I have been writing this opening paragraph for near an hour and keep changing it due to the lack of goodness it serves up to the Big Red Run experience.
From the 2200 km road trip from Sydney to Birdsville one way, the 250 km desert race then a 4000 km trip home it was more than I wished for yet I did not want it to end.
So bear with me as I give you a slightly un-compressed version of how the Big Red Run 2018 unfolded for myself my family and for my new formed friends.
4 weeks to go before race
was when I last checked in there was a heap of prep work to get old mate Freddy (our caravan) ready for the tough rigours of outback travelling as this would be our home for the next 5 weeks. Food fuel and water had to be spot on and Freddy was given new suspension he was looking tops.
I was driving lone wolf there then family would fly in on day 2 of the race.
2 weeks to go before race
I had been training with “Team 3 am” Jason and James on the beaches and we chomped our way through a few 15- 20 km trail runs around Eastern Sydney Maroubra Beach and a few 25 -30 km Bay runs it was good to get out there and mix it up due to the terrain we would encounter and we even completed a few runs in the rain because you know it always rains in the desert right?
I had a few gym sessions targeting my glutes hamstrings and chicken calf muscles.
For what I was putting my body through it was going alright. Best to go in to a race underdone than overcooked and injured. Heard that once over a beer.
On my very last long run 35 km I did have a ITB issue on my right quad above the knee it become a little sticky and locked up and I had to work it a bit harder on the foam rollers and seek some massage therapy for 2 sessions it come pretty good but would come a knocking again on Day 2 of the desert race.
I tapered my training about 3 weeks out dropping my long runs and keeping with the shorter 10 -15 km runs and a few weight sessions at the gym with some ERG and cycling.
James and Jason powered on through no noticeable taper they had a thing for the Coogee staircase (the stairs of death) it is a killer workout and one I struggled with, for them they were feeling strong and wanted to keep it that way aka maniacs.
Fundraising was coming along nicely as well we had cracked $6000 dollars still coming in so thank you to all who donated!
Departure day was upon me and I had Freddy loaded along with the trusty Triton.
4 am start for the road trip and made it 2 km down the road of 2200 km the brakes on the caravan were sticking and smoke was pouring off them bugger….ahhhh……..faaaaaaar out:-) in that order ! I bee lined it to the caravan shop and lightly slept for 4 hours till they opened, credit to them they got right on it and I was back on the road in under a a hour, so much for missing peak hour traffic it was city traffic at its best, every man woman for themselves not a place for a ute towing a caravan.
Sydney Blue Mountains Mudgee Dubbo Nyngan 560 km a good days run and no problems roadside caravan stop for the night and a well earned beauty sleep.
Nyngan to Cunamulla caravan Park a cruisy 450 km.
where I met James and his posse in their mega Camper van I nearly hit my first emu at the entry point to the caravan park here but some evasive driving saved the emus day.
James and I decided to go for a quick run after all the driving and when we left the camp to run into town I noticed old mate emu had met his maker and was flat out on the road feathers whispping around the departed , James said it ran out in front of him – Mega camper 1 Emu 0.
We blasted out a nice 11km run, we had 5 o clock drinks on the river bank with all the grey nomads but did find they weren’t very chatty to us younger generation or had heard that we were involved in Emu demise so it was a early turn in and I took on the task I had been putting off for weeks packing my race bag.
14 kg into one bag for 6 days of camping eating and running. Not easy and I recommend not to do it 2 days before the race starts , it is a mind bender.
Note- Cunamulla caravan park is beautiful if you are coming through stop here.
Cunmulla to Deons look out 839KM
When I travel alone I get a bit of fever (actually when I travel with anyone) and I can not wait to hit the road my body clock was saying get up so I got dressed at 4am filled the thermos with hot tea dropped the lid on Freddy and hit the road.The stars were at their best it was pure outback magic you have to drive to the conditions and I plodded along around 60 kph, it is the small things in life that make one feel good, I had my window down ,hoody on ,stars blazing down on me hot cuppa tea and munching on a bag of vege chips in the outback on my way to complete a crazy desert race love it! Followed by an awesome sunrise around 6 am.
I rolled into Windorah (651km) around 3 pm and was going to lob at the local caravan park but I really wanted to camp out in the true desert so fuelled up and pointed the ship to a place called Deons Lookout a further 188 km on on the Windorah Birdsville track so would take me roughly 3 hrs more.
Deons Lookout is truly an amazing camping spot and in my top 3 of camping spots of all time.
