The calling: editoral

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Ultra legend Pat Farmer prowls the Big Red Run campfire telling tales to fire adventure runners’ hearts.

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.

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Tongan-Australian, Mark Moala on his way to his first multiday multiple marathon adventure and into the great Book of Inspiration for all first-timers to follow at the Big Red Run.

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.

TRM Australian editor, Chris Ord, chats to Mark Moala on the morning of the final day of the Big Red Run.

TRM Australian editor, Chris Ord, chats to Mark Moala on the morning of the final day of the Big Red Run.

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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Big Red Run Shows Big Heart

Among ultra runners it is known that their pursuit is not an individual one. The one-foot-in-front-of-the-other process that is the central focus of achievement is most certainly individual motion, but getting to the finish line is most certainly not accomplished alone.

BRR8When distances being run are marathon plus, day in, day out; when the territory is both as brutal and other-worldy beautiful as the Simpson Desert; when the forces that attempt to halt your progress attack from within your body – fatigue, blisters, torn tendons, bruised feet – and from without – heat, sand, wind and no water – you need help.

And so it was a fitting end in Birdsville, Queensland, to the inaugural 250km Big Red Run multiday with the entire field running as a close knit group down the broad, dusty main street of Birdsville to finish on the steps of the iconic Birdsville Pub. They ran into the bar and a few cold beers to boot as a newly formed family group, each having conquered the same overall obstacles of the desert along with their own, very personal demons of mind and body to finish an adventure run odyssey like no other.

BRR6There was little talk of winners and times. None, in fact. In place of the usual run gathering stopwatch fests, were hugs all round, tears, congratulations and perhaps a pint of beer or two. The first was chugged down by a beaming Greg Donovan, the instigator and dream builder behind this event that will no doubt become as iconic as the Simpson through which it runs and the pub at which it culminates.

The genesis of the Big Red Run multiday event began with Greg’s determination to raise money and awareness for Type 1 Diabetes, which affects the life of his youngest son Steven Donovan. Over the course of a year and with an inkling of cause related running, that journey ventured through four multiday desert runs across the Gobi, Atacama, Sahara and Antarctic deserts. Greg took with him the five-member Team Born To Run, made up of what would come to be the oldest and youngest to finish the Four Deserts series, the first couple, and the first with Type 1 Diabetes.

His journey, or at least a major chapter of it, ended with a mixed group of elite ultra runners, weekend warriors, and Type 1 Diabetic entrants capping off a big week of running by completing the final 8km stretch untimed, with results settled on the previous day’s double marathon leg.

BRR4As it happened, Team Born To Run member, Jess Baker, took line honours after chasing down an almost impossible lead of near on an hour held after four days of racing by ultra young gun, Matty Abel. Struggling with knee issues, Abel had gone out hard from the first day’s marathon effort, a decision that cost him (and many other inexperienced multiday runners) dearly.

As each day’s 42km course unfolded in a stream of unending gibber plains, sand dunes, mud flats and sharp scrublands, the front pack settled with Jess’ fellow Team Born to Run members Matt Donovan and Roger Hanney toughing it out alongside up and coming trail runner Lucy Bartholomew. Behind them and Abel were 36 more runners stretched across an unforgiving landscape, each looking for answers to all sorts of personal questions, podiums and places furthest from everyone’s minds, including those at the front.

One of the most inspirational stories of all was that of Mark Moala, an Australian-Tongan who set out to inspire his family and his Tongan community by taking on a challenge that was to all intents beyond his judged capacity. After six days gutting it out, Mark crossed the line last and was quickly mobbed by media and supporters to become an inspiration to everyone.

BRR9Legendary ultra runner Pat Farmer – known for running from the North Pole to the South Pole – bear hugged Mark at the finished.

“You’re my hero, mate. You inspire me.”

