Glow Worm Trail Marathon Weekend – a review by Amanda Underwood

 Like everyone, I have a list of “special” places – places that are so unique and beautiful that they take your breath away. For me it’s Te Anau in New Zealand (and the Kepler Challenge!), Queenstown, Patagonia and Sydney Harbour (I’m biased). Since 2012, when I first participated in the Glow Worm Trail Marathon Weekend, Newnes has been added to that list.

Newnes is an abandoned oil shale mining site in the Wolgan Valley, New South Wales, and is surrounded by the Wollemi National Park. Newnes is also famous for its glow worm tunnel, which is a disused railway tunnel occupied by resident glow worms, the bioluminescent larvae of Arachnocampa richardsae, a type of fungus gnat. It is a stunning, pristine valley surrounded by towering rock and is lush with green foliage. It’s a popular place for rock climbers and campers or people wanting to do easy day walks.  It’s also seriously cold in winter and has no mobile phone reception. I’m not talking bad reception, I’m talking absent. There is a certain charm to that.

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The Newnes Hotel – sadly no longer operational as a pub

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Newnes is a very popular place for climbers

The Glow Worm Trail Marathon weekend is held in mid-June – generally the week after the Queen’s birthday long weekend. The organisers have clearly given thought to entertaining most of your family, with a half marathon on Saturday morning, followed by a 6(ish)km fun run at lunch time, then the Mystery Mountain dash on Saturday afternoon. There is also a scavenger hunt for the kids throughout the day and a movie night complete with big screen and glow sticks (The Smurfs, in case you are interested. I didn’t rate it but my 6 and 4 year old were very happy!). Sunday is set aside for the big one – the marathon. All of the races start and finish at the same point, right next to the camp ground, and all involve an initial creek/river crossing.

This year, as in all other years, I did the half and the 6km. What I didn’t realise, however, is that this year they were on the same day. Never mind – good for mental toughness!

Half marathon

The half starts at 8am and involves a short dash along the dirt road before crossing the creek (which you can either wade through like I did or cross using stepping stones), then carries on for around 6km up a gentle incline. There are some technical parts in the form of rock scrambles but it is mostly runnable. At the 7km point there is an aid station and you start climbing more steeply and follow a narrow path along the ridge of the mountain before entering the Glow Worm Tunnel. All contestants must carry a torch for this part and everyone must walk, with penalties imposed for anyone caught running. Personally, I don’t see why you would even try to run as the ground is so uneven and you would have no chance of spotting a glow worm! You then emerge from the glow worm tunnel into an area of rainforest – ferns, streams, bliss. There are a few steep inclines and descents in this part and some experience on trails would certainly help. You would be fine without it though. The course then goes steeply downhill and meets up with the aid station again. After that point, the rest of the race is downhill and is just fantastic. You can hurtle down the hill at a cracking pace (apart from the rock scramble parts) and the sense of freedom is exhilarating.

Glow Worm Tunnel Marathon 2014

​​​​Me hurtling down the hill – photo by Aurora Images. I didn’t take any photos while I was running so unfortunately I am in most of my photos – sorry!

The last kilometre sees you cross over the river again and run up the road to the finish line.

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River crossing

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Best race medal ever

I ended up running 2.17.05, which got me 12th in my age group and I think 21st woman overall. To put that time in context, I am probably in about 95/96min half pace at the moment, so you should expect to be a fair bit slower than your road time. I am pretty slow on both the technical up and downhills though so there is plenty of scope for those more confident of foot to make up time. Times overall ranged from 1.33 to 5.28. The lead woman did 1.49 (and is an all-round champion in my books).

Ted English Bolt

I then lined up about 2 hours later for the Ted English Bolt. According to the GWTM website, on Wednesday 3rd April 1907, records show that police at Newnes apprehended a man named Ted English, who was running through the bush stark naked, A 6km fun run through the industrial ruins of Newnes honouring Ted and his pioneering trailrunning spirit. Kids, families and walkers are also welcome. There is the offer to run naked should you wish to do so, but it is a bit chilly.

I love this race – it is stunning scenery, it is low-key but challenging and it is full of little kids running their hearts out. It’s definitely more than 6kms though – more like 6.7km. I did it in 36.56, which scored me 3rd place (women). Times ranged from 26 minutes to 1.13.

We also took the kids for a walk along the course after the race, at a much more sedate pace!

Here are some photos my husband took of the course, including a wombat sighting!

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Mystery Mountain Dash

The next race on the schedule is the Mystery Mountain Dash. Across the Wolgan River is the imposing Mystery Mountain – rising from the river bed straight up. There is a rough trail to the top…. its rocky, tough and challenging. Its 370m elevation gain over just 980m. I haven’t done this one but I understand that it’s a good way to remind yourself that you are alive! Times for this event range from 13 to 30 minutes.

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Mystery Mountain

Saturday night

There is a real party atmosphere at night, with a movie for the kids, a live band, dancing, pasta party, open fires and possibly an imprudent amount of alcohol consumed, given the next day’s events!

Marathon

This year, for the first time, the marathon started in two waves – 6am for the elite and 8am for the rest. The reasoning behind this is that the first half of the course follows a steep and narrow path and the organisers wanted to avoid bottlenecks.

By all accounts, this is a tough, technical course, particularly the first half (the second half simply follows the half marathon course). There are creek crossings, sections of single track, old mine cuttings and some long-forgotten railway easements to run along. You should expect to add at least an hour to your usual marathon time and you will need to carry some compulsory gear (the details of what you will need to carry is partly dependent on the weather on the day).

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Second wave starting

Times for the marathon ranged from 3.32 to 7.19.

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Conclusions

There are a couple of things you need to know about this event:

You should definitely consider doing it. You don’t need to race it, or take it seriously. It’s a very relaxed, low-key kind of event and you can travel at your own speed

 You will need to pack thermals.

There are a few cabins but they are booked out very quickly so you will either need to camp or stay somewhere in Lithgow (around 45 minutes away) or similar. The campers looked like were having a great time.

The catering provided by the race organisers (at an additional cost to the race entry) was also good (complete with a coffee cart!) so it is fairly luxurious and easy camping.

I’m serious about the lack of phone reception.

You should definitely consider doing it ;).

For more information check out http://www.glowwormtrail.com/the-course-42km/ .

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