From the December 2012 issue of Runner’s World
The Glow Worm Trail Marathon gives one podium seeker a run for his money
By Brendan Davies
Photos by Michael Leadbetter
Set in the beautiful surrounds of the Wolgan Valley, the Glow Worm Trail Marathon is situated in the old mining town of Newnes, New South Wales. Along with mining boom relics, the area is a gateway to Wollemi National Park. With its big tabletop mountains, sheer sandstone cliffs and rock pagodas, it has a wilderness feel.
The picturesque course is best described in halves: a fast one and a not-so-fast one. The first 21km loop (which makes up the half-marathon course) takes you along creeks, past stone bridges and lush eucalypt forest on a singletrack. The odd fallen tree offers excellent hurdling opportunities, plus the ascent is gentle.
I managed a reasonably fast pace for the first 21km minus the 600m through the old train tunnel that was once used during the shale mining days. The trains and miners have gone, but hundreds of glow worms bright green on the tunnel roof have moved in. Race rules state a strictly NO RUN ZONE through the tunnel’s entire length, but no one would have wanted to miss the spectacular sight anyway.
It was then onto the “Pipepline Track”. I didn’t know much about the track, which took runners to Glen Davis and back to the finish line – but the name sounded ominous. The gradient started off moderately and I ran the rough terrain well. But closer to the escarpment’s summit, the track’s ferocity truly showed itself – I was brought to a walk. Immediately before the summit, one of my main race rivals, Blue Mountains runner Mick Donges, eased past me. He is in a different class altogether when it comes to technical uphill climbing. Still, I held off Sydney runner Tony Fattorini, who is a great hill runner, so I took a moment to pat myself on the back.
Things were looking good until I hit the descent. It was one of the most tricky, technical downs I’ve ever done: with ferns, roots and branches obscuring the trail; and mud, slippery moss, loose rocks and big drop-offs testing all runners’ skills. It was a descent for experts, and Donges showed his class by racing out of sight. It was beautiful to watch – for all of the 20 seconds I could see him.
Our final turnaround, the 35-kilometre mark, was at the Tablelands village of Glen Davis. I was only a couple of minutes behind Donges, but I was busted. My legs screamed and I was low in energy. I downed a couple of gels and headed back up the tortuous trail, which was going to bite me big time the second time.
If I thought the descent was tough, the climb up was horrendous. A little way up, Fattorini passed me. Not surprising. But I was surprised to find that the runners descending the hill – and thus immediately behind us in the race – were the three leading females, Angela Bateup, Beth Cardelli and Shona Stephenson. The way I was going, being “chicked” was definitely a possibility!
I dug deep and struggled to the summit, finally able to give my screaming calves a respite. Descending the final section, I ran the short distance to sneak across the line in just under four hours. Donges won, followed closely by Fattorini, and me in third. In the women’s, Bateup ended up taking line honours despite going on an unplanned detour (which probably saved me from being “chicked”), followed by The North Face 100 champion Cardelli, and then Stephenson.
With almost 2000m of elevation gain, it was one hell of a marathon in a challenging but breathtakingly beautiful part of Australia. The irony of this immense event being a “qualifier” for the Six-Foot Track Marathon was not lost on all who battled and conquered it. I will be back next year – but as I told the race director at the finish line, I’ll definitely stick to the (easier) half next time!
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