Seven Continent Series — 4 Uluru/Outback Marathon, Australia July 2010
Carl Byington, an experienced entrepreneur and the current owner of PHM Design LLC in Ellijay GA, is one of only about 500 people in the world to run marathons on all seven continents. In this latest installment, he shares some of his experience on traveling Down Under to the Australian Outback to attempt his fourth continent of a marathon after he nearly died in a rock-climbing fall a few years before.
On Saturday, July 31st, 2010, my friend Nick and I completed our fourth world continent marathon in the Australian Outback. It was a very good choice! This was the inaugural (first ever) marathon that would be run in the Outback on a course that would encompass breathtaking views of Australia’s famous Uluru (formerly called Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (formerly called the Olgas) rock formations. The scenery was awe-inspiring.
Archaeological evidence suggests that Aboriginal Anangu people have lived in the Uluru area for over 22,000 years. The famous monolith (that is, it is one whole rock) was formerly known as Ayers Rock, named after Sir Henry Ayers by European explorer William Gosse, whose first (non-Aboriginal) sighting of the rock was in 1873. Uluru was ultimately returned to the care and ownership of the Anangu people in 1985, and they now jointly manage the national park with Parks Australia. This was the backdrop for the marathon through the Red Centre.
This marathon, which was six years in the making by the persistent race organizers, offered us the opportunity to run in a totally unique setting on this glorious day. The day started with a slight chill (~50 degrees) as we left our room in the eerily quiet morning that is typical of a morning in a desert. After catching a bus out to the start/finish area, we milled around and met people from the USA (LA, NY, Atlanta, etc.), and of course many Aussies and a few New Zealanders (Kiwis).
The sun barely crested over the horizon to warm us for a bit of time before it was time for the 8:00 AM start of the long 13.1 mile laps we would have to complete twice in order to achieve the 26.2-mile marathon distance. There were about 90 people running the marathon and about 50 running the half marathon. This was a small intimate event with great camaraderie.
The 13.1-mile loop traversed through a mix of mostly red dirt trails, access roads, and a few paved spots and road crossings (with Police posted occasionally to stop traffic). We also had a helicopter following us to keep an eye out for any injuries or other issues along the remote course. The trails were soft in places under our feet and the roads riddled with four-wheel drive vehicle tire treads. While we felt these surfaces as a somewhat a kind benefit for the stress on our joints, we understood that the inefficiency inherent in these same soft steps might tire us more over time. That was true, but no one comes to the Outback to run a personal record and certainly, everyone seemed to understand this well. This was a fun run and opportunity to pay our respects to a beautiful landscape.
Along the way, there were several sand dunes to climb on the course. While I ran up these on the first 13-mile loop, and perhaps, needless to say, I walked them on the second loop around! The weather conditions on this winter day were fairly ideal, with temperatures starting in the mid-50s and rising to about 75 degrees by noon. The sun was bright and 10–20 mph wind was steady for most of the day. It was enough to produce a slight sun and windburn but not enough to be a factor for the day.
Despite Nick and my respective injuries and both managing to pick up a cold on the 18-hour flights that week, we both finished the run reasonably well. Actually I believe everyone successfully dodged the dingoes and completed their race (100% finished!). After the hip injury, I experienced a few weeks before, along with taking pictures and chatting with many folks along the way, I happily finished at a very comfortable 4 hour 30 minutes. After my finish, I stayed out to eat, chat, and cheer on the rest of the folks that finished up to the 6 and a half-hour mark.
We enjoyed long showers and a quick nap, and then we celebrated the evening at the outdoor bar with our new Australian, New Zealand, and American friends. The fourth world marathon was officially complete. Leg felt strong. Life is good!