This year a small but appreciative group of runners contested the Barron Gorge Trail Race. The 11km race attracted 10 contestants while 23 started the 18km course. All runners finished which was very gratifying for the organisers and nobody got severely lost which was very gratifying for me as I spent nearly 8 hours out on course marking it and cutting back Wait-a-While.
The weather was ideal for running with no rain and a cooling wind blowing most of the time. The track was a little damp but not wet. Contestants appreciated the variety of the course. Barron Gorge is a true trail race with testing inclines, technical declines and flatter sections with a good variety of surfaces underfoot.
Runners from both distances started at the same time (just after 7am) and headed east along Stoney Creek Road, looking for Stevie Johnson who directed them into the entry to Smith’s Track. Leo Schoepflin took off like a rabbit, leaving us mere mortals wondering what kind of fuel he had in his tank. We figured he was running on avgas as he “flew” around the 18 km course in the amazing time of 1:47:45 finishing 23 minutes ahead of the next runner. In the process he knocked nearly 4 minutes off his 2017 time and broke Chris White’s 2015 record for the 18km race. Well done Leo! An incredible run!
The first 2.5kms of Smith’s Track is both physically and mentally challenging with the steep incline seemingly never ending. The descent to Toby’s Lookout is a welcome relief for many. At “Toby’s”, runners split into their respective distance courses with both groups descending off a ridge and crossing Stoney Creek at different points.
Climbing out of Stoney Creek, the 11km runners took a somewhat flatter course along the Gandal Wandun Track before meeting up with the 18km runners on the Douglas Track. Meanwhile, the long course competitors also climbed out of Stoney Creek to run past two magnificently huge kauri trees, enroute to the Yalbogie Track. From there, it’s an almost constant climb to Stoney Creek Road. Runners gained speed as dirt road turned to bitumen and a right turn onto Smith’s Track Road lead them to the checkpoint at Speewah.
At the Speewah carpark, Brenda OBrien and her Japanese homestay “assistants”, Keiko and Kantaro, had set up drinks and snacks as well as recording runners bib numbers and times. Meanwhile, like faithful sheepdogs, our “Sweep” Keith Fearon and his assistant Ben Smith, followed along behind, collecting directional signs and making sure all runners made it to the finish safely. Thanks fellas!
Departing the checkpoint, the 18km runners entered the rainforest again and headed for home along firstly, the Djina Wu Track and then onto the Douglas Track. From the junction with the Gandal Wandun Track, all runners headed east, ascending, descending, crossing small creeks and navigating the myriad roots that criss-cross the track until finally they burst out into the open at the junction with McDonalds Track.
Following the power lines, runners were rewarded with magnificent views over the coast before entering a series of switch-backs. These led to metal steps and the pedestrian bridge over the Kuranda Scenic Railway. Passing under a huge old mango tree the track descends relatively steeply to the finish line. This section of the course is littered with rocks and tree roots and tired runners had to be constantly alert. Finally, Stoney Creek appears and its only 100 metres to the finish, and for some the end of their first trail race. Well done everyone!
And now, a quick summary of the results. Firstly, a look at the 11km race. The men’s event is a classic case of “you just have to show up to get a medal”. Robert Clauss took gold in the time of 1:57:13 with Patric Foss coming in second in 2:10:42. Christopher Rey Arong took the bronze medal with a time of 2:27:20.
The field in the women’s 11km race was totally different to last year and the winner was Vanessa Drysdale in 1:51:13. She was 9 minutes ahead of competitor Ruth Bullen who crossed the finish line in 2:00:15. A further 9 minutes back was Kara Cronin who ran a time of 2:09:05. Well done to all 11km runners!
The 18km distance was the most popular with runners this year and, in contrast to recent trends, male runners almost doubled the number of females. As mentioned earlier, Leo Schoepflin blitzed the field to take gold. However, Rob Hendrickx turned in a very tidy time of 2:11:00 to take the silver medal and Andrew Burrows rounded out the fig tree podium with a time of 2:18:25.
In the ladies division, Alina Mitchell’s long legs carried her across the line first in a time of 2:21:32. She was hotly pursued by Rachel Matthews (one of the few runners to carry walking poles…to good effect mind you) who took silver in 2:22:57. Karen Arthur fought off a vicious Wait-a-While to record a time of 2:30:25 for the bronze medal.
The feedback from runners was very good and I have to thank my team for this great result. Pre-race, Sarah Dart and Marian Webster looked after promotion and IT while Susie Houlihan and Colleen Harisson took care of administration, shopping, trailer towing, set up/pull down and worked the coal face on race day. Stevie Johnson mingled, took photos, directed runners and bobbed up here and there with Marian setting up and pulling down.
Brenda OBrien dragged herself and our Japanese boarders Keiko and Kantaro out of bed at an early hour to travel to Speewah and set up the checkpoint. Thank you! Thanks also to our Sweep Keith Fearon and assistant Ben Smith for looking after the runners and collecting the directional signs. I definitely was not looking forward to running around the courses again to pick them up!
Cairns Road Runners next trail running event will be the “Goldsborough Goldrush” to be held on Sunday June 24th. 10km, 18km and the iconic Goldrush Marathon (run for years by adventuresport nq….check out their Facebook and website for other great events). All three races start in the beautiful Goldsborough Valley and we are hoping to continue the tradition of making this a running/camping weekend. See you on the trails!
by Race Director David O’Brien