Great Train Race 2012 - Race Report

Just simply a great event. Awesome hills, scenery and an obscure distance. Best of all is the added challenge and atmosphere that goes with racing the steam engine, Puffing Billy, with the sounds, steam and smells, plus the race within the race to make the rail crossings so as not too lose time. This is a race I will always come back too, even though it is often very cold and wet.

This year the race fell in my down time from training. So after a holiday up north where running was replaced by plenty of alcohol and food I didn't have any genuine expectations. Instead the plan was to turn up and race hard to see where that got me.

It's usually very cold and wet for the GTR. This year there was a gap in the rain for the event, but it was wet and muddy on the ground. The temperature sat at 8-9 degrees Celsius, a bit warmer than in the past. Pretty good conditions.

This year there was seeded start based on your best 10km performance in the past 6 months. Mine put me in the 1st group. I'll have to say this seemed to work very well, at least for those in the first two groups. Everyone was fairly closely matched for running speed and this was the first time I've experienced a smooth opening kilometer. No need for sudden stops or agility skills in dodging people walking, standing or just running slow like in past years, and I've usually started at or very close to the front. Much safer. A change I think works well.


I didn't think very hard about this race. A bit of experience helps, but other than a couple of key points being stuck in my mind, my thought process didn't go much beyond, turn up and run. Those points that did stick in my mind, the first kilometer is downhill, so I included some faster downhill running in my warm up. Next was keep the pace up to the 2nd crossing. The last was, there are three main climbs, with the second being the longest.

10, 9, 8, 7.... blah, blah...

About 1.3km of descending. I ran quick, but comfortable. If the kilometer sign is accurate then I opened with a 3:20, followed by a 3:30 at the 2nd kilometer (gravity assisted). Naturally things slowed down when travelling upward. There was a lot space in the field early on, probably because the seeding system worked well. Going up, my effort went into ensuring I had very good and strong technique. No dropping the hips or bending forward. Keeping a good drive from the legs and smooth knee lift. I was surprised at how soon the top of the first climb seemed to come up.

Across the first of four rail crossings. As usual at this point I was ahead of the train. There was only the sound of its whistle in the distance. At this I worked through some mathematics. Knowing the highest point was near the 10km mark and the final 3.2km is just about all downhill meant I could probably assume taking the average kilometer pace at 10km and treating last as only 3km would give my slowest boundary. Since I was feeling good I thought getting to 10 in 40min was on the cards. So a total time of 52min should work. Thinking a little more about the terrain that should require a 19min first 5km then 21min for the second 5km. With that I stopped looking at my watch except for at the key points.

For the rest of the race I just enjoyed running. I was now very confident of staying ahead of the train. I passed 5km a little faster than 19min. This year it all was feeling the easiest this race ever has. Now I don't want to say it was easy. It definitely isn't. Instead I was very, very comfortable working at race intensity. My form was good, running fast felt good and the hills weren't taking a toll on my legs. All the training leading through the first part of the year clearly hadn't been lost on holiday. Climbing felt the best it ever has. Running down hill has always been a strength and while I'm probably not any faster I now no longer batter my legs anywhere near as much. Instead there is a smoothness that doesn't feel like a style of falling like it used to.

Hills, forest, clouds, a bit of mud, plenty of volunteer and spectator support, plus the sound of the train in the distance. Just good fun, which took me through 10km in a fraction under 40 minutes.

It's all down hill from here... and it feels good. This is the first time my legs weren't screaming at me or struggling to function. It was good to race purely for fun and not be worried about the result. Even better when that race highlights my fitness is still high during what is my down time. Then as an added bonus I run personal best.

The train came in at 57:49. My watch gave me an unofficial time of 51:07. About 6:40 ahead of the train and about 12 seconds quicker than my previous best. Looks like my next training plan is going to start from a good place.


  1. You are running brilliantly. It is great to have some speed in your legs at the start of your preparation for an ultra. The photos of the SC100 are awe-inspiring. I look forward to reading about you training plan.

    1. Thanks canute1. Completely agree about it feeling great having speed in the legs. It also has the potential to be double-edge. Feels easy to run the fast stuff, might be difficult to run the longer slower stuff, but I'll see.

  2. Official results are now out. My time was 51:05 (those extra 2 seconds came from starting my watch be we actually started running). That placed me 78th overall out of 3040 finishers.
    A massive improvement over the last 12 years. In 2000, I had a finish of 57:08 placing 1490/1611.


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