What’s your perfect recipe for a wedding anniversary weekend away? A sumptuous villa on a sandy beach with views over an azure blue ocean? Or maybe you prefer a road trip through the vineyards of South Australia? Whatever it is that floats your boat I doubt you’d be stupid enough to put yourself through something as arduous as the weekend we spent in Tropical North Queensland in November.
Sophee and I headed to one of the most beautiful parts of the country to compete in an unconventional marathon with a heavy blanket of humidity wrapped around us like a hot, sweaty hug, a few kilometres of extra mileage thrown in for good measure, and an ungodly start time of 4am just to make our comfortable bed, a little harder to drag ourselves from.
The Great Barrier Reef Marathon Festival takes place in Port Douglas – a seaside town nestled between the Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef – two World Heritage sites that David Attenborough once described as his perfect holiday destination. I’m one of the event ambassadors along with Rio Olympian Jess Trengove and Steve Moneghetti, with my passion for running, Queensland, and of course the Great Barrier Reef.
With six different events on offer, it’s easy enough to find something to challenge you, whether you’re a weekend warrior or a hardcore hill lover. And if you decide to go for one of the longer races – the 42 or 74km – then a hill lover you need to be. Sophee decided to make this event her second marathon, after smashing the Outback Marathon earlier in the year. I decided to push my luck and go all out for the 74km Ultra.
As the field starts to build in the darkness at the northern end of Four Mile beach the words ‘Bump Track’ are on virtually everyone’s lips. I mill around with excited other runners, all itching to get going as first light appears on the horizon. A new-found friend, Andy, tells me he knows nothing about it – and that’s probably the best way. Amidst a gaggle of people, I take off, following head-torches down the beach, pacing myself as best I can. It’s going to be a long day in the saddle.
At the 12 kilometre mark the course leaves the relative flat of the cane fields and climbs 350 metres up through the rainforest across an undulating, unsurfaced track that has a reputation for being an athlete-breaker; go too hard and you’ll burn yourself out, hold back and the rest of the field will cruise by. There’s one thing that’s guaranteed – coming down is a lot easier than going up!
Taking on any marathon event is a serious undertaking, even on a flat road course. But add trails, changing elevation and the heat of the tropics and you can double the effort required to complete the course, but also triple the feeling of achievement as you cross the finish line.
After 6km of up, you reach the summit of the Bump Track and the two courses run side by side until the 21km mark where the marathon turns for home. It’s here the first refuelling station appears for the ultra runners, and not a moment too soon. With tired, depleted legs I’m in need of some sustenance to see me through the next 41km and load my bottles with enough fuel to recharge my system.
It’s a fine line between overfeeding and going hungry before the next check-point, and I find sipping Naturafuel from Temple Nutrition a good balance that offers enough fuel and electrolytes to see me through. There’s only so much looking up at the magnificent rainforest canopy you can do to take your mind off a fatigued body!
After six hours of running sublime single track, jumping over the odd lazy lizard and soaking my aching feet in the crystal clear, cool creeks that cross the course I make it back to the bottom of the Bump Track with only 10km to go. I have to dig deep and summon a superhuman effort just to keep moving. The sunshade canopy has disappeared, replaced by the baking midday sun that cooks the trail through the cane field to the intensity of a boiler-room.
Turning onto the home straight with the finish line in sight should offer me some form of mental comfort…except it’s still 6km away at the other end of the beach. I’ve run the entire race with Andy by my side and boy do we need each other for the final push. It seems to take an eternity to reach the tourist umbrellas at the far end of the beach but after eight hours of beautifully painful, sensually rewarding running we make it across the finish line just in time to see Sophee finish her marathon effort a few minutes later.
The next morning we’re both tired and sore, and finally get to do what most couples do on their wedding anniversary – head out to the Great Barrier Reef, dive in the azure blue water, soak up each other’s stories and…compare blisters and blackened toenails. We are a little bit different after all…
What’s your most memorable run? Do you have a favourite marathon course? Are you a road or trail runner? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Tie up your trail running shoes, leave the tarmac behind, and say g’day to an event where the surrounding natural beauty far outweighs the pain. What not get involved in this year’s Great Barrier Reef Marathon Festival taking place on Sunday 22nd October?