Wollongong local and elite runner Russell Dessaix-Chin gives us the lowdown on a bread and butter ‘Gong run. In the coming weeks we will have a couple more from the NSW south coast.
Welcome to Running in the Gong (or Wollongong to those who like to lengthen names), home of many a well known elite distance runner, from Dave Power of the mighty Power clan, as well as arguably Australia’s greatest female runner to date, the late and amazing Kerryn McCann, and, most recently, the new generation of wunderkind, spearheaded by Ryan Gregson.
And where did these great athletes cut their, er, feet? Wollongong is one of the most unique places I have run in, with a pretty much dead flat bike track that stretches for kilometres both north and south of the CBD, running parallel to a pristine coastline. For those with a penchant for dodging tree roots and puddles there are numerous trails to be found within the impressive forested escarpment that dominates the Illawarra skyline to the west. I know for a fact that both Kerryn and Ryan have trod these places well, as I have been fortunate enough to bridge both generations and had the opportunity to train with both. But enough about me, let’s get into some of the local running haunts!
This is an easy introduction to running in the Gong, with the Puckeys (Estate) Loop being a very accessible and not too difficult 5km amble across grass and through seaside scrub. The start is somewhere in the vicinity of the North Wollongong Surf Club, where ample parking can be found across the road from the clubhouse.
Heading north along the grassy perimeter of Stuart Park, you have the Puckeys Lagoon on your right (do not eat anything you catch out of this body of water!) and the constant peril of the skydivers falling on your head to your left. At just under a km you come to the choice – take on the short cut over the ditch and its precarious log jump, or follow the park a little more around until you hit the bike track (which you can always start on at the surf club as well, if you need to keep off the grass).
Either way, you continue north over a bridge before hanging a sharp right directly after crossing the water and into the wilderness (ha ha) of the Puckeys Reserve. Along a delightful wooden boardwalk (suicide in the wet at speed though, and I’ve got the scars to prove it!) …and left onto a gravel path.
This path used to be just dirt, packed sand and tree roots, but some bright spark had the idea to gravel it, and now it is a regular highway. If you’re lucky, you might almost get barrelled over by local marathon star Barry Keem as he churns out the famous “Monners Through Puckeys”. This path is followed for the next mile.
At about 2km there is a small pinch to take on, and soon after you break out from the scrub into another car park. This is the turnaround point. Here you can take the tough guy’s route and go right back up the little climb you made, or follow the trail around to the left, turning left just before the creek and heading back south through the jungle-like reeds until hitting the path you came in on. When the run is complete, go for a well-earned dip in the waves at North Wollongong Beach!