With the first Australian titles of the Olympic year looming at On Track Nights Zatopek:10, many of the nation’s top prospects find themselves crunching kilometres at the running mecca of Falls Creek. Home to a track record of champions and famous names, Australian legend Steve Moneghetti says a strong legacy remains at the altitude training base enshrined in distance running culture.
By his own admission, Moneghetti is a man who knows a thing or two on the topics of Falls Creek and Zatopek:10. A four-time winner of the prestigious race in its heyday and a key figure in the rise of the now popular Victorian alpine training base, the marathon icon affectionately known as ‘Mona’ takes just minutes to warm into his work:
“One day Troopy [Lee Troop] and I were doing the dishes and an African ran past the window. We looked at each other and said ‘who the bloody hell is that?’, I don’t know how he got there or how he even knew to go there. He turned up for a few days and put us to the sword, then he disappeared never to be seen again,” Moneghetti says.
The jovial distance star who clocked a marathon best of 2:08:16 in 1990 amidst a decorated career headlined by World Championships bronze and four Commonwealth Games medals quickly reigns it in, describing the destination where he honed his craft in the most gruelling of conditions.
“If you gave me one month to run the best race of my life, I would get in my car and spend the first three weeks at Falls Creek,” Moneghetti says.
“I liked the rarified air; it made me train a bit harder. I’m someone who probably undertrained most of my life. I would cruise through and do some hard sessions, but at altitude I got a bit more benefit out of the fatigue and the effort.”
There is no mistaking that Moneghetti is proud of the culture in which he was pivotal in creating alongside the likes of Robert de Castella, Kerryn McCann, Benita Willis and Craig Mottram. The experienced campaigner rattles off the names of key runs and checkpoints that continue to be followed by today’s generation, from Fitzy’s Hut to Pretty Valley – all tried and tested by Olympic and world champions Mo Farah, Sonia O’Sullivan and Ingrid Kristiansen.
“I still think a lot of people train too hard up there, I definitely did at times. I was doing 200km weeks with three hard sessions and all these extra runs. One year we ran from the Mount Beauty post office to the top of Mt McKay because apparently Ron Clarke had done it. I asked him afterwards and he said he doesn’t remember ever doing it,” Moneghetti says.
“There is never a dull moment up at Falls Creek. I know it seems boring and the end of the Earth, but a lot of funny stuff happens. So it’s fantastic that the routine, tradition and history has built up and continues to remain.”
30-years on from the Ballarat product’s stories and a group of Australia’s top distance runners find themselves following that timeless routine. Train, eat, sleep, train. From Australian 10,000m champions Jack Rayner, Stewart McSweyn and Rose Davies to World Under 20 representatives Claudia Hollingsworth and Logan Janetzki, their presence marks the mountain’s annual transition from ski resort to middle-distance training camp – all ahead of On Track Nights Zatopek:10 on December 2.
Moneghetti is all too familiar with the dynamic of training alongside teammates and rivals, with a larger contingent from around the country likely to migrate to the mountain in January.
“The first few times I went up, Deek and a few of the guys were up there, so I was learning from the best. It became popular in the 90’s with all the guys I was racing against. We all got on pretty well though, if it was helping me and it was helping them – it was a win win,” he says.
“It’s not a big mountain, if you avoid someone then you are going to see them at the coffee shop five minutes later anyway!”
The 61-year-old who continues to set world age bests says he is looking forward to the “mystique and aura” returning to the Zatopek:10 event, with Moneghetti enjoying the distance running renaissance within Australian athletics:
“There is always an adventure at Zatopek. There is always a story and I’m looking forward to seeing what that will be this year.”
Tickets for On Track Nights Zatopek:10 can be purchased HERE.
By Lachlan Moorhouse, Athletics Australia