42km of trail in the Blue Mountains conjures scenic images in the head…the Jamison Valley with its natural beauty, the inhospitable and stunning country of Kanangra Boyd and ‘Wild Dogs’ or heaven forbid a race that ventured into the wilderness area of the Grose Valley with the most dramatic gorge and canyon landscapes in the Mountains. Possibilities are endless in this vast tableland of sandstone that helps to create the Sydney Basin.
However people often forget the wonderful Lower Blue Mountains or ‘The Blue Labyrinth’. An area that provided many failed attempts for early explorers trying find passage across the mountains, some of them not even making it 15 or 20km past where the Glenbrook National Park gates stand today. It even took three attempts of to find a viable rail route up the escarpment! Surely this area has some hidden secrets?
Glenbrook Marathon in the Glenbrook National Park doesn’t fail to deliver. This race now in Season Five of Running Wild has had four editions also including a 25km and 34km option. The longer two options are qualifiers for The Six Foot Track Marathon, placed in the running calendar as one of the last options for runners to qualify, all within an hour from Sydney!
The brainchild of one of Running Wild’s founding members affectionately known as ‘Rod the Hornet’ was run as a ‘fat-arse’ event. The challenging yet runnable course was popular from the outset. After a few years and large groups of dirty runners gathering in the Causeway drinking beer and cooling off after a hard 42 all within ‘coo-ee’ of Ranger station, concerns grew about the public liability of this event. As timing would have it Running Wild was formed and the rest is history.
Race Headquarters are in the central Euroka Clearing of the park. Euroka was formed through volcanic activity around 17 million years ago, leaving fertile soil and the campground and picnic area is the final product. The Darug people were the traditional landowners here and Euroka is aptly named meaning ‘sun and warmth’ in traditional tongue.
An 11th hour change in the Season 4 edition saw the race start / finish move to Apple Tree Flat. This was the site of Albert Bennett’s Homestead, the last past public land owner here. He ran a thriving orchid, producing varied crops and also a boating business from locally grown trees carting produce down Nepean River eventually adding tourist cruises to his resume. Luckily for us the land was reclaimed as crown land in the 1950’s and added to the Blue Mountains National Park.
Runners for all three races start together and wind their way around Euroka Clearing up a short section of Bennett’s Ridge on open trail. The course turns left through some single trail that reveals the Nepean River and surrounding gorges which is seen from a few times on course. After a kilometre the trail rejoins Euroka only to skirt around the campsite and exit up the ‘Goat Track’ a short sharp climb of around 70m elevation to test lungs early on. Following a single trail past the Portal Water hole, some may be lucky enough to see the resident Black Snake!
The toughest climb around 5km, averages 19% gradient for around 350 metres on the way to Mount Portal. Before runners hit the Portal lookout the course follows around 2km of open fire trail. The turnaround point is placed on the lookout deck forcing runners to take the breathtaking views of the river flowing into the Nepean Valley and Cumberland Plains. On a clear day you can even spot Sydney Harbour Bridge and Centerpoint on the horizon!
The race turns around and retrace’s its steps, the first aid station appears around 10km on an intersection known by locals as the ‘Five Ways’. The race heads into Glenbrook Walking track for around 2km of stairs, creek crossings on fast flowing single trail. Tar appears here for around 100m heading off the Oaks car park and the rest of the course is trail!
A quick descent through now carved sandstone stair makes the once rock hop into the causeway much easier! A sharp left hand turn up Camp Fire Creek proper reveals 4km of running through the lush forest lined creek, sandy pools, under sandstone overhangs and if you look closely enough you may even find some axe grinding grooves!
Camp Fire Creek Trail is the most technical and beautiful of the race climbing ever so gradually to the culturally significant ‘Red Hands Cave’ containing hand stencils dating back 1600 years. The cave is believed to be a safe place for indigenous women and children; however you could be mistaken for otherwise witnessing runners in the 3rd edition of the race exiting the trail in 40 degree temps! The second aid station has been appropriately located here around 15km.
The course opens up to around 5km of gradually rising fire trail along the seemingly familiar woodland of Red Hands Ridge to the highest point on course. However skirting along the ridge line is Camp Fire and Kanuka Brook Creeks, both could provide days of exploration with variations of fauna and flora. Locals have even been rumoured removing signs to watering holes and trails to keep their location a guarded secret!
Hitting the end of this fire trail, aid station three appears where 25km race turns left, and the 34km and Marathon race turn right. Heading out to Nepean Lookout along the tall gum lined fire trail this section is an out and back for the 34km race. The Marathon has an added extension of 4km after the Nepean Lookout of an out and back along Pisgah Ridge running parallel to the Nepean. Pisgah is a non maintained fire trail enclosing in thick bush as the track progresses, considered by some as mentally the hardest section of the marathon in the morning heat.
Marathon and 34km runners join The Oaks Fire Trail where the 25km runners turned left for a gradual downhill en route to the finish line. Turning right into Bennett’s Ridge where the last aid station appears for a fast 5km heading to the finish line in Euroka where the Marathon runners receive a unique finisher’s medal in the shape of a hand with aboriginal art stencil depicting ‘Red Hands Cave’.
Race records for the Marathon stand with local Jo Brischetto in 3.28.19 for the ladies and Ian Gallagher in 3.15.37 for the men.
Running Wild can guarantee that there are some secrets left for you to find… Glenbrook Marathon is the opening race for Season 5 on Sunday 24th August 2014. Runners from every race receive a burger or vegetarian options with a can of soft drink.
Details and entry can be found at www.runningwildnsw.com.au