29 June 2017.
I only fell asleep in the early hours of the morning as the last runners completed the Long Stage. I didn’t sleep much, maybe because of the excitement of my special run the previous day and knowing my time in the Simpson Desert was coming to an end.
We woke up to a chilly final day of the 2017 Big Red Run. Tired but excited runners were sitting around the campfire enjoying a last desert race breakfast together, while staff and volunteers started packing up the camp.
I always have mixed emotions on the last day of a desert race – happy to have survived another tough challenge, but also sad knowing that after today it will be time to say goodbye to many new friends, and return to normal life. After packing my bags, I walked into the desert behind our tents and just stood there for a few minutes, reflecting on the months of training and preparations leading up to the race, and the special experiences of the past week.
Then it was time to get ready for the final 8km stage into Birdsville. We all gathered at the starting line for final instructions, and group photos taken from the race helicopter.
The final stage was not timed, so everyone approached it differently. Some sprinted off to finish as quickly as possible and get their hands on a cold beer, while others, like myself, decided to walk the final stage. My feet were still a bit tender from the previous day, so I had an excuse to take it easy, but also to appreciate and soak in the Simpson Desert one last time.
As I reached the outskirts of Birdsville I stopped to take out my South African flag and with it draped over my shoulders and Greg Donovan announcing my arrival, I changed into a slow jog with lots of encouragement from the locals and fellow runners, crossing the finishing line in front of the Birdsville Hotel a few minutes later – fourth male runner and fifth overall!
Duc was waiting for me at the finish and handed me my medal and a cold beer. What a feeling, and way to finish a desert race.
Over the next hour all the runners completed the race, received their race medals, took hundreds of photos with family and friends, and enjoyed a few cold Australian XXXX beers!
After the celebrations in front of the Birdsville Hotel we were allocated our rooms at the Birdsville Lodge, and then it was time for one of the highlights of every desert race – the first hot shower in a week!
I spent the afternoon sorting my gear and packing my luggage for the long trip home, followed by a final walk through Birdsville, a pie and beer at the Birdsville Bakery, a few more beers with the other runners in the pub at the Birdsville Hotel, and finally, the race dinner and awards presentation in the evening.
We all started our trip back home the following day. I again joined the Adelaide-Birdsville bus crew for the two-day trip to Adelaide, before flying to Johannesburg.
I had an epic week in the Simpson Desert. The Big Red Run was definitely one of my top three desert race experiences to date, and I returned home with many fond memories.
The scenery in the Simpson Desert was spectacular – from the beautiful sunrises in the morning and sunsets in the evening, to the red sand dunes, the gibber plains and just the overall unspoiled beauty of the place. The red sand of the Simpson Desert gets under your skin and stays there. Even the flies made a lasting impression on me. You have to be “special” to survive the Simpson Desert.
But beyond the running challenge and beautiful scenery, the people associated with this race made my overall experience extra special – the eight people who were on the Adelaide-Birdsville bus with me for four days before and after the race (Kelly-Lynn, Nerissa, Bruce, Rebecca, Mike, Duc, Mel and Jamie), my tent mates Duc and Tom, the volunteers and medical staff, friends and family of fellow runners, the Brook family, and every runner who despite ability, injury or blisters finished the race.
A special word of thanks to Greg Donovan and his Big Red Run team. I first met Greg during the 2012 Gobi March in China, and he organised the first Big Red Run the following year. In September 2016 I participated in the 273km Grand to Grand Ultra in the United States, and one of the Australian participants, Stuart Mason, completed the Big Red Run the previous year. After speaking to him, and also reading that 2017 could be the last edition of the race, my mind was made up that this would be my next desert race!
The Big Red Run aims to raise money to help fund research by JDRF Australia (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) to cure, prevent and treat Type 1 diabetes and its complications. Runners have already raised more than Aus$800 000 for this cause since 2013, with the 2017 runners contributing more than Aus$150 000.
I really hope that Greg and his team will not only continue to organise the Big Red Run, but that the race will grow from strength to strength. It is a very unique race and running experience, in a very unique desert setting, for a very unique cause.
The Big Red Run should be on all desert runners’ “bucket list.”
Six continents and nine desert races completed. Only Europe left to conquer in 2018…