FUN FOR ALL: Children and families were a big part of the 2017 Airlie Beach Running Festival.
FUN FOR ALL: Children and families were a big part of the 2017 Airlie Beach Running Festival. Sharon Smallwood

Heart of the reef is won

MUMS can do anything - and in Airlie Beach they've been adding marathons, half marathons and five to 10km runs to their CV's - proudly championed by Nicole Bunyon, founder of Running Mums Australia.

Ms Bunyon, who started the internet group five years ago and was the ambassador for today's 2017 Airlie Beach Running Festival, said it was great to see so many mums, kids and families at the event.

"I love that - and that's what it's all about for me," she said.

"I think when we become mums, mainly for the first time, we can get quite isolated and we lose a lot of ourselves, so it's nice to be able to network with other women who are interested in the same things - keeping healthy and active.

"Just because you're a mum you can still do anything but it's better if you're in a supportive environment and that's the driving force behind this group.

"Anybody can join, it's free, it's networking and basically connectivity for women all over Australia who run."

Of the 30,000 people now following and its associated Facebook page, some also followed Ms Bunyon to Airlie Beach, where the 2017 Running Festival offered a full "heart of the reef" marathon for the first time.

Ms Bunyon had visited the Whitsundays for the Hamilton Island Active Women's Weekend in 2016 but had never been to Airlie Beach.

The chance to experience a new place in an event aptly dubbed "run to paradise" was quite a draw card, she said, adding "a lot of our members are into this destination-type event".

Running Festival organiser Tim Oberg said many of the event's record-breaking 626 attendees also expressed a desire to support Airlie Beach in the wake of Cyclone Debbie.

"Airlie's getting back on its feet and this was a great way to showcase the town," he said.

"We are thrilled with the way everything went - the weather gods shined on us and our volunteers went over and above to give all participants a wonderful experience."

Also new this year was the course, which led runners on a 10.55km loop between the start and finish lines at the Port of Airlie and Cannonvale Beach, with the Cruise Whitsundays Half Marathon comprising two loops and the Heart of the Reef Marathon four loops.

Utilising boardwalks and existing pathways, this took runners on a journey encapsulating spectacular views over the Coral Sea and allowed spectators to see a marathon runner up to eight times during the event.

Mr Oberg said the feedback from the runners and the way spectators had been able to engage with them was one of the personal highlights for him from the 2017 event.

And Ms Bunyon described the course as "beautiful".

"It was an uninterrupted view of the ocean and just the gorgeousness of Airlie Beach," she said.

"And even though it was a semi-big event it had a great community feel while showcasing a beautiful place. I don't think I can compare it to anything else."

A serious side

For some of the participants at this year's event there was much more than running or hitting a personal best at stake.

Evan and Tegan McCarthy were there to raise money for the Canberra Hospital where their daughter Lalita was born 10 weeks premature in 2015.

Lalita was in the hospital for two months and on only her second day of life experienced a bleed on her brain.

"They did a scan and told us she was likely to have cerebral palsy," Ms McCarthy said.

"We were first time parents. It was just an incredible time for us but the staff at the Canberra Hospital were just amazing. They taught us how to care for our child and gave us emotional support."

Not only did little Lalita defy the odds, but the McCarthy's have now raised over $3000 through their Go Fund Me page "to make sure other children receive the same level of care".

In the Airlie Beach Running Festival Ms McCarthy, who said she was "not much of a runner but I gave it a really good go", completed the half marathon while her husband ran the full marathon and Lalita managed 1km.

The family was also able to enjoy a day trip out to the Great Barrier Reef with Cruise Whitsundays, with Ms McCarthy saying the coral at Hardy Reef was a "nine out of 10".

And the McCarthy's weren't the only ones championing a cause.

About six months ago 23-year-old Aaron Royall packed up his life in Sydney and decided to drive around Ausltralia running marathons along to the way to raise funds and awareness of mental health issues.

"I decided on 18 marathons in eight months, doing one big lap around Australia. I bought a car and a mattress and I'm living out the back of it," he explained. 

"And it's all for mental health. I've had a couple of people in my life who have experienced some pretty severe mental health conditions and I've seen the ripple effect it's had on their families and friends.

