With its retro, glow in the dark theme, it would be easy to think of the Afterglow Half Marathon as little more than one of those novelty runs that are all the rage these days, but make no mistake, this is a serious, and seriously beautiful twilight trail running event.
I have to say, for me personally, fancy dress just isn’t really my thing when I’m running. I have enough trouble making it to the finish line as it is without wearing a tutu or a superhero costume. But for this race, I made the slight exception of at least wearing a brightly coloured top and pair of shorts. While my hot pink shorts did their job admirably, and at least as well as my regular black ones, I did come unstuck a bit with my orange Nike top.
I’m so used to running in my ioMerino, that I’d genuinely forgotten what it was like running in a synthetic long sleeve top. Big mistake. While it did indeed keep me warm at the start when it was a little chilly, I quickly hit boiling point courtesy of its sweaty lack of breathability and it wasn’t long before I had to de-layer. I couldn’t help but wish I’d worn my admittedly less colourful, but infinitely more comfortable ioMerino top. Not to worry, I had my trusty io Altitude T-shirt on underneath and while I would have preferred a sleeve, the T-shirt kept me warm enough well into the evening and after the sun set. As the old piece of running wisdom goes, “dress for how you’ll feel 20 minutes into the race, not how you feel at the start line”. It’s wisdom I would have done well to remember when I set off.
But back to the race itself. The gaggle of multi coloured runners gathered at Torquay, one of Australia’s most famous surf beaches, to be bussed off to the starting line further down the coast. There was an early start time for the slower runners, with the speedies starting a little later. Being pretty out of shape after spending almost six months out with a serious ankle injury, I opted for the early start time. To be honest, the longest run I’d done in the lead up was 11kms and I’d traveled to this race planning to do do the shorter 12km distance, but at the last minute, running fever took over and I went for the 21km half marathon even though I wasn’t even sure how I would go for the full distance. My plan was to run the first half of it, and then if I had to walk the second half, I’d still have some company as the faster runners came through later. Seemed sensible enough. Ah, you’ve gotta love ‘runner’s logic’.
The course itself is pretty mild as far as trail runs go. There’s a few ups and downs in the first 5 or 6kms, and some stairs up and down to some soft sand to be navigated, with a bit of beach running thrown in for good measure which wasn’t all that pleasant. Otherwise a lot of it is more graded paths with some gentle ‘undulations’, rather than technical single track. For anyone wanting to do a trail run without ever being too far away from civilisation or without wanting to push the difficulty envelope too far, this probably isn’t a bad place to start. Or more to the point, finish.
And the twilight timing makes for one pretty spectacular run. The coast line is stunning at the best of times, but throw in a decent sunset and your biggest problem on this run is likely to be keeping your eyes on the trail ahead instead of taking in the sights. More than once, I forced myself to stop and just soak it all in, (and take a few pics), for a few seconds, before going on my merry way.
For most of the back half of the race I managed to keep pace with a runner rocking out some serious retro tunes on her portable speaker which would usually annoy the crap out of me, but on this day, for this race, the 80s and 90s tunes I’d grown up with were just what I needed to keep me upbeat and moving. She also served as an unsuspecting pacer until she stopped at a drink station leaving me with a bunch of earwigs to keep me company for the rest of the race.
As it happens, my run went really well – better than I ever could have expected, (perhaps it was the music?) and I finished in a respectable enough time. It turns out, I didn’t even need to bust out my head torch as there was just enough dwindling light for me to make my way to the finish line. Although about 10 metres out that decision almost cost me as I stopped just inches short of running through a string of un-lit fairy lights strung across the path that were almost impossible to see. Lit they would have been awesome to show me the way. Unlit it was more like a spider web waiting for a fly. Note to self: just wear the damn head torch next time!
The one thing that must be said about this event is the incredible vibe and sense of fun out there. Sure, there are plenty of fun runs out there that are, well, fun, obviously, but this is the perfect combination of decent trail run combined with a party atmosphere. The few and far between people who didn’t dress up were the ones who looked most out of place, with most us at least choosing an appropriately ridiculously colourful piece of clothing or two to keep with the ‘Glow with the Flow’ theme. And the before, during and after race vibe was easily one of the best I’ve ever experienced.
If you happen to be in the neighbourhood next year, or can find a way to make your way there (The Great Ocean Road makes for a pretty cool road trip and I can highly recommend it), be sure to put this one on your wish list.