The lookout is a memorial for young man Deon Brook from Birdsville who died not far from the lookout in a chopper crash, back in my previous posts I talked about the legend adventurist Jenna Brooks who ran 4500 km around OZ, Deon was Jenna’s older bro.
Made me think about my younger bro Mike who died not so long ago and how important quality time is with family and friends and just crack on with life.
I had the place to myself and took some kick ass pictures. One for the man cave when we move to Batemans Bay in a few years time.
Deons lookout to Birdsville 200km
After a windy nite on top of the lookout I had a bit of fever again and got up early and was keen to hit the track, unfortunate for me the fridge had not switched off automatically as it should and drained the Triton battery flat.
I had an emergency jump starter pack but it was not enough to kick it over to start.
So I walked 1km down the hill to the track and waited for 2 hrs for the first car to come along. I was cold and I dressed accordingly beanie, hoodie mostly all in black, I wave them down and they look a little startled seeing someone in the middle of the road waving like a lost relative they drop the window an inch and I tell them I am having car troubles, long story short they drive off and I wait for another 1hr .
2nd car pulls up towing a camper trailer wind the window at least 2 inches this time 🙂 and state my case, no problem says the driver jump on the runners of the ute and we will sort it out! Turns out Dave and his family are running in the Big Red Run as well and all is good ! just as well as it starts to rain.
They get me on my way and we all head into Birdsville to check in to race control. Yee ha! thank you so much Dave and family !
Birdsville Im in the house!
Race Check in Day before start
14 kg bag check depending on who out of the 4 inspectors you got it was an easy process or rubber glove inspection , quickly lined up at the lovely lady who was smiling and laughing and looked a little relaxed she was a competitors mum , Jac attack ,world renowned supporter of the events and super stoked to be there for her daughter and the competitors.
Briefings for afternoon covering snake bites , blister prevention, medical emergency’s and hydration course safety and what to do if you are lost . 😩
Wet the night before and misty morning to start the day
Day 1 – 42.195 km
Had been wet leading up to the start ,raining in the desert ??? Wtf, misty morning for the 1st time in 4 years the locals pointed out it was cold 8degs.
Slept well and had all my gear ready to go not that nervous I’ve got this but that was about to change once I made it to the start chute .
Fark me what am I doing here ,I can’t do this what if I hurt myself on day one, look at all these athletes a quick pic from the offical photographer and 1 min countdown ,feeling sick now thought of everyone who was supporting me and then started filming start feeling better horn goes off and we’re off can’t stop now.
1 lap of town in 3 min and we are out in the desert ,first sand dune of many to come.
I’m running with Team 3 am Jason and James and we are near BOP (back of pack) and cruising , Jason is doing his best Sherpa impression and getting a sore back from all the weight in his running vest he is carrying and we stop to move the weight around.
We stop to tape up a few hotspots before they turn into blisters but the terrain is relentless on the feet and I have two nasty ones on my big toes 30km in , first blisters in many years of running.
Dam didn’t expect blisters this quick. And my ITB on knee is jabbing a little pain saying hello.
We cross our first gibber plain rocks of all shapes and sizes and you can’t help but not kick them and they friggin hurt . They go for kilometres and they’re all different some spongy under foot some rock hard it’s bizarre and beautiful and you hate them at the same time.
The sand dunes are amazing big small short fat they are all there soft sand hard sand different colours to Im loving it ,and so are the rest of the crew. We stop to take a lot of photos and check our hot spots and time gets away on us.
We roll into Camp and the finish chute about 7 hours we are spent but feeling good and ready to stretch out and eat , hello home for the next 5 days.
Time to meet and greet the rest of runners and see where we sit in the pecking order of fastest to slowest but things don’t work that way here , everyone is so nice and tables are shared and war stories told.
The last runners are coming off Big Red dune and we all go to clap and cheer them over the line, Steve who threw his back out at the 12 km and in immense pain had dragged himself around the desert all day leaning like the tower Pisa , it’s an emotional finish for all and the first of many moments for me .
How are my eyes going to cope with 6 days of this roller coaster.
This was the virgin table all 1st timers and we had some good chats , left to right Hardy from WA 60yr old , Ben from Cairns Type 1 runner, Fox from Bathurst and Kelly from Yeppoon. A great table and we bonded heartily over the next 6 days.
Day 2 42.195 km
Sleep was hard to get that night due to the cold and unfamiliar surrounds.
Tents were set up for us on arrival to camp and 3 runners to a tent.
my team mates were awesome.
Stephen Type 1 diabetic mid twenties pretty quiet and running walking hobbling with 2 stress fractures in both feet that he come into the race with, I parked my two toe blisters in my quiet box and admired his fortitude to come into a event of this magnitude with stress fractures .
