Airplane post: marathon #1 preview

Yesterday I left Canberra on my way to a workshop in Benasque, a small Spanish village at the Pyrenees. In the past 24 hours I have watched three movies, read a book, worked on a grant proposal rejoinder, eaten four airplane meals, and slept for a few hours. The problem? I’m still in an airplane!

I also watched a couple of sports documentaries: one about the 2015 Dubai marathon, and another about the Austrian cyclist Gerhard Gulewicz and his breathtaking attempts to win the Race Across America (RAAM). This reminded me that I have an extra reason, besides science, to be excited about this workshop. As you may have read in this post, Benasque is the place I chose to run the first marathon of my fundraising challenge. Since I have some time to spare before I’m asked “lamb or chicken” and before we land in Barcelona, I thought it was a good time to write a marathon preview.

I always knew that planning a marathon in Benasque would be challenging. There is no way to avoid the mountains. Of course you can limit the amount of climb by designing a course with multiple laps along a less hilly loop, but that would be no fun, would it? I studied some maps from the Wikiloc website and used my previous limited knowledge of the region to design a course. I was tempted to go to the lakes that I showed here, but that would involve some steep hiking over rocks rather than running, so I ditched it. Instead, I went with this* (similar to what I described here):


Course map for the first marathon. You can find the details at:

Screen Shot 2015-06-21 at 8.09.34 pm

You certainly noticed the long way up, 1650 m of elevation gain, with two category 1 and one category 5 climbs. Sounds very hard but you know what they say: the more impressive your challenge, the better your chances of a successful fundraising. You may have also noticed the ridiculous maze-like beginning, included just to reach the marathon distance. ‘Why not extend the course one more kilometer from the final point?’ – you may ask. Well, that final point was meticulously planned to be the highest point of that track. If I went a few hundred meters further, then I’d have a steep descent that would need to be climbed back. No, I didn’t want to make it any harder than already is.

To be honest, I don’t really know whether I can run that last bit or not. I’ve been on a bike for most of that course before, but the last climb from kilometer 18 to half-marathon mark is unknown to me. I guess I’ll have to check that on the day. I can always make up for the distance by running past Benasque and then coming back. But anyone that has had the chance to race in a course that you pass in front of the finishing line and still having a few kilometers to run knows that it is no fun.

By the way, I went for the lamb! 😉

* Since I published this post the course has been changed to make it easier for people to run parts of the marathon with me. The final map can be found here.


Make my map!

I went to bed last night trying to come up with a way to encourage people to donate, and also thinking about the maps that I have to make for my non-official marathon runs. To deal with both issues at the same time, I came up with an idea that I called “Make My Map”. The game works as this: if you contribute with at least $10 to my fundraising here, you can submit a map for my second marathon that is going to be in July, in Canberra. You can use Strava, MapMyRun, Garmin, or whatever your favourite platform for creating maps is. You can be mean and create a hard marathon course for me (please don’t), or you can show how creative you are by making the most original and fun marathon course ever!


That’s a seriously cool map. Here is a link to the original post.

There is even a blog dedicated to this weird form of art! The giraffe map above is from the “Sketchbook of a Strava Artist” and can be a source of inspiration for those planning to help me with the maps (and with the fundraising 🙂 ). We at the Bilbys Triathlon Club also tried to unleash the inner Strava artists in our members with this post on our Facebook page:


This would have look much cooler if I hadn’t posted the giraffe map before!

Back to the Make My Map game. As in any game, there must be rules. Here they are (especially designed for the mean people out there):

1. The course should be no shorter than 42.195 km (that was obvious), and no more than 45km (I’m giving you room to be creative).

2. You can create an “out and back” course or a “loop” one (can be as complicated as the giraffe), so that the starting point and the finish line are the same.

3. You can make me run over different hills but no, you can’t make me run up and down Black Mountain until I complete 42.195 km! This rule is valid for any other nasty hill in Canberra!

4. I can, at any time, add extra rules if the ones above are deemed to be insufficient to avoid extremely nasty and potentially body-destroying courses 😉 .

You should submit your course by leaving a comment in this post. The winning course will be chosen by popular vote and the winner may get a prize (I’m working on that!).

UPDATE (09/07/15): Second marathon in Canberra on 18 July. Can you create a course for this one?