(Image credit: Phil Beeston)

Location: Greens Beach, northern Tas

Distances: 5, 12, 25, 50k (incl 2x25k team event)

It’s not often that you forget you’re running a marathon after 39km but that’s just how distracting the surroundings are at the Convicts and Wenches Beach Race.

Starting at Greens Beach, approximately sixty kilometres north-west of Launceston in Tasmania, the Convicts and Wenches Beach Race traverses three beaches adjacent to the beautiful Narawntapu National Park.

The race was established to commemorate Australia’s rich and vibrant convict history and Tasmania is a fitting location, home to over seventy thousand convicts during the 1800’s.

Today my punishment is entirely voluntary and consists of fifty kilometres of sand, rocks and trail. The start line is just 100 metres from our campsite and a small but dedicated group are warming up, comparing shoes and equipment, and making those important last minute stops. There are no toilets on the course so it’s now or the trees!

The 50km is an out and back course and is also able to be run as a relay in teams of two – a great option for those who don’t wish to tackle the full 50kms but want to experience the whole course. The event also includes a 25km, 12km and 5km race.

Just after 8am we are off and making our first short dash across Greens Beach and onto a fern-lined coastal track. The conditions are ideal with a light breeze and mild temperatures. I settle in towards the back of the pack only too aware of the long day ahead – it’s easy to get carried away in the early morning but there’s a long way to go yet. Gently winding up the headland we soon reach the first vantage point at West Head with views across Badger Head beach, and the first aid station shortly after, complete with junior cheer squad and motivational signs!

A short scramble across some boulders leads to the firm, flat sand of Badger Head beach. A strong headwind makes the going a little tough – hopefully it means a tailwind on the return journey. The field has spread out the entire length of the beach and for the most part runners are alone or in pairs. There is a welcome aid station at 11kms which marks the end of the second beach and the start of a steep, zig-zagging 220m climb onto Badger Head. The trail across Badger Head delivers spectacular ocean views amid the stunted, windblown coastal vegetation. After 16kms the trail descends into Copper Cove, an early copper mining site. Tiptoeing across the rocks, the trail ascends the headland again until reaching the 7km expanse of Bakers Beach. This is the final stretch before reaching the turnaround point and another welcoming aid station.

Here I meet my support crew/injured runner/husband who has ridden out to deliver my sunscreen – the clouds have parted and the Tasmanian sun is starting to burn. After a short stop to refill my camelback, eat an energy bar and have a chat I’m on my way to tackle the return journey.

The 7km beach suddenly starts to feel about 20km long and despite the firm, flat surface I’m actually looking forward to getting off the sand and back onto the trails. Heading back up onto the headland might be tougher but the variation in scenery is welcoming and the scrub provides some shade. This area is known for snakes but I’m in luck today, only meeting a couple of lazy blue tongue lizards.

I’ve been running solo for most of the course, with only a brief chat as I pass a couple of other
solo runners, so when I reach the aid station at 39kms it’s easy to get carried away catching up with a fellow trail runner I had competed with weeks earlier. Stopping for a refuel and to compare recovery strategies, the race completely leaves my mind and for a few minutes I could be at a very pleasant afternoon bbq instead of in the later stages of a trail marathon. Some voices from the trail jolt me back to earth and I continue on for the final stretch home.

Crossing the finish line I am exhausted and not really sure of the time of day. I do know that a cold beer is very welcome! There’s a relaxed vibe with many runners taking advantage of the stunning beach to refresh tired legs and wash off the dirt. There’s a special cheer for the finisher who competed in a full convict costume – that’s really taking the punishment theme to a new level!

Event profile: Shelley Miller

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