Shortly after completing the Jabulani 22km course in late April, I received an email saying that there were a limited number of spaces reserved for the Coastal Classic for runners who had completed the Jabulani Challenge. This was part of the Triple Challenge – Jabulani (22km or 45km), Rafferty’s Coastal Run (22km or 35km) and finishing with the pièce de résistance of shorter distance Sydney trail running – the Coastal Classic.
New to the scene I hadn’t heard of any of these races. I’d obviously completely forgotten the battle I’d had at Jabulani (trail running appears to be like getting a tattoo or giving birth – hurts like #$%@ at the time but keeps you coming back for more!) and I signed myself up!
But before I could worry about what I’d gotten myself into with the upcoming Triple Challenge, I had to get through my next adventure: the Glow Worm Half Marathon!
Now everything about this race sang out to me… You get to run (well walk) through an actual tunnel with real glow worms in it. How cool is that!?
The race is based out of Newnes in the Blue Mountains (about a 40min drive from Lithgow – the last section of which is on an unsealed road so can be a bit slower depending on your car). There is the option to camp overnight (if you get in early I believe there are a few cabins). Arriving there at 7am for registration I could see my breath and as someone who likes to have a good night’s sleep before a race camping wasn’t overly appealing to me! However, seeing it in person it looks like a fun time if there’s a few of you going together. I’m a solo racer and have only just started to run with groups (another blog to follow on those!) so for me a comfy warm bed in a Stayz apartment in Lithgow was good enough for me, plus that way the Mrs is happy to come along and keep me company after the race. Because they’ve set up a campsite it means there are lots of toilets but it also means limited parking at the start line if you’re late. I secured one of few remaining around the camping area and other cars were then directed further along the road to a secondary car park. Looked like it wouldn’t have been more than a 5 minute walk.
As I said, it was cold! This was the first race I’d ran in winter and I was glad of my full length 2XUs and my long-sleeve thin thermal from North Face. (Note to self to buy a couple more of these, they were great for running in!). Also in the mandatory gear was a buff / hat and gloves. Both of which I started in but shortly got rid of as I ultimately warmed up – 22kms of trail will do that to you!
The race starts with a creek crossing about 300m from the start line! There are stepping stones which very quickly bottle necked. Learning from previous runs I’d positioned myself a bit closer to the front of the pack in the line-up so when I hit the creek the bottle neck hadn’t really started and I could have taken the stones after a short wait but hey we’re here to run because it’s not the road and I got caught up in the spirit and after a 2 second pause I chose to run straight up the guts of the river!
Now some words on my running gear – I run in toe socks specifically Injinji Mid Weight Trail Socks. These are fantastic when your feet get wet. In fact I couldn’t really tell I had wet feet – probably because your toes aren’t rubbing together so you don’t get the wet skin on wet skin feeling. I couldn’t recommend these socks more!
From event photos later on though the bottle necking wasn’t just limited to the stones, there seemed to be a line of runners (or standers!) assessing their options as one or two waded through the water and others queued for the stones. In my opinion, and based on my awesome socks, I’m really happy I made the call to sprint to the creek and run right through it. The water at the time was somewhere between calf and knee.
Once you make it through the creek it’s up, and up, and up, to the Glow Worm Tunnel. The first 12kms are mostly uphill and take you through decent wide trails, some sections of passable single trail and some rocky creek crossings. After a particularly tough climbing section (there are some!) where I was feeling a bit over it I passed by some kids and their dads who had hiked out on the course to cheer on runners (probably waiting for their loved ones to run by) but their cheers, words of encouragement and the high fives from the kids boosted my mood significantly and I was once again in my happy place. I can’t emphasise enough how much a cheery volunteer or spectator can boost my moods. Their dedication to be out there making the events possible and cheering on people they don’t know should be applauded. I always try to thank them for being there, sometimes all I can manage is a feeble wave but I hope it’s enough to show my gratitude. On the bucket list is to make sure I get myself to a volunteering station. That’ll be one of my running goals for 2016!
