LIFE-CHANGING DESERT EXPERIENCE
The unique Australian Outback Marathon has carved itself into marathon history after only six years of running.
Created by Travelling Fit owners and managers, Mari-Mar Walton and Michael Walton, when they saw an unfilled need in Australian experiences while visiting Uluru in 2004, the marathon took another six years to get off the ground.
Mari-Mar had been operating the running/travel company Travelling Fit since 2000, taking clients all over the world to run in incredible terrain and countries but had not found a similar experience in Australia.
The heart of Australia, with its wide open horizons spilling into the sky, against the raw backdrop of Uluru, offered a wow marathon factor that has become a life-changing experience for those who run it.
“We had been to a couple of ‘fully hosted’ marathon holidays overseas and we thought that we could do better in terms of the overall experience for the runners,” Michael said.
They quickly discovered when seeking permission from Elders of the area that sporting events were not allowed in the Uluru/Kata Tjuta National Park. They then turned to the Ayers Rock Resort and were able to use land owned by the resort that traverses the boundaries of the park, Australian Outback Marathon runners today have specially selected first class Hotels to choose from.
“After the third year, we discovered (inadvertently) that we were using a track that coursed in and out of land owned by the Central Land Council, and they have been most accommodating in providing a permit to use the track,” Michael said.
The first race in 2010 took off with 197 runners. It is now up to about 500 and logistically is able to grow to about 650.
Landmarks around the track that mark the course have now become part of the local language in navigating.
- One Tree Crossing – a road crossing the Lassiter Hwy where there is one tree
Truck Stop – the area that all the road trains use to park when delivering provisions to the resort
Dead Tree Corner – unsurprisingly this is because there is a huge dead tree there that was killed by a lightning strike
Pearce Point – named after Shaun Pearce who volunteered at the intersection each of the first five years of the event (often in fancy dress)
Busy Bee Corner – named because it’s the only place on the course that can potentially have all four distances arriving from different directions at the same time
Longitude Loop – this is a track used to navigate around the exclusive Longitude 131 resort, normally only accessible by the local fire and emergency personnel
Jem’s Dune – named after the event’s first liaison person at the resort; an enormous Russian called Jem Tuna. It was named after him when he failed magnificently to drive over the dune seven times in a row (very funny at the time)
The percentage of Australians to overseas runners for the AOM is about 70 to 30. The majority of Australians who sign up for the first time have never been the central outback of Australia.
“We didn’t want to ‘just put on a race’. We wanted to promote the area and local tourism as part of the overall event,” Michael said.
Much of the feedback includes statements such as ‘life-changing’ and the ‘best marathon ever’. in Australia
For Michael and Mari-Mar, this is what it’s all about. While they don’t run on the day because they’re too busy organising, they are part of the journey in every way for all the runners.
In the second year they had a 70-plus English runner who really struggled towards the end. “We had around 30 runners wait eight hours for him to finish and when he appeared around the last corner, they all ran down the track and walked him over the finish line with a guard of honour,” Michael said.
Last year one of the flights bringing runners to the event was cancelled and among that group was a young woman who had been seriously ill. Many of her friends had arrived (unbeknown to her) and were devastated that she wouldn’t make the race.
The woman caught the early flight the next morning so Michael and Mari-Mar decided NOT to close the course or enforce the normal cut-off times. They held the event for them seven hours lat and they all finished just before sunset.
“It was very special to us to be able to assist this young woman to realise her dream of running at Uluru.”
This year the AOM is on July 29. There are four courses: Marathon, Half Marathon, 11km run and 6km run. Run Australia.