Record numbers for our new Hilly Half Posted by Steve Jackson - 19 May 2021 March ’05, day one of life on Hamilton Island. Venturing out into the unknown, my expectations were relatively low; a long-distance runner moving to a tropical Island is akin to popping the sheep dog into a 1-bedroom city apartment. The map provided hope and the opening kilometres on a fire road out of my new suburb at Palm Valley got the heart rate up; with a decent climb rewarded with stunning views of my new backyard. My eyes were drawn to Passage Peak, the highest point on the Island and my legs duly navigated the way. The final few hundred metres; rough steps hewn into the hillside, irregular and difficult, my head bowed to the hulking rock as it destroyed my belief in my fitness. At last I emerged, the spectacular hoop pines welcoming me into their arms; I haunch, hands on knees, lungs screaming, stealing a glance over my sweat covered brow; ‘tell me that was worth it’?! I’d never been to the Whitsundays before; I figured the ocean hue was photoshop at its finest, but learning the imagery paled to the reality in that moment was a just reward. This was pre-Insta days, so no stopping for a photo; a brief respite soaking in the views dropped the heart rate marginally, before the jelly legs lumbered back down the steps and took a left, under a thick canopy of trees. I felt like I was a Disney production, immersed in the Enchanted Forest, undulating down and down before I was spat out on South East Headland, the rush of light, nearby Pentecost Island lurching toward me in it’s sea of blue and hundreds of grass trees in the foreground; “This would be a cool race” – the epiphany that would become the genesis of the Hilly Half. Cyclones have since altered the thickness of the bushland, but the magic view remains. It’s a moment I reflect on with pride as I ‘come down’ from the most successful Hilly Half thus far, successful in so many ways. Year one saw just eight individual runners and two teams; a total of 13 runners (dwarfed by the 27 volunteers utilised); to see a record 400 participants was a triumph in itself. Hilly Half Race Director Steve Jackson briefing the 400+ runners at race start. Photo by Dean Marchini. But the true success isn’t in the number alone. Hamilton Island itself has embraced it’s ‘green side’. So long built on sun, sand & salt water, we now enjoy some of the finest trails in the nation, showcasing sights the equal of any in the world. The steps to Passage Peak allow a wider variety of visitor to enjoy the walk and the viewing platform that awaits. Beyond the Peak, they can take in the sweeping views to the east on the journey to South East Head and ‘the BIG chair’ along the scenic single track. Secluded coves and headlands like Escape Beach and Coral Cove are now being enjoyed by just enough people, that their serenity is appreciated and not lost. The trails are nestled into the environment instead of blazed through it. A trip to Hamilton Island can be as much about the run as it is about the Reef. Runners on Leg One. Photo by Dean Marchini. Runners conquering the Peak on Leg Three. Photo by Dean Marchini. Junior Racers. Photo by Dean Marchini. So sixteen years since it’s inception, twelve course changes later and 2021 was the first year that the event was able to be staged solely on a trail course. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive; despite some mud in the newer trail sections that hadn’t yet bedded down! The challenge was in no way lessened, the hills no smaller, but the new sections gave the event a whole new feel. The clover leaf loops, bringing runners back through the race precinct improved the experience for the runners who appreciated the lift of the crowd, but also for friends and family, able to track and share the experience of their runners. Our new home for the race; the Beach Pavilion on Catseye Beach provided shelter, shade, sustenance and was a fitting centrepiece for post-race celebrations! A trail based Hilly Half is here to stay. What are our tips for 2022? Hills form an essential part of most training regimes. As a lead-in to the traditional run season; some hilly runs leading to Hilly Half will stand you in good stead on race day and into your race calendar ahead. Practice your down hill running too. Runners are often sore after Hilly Half, and this often caused by the number of long descents, so some strength work and practice ‘racing’ down hills, will soften the blow; literally and figuratively! Race day is really about managing your efforts; so little time is gained but energy burnt pushing in the wrong sections on this course; so be prepared to hike wisely and run strongly when the course permits, rather than struggle throughout! Train ‘longer’. Don’t train for the Hilly Half like any other half marathon. You’re going to be on your feet longer, encounter more hills, more changes of pace than a regular half marathon; so prepare accordingly. Book early to ensure you’re part of the fun. As a long weekend (in Queensland), you’re competing with the tourists not just fellow runners! About the Author Runner, coach, race director, tour leader, husband and father of two. Steve has always been passionately involved in an active lifestyle and has always sought to share the benefits of sport with the community. So with the Whitsundays as a blank canvas; it seemed only fitting that it had events like the Endurance Series to showcase the natural beauty of the region in a fun, challenging, yet rewarding way!