This is an event that I have wanted to do for the last couple of years, but other events kept getting in the way.
This year, I had no excuses. I had friends going down, accommodation was organised and there was a spare bed. A week before the race, Chris Olsen contacted me to say he was not going to use his race entry, it was there if I wanted it. I had no excuses left. So on Saturday, Kellie Smith and I jumped in the car and drove to Wallerawang. We stopped in the Blue Mountains on the way to eat apple pie, and arrived just in time for dinner. Ala, Kelly and Maree had done the half marathon on the Saturday, along with a whole bunch of other night striders. Over dinner, they told us their stories about the course, and how to get there, while they drank 4 bottles of wine and Kellie and I behaved ourselves. After all, we had to run the next day.
As I was organising all my stuff for the next day, I realized I had forgotten to bring gels with me. Rookie error! What was this, my first time? Having run a PB last weekend I was not planning on running hard so I probably could have survived on gatorade and muesli bars, but the girls who had already run came together and pooled their leftover supplies… I had 2 Gu’s and a packet and a half of chomps. Enough to get me through the race.
It wasn’t the earliest of starts… The gun didn’t go off until 8am. It was a foggy, cool morning. As we drove through Lidsdale, the outside temperature read -2 degrees C. Brrrrrrr!
The half marathon course from the previous day would make up the second half of the marathon. For the first half, we would go out and back in the opposite direction. At the halfway point we would cross through the start-finish area, so Kel and I left drinks out in anticipation of this. I paid the $25 transfer fee to change Chris’s entry over into my name. (Worried that I might fall off a cliff or something out there, I wanted to be identified correctly.) I was ready to go.
I saw Rick at the start line, and he told me the first half of this race would take 3 hours on a good day. I looked around at all the other runners. Most of them were wearing shirts from other running events. 6 foot track was a popular choice, as was previous editions of the Glow Worm marathon. Officials had deemed the weather ‘fine’, so we wouldn’t have to carry much of the mandatory gear like gloves, beanie or jacket. Just water, a torch, and a whistle.
Kelly, Ala and Maree came out to the start line in Newnes Forest to see us off. We reluctantly stripped off our jackets, leaving on the gloves and arm warmers, and headed to the start line.
I ran out with Kel. The first few kilometres were nice and flat, as we made our way out of the campground and into the forest. Soon we began to climb, and climb. The course got very steep very quickly, and the pace slowed. My calves felt like I had done 200 calf raises with 20kg on my shoulders (That’s a lot for me). I had no idea how they would recover. I was thankful I was wearing gloves to help grab onto the trees and pull me up. I didn’t feel bad… I read the blogs… Brendan Davies walks this bit too…
After what seemed like forever, we arrived at the top. We ran out to a lookout, which was spectacular. Everybody stopped for photos (and to recover from the climb) before moving on.
Then came the downhill… It was not a nice downhill. It was rocky and uneven. I ran as much of it as I could, but there were places where you just couldn’t.
At one stage I realised I had lost Kel, so I stopped and waited for her to catch up. Soon, the elite runners were running past us on their way back. We were still a few km from the turnaround at the bottom.
Finally, I made it to the bottom. There were 2 guys sitting at the turnaround on chairs, with a witches hat between them. It just seemed so odd. I’m not sure if I was running low on sugar, but I found it particularly funny. The hat seemed to be placed too close to the chairs. I turned around it, and started to make my way back up the hill.
I stopped for many photos along the way. The scenery was just spectacular. According to Brendan Davies, this race has everything that a good trail race needs. “Steep up and downs, some runnable sections, singletrack and of course spectacular scenery”. Despite this, I was starting to regret the decision to run this race, given my PB run the weekend before. Suddenly, “steep ups and downs” did not seem like a “good” thing.
Time really flies when you are running trails. We had already been running for well over 2 hours. I made it to the top of the climb. It was time to head back down again. I’m not sure if this section was harder going up or down… I nearly lost my footing several times on the way down. I could feel the tension building up in my quads. It was not much faster on the descent.
Finally, it was over. There was a nice undulating section for a few kilometres that led us back the way we had come.
At the halfway mark, one of the Volunteers took my belt from me and refilled my bottles with HEED and water. I had a gel and a potato, and Kellie had red bull. We were through halfway in 3:00:28… I think that meant we were having a good day. Next, we had to cross the river. We were expecting stepping stones, but there were none. It was time to get wet. The water was freezing.
The second half of the course was markedly different from the first half. Most of it was runnable. The next section was a gradual climb. So gradual, that in places I didn’t even notice it.
The leaders passed me, headed for home. The trail was so narrow that in many places, I had to pull to the side of the track and let them pass. I went through a water station, but didn’t take anything, as I still had plenty. Just after the aid station, I passed a man who was getting his head bandaged up. I’m not sure if he had ran into something or had fallen over, but it looked really bad. There was blood everywhere. He had assistance, and he was not far from the aid station (which was accessible by road) so I was sure he would be OK.
At 26km, I finally caught up to Rick. As I ran past, he called out that I would really enjoy the next section of the course.
I did. It was beautiful. We were still climbing. At one stage I had to stop and make sure I was heading in the right direction. The path was leading up a dry river bed, and I couldn’t see any route markers. I was worried I had taken a wrong turn. I stopped and waited for the next runner to come along, so I could be sure I was headed in the right direction. No one came past. I started to walk back, convinced I had taken a wrong turn. Then, I came across walkers on the track. They said I was going in the right direction, so I kept going. I was relieved to see the next route marker.
I passed some old torn up railway track, it seemed so out of place here in the bush. Finally, I made it to the tunnel, a 600-metre hole that was bored through the sandstone in 1907 as part of the Newnes Railway line that used to service the oil shale mines here. The railway was closed in 1932, and the rails were pulled out of the tunnel. Inside, If you turn all of your lights off, you can see the glow of the resident glow worms, which, it turns out, are not even worms at all. They are the bioluminescent larvae of a type of fungus gnat. They will grow up to be flies! I counted 4. Other runners kept coming around the corners, and their light would make the worms disappear. Kel saw lots more.
All runners must walk through the tunnel, so we don’t disturb the worms. There is a 30 minute time penalty if you are caught running in the tunnel. You must also carry a light or head torch as part of your mandatory gear, as well as water and a whistle.
After the tunnel there was a short, steep uphill section which I walked, so I could drink, and take some salt tablets. The trail then turned into a downhill 4WD track. I took advantage of the downhill, passing 2 guys who were ahead of me on the way down. Then, out of nowhere, Rick bulleted past me, showing us all how the downhills should be run. I think he must have been going about 4:15 pace, which, for that stage of the race, was crazy.
The track led back to the water station at the bottom. Rick said there was about 8km to go, but by my calculations, it wasn’t that far. I was feeling good, and I just wanted the race to be over, so I kept running hard.
Eventually I came out onto the road, and I knew the end wasn’t too far away. This time, I crossed the river further down, so there were stepping stones. My legs were so wobbly at this point that with every step, I nearly fell in the water. From there, it was just a short run up to the finish line. I was glad to be done in 5:29.
Kellie finished about 20 minutes behind me. She loved the second half of the course more too. We all agreed that it was a great event, and we look forward to participating again in the future. Next time, I might participate in one of the events on the Saturday, so I can relax and enjoy myself afterwards, and I don’t have to rush off home. I wish there were more events on Saturdays! It was a long drive back to Newcastle on Sunday night.