Then as you near the tunnel the landscape transforms into beautiful rainforest. The lush green surroundings are a contrast to the drier Australian bush on the approach. I tried to capture some of the beauty but failed too much excitement caused camera shake!
The tunnel itself is an old railway tunnel (you’ll see old rails on the route up to the opening) and is about 400m long. As you enter it’s time to stop, turn on your torch / headlamp and slowly make your way through. This race isn’t one for the ultra-competitive – you must walk through this section and if you want to see glow worms keep the noise down! Also in order to see the glow worms you need to turn your light off and stand still. I was lucky to be surrounded by runners with an equal appreciation and we did this and spotted a few clumps of glow worms on the roof. But other not so conscientious runners came bounding along shining their lights so they soon disappeared. So with that I continued the precarious walk through the tunnel – the ground is really uneven and very wet and slippy in parts so be careful, there is after all another 10kms to go once you surface!!
It’s a short climb out of the rainforest and back on to the way you came up. I actually didn’t realise that the course was an out and back (with a decent loop around the tunnel) until I was back at the creek crossing 300m from the finish line!! Doh!
That’s what I love about the trail – run the same route 3 times in a row and you’ll only recognise a handful of sections. There’s a new way to see the trails each time you go. Me and Mrs run the same trail most Sundays and every time it looks and feels different and I’m always surprised at how quickly we’ve hit a waypoint.
The finish at the Glow Worm is nice, a splash through the creek and then a short road climb round to the finish gates where the announcer dutifully calls your name out and the crowds cheer like you’re not the 25th person they’ve just watched come through! Again what I love about the trails – the camaraderie! Both at the finish but mostly throughout the event. The last 3kms of this course I buddied up with a runner from Canberra (can’t remember her name) and we crossed the finish line together thanking each other for the last push through the gates – I tried to hang back because her BF was taking photos of her and I didn’t want to get in the way and she said no way, I’d helped her keep going in that last 3kms and deserved to finish with her! See – such a great community!
As you can see from the race profile it’s a big climb up and then a shorter run down but overall the elevation gain is a mere 664m (according to my Strava – loaded from my Nike+ account, I was a Nike watch holder earlier in my running adventures). Now 664m might sound like a lot to some but in comparison to say the similar distanced Hounslow Classic (a new event for 2015, see my later post) which clocked an impressive 1,996m, the Glow Worm Half is a walk in the park!
And to be honest it did feel like that. I finished in 2:29:10 and was 159 out of 415 – my best result to date! I’d highly recommend this run to new and seasoned trail runners. It’s definitely one that I’ll have on my list each year. For 2016 I’m considering the marathon which has a tough first section but then tags on the half marathon for the second part of the course (though usually run on separate days). But if I don’t I’ll definitely come back for the half.
So as well as being my favourite trail run to date (and a hard one to top!) what made the run extra special was my introduction to my running club – Achilles Running Sydney. Achilles is a running club with a difference, it’s a charity that’s been set up to assist members with a disability to achieve their running and walking goals. Primarily it pairs sighted runners with vision impaired runners who guide them with a tether and vocal instructions as you run. My next blog post will go into detail on the work Achilles do. But now to how I heard about them – I see it as divine intervention. Not long after I had finished the race I decided to go down to the creek and cheer on some of the finishers. I was about to head home but made a last minute decision to hang around the finish line a little more (and not just for the obligatory selfie, I’d snapped that earlier!). As I was cheering runners across the line, the MC started an off the cuff interview with a few members of Achilles. One of the club’s vision impaired members, Andrew, had ran the half accompanied by two guides, more friends than guides, Tom and Catherine. They finished together in a very respectable time of 2:40:40 – what a fantastic result! I listened intently as they talked about the work that Achilles does and then post interview I did something I’d never normally do – I accosted them!! I asked where I could sign up and that conversation began my journey with Achilles…