As event ambassador, Pat had joined the fray each and every day, setting out on foot from checkpoints, heading across the plains to cajole and encourage those flagging at the rear. He spent the penultimate 84km day with Mark; the legend and the legend-to-be leaning on faith and passages of verse (and likely a few famous Pat Farmer quotes) to pick Mark back up from the brink of quitting. The pair eventually lumbered into the final night’s camp under the glare of bobbing headtorches and to the tune of Chariots of Fire at four in the morning, both silent, exhausted, and broken but safe in the knowledge Mark would indeed tomorrow achieve the seemingly impossible.

The media scrum around him was deserved and tomorrow a Tongan community will know his name, perhaps a few will follow in his image and Mark’s decision not to quit, to continue on will resonate well beyond the finish line cheers.  No, the Big Red Run is not about times or places, it is as one competitor said, about people and camaraderie and the idea that anything is possible.

Pat Farmer’s starting line speech this morning was pertinent, sending the runners off with: “So long as you don’t quit, you’ll get to where you are supposed to be in life.”

Not quitting was pertinent to more than just Mark. Matty Abel admits “I’ve never ever cried before like I did on that leg,” referring to the frying pan hot day that squeezed life from runners over the 84km distance. Yet like Mark, he continued on, hobbled, limping, almost writhing in pain. He did not quit; he endured his self doubt and ceased legs to complete the entire course.

BRR2There was Carmen Boulton, who, never having run a marathon, entered in memory of her father who passed away from Type 1 Diabetes complications. She finished.

There was Duncan Read, a long time Type 1 Diabetic, out to show the disease is no barrier to achievement. He finished.

Belgian-New Zealander, Patrick Rousseau, had only signed up to do a 100km leg, yet he got into the spirit by running the first day’s marathon on a warm-up whim, and went on to complete his first and entirely unexpected 250km multiday race.  Previously, he had only ever run one road marathon.

And of course there is Steven Donovan, the inspiration behind his father Greg moving heaven and earth to make the Big Red Run a reality. On Monday morning, Steven had never run a marathon. Come that evening, he had a notch on the marathon belt, having struggled with wavering insulin levels and a gammy knee. Within 48 hours, he had two marathons done and very dusted, surpassing what many would aim for in an entire year.

There were moments for Steven, as there were for all runners, but with his Dad taking every step beside him on every day (apart from when Steve found a burst of energy and burned his father on Big Red, the desert’s biggest sand dune, to cross the line well ahead), it was a team effort. Finishing the event stronger than ever, Steve now has the equivalent of six marathons completed within a timeframe of six days. Diabetic or otherwise, Steve, and all the runners who took part in the inaugural Big Red Run, showed that in the big heart of a big country, with a big crew of runners, medics, volunteers, organisers and friends supporting each other to, anything truly is possible: even running mind and body-bending distances through one of Australia’s harshest deserts. And keeping on going when your mind and body is shouting to stop. And when you do keep on going, you do indeed, as Pat Farmer said, end up where you are supposed to be in life: with a satisfied smile drinking a beer at the Birdsville Pub musing on how life will never be the same again.

If you would like to donate to the cause, please visit;

The Donovan family celebrate at the finish of the inaugural Big Red Run, outside the Birdsville Pub.

The Donovan family celebrate at the finish of the inaugural Big Red Run, outside the Birdsville Pub.

**Trail Run Mag and Adventure Types would like to thank the Big Red Run Team and the Donovan family for having us in tow for the event. This event is special – beyond your average multiday adventure, it was an experience that had more meaning and heart than the Simpson Desert has grains of sand.  

We encourage everyone – trail runners, ultra runners, fast trekkers and those just up for a life changing and life affirming challenge to sign up next year. We witnessed participation in the event change people’s lives in the space of six days. The Big Red Run was the crucible and catalyst, but the power of change and achievement came from within each competitor. Big Red Run just showed them that it was within them the entire time. It also showed the power of one family’s determination to make change for the greater good.  The Donovans – all of them: Greg, Steve, Matt, Laura and Raylene; are an inspiration to all. They have along with RD Adrian Bailey and their team of volunteers, medical staff and course markers, created a legacy that will benefit the battle to cure Type 1 Diabetes and conjured an experience for runners that goes well beyond the running. Bravo.


