“Do you think a runner could beat Puffing Billy to Emerald Lake Park?” In 1980, a conversation just like this between Puffing Billy volunteers led to the establishment of the Great Train Race, a run that is now one of the oldest and most iconic on the Melbourne running calendar.
The first Great Train Race was organised in 1982 with 1600 competitors. Since this time, 80,000 people have taken to the Dandenong Ranges in an attempt to outrun Puffing Billy, who tends to chug into Lakeside Station in about 52 minutes. The race record currently stands at 42 min 27 sec, which was achieved by Steve Kelly in 2015. Melissa Duncan broke the women’s record in 2018 with a time of 48 min 27 sec.
The Great Train Race is popular with runners due to the unique challenges it presents. While relatively short in length, the 13.5km course includes three hill climbs in the first 10km and a fast-paced downhill run for the final 3-4km. This is all done while Puffing Billy’s whistle echoes through the forests and gullies, with runners never knowing whether they are in front of the train.
This year will mark the 38th running of the Great Train Race, with more than 3000 runners expected to take part. The event is a major fundraiser for the not-for-profit railway, which operates under the steam of more than 600 volunteers.
For more information or to register for the race, which will be run on Sunday, May 5, please visit greattrainrace.com.au