Race Done.........the wrap up!
What an amazing weekend 13-16 Sept !! I spent the weekend in Airlie Beach, Whitsunday (Heart of the Reef) to “Run the Great Whitsunday Trail” – the 13th event. This is a 28.7km trail event with an ultra option (57.4km) and the shorter, but still awesome, Honeyeater Challenge (10.5km). It wasn’t my first time at this event. With its small-town feel, and the embrace of the community, particularly the Whitsunday Running Club who do an amazing job, I am always drawn to return. It’s the best time of year to visit Airlie Beach. It is a tourist town but it’s the shoulder season so not too hectic and the weather perfect, making it a fantastic break from the winter weather we experience further south.
My accommodation at Shingley Beach Resort was a stone’s throw from the Marina and parkrun course. Perfect! It was nestled into the hill and peaceful with a great café and a choice of swimming pools with views of the Marina too. If you want to be a short walk from the bustle of the main street this was perfect. The Bicentennial Walkway which hugs the coast was well lit and well used. We stopped off at Sorrento’s on our walk back from town for pizza and it was delish. We took in the sunset with great views of the ocean. We enjoyed the Vegetarian Pizza $24 which left us both with full tummies as we headed off to our accommodation to watch the AFL Semi Final.
I attended parkrun Airlie Beach on the Saturday morning it was fun to have an easy stretch out of the legs and to catch up with runners in an idyllic setting. Airlie Beach parkrun starts and finishes at the Coral Sea Marina and has great views out to the ocean, bliss.
Then after a shower and freshen up it was easy walk into the main street. We enjoyed a kebab which we ate by the lagoon and everywhere there seemed to be live music especially into the evenings. Gotta love a tourist town.
Race pack collected and after enjoying some of the live music on offer around town nothing to do but eat and sleep.
Race morning the ultra-runners set off at 5am in the dark, the 28.7km runners meet at the Lagoon to catch the bus to the race start. It’s a fun ride up the narrow winding road to the trail head and it’s not too long before the runners are released. The first section is great running and it’s not long about 3km before we are crossing paths with the ultra-runners who started almost 3 hours earlier. The first 10km is fun and relatively easy and great running. I exchanged banter with runners along the way. Then the challenging more technical terrain starts the trail narrows and the climbs and tricky terrain require some concentration. I had forgotten how hard this section was. It’s undulating very rocky in places, but the leaf canopy is a blessing as it keeps things cool for the better part of the morning.
The SES volunteers who have had to use all-terrain vehicles to access the trail are a welcome sight with water and encouragement. I am told my cup contains an espresso martini, but it is deceptively clear like water. There are many trip hazards and at one point I grab a tree that saves me from a good dusting on the ground. There were a few participants that took the bark off their legs, but they finished, and they didn’t die. One or two runners twisted ankles but they finished, making good use of the ice pack at the finish precinct. The DNF rate was low. Being a local and having first-hand experience of the trail is a real help. Keeping alert as you fatigue in the later stages of the race is key, I was prepared. On this run I used three gels and three Revvies (caffeine strips). Someone generously dropped their Gu Salted Caramel Gel on the trail which I picked up just in case. I’ll enjoy that at a future training run or race. I wasn’t the only one to make the most of food the running tribe accidently left behind on the trail. I believe a first-time ultra-runner found an energy bar that she put to good use at least it was something more substantial than breadcrumbs.
The challenge of the trail though is what makes it great and I would love to have another attempt at a return journey. The Honeyeater Challenge is a tough (fun) hike to the lookout, but well worth the effort and easily accessed on foot from the town centre and a fun run if you just need an excuse to visit in September.
The fun didn’t stop when I crossed the finish line. The best part is cheering the ultra-runners across the line. For a few it was their first ultra WOW. My trip didn’t end with the race though. I really made the most of my weekend by squeezing in a half day cruise to Whitehaven Beach. A-MAZING.
We had great weather for a trip to one of the WORLD’s top ten beaches. Not too many people can say they have been there. Being a runner, I felt the need to run on the beach and ran just over 3km along the beach and back again barefoot. How good is that. If you don’t believe me check out my run on Strava.
I love running - you never know where you will end up or what you will see along the way. I was lucky enough to see the big lizards and snakes sunning themselves on the trail that’s a privilege the ultra-runners experienced.