Ultramarathon Man: From Perth to Sydney in 13 weeks – on foot!
When I landed in Perth after an 11-hour flight from Chennai, it was fair to say that I had a pretty long journey ahead of me to cross Australia – 2500 miles to be precise, over 13 weeks, 12 of which were running.
Having completed the Indian leg of my world run with the buggy to transport my supplies, I was excited to be reunited with ‘Supertramp’, the original trailer I set off with from Haytor back in July last year. The buggy had served me well, but with the huge distances between towns, I needed the trailer to transport the enormous quantity of food and water I’d need. It was essential that I was well prepared as I was about to cross the famous Nullarbor Plain.
“A hideous anomaly, a blot on the face of nature, the sort of place one gets into in bad dreams”, said Edward John Eyre in 1841, who was the first European to cross this unforgiving plain. The name comes from two Latin words ‘Nullus’ and ‘Arbo’ which literally means ‘no tree’. It stretches for 1200 kilometres across Southern Australia and I needed enough supplies to take me the 200 kilometre stints between towns.
For this grueling stretch of my journey, I knew I would discover the true meaning of endurance. Could I withstand the challenges of this environment, endure the levels of discomfort necessary to keep moving forward, fight against the pain and urges to retreat – or would I break?
Forty-two kilometres into my first night of running in Australia, I was hit by a car. Although badly shaken up, I was lucky not to have a single scratch on me. Supertramp, on the other hand, was badly bruised and needed repairs. After a day’s recovery and repairs to the trailer, I made my way back on the road where I’d been hit, and nervously carried on.
Although functional, my trailer was out of whack from the accident. Just this slight imbalance, over the thousands of miles I covered from Perth to the eastern side of the Nullarbor, put an enormous strain on my body. I was forced to run using both arms to push the trailer (I’d usually only use one, leaving the other to swing freely), which is a very unnatural thing for the body to do.
Reluctantly, I turned to self-acupuncture to control the trigger points, which were constantly building in my left calf. It’s very tough to shove needles deeply into the belly of your muscles, but it worked well and kept me from becoming seriously injured.
Running for such long periods of time in overwhelmingly oppressive solitude meant that thoughts would swim in and out of my head all day long. One that came to mind was the concept of ‘positive addictions’, and I’ve heard many a runner labour under this explanation for their compulsive training.
I have a very addictive personality by nature and if I hadn’t used running to silence my demons when overcoming depression and anxiety, I would’ve turned to alcohol. Before being adopted, I lived through the effects of an alcoholic in the home, and after discovering I had a taste for the stuff, I decided to go without it for 18 months straight while at university. I was determined to destroy the link in my brain of needing alcohol to have fun. I did it, and now I occasionally enjoy a beer with friends.
I also no longer have an addictive relationship with running, I run on the whole out of choice, not compulsion. Sure, there are days, sometimes weeks, which have been hellish but I’ve continued through dog-eared stubbornness, determination and ambition to finish what I started. Endurance in its truest sense.
I listen to a lot of music to keep me sane along the seemingly endless roads – a lot of Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones and Neil Young. They say music is food for the soul and I definitely agree. Perhaps then we can consider human contact as water for the soul, and the company of friends and loved ones a hearty banquet?
What my journey lacked in human company, it made up for in mosquitos, brown snakes, dingoes and kangaroos – I spotted 70 ‘roos in one day. Of the few people I did encounter along the way, their kindness was astounding, with the offer of free beds on a few occasions. After 28 days I’d reached Ceduna on the eastern edge of the plain…but I still had to make it to Sydney.
The cart was retired in Ceduna and I picked up the buggy again. I was now back on busier roads but feeling achy, irritable and tired, having covered very tough mileage throughout the month of May. With not far to go, the terrain was changing from a flat plain, to hills and mountains.
For the final stretch of my run I was excited to be joined by fellow world runner Tom Denniss. He acted as my support crew for the last few days as I was finishing near his home. Tom ran with me from Sydney Opera House for the final nine kilometres to Clovelly Beach.
Australia was a spectacular country to have crossed on foot, and it was an incredible three months of my life. The memories of the scenery, the challenges endured and the warm-hearted people of Australia will stay with me all my life.
On the 3rd June 2014, I said goodbye to Oz and hello to New Zealand for the next part of my world run.
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