That mountain glow: the worm has turned

In 1907 the police at Newnes arrested a local who was running naked through the bush shouting he was Jesus Christ come to deliver justice to the bustling little mining community in the wild Wolgan Valley, in New South Wales, Australia.

68 (2) Never heard of Newnes and its nudie run? Apart from the old pub, which still operates as a kiosk serving campers and bushwalkers on weekends, old Newnes is now a collection of haunting industrial ruins abandoned to nature. In the towering cliffs above the town, the legacy of a railway line bravely built into the valley is a 600m tunnel that is now home to a colony of glow worms so brilliant it looks like a subterranean Milky Way.

It is a place where nature now utterly dominates man, part of the vast Wollemi National Park that is part of the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.

But back when Ted English made his naked bush bolt, it was home to many hard-working souls. Beneath the narrow valley’s sandstone escarpment, they manned the Wolgan’s oil-shale mining and refining operation, which was established in 1906 and continued until the 1930s, producing products like paraffin and kerosene.

That same wild valley, with its stunning scenery and fascinating industrial history, is now the host of a unique trail running weekend in 15-16 June. Sean Greenhill, from Blue Mountains-based Mountain Sports, loves the way the Glow Worm Tunnel Running Weekend combines his passions for tough trail running, unique landscapes and fascinating history.

And in honour of Ted English – ”a prime example of a pioneer of trail running in the Newnes area at the turn of the century” – Greenhill is now offering the inaugural Ted English Bolt as part of this year’s Glow Worm Tunnel Running Weekend: a 6km fun run through the extensive industrial ruins of Newnes, where you can see the likes of the beautiful old coke ovens and the brick terracing needed to house the industrial complex on the steep valley side.

The Ted English Bolt is a way for runners to see the sights and stretch their legs ahead of the nexTake Offt day’s marathon and half marathon.

Greenhill organised the first Glow Worm Tunnel Running Weekend in 2012, attracting 276 runners. It is back again this year with a bigger program of events (see the breakout on the Mystery Mountain Dash). The marathon – which starts and finishes at the Newnes Hotel – is a magical run through the bush on narrow tracks including the bed of the old Wolgan Valley railway, through the glow worm tunnel and across the high Pipeline Pass along a track which follows the old pipeline route to another oil-shale industrial relic, the town of Glen Davis.

Glen Davis lies in the neighbouring Capertee Valley, a giant canyon recognised internationally as one of the world’s top bird-watching places.

Brendan Davies, one of Australia’s (and now the world’s) top male trail runners having just won The North Face 100 (and beating Kilian Jornet’s record time), said of last year’s Glow Worm Tunnel Marathon: ”This is definitely one of the most beautiful and physically challenging courses I’ve ever done.”

The marathon course, however, has changed. Last year’s runners found the race beautiful but brutal in parts and this year the punishing passages of Pipeline Pass will come at the start of the race rather than at the end.

”We’re turning the marathon around,” Greenhill said. ”Last year the marathon ran up through the tunnel first then the second half of the marathon was up over Pipeline Pass to Glen Davis. Pipeline Pass is extremely steep and hard and we found that people who were slow or were injured were coming back down Pipeline Pass and it was already almost dark because it’s winter, so for safety reasons this year we’ve turned it around so first they are coming up over the pass and back and then they run up to the tunnel afterwards. Pipeline Pass is now the first thing they’ll tackle rather than the last thing.”

Runners must carry a head torch with them to tackle the glow worm tunnel and can only walk through it, not run, to ensure they don’t disturb the thousands of glow worms that line its walls. There’s a 10-minute time penalty for anyone breaking the rule. If the weather turns bad there is other compulsory gear runners must also carry with them because they will be in a remote mountainous region in winter.

glow worm runnersAnd some people don’t like being told what to run with.

”You hear plenty of people complain about it … people saying ‘we don’t have to carry all this stuff, we’re serious runners’,” Greenhill says. But he doesn’t agree with them. “The compulsory gear is to keep people warm and dry and alive when something goes wrong and they are forced to stop running.

”In the mountains, once you get a sweat up on a cool day, once you stop [running] you could get cold really easily and become incapacitated quite easily. I’ve gotten hypothermic in mountain runs a couple of times and let me assure you at that point you are glad you are carrying [protective clothing].”

Luckily Ted English did his naked bolt in April, when the weather is more balmy.

For more information about the Glow Worm Tunnel Trail Running Weekend (June 15-16) and to enter go to

It was the fabled Greek soldier Pheidippides who ran the 42.195 kilometres from the Battle of Marathon to Athens to establish the ancient legend that made the distance the most celebrated in world running. Horizontal running, that is.
These days in the trail running scene the ”vertical” kilometre is developing its own mystique. It involves a course that rises by an elevation of 1000m in as short a horizontal distance as possible. In other words, the steeper the better. While some vertical kilometre (VK) races in Europe and North America cover as much as five horizontal kilometres, the prestigious VK race at Fully in Switzerland boasts just 1920m of horizontal distance.

