The horn blows and the race begins. Hundreds of racers begin the Great Barrier Reef half marathon, all bouncing in their running strides down the beach like little hundreds of baby sea turtles headed out to sea. The sun rises to the east across the calm sea. All the months of training had come to this moment.
Except, I did not actually train for this race.
While most were taking off with serious looks and peaceful smiles, I was hoping I would not puke in the first mile. The first 100m of the course was over the top of a jellyfish nets and ropes, the one thing the announcer told us to be careful of. I was doing my helpful part to make sure I pointed out these to my fellow racers, by being the blonde in a horror movie, and tripping over not one, but both ropes. Classy start.
I thought I was clipping along the 5km beach start pretty well until I realized I was 7th from the end. You know you are slow when you can count your end of the field buddies. The sure and study tortoises that would become family in the next 22km.
My first obstacle was a soft sand walkway. The humidity and sweat was the perfect match to my little tumble into the sand. This was my ritual ‘tar and feathering’ punishment for my lack of sand running training, or any training at all for that matter. Each water station I politely asked for directions to the wine tour, but they only laughed and pushed water and sports drink into my sausage swollen hands. By the 10km mark I was feeling a bit better as I realized that I might actually be able to finish this ‘bucket list’ adventure within the time limit. That’s when I turned the corner and faced…the beast. Who put a mountain in Australia?!?!
The hill resembled the ‘incline’, a steep hike in Colorado, and it was placed right at the 12km mark. That’s when my mountain goat upbringing kicked in, and I waddle hiked up that hill like a duck climbing the wrong side up on an escalator.
I huffed and puffed and made my way to the top with a giggle and celebration dance. Yeppie! My pace quickened as the trail lead quickly down. Before I realized what was happening, I fell right on my bum and skidded a meter or so. This is when I realized my training of schnitzel and hot chips was to my benefit. I laughed and so did my little pack of new friends and we carried on together; bashed, bloody, muddy, and full of achy giggles. Luckily, I lost my sunglasses on the last water station, or I would have had extra weight to carry up the hill!
The good news of the final hour or so of the race was, those pesky clouds and cool breezes were replaced with a bright sunshine and blue skies. The temperature was quickly rising and so was the humidity. A nice man with a garden hose was ‘watering’ us as we shuffled past. His eyes wide in terror at my beet red face.
Our little group was so slow we kept missing the ‘race photographers’. So periodically we would ask bystanders for selfies and pictures just to prove we raced. Amazing what wonderful people you can meet in these events. I really should probably socialize less and run more. Nah!
Uneventful was the next few kilometers. Only hindered by flies, joint pain, inner thigh chafing, and yet more soft sand. I think my brain was beginning to cook, because I was daydreaming of where my next race would be.
Twelve minutes. I had 12 minutes to finish this last mile. The last bit. Nine minutes. I was getting stupid. “Where do I go?” I asked the volunteers. “Follow the cones, you’re almost there”, they replied. “Which cones?” I ask with a look of panic. “The one next to you sweetie” she laughed. Five minutes. I must finish before the 3:30 time or I will not receive a medal and be disqualified. I have four minutes. I can see the finish. But to my dismay it is a fake finish. I must run the full length of the street and back to finish. My waddle quickens. Two minutes. Closer. Closer. I don’t have time to check my watch anymore. I waddle. Crossing the finish line in confusion and heated brain stupidity, I realized a medal had been placed around my neck. My dear friends were handing me water.
I finished the race at 3:28:50. Giggle. I could have stopped and taken another selfie!
(PS. Everyone in my little pack of snails all finished on time. We each received our fancy stubby opener! Thank you Port Douglas.)