"Since I've been doing this I've been overwhelmed by people talking to me about their experiences and what I'm doing and that's what motivates me now - it's not just about my close friends any more it's also the people that speak to me when I'm on the road, they're the ones that keep me doing these marathons".

Mr Royall's chosen charity is the Black Dog Institute, which he has so far raised over $12,000 for through his Lap 4 Lives Go Fund Me, Facebook and Instagram pages.

Winners and grinners

The winner of the inaugural Heart of the Reef Marathon and 2017 Athletics North Queensland Champion in the women's division is an Airlie Beach local of 15 years.

During the week Deb Mayne works as a refrigeration mechanic at the Glencore mine in Glenden but at the weekends she relaxes at home in Airlie Beach.

And of course she runs.

"I just love it. It's a good stress reliever," she said.

Today was her third marathon and her home town did not disappoint.

"This is the only place where I'd do one with multiple laps because it's just such a beautiful place," she said, adding she would "100% do it next year".

Ms Mayne's finish time of three hours 49 minutes and 30 seconds was also a personal best.

"I've never broken four hours before so it was my fastest time - by a lot," she said.

In the men's category meanwhile it was Darryl Hill from Rockhampton who took the crown, in a blistering time of two hours 40 minutes and 22 seconds.

Having only just run the Gold Coast Marathon two weeks ago, this wasn't even his fastest time.

"But with the course and the conditions I was very happy with it. I think that's actually my third fastest time ever. I was pushing hard to keep up the pace," he said.

Mr Hill said having "copped a bit" of Ex-Tropical Cyclone Debbie in Rockhampton, he had been keen to come up to Airlie Beach and "give back".

He found the course scenic but technical and was full of praise for the volunteers.

"The high-five's and the encouragement from everyone - that's always great and keeps you going," he said.

For first place-getter in the half marathon Alex Verelst, this was also one of the highlights of the event.

"I've done a few fun runs but this is up there as the one with the friendliest atmosphere - it gives you that extra push, so (to all the spectators and volunteers) thanks for that," he said.

Cannonvale student Zavier Goswell spoke for many of the kids taking part, when he described the sense of achievement at crossing the finish line.

"I felt accomplished that I just ran 2km," he said.

Contributing to success

Mr Oberg thanked the Airlie Beach Running Festival's major sponsors including Cruise Whitsundays, Mantra Club Croc, the Port of Airlie and associated businesses and the Whitsunday Times.

He also paid tribute to the people who alongside the runners were the heroes of the event - the many dedicated volunteers.


Heart of the Reef Marathon


1. Deb Mayne, Airlie Beach, 03:49:30

2. Katie Keohane, Victoria, 03:56:31

3. Kirsty Waugh, Strathdickie 03:56:58


1. Darryl Hill, Rockhampton, 02:40:22

2. Aidan Rich, Victoria, 03:02:09

3. Jarrod Ausburn, Freshwater, 03:12:40

Cruise Whitsundays Half Marathon


1. Bridget Webber, Thuringowwa, 01:33:25

2. Hayley Firman, Jubilee Pocket, 01:35: 41

3. Dawn-Michelle Romanella, 01:38:38


1. Alex Verelst, Bowen, 01:25:55

2. Peter Moore, Proserpine, 01:26: 50

3. Stephen Jackson, Hamilton Island, 01:28:54

Mantra Club Croc 10km


1. Ashlee Scott, Walkerston, 00:41:07

2. Kate Pascoe, Bowen, 00:45:32

3. Casey Venables, Ingham, 00:45:58


1. Luke Jones, Victoria, 00:37:52

2. Colin McIntosh, Cairns, 00:38:15

3. Shawn Claydon, Mackay, 00:39:16

The Coffee Club 5km


1. Riana Cashinella, Cannonvale, 00:21:44

2. Kathy McCarthy, Wollomgong, 00:22:01

3. Wendy Versluis, Strathdickie, 00:22:43


1. Adrian Knight, Cannonvale, 00:20:38

2. Ricky Parker, Blacks Beach, 00:21:14

3. Darren Crossley, Cannonvale, 00:21:38

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