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  • Alison Fenton

why I put up my hand to manage an outback marathon

I signed-up to manage a marathon in Coober Pedy. It was one of those massive tree-change things, only it didn't involve a relocation.

I left my government communications job and took a huge leap of faith. Risky? Yes. But the truth was that the job was killing me slowly and I couldn't seem to find my way out.

I wanted more community-based social marketing and community engagement and by the time we took our six month road trip in 2018, I knew it was time to go.

I hoped desperately for an epiphany but the solution just didn't fall into my lap. Eventually I was rescued by a set of circumstances (aka yet another government restructure) and an unlikely community town in outback South Australia.

A job advertisement for Kanku-Breakaways Marathon Coordinator peaked my interest - a community marathon 30km north of Coober Pedy, running through the desert amongst a couple of limestone formations.

So I put up my hand.

I got to know Coober Pedy and some of its colourful locals over several visits. It wasn't a likely place for a marathon. For starters the extreme heat for a good part of the year didn't exactly encourage a culture of exercise.

But Coober Pedy is the opal capital of Australia and is made of tough stuff. I learnt the Coober Pedy way. It was back to basics—say hello, have a chat and get it done. The fact that Coober Pedy has been able to establish and maintain a largely community supported marathon for 11 years, speaks volumes in my book!

The tyranny of distance provided its challenges. Equipment hire was tricky and the hours spent procuring port-a-loos and organising their transport was enough to send the team crazy!

And despite some fairly intensive marketing, many of the locals left registering for the event until the last minute, leaving me wondering if we'd even have enough entrants for the race. As it happened we had 119 starters, the best numbers for many years.

The Kanku-Breakaways was magical. Each time I visited, it reeled me in a little bit more.

On my second visit I hastily changed into running gear, which happened to be in the back of the truck, to take up an offer of some drone footage for promotional purposes. It was hot, there were flies and I was running up and down a dusty road with the tourists looking at me like I was mad.

Another time I had the privilege of watching 50 singers in a gospel choir, Tony Backhouse and the Backroaders, singing at the lookout as the sun set in the background.

Then there was the trip through the park following the migration of hundreds of emus.

I learnt about the significance of the land to its Aboriginal custodians. It had been a transport corridor all those years before. Aboriginal people had travelled through it, but from my perspective it looked completely inhospitable.

I'm sure a lot of runners felt the same way when they arrived at the race hub. Entrants came from as far as Seattle and Germany, Katherine, Adelaide and APY Lands. Plus there was a good representation of locals. They were young, old and in-between.

Some ran fast—really fast—some were slow and most were just out there to give it a go. There was a free Reconciliation Week bbq, soup kitchen, art display and kids corner. Volunteers I didn't even knew we had, turned up and pitched in.

We saw some awesome displays of running that day and some even better displays of sportsmanship and camaraderie. The faces on the kids as they crossed the finish line was heartwarming.

It was a great day out. And as we packed up we were already talking about how we could make it even better next year. I'm feeling pretty excited about that.

Visit the website for information about the Kanku-Breakaways Marathon and Fun Run.

*All hail to Sputnik for providing the gorgeous cover shot for this post.

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