BALMY with the sun just rising on the horizon, it's easy to forget you are in the depths of winter.
Yet there is not a goosebump in sight for those on the start line of Townsville's running festival held annually in August.
While those down south can barely entertain the thought of escaping from underneath the doona, it's easy to see why this event is attracting record numbers each year.
This is not only one of the best events in terms of climate, it's also among the friendliest races on the athletic calendar. Options include the marathon, half marathon, 10k as well as junior and senior 5k runs across flat and scenic terrain.
Yours truly sampled the half marathon course last year, which includes some of Townsville's most beautiful scenery.
Marathon runners undertake a couple of loops of the town, taking in the marina, before the half competitors join them on a journey the length of The Strand, through the backstreets of Townsville before heading toward Pallarenda. You see glimpses of Rowes Bay on the journey before the turnaround just shy of Pallarenda.
As you make the turn it's a welcoming sight to see the pink granite of Castle Hill that towers over Townsville.
Regular drink stations are timely reminders to keep up your fluids in the warm conditions and as you reach town you join runners who have undertaken the 10k and 5k challenge.
Once you reach The Strand's footpath is a sign that the journey is almost over. The finish line is set with a brilliant bay backdrop and the arch is a relief for most who have completed the varying distances.
Well-organised and professionally staged by the Townsville Road Runners, the festival has a carnival-like atmosphere and you can catch up with friends and quickly make new ones at the finish line where there are range of stalls and entertainment.
There is also more than $14,000 in prizemoney up for grabs.
Townsville is somewhat of a surprise packet for the uninitiated.
Regarded as the Mount Isa by the sea in years gone by, the feel has changed since the refurbishment of The Strand.
The 2.2km beach road has excellent grassed areas, playgrounds, and a cool water fun park for the kids near Tobruk Memorial Baths. At one end is a brilliant rock pool that provides a safe haven for swimming and lazing around.
While in town, head up Castle Hill and take in the amazing scenery from 286 metres above sea level that takes in the city, across Cleveland Bay to Magnetic Island. Runners will appreciate the challenge of getting the top. Other attractions include the casino, Reef HQ aquarium, Museum of Tropical Queensland while Magnetic Island is a quick boat ride away.
The writer was a guest of Townsville Running Festival.
GOOD TO KNOW
The McDonald's Townsville Running Festival is held annually in August.
Options include the marathon, half marathon, 10km as well as junior and senior 5km.
More than $14,000 in prizemoney is available.
The longer distance events attract many visitors to the region, with about half of marathoners coming from outside the Townsville region, while the figure is about 30% for the half marathon.
There is a range of accommodation available on The Strand, but we stayed in at the City Oasis Inn which provides closer access to the CBD. Owned by Brendan Carter, who also runs a pretty good half marathon himself, the City Oasis Inn is a four-star property with a saltwater lagoon pool, heated spa, licensed Sidewalk Cafe and bar.