Race Review: Great Barrier Reef Marathon

From the surface, it looks like any other road marathon.

But the Great Barrier Reef Marathon, held in October in Port Douglas, QLD each year, has a few little features bubbling under the surface that only the astute scuba diver might discover.

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On the home stretch. Photo- Marathon-Photos.com

Before I go into my personal experience (hello sunburn/chafe/heat rash!), let me lay out the event for you.

Location: Port Douglas, QLD

About an hr drive from Cairns Airport

Distance: Marathon, half marathon, 10k, 5k and kids race
Price: $190 for marathon down to $10 for kids 2 km
Inclusions: Medal, singlet, water and electrolyte each 2 km. Celeb ambassadors at the finish! After party & Discount for Recovery Day on the Reef
Course: 80% off road, includes fire trail, trail, beach and grass.
Shoes: Trail shoes
Max elevation: 500m

So, you’ve had a look at the break down. As a newbie trail runner from Melbourne, who is not good with humidity and copped the year with torrential tropical rain (2017), I wholeheartedly recommend this run.

I love the atmosphere, the course (which would have been better if not for the weather) and the volunteers. The whole town seemed to get behind the event and with so many aid stations the organizers needed a heap of volunteers. I think the reason all the shops were closed was because everyone was out volunteering!

Course/Race Review
The official race website calls the Great Barrier Reef Marathon an “adventure” marathon. Let’s be clear, you are not going to get a PB or Boston Qualifer on this course! But you will have a freakin awesome time, test your limits and feel like the most hardcore version of yourself as you cross that finish line.

I’m going to focus on the marathon course, as that’s the one I did, but you can find all the courses here.

2017 was a little bit different to other years. With pretty extreme rain in the days leading up to race day, the poor organizers had to scurry around to amend the course to make it safe for participants whilst giving them as much as of the “adventure” as possible. The famous Bump Track was in and then out and then back in again.
The race began with 5 km in the very early AM (5:30 AM start) down the famous and picturesque Four Mile Beach. By the second kilometre, I could feel every inch of my poor Melbournian skin sweating. It was raining too, just drizzle.

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Four Mile Beach. Taken by Me! This is the day after the race, when the rain had gone away!

After the beach, we headed off onto a footpath that wound around a beautiful golf course. Next minute we were in the golf course (my first time on a golf course) and then out we went towards the bump track and boy was it squishy! All the rain had left the track along the side of a sugar cane field just a little bit boggy. But everyone just had a giggle and a splash and kept going.

By the time we reached the Bump track at around the 12km mark, I felt like I was running in a wet suit! I was saturated.

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Going up the Bump Track. Photo- Marathon-Photos.com

The Bump Track was everything a trail runner could dream of. Steep elevation, a few technical sections, rocks, killer vines (Special thanks to the locals who explained a ‘wait a while’ to me!), mud and a waterfall running down the centre of the track. It was epically awesome.

Unfortunately once we got to the top we pretty much had to turn around and come back since the rest of the course had been washed out. There also wasn’t much of a view but I’m told on a clear day is just beautiful.

After bounding like a crook running from the dog squad down the Bump Track, there was a few extra loops to do to make up the lost distance and as a back of the pack runner, this meant the boggy section near the cane field was now knee deep slop! I think it scared a few road runners but most people just slopped their way through. It wasn’t fast but it was bloody fun. I kinda felt like a little kid who was going to get in big trouble when I got home.

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Slopping it out. Photo by me!

Though some parks & gardens, back on the beach and then onto the grass nature strip past all the swanky resorts and all of a sudden the finish line was in sight.

It has to be one of the longest finish lines ever. Not as long as the Gold Coast but pretty long!

I raced Australian marathon legend Pat Carrol down the finishing shoot and got my medal from Ballarat legend and Olympic hero Steve Monagetti. I did promise running royalty didn’t I?

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Racing Pat Carrol through the finish line. Photo by Marathon-Photos.com

What a cool event. I was so stoked to finish and would recommend it to anyone. It’s a weird little combination of “trail” and “road”. I love it.

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Take your shoes off before you go in the house/resort! Photo by me!

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Here’s the course map from 2017 on my Garmin. The organisers actually have Map my Run and GPX files on their website.

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Worth the $$? YES
For me as a regular road runner in my pre-trail days, the first thing that stuck out for me was the price. $190 for a marathon is super expensive. The only Gold event in the country, The Gold Coast Marathon peaks at $150 as does Sydney and Melbourne and the general race day inclusions are the same. However due to the heat and humidity, The Great Barrier Reef Marathon does have aid stations (water and electrolyte only) are every 2-3 km whilst the marathons mentioned above are more like 5-10km and trail events are pretty similar but tend to include a no single use cup policy and some food such as fruit at the aid stations.

Also included in the price is the After Party which is a free event at the local pub the night of the race. The After Party is really just a roped off “private function” area and everyone just bought their own food and drinks and sat around chatting. I don’t know what cost this would be to the organizers but it’s a great way for everyone to get together and chat after the race.

The Great Barrier Reef Marathon is sponsored by Tropical Journeys who run snorkeling tours of the reef and bus tours to the DainTree Rainforest. A discount code is provided on the race website to get $80 off for recovery day on the reef tours. Not sure you actually have to sign up for a race to get the code, but it was a great day on the reef which I would also thoroughly recommend.

Personally I was quite happy to pay the $190. (Disclaimer: I actually won an entry from the friends at Run Down Under, but my husband did pay the full amount for his marathon entry). The admin fee on the registration website ($13) was a bit rich, especially since you could “sign up on the day” but when we got to the tents were told it was “online only”. Hmm.

I’m not quite sure why this event costs more than most, there was also no race expo or rental of function centres or anything like that. If it is all public liability insurances and permit fees from council (which most organised races are!) then maybe the Port Douglas council could cut them some slack. It seemed to be a great boost for tourism and showcased the area.

My opinion, if you sign up for the reef trip (who goes to the Great Barrier reef without a snorkle trip!) the next day you save $80, making your entry only $110. Win win I say!

Tips:

  • Sign up early to get an early bird price
  • Spend your savings on a swanky resort!
  • Leave your phone in the swanky resort, the internet in Port Douglas is shit anyway!
  • Go up a few days early to “aclimatise”/ see Mossman Gorge, DainTree or Cairns
  • Take your trail shoes and hand held bottle (Lets get rid of single use cups!)
  • Prepare for the tropics as best you can
  • Take up the Recovery Day Offer, its beautiful, just put sunscreen on your calves!
  • Splash in the mud, you only live once!

 

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