta road which is the road that we live off of in Alice Springs; it’s a long road.

We arrived at Kathleen Springs, ran to the end to the permanent water hole that has been used by the aboriginals for thousands of years and then ran along the Giles Track.

The track was absolutely brilliant. It was very runnable and not very technical compared with the Larapinta Trail but we didn’t have our trail shoes on and I rolled by ankles numerous times. Fiona says it’s painful to see and don’t know how I quickly spring off of them. 1hr47minutes and 17km later we finished with higher HR in Zone 2. We enjoyed a Coke and split a Vega bar. While we are limiting sugar this season and Cokes outside of training, this was definitely useful to replenish the glycogen stores we just depleted during nearly 3 hours of running.

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Back at camp, we enjoyed some Organic Granola and Soy Yogurt, mandarins, macadamias, and cashews. We also had some P&J sandwiches on white.

Shortly thereafter, we headed North of Kings Canyon on the bikes with the goal of riding 90minutes – 2 hours. The road was paved and I was just hoping that it would last. 25minutes is all I got. I turned around, picked up Fi and we rode past the resort and the back to the entrance of Kings Canyon where we were that morning. We didn’t head further south since there were a ton of tourists and the road had no shoulder, no markers, and would have been too dangerous. We also decided then, that Sunday’s 5 hour ride needed to change. Total time: 1hr39min, 51km

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After the bike we ran 5 minutes. I wanted to run longer but I sustained a running injury or some tendonitis to the inside of my knee last week after running hard for 80 minutes after two weeks off, duh. Although it was manageable during the runs, now it was unbearable. We changed and then headed to the Sunset viewing which was super convenient at a minute walk to the other side of The Perentie Lodge we were in. This was much easier than Uluru. We watched the sun’s rays towards the northern ridge line and enjoyed some Shiraz. Because, what’s a sunset without wine? Remember, this was also a holiday!

We headed to the Outback Grill on the second night and had the veggie burger, veggie skewers, and shrimp skewers. The salad bar was adequate with Quinoa which was another funny thing to see in the middle of the outback. We watched some live music and really enjoyed our time together. We headed back to the room and then watched a double header of “Chef” which I thought was good but I do like “Burnt” better, and Zoolander 2 which has got to be one of the weirdest movies I’ve ever seen in my life.

Bed 11:30pm. Up at 7:30AM. We had some white toast with eggs we took from the buffet the night before, granola with soy yogurt, and a red bull. We packed up the car and checked out. By 9:30AM we were on the road for another 270km journey to Glen Helen. 160km of it was on more 4×4 corrugated road through some very picturesque countryside. We saw many wild horses called Brumbys. We also went to Gosse Bluff which is the site of an ancient meteorite crash some 160 million years ago. There was no hiking and the mountains around us that were formed from the crash, looked like all the other mountains around us. There was protected area from the Aboriginals and the space was sacred.

By noon we were at Glen Helen. Our bike gear was already on and we quickly hit the road. Although only 1 minute into the ride when I couldn’t shift, I realized I had put the bike seat on without connecting the battery wire to my Di2 system. After going back to the car and fixing it I was back on the road and caught up to Fiona 15minutes later. I kept going as she’s still battling a bit of an infection from her weakened immune system due to the Ironman. I climbed up to Tylers Pass and on a safe road with few cars and absolutely nothing but countryside. I remembered the last time I was here with all of our favorite people: Pete & Lynn, Dee, Tami, and Nat. That was on a prior training camp that was a huge success. I headed over the pass and past Gosse Bluf where we were only 2 hours prior. I finally reached Larapinta at 2hr15min in for the 72km. This was as far as I could go… no more pavement.

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I turned around and caught up with Fiona about 20 minutes later. She gave me some gummy bears and a kiss. Back up Tylers Pass and at Glen Helen for a total time of 4hours21minutes and 143km @229NP. I headed inside and borrowed a knife for some P&J sandwiches, loaded up the car, and then drove out to Get Fiona and found her only 1km down the road.

Now its 6:30PM and the sun has set. Fiona spotted a dingo before and multiple burnt out cars.

This weekend was amazing. Fiona and I had a very special little holiday that involved running over a canyon that was created 450 million years ago, going to the center of a meteor crater formed 160 million years ago, and riding through water crossing the road that is part of the oldest river in the world, the Finke River. But we also experienced this not only as tourists but as two local Ironman athletes training for the Ironman World Championship. Now that is badass. It would be funny to know what those passing drivers thought of Fiona and me out there on the roads with nothing around for miles and miles. There’s so much in this world, go out and explore. But next time, try to do it running and cycling; it’s way more interesting.

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