Course Description and Terrain
The eastern Simpson Desert is a flat landscape with stable sand ridges laid over the top. Most of the dunes are firm and wind-packed with hard sand and gibber plains or clay flats in the valleys. The dunes are covered in light vegetation; sparse grasses, spinifex and bushes that binds the sand. The tops of most dunes have loose, wind-blown sand.
Unique among off-road running events you'll be following a specially marked route cross-country, with a lot of it in unchartered and untracked desert. This adds to the adventure of the Big Red Run.
Here are a range of surfaces that you will be running on.
There will be a bit of soft sand but the largest part of the course will be on a variety of firmer surfaces.
Gibber plains comprise a carpet of small rounded pebbles laid on a top of a firm layer of ground. The surface is surprisingly flat because wind and rain has caused the pebbles to settle into a flat layer. Race Director Adrian Bailey says it's like running on "a giant, slightly forgiving pebble-crete driveway". Gibber plains are often very red and are a beautiful feature of the desert near Birdsville.
Firm parallel sand dunes make up most of the desert west of Birdsville. The sand ridges are typically 10-15m high with the stunning Big Red, the tallest dune in the Simpson, standing tall above the rest at over 40m. The dunes are spaced from about 500m to two kilometres apart with the dune valleys between made up of firm sand. The roots of various plant and the effect of wind means this surface is hard packed and pleasant to run on.
The crest of each dune is often wind blown and loose and is the most strenuous to run on. Although it looks spectacular and dramatic, fortunately for runners there isn't much of it. Have a look at the chart above for approximate cover for each event. The views from the tops of the dunes are stunning and will take your mind off the loose sand as you go up-and-over and descend to the next valley.
Salt lakes are completely flat. The edges are usually hard and firm to run on, the middle can vary from very form to soft and boggy with deep, blue, warm mud. The route will be set to take you across or around firm salt lakes (we'll avoid the mud!)
Claypans are firm and flat and are a bit like running on a smooth red marble bench-top. These beautiful features occur all through the desert and every step will bring a smile to your face. Clay pans were a favourite of the Aboriginal people who lived in the desert and if you keep your eyes peeled you may see some stone fragments on the surface - a sure sign people lived there and made stone tools. Remember - take nothing but photos and leave nothing but footprints!