Young Guns for Big Red Run

Lucy Bartholomew has run under the clouds of controversy before: at the age of sixteen, she undertook the challenge to complete the 100km Surf Coast Century. That was with her Dad running beside her. Now she’s off to run a 250km monster in the Big Red Run, Australia’s newest multiday stage race looping out across the desert from Birdsville and back. She’ll have to run a marathon a day before taking on an 80km leg. Stay tuned to her reports here on Trail Run Mag, but in the meantime, here are her thoughts in the weeks leading up to the event.


With only 21 days to go (until the start of the Big Red Run), I started thinking exactly how I got to where I am today: booking flights to Brisbane and then on to the Simpson Desert; training hard; being given a box of technical The North Face gear specially suited to desert running as a lead in to potential sponsorship; and working with some of the most amazing people who are supporting me in my journey to becoming a competitive trail and adventure runner.

I love running. I completed the Surf Coast Century 100km with the controversy of age limits hanging above, and finished how I finish all my runs: smiling and happy! It wasn’t easy when people were against what I was doing, but I do know that it was all in the best interests of my safety. And I knew I had my family to support me no matter what and so I was easily able to push aside negative comments and run proudly with my dad.

Big Red Run is a completely different scenario: there has been no media roiling with controversy at my age or the wisdom of my entry. And I no longer had the support of my Dad. The only things that were the same were that I was entering to finish and to have fun.

Entering didn’t come easy. It briefly tore my family apart. Mum wants whatever makes me happy and I knew I wanted to do this. Dad took the side all the people opposing my run in the Surf Coast Century, saying that I am too young, that it would affect me mentally and physically.

To be honest, I didn’t go about it the right way. Instead of asking him, I told him, and that pretty much guaranteed a bad result.

Dad was my running partner and my mentor and now I had neither.  I started doing my own research: how to train, gear for desert conditions, people who had done this before (Lisa Tamati and Sam Gash) and nutrition.

People were interested in what I was doing, believed I could achieve it and wanted to help and be apart of it. I was stoked; I took onboard all the advice I received and when the word sponsorship was spoken I couldn’t believe that it was a viable option. I always thought only top level athletes were sponsored. I never saw myself as this, despite my daring to believe it may be a possibility one day.


It was all pretty surreal up until now, where I have been told to think about tapering, booking my flights and buying my food. I entered this run oblivious to the fact that 254km is a bloody long way. I entered expecting to be travelling alone. I entered to prove myself and to challenge myself but since entering I’ve realised that the distance is brutal.

Yet I tell myself to break it down over the six days, to take it slowly, don’t get competitive and just enjoy something most people won’t even get to. This thing will be hard, but as any long distance runner must tell themselves, I must tell myself: it’s achievable.

I’m no longer traveling alone. Two runners gave me the best birthday present of joining me: Jacinta O’Neill will be part of the Big Red Run medical team and Jim Eastham will race the first-day 42km Big Red Dash and stay on to support me. Having two people I know and have run with will ensure a crucible of confidence when I am out there in the desert.

I’ve also come to realize that I don’t need to prove myself: what I have achieved, what I am doing is something no ordinary 17 year-old does and I’m proud of who I am and what I have become and I love what I do. I run.


I haven’t exactly got a race plan. I’ve got Jacinta and Jim who I know will look after me, making sure I am drinking and eating enough and pacing well. I know I am competitive, and want to run fast but I also know that this is no race to go out hard in and blow up.  As a runner used to shorter distances  – or at least timelines for finishing a race (20km-100km done and dusted in under 13 hours as opposed to a run broken into stages and completed over six days) – it’s going to be hard to hold back. Just another challenge I need to overcome.

I know this run isn’t going to be easy. I know it will test me and push me, but I simply can’t wait. I have two friends by my side, the support from my school and schoolfriends, support from my family (with some reservations from my Dad but nonetheless, we’re still a team!) and I believe in myself.

