AUSTRALIAN OUTBACK MARATHON ⸺ 28 JULY 2018
As befits all things associated with the vastness of the Red Centre, the Australian Outback Marathon is one hugely awesome event. A marathon with a difference. Even my time was massive! I never, ever thought that I would be proud of a time of a few seconds shy of 6 hours, but proud I am. It was tough, lots of soft sand (and even more soft sand), complete with sand dunes. All athletes were rewarded by the deafening silence of the desert and totally breathtaking vistas of Uluru and Kata Tjuta on the horizon. The brainchild of Mari-Mar Walton of Travelling Fit of Terrigal, the Australian Outback Marathon is Travelling Fit’s flagship. The team at Terrigal has every right to be totally proud of this event, the 10th anniversary edition of which will be held in 2019. It is a tribute to the diligence, dedication and attention to detail of the Travelling Fit team. It is a terrifically well-organised and well-supported event by any standard. Water/aid stations are every 3K, with sunscreen, Vaseline, lollies, gels and large collection boxes in which runners could deposit gear and reclaim it the following day. Each kilometre is clearly signposted. The course is tough with sand dunes, sand and more sand. Oh…did I mention the sand dunes?
Ziggy and I made the most of every precious minute we spent on this 4 day escape. Thank you to Sue O’Donnell for the kind lift to Sydney airport. On arrival at Connellan airport (a 5 min bus ride from the Yulara Resort), we checked in to our lovely hotel, Sails in the Desert and got our bearings. It was great to meet the Travelling Fit team. Race/event registration was seamless. We kicked off with a not-to-be-missed pre-race briefing by Michael Walton, Race Director and the team: the things you learn, too late to back out now…. followed by a carbo-loading dinner. Always a great opportunity to meet like-minded individuals and calm the nerves. These carbo-loading dinners are not usually a gastronomic feast, but this one more than compensated by the fact that we met a thoroughly charming 26 y/o UK athlete, Emily Reed, clearly a seasoned trail runner. (Note to self: Look out for Emily tomorrow!)
The event itself: Saturday, 28 July 2018, saw the 9th consecutive staging of the Australian Outback Marathon. At 6:30 am, in the 3° cold and dark of a winter desert morning, we were bussed to the race start. Plenty of nervous chatter with Race Director Michael Walton keeping up a warm and funny, upbeat narrative on the mike, very welcome! As the sun’s rays appeared stunningly over the horizon, at 7:45 am, the race start was, naturally, by didgeridoo! I was in for a shock: I experienced self-doubt in the first 500 metres. The terrain was compacted fire trail but on a heavily corrugated base such that no single footfall was reliably stable. I could not imagine fretting about the prospect of a twisted ankle/face plant for the entire 42K ….as my quads began a stern conversation with me, I did some astral travel and composed myself. It soon became clear that the quality of the fire trail and the depth of sand on it, was variable. Never easy (for this soft snowflake of a road runner) but then, this event was never going to be about a fast time for me.
The running gods were smiling on me as I met up with Emily from the dinner the previous evening at about 15K or so. We turned out to be excellent jogging/walking/chatting companions. Emily was plagued by a bad ankle (which quickly made firm friends with my bung knee!) so she was happy to dispatch this tough course at a sedate pace. I was entirely focussed on ensuring that I did not have a repeat of my Adelaide experience in August 2017. No wheelchair in the Outback for me! I ran lots of the course but I walked all of the soft sand sections, stopped for photos and a bit of small talk at aid stations. The ever-present vistas of Uluru and Kata Tjuta on the horizon were surreal. It was a total privilege to experience the desert scrub, spinifex, anthills, boab trees and awesome vegetation at the close range which 6 hours spent on the course, provides…. I am so glad I had my phone with me (a marathon first!) so that I could take photos. I was also able to ascertain when Ziggy finished the race: in a stunning time of 4:31. What a guy he is to wait for his mother, in the middle of the desert, for an hour and a half, while she finished her date with the Outback. I am also glad that I wore gaiters: although not critical, I saw a number of runners stopping to empty their shoes of sand and other accumulated desert gunk. We bussed back to our hotel, Sails in the Desert.
Ziggy and I had made a business plan of the things we wanted to achieve while in the Outback. Here is my executive summary of our achievements:
Marathon: Enough said already.
