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Great Train Races

Runners set out to beat the Puffing Billy to Emerald in
a recent Great Train Race.

Some races have an extra dimension that gives them greater appeal, and I have run a few strange ones over the years.  I don't know how many Great Train Races there are in the world, but I have been fortunate enough to run in two on opposite sides of the planet.

Puffing Billy.

The first was the race against the Puffing Billy, a restored tourist steam train that runs from Belgrave to Emerald in the Dandenong Ranges outside Melbourne.  I frequently ran in the Dandenongs in the 1970s and 1980s on a variety of trails including, occasionally, along the Puffing Billy track, literally.  It is a beautiful part of the world with mountains, towering trees, rain-forested gullies and small farms.

Commuter Train waits to leave New Canaan Station.

Someone had the idea of the The Great Train Race, 13.2 km in length, in the early 1980s.  I think I missed the first one or two events, running it for the first time in May of 1983 (there is a map of the course here).  As I recall, they modified the race format during those first years, as they learnt some lessons.  One time, I think, the train driver gave it his best shot and beat all of the runners easily, making it a bit of a non-event.  Another time, they had runners trying to beat the train to a level crossing, so they didn't have to wait for it to pass.  Nobody got hit, but heavy marshalling was employed thereafter!  From memory I ran it twice, but can only find a record of that first time, 18th in 42:44.  I believe I beat the train on both occasions, each time running back to the start along the track.  It was a fun event and is still on the running calendar today.

The Connecticut version of the Great Train
Race passes by Silvermine Pond.
(©Photo by rogerking)

When living in Connecticut in the late 1990s, I discovered another Great Train Race that ran from the commuter rail station in New Canaan, a nearby village, to the Wilton rail station, 6.8 miles away (there is a map of the course here).  It was much lower key than the Australian version, in several ways, but shared with it a hilly and scenic course, made more attractive by autumn foliage, and lots of fun.

The Connecticut version of the Great Train
Race runs along Old Huckleberry Road.
(©Photo by rogerking)

The first difference was that it was not against a single train, but instead against a notional commuter who, leaving on the train that signalled the start of the race, would have to change trains twice, at Stamford and South Norwalk, before getting to Wilton 59 minutes later.  It wasn't too hard to beat the train.  The second difference was the size of the field.  It was a small local race and you could enter almost up until the time the train left.  In the two years I ran it, there were only 60-80 runners.  I managed third place, in 42:01 in 1997, but was four minutes slower for 46:28 in 2000.  As in Australia, a number of us ran back to the start, at a slow plod, once the last runners had come in and presentations had been made.  Also like Australia, I see the event is still on the local calendar.

For my training today, I ran a very leisurely 5km, and felt OK by the end. but very rusty over the first few kilometres.  Another heavy running weekend coming up.