I have a bit of history with the Running Wild NSW Glenbrook runs. In 2013 I ran the Mt Portal 16km after a day working a hazard reduction burn with the RFS, and, as there had also been burns in the mountains that weekend, the air was full of smoke. It was hard, I was fatigued before I started and I came so dead last that when I got to one of the aid stations the volunteers had packed up and were on their way for a bush walk when they came across me wearing my bib and asked if I was still in the race! My second attempt at the same event the following year was only 6 minutes faster!

In 2014 I did the Woodford-Glenbrook event, which was great, but I’m really not a road runner so I’m not much faster on a long open trail like the Oaks Fire trail than I am on technical terrain. Again I was almost last and someone commented when I finished that I’d taken a really long time! Later that year I did the Glenbrook Running Wild 25km (although given trail km are ‘generous’, my watch said it was 27.5km) and after the heat and humidity coming up Red Hands Cave track I had a metabolic melt down and struggled to finish in a time slower than most of the 34km runners.

Why go back? The Glenbrook Trail Marathon has a 6hr cut-off and I’m not sure I can make that. However, this sport of ours isn’t about doing the things you know you can do, it’s about challenge and finding your limits. I know I can do long and technical, but can I do fast?

The Running Wild Committee are all wonderful volunteers, the Glenbrook National Park is beautiful and I love a good challenge. I wrote myself a race plan. It involved a lot of actual running (something I’ve avoided by staying at the 100+km distance this year!) and very little hiking. I’d have to pay very careful attention to my hydration and nutrition so that there would be no fluffing around in aid stations or dodgy tummy with the warmer weather and the unaccustomed running. Even though I am not a fast or strong athlete, I have a strong mindset. If I’ve learned anything in the 30 years I’ve done endurance sport, with a good plan, attention to detail and a strong mindset, you can achieve anything!

Normally I spend the first 10km fluffing with my pack, adjusting my mandatory gear and bib and settling into a rhythm. I didn’t have that luxury at this race! I had everything sorted, there was no mandatory gear but I always take the safety stuff and extra water anyway, and I had my bib pinned on my t-shirt instead of my pack so I could strip off on the first hill quickly and stash my thermal. I jogged along the first section aware that I couldn’t really take too long to warm up and get going. Unfortunately I got stuck in a conga line on the first little climb behind the back of the 25km runners. I couldn’t move so had to just stay calm and hope I could make up the time later.

The first uphill was to Mt Portal lookout. I didn’t remember this climb being too arduous, let’s face it, there are climbs out there that go much longer, it’s all relative! It was nice to see the front runners blat back down the hill past me, you can see who is hurting from the start and who is cruising, and later that would show in the placings. After the lookout you cruise all the way back down to the river and then turn around and head back up a long gully to Red Hands Cave. 

I was moving well and felt strong. As I got to the cave I again had a physical reaction, just like I do every time I’m there. I went cold and felt sick and got goosebumps. I could hardly drag myself up onto the road. This has always happened here, even before I was a runner and bushwalked in the area. I had no energy and had to drag myself up the road, I couldn’t believe it happened again, I was so careful and certainly didn’t think it was my hydration or nutrition. I’m not a spiritual person, but I think I’ll talk to a local elder before I go back.

Once I was back on the main fire trail I was fine again. I ran all the way to the first turn around and back to the Pisgah aid station. I hadn’t looked at my watch until now as I didn’t want to stress myself out about making the 3.5hr cut-off. I figured that if I ran as well as I could that stressing about the cut-off wouldn’t help me get there any faster and would only waste emotional energy. I made the cut-off with 3 minutes to spare, and so did the ladies I was running near. Hooray! Whilst I was ok with not making the cut-off, now that I had, it was time to execute the rest of my race plan!

I hadn’t done the next section before, it was easy going along a ridge though so I just got on with it. I kept my hydration and nutrition going and started wetting my hands every few minutes to keep them cool. Having Hashimotos I don’t do well in the heat. Before I knew it I was at the turn-around! What a nice surprise! I had no trouble heading back up the ridge, I was in a rhythm and coming off the back of a couple of longer events I was enjoying the shorter sections between aid stations and turn arounds, ticking each one off in my head seemed to go so fast!

The main fire trail was slightly uphill but certainly not a slog, in fact the elevation plot for this event looks worse than it is. I looked at my watch and I had plenty of time. I could cruise back in. I didn’t, I kept moving and I hammered as hard as I could on the downhill. I knew there was some ‘bonus’ distance in that last section so needed to give it more time. It was nice to feel strong and fast coming towards the end of a trail marathon.

My challenge this day was not to drop my mental game on the last 4/6km. I am not a strong finisher! It’s like I do all the hard stuff and then lose interest in being out there! Today I wanted to keep pushing and not let the last little bit become a walk. When my watch said 42.2km I certainly wasn’t heading off a ridge into a finish line so I just kept the positive talk and made myself keep running. Once I did dip into the clearing I ran fast around the trail and then jogged across that finish line under 6hrs!

I felt great and certainly enjoyed finishing still in daylight for once! It was lovely to catch up with some friends I made when I first started doing Running Wild events 6 years earlier. It was nice to have a short drive home and to be able to walk the next day! I highly recommend all the Running Wild events. In addition to the marathon there is a 34km and 25km option (without the tight cut-offs), as well as a kids race. The volunteers and first aid staff are amazing and the aid stations well stocked. I’m really pleased I took a chance and had a go at something I wasn’t sure I could do!

Tova Gallagher, Hawkesbury Fitness

RMA Community Ambassador (Hawkesbury), Personal Trainer, & Wellness Coach