Big Red Run 2016 – The Interviews, Part Two (The Winners)

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Niandi Carmont catches with Elisabet Barnes and Jamie Hildage on the finish line of the 2016 Big Red Run.

Swedish multi-stage expert Elisabet BARNES claims victory at this year’s edition of the Big Red Run, 1st overall and first female. Brit living locally Jamie HILDAGE  finishes second overall and first male.

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Elisabet: I did the Richtersveld Transfrontier Wildrun the week before last, 200km in South Africa on the border to Namibia, where we finished the race. I finished 3rd woman and 8th overall. I had a great time. The scenery was absolutely spectacular. The trails were a bit more technical than I was used to. It’s not my strength perhaps so under the circumstances I am happy with the result. Because of the terrain and the amount of ascent and descent, I actually did a lot of hiking in Richtersveld so it’s quite different to the Big Red Run which is reasonably flat, where you do a lot of running so my legs worked in a different way. It probably helped me prepare from a fitness perspective  and I had a week between the 2 races and although a lot of that was taken up by a lot of travel I did have a couple of days on the Sunshine Coast in Australia,  allowing me to relax a little before the race.

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I ask her if she had adopted a race strategy before the event?

I took a good lead already on Day 1 because I thought people were running a bit slowly so I naturally opened up a gap, which I managed to hold. In multi-stage racing you take each day as it comes. You can’t think too far ahead and this race was a prime example of that because a lot of things changed during the race due to rain and flooding. If you run one day at a time, it can work in your favour.

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Jamie, first male and second overall ran his second edition of the BRR this year and beat his time last year by massive chunks of time, even though this year’s edition was a marathon short because of the adverse weather conditions which meant Stage 3 had to be cancelled and proclaimed a day of rest by the RD Greg Donovan to ensure the safety of the runners.

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Jamie: Last year’s race was very hot, dry and arid. It was completely different race to this year. This year there was a lot of bush to run through as it has been wet here in the Simpson Desert. I certainly didn’t come back with some expectation of some finishing place. I kind of came for some fun and I’m just very happy about the way it has worked out. Also last year I hadn’t done a lot of preparation and since then I entered a lot of events to try and improve my focus as I don’t have a coach. I was trying to find a way of concentrating my efforts. I did a couple of 50km mountain races last year, a hilly 20km race, the Two Bays in Melbourne in January and I finished off with the Australia 50km just 6 weeks ago. The preparation i put in for those put me in good shape for coming into this event.

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Fun? It didn’t look like fun to me when Jamie crossed the finish line. He had really pushed himself to his limit. 

Jamie: This morning we joked between the 3 of us running out there this morning. Andy Dubois, a very popular ultra-running coach here in Australia, was running with us. He went out very very hard this morning and almost blew all 3 of us up. We were lucky to dig ourselves out and finish in some shape that wasn’t too bad. 

So the three men in the leading pack got checked if I’m not mistaken?

Jamie: (laughs) It’s a regular thing in the ultra world here. I think i’ve done one race only where I didn’t get checked. I think I spent a lot of time in a dip in that race so the lady behind didn’t see me!  I think the distances are a real leveller and Elisabet is incredibly strong and does really well at these events.

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And the highlights of the BRR 2016 for both of them?

Elisabet: I think it’s a really friendly race. Experiencing the camp life has been great. From a running perspective, today has been great, just coming in, knowing I had won the race. Today’s course was beautiful as well, although we ran really really hard and it was quite painful.

Jamie: (Laughs) Running with Elisabet was my highlight.It’s a beautiful place to run and just how much different the course is this year both physically, geographically and also for me having put in so much effort trying to prepare myself for it.

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Big Red Run 2016 – Stage 5 Marathon 1 “Mohan Marathon” Marathon 2 “Roseberth Marathon” – 84.39km

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Elisabet Barnes nailed it today, no question, no doubts, she showed the boys how to run a multi-stage race and she also showed them how to pace and judge an 84km stage. Elisabet is the Queen of the Simpson Desert.

