On November 14, a total solar eclipse would start in Australia and go west, clipping Queensland at Port Douglas, a resort town along the Great Barrier Reef, before heading out to the the Pacific to disappear before it would hit land again. Why not have a marathon at the same time with the world’s first galactic starting gun?
I could kill two birds, having never seen a total eclipse, of any sort, and wanting to run another marathon in Oceania. Not only that, I’ve wanted to visit New Zealand for awhile and the Auckland Marathon was two weeks ahead of the eclipse. Everything was lining up nicely.
Adventure Marathon, the same people that torture runners for the Great Wall Marathon and the Petra Marathon, designed another 26 miles of pain that would take runners from the beach, through sugar cane fields, into the rainforest, up the mountain, and back again.
Before that, though, we visited the Great Barrier Reef for a day. There’s a semi-permanent dive platform at Agincourt Reef. I spent the last week not letting my right leg recover by switching from accelerator to brake in my kiwi caravan. A day in the ocean might cure that.
My legs felt fine later when we went out for a run with Steve Moneghetti, the local marathon hero and the event ambassador for next year’s edition of this race when it’s rebranded the Great Barrier Reef Marathon.
The next day, we waited around for the marathon. Port Douglas is a small town that’s a place to sleep while you aren’t in the water. But, this is jellyfish season, so no swimming in the ocean. That’s okay. The hotel had amazing pools, including filtered sea water pools.
The Wildlife Habitat down the road lets you wander among the kangaroos and wallabies and all of the birds. You can actually walk among them; not just walk up to them, but around them, between them, and among them. They’re interested in you because they expect you to have the kanga chow sold at the entrance.
Queensland is the last place you can hold a koala
Australia has all the dinosaur birds
At night, you can sit on the beach and see more stars than you’re likely to see anywhere else.
The eclipse, which goes through many phases, with first contact at 5:38 AM and totality about an hour later. The totality would be visible right along Four Mile Beach. The start line was right on the beach, with everyone gathering to watch the eclipse before the run starts, right at the end of the total eclipse.
There’s not much I can say about the eclipse itself. Even as the moon covered most of the sun, everything seemed normal, if a little dim. At the moment of the total eclipse, it was suddenly and noticeably much darker. The noise from the rainforest, birds, insects, everything, stopped for a couple minutes. Many birds took off for the ocean, toward a cruise ship that had parked a couple of miles offshore to view from the ocean. It was spooky.
Wearing those silly glasses I can actually see the sun quite well once you let my eyes adjust. These photos come from the official event photographer.
The videos aren’t a substitute for being there in person, but they’re still better than not being there and not seeing them. There are still plenty of opportunities to see a total eclipse in 2015, 2016, and 2017, with that last one being in North America and crossing through southern Illinois and Kentucky.
A few minutes after that, after a short delay for the local police to ensure the roads were closed, we were off for a day of suffering.
After a couple of miles of roads, we were onto grass and dirt tracks along the sugar cane fields, which we would see a lot today. Australia is the third largest exporter of raw sugar in the world. This might answer a question I asked on the Auckland Harbor Bridge when the pacer pointed out the sugar cane processing plant and I asked where the sugar came from. The Australia Cane Growers Association is one of the sponsors of the event.
Everything was fine until I got to the hill. It goes up for two kilometers. It’s even hard to walk up at points. It hurt going up, but it hurt coming down even more. I heard one ultra-marathoner say that it’s not hard to lift your legs; it’s hard to put them down. This was the half way point of the run.
There were great views from small clearings along the path, but for the most part we were in the rainforest. I did get to see Steve Moneghetti come back down the hill saying “just 2k to go”. You would think it would be impressive to be within 2k of an Olympic medalist half way through a race, but those two kilometers were probably a half hour. And, I bet he stopped at the top to encourage people.
After that it’s back to the sugar cane. By this time it was quite hot, maybe not be local standards, but certainly for me. Somewhere on the hill I lost my hat. I had it clipped off to my pack, but I must have dropped it when I took the pack off to get a gel. I could feel my head baking. This wasn’t going to be good.
On some parts of the course I’d have to stop to look around to find where I was supposed to go. On the paths and trails it’s easy to follow, but it’s the little bits between those that are the problem. Sometimes you can see runners ahead but you’re not sure how to get there.
The last three miles were back in Port Douglas, and by that time I didn’t care about my time anymore. At one water stop, the guy had an Irish accent so I stopped to talk to him for 10 minutes.
For the last two miles, I hooked up with a couple of runners I had been leapfrogging all along and jogged slowly in, staying just under the heat injury threshhold. We ran along the beach and into Port Douglas, turning left to go down the main drag toward Anzac Park where the finish line was.
Finally, I’m done. Maori were handing out the medals.
Besides being one of the best starting lines (Petra still has it beat), it was a great finishing line right on the ocean. I took my medal, a can of Coke, and a bag of chips and propped myself up against a tree to watch the waves. That’s my third marathon in Oceania.
I ended up with a nice stripe across my head and a wicked sunburn on top of it.
For such a special event, I suggested that the organizers sell off the distance markers. Since I asked, I got 37 and had everyone I know sign it. Some of the were also on my first Antarctica run and signed the marker I bought there during the charity auction for Oceanites.
In town I had my favorite post-race meal of steak frites. The town was mostly deserted now that the moon had done its thing.
Adventure Marathon put together a summary video.