Just when I thought I had completed my two most difficult marathons (Kilimanjaro, Africa, in 2016 and Antarctica in 2017) in my quest to run 26.2 miles on all 7 continents, the Australian Outback Marathon threw me for a loop in 2018. The loose red sand and jet lag (landing the day before the race after 30 hours of travel from Pittsburgh to Houston to Sydney to Uluru) contributed to the challenging course.
My 20th marathon on my fifth continent, The Australian Outback Marathon, took place near an enormous sandstone monolith, dubbed Uluru by the Anangu people (indigenous to this area), but also known as Ayers Rock; it is considered the most recognizable landmark in the Northern Territory. Nearby Kata Tjuta, a 36-rock formation, is another distinctive sight in the Australian Outback. Both are in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage List for its natural and cultural values. Uluru formed over 550 million years ago, but the Anangu people believe it was created by their ancestors and consider it sacred.
Marathon morning commenced with a blood super moon, which was also a blue moon, and the century’s longest lunar eclipse, lasting 1 hour and 43 minutes. We had no idea when we woke up bleary-eyed at 5 a.m. that we would encounter this extraordinary celestial exhibit in the Southern Hemisphere on our way to breakfast. A tremendous gourmet buffet (which is not quite as exciting as the phenomenon in the sky, but still worth mentioning for people who like to eat as much as I do) with cuisine from sushi and dumplings to smoked salmon and blue cheese, along with pancakes and the usual American fare awaited us at the resort.
Comfortable buses transported us from our resort to the start line where the Field of Light art installation by Bruce Munro greeted us. It features more than 50,000 solar powered lights covering the area of nine football fields in the middle of the desert. We arrived in the dark, and the lunar eclipse made for a spectacular show before the splendid sunrise and race start. For me, the first 10 miles usually pass quickly, but this marathon proved to be much different. It felt like 16 miles instead of 10 due to the extra work running in the loose sand and dumping my shoes at all the aid stations. Bern, Barb (my adventure running friends) and I ran with Dr. Doug, Bern’s husband, for the first 10 miles. We also ran a mile with a couple of friends who we met in Antarctica. The smart ones headed towards the finish line to complete the half marathon, while Barb, Bern and I trudged through the sand to finish the full.
The scenery was dazzling with the red sand, Uluru, Kata Tjuta and beautiful native trees called allocasuarina decaisneana (also known as desert oak) that resemble a pine tree in the shape of a small oak tree. We tried to make the most of it until about mile 17, when we emptied our shoes and socks of red sand for about the seventh time. After running up and down five sand dunes, I just wanted to finish. It was a struggle, and I had to dig deep at mile 25 to put one foot in front of the other. Finally, I heard the loudspeaker and ran into the finish area, where my kids, my husband Mark (who also stupidly ran the marathon—his words!), and other friends were cheering for me. Lee, the emcee, announced my name and said I had completed marathons on four continents. I held up my hand showing five, and he said, “And now five continents,” as I crossed the finish line. Our kids had a wonderful time goofing off and taking pictures in the desert during their 11k run.
Even though the marathon proved to be my most challenging to date, the adventures and scenery in the Outback made it worthwhile.
We booked our marathon package through an Australian company, Travelling Fit, and stayed at a 5-star resort, Sails in the Desert. Marathon Tours, based in Boston, also organizes this trip. July and August are winter in Australia, so I certainly couldn’t complain about the 40-degree start during the marathon. In addition to the full marathon, they offer a half marathon, 11K, 5K, and a 1-mile fun run.
We booked a United flight from Pittsburgh to Houston to Sydney. Then, we booked domestic flights on Jet Star from Sydney to Uluru. My biggest concern was that we would miss our flight to Uluru and miss the marathon. We did not leave much time for any travel delays. Fortunately, the marathon gods were with us and all flights ran smoothly.
Next up are our escapades in the Outback, the Great Barrier Reef, and Sydney … because you cannot travel all that way and not do a little sightseeing.
LeboLife blogger Carolyn Newkirk is in the process of running at least one marathon on each of the seven continents. COVID-19 put a damper on her plans to finish this goal, when her marathon in Tokyo was cancelled in 2020. She anticipates she will not get back to it until 2022.