It’s been 5 years since I last ran the Puffing Billy Great Train Race and nothing much has changed. It’s still one of Melbourne’s most spectacular runs boasting amazing scenery, fresh country air and plenty of uphill challenges. I had three goals in mind for today – beat my previous PB, go sub 60 and beat the train. Given that GTR 2012 was the first event I ever entered, I knew beating my previous time of 64:40 would be dead easy. Finishing sub 60 was going to be a little harder and having completed a 57:20 finish at City2Surf (14km) last August, I was pretty confident. But crossing the line before Puffing Billy was never going to be easy. Here’s how it went down…
I decided to get in front of the pack this year and go out fast, something I’d later regret. My first kilometre was done in 3.21 and I was well placed to beat Puffing Billy to the first level crossing. I held good pace up the first hill and got myself through the first crossing before the train with plenty of time to spare. The next goal was to beat Puffing Billy to the second crossing and I narrowly made it, but by now my body was starting to hurt and things weren’t going well. The 2 kilometer climb through kilometers 6 and 7 just about killed me, and I stopped to walk twice. Amazingly, I still crossed the second level crossing at Menzies Creek just before Puffing Billy rattled through. As I crossed the tracks I remember thinking how nice it would be if I was stopped by the train, allowing me to catch my breath. Nevermind. On I pushed..
By now I’d realised nothing was going to come easy in this race. I just couldn’t find a rhythm and every part of my body was hurting. Never the less, I pushed through and convinced myself that a finish was good enough no matter how long it took – just get it done. Knowing I was half way, with just one more uphill to tackle and plenty of downhill ahead made me feel a little more confident.
By the time I reached the third crossing Puffing Billy was well ahead of me. I arrived just as the crossing was re-opened, denying me the rest break I was longing for. Knowing I was unlikely to get the goal trifecta I focused my efforts on finishing sub-60. I wasn’t confident but I had to try.
As I passed the 12km marker I started to feel a sense of relief but I was now well and truly exhausted. Unlike most other races where I’ve kicked it up a notch in the closing stages, I had nothing in the tank. The last 1.5km felt like they’d never end and the adrenalin kick that usually comes towards the end of a race never came to the party. As I turned the last corner the timing clock showed 59 minutes and I knew it was going to be tight. It gave me that extra kick I needed as I sped up and crossed the line with 22 seconds to spare and a time of 59.38. Achievement unlocked!
This race taught me a few valuable lessons. Hills are hard. 13.5km races should not be tackled in the same manner as a 5km Parkrun. Don’t fly out of the gate and go hard early – it comes back to haunt you. Puffing Billy is hard to beat.
All in all, it was a great day. Many PBs were recorded by fellow Crosbie Crew runners including an extraordinary performance by Pat Norman who ran home in 57.55. Can’t wait to come back next year and do it all again!