Great Train Race 2013 - Race Report

Hoping my hamstring would hold up for the race. With most of the week off, and just 30 and 40 minute runs over the last two days, I really had tried to ensure healing. Yesterday it didn't feel quite right, but was probably good enough to race. The big problem is that this course is all about hills. The same style of race where I injured myself in the first place. So I had the idea that I would race hard and take full recovery afterwards. No other races planned in the near future means I also have the mental space to truly take the required break.

Anyway, onto the race itself. 13.2km of hills racing against the famous Puffing Billy steam train. The elevation profile:

So far I've beaten the train in my attempts over the years. I'd like to keep that record intact. Check out the following video for an idea of what the race looks like.

Weather was perfect, minimal wind, a bit of cloud cover and cold (but not freezing like it gets here). A tentative warm up gradually relieved the tightness I felt in my hamstring. The good news was there was no pain. However, I just didn't feel fast like I tend to at the end of the warm up. We lined up in our seeding categories. I was lucky to be fast enough to get in the red front group. Looking around I was in some fast company. I hoped to live up to this. Through obligatory start line speeches, cheers, silence and anticipation we were sent on our way with a whistle.

A typical even pacing strategy just doesn't work well for this race. The hills play a big role in this, plus the need to be through the rail crossings before the train factor in. My plan was take the downhills over the first 5km really fast, especially the first kilometre down to the trestle bridge. On the one climb in this section I was aiming for a controlled effort. I wanted to see how far below 19 minutes I could cover those 5km in, without blowing up. Then up through the 10km mark it is mainly uphill with highest point being hit just before 11km. Here I aimed to really push the long climb. After that high point it is just about all downhill, so even if my legs are destroyed, I should be able move at some decent pace.

So did it go as planned?

The first 5km did, that first downhill seemed almost crazy fast. I crashed through the 5km mark in 18:09, about 30 seconds faster than last year. My system was hurting, but the legs seemed to be handling it better than expected. Climbing up to the Menzies Creek rail crossing at 7km is the toughest climb and to be honest I struggled a bit with my pacing here. I just couldn't work out if I was pushing hard enough or too hard. Halfway up I settled on a rhythm and just stuck with it. A small reprieve down to the 3rd rail crossing then that final long climb.

Pain seemed generalised, rather than focusing on my legs here. The concentration needed to avoid falling into a half-arsed waddle up hill was enormous. My body was definitely capable of running well, it just tried not to with almost every step. On this climb position swapping seemed to all the rage. One runner had an annoying style of bumping shoulders with everyone he passed then cutting right in on their stride. He seemed to be the only person on the day capable of pissing anyone off. I think I took a little too much notice of it, plus I thought about what other runners were doing too much because by the time I hit the crest, I realised I had not put in the effort I planned on this climb.

Damage control? As the trail left the bitumen that was my thought. Really there wasn't any damage. My hamstring wasn't showing any problem. I just hadn't pushed a hill to the level I wanted. Maybe that left me with a bit more speed over the last 2km. Maybe not. Still the legs moved quite well. I took the last tight bend on loose stone and was thankful for the barrier that stopped me overshooting. Soon enough I was on the other side of the finish line, well ahead of the train.

A final time of 50:25 for the 13.2km is a PB by 40 seconds. Can't complain about that. The train came in at 55:55. Clearly my running form is continuing. Out of 3058 finishers, only 295 beat the train. I was number 76.


  1. Well done. It appears that the enforced extra taper did you little harm

  2. Completely agree Canute1. It is further evidence that a lot of rest in the short term leading into a race can be very beneficial. The enforced rest isn't what I was worried about prerace. The concern was tat it wasn't enough time for the hamstring to heal, but as it turns out it was. Even a couple of days after the race, other than a bit of tissue adhesion there isn't evidence of damage.

    That all said, dropping mileage can very good for the short term performance, but consistent high mileage definitely helps with overall long term improvement.

  3. Great race Jason - well done on the PB. Managing the unforseen speed-bumps in a training plan is a big part of turning in 'unexpected' results.

    I've got the Puffing Billy on the bucket list.

    1. Definitely a race worth doing Ewen. I'd argue it is worth travelling interstate for, one of my all time favourites.

      Those unforeseen speed-bumps add to the fun of managing the training. I do enjoy weighing up the pros and cons of what to do in limited time. Of course it would be nicer to do without getting any sort of injury, but maybe it would boring if it was the same old every week.


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