A welcome in the distance
Home stretch ... the Lorelei Bed and Breakfast is set in a lovely English garden.
Natalie Craig races for the finish line to earn the luxuries of a hot spa and good food during a break on the coast.
The reason for our trip to Portland is neither business nor pleasure. It is pain.
"We're here to do the half-marathon," I tell Roger Alexander, the manager of Lorelei Bed and Breakfast, with the air of an extremely serious athlete. "We need spas, OK? And food. Lots of food."
Alexander agrees emphatically, like a man held at gunpoint.
My partner and I are led down the dark, lofty hallway of the Federation house to a light, tasteful white-and-blue room with a tall brass bed, stylish wicker chairs and an en suite.
The enticing spa is the size of a very large bath and the jets look suitably powerful.
My brother and his girlfriend, who has entered the full marathon, choose the only internal guestroom of the six in the house. There are no windows, they concede, but their spa is a pentagon and if you leave the bathroom doors open, you can see the television.
We unpack our space-age running gear on the glossy wood dresser, pack the mini-fridge full of lurid sports drinks and stroll into town, five minutes away, to register for the race.
We discover that the "Bonney Upwelling" festival has taken over the grassy hill between the main street and the harbour. The event celebrates the arrival of a swell of nutrient-rich water along the Bonney coast, which prompts a whale and fish-feeding frenzy.
We miss out on the street parade but enjoy the picnic atmosphere on the hill, where cover bands play Australian rock classics against a suitably working-class backdrop that includes cargo ships and warehouses.
We wander past 19th-century whaling relics and 1980s fish 'n' chip shops to the Thistle Bar and Bistro at the Richmond Henty Hotel, where we join an upwelling of frisky fit people in a fettucine feeding frenzy.
"What time are you hoping to do mate?" one runner says to his mate.
"Oh, about three days ... hor hor hor!"
"That's good, I'll stick with you ... hor hor hor!"
After our meal, we steal back to Lorelei and go straight to bed. The rooms are quiet and the beds comfortable, with heavy quilts and puffy pillows.
At 6am, Alexander serves breakfast of fruit, cereal, toast and juice. We turn his old-worldly dining room into an institute of sport as we discuss race tactics at the elegant carved table while quaffing sports drinks from crystal wine glasses.
Alexander is bemused rather than annoyed and cheerily bids us good luck.
The half-marathon starts, perversely, on an incline called "the Shuffler". At least there is the advantage of a spectacular view at the top of Discovery Bay, taking in a lake, the sensational surf beach and verdant cliffs.
As the pain sets in, we focus on the impressive scenery with zen single-mindedness: "must get past wind farm", "must reach clump of eucalypts", "must get up hill past brown cows".
By the last quarter of the race, I am outside my body. The pain is confusing; my legs stop working and my Cliff Young shuffle means even walkers are passing me.
The race winds back through suburban Portland and locals shout from verandas and deck chairs as I manage a sprint to the finish line.
"Did you enjoy that Natalie?" asks the race's MC over the loudspeaker. "Yep," I lie.
The other three have already finished and after a free lunch in the local yacht club, we drag ourselves back to Lorelei like wounded soldiers.
Months of hardship mean we can now do whatever we want. The pure pleasure of the spa is heightened by the pain I endure lowering myself into it. There I stay for two hours, using all the complimentary toiletries. Sadly, there is no bubble bath.
After lying in bed watching a cable movie, we sit in the bay window in the lounge room at the front of the house reading magazines and drinking complimentary beer and sparkling wine.
It is too cold to sit on the enormous wrap-around veranda, which is wide enough to hold a 12-seater outdoor table.
Time, then, to stuff our faces. We shuffle back to the main drag but are disappointed to find the Clock by the Bay restaurant, which occupies a heritage post office, is closed on Sundays. Other appealing eateries are also closed, despite the weekend's tourist events.
There is just enough space at Edward's Waterfront Cafe, which has tasteful hotel decor and reasonable prices. We try at least a dozen dishes, our favourites being green tea smoked salmon, lime-crusted oysters and homemade seafood ravioli. But while the food is excellent and creative, the service is impatient.
The hospitality the next day is in stark contrast. Our waitress, a casual staff member, is charming at breakfast, serving us bacon and eggs with all the sides and listening to our raucous re-telling of the race. Lorelei spoils us, without being snobby, and we leave happy and hurting.
Lorelei Bed and Breakfast
Address 53 Gawler Street, Portland.
Bookings 5523 4466, see lorelei.com.au or email email@example.com.
Getting there Portland is about 4 hours' drive west of Melbourne along the Princes Highway.
Price A double room with spa and cooked breakfast for two is $180.
Summary This family-run Federation guesthouse has an easy feel, despite its decadent touches. The six en suite rooms have spas or clawfoot baths, while the wide verandas and lounge with bay windows are perfect for sprawling.
The score: 19-20 excellent; 17-18 great; 15-16 good; 13-14 comfortable.
All weekends away are conducted anonymously and paid for by Traveller.