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Ferny Creek 21

A very wintry Ferny Creek
Another Sunday, and another Sunday long run.  While tackling The Orchard 32km Run this morning (see previous Post), my thoughts went back to the premier Sunday long run of my running career, the Ferny Creek 21 (Mile), which I ran for many years in my 20s and 30s.

Apparently the Ferny Creek runs started in the early 1960s with Ron Clarke, Trevor Vincent and other notable runners meeting at a café at Ferny Creek on a Sunday morning for their weekly long run.  The Dandenong Ranges, where Ferny Creek is situated, lie about 30 kilometres east of Melbourne, and consist of a mix of mountains, towering mountain ash forests, lush fern gullies, quiet back roads and walking tracks.

By the time I joined the group in the late 1960s, there were often 30 runners or more, and I soon graduated from the short 14 Mile, to the longer, 21 Mile, as my marathoning career began.  The Ferny Creek 21 had a lot going for it in my mind.  It was through ideal running country, the standard was very high, and it was an opportunity to rub shoulders with, and test yourself against, the best runners of the day.  There were sections of road and trail, sometimes in parallel (offering a choice), and there were famous (amongst the running fraternity) hills.

The top of Aeroplane Hill
The first was Two Mile Hill, reached after four miles, where the social chatter abruptly stopped.  The hill wasn't that steep, but climbed 400 feet in two miles, and could be run at speed.  In all the years I ran the Two Mile Hill, I don't think I ever reached the top first, even at my fittest.  It seemed that some runners considered it their main race of the week, while others, such as Rob De Castella, Chris Wardlaw and Gerard Barrett, were just too good.  At the top there was a ritual urination stop while waiting for the stragglers before the run continued in a more competitive mode.

The second famous hill, Aeroplane Hill, came after fourteen miles.  It wasn't so long, but was very steep.  It was preceded by a few foothills that were significant in themselves, and I can remember introducing a club-mate to Aeroplane Hill by telling him that the "foothills" were actually Aeroplane Hill.  He was feeling very pleased with himself until he came round a bend to be confronted by the real Aeroplane Hill and his eyes nearly bugged out.

There were still more hills, including through the beautiful Sherbrooke Forest, before the final mile and a half of gradual downhill running back to the café.  The café produced excellent milkshakes and most runners adjourned there after the run to discuss the morning's times and the previous day's races.

Sherbrooke Forest
Sadly, in the early 1980s, restrictions were placed on runners in Sherbrooke Forest for (unproven) ecological reasons, and the 21 Mile course had to be modified a little. Runners still meet at Ferny Creek to run on Sundays, and whenever I'm in Melbourne, and fit, I try to get up there to run the course for old times sake.  These days, if I break 3 hours, I'm doing well.  My best time, from memory, was 2:07 run with Gerard Barrett and Rob De Castella one Sunday in the early 1980s.  Those were the days.

This morning's run went much better than I had anticipated.  My legs weren't too tired from yesterday's 10km race, and seemed to cope with the early hills comfortably.  Having a couple of mates to run and chat with helped the kilometres to pass, though there was little talking on the return trip.  My knee and Achilles were sore, but manageable, and a fall at one point yielded some minor cuts and abrasions.  I kept waiting for the wheels to come off in the last 12km, but managed to maintain a good pace and finished in 2:54, very tired, but not shattered.  That's more than 15 minutes faster than a month ago so is reason for cautious optimism that I'm returning to some form.