Bring on Big Red!


Lucy Bartholomew’s reports on the Big Red Run will be filed with Trail Run Mag in the near future. Stay tuned with race developments at and

 Lucy is being supported with gear supply for the Big Red Run by The North Face. We include mention of it here as we believe it is important that trail brands support up and coming (and established!) trail athletes in their endeavors to achieve.

 As with all entrants in the Big Red Run. Lucy is trying to raise money for Type 1 Diabetes. Help her in the cause at

 You can also follow Lucy’s trail life on her athlete Facebook page at

Big Red Run Launched

A major new endurance running event, the Big Red Run, will be in held in Australia’s Simpson Desert in July 2013 to raise funds for type 1 diabetes research.

Based out of Birdsville from 8-13 July, the Big Red Run will take runners across the iconic red sands of one of the world’s most remote deserts, including the world’s longest parallel sand dunes and the famous 40-metre high ‘Big Red’.

Launched this week, the week-long running event has the support of some of the biggest names in Australian running and entertainment, with ultra-marathon champion Pat Farmer announced as event ambassador and country music legend John Williamson set to perform a free concert atop ‘Big Red’ on 8 July.

The Big Red Run will become the major annual fundraiser of the Born To Run Foundation, a new charity founded by amateur runner Greg Donovan, whose son Stephen was diagnosed with the potentially fatal type 1 juvenile diabetes at age 14.

Donovan launched both the foundation and the Big Red Run in September, kick starting a mission to raise $5 million to fund research into a cure for type 1 diabetes.

“More than 130,000 Australians are living with type 1 diabetes, with six new cases diagnosed every day and around a quarter of Australians affected directly or through family and friends,” said Donovan.

“I know this first hand due to my son Stephen being diagnosed with the disease and I know the best thing I can do to help him is support clinical trials and improved lifestyles and awareness around type 1 diabetes through the Born to Run Foundation and the Big Red Run.”

Coinciding with National Diabetes Week, the Big Red Run will give runners the option of participating in the Big Red Run, a 250km six-day stage race, the Born to Run 100km or the Big Red Dash 42km.

Among the world’s largest and most remote deserts, the Simpson Desert is six times the size of Belgium, stretching across 176,500 sq km in central Australia crossing the borders of South Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland. It is also Australia’s driest desert.

An Australian owned and organised event, the Big Red Run will be underpinned by a comprehensive safety plan, with endurance event specialists Adrian Bailey and Lucas Trihey managing the event, safety and logistics.

Event ambassador Pat Farmer – twice world record holder for crossing the Simpson Desert – said the Big Red Run would attract endurance runners from across Australia and internationally.

“The Big Red Run will give runners a truly unique opportunity to tackle some of the most beautiful and forbidding landscapes in Australia and join an even bigger race – the race for a cure for type 1 diabetes,” said Farmer.

The journey of the Born to Run Foundation began earlier this year with a team of five ordinary Australians attempting the extraordinary: to race across five deserts on five continents to raise money for type 1 diabetes research.

The Born To Run team, which includes Donovan, his other son Matthew Donovan, Ron Schwebel, Jess Baker and type 1 diabetic and regular Trail Run Magazine contributor, Roger Hanney, is aiming to become the first team to complete the 4 Deserts, the world’s leading endurance footrace series.

The team have already successfully completed the first two deserts, the Atacama in Chile and the Gobi in China, and will embark on the two remaining weeklong, 250 kilometre races in the Sahara Desert and Antarctica in October and November.

The Big Red Run will mark the final leg of the Born To Run team’s five-desert journey, with all money raised going to type 1 diabetes research projects. The Born To Run Foundation will work with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), a charitable organisation dedicated to finding a cure for type 1 diabetes, to identify promising research projects for funding.

“It’s going to be a physically gruelling journey but in every step we live our foundation motto of “fitness for fighting diabetes”,” said Donovan.

To make a donation to the Born To Run Foundation, register to compete in the Big Red Run or for more information visit: