Great Train Race 2016

A spectacular thunderstorm had me awake through 3am before this race. I did wonder if I was going to be running in it. The storm moved on and I was able to get back to sleep. A couple of fallen trees on the streets were a reminder of the night, but it was otherwise a relaxing drive out to the hills with my mate Dazzler for the Great Train Race. We got there extra early and were able to kick back and relax and catch up with some others before the day got under way. Looks like the weather was being quite friendly for the race. A bit chilly, but in a good way for running.

Lucky to be seeded in the front group gave me a somewhat smooth opening once the whistle sounded. Straight into a downhill I made sure I went out fast. This is quite a unique race. It's 13.5km of hills which by themselves create quite a challenge to pacing. Then throw in the fact you are racing against a steam train with four rail crossings that if you are caught at will suck out time as you wait for the train to pass, and you have a nice quirky event. Going out too quick to make sure you make the first two rail crossings is often needed.

Before reaching the bottom of that first hill I heard the whistle blow of train, indicating the driver had reached the engine and Puffing Billy was on it's way. This seemed earlier than usual and made me think the train may be fast this year. Better hammer through those first two rail crossings and hope I can hold on through the second half.

What comes down, must then go up on this course. I pushed that first uphill extra hard. My lungs in conjunction with any muck I had in my sinuses rebelled by trying to block my air intake. Solved with a bushies blow, then I realised I was right in front of a T.V. camera. I wondered if that would make the news coverage.

Over the crest and through the first crossing. The train sounded a reasonable distance behind. A nice long downhill, but gravity just wasn't fast enough. Pushing the speed on a long, steep descent was a good test to see if my hamstring issues were truly behind me. It seemed they were, there was no tightness in my stride and it felt like pretty damn good to escalate the speed. My gastrointestinal system wasn't as thrilled with this and threatened to give me another look at breakfast for the remainder of the race.

This took me through the 5km mark. Turns out I wasn't running quite as fast as I thought. The effort was there, but I still have a good way to go to get my uphill running back to standard. Just to help me out the course now presented me with the biggest climb of the day. This has always been a hard hill to get right and even post race I never really know. I tried to pick a speed between, unsustainable and that's just friggin' stupid which again turned out not be as quick as I wanted. However, it was still pretty solid, my legs handled it reasonably well, but the rest of body was unimpressed.

Across the top, through the second rail crossing ahead of the train. I could hear that steam engine and definitely could not afford a breather. Next a bit of steep down hill and it felt so good to get under the 3:00/km barrier. Over crossing number 3 and back to fighting against gravity. The last main climb. This climb isn't as steep as the others, but it greets you on tired legs. I've usually struggled here. This time, my top end speed had certainly taken a dent, but this time my legs didn't threatened to give up. Across the 4th and final rail crossing. The train had caught up (or I'd lost ground). It's close when in view.

Luckily the last couple of kilometres is all down hill. The gradient is relatively mild for the most part and makes for a beautiful section of running. Despite my body attempting to reverse the eating process from breakfast, there is a euphoria that comes with finishing with a good fast section. Put some extra in on the train too. Finishing with a time of 54:33 for the 13.5km course was definitely not my fastest here. It was good enough to be nearly 2 minutes in front of Puffing Billy. Still I am pretty happy. Feels good to be faster than a locomotive. This race, along with recent performances have shown me I am making the right improvements. I am developing the right type of fitness, but there is still a lot of work to do. It's good to be at a level that feels good when racing again.


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