For the second year in a row, the Hume and Hovell Ultra Marathon has been cancelled due to lingering bushfire damage along the trail.
Typically, the event would be held during the second week in October and include a 100-mile, 100km, 50km and 22km course.
Instead, organisers are hoping to hold a Tumbarumba to Rosewood Rail Trail Marathon that weekend, taking advantage of the increasingly popular and well-marked path. The races are scheduled to take place Saturday, October 9, with a full marathon (42km), half marathon (21km), 10km run and 10km walk, with staggered start times.
Peter Fitzpatrick has been organising the Tumbarumba events for eight years and has been a marathoner for closer to four decades. He lives in Wagga, but prior to Covid and bushfires, he and a group of runners would regularly take advantage of the scenic trails around Tumbarumba, describing the region as “unreal”.
The idea for a Hume and Hovell Ultra was born after he ran several days with a group who were trying to break the speed record for the full track. Back then, he said, the trail wasn’t well known and it hadn’t been as carefully taken care of with government grants and maintenance.
“Tumbarumba was so much behind us,” he said.
“They’re great to work with. We had the full support of the council.”
That first year, the event recorded 30 runners. The last ultra marathon event was held in 2019, with 300 entrants and close to 800 people flocking to Tumbarumba for the weekend.
“It was gaining each year, it’s a big event,” said Mr Fitzpatrick.
When the Dunns Road fire tore through the region, it obliterated parts of the trail. Burnt trees, burnt bridges and widespread destruction made it impossible to hold any kind of event in 2020. Mr Fitzpatrick said the full trail still isn’t safe enough for an event, but Covid would likely have cancelled the race even if the track was open.
“It’s just absolutely burnt out. You couldn’t even find the track,” he said.
Instead, the Rail Trail Marathon will be held on the October weekend this year, with plans for both events to go ahead in 2022.
“For next year, we’ll have the Rail Trail Marathon on in late March or early April and then the Hume and Hovell will be held the second week in October,” said Mr Fitzpatrick.
“They guarantee me it will be ready by then.”
The Rail Trail Marathon will add to Tumbarumba’s running calendar, hopefully drawing competitors from all over the country. Mr Fitzpatrick said he was surprised one frosty winter morning to meet a running group in Rosewood that had come from the north coast. When he reached Tumbarumba, he met another running group, this time from Canberra.
“There was 15 or so in that group,” he said, impressed with how popular the trail has become.
“I reckon there was 100 people on it that day.”
Adding to the benefits of the trail itself, Mr Fitzpatrick said Tumbarumba has been wonderful to work with.
Originally, the ultra marathon was run from Tumbarumba to Tumut, but when a Visy shutdown one year made it impossible to find accommodation, the event transformed into a Tumbarumba-only affair.
While the current stay at home orders have put a dampener on many forms of exercise, including group sports, Mr Fitzpatrick said running is always available. He started in 1980, not being able to run 300 metres without stopping.
Four decades later, the truckie has run 100 marathons and has lost track of the number of ultras he’s completed.
“I just was so unfit and I was putting on a fair bit of weight and I thought I’d try running,” he said, describing how he got started.
To start, he ran a block around the high school every morning for three weeks, walking when he couldn’t run, until he could finish it without stopping.
“Then I built it up a couple of hundred metres a week and then the Junee to Wagga marathon came up and I thought, ‘I’m going to have a go at that.’”
The furthest he’d run before the marathon was 18km.
The event itself was hard, and Mr Fitzpatrick said he did well the first half, but had to walk for stretches in order to finish.
“There’s nothing wrong with walking,” he said.
“If you do 100 mile (ultra marathon), you walk a fair bit in the last bit.”
The trick, according to the veteran runner, isn’t physical strength. It’s mental.
“You’ve got to want to do it,” he said.
“You’ve got to set yourself a goal and say, ‘I am going to do this.’
“It’s quite easy to say, ‘I’m not going to go today, I’m going to stay in bed,’ but you’ve just got to get going.”
After 40 years of running, he’s encountered a few injuries, but none major, and said he finds the mental and physical break from his work as a truck driver relaxing.
“I sit down quite a lot and it’s so good to get out there with other people, especially.”
For anyone considering running as a hobby, or attempting to train for a marathon, Mr Fitzpatrick said simple goals can help.
“If you can get to 21km, you can get through to the 42km,” he said, encouraging a long run once a month and moderate runs more often.
Training with others helps, too.
“Please do it. It’s just so rewarding,” he said.
“There’s so many challenges along the way; you give up and then think, ‘Oh no, I can’t give up.’ It’s just amazing.”
The Rail Trail Marathon and the Hume and Hovell Ultra both have Facebook pages which contain full race details.
This year’s Rail Trail Marathon (42.195km) will be held October 9, starting 7am at the Tumbarumba track head in Figures Street. Runners should register online and can pick up their bibs from the Tumbarumba Tourist Information Centre on Friday, October 8, from 2-5pm.
The half marathon (21km) begins at 9.15am at the Rosewood Rail Trail track head. Free buses will be ferrying runners from Mate St in Tumbarumba to Rosewood.
The day will also host a 10km run and a 10km walk. The run will start at the Tumbarumba Rail Trail track head at 10.30am, and the walk will start at the same location at 11am.
All events finish at the Tumbarumba Rail Trail track head. Registration is required for all events.