The Willo Marathon took place in Nowra this year and it was simply wonderful to see so many cross-country mountain bikers line-up at Coondoo MTB Park. After the challenging 2022 Season that was troubled with wet weather patterns, race postponements and – in the Willo case – necessary venue changes event, it felt like ‘new beginnings’ for the Rocky Trail cross-country racing space.
In the longest marathon distance, the 80km classification, the 24 Hour Solo National Champion Jon Odams from Sydney and National Marathon Champion Em Viotto took out the overall titles. Both racers also claimed the King of the Mountain (KOM) and Queen of the Mountain classifications.
Age category winners included Junior National Marathon Champion Cam Winfield in U19’s and National Marathon Champion Brendan Johnston in the 30+ group. In the females, former 24 Hour Solo Worlds Age Group Title winner Gwynn McLeod was the runner up in the 80km distance.
The race also offered shorter 60KM and 40KM distances as well as a 15km Junior Race and short-course category for adults. What a joy, seeing the next generation o racers out on course with so many local club junior riders enjoying their home trails at race pace!
The event was held in memory of the late National Marathon Champion James Williamson and Rocky Trail has been honoured to continue the his legacy with this marathon. Originally based on James’ home trails on the Southern Highlands, the race had to be moved to a new venue in Nowra on the NSW South Coast because the Wingello trail network had not recovered from the 2022 floods.
The new venue did provide some unexpected challenges. Some riders in the longer distance classifications did not or were not able to complete the correct course as marked. We would like to thank all riders who have provided feedback on the day and reached out with data and input since Sunday in reply to our communication. We appreciate all the respectful and constructive feedback received.
It was important to us to thoroughly review all raw timing files and we have ploughed through a lot of data and the results are now confirmed. During the data review we were able to identify patterns that showed that the open nature of the landscape and the visibility into a number of adjacent trails and signage did lend itself to riders getting confused during the heat of racing. This resulted in some racers following each other, changing onto trails trying to self-correct and with the on-site staff not being able to catch up on the multiple locations of exit/re-entries in the timeframe we had.
Rocky Trail Entertainment has since reviewed our operational policies and as a first action point, we will make specific changes in the areas of signage for cross-country events. We are also putting new processes in place in regards to track selection/routing, as well as staff requirements and training particularly for future marathon events.
We would like to thank Destination NSW for their funding support and acknowledge our event sponsors and supporters. We appreciate the endorsement from the local South Coast United Mountain Bike Club.
Finally, may we share some motivating and inspiring posts by some of the Willo 2023 racers after the event: