Deep in the Central Tablelands region, set amongst green hills and ochre rocks is the abandoned oil shale mining site of Newnes.
Lost to nature back in the 1930s, this unassuming location is a hidden treasure only accessible by a dirt road and a healthy sense of adventure.
With a total population of.. not many, this sleepy oasis is set upon once a year by 1000 trail runners taking on the challenge of the Glow Worm Marathon.
Set over 2 days of racing, this event brings people from all around Australia to disconnect from technology and reconnect with nature.
I was there to soak up the atmosphere and get amongst the mountains.
Newnes is a 3 hours drive Northwest of Sydney, nestled into the mountainside.
As I arrived late Thursday night I knew little of the magnificent surroundings before me.
I drew into town in the pitch dark and was welcome with this sign.
“NEWNES – Everything money can’t buy”
Now Town maybe a bit of a stretch, I drove in pitch darkness hoping that I would see the flicker of light of civilisation or maybe I would be lost forever in the darkness!
Thankfully after some time, I reached the campsite and the welcoming glow of an open fire.
This was the start of an amazing weekend on the Glow Worm Trails.
The Event Schedule
Day One sees the Half marathon, Mystery Mountain Dash and the Ted English Bolt.
Day Two see the Glow Worm Marathon and a second running of the Half Marathon.
Each one interacts with the spectacular environment and is tailored to not only showcase the beautiful and unique landscape but also to provide an experience for all ages from 5 years old to 85-year-old adventurers.
Glow Worm Half Marathon
The half marathon starts just across from the Newnes pub and straight away plunges you across the ford to wet the feet and the appetite for the trail ahead.
From there you head up the old train line and follow it up a consistent gradient until your weaving in and out of tight tree lines and hugging the impressive cliff face.
All the way puffing along and in a way replicating the train that first forged this path.
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The Glow Worm Tunnel
The namesake and unique section of this course is the Glow worm tunnel.
A 400m boomerang shaped tunnel that has been carved through the mountain.
Originally allowing for the train to pass through but now accommodates the runners and a huge amount of glow worms.
These hidden treasures can only be seen in the pure dead of darkness.
So with hundreds of head lit runners, walking through the tunnel, there would need to be a good amount of mutual collaboration to coordinate a light off moment.
But believe me, it is worth the process and is quite a surreal experience being surrounded by green glowing dots in the darkness.
There are not many places where nature, the industrial age and trail runners intersect.
As you move along the tunnel a light starts to appear, that pulls you back into reality and back into the beautiful green, overgrown landscape of a bygone era.
An almost tropical landscape welcomes you in and takes you along the out and back section towards Newnes.
After 10km, and with a final flurry across the water, the finish line appears only a few hundred meters away and the cheers and bells bring the runners home.
The Ted English Bolt
The Ted English bolt is a 6km loop that takes the runners through the ruins of the old industrial section of Newnes.
Originally named after an eccentric man, Ted English.
As the legend goes Ted would be seen running naked through these trails.
The first natural trail runner in these fair lands.
Amusingly this event is now a family run and you see many a mum and dad holding hands with their kids as they jump in the puddles with mud and smiles being their preferred attire.
They wind the way around a combination of coke caves, ruined buildings and open trail sections that is inspiring, educational and fun all at the same time.
As I joined them on the run I watched all the smiles as they passed me by.
The kids dash through the puddles with the parents diligently trying to keep their kids up right and in sight.
With windy uneven trials this was an adventure for sure and for the young and less robust of runners a real challenge to get to the end.
There was a huge amount of support as the came running across the water at the end.
A footy style roar occurring every time the kids plunged into the water and their eyes lit up as they started the mad dash across.
It was a great atmosphere.
They all were wet but happy.
You are never to old to enjoy just running through puddles, getting dirty and being outside.
No nudie runs but Ted English would have been proud.
Mystery Mountain Dash
An event like this would not be the same with out some vertical madness and they did not disappoint.
Rising up from the finish line and Hub is Mystery Mountain, a 400m self sufficient peak that juts up like a wooded pyramid from the trails below.
Supposedly getting its name from the industrial workers, not known for their hill climbing abilities, sitting at the pub looking up and debating what was at the top.
The Mystery Mountain has been used as a great training environment from world champion boxers to Scotty Hawker.
It is a heart starter for sure and this year 12 souls took on the challenge to reach the top and maybe just maybe beat the course records of 13.37min set by Andy Lee last year.
Starting with a 100m dash at the bottom the runners left in pairs and at 1 min intervals.
The fastest left last and soon they all were off.
You are taken through a virtual straight line up to the mid way point. There is a false flat to allow your lungs and quads to breathe and then it sharply rises again.
This time it continues to become steeper and steeper.
The trees are replaced by rocky terrain and the path starts to meander up the rock face, with narrow passes and large leg stretches to ease your way to the top.
The higher you go the colder and stronger the wind becomes.
This is always a good sign you are getting closer to the top and the landscape below starts to open out.
As you edge around the side of the mountain you see the expanse of the other valley across from you and it is a beautiful location.
But no stopping until the top where with one last push you can reach the summit and enjoy the 360 degree views of the valleys below, each with a unique rock formation all nestled within the green foliage of the mountain trees.
Your reach the summit of 370m in only 900m of climbing.
Mountain dash results have been requested will get them up here soon.
Pretty sure the record was broken, a new Mystery mountain legend is born!
The Day is done
As the sun sets over the first day of the Glow Worm Marathon Trail running weekend I am amazed and impressed by three main factors.
The beauty of the landscape.
The kindness and diversity of the participants and supporters
And the sheer hard work, grit and determination of all the organisers and volunteers.
With an event cut off from civilisation this is a huge logistical endeavour and mother nature lashed rain down to add an extra element of complexity to it all.
Sean and Mel and all the team at Mountain Sports should be very proud of what they have created and I look forward to tomorrow, which see the running of the Marathon and the second coming of the half.
Thanks to everyone I met for sharing your stories and your passion.