The above map is an outline of where I am going to be racing the train on Sunday. It's a 13km run through the hills between Belgrave and Emerald. Puffing Billy is a fully working, restored steam train. The Elevation chart shows just why this is such a tough hill climb, and if you're nuts like me, an enjoyable run.
The scenery is beautiful: Ancient eucalypt gum trees, massive tree ferns, a mix of asphalt and gravel roads and the sooty steam of the great train either leading the way or trailing you.
The sound of the whistle blowing as it nears a crossing is electrifying and an incredible incentive to run faster. The crowd and families you see along the way are some of the most supportive I've ever run past. It's no wonder that this event sells out within two weeks!
So how am I going to beat Puffing Billy? It is a race that traditionally attracts a fast field, so I'm being more conservative and hoping for a top 20% finish. With the training that I have undertaken in the last 3 months, I am also aiming to beat the train.
Looking at the elevation I am going to break the race into stages.
The first 1.5kms is often very fast - people head out quickly and the down hill start can be misleading. I will 'go with the flow' in this section, aiming to run 3:50 - 4:00 km time as I now know that I can do this quite comfortably.
The first hill is a little like my Wandin to Mt Evelyn run, so I will try and back the pace off to 4:15 - 4:25. Before this seemed fast, but with my renewed focus and understanding of my breathing technique I hope this will be achievable. It's not a long climb and I'll use the down hill to recovery and keep the speed nearer to 4:00kms.
Hill 2 is a longer, 2.5-3km climb and the hardest section. I know from the Portsea Twilight run I should be able to average 4:30 - 4:45 kms over this section. I will drop the pace to just above comfortable and hopefully tag along with some other stronger runners and use their 'pull' to keep me going. Near the end I expect to push the breathing and have to go 2:1 as I need more air.
From memory I think there is a flatter section that follows. It rounds a long bend and heads into the last hill. Still a grade 5 climb...This is about a 2km rise, again similar to the hills at home. I'm hoping I have enough in the tank to work it at about 4:15-4:30 kms before the final stretch for home.
If I say the peak of the last hill is at about 10km, then from 11km it's all down hill. The Dandy runners who've beaten Puffing Billy say that if you can be level, or ahead at Emerald station then you'll be victorious. I like the sound of that.
My speed runs at home, on similar descent were sub 4kms. If I can run close to 4:00kms for this last 3 km I will be very happy. I'm hoping to hear that whistle and see the steam as at this point the fatigue will be certainly kicking in, but hopefully my learning to run faster downhill will get me over the line...
I've not done the maths, but in 2011 I ran the course in 1:06. This year I am aiming to be 1 min per km quicker and run it home in 50 - 55 minutes.
Puffing Billy traditionally runs it in 50 - 55 minutes, so it will be down to the line. Fingers crossed I finish in front.
Keep an eye out for me, as always, I'll have the black and red inov-8 wragg, the all conquering trailroc 235s and either the trademark red compression top or my blue inov-8 tee.
Say g'day or even come and run with me.
Cheers, and happy running,
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