Sunset Camel Uluru Tour: No rest for the wicked! We quickly showered and changed. With plenty of red dust still in between our toes and in places we didn’t think we had places, we took off for our sunset camel tour. The camels were fantastic! Our guide, Judy was a descendant of cameleer parents and a cameleer herself, i.e., she races them! Judy was incredibly knowledgeable, interesting, warm and genuine. What Judy doesn’t know about camels, hasn’t happened to a camel. We also got a great view of an Uluru sunset on camelback. After returning to the camel farm, we enjoyed more running chatter at an outback version of wine & cheese in the form of beer damper & drinks.
Field of Light: A rapid turn-around and we just made our connection to the Field of Light excursion. This is uber-cool. We chose the evening option (sunrise version also available). Bruce Munro & co have done a stunning job. The Field of Light is made up of 300,000 individual components with over 380K of optical fibre. The Uluru Field of Light utilizes 50,000 stems and covers over 49,000 square metres (nearly seven football fields). All of the materials used in the Field of Light are recyclable and will be removed and used in another iteration of a Field of Light somewhere else on the planet. The website claims that the Uluru iteration has been extended to December 2020.
Morning trip Kata Tjuta: (Start getting used to calling the Olgas, ‘Kata Tjuta’!). There are three walking options:
- Karu walk – 2.2 km return
- Karingana walk – 5.4 km return
- Full circuit walk – 7.4 km return.
Ziggy and I did the full circuit walk (for bragging rights, as well as for the experience!). It is highly variable terrain, some clambering and inclines; nothing that will phase the reasonably fit but do yourselves a favour: wear shoes with good grip as well as caps/visors and sunnies! This place will blow your mind. It is H-U-G-E!
Celebratory Dinner Under the Stars: I had been told by several friends who have done the Outback event, that it is woven into the tradition of the Australian Outback Marathon, for Travelling Fit to host a magical dinner on the Sunday evening. The magic commenced with each of us, on exiting the bus, being met by the Welcome Tunnel: the entire Travelling Fit team, clapping for each of us as we made our way, past waitstaff with trays of champagne/wine/drinks, to a sensational lookout area, past the formal round tables set for a totally swish dinner! But, before dinner, we gathered at a brilliant lookout point while Michael Walton did what he does so well, ie, ran the welcome and congratulations segment while we sipped drinks and munched delectable bush-themed canapes. Then, á table! to mingle and chat with new-found friends and to enjoy a truly delicious bush-tucker-meets-gastronomic-excellence meal. Another highlight of this evening was the astronomer who, with his laser pointer, clearly and entertainingly enlightened us as to the wonders of the night sky. We were insanely fortunate to be in the Outback for the Blood Moon, the longest total lunar eclipse of the 21st century. As this was truly an international audience, the astronomer helpfully explained the features of the sky from ‘Down Under’. With zero pollution of any kind, the visibility of all constellations and other treasures visible in the southern hemisphere was perfect. For those who wanted better viewing (and who hadn’t had too much wine!), there was even a telescope! Is there nothing of which they don’t think? I found myself reflecting on my great fortune to be experiencing this all with my son…. can this trip get any better?”
Good Coffee: This is an important part of any trip for me. Although we didn’t do an exhaustive or comprehensive exploration, the best coffee which we had was from the Kulata Academy Café in the Resort Town Square.
I will wind up with some perspective as to the toughness of the course:
Australian Outback Marathon
- Course record: 2:54
- 2018 male winner: 3:09:58
- 2018 female winner: 3:34:32
- Ziggy Robinson: 4:31:18. Zig placed 61st out of 181 finishers, 47th male finisher.
- Ginta Viliunas: 5:59:39. Ginta placed 147th out of 181 finishers, 55th female finisher.
- 2018 male winner: 1:31
- 2018 female winner: 1:38
- 2018 male winner: 48:09
- 2018 female winner: 56:34
- 2018 male winner: 29 minutes
- 2018 female winner: 34 minutes
I am still on a high after the Australian Outback Marathon. My head is bursting with memories and images of the fantasmagorical things I saw, the people I met, THE RACE I FINISHED, the wonderful way in which the Travelling Fit team looked after us, everything. Ziggy and I had a great trip and an excellent experience. It was Ziggy’s first time in the Outback. I think it’s so cool that he did it in such a memorable fashion (and such a fast time!).
Long may that red dust linger in our clothes, our shoes and on our skin….
Don’t think about this one, JUST DO IT!
2018 Australian Outback Marathon Runner no 118
30 August 2018