Picture a remote untouched beach with over 7kms of pure white silica sand and water that is a thousand different shades of incredible iridescent blues. This is paradise. This is the location for the Great Whitehaven Run.
Every year Hamilton island hosts the Great Whitehaven Run as part of the Endurance Series. Not familiar with this location or event? Well, let me give you the quick facts! It's Australia’s most awarded beach located on Whitsunday island, the largest island of the 74 that are dotted through the Whitsundays area. Whitsunday island is owned by the Australian National Parks, so there isn't a building in sight, the only way to get to this beach is by boat, seaplane or helicopter. As for the event, it goes for a full day where there are options of 5km, 10km half marathon, and for the kids there is a 500m and relay options.
I woke up on race day at first light with butterflies already starting to flutter around in my belly. I used the short walk down to the marina to ease my nervous energy. This is where the pre-race atmosphere started to build, and where I first noticed that it was different to all the other events I have done, it was more... relaxed. I guess the simple island life rubs off on everyone at Hamilton Island, holiday mode is activated and life becomes a little less serious. There were loads of families and groups of friends, a big mix of people competing and people spectating. Laughter and chatter was in the air as I boarded the boat at 8.30am for the scenic hour trip out to the beach.
Once we arrived at Whitehaven beach all 450 of us somehow seamlessly made it from the boats onto the eastern end of the beach. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect, it was a warm 25 degrees and a balmy 21 degrees in the water. The skies were clear, and the water was clearer.
Not long after we all got onto the beach, the races commenced and the energy really picked up with music at the start line and a MC to get everyone excited. I did the 5km and was in the third group to start after the half and the 10km. With the beach about 7km long, the 21km group did two laps out and back while the 10 and 5 went out to their respective half way points and back. I was concerned that everyone in my category was going to be fast, experienced runners but to my relief the MC asked “who has never done a run before?” and quite a few hands went up, this instantly settled me. With everyone giving a friendly high five to the person next to them, the gun went off and we were on our way.
I have to say, while it was challenging it was so blissful to be running along this beach. First up the sand is quite hard packed, so it's not as tough as you might think, but mainly the scenery was just stunning. You weren't running on closed streets with barricades beside you and houses all around, you are on a pristine beach with only a couple of small signs marking the kilometres. No railings, streets or buildings, just an untouched island to one side and aqua blue water with some anchored sailing boats on the other. This has to be the most quiet and natural run event you can do that isn't trail running, and unlike trail running you don't have to watch where you step. You have a wide, flat, hard packed beach to find your own space, rhythm and solace.
To my surprise, I didn't stop and walk any of it and I finished about 5min under my training times. (Must have been all of that race day adrenaline!!) With the boat leaving at 2pm, everyone has time to really soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the beach after the run with their family and friends. This makes it about so much more than just the run, it's a whole experience. By doing the 5km I was in the first group to finish meaning I had ample time to relax, have some lunch, go for a swim and laze on the beach before we had to leave in the afternoon.
The next morning Hamilton Island also puts on a recovery sunrise event over on Dent Island. You can choose between sunrise yoga, or for the brave the 'Dent Dash' a 10km run or walk around the island. Dent Island boasts a world class golf course with immaculate greens running from one end of the island to the other. After your chosen activity, there is a healthy breakfast at the golf club waiting for you before you leisurely return back to Hamilton.
Being the yogi I am, I opted for sunrise yoga, it was on a large grassed helipad that faces east so you can watch the sun rise as you practice. It was the perfect way to unwind and stretch out my muscles from the day before. The rest of my day was spent laying by the pool, listening to the water lap in and watching the palm trees sway above me. It was bliss!
So, if you are a runner, I am sure you are just looking for reasons to enter a running event and hope you can see that this one won't take much twisting of your rubber arm! Not many running events in the world are as unique and picturesque as this one. Completing a challenging sand run while also seeing the beautiful Whitsundays and Great Barrier Reef area. It will become a treasured medallion linked with so many memories in your collection at home.
Now, what if you are not really a runner? Why should you do this event? Well I have a pretty poorly kept secret - I am not a long-distance runner! While I am a very active person, I am just not naturally skilled in the old running department. If we are talking a 100m sprint, yes, I love this, but anything long distance, I find challenging. Unlike swimming and riding I can't seem to find momentum and a steady breath as easily. Every step becomes like a mind game of wanting to give up and walk. So why on earth do I enter so many running events? Well, a little while ago I realised that we tend to believe that if we 'just don't like something' that this is the reason we won't do it, when the real driver is that we don't just dislike it, we actually don't like the fact that we aren't good at it. If you were good at it, you would love it. So, for me it's an opportunity to challenge my limiting beliefs, to grow in ways I thought I couldn't, and to get outside of my comfort zone and see what magic I can find.
My point is, if you have never really considered yourself a runner, don't instantly dismiss doing a run event, and if there is any single event you should try, this would be it! I chose the 5km as 10km on sand was something I wanted to work up to. I foolishly assumed that only full on runners would enter this event as there isn't a walkers and pram category!! Therefore, I felt like they would sprint a 5km and I would be way out of my depth on this one. We arrived at Hamilton island the day before the race and we happened to be checked in the same time as an older couple so we got chatting. I was explaining that I was nervous and that I hoped I wouldn't come last, and the man replied with: "You have already beaten all the people who didn't have the courage to sign up, let alone even consider entering this event." It was just what I needed to hear, and he was so right.
Whether running isn't your strong suit like me or you are feeling a little out of shape and looking for inspiration, this is the perfect event to take on a personal challenge. Unlike any other event I have entered the atmosphere is really friendly, welcoming and relaxed. It will give you something to look forward to and train towards while also being in absolute paradise. After all you can tag on a little (or big) getaway on the island afterwards, what more motivation do you need!
This post was written for Hamilton Island, and can be found here: