These two iconic marathons fall only a few weeks apart, so marathon runners usually have to make a choice between running the Blackmores Sydney Marathon or the Medibank Melbourne Marathon. MOST runners would choose. A few crazies like to think that it’s a good idea to run both. I am one of those crazies. Last year I ran both marathons, with less than 2 minutes difference in my times. This year, I plan to do the same. But for the runners out there who want to choose either one or the other, hopefully I can help you decide.
Sydney – Sunday, 22nd September 2013
Melbourne – Sunday, 13th October 2013
Entry Fees: Sydney earlybird entry is $135 for a standard marathon entry until 18th August, then $155 after that. Melbourne costs $130 for earlybird entry until 24th June, then 150 after that. As Sydney has a far more generous earlybird entry period, this round goes to Sydney.
Course: This is a tough one… running across the Sydney harbour bridge, versus finishing in the MCG. Well it’s not very often that you get the chance to do either of those. The Sydney marathon course is quite loopy, with a number of hairpin turns, and I got a bit disoriented towards the end of the course. Running in to the MCG, and then running a lap before crossing the finish line in front of a stadium full of spectators is an amazing feeling. Melbourne wins round 2.
Start Groups: The start of the Sydney marathon is sorted into A, B and C groups (behind the elite/preferred starters). A is for runners under 3 hours 45 minutes, B is for runners running 3 hours 45 minutes to 4 hours 30 minutes, and C is for runners/walkers outside 4.5 hours. Melbourne has elite/preferred starters, but no start groups after this. In my experience, some runners are pretty poor at self-seeding themselves, so I do prefer seeded start groups. Round 3 goes to Sydney.
Aid Stations: Sydney provided GU gels at select aid stations. I found this very helpful. I don’t remember GU at Melbourne, just water and Sports Drink. Sydney wins round 4.
Getting to the Start line: In Sydney, you can easily catch public transport to the start line. In Melbourne, it doesn’t run that early on a Sunday. Unless you are staying within walking distance of the start like, be prepared to take a cab. You would think that with 7000 competitors in the marathon, and countless more in the half marathon and other events, that Melbourne could start their public transport a couple of hours earlier for this special event. Round 5 goes to Sydney.
Field Size: Melbourne usually has about twice as many entrants in the marathon than Sydney. You really can’t underestimate how much that extra atmosphere will carry you, especially if you are running a marathon for the first time. This round goes to Melbourne.
Finisher’s Shirt. In Sydney, you get your finisher’s shirt after you cross the finish line. in Melbourne, you get it when you pick up your race pack. Based on the two 2012 designs, I thought the Sydney Finisher’s shirt made the nicer race souvenier.
PB Potential: Both courses are reasonably flat, but Sydney’s turns mean that I think Melbourne is potentially the faster course. Melbourne!
Race Expo: This one is easy, Melbourne had the far better race expo. I bought quite a bit here! It was nice and spread out, outside the MCG, and I enjoyed taking quite a bit of time to browse all the stalls. It was also open after the race.
Bag Check: In Sydney they do quite a good job of this… since the start line is quite a distance (and across the bridge) from the finish line. You are required to put your bags on a truck, which leaves before the race starts. At the end of the race, you pick your bag up, quite a distance from the finish line. I found it hard to find the bag pickup area, and I felt like it was a damn long walk to get there. In Melbourne, the bag check is under the MCG and is easy to find. Melbourne wins round 10.
Finisher’s Medal: Again this one is easy. I loved my medal from Melbourne last year. It was big and had the MCG on it, and was on a nice big ribbon with the date of the event on it. Sydney’s medal featured wheelchair athlete Louise Sauvage on a white blackmores ribbon… what I really didn’t like about it was there was no space to do any engraving. I like to get all my medals engraved with my race times.
So, the Melbourne marathon takes out 6 categories, to Sydney’s 5. I know that some things like finisher’s shirts and medals are not important to some runners, so depending on what you look for, you may have other opinions on which race is ‘the pick of the two’.
I thoroughly enjoyed both races last year, and hope to do them both again in 2013. I would also like to add that at Melbourne last year, I did count more than a few runners in Sydney finisher’s shirts, so I’m certainly not the only one backing up for the double. But because of the course, spectators, atmosphere, expo and the course, I think that the Melbourne marathon is a good choice for runners making their marathon debut.