Today I raced Puffing Billy for the 5th time. Who or what is Puffing Billy? Puffing Billy is a 100 year old plus steam train that provides scenic tourist rides through the Dandenong Ranges from Belgrave up to Gembrook.
Once a year the train takes on challengers on foot in a 13.2km race from Belgrave to Emerald Lake and has been doing so for 31 years. The maximum number of runners allowed is 3,200 and every year it is sold out.
Parking there can be a challenge as it is very limited at the Lake, so Diane dropped me at the train station (kind of ironic catching the train to race another train by foot!) and I wasn’t the only one on the 7:29am from Ringwood to Belgrave spoiling to race Puffing Billy.
The strong aromas of Deep Heat, Dencorub, liniment and Goanna Oil filled the carriage mixed with the smell of anticipation. It was around 7 degrees (Celsius) outside with a light rain falling. Not ideal conditions for a run that has a significant proportion of dirt track running.
I was in Belgrave not long after 8am a good hour and a half before the race giving me plenty of time to complete few warm up runs. However, the crowd of runners built up quickly.
For regular racers, I am sure you can guess where the two biggest queues were… That’s right the PortaLoos (toilets) and the drop off of bags point for collection at the end of the race.
With people keen to hydrate and the very cool conditions the toilets were in huge demand. But you know, I don’t think I’ve ever been to one race where there were adequate toilets to service the crowd – despite knowing the registration numbers! And runners were warned over the PA that sneaking off behind a tree would result in instant disqualification… but it seemed many were prepared to take the risk!
I was fortunate that Diane was picking me up from Emerald Lake so I didn’t need to drop a bag for collection. Fully hydrated I jogged for about 1.5km to warm up and got some stretching in – especially on my worrisome calf.
Why is it you can run a half marathon and pull up fine, then doing something completely innocuous, like walking down the steps from the garage, you get an injury? I had been struggling with a slight calf strain during the week but was sure if I didn’t push too hard I would be good for the race.
The run was very congested at the start despite this year having runners split into zones. I was either in a zone too slow for my pace, or heaps of people had put aspirational time zones on their app! Either way I spent the first 2 kms dodging people and trying not to step on the back of people’s heels.
A bit about the race. It’s up in the mountains so it can be cold and foggy and its hilly…. very hilly! The chart below gives some insight into the ups and downs of the race.
My trusty patt-strap protecting my ITB fell off in the first kilometre and being in heavy traffic I decided not to readjust but wait until the drinks stop at the 5km mark. Not sure if I still physically need it or it’s more a confidence thing, but with 8-9 weeks until the Gold Coast Marathon – I wasn’t prepared to chance it!
The hardest part of the race for mine is just after the drinks station at the 5km mark. From here it’s about 2km climbing about 180m before a short flat section and small downhill and then climbing another 40m over 3km.
The scenery is fantastic running through beautiful forest, the sound of Puffing Billy tooting as you run and the music of bellbirds. It was foggy (thankfully the rain stopped for the start of the race) and still quite cold with a cloud of steam rising from the heaving mass of runners tearing up the mountain.
Normally I would say downhills are awesome! For a) recovery and b) picking up some lost time from trudging uphill. However, when they are steep downhills, I don’t enjoy them – jarring on the body and when it’s wet – they can be downright dangerous.
Thankfully this year I didn’t see anyone take a tumble. Other years I have seen the occasional numbnut go racing down the hill only to lose their balance and take down innocent runners in their wake.
As I hit the 11km mark with plenty of petrol tickets left I decided to push harder. I knew I wasn’t going to beat the first train as it comes in around 51-53 minutes and that was not in my range for this year. But I was confident of beating the second train – which I did and finished at a good speed.
Btw, the fastest time for the Great Train Race is 37 minutes!! Amazing huh?
I finished in just over 68 minutes by the race clock (there were no timing chips) and Endomondo recorded the race showing an average time 5.12 mins/km. Some idiot didn’t push the start button on Endomondo at the start (yep me!) so I was a 200 odd metres out from measuring the race in total.
Endomondo link -> http://www.endomondo.com/workouts/qvk92bxesEw
After the race I picked up a Gatorade and found Diane at the Meeting Point. Picked up a drink bottle and found out I had won a prize – Gatorade bag, bottle and cap – woohoo! Always nice to have a win 🙂
Pulled up in great shape and feeling positive about the marathon. Training intensity lifts over the next 4-5 weeks before the taper down. I have a lot of work to do and many more kms to get into my legs. And while I didn’t beat the train this year, I’m a lot better for it and a message to Puffing Billy – it’s not over yet!
Took it pretty easy for the rest of the day. We were sitting down enjoying a well-earned rest and drink in front of the fire when the Channel Nine news came on and lo and behold – there was me dragging my sorry butt through the race at the end. Now I can tell you this as by the time this post goes up – it will be old news and I have no fear of you seeing it 😉
If you haven’t tackled Puffing Billy before, next year book and give it a go. It is one of Melbourne’s iconic runs, has a great atmosphere and will take your through some picturesque landscape as well as it’s just a heap of fun – you might even like running up the hill…. Ok that might be stretching it
Before I forget, my top 5 running songs from my Playlist are:
All Torn Down – by The Living End
Because We Can – Fatboy Slim
Rehab – Amy Winehouse
Creepin’ Up the Backstairs – by The Fratellis
I’ll Do You Like A Truck – by GeoDaSilva
Next post will be the next installment on what runner’s don’t tell you about running.