24 June 2017.
I always try and keep the first day of multi-stage desert race as simple as possible – don’t get injured or blisters, get used to eating and drinking the stuff in your bag, and make it to the finish in one piece. Simply put, settle in and then take it from there.
The first stage of the Big Red Run was slightly different. I woke up at about 3h00 and it felt as if I had the worst flu that you could imagine. I had all the signs – a sore throat, coughing, running nose, etc. I tried telling myself that maybe it was just a bit of hay fever, but after a few snacks, coffee and whatever medication I had with me, I realised something was not right.
The race was due to start at 07h00, and when I left my room at 6h40 to join the other runners in front of the Birdsville Hotel, I really didn’t feel like running, especially not 42km in the Simpson Desert.
Surprisingly, after a few photos with the other runners and seeing how excited (and nervous) they were before the start of the race, I definitely started feeling better, and my condition (and state of mind) continued to improve as the day went on. In hindsight, it was probably my sinuses which needed a bit more time to get used to the dry, dusty air of the Simpson Desert. From the following day until the end of the race I never experienced any discomfort again, at least in terms of my sinuses!
The start of 2017 Big Red Run was a special occasion. The first 2km was a run through the town and the local residents lined the streets (some on horseback) to give us a warm send-off.
As soon as we left Birdsville it was straight into the Simpson Desert. The 42km first stage was a tough and challenging first introduction to running in the red sand of the Simpson Desert – open veld, gibber/stone plains, soft sand and sand dunes, plus 10 million flies and the temperature hitting 46 C later in the day.
I ran on my own for my most of day and made good progress until the final checkpoint a few kilometres before the finish. By now it was sweltering hot and I walked until reaching the famous Big Red (the biggest sand dune in the Simpson Desert) which we had to scale before reaching the finish line.
My tent mate, Tom Denniss, passed me as I started climbing up Big Red. At the top, I stopped for a few photos and to take in the views of the vast Simpson Desert. Brutal and beautiful at the same time.
From there it was a gentle downhill jog into camp and the end of the first stage. I finished fifth overall in just over five hours, not too bad given how I felt in the morning.
It was great seeing everyone finish the first stage over the next few hours. After a short rest in the tent (which I shared with Tom and Duc Do), I joined the other runners around the campfire and in the meeting tent, with everyone sharing their running stories and experiences of the day.
After dinner we were treated to free wi-fi (sponsored by Telstra) and a slide show of the first stage, and then it was off to “bed” for our first night in the desert before tomorrow’s second 42km stage.