Here’s my first race report from the Puffing Billy race (5th May 2019).
It’s the first Sunday morning in May which means its the annual “Great Train Race”. The weather is crisp and the ground is wet from the rain the night before. Its currently not raining and the competitors are all arriving at the race start for their warm ups, bag drop off, pre race coffee catch ups and of course – lining up for the porter-loos.
I set out for my warm up as I plan to meet good friend Craig Appleby for a joint warm up together. Gemma Maini (2nd place female), also joins us in our warm up. We talk some banter and running news as we cover the ground slowly in our full tracksuit gear making sure that we are fully warm for when the race starts. My warm up covered a total of 6.3km which also included a few drills and run throughs. I’m still feeling quite sore and heavy from the past 3 weeks of training and racing. In fact, I almost didn’t show up for the race as I’m lacking some “pop” in my legs and have had a couple of niggles with my left hip. The warm up actually made me feel better than before I started running so I decided to race my best and see what i can get out of my body.
All of the other competitors slowly get taken to the starting line where some 2,258 keen runners and walkers will take this hilly 13.5km race which starts in Belgrave and traverses through the roads and trails towards Emerald as we hug the Puffing Billy train line. Its now 9am and the starters horn goes off. The train driver crosses the start line with us all and then gets to the steaming locomotive which has been preparing all year foe this race. The first kilometre is fast downhill section and we cross the marker in a swift 2:57. I actually quite like the downhills while running and find myself in the lead with a group of 5 runners with many others right behind us. The next 2 kilometres are more uphill and really take some effort in getting up. We pass these splits in 3:24 and 3:28 respectfully. Still in the lead group, kilometres 4 and 5 are downhill and I start to inject some more speed into the race and am still up at the front courtesy of a 3:13 and 3:07/km and reaching 5km in 16:10.
From here, the race really starts. The next 2 kilometres is a really steep uphill section and is unforgiving. The pack of 5 starts to shrink to 4. By 6km there is real signs of struggle, especially on my end. I also start to drop off the pace with a 6th & 7th kilometre of 3:52 and 3:54. Now, in no-mans land. 4th place and not able to keep up the same effort as the 3 in front, my mental state starts to weaken.
I start questioning if I should just back off completely and jog the remainder of the race. My lungs are burning, my legs on fire, my heart pumping at a rate that I can’t control. I decided to make a deal with myself and try to recover as I backed off the pace with the next downhill section but start to notice that I’m catching up to 3rd place again and decide to get myself back into the game. I ran a 3:08 for the 8th kilometre, got back into 3rd place and nearly ran into a tree at the bottom of the hill. Then, onto a somewhat flat part of the course, but on trails, I loose the small distance I had. But this time, with interest. My legs are stuffed and now I’m in damage control. The 9, 10 and 11th kilometres aren’t actually too challenging but my body was starting to reject my minds communication to keep running fast. Those 3kms were torturous with a 3:34, 3:54 and 3:34.
I’ve now been caught by 5th place and as we trade places as I wish him well as he flies past me. 5th place is what I came last time I raced here so anything less would be considered a failure. There’s just over 2km to go and I think I can hold onto 5th place. I can’t see anyone behind me for ages. Plus kilometres 12 & 13 are mainly downhill so I’m feeling confident I can hold on. Those kilometre splits were 3:18 and 3:09. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. I was caught just before 12km and also watched helplessly as I fell back to 6th place. My legs are killing me with lactic acid and my heart rate still uncontrollable. Only 500 metres to go. I’ve got to summon the last of my strength to finish off with something to resemble sprint finish.
I crossed the line, exhausted, nothing left in the tank. Completely spent, my hands collapse over my knees trying to catch some oxygen in the lush forest. Disappointed with 6th place, it was the best I could do for the day. My time was 46:37 with an average pace of 2:26/km, an average heart rate of 181 beats per minute and an overall elevation gain of 277metres. https://strava.app.link/q4umqUaJuW
Slowly, the remaining competitors make their way to the finish line and also looking either completely exhausted or running right through the line looking like they could do it all over again. Lots of my friends and training partners had great races. So I was really happy for them. These running races are also great opportunities to finally catch up for a chat or cool down afterwards. Something I really really love about the running community. Especially in a location with lost of forest and trails as the birds are chirping and spectators are cheering. Puffing Billy approaches the finish line and the driver gets out to cross the ling in a time of 1:05.19.
A positive for the day for me was that I managed to have a solid first half and didn’t throw in the towel when the race didn’t go as well as I would have liked. I didn’t really have any excuses. I just wasn’t my day. On another positive, the cool down run was spectacular. I ran with Max Udea (4th) , Jack Morrison (16th) and Erchana Bartlett (5th female) back towards Belgrave along a parallel course to the race route. I loved having their company and they made the pain all go away as we ran back through the forest trails and roads while debriefing on the race that unfolded.
What a day. I’ll be back stronger and better next time!