The day that we had planned for months had finally arrived and a peek out the window revealed a foggy and wet morning – perfect weather for trail running. 6 months or more ago, four of us started planning this “run-cation” to commemorate Jenn’s 40 year. The brief was simple: It had to be a trail, it had to be beautiful and it had to be memorable – so operation Glow Worm Tunnel trail half marathon began. Myself, Jenn, Jade and Megan flew from Melbourne to make a weekend of it and make a weekend we did!
We had been wowed by the sights of the Blue Mountains as we made our way to Lithgow the day before, but the drive from Lithgow to Newnes was a hairy one: in the dark, with dense fog shrouding the steep, winding descent into the valley. The valley was eerily quiet and still, until quite suddenly, we came upon a long line of cars heading for the pop-up city of tents, marquees and porta-loos that was event central.
The next hour was a blur of bib-pick up, oohing and ahhing over the gorgeous merchandise and joining the queues (as always) for the loos. Spotting other RMAs, we chatted for a bit and gathered others for a group photo. Before we knew it, briefing had begun and we were all alerted that yes, the bad weather mandatories (that most of us were already wearing) were in fact required and to run within our limits because the closest ambulance was at least an hour away! So with the formalities over…it was time to run! We had already agreed that “no one gets left behind” – this was not a race for us but an experience, so we started the way we planned to finish: together.
There was the usual jostling for position in the first 300 metres until we hit the river crossing – with stepping stones on either side, many opted to wait it out for a chance of a dry crossing, some ploughed right on through and others (like me) skirted the shallows to no avail – wet feet it was going to be! With feet numbed by the icy water, we pushed on up the steady incline alongside the river for the next few kms accompanied by the sound of the rushing water and the companionable chatter of the runners. The trail switched back and forth from wide fire track, with lots of passing opportunities, to single trail and fallen tree obstacles. The rain overnight had left its mark and there were plenty of mud puddles, large and small to navigate (or run straight through!).
By the 5km mark, the rain had eased and it was time to shed some of our gear. A short 2 kms later and the lead runner passed us coming the other way in a blur, just before we hit the first aid station. From that point on, it was a feast for the eyes! Around every corner was another breathtaking sight – the mist through the trees looking down into the valley, the sheer cliffs of sandstone towering above us, the amazing rock formations and the fern-fringed valleys with water courses that we descended into (and of course had to climb back up out of). Too beautiful to just run past, we stopped for many a photo opportunity – so many that our moving time was an hour less than our actual finish time!
As the trail narrowed, following a water course, evidence of the old railway emerge as we crossed over some tracks still in place. At this point, the group ahead of us weren’t sure if we were still on the trail as it became quite close, narrow and technical, but sure enough a marker was spotted and next thing we were running under the overhanging cliffs that led to the tunnel.
Water flowing through the dark tunnel made for some treacherous footing on slippery rocks and the cold made me wish I’d thrown a layer back on. But oh, the glow worms! Switching our head lamps off long enough to allow our eyes adjust let us glimpse these beautiful little creatures dotting the tunnel walls like stars in the night sky. All too soon, there was a light at the end of the tunnel and even though it meant the end of our glow worm experience, the sight of the ferns overhanging the entrance was magical and entrancing.
A few small inclines later and it was time to fly down the hills of the second half – Jenn’s favourite part. Through the 14 km checkpoint (complete with waiter in tails!) a bite to eat and we were on the home stretch. My hip flexor that had niggled much of the way decided to really make itself known and Megan’s lower back decided to go out in sympathy so our pace slowed significantly, but as promised, we all stuck together and pushed on toward the river crossing (AGAIN!?).
At this point my watch said 20.7kms, but I knew we had a view of much of the campsite on the way out and there were no tents in sight – we couldn’t possibly only have 300m to go! With a screaming hip I couldn’t wait to hit that finish line, but at the same time, didn’t want it to be over. This time there was no skirting the edges of the crossing when we got there. I ploughed straight through and felt a blister I hadn’t even known was there pop, making the last 300m feel like 3kms! I fell a bit behind but again, the girls waited for me to catch up – we were crossing that line together.
Adorned with our medals, wet, cold and muddy, we attended to our first priority – (no, not warm, dry clothes!) cracking open our choice of celebratory drink: Champagne and chocolate milk the order of the day.
This wasn’t like any other event I have run. 3:50:00 for a half marathon (or closer to 23kms) is certainly nowhere near any of our best times, but it was spent out in some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever encountered, and with 3 of the most amazing women I know. This wasn’t an event we just ran together – this was something we experiencedtogether and the memories will endure.