The Goodlife Rottnest Running Festival is held each October on Rottnest Island; 2018 marked its 25th anniversary.
Rottnest Island is located off the West Australian Coast 30 minutes ferry ride from Fremantle; and is pure paradise surrounded by clear turquoise waters a bi-product of the islands limestone base. Surrounded by dangerous seas, several small reefs forming a protective ring make several of the little bays and beaches safe for swimming. The island itself has varied topography with woodland, lakes, heath, settled areas, brackish swamps and coastal habitats together forming Rottnest.
Originally inhabited by aboriginals it was discovered in 1696 by a Dutch explorer and named “Rats nest” due to the large rats that inhabited the island. It was later colonised in 1829 due to the attractiveness of harvesting salt from the salt lakes.
The rats discovered by the Dutch were the first recorded animal in Australia and are in fact a marsupial native only to Rottnest which are highly protected. The humble little Quokka can now be found all over the island embracing their celebrity status among tourists who search for the perfect selfie. They have a perfectly beautiful little face with a smile to match. A picture of innocence and trust they really do make a trip to Rottnest incredibly special. This makes the marathon incredibly unique as it is the only place in the world that athletes can run with Quokka’s.
There are two ways of accessing Rottnest Island. By light aircraft as the island does possess a small airstrip or ferry services. Rottnest Express operate ferry services departing every 30 minutes from shed B in Fremantle. Fares are approximately $5.00 more expensive if travelling Friday – Sunday with return adult fares starting at $69.00 for adults $32.00 for children and $170.00 for a family of 4. This fare also includes island admission. Additional early morning services operate on the morning of the marathon for participants staying in Fremantle otherwise there are many different accommodation options on the Island, but it is wise to book early. As an added bonus at this time of year, your ferry ticket will also include a complimentary whale spotting opportunity as Humpback Wales head down the coast.
The Goodlife Rottnest Running Festival has an event for the entire family, the marathon which starts at 0630, a half marathon commencing at 0715 followed by 5km and 10km events starting at 1025 and 1030 respectively. An additional Quokka dash is available for the little people in families aged 4 years and under. All events start and finish at heritage common which is adjacent to a small shopping village filled with potential post run refreshments. The Common also houses a small, quaint and simply perfect mizuno expo and Rottnest marathon museum which displays a list of top three male and female finishers from each of the previous marathons since its inception along with every medal and finishers T-shirt. This is where numbers can be collected the day prior and on the day.
Entry into the marathon will cost $110.00 and includes a goody bag, finishers T-shirt and medal. Supporting events all receive a medal with entries costing $50.00 for the half marathon, $40.00 for the 10km and $30.00 for the 5km. Prices are slightly reduced for children and the Quokka dash is free if you contact organizers via email early otherwise it’s $5.00 on the day.
Like Rottnest Island itself, the marathon also comes with history and superstitions. The big one involving bagpipes.
The event starts to the sound of bagpipes serenading runners over the timing mat. The course is a lap course. The first is 12km followed by a further three 10km loops. Cruising through the little township over 200 marathon entrants head out for the 2km dog leg getting that over and done with following with the 10km loops. Back through the township and out over the causeway. The 2018 event saw runners battle 43km headwinds across the causeway and very exposed before heading up a hill aptly named on strava as “bitch hill”. The head wind still prevailed until respite was reached turning right and winding between the salt lakes. Also a popular area for seeing one of the few snake species found on the island.
From there the course leads athletes up another hill and around a prominent bluff. The wail of bagpipes could be heard and eventually came into view. Pummeled with rain, and pounded with wind, runners headed back towards Heritage Common past accommodation houses and cheers from their respective occupants to begin their second, third and final laps.
On the final lap just before heading up to the bluff marathon runners are handed a gold coin. Why?
This is where the Rottnest marathon myth begins. A mythical figure known as Harry McFordyce was said to be a prisoner on the island 70 years ago who died attempting to escape. The bag pipers pipe throughout the entire event perched on the bluff in full regalia and represent the ghost of Harry. On the last lap the gold coin handed to runners at the bottom of the hill are deposited at the pipers feet. Legend has it that failure to deliver this offering to appease the ghost of Harry will result in cramps, dehydration or even a possible DNF imposed by an angry ghost of Harry.
Finishing in Heritage Common surrounded by many supporters and excellent commentary is a fabulous atmosphere. The later start of the 5km and 10km events also means there is a lot of support at the finish for sub 4 hour marathon finishers.
The marathon cut off time is 6.5 hours and drink stations are located every 2km, each offering shotz electrolytes and water. Shotz gels are available every 10km. Shortly after cut off presentations occur at the Rottnest Hotel.
Absolutely fantastic run. Hard and challenging but so picturesque and genuine that a lap course was perfect. It meant runners knew what was coming and could look forward to the best bits.
Genuine? Possibly a different way of describing a run. But in country events support offered by spectators is genuine. While a run like Boston is just….,well simply put, who can make the most noise.
Additionally standing on the start dressed in TRR I felt complete pride. It was noticed that Tasmania had made the trek across the country to run on Rottnest. Many questions were asked, introductions occurred and new acquaintances made. This really will go down as one of my favorites.
Rottnest being a coastal island is windy and exposed, anyone wishing to participate would do well to train in all weather and on undulating terrain. With appropriate training it is also an enjoyable event for first timers.
As a retired Highland Dancer the bagpipes were a little extra special and on my final lap upon tossing my coin they burst into a tune I remembered oh so well. Considering momentarily to dance the Barack’s Johnnie next to them I instead took it as a sign and started my pursuit on the lead female.
Definitely a favorite and I recommend it to all. Go and meet the Quokka and run Rotto!
Written by Bonnie Davies