Gold Coast Marathon

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Increased Capacity and an Improved Course

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles looking at running’s huge surge in popularity in Australia. We’ve spoken to the race directors of the country’s three biggest marathons: Gold Coast, Melbourne and Sydney. All photos were taken in 2019.

Before this year, the Gold Coast Marathon had only sold out twice in its history. One of those times was in 2018 – when the city hosted the Commonwealth Games, meaning you might expect a heightened interest in sport – and the other was last year. In both years, it was around June that the July marathon reached capacity.

For 2024, the race filled up in less than a month after going on sale on 1 December 2023. That was for around 6,700 entrants, around the number of runners in 2023. Event organisers were then able to add 3,300 more spots after successfully negotiating changes to the course that will ease congestion at critical sections (more on that below). But even allowing for 10,000 entrants has not exhausted demand and many others remain on the waitlist.

The half marathon sold out in just over two months, with the waitlist now open. This is the first time the 21km event has reached capacity.

“Just in the three big races, entries more than doubled in the space of 12 months.”

– Ryan McDonald, Gold Coast Marathon race director

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“It's pretty mind boggling,” Gold Coast race director Ryan McDonald told us when we caught up a couple months ago. “Last year, when we reached capacity in June, we then had a waitlist of a couple of hundred people. And with people withdrawing or transferring down to the half or the 10K, we were able to offer places to all those people who were on the waitlist. But this year we've had several thousand on the waitlist and still more than the 3,300 we've been able to give the first round of offers to.”

McDonald points to several factors behind this new popularity: the pandemic, cost of living pressures, the record speed in which the Melbourne Marathon sold out, Sydney’s bid to become a world major and even the “parkrun pipeline”.

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“We also had big races in Sydney, Melbourne and Gold Coast last year,” McDonald said. “It’s interesting because the rough numbers in 2022 for the three big marathons was about 15,000 entries combined. In 2023, they had more than 30,000 entries. Just in the three big races, entries more than doubled in the space of 12 months.”

Like many observers, he saw the boost that the pandemic gave to running. “People were like, ‘Well, we need to get outside to exercise. We don't have any other equipment, so we'll go for a run,’” he said. “Now, with the increasing cost of living pressures, people are looking to simplify some of their activities, and running is pretty much the simplest thing. You just need a pair of shoes and away you go.”

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Gold Coast Marathon prides itself on being a destination marathon. Its “flat, fast and scenic” course offers runners the chance to rip it alongside the city’s golden surf beaches; the winter temperatures are usually mild with low humidity and little wind. As a result, around 60% of entrants hit a PB at GC. This attracts 40% of participants from interstate and 10% from overseas. The other half are Queensland natives.

“We’ve always tried to create a good racing environment for the Gold Coast. We haven't just invested in one or two people that will go and absolutely obliterate the course record. We’ve tried to create a race where we've got some internationals from East Africa, Japan, North America, and top-level Australians, where there's a good contest that's interesting to watch, and there's some good stories,” said McDonald.

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“For example, on last year's men's podium, we had the Japanese winner, who did the course record: 2:07:40. And then we had a Kenyan male come second, and then Liam Adams came third in the fastest time ever on Australian soil by an Australian male. “We have an American female course record holder and a Japanese male course record holder. I'm not sure how many major marathons in the world would have that anymore.”

Each of Australia’s three largest marathons are structured in different ways. The Nike Melbourne Marathon Festival is run on a for-profit model by global events company IMG. Sydney Marathon, presented by ASICS as Gold Coast now is (an announcement made in March), is owned by the not-for-profit peak body Athletics Australia and operated by events company Pont3.

Around 400 people have signed up for the Gold Coast Double. That’s 63.3km over two days.


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“We're a bit different,” McDonald said of his organisation, Events Management Queensland, which also mounts events including the Pan Pacific Masters Games and the Toowoomba Marathon. “We're a not-for- profit organisation wholly owned by the Queensland State Government, whose KPIs for us are bringing in interstate and international competitors, generating room nights and economic activity for Queensland. So our focus is interstate and internationals. But it also needs to be, because we just don't have quite the same population bases as Sydney and Melbourne do.”

Explicitly aiming to attract tourists to stay multiple nights, Gold Coast Marathon is the only one of the big three that runs its half and full marathons on different days of race weekend (and Sydney has now dropped its half distance as it seeks world major status). This means the Queensland course can offer the Gold Coast Double medal for those interested in running 63.3km. Of course, it helps if you don’t have to close Sydney Harbour Bridge or book the MCG for two days straight. When we spoke, McDonald said they have around 400 runners signed up for the double in 2024.

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This year and last, increased interest in the Melbourne and Sydney events has benefitted Gold Coast. “Having Sydney push really hard last year with their marketing [around their world major candidacy] probably introduced the marathon to a whole lot more people,” McDonald said.

“And I think Melbourne ended up opening a couple of days before us and then they sold in 48 hours. People who missed out on Melbourne were potentially looking for other options and turned towards Gold Coast.” And then there’s the huge uptick among people just getting into running. McDonald points to parkrun’s popularity as an example.

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“Parkrun had its one millionth runner recently in Australia, which means that there's a whole lot more people in the running pipeline. It launched in April 2011, [meaning it’s celebrating] its 13th birthday in Australia. The Main Beach parkrun here in Gold Coast was the first one.”

These runners graduating from shorter distances and looking for new challenges might explain the high proportion, 38%, of entrants who made their marathon debut at Gold Coast last year. Of course, that means the other almost-two-thirds of runners were doing their second, third, fourth or fiftieth marathon at Gold Coast. For some of them that would be their first go at the Gold Coast course, but for many others Goldie is the course they long to come back to.

“One thing that we always try to do is provide a really good event experience. So our retention rate is quite good. That's important for us, being from a city of 600,000 people compared to cities like Melbourne or Sydney which have a lot bigger populations right on their doorsteps.”

The new course removes two-way congestion at Hedges Avenue and other critical spots.


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Making sure they retained a good event experience was critical, McDonald said, as they sought to increase the race capacity. The sell-out gave them a bit of extra leverage.

“Our course capacity in the marathon, and all races really, is dictated by the road width. That's pretty much the start and finish of how we can operate, because we were trying to still have that good participant experience. Having too many runners on the course and having someone have to stop while their watch is ticking is not ideal.”

McDonald said he and his team negotiated with stakeholders including City of Gold Coast, the state government’s Department of Transport and Main Roads and Queensland Police since shortly after last year’s race in order to “unlock a couple of other roads so that we can release the pressure on the pinch points”.

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“The fact that we sold out based on our existing course kind of pushed some of those stakeholders to give us a yes-or-no answer to open things up a little bit more while we had a whole lot of people interested to come up to run a race on the Gold Coast,” McDonald said. These negotiations led to the successful late-March announcement of a new course. You can fly over the course in the video below.

“Hedges Avenue is the classic one that’s been a limiting factor, in 2018 and 2023 – the two-way flow of runners on Hedges Avenue,” McDonald told us. “So that's been the focus of those discussions along with a couple of other points on course, where we can increase the running lane available to runners.”

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In 2024, runners will begin the marathon by running south on Gold Coast Highway before coming back northbound on the parallel Hedges Avenue. If you’ve already run Goldie, you’ll know the positive difference this will make.

“Experience is still core to what everyone in the office here is focused on. It's not just a volume activity where we want to get as many people in as possible. We want to preserve that good Gold Coast experience, so we want to make sure that people can still get a lot of those iconic Gold Coast sights, that the course is still fast, that there's still entertainment on course.”

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