2nd tent mate was David Fox 🦊 mid 30,s or Foxxy as we called him. This man was 6ft 3 and looked like a soldier of fortune , muscles on muscles solid build not your run of the mill skin and bone ultra runner.
When I entered into the tent to set up my mat to sleep on he said , “what do you want to be ?, big spoon or little spoon I looked him up and down and said”fork please!” And we both burst out laughing this guy is my cup of tea.
Race 2 starts at 8:30 due to late sunrise around 7:30 am. Temp very mild perfect for running 20 degrees.
Breakfast starts at 6:30 they provide hot water for all our meals so most of us are on the porridge diet and back country camp meals.
We chow down on the virgin table and mix it up around the camp fire before race start with the elite runners.
Radios and safety trackers are issued to all and a quick outline on what to expect on today’s course. More or less the same as day 1 but with a 20 km section of sand moguls , cool moguls are small I think.
Horn blasts and were off again Day 2 we chuck a left outside camp and head through small shrub , Feet are feeling ok knee is good and I trip over a small dried shrub that was tougher than my foot and wham ! I’m eating dirt for my second breakfast 300 metres from the start , the runners behind pick me up, one girl calls out “bit early for a rest eh Darron “as we all have our name in our race bibs , I check hers out Nicki . Ego dented.
Knee is feeling fine toes are ok and I pull away from James and Jason and pick up 6 places over the 5 km I guess I’m sitting around mid pack and find a guy sitting on the same pace .
We strike up a yarn and he is Adrian from Melbourne same age and has a sore knee as well but had dropped some endo meds to keep him going, interesting I think to myself.
We kick on together for 15 km and pick up 4 more places , at the 2nd check point we grab some snakes and biscuits from the awesome volunteers and I go to run but my knee has locked up and I can’t bend it an inch try to walk it off but nothing , I say to Adrian to go on without me but he says I’m fine I’ll hang with ya.
.I hobble a km and the knee comes back online a little I’m jogging ok now and the knee is is a little better.
Adrian asks if I want endo I’ve never had it before and ask what are the side effects. May make you sleepy he says but will help with knee pain hmmmmm I’ll have a think I said.
We hit the sand moguls again and they’re not the best on my bung knee but as long as I keep moving it’s all good, another checkpoint again and I do laps around it like some demented person and get Adrian to refill my soft flasks for my running vest , the volunteers entice me in with a seat and snakes and chips but I can’t stop otherwise the lock up in my knee will happen .
We hit the last 18km and we are doing ok no one has over taken since the 20 km mark so I make the decision to drop an endo and boy does it work within 10 min my knee has fully released and Adrian and I are bombing down the sand dunes like 6yr olds laughing our heads off. We roll into the finish in the top 15 , boom ! high five and off to get the lastest blisters looked at along with knee.
The flys are in town and giving us grief. Nice time of 5 hr :15 min. Happy days.
Day 3 42.195km
Cool crisp morning and another beautiful day in the desert awaits us, there is such a great atmosphere and buzz around the camp something I’ve never felt before in a race I think when you have a mob of like minded people moving in one direction offering support and guidance it creates a community that one feels part of.
Greg founder of BRR set us off for the day and we hang a hard right and up to Big Red for the first of mannnnnny sand dunes .
Adrian and I hang for a good part of the first 20 km along with the cheeky young lady Nic P from Sydney we shoot the breeze in between chewing flies and navigating the low line dunes and shrubs it’s hard going and we catch a few crew in front and I push on a bit and find myself lone wolf on the track and in a good grove.
I keep up the chips snakes and fluids along with the odd protein bar and overtake a couple of runners in the mogul sections. I am actually feeling pretty good the knee is fine and I have a bit left in the tank to see out the last 10 km which is traversing the tops of the sand dune closest to camp which is around 200 km long.
My family await me at the finish line and it gives me a huge lift to see them there my youngest son Angus runs out and gives me a giant hug and I barrel down into the finish chute ready to hang with the family.
Another great day in the dunes and a handy time of 5 hr 18 min. 14 th for the day.
Day 4 Sprint Day 30 km
Now they say the sprint day is the easiest but there are no easy days on this BRR jaunt, this is the day you go for broke or you sit back and take it easy for Day 5 the 84km ultra.
It was a mixed bag of running terrain, the usual monster sand dunes , sand moguls a few farm tracks but todays special was a salt flat that was like running on marshmallows that stuck to your shoe it was character building at its finest.
