Run in the Footsteps of Heroes

Looking for an adventure in 2018? Well there’s one right on the doorstep of Australia that takes you across the iconic Kokoda Track over 3 epic days. First held in 2017, the Kokoda Ultra Marathon might be new on the scene, but the team behind it have more experience on the track than just about anyone else. Here we catch up with one of the crazies behind it, Anthony Thompson, to get the lowdown on how it all came together and what runners have to look forward to.

What inspired the creation of Kokoda Ultra?

Initially is was early in 2016 when myself and Wayne Wetherall ( Owner of the trekking company Kokoda Spirit and RD to the Kokoda Ultra Marathon) starting speaking about creating an ultra event to help commemorate the 75th Anniversary of the Kokoda Campaign which would be the following year (2017).

We knew a 3 day event crossing the 96km track would have its challenges for even the most experienced ultra athlete and adventurer, however the key factor was to enable a new generation of Australians the opportunity to race in the footsteps of heroes and understand values of courage, endurance, mateship and sacrifice which represent the values and qualities of those fallen soldiers who fought along the track during the Second World War.

What unique challenges do athletes face?

The Kokoda Ultra Marathon is the only multi-day ultra in the world where runners actually scale an original wartime track. There is no doubt that athletes will experience a cascade of both mental and physical challenges pushed to the very limits, traversing pristine jungle mountainous and unpredictable terrain. However, it is the emotional challenge that all athletes will face during our event which is so unique. The spirit of our diggers on the track is very strong, its a living, breathing and pulsating reminder of the passion, significance and purpose of the Kokoda legend. Especially when runners pass fighting pits , jump over ambush positions and are constantly reminded of the horrors of war.

What’s the best things about the event?

That’s surprisingly a tough question because there are many positives about our 3 day adventure especially after the success of last years event. 

The spectacular scenery, the history, the local communities and much more are just some things.

But what stands out I think for the most is the camaraderie and bonding developed by the competitors together with our local crew. By the final days of last year’s event the group had formed a tribe like relationship enduring everything that Kokoda stands for. This will no doubt be the same for the 2018 event.

Another positive that should get a mention include the very experienced and effective on/off ground logistics for the event. The Kokoda Ultra Marathon is no walk in the park and is set in a very remote location, so safety to all our runners is paramount. Our crew, both Australian and  local, have many years experience with leading trekkers across the  Kokoda track.

Whats the worst thing about the event?

LOL depending how you interpret ‘worst’!

Yes there is the ever changing weather, energy sapping humidity, occasionally torrential rain that can change any water way including the actual track into a raging torrent, then there’s the mud, the gnarly and twisted tree roots that make up plenty of sections of the trail and not to mention the mozzies, however you need to remind yourself that this is the Kokoda Track set in amongst some of the most remote areas of PNG.

So to answer the question about what’s the worst things about the Kokoda Track, well there isn’t in my view. 

The men that fought here some 75 years ago would obviously have a very different opinion based on what they endured and encountered. Thankfully because of their sacrifice, courage and endurance we can experience only what Kokoda throws at us in terms of the some unpredictability and to really think that as a possible “worst thing” just wouldn’t be right.

What tips do you have for people doing it? 

Expect the unexpected.

Even though the Kokoda Ultra Marathon would viewed by many as a race, this event is much, much more than a race. It’s an experience that will push every runner to their physical and mental limits but at the same time will be spiritually uplifting.

When you find yourself doing it tough out on course – and you will have those moments, I guarantee it – just take a minute to remember and think about the hardships and chaos our soldiers had to endure. Then you suddenly realise that really this isn’t so tough after all.

Outside of the run, what do people have to look forward to experiencing/seeing?

As mentioned earlier, the Kokoda Ultra Marathon is much more than just a race to see who is the fastest to cross the 96km pristine jungle and mountainous course. 

During this event every runner will experience and have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of heroes, to explore and encounter local communities who are, just like their fuzzy wuzzy ancestors  such welcoming, helpful and grateful people. 

Also, once everyone has successfully crossed the finish line under the Kokoda arches on the final day, we hold a remembrance service for the diggers on the Kokoda battlefield. This is a very moving experience for all those involved knowing full well, what they have just encountered and successfully achieved was something extraordinary and significant and in the honer of those that had fought along the track all those years ago.