Marathon canoe racing is all about tactics and endurance. Marathon races can be conducted over distances varying from a few kilometres through to many hundreds of kilometres. Paddle Victoria and its affiliated clubs conduct marathon races throughout the year and throughout the state. The lower age limit of the discipline is around 10 years but there is no upper age limit and many paddlers who are 70+ still enjoy competing. While some races are organised such that every competitor races over the same distance, most races offer a range of distances, typically from 8 to ~30 km, with paddlers competing with others of a similar age or ability.
In marathon races conducted as a point-to-point race over a long section of river, competitors sometimes have to carry, or portage, their canoe or kayak around an impassable obstacle such as a waterfall, lock or weir. At higher levels of the sport, portaging is often included as a feature, even though the race is likely to be conducted as a series of laps on a short section or river or lake. A 100 to 200m section of the shore adjacent to the course will be designated as a portage area and competitors will be required to come ashore and carry their craft for the length of the portage course. Competitive portaging requires considerable skill and greatly enhances the excitement of the race.
Wide ranges of craft are accepted at most marathon races. Paddlers at the top level of the sport race single and double kayaks and canoes similar to those used in flat-water sprint racing. Racing classes are usually also available for touring kayaks and touring canoes. Other races allow a very wide range of paddle craft such as sea kayaks, recreational canoes and kayaks, ocean skis, stand up paddleboards, surf skis, dragon boats and outrigger canoes.