I was able to tuck in behind one of the top ten runners for most of the day and it helped that I didn’t have to navigate through the moguls Paul was dragging me along and he has a pretty good singing voice to boot. I had pushed all day to stay with him and on the last 4 kms and biggest dunes of the day I was running on empty Paul being the champ stopped and said “come on we will finish this together” but my mind and body had nothing so I told him to go on. Angus my son was waiting on the final sand dune of the day and run down again with me to the finish line which was super.
I gave my all that day and was super proud to finish 10th in a time of 3hr 42 min . I slept well that night and was pretty happy with my race so far.
Day 5 84.0 km Ultra Marathon
The beginning of the end sort of.
There was definitely a palatable feeling of excitement and a touch of dread in the air when we awoke at 5 am for the 84 km Ultra Marathon Day , I awoke from the sound of nearby tent zippers and phone alarms and as I I poked my head out the tent runners were ghosting to the portaloos the hot water tent and crowding around the crackling fire in a bid to warm their butts from the desert icy kiss.
Outside the tent I see that I have left most of my running gear outside instead of inside the tent and dread donning on my socks shorts and shirt that is slightly frozen, not the start I wanted.
I bang in some breakfast of oats and instant mash with 3 cups of tea and we all discuss the “day ahead” before you know it we are off in the dark with our headlamps ,84km here I come ready or not.
I start with a slow jog and it feels alright for the first 2km then I slowly fade into a fast walk then a walk then I stop as I need to pee I let a few people pass as there was nowhere to hide business done I get back into the jog for 100 meters then slow then walk again, my knee and ITB are jabbing and I limp a little to reduce the pain. I pass the first check point around 7 km in and notice its taken over an hour.
I have some hot spots forming on my left heel because of my walking and limping and the old blisters on my toes are also flaring up again. The toe blisters don’t hurt to much but dam that heel is stabbing , Ill stop at the next aid station and see if they can work some magic.
Sunrise is upon me and I shuffle up to the top of a dune and take in the immense surrounds big sky big land big sun and moon I feel the need to get on with the race but deep down know that today will be a get to the end day, another couple of runners over take me and I’m content with just being on top the dune taking it all in.
I head off towards the second check point which is around 12 kms away my fast walking style looks like I’m a man on a mission but have only just learnt to walk with something hiding in my shorts awkward at best, as I come around a bend in between sand dunes I come across fellow runner Kelly C along the sandy twin track who is struggling with a knee issue as well and in true Big Red Run tradition we team up and scheme on how best to tackle the last 70km as a team.
The second aid station comes up pretty quick at the 21 km mark as Kelly and I trade food stories and we talk beer and smoothies.
At the aid station I have the new heel blister drained and covered and the big toe blister is also drained and recovered we top on sugar and fluids and we are up and walking as fast as one can. Still feeling pretty good mentally we crack on to the next aid station which is 18 km away.
The wind has kicked in now and we are traversing a lot of sand dunes for kms on end it is hard yards the tops of the dunes are mostly wind blown sand and are really soft, you have to keep an eye out for the navigation points to.
The wind picks up even harder and it is blowing head on for the last 10 kms into the aid station. Time for music head down and grind it out Kelly and I are side by side stride for stride.
Check point 3 and the family are there waiting for us and they get to see the feet in their deteriorating state. I have a bit of a moment and break down but the family give me a lift and Kelly and I trundle off towards Check point 4 we are now on the Gibbers plains and the heat and wind makes for ideal conditions to really test us. I feel the heat and sucks out what drive I had there is a dead cow and I lay down beside it.
Another blister and and another checkpoint No 4 thank goodness one becomes really reliant on these Oasis and they are manned by the best volunteers.
The layers of fortitude are slowly peeling back and Kelly and I do our best plodding along, every 15 minutes or so we check our 6 to see if any one is coming up behind us to overtake and sure enough we have a tail. We crank on the power but to no avail we are over taken by Chrissy and she has a spring in her step and we lose sight of her after a km good on ya Chrissy !
TheOasis checkpoint Checkpoint 5
Yes we made it to check point 5 ! Bag drop, hot food, medical staff galore welcoming faces, Coca Cola, hot noodles it is a smorgasbord of delight!
We catch up on the the latest on who remains who is leading and more importantly how far have we got to go !!! There is a roaring fire and the sun is setting what a place to leave but Kelly and I are determined to finish and have no one overtake so we reluctantly leave the Oasis on a Gibber Plain and head for checkpoint 6, as we leave there are runners off in the distance and they have the pedal to them metal and are only a km or two away.
The sun is slowly setting and our pace remains consistent the sunset gets a little wild and throws off some brilliant reds blues and orange streaks we have broken the back of this day and are nearly on the home straight…..well not quite.
