The man prowls around the desert fire, beating his chest.
“It’s in here,” he thumps fist to heart hard enough that you can hear the thud from the back row.
“You gotta have it in here (thump). You gotta want it like nothing else (thump). No excuses (thud). If it’s in here (thud), nothing can stop you (glare).”
The man, shorter in stature but larger in life than you could imagine, pauses for practiced dramatic effect, circling his stare around the gathering. He has each and every one of us captured in his story net and he knows it. The glint in his eye is magnified by the light of the soaring cratefire flame. He has held us enthralled by tales of a running life that no one could make up. But rather than intimidate with boasts of superhuman feats, he has used his life spent putting one foot in front of the other a million times over – and then some – as the fuel to make us all feel invincible.
His injection of inspiration is timely because tomorrow is marathon number three in three days. And out there, beyond the halo of fire light, awaits the Simpson Desert and a running course that will beat, scratch, bake and curtail that invincibility to within an inch of its being, to within one more desert thorn sting of quitting the Big Red Run, an inaugural 250km adventure run odyssey through the Australian Outback.
The choice of Pat Farmer, the campfire pacer, as event ambassador was smart. Sure, he’d bring some promotional attention, some credibility – he is one of the world’s most accomplished ultra adventure runners after all, his pinnacle feat after decades crammed with them, being to run from the North to the South Pole.
But his credentials for this event run closer to the fencewire than that. Pat holds the record for being the fastest man to run across the Simpson Desert, a record he captured twice. Beating his own record for number two. That’s Pat all over. A hard man. Who better to come and chaperone nearly sixty runners to run through the territory of which he is running king?
But it is less so the feats of endurance that impress so deeply. Not once you’ve met the man. It’s his presence as a person brimming with raw passion and hard earned experience, both of which he’s willing to share.
But this is no hagiography. Rather it’s paying respect to one of our trail elders and the importance of listening. Yet Pat’s story begins with one older than himself.
A young mechanic standing in a workshop in western Sydney, he watched as an old man ran past the tin shed door. Pat couldn’t believe a grandfather (although technically at that point this guy was no grandfather) was out there running. He looked at the spanner in his hand and then listened to the clomp of a potato farmer’s boots fading into the distance down the road.
It was Cliff Young.
For Pat, it was a calling and he heeded it.
Eventually he would run much further than Cliffy could or would have dreamed about.
The point: Pat looked to his elders, listened to the message of moment, and ran with it. Literally.
The day following Pat’s fireside speech in the Simpson desert, every runner trotting the sand took Pat’s message (and so Cliffy’s by osmosis), and ran with it.
One competitor, a 100kg-plus Tongan-Australian called Mark Moala, heeded the message to knock over more personal firsts than anyone would think possible in one week: first half marathon, first marathon, first back to back marathon, first triple marathon in three days, first double marathon in one day, first multiday, first desert run. Not bad for a bloke whose only running of any note prior had been a dash on a rugby field chasing a patch of leather. He had all the excuses in the world to call on if he wanted to stop: not a runner, not enough training, overweight, bad knees… yet he leaned on none.
On the final day, as Mark reached the finish line that many thought he’d never step across, Pat approached, hugged him and paid tribute: “You’re my hero mate.”
A man who ran from Sydney to Melbourne runs past a mechanic’s workshop. A man in that workshop runs from the North Pole to the South. A man listens to that story and runs six marathons across a desert.
One day, Mark Moala will run past another someone … and I wonder: where will the inspiration take them?
Your inspired editor, Chris Ord
This is the editorial from the latest edition of Trail Run Mag, your fave magazine dedicated to trail running in Australia, New Zealand and Asia, now available online via:
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