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An 0430 wake up call really did have everyone walking around a little goggle eyed this morning, particular with the very low temperatures and biting wind. It was 2 degrees but it felt below freezing standing around waiting for the 0600 start.

A roaring fire is a key element of the Big Red Run, irrespective of the time of the day, this morning was no different. A huddle of runners crowded the fire, arms outstretched, I am sure they think, if I can get my hands warm, the rest of my body will follow.

Trackers were attached to packs, compulsory reflective vests were handed out (for the dark hours) and just after 0600, the runners departed for an 84km double marathon over the Simpson Desert.

A hour of darkness soon had holes of sunlight punched through it as sunrise came, it was an incredible start to the day and it was a wonderful sign that a full day of clear skies was ahead. The chilly wind continued to blow, some would say, they were perfect running conditions.

Andy Dubois lying in 3rd overall gave it everything today, it was an all or nothing scenario and one that I love to see and applaud. He could have rested and be satisfied with his podium place but no, he tried his best to take 2nd from Jamie Hildage and lets face it, had he had a good day and Elisabet Barnes a bad day, overall victory may well have been a possibility?

Andy pushed and lead over the first marathon but Elisabet kept him in sight, gaining no more than a few minutes, he tested those behind and Elisabet summed it up on the line, ‘The pace early on today was fast, right from the gun Andy went hard and he wanted to test himself and us. I held on not wanting to ket him out of sight, you may think my time margin is a good buffer going into a long day but it can soon go!’

Jamie Hildage echoed Elisabet’s comments, ‘I had a 20min margin over Andy and he wanted to take it back. I had to keep an eye on him but in all honesty, the early pace was far faster than I would have preferred to go for an 84km day.’

Andy pushed but the wheels started to come off and he paid for the early pace, Elisabet and Jamie passed him just as the first marathon concluded and then Elisabet made a move and slowly pulled away from Jamie. Once Elisabet had the lead, she does what she does best, put her head down and knock out a metronomic pace to take not only her 3rd stage victory out of 4 but the overall 2016 Big Red Run victory.

This terrain, the desert, multi-stage days and relatively flat terrain are Elisabet’s domain and she really did dominate this event, ‘So it’s been a good week in the office! Today was the final competitive stage of the Big Red Run, the long stage of approx 84km and it was TOUGH! Some of the boys decided to race very hard from the start and despite my lead going into the stage it was a case of holding on and hoping for the best. Luckily their wheels fell off and not mine so all ended well. I am really chuffed to have won the race outright!’

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Jamie held on for 2nd place arriving 30 minutes after Elisabet. A previous Big Red Run competitor, Jamie had improved his time considerably after his last effort and he was very happy. Andy crossed the line 3rd and looked equally ecstatic, he raised his arms, cheered and well truly embraced the tape. ‘I had to risk all today and hope that I could possibly break Jamie and take back his time advantage. In reality, I had nothing to loose as 4th place was well behind me and I would have had to well and truly explode to loose my 3rd place. My strategy was to go hard over the first marathon and see what happened. I did what I could and I am happy with 3rd place.’

Braddon DB Johnson has run well all week, always around the top 4 and today was no different, he finished the day with a huge smile content with his Simpson Desert experience. Equally, Helen Durand has been an extremely consistent 2nd lady, she too crossed the line looking incredibly happy and surprisingly fresh with her days running.

At the time of writing this, the runners have been out on course for just under 13 hours (1900 hours) and they have till 0400 on Saturday to complete the distance. With darkness, the temperatures are dropping and the pitch black sky is coming to life with an amazing display of stars.

It’s going to be a long night, wish everyone well and we will post results and times tomorrow. Now let the slide shows begin, let the fire roar and lets cheer the runners in!

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Big Red Run 2016 – Stage 4 ‘Sprigg Sprint’ 31km (revised route)

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Day 3 of the Big Red Run unfortunately had no racing due to freak weather conditions during night 1 and throughout the day on race day 2. It left the Simpson Desert a mud bath of sticky clay. However, the runners embraced the day and used it for personal admin a real sense of group spirit came together where everyone helped each other to make uncomfortable camp conditions considerably better. The sun shone all day it is quite remarkable how the earth dried out. Overnight the temperatures really dropped (2 deg) leaving one or two runners with an uncomfortable night. Braddon DB Johnson whilst holding a hot mug of steaming coffee said. “It was in interesting night… I had every item of clothing on and was still a little chilly!”

As the early morning mist burnt off, a glorious day welcomed the runners for a revised stage 4 that left camp via Big Red dunes. A clockwise loop with a couple of dog legs thrown in then re-navigated the runners back to Big Red and the finish line from which they had started.

James Kohler has been trying all week for victory, often leading the stages in the early kilometres only to find in the latter stages. Today though, the 30km racing distance and a days rest played into his hands and from the off he opened just a slight gap from the usual protagonists of Elisabet Barnes, Andy Dubois, Jamie Hildage and Braddan DB Johnson.

As the run progressed, James slowly pulled away but it was a very slender margin and Elisabet made sure she kept him in sight throughout the day, she had said early in the morning, ‘Today is all about being sensible and making sure I don’t extend too much energy ahead of tomorrow’s 80km+ long stage!’

No doubt Andy, Jamie and Braddan had similar thoughts. James though seized his opportunity and ran a great stage 4 to take 1st place in 2:56:03. Elisabet crossed the line 2nd in 2:59:45 and Andy Dubois placed 3rd in 3:01:04.

It was a close day with the top 3 men and ladies all finishing within a 30-minute window. Jamie Hildage placed 4th and Braddan DB Johnson 5th, their respective time of 3:04:06 and 3:08:58. Helen Durand was the 2nd lady 3:20:03, she has performed consistently throughout the race and Anne Bennet seized the 3rd place in 3:33:27.

Tomorrow is the long day and runners will be resting up in camp and preparing for a long day ahead. Weather and ground conditions have improved dramatically over the last 24-hours and although a new route has been planned, hopefully it will include much of the terrain of the original proposed route. Camp will be moved tomorrow and although it may not be located in the original camp 5 location, it will be placed close leaving the final stage 6 ‘fun run’ as close to 8km as possible. After all, there is a very serious barbecue, cold beers, showers and some entertainment planned for post race recovery.

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Big Red Run 2016 – The Interviews, Part One

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Niandi Carmont has joined me at Big Red Run (pictured above), she was originally going to run the main event but a foot fracture after The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica relegated her to the sidelines and recovery. However, injury progressed well and although not up to full speed or endurance, Niandi decided to run the Little Red Run (150km) which is the sister event to the the bigger, 250km main event.

It was always planned that Niandi would accompany my photography with a selection of interviews for web and Talk Ultra podcast. Here are the first two.

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The Turner Threesome: Dennis Turner, Megan Turner and Vicki Turner

Now what a nice day to spend a family holiday! Running 250km in the Australian outback is what I would call an off-the-beaten track holiday if ever there was one. I look at the three tired, dusty, smiling faces in front of me and I think it’s probably not such a bad idea. A father and 2 daughters taking time out to do something different, something that probably tightens and strengthens family bonds in the name of a common cause: type 1 diabetes.

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Vicki’s 9-year old daughter Ella has type 1 diabetes.

Dennis explains: Vicki was the instigator behind all this. She asked me if I wanted to go for a walk. I said yes and here we are. I also spent a lot of time out in the desert in the 70’s with the oil exploration crew and I’ve travelled across the desert 4 or 5 times since then. It’s a beautiful country. It’s very green at the moment and a bit wet compared with what it normally is. Usually it is very  dry and desolate with not much covering the dunes.

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Vicki: Dad loves walking. He walked from one side of England to the other last year. As for myself I’ve never experienced the outback like this.We’re from South Australia.

Younger sister Megan chips in excitedly: I’m here for the fun of it. It’s all an adventure really. Once my father was convinced, he got me into doing this. He phoned me up, told me we were going to go on a trip across the desert but he failed to mention it involved walking 150km. We’ve stuck together so far as he likes to keep an eye on me (giggles).

But then her father goes on to explain that they’ve not taken the event light-heartedly and spend most weekends getting in mileage on the beaches and in the dunes as well as training a couple of times during the week. We get on pretty well. The desert brings out who you are, your character and your stamina. We love the outback all 3 of us, we’ve done a lot of travelling in it over the years.  But it is a real challenge mentally and physically to do it at my age.

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I ask him if he’s proud of his daughters and there’s no hesitation in his reply: Absolutely. I’m very proud of them. 

I can see on their faces that they are touched by the compliments and as I leave then I cannot help but think that the three of them will look back on this privileged time spent together in a remote part of their beautiful country with the conviction that they had chosen the right time in their lives to take up the challenge together.

***END***

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Sabrina Paxton: Thelma & Louise Oz-style.

A long-legged blonde with blue eyes and a self-mocking, bubbly style, Sabrina is a gutsy lady. You can see she’s an outdoorsy girl. Mother of 2 young boys and a passionate yoga teacher, she loves to share her experiences (and food) with others. Here, have some of these pine nuts in your freeze-dried Mexican rice. Good fats. And here’s a bit of mint dark chocolate too.

I warm to this runner who almost didn’t make it to the start. In fact she DIDN’T make it to the start.

I missed my interconnecting flight. My first flight from Sydney into Brisbane was a bit late. I missed check-in cut-off time. The hostess wouldn’t let me on. I sat in the airport for a while panicking. My friends on social media and Quantas pointed me in the direction of Isa, to hire a vehicle to come down here. So I hired a commercial vehicle with big headlights and I drove across the outback through the night. There wasn’t ever really a moment where I thought I was going to give up, I had so much community support. So many people have gotten behind me to enter this race. I knew when things didn’t go according to plan that I had to explore every possible avenue to get here. Admittedly I was a bit scared, I’d never driven through the outback before, never mind 700km alone at night just before a 250km multi-stage.

I ask her what gave her the adrenaline to think straight and react so quickly.

I guess I was in the frame of mind I had put in so much preparation and there was so much expectation. You just need to draw strength and reserves to pull it together. I was so focussed on getting here. I was pretty wired actually. There was only one point where I was quite fatigued so I stopped and got about 40 minutes rest, I set my alarm for 40min. I drove at about 70 to 80km an hour. It was at least 10 hours solid driving. I had the whole day in Brisbane to plan this carefully and did some research on the internet on distances and fuel stops so I took 2 jerrycans of fuel with me. I flew into Brisbane at 6.30, picked up the car, filled up the 2 jerrycans and even then I only just made it with the fuel gauge needle in red the last 80km to go. 

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This lady is not only gutsy but she can think on her feet. A little perplexed I ask her why she hadn’t planned her connecting flights any better.

I am a sole parent to 2 boys who have never spent a day away from me really so I couldn’t orchestrate any different times where my kids could be looked after by a person they trusted. It was my only option to get that flight. There was a 2-hour buffer time. It is just unfortunate hat that flight landed so late.

Sabrina has other qualities too, which are no doubt very important in long-distance endurance events. She turns negatives into positives and manages her expectations.

Looking back, I really enjoyed that ride into Birdsville, with sun up and all the beautiful landscapes. I felt very privileged. I had missed the start but it was no big deal as the organisers dropped me off at check-point one. Once I got out the car I pretty much put my race-kit on and started running. At the finish they had added a 13km section for me to make up for missing the first part. 

So all is well that  ends well. I believe that you can still do what you want to do even if it feels like life has thrown you a bit of a hard situation.

***END***

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Richtersveld Transfrontier Wildrun 2016 on RUNULTRA

Richtersveld

“South African trail running pioneer Linda Doke and 2015 Marathon des Sables female champion, Elisabet Barnes placed 2nd and 3rd respectively in the ladies’ race. Both ladies summing up their experiences with a similar thought process, “What an incredible privilege it was to spend 5 days running through this magnificent part of the world on the Richtersveld Transfrontier Wildrun®. Sometimes it takes experiencing places like this to remind us how just how fragile and yet so powerful nature is, and how unbelievably insignificant we are in the bigger scheme of things.” – Linda Doke –

Read the full article: HERE

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Big Red Run 2016 – Stage 3 ‘Arpilindika Marathon’ – 42.195km (Cancelled)

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‘Arpilindika Marathon’ – 42.195km – cancelled

Adversity brings out the best in people, it’s the ‘Dunkirk’ spirit where everyone rallies around to make individual hardships a group hardship and with a little commitment, dedication and tenacity, woes and problems are taken away.

This is very much the spirit this morning on day 3 of the 2016 Big Red Run.

Race day has been cancelled due to out of the extraordinary weather during the night of day 1 and throughout day 2. In summary, the rain came in during the night and turned the Simpson Desert into a mud bath of some of the most sticky clay I have ever witnessed or in certain places, flooding!

Yes, the desert has become something akin to a UK Lakeland fell or Yorkshire moor.

They are freak conditions that have left the race team and runners in somewhat of a dilemma.

A night of reflection gave Lucas and Greg (race directors) an opportunity to look at options and an early departure from camp to recce the surrounding area confirmed several things:

  1. Racing would not happen on day 3.
  2. Camp would not be able to be moved due to excessive flooding, boggy ground and unpredictable roads that would potentially leave numerous vehicles bogged down.
  3. Day 4 will have to be a ‘new’ route to avoid some of the worst conditions and to ensure that vehicle access is possible at certain sections of the course for safety and checkpoints.
  4. Day 5 will hopefully still remain a long day of 80+ km but due to camp not moving, it will have to be re-worked to allow for the new start and end locations.
  5. Day 6, the final day is yet to be confirmed.

Greg confirmed at his early morning update that all of the above could change as they work through plans to make things happen. However, the sun has come out, the skies are blue and the conditions are already starting to dry out.

In camp, the Dunkirk spirit is at it’s best with groups of runners grabbing spades and clearing walkways to help alleviate everyone from the muddy mess. Clothes are being dried on make-shift washing lines and bushes, feet are being warmed by a fire and in an amongst all this there is a great deal of laughter as music fills the camp. The only real downside is that the flies have returned…

Today, the Simpson Desert and the Big Red Run is turning into a scene of ‘Survivor’ and on reflection, although everyone would have preferred a full racing day, the experience will be one to remember.

Greg and his team are now working flat out to make things happen and in the last 5-minutes I have had an update on plans for the coming days.

  • Tomorrow, stage 4 will be approximately the same distance as planned with a re-working of the route to miss the most affected areas and allow vehicle staff for crew access and safety. Overnight camp will remain in the same place.
  • Stage 5 will be a long stage of 80+ km (tbc) and the route will have slight modifications but it will finish at the original camp site as planned. This will allow Greg and his team to move the whole camp from it’s current location to the originally planned location while the runners are out on course.
  • Stage 6 will be as originally planned, a short un-timed run into the town of Birdsville.
  • The Big Red Bash – an open air concert originally planned to take place next to the Big Red Dunes has now been moved to the town of Birdsville. With over 7000 people travelling to the concert, the risk of vehicles getting stuck in the outback was far too high.

All-in-all, Greg and has team have done a remarkable job to pull all this together at such short notice. As I said, the 2016 Big Red Run will be one to remember!

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Big Red Run 2016 – Stage 2 ‘Adria Downs Marathon’ – 42.195km

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Mud, mud, glorious mud, nothing quite like it for cooling the blood… follow me follow, down to the hollow and let us wallow in mud glorious mud!

Oh yes, the 2016 Big Red Run had mud and then some today. The overnight pit patter of rain unfortunately increased heavier and heavier and as morning came, the camp site, located on a lower ground clay bed, became a ‘claggy’ mud bath. Within four walking strides, shoes, doubled, trebled and then quadrupled in not only size and weight. It was brutal – really brutal.

The 0630 call for breakfast was a mix of laughter and very worried looks. The rain was still pouring and it was not forecast to dry out until after darkness. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that it was going to be a tough day; not only for runners but all those working on the race.

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Maximum mandatory kit was requested by the race director, needless to say, a waterproof jacket was going to be essential and for once, not something that remained in the pack as a ‘just-in-case’ but something that should be worn from the gun! Thermal layers for the top and bottom were added to packs as a back-up scenario should an enforced rest, injury or stop should occur. It was a good call, conditions were tough.

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Leaving camp, the course was one that would loop on itself several times and finally return back to the same camp for the end of day 2, a classic marathon distance stage of 42.195km.

Early running was hard as the soft clay ground just stuck to the runners shoes making not only the size but more importantly the weight of the shoes considerably challenging. Add to this all grip being removed due to the volume of wet, sticky clay that built up in the soles. Watching the runners almost required a classic 1920’s silent movie soundtrack, you know the ones I mean, fast, comical and high-paced. Off course, the runners were the opposite – slow, cumbersome and with a high potential to fall at any minute.

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In the early stages many of the day four protagonists ran together, Braddan DB Johnson, Jamie Hildage, Andy Dubois and race leader, Elisabet Barnes. The foursome forged ahead at an excellent pace despite the conditions.

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After the halfway mark, Elisabet Barnes made a move and accelerated away from her running buddies and gave another excellent performance to win the stage outright in 4:17. To run this time in these conditions was extremely impressive, something that Elisabet acknowledged:

“I am amazed at the time. Today was ridiculous in places, my shoes were four times the normal size and weight. It was like running with ankle weights. I was running with my iPod and I just kept saying to myself, one song at a time and one foot at a time!”

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Jamie Hildage (4:26) lives in Australia but he’s a Brit born and bred – he’s used to these conditions and actually revelled in them, so much so he finished 2nd on the day ahead of stage 1 2nd place, Andy Dubois (4:44) and Braddan DB Johnson (4:53) taking the 3rd male place and 4th overall. Interesting statistic when one looks at the results, 3 of the top 4 were born or live in the UK – surely an advantage for the testing conditions.

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Helen Durand (5:16) continued to run strong on day 2 and replicated her 2nd place on the ladies podium and Karla Johnson (5:50) moved up from 6th on day 1 to 3rd on day 2. Amon Sheddon who had placed 3rd on day 1 had a tough day and finished down the field.

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Camp this evening full of stories of mud, sweat and tears. It’s funny how adversity brings out laughter… however, it has been a tough day for Greg Donovan and his team. Greg has had to take the very tough condition of cancelling any racing on day 3. It’s a call that no RD wants to make but currently the camp is bogged down in some of the worst mud I have seen.

 “To break camp down and move it to a new location while racing was underway would stretch the whole logistics and potentially compromise safety. I will update on this tomorrow during the rest day,”

– Greg Donovan

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Big Red Run 2016 – Stage 1 ‘Birdsville Marathon’ – 42.195km

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The 2016 Big Red Run got underway today, Saturday June 25th from the ‘Outback’ town of Birdsville on the edge of the Simpson Desert.

Located in the ‘Northern Territory,’ the Simpson Desert is a large area of red sand and dunes that currently resembles a green pasture due to excessive rain in recent weeks and months. It’s quite a contrast to the Sahara. The Simpson Desert is an erg described as a broad, flat area of desert covered with wind-swept sand. Erg means ‘dune field’ in Arabic and ironically it should have little or no vegetation… not so currently here in the Simpson.

The first European explorer to visit this region was the explorer Charles Sturt and today, Elisabet Barnes from Sweden (who resides in the UK) followed in the footsteps of Sturt and set a blistering pace over the marathon distance to win the stage outright by over 15-minutes. Elisabet’s finish time of 3:59:59 confirming her as one of the most impressive desert runners currently racing.

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Elisabet pulled away from the group of runners before they had even left the suburbs of Birdsville and she never looked back. Opening a gap slowly but surely, Elisabet extended her lead throughout the day to win by a clear margin.

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“I felt very good today considering the extensive travel, jet lag and only racing the Richtersveld Transfrontier Wildrun in South Africa just last week. But the terrain was very runnable and I was happy to run… maybe too quickly? We shall see tomorrow!”