The Australian landscape doesn’t have the topography necessary to stage a decent vertical kilometre race, but the Glow Worm Tunnel Trail Running Weekend boasts a pretty good compromise. When you stand on the wooden balcony of the Newnes Hotel – the last building from its industrial heydey still standing – you look across the Wolgan River and need to crane your neck to see the top of Mystery Mountain, an imposing edifice that rises steeply from the river bank. Running the rough trail to the top from the pub balcony represents a 370m elevation gain over a horizontal distance of just 2.4km. The fastest recorded time for running the mountain is 22 minutes. Runners will tackle the course two at a time and the fastest male and female to get from the hotel to the top and back will win $200 each.

Blueys win Sydney Trail Run Series outing

Blue Mountains-based runners were the first-placed male and female runners in the latest round of the Sydney Trailrunning Series held on the Emerald City’s northern edge, proving there’s definite advantage in being a resident amongst steep terrain where you can’t go for a run without serious ups and downs.
Springwood’s Jim Perrett was the quickest male over the 12km course at Bobbin Head in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, while Woodford’s Jo Brischetto led the women home.

Brischetto, 32, is a personal trainer and mother of three who won last year’s 50km Kanangra Classic while Perrett, 24, is studying to be a physical education teacher at the University of Western Sydney and works for the AFL.

‘It seems like the Blue Mountains is a good training spot for these things,’ observed Sean Greenhill of Mountain Sports, the Wentworth Falls-based business that organises the series.

Warrimoo runner Andy Lee was the male winner of the three-race summer season at Manly Dam while the female winner Shona Stephenson lives in Camperdown but does much of her training in the Blue Mountains.

The autumn season kicked off at Bobbin Head on Sunday, with Lee the second male home after backing up from the previous weekend’s Six Foot Track Marathon, while Stephenson was competing in New Zealand at the famous Tarawera Ultramarathon.

Perrett said the Bobbin Head track, which will also host series races on April 21 and May 12, was tougher than the Manly Dam course.

To enter the remaining Sydney Trailrunning Series Autumn editions go to

Sydney Trail Series launches Autumn editions

There’s a lot of focus (and Trail Run Mag is just as guilty in this respect) on ultra distances when it comes to trail running in the media.They are the big, bad boys of the sport, the ones that provide the most drama, heartache and top end action.

IMAGE: Michael Leadbetter /

IMAGE: Michael Leadbetter /

But let’s face it, ultras, as much as we love them and what they represent beyond the simple act of running a long way through the bush, will only ever attract so many punters. The hours you have to train, for one, means it’s a sport only for those able to tear themselves away from work and family demands for the long hours required to condition the body to run 100km, 200km or more.

Thankfully there’s another groundswell in the trail community happening across Australia (and I reckon it already happened in NZ a long time ago): the surge in shorter distance trail run events hosted in locales accessible to the greater urban population. We now have the Salomon Trail Run Series in Melbourne, Running Wild NSW has long held a series of short runs, the Perth Trail Series has its final summer outing on 24 March, and if rumours are correct there will be at least two trail series springing up in South East Queensland, not to mention the great work already being done in Far North Queensland by Adventure Sport NQ with its Dirty Northern Trail Running Series  not to mention the Cairns Road Runners with its series of four trail runs (the next being the Black Snake on 24 April).

So it makes sense that Australia’s most populous metropolis, Sydney, has witnessed the birth of its own series of late in the Sydney Trailrunning Series, put on by the folk at Mountain Sports, purveyors of the fine Glow Worm Tunnel Marathon.

The Series’ autumn season kicks off this coming weekend with a new venue at Bobbin Head on beautiful Cowan Creek in Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park on Sydney’s northern outskirts.

There is a 12km and a 6km race option, with the 12km race doing the 6km track twice.

Organiser Sean Greenhill of Mountain Sports notes Bobbin Head’s beautiful start/finish point at the picnic area and a scenic though testing figure-of-eight track.

‘The first mile or so it climbs quite steeply up onto a ridge and does a loop along that ridge and then there’s a long descent that winds back and forth. Most of it’s single track, with about a kilometre of dirt road in that 6km loop. It’s probably a bit steeper [than the summer season track at Manly Dam].’

Greenhill has offered the 6km option as well as the 12km because many people only had the time or inclination each week to train for shorter distances and wanted to offer something to them as well as more serious runners. It’s a move that reflects the explosion of trail running in general, and especially in the shorter distances, with Series One attracting more than 400 runners and the Salomon Series in Victoria attracting more than 1200 to some of its events in only its second year (2012).

‘By having a 6km race, it will still test them a bit but it’s more accessible to people who are just getting into running or are generally fit but not runners per se. Somebody who plays sport a few times a week or rides a bike, they may not be running fit but they can have a go at a 6km race. It will also be great for kids,” says Greenhill.

The first male and female home in the 12km race will both collect $250 while the top five males and females in the 6km event will win sponsors’ gifts. There will be water fill-up points at 2.5km, 6km, 8.5km and 12km.

Mountain Sports runs a no-cup policy for environmental reasons so all runners should carry their own cup or water bottle. There is parking for more than 400 cars at Bobbin Head but runners are reminded that the National Parks and Wildlife Service charges an entry fee to the national park of $11 for each car.

The Sydney Trailrunning Series is a series of short-course trail running events all within 45 minutes of the Sydney CBD. The series runs all year round and is divided into seasons at various locations. The autumn season at Bobbin Head features races on March 17, April 21 and May 12. for more information or to enter the Sydney Trailrunning Series.