Running away to the Hunter Valley by Tammy Warner-Wilson
By Tammy Warner-Wilson
Past Petersons Champagne House, down Broke Road and beyond Brokenwood wine cellar, is the oval at Hunter Valley Gardens.
It is here that I find myself at 6.30am on a Sunday morning in July. I am surrounded by some of NSW’s finest wine country, but all I can see is skin. Super-tight, revealing running skins.
The 2010 Lawler Partners Hunter Valley marathon is about to start and participants are milling about in their best compression wear. Wide-eyed and warm in a way that belies the three degree temperature, their eyes glint with adrenalin and anticipation of the 42-kilometre challenge ahead.
Dedicated family and friends, braving the cold in a show of support, don’t quite share the enthusiasm. Fingers, shades of blue and purple, wrap around steaming cups of coffee in feeble attempts to fight off frostbite. Kids, wrapped up as miniature Michelin men, puff white clouds of breath in and out as they shiver in their strollers.
The sun won’t rise for at least another 40 minutes, and the oval is enveloped in a thick fog. Vision would be near-impossible if it weren’t for flood-lights illuminating a dozen make-shift marquees proffering sporting goods and energy drinks.
At 6.50am, the commentator’s voice booms over the loudspeaker. It’s time for entrants to make their way to the start line for briefing. A buzz breaks out amongst the crowd. Spectators are startled to life, carried across the dewy grass by a surging sea of lycra.
Before outlining the course and general safety matters, the commentator asks those participating in their first marathon to put their hand up. He needn’t bother. You can already identify the novices by the sheer terror painted on their face. The marathon is just minutes away, and reality is setting in.
Soon it’s time to start. Participants bid farewell to loved ones and squeeze in amongst their comrades, most staring ahead with steely looks of determination. They are about to embark on the ultimate test of physical and mental endurance.
At 7.02am, it’s show time. The gun sounds and they’re off, a galloping pack of gazelles headed through grapey vineyards.
Two hours, 49 minutes, and 51 seconds later, the first entrant crosses the finish line. While he has been running, running, running, I have been sleeping, showering, eating. One by one participants pass by sweaty and spent, but speaking of breathtaking scenery made more glorious by sobriety and the breaking dawn.
There’s no doubt the Hunter Valley is great for wine, but it turns out an early morning marathon is rather lovely too.