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Monday, 9 April 2012

Nerang State Forest (Gold Coast) 25km trail run

Queensland’s Gold Coast is second to none as Australia’s tourist destination. It is home to various entertainment venues and events, amusement parks and theme parks (dreamworld, movieworld, wet’n ‘wild, etc), natural attractions parks and reserves, not to mention a small matter of 70 kilometres of beaches. I don’t mind all these Queenslander features too and that’s why i live here, but I do prefer the hinterland areas (the hills and mountain ranges) to the sea. The Gold Coast hinterland offers a lot more on top of the above attractions. Go explore Lamington National Park and the rainforests including O’Reilly’s, Binna Burra, Springbook, Numinbah Valley and many others. And right on the west and inland from the coast is Tamborine Mountain with more hidden attractions than is known. Gateway to the rural hinterland is the township of Nerang, a commercial centre on the scenic Nerang river.  In past years (although not recently) I have had the opportunity to tread on many parts of the southeast corner of Queensland around the Gold Coast. And around Nerang I worked in Mt Nathan, Pacific Pines, Gaven, Gilston, Mudgeeraba and Tallai, including in Nerang.

The 1st of April 2012 is a Sunday and I came to labor in the fields of a forest (coulda been a good April fool's joke). Work was farthest from my mind, but i'll be toiling over the mountains anyway. I have come not to do the tourist thing but to do a different kind of touring of the Nerang state forest.

Joining about 200 other runners, I have turned up early Sunday (having again witnessed the beauty of night turning to day on the road) for the 25km Nerang state forest trail run.  Another 55 other runners have already embarked and are about an hour into their 50km run.  I will get to see some of these mighty ultra runners as they lap me, but this funrunner couldn’t care less about getting lapped. I have come to test myself and my goal is to finish. 

The race start/finish line is at the Nerang velodrome. 




The course is predominantly on hilly 4WD fire trails and covers the last section of the 96km Kokoda Challenge in July.

The sun had risen and was bathing the grounds with bright sunlight. Runners trickled in but suddenly swelled as the start time at 0700h approached.

The cyclists had to wait at the sidelines as the runners took the velodrome centre stage for a few minutes.


Pre-race instructions.


Then they were off.


The course was indeed narrow and rough and hilly and challenging and I enjoyed every moment of it, well except for the running part.  It was single file for the first kilometre of the course. Runners bunched up at the pipe fence on entry to the forest trail. Many were slowed down but I wasn’t too fussed, this was a hilly 25km run, not a pleasant 2.5km sprint down along the beach. A few eager beavers did weave in and out to get up front. Eventually the runners found their pace and place on the first 2.5km gentle incline and then downhill to the 3.5km. This up and down pattern on some 10 rolling hills, is the hallmark of this Nerang state forest trail run.

We toured the second hill to the southern wye junction (4.5km) before descending down the Keith McKay Gap to Coombabah Creek at the 6km mark. Then up the third hill to Siberia then down to Saltwater Creek (8.1km). And so we hit ‘heartbreak hill’ where mere mortal runners like me were forced to walk. I looked around and everyone else seemed to follow the running adage "if you cannot see the top of the hill, walk it." No truer words have been spoken, but especially for this hill.


A couple of teenaged lads did sprint past me up the hill. Thankfully the hill wasn’t too high and then soon enough after a bit of a hike, we were descending again to another creek (Markham’s Creek). Going up from here was another steep hill (hill 5 by my count), perhaps the twin or smaller sibling of ‘heartbreak hill’ where again I was reduced to a walking zombie. Its gradient gradually lessened as we ascended up to the northern wye junction on the hilltop at 11.1km. From here it was downhill and more technical what with narrow single-file tracks covered with loose rocks and knee-high grass in parts. Then we come to a split concrete and dirt driveway before exiting the forest to a bitumen road (Holyrood Road, Maudsland) going downwards to the turnaround station and halfway checkpoint . I enjoyed this respite down the hill but dreaded the uphill return.

At running events, I naturally observe other runners and try to match it with those who can pull me along.  Throughout the first half of the run I noticed a lady in pink and two or three gentlemen who were within 100m in front of me from about the 2 to 3km point.  We sort of leapfrogged each other a couple of times, on the inclines and declines and flatlines, depending on where our strengths and weaknesses are. I gained on the ascents to the summits and they took me back on the flat grounds and downhills. 

Eventually ‘pink lady’ sped away from us on the approach to the turnaround point. 

At the checkpoint I took stock, checked my water, helped myself to some fluids, rested briefly, then commenced the return leg. I had hoped to keep ms pink lady in sight, but did not see her again until I stumbled back to the finish line, some 10 minutes behind. I did a slow jog on the 2.8km uphill back to the northern wye junction, and was quite amazed when this younger man in red shirt sprinted up the hill like Usain Bolt.

From the 11km to the 13.5km I got to see many of the ultra runners on their second leg of the 50km run. Many of them were older than me but very fit and strong runners. There’s at least one gentleman there in his young late 60s, and two or three 'granny smiths' going strongly. I can only cheer them on and say ‘well done, good running’. 

The return leg was similar to the first with another five rolling hills and peaking at Macca’s corner. They were not as steep as ‘heartbreak hill’, but that’s cold comfort.

The final 2km+ was pleasantly downhill and I actually enjoyed the winding homestretch. I even caught a young man in green shirt just before the finish line. He said “oh so close...” which made me smile a bit. I said “nearly there man, keep going.” Only later did I find out that he was doing another lap just for fun. Well done young man!

Nearing midday, a straggler struggles to the finish.

 

And awarded with a well-earned tee-shirt.


The finish line under the shady eucalypts.

 


A big thank you to all involved: the organisers, the volunteers at the halfway mark and at the finish, and those behind the scenes. Great work!

There is a link to the 2012 full results at the  AURA website.