Thursday, November 1, 2007

Marathons, Mountains, & Memories in Australia by John Lent



Marathons, Mountains & Memories in Australia
By John G. Lent
October 24, 2007


It all started with my wife Mary Ann and her participation in the second annual 2007 international Dragon Boat Festival in Caloundra, Australia (about 1 hour north of Brisbane). “Dragon Heart Vermont” a breast cancer survivor team, paddled and competed along with nearly 80 teams from around the world. Their mission is to promote breast cancer awareness, advocacy and raise funds for research through this ancient water sport. One year in the making meant if she were going, then I would also go as a supporter. There was one caveat, I would have to find a marathon to run and we would have to climb the highest mountain in Australia. This is what we do for all our vacations.

The Dragon Boat festival was a huge success on many levels and the Dragon Heart Vermont team finished in the top third overall. Not bad for a team that trains 3 months of the year as apposed to the Australians who train 12 months of the year!

While in Coloundra it was especially fun to visit and run with an old friend and fellow marathoner Bob McNaught who after 32 years returned to his homeland. Bob is a 50 State (marathon) completer who plans to finish the Australia States & Territories next July. Our group trip continued north for us to experience the Rain Forests in northern Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef, and then ended in Sydney. After 2 weeks traveling with 28 new friends it was time to part for our next adventure that began in Melbourne.

I found an apartment suite on the internet just two blocks from both the start of the Melbourne Marathon and finish line located in the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). The MCG seats 120,000 and is one of the premier stadiums in the world. The race was held concurrently with a half marathon and consisted of 2500 marathoners. A nice touch at the start was guest speaker, Rob De Castella (Melbourne native and marathon world record holder 1981), who encouraged the courageousness of first time marathoners. The course was an out and back with several kilometers along the scenic coastal waters of Port Phillip Sound. It was a perfect day to run with plenty of sunshine, cool breezes and temperatures ranging from the upper 40’s to the low 60’s. The water stations were nicely spaced every 2.5 KM however I had never seen “water sachets.” These were handy little 150 ml plastic tubes filled with water or sports drink. Incidentally, their version of a “Powerbar” is actually a sachet filled with a sports drink. To my dismay there was no food on the course. Upon finishing, I barely missed my 4 hour goal but was pleased with my time of 4:01:01 (admittedly without any long distance training). In the end it was a thrill to run a new country and my fourth continent.

With my marathon behind me, it was time for us to head to the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales. We rented a car (or “hired” as they say) and set off to the ski town of Thredbo while steadfastly concentrating to keep on the left side of the road. Our route planning turned out to be the shortest distance, however we didn’t realize over 100 miles would be on a dirt road traversing what seemed like the entire mountain range. As night time came upon us so did the animals. Yes, I actually had to avoid hitting several kangaroos, wombats, emus, assorted livestock, and of all things brumbies (wild horses). It did take my mind away from driving on the left side of the road. Our scenic excursion took us 9 hours from Melbourne. We finally arrived at Thredbo around 8 PM with the gas light on and it looked like a ghost town. Since the previous day was the official closing of the ski season, nothing was open. Of course being experienced adventurers, we knew this is how memories are made. In the end, the Alpine Resort was open and there were actually vacancies! We would have paid just about anything at this point but instead received special post season pricing that included breakfast and lift tickets.

Our destination was Mount Kosciuszko, the highest point in Australia, at an elevation 7310 feet. The hike is 13 KM (8 miles) roundtrip which began at the top of the ski lift. With over 3 feet of snow still on the mountain, we “hired” snowshoes. Another picture perfect day we reached the summit in 2 ½ hours. What a thrill to be on top of Australia just 2 days after running a marathon. (This was my third continent highpoint.)

The rest of the week we toured through National Parks and southern coastal towns of Victoria staying in small hotels and bed-and-breakfast accommodations. Our final destination was “The Twelve Apostles” on the Tasman Sea which may be described as where the Grand Canyon meets the ocean. These were spectacular tall rock formation spires formed by eons of turbulent waves eroding its base. We took several pictures to capture yet another Australian memory.

As the saying goes, life is an adventure. Whether dragon boating or running marathons and climbing mountains, they are all greatly enhanced when performed in new places. Australia is one place you will find many new adventures with an unconditional guarantee that the memories will last a lifetime.

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