The Murray Marathon is a 404 km, 5 day canoe/kayak flatwater race on the Murray River, bordering Victoria and New South Wales. One of the longest annual flatwater canoe races in the world, it starts in Yarrawonga on 27 December and heads downstream through Tocumwal, Picnic Point, Echuca, Torrumbarry and Murrabit before finishing in Swan Hill on 31 December each year. The VicSuper Murray Marathon completes the Australian ultra-marathon canoeing circuit for the year, succeeding the Hawkesbury Canoe Classic which takes place in October.
The event began in 1969 with a few friends organising a fundraiser for the Australian Red Cross, who then managed the event as a major fundraiser. After running the Marathon for 40 years, the Australian Red Cross announced in July 2008 that they would be ending their association with the event. In November 2008 it was announced that the YMCA Victoria would be taking over the coordination of the event from 2009 onwards.
Under the auspice of the YMCA Victoria, all funds raised from the event are now disbursed back into the social, environmental and economic sustainability of the Murray River Region. The 2009 Marathon raised A$88,789 to support local projects in the region.
There are also a number of lead up races to the Murray Marathon. These include the Echuca Mini, Barwon Mini and the Riverland Paddling Marathon.
Craft and entry classes
A wide range of classes cater for a wide range of craft, from racing canoes and kayaks as defined in the ICF regulations, through to touring craft as defined in Australian Canoeing regulations to surf skis, outrigger canoes and recreational paddle-craft such as sea kayaks. Adult entrants can choose to paddle full distance, half distance, single day challenge or as part of a relay team. Junior entrants paddle a reduced distance, or as part of a junior or school relay team (which does the full distance).
The five days of the event are:
- Day 1, 27 December. Yarrawonga to Tocumwal. 94 km with 4 checkpoints/5 stages
- Day 2, 28 December. Tocumwal to Picnic Point. 96 km with 4 checkpoints/5 stages
- Day 3, 29 December. Picnic Point to Echuca. 76 km with 4 checkpoints/5 stages
- Day 4, 30 December. Echuca to Torrumbarry. 63 km with 3 checkpoints/4 stages
- Day 5, 31 December. Murrabit to Swan Hill. 75 km with 3 checkpoints/4 stages
Officials record each paddler's progress at every checkpoint for safety and time-keeping purposes. Checkpoints allow competitors and teams to change paddlers, pick up refreshments and rest during the event. Results and standings are posted at each campsite.
A section of the river between Torrumbarry and Murrabit is not paddled. The course is sometimes changed if river and access conditions dictate, but total distance is maintained as best as possible. In some years, difficulty accessing the checkpoints for Day 2 has seen the Day 1 course paddled twice.
The river is generally easy to paddle on, with plenty of deep water and currents of no more than about 3 knots. Some turbulence may be encountered on bends and a keen eye must be kept out for fallen trees which may extend well out into the river and be hidden below the surface of the water. Sections of the river are closed to recreational power boat traffic as the race passes through, but commercial (tourist) boat operations continue normal operations.
With volunteers, competitors and support crew numbers in the thousands, campsites are set up in various locations along the river. Scrutineering and official briefing is held on 26 December in Cobram where participants stay for two nights, followed by two nights in Echuca, and two nights at Swan Hill.
With the race being held in the middle of an Australian summer, the weather can be as much of a challenge as the event itself. Temperatures of 45 °C are not unusual and remaining adequately hydrated and avoiding heat stroke are vital considerations for all involved.
Cut-off times apply for all checkpoints and the daily finish line. The cut-off times are generous and participants of average ability are normally capable of completing the stages within the prescribed times. While the competition in some classes can be fierce, the challenge for many is simply to complete the distance rather than to win, and atmosphere of the race is relaxed and friendly.
[YMCA Murray Mahttp://www.flickr.com/photos/ymcavictoria/sets/72157632358286171/rathon photo gallery of the 2012 race YMCA Murray Marathon photo gallery of the 2012 race].