Check point 7 here we come its pictch black and the stars are slowly making there way out Kelly and I navigate under a fence then we get a little lost in a channel, no problem we see the green led flashing lights to the left of us that are every 1km and try to navigate towards them no pink flags so we are off course a l but heading in the right direction.
We eventually roll into check point 7 and are questioned on how did we come from that direction we you should of come in from this direction oooops we got lost and followed the LEDs and here we are, all good we sit down to take a break, then thinking we had only 7 km to go we are told no it is 12 km, cue dropped face stunned silence a few tears and a lot of soul searching, the final layers have been peeled back there is no more fortitude no smiles no she’ll be right mate, just silence and tears hitting the gibber stone.
You might be thinking 5 km is 5 km no biggy but it is when you have been pushing mentally and physically for 13 hours,Checkpoint Oasis told us there is only 17 km to go and they told a lot of runners that as well.
So Kelly and I drag our broken spirits and asses out the tent and try to get our heads around the next 12 km in the dark we have to get through.
Lets crank some music I say to Kelly and I play the only album I have it has 7 songs and is sung by the Little River band, I’m not sure how it come to be on my play list but beggars cant be choosers.
We crank out the first of the 7 songs ” Hang on Help is on its way ” and we crack a little half smile it ends and we curse the person telling us porky pies about how many kms were left at checkpoint Oasis and Lonesome loser kicks in , how fitting.
We trundle on for 2 hrs over salt lake flats more gibber plains and sand dunes and some farm tracks we pass the last marshall around a fire place and he states 5 km to go.
Finish Line 84 km
then in the distance we see it lit up like a nite club in the desert the Finish line laser lights and flashing LEDS it looks around 5 km away, at about 200 m out from the finish Kelly and I stop and before we are mobbed by the crew, we high five and hug it out , we bloody did it we got here. We jog into the finish chute (I think we jog lol ) and everyone is there to meet and greet us 15 hrs 32 minutes and 43 seconds. Hello family yes I would love a hot chocolate.
DAY 6 8km untimed
I slept around the camp fire last night it was pretty cool I had a few runners come out during the night and we chewed the fat as they warmed themselves around the fire, I was pretty amped from the day and slept lightly and I awoke to a beautiful sunrise and the thought of a cold beer and the finish line plus a shower ,after 6 days of dodging the soap and running 242 km you kind of get used to it …sounds gross and it is but we all smell the same just varying degrees in stinkyness.
We line up for photo start and then we are off across the desert to Birdsville and the end. I struggle to fit my feet in my shoes and resort to cut the backs out like slippers, it works really well and Adrian and I limp away into town, about 200 meters out my boy meets me with an awesome sign he has made and gives me a big hug.
Adrian and I cross and we receive our finishers medal and a cold beer , I had actually visualised this moment on many of my early long training runs and strength sessions in the gym it was crazy to be living it and I necked the beer and kissed the medal in that order to 🙂
250 km done and dusted the ridiculous sense of achievement is intoxicating and addictive, the smiles from everyone and the hugs and kisses are epic , the final runner makes her way over towards the finish line we make a guard of honour and cheer in over the line Ruth has dug super deep to finish and sums up perfectly what this run is about, heart soul and sense of comradeship.
Big Red Run 2018 tick.
After the ecstasy comes the laundry
I had been warned by a few of the crew on the run to be aware of the crash after the event, lucky for me my family and I had planned for a 4 week outback explore from Birdsville and yes it was amazing. My feet were slowly healing and within 10 days I could wear runners again , we were in Coober Peedy and I took an early morning run around Coober then a few days later around the big rock Uluru.And a few more random little towns.
3 more weeks with the family on the road visiting amazing outback towns and camping along the way in Freddy.
As we trundled back into Sydney with traffic and people and traffic lights and more people I could feel the slide back into normality starting to creep up on me. My return to work was great I have a fantastic job with a great team, but after work and doing the normal family stuff I was missing the wide open spaces and and my fellow competitors and the need to be working towards a goal. I was in a funk and knowing I was is half the battle won I talked to a few crew about it and my bro in law Doug said I should read this book called After the Ecstasy comes the laundry, and to be fair I had to do a few loads to catch up on to wash this funk out.
What makes this event is the people and the people and the people.
I met so many inspiring amazing giving focused people, I could fill another 3 pages of this blog talking about them I have made life long friends with these people and I am stoked we got to share in such a epic event. Thank you all
Most of all Big ups to my family for allowing me to undertake such an event glad I could share it with you. And thank you to all who donated their hard earned to find a cure for Type 1 diabetes.