The Southern Highlands Challenge first came into being in 2014. I remember having a coffee at the Centennial Park café with race director April Palmerlee where she excitedly told me about her plan. I too couldn’t help but be caught up in the positivity. After all, who doesn’t like the sound of a trail race in beautiful place, complete with a petting zoo!
One year on and I found myself in the picturesque Southern Highlands of NSW. This time around the event had grown significantly in size, doubled actually, and I’d taken my fiancée Emma along with me for the weekend away, with both of us racing. As per the 2014 edition I was down for the long event – Approximately 50km of mixed trails featuring twisty single-track, open fire trail and beautiful dusty dirt roads through the farmland and pine plantations. It’s a genuine mix of terrain and ideal for newcomers to off-road running or experienced pundits wanting a fast course.
We decided t make a weekend of it and spent the Saturday exploring the area, which largely involved relaxing at one of the cafes for a couple hours as well as an easy run in the forest. Despite being a sleepy part of the world there’s still ample to keep entertained. From coffee shops and antique dealers, to vineyards and hiking. Being a tragic for weird and wonderful antiquities I discovered a delightful taxidermy turtle in a shop window on Saturday night, only to return the next morning to buy it and find the store closed. Gotta love country towns! By the way, if anyone is heading there sometime soon, I’ll swing ya some cash to get me that darn turtle.
Race morning arrived with a frosty start and after the usual mad panic to get to the start line on time (I’m famed for my last minute arrivals) the gun fired and we were away. To cut a long story short, the day unfolded about as well as I could have hoped. In somewhat of a rollercoaster ride, first I felt crap, tired and sore, then I felt great and finally I got a nice rhythm going and cruised through the second half of the course. It was super relaxed and the perfect weather coupled by an incredibly positive atmosphere made for an awesome run.
I basically lead from start to finish, but thanks to the ingenuity of the course I had the pleasure of passing the event hub a couple of times as well as the back markers of the shorter races, which meant I got lots of cheering and support. The 3 hours and 23 minutes of running quickly went by and crossing the finish I was met with a rousing reception. Pretty cool! To top things off, Emma won the 24km race and also placed 2nd in the 6km. Another thing I have to mention is the goodie bag. It was epic and worth as much as the entry fee! Next year I’ll be back to hopefully make it three in a row.