#PAYITFORWARD for Christmas

#PAYITFORWARD this Christmas folks

You are a runner, yes?
You buy shoes, yes?
You are left with a shoe box, yes?
#payitforward
Well, December is here and let’s help those less fortunate than ourselves.
Take the empty shoe box and fill it with:
  • Toothpaste/brush
  • Deodorant
  • Razor
  • Soap
  • Body wash
  • Feminine hygiene
  • Socks
  • Hat
  • Scarf
  • Gloves
  • Brush/comb
  • Bar of chocolate/ sweets
  • Biscuits
  • Pocket tissues
  • Pocket size puzzle/pen
  • Small activity (for example Rubix Cube)
  • and whatever else…
Donate said box to a charity, homeless person, or wherever you see fit.
Trust me – your December and Christmas will feel so much better!

Samantha Gash – Run India

Photo ©nicdavidson

Photo ©nicdavidson

Samantha Gash runs an incredible 3200km across India.

On 22 August Samantha Gash began a 3200km run across India. Samantha has partnered with World Vision to visit the communities they work with across India along the way. She will learn first-hand about the challenges they face, as well as sharing the stories of success that are providing hope for their future.

Samantha, an endurance athlete from Melbourne and passionate advocate for social change, ran from one of the driest deserts on earth (Jaisalmer, Rajasthan) and ended the run in the wettest place on earth (Mawsynram, Meghalaya).

The Cause:

A quality education can be the foundation that helps young people around the world achieve their dreams. From literacy and numeracy to essential life skills, education equips children with the tools they need to make positive life choices, advocate for their rights and support themselves and their families. Education is also a fundamental human right – one that too many children don’t get to enjoy.

The barriers that prevent children from accessing – and completing – a quality education are complex. Through Run India, you can join Sam as she delves deeper into the challenges facing Indian communities today – and witness incredible stories of change. Sam will be visiting 18 World Vision’s Area Development Projects across India and sharing the stories of people she meets in these communities. Tackling issues such as malnutrition, access to appropriate water and sanitation, early marriage and gender bias. These projects demonstrate World Vision’s holistic approach to community development and commitment to ensuring that all children can access the education they deserve.

The funds you raise through Run India will support six World Vision projects across India. You will be part of a movement that transforms lives through the power of education.

You can donate to Run India here

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The Interview:

Ian: It’s been quite an epic journey. I was trying to think the last time we had you on the show and I think it was when you ran with Mimi Anderson in South Africa?

Samantha: Yes, in 2014. That would have been November 2014. Two years later.

Ian: Two years later, so you have Run India!

Samantha: Two years later. Yes, Run India!

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Ian: Before we go into the nitty gritty and you can tell everybody all about the details of this. In simple terms the planned route was 3,800 kilometers taking approximate 76 days, averaging 50 kilometers a day. The whole process was not just you sort of fulfilling a passion to run across India and tick another ultra-box but it had a real reason. Like everything that you do it’s about creating money and creating awareness. Tell us a little bit about the whole process?

Samantha: Firstly, I knew from the get go that the route was not going to be 3.800km, but everyone wants a figure… I remember trying without much success, trying to say in every interview beforehand give or take a couple hundred Ks. It’s not like I’d gone out and mapped the route. The route was based on as much prior knowledge but I’ve always wanted to have that level of flexibility to make changes obviously based on safety but more based on an interest about a certain area.

I wanted to be able to go with the flow and change something. I was clear that the route would change and it did for both race and safety and for interest sake. The run was, if we’re going to talk about numbers let’s get those over and done with. The run was 3,253 Km’s. I stuck to kind of the time frame in fact I had no choice, I had to stick to the time frame because I had certain dates when I was going to community visits. The idea was to make sure I could get to those certain places on a certain date because these communities take quite a lot of planning when they have someone from the outside coming in. So, the reality was that this dictated the route and time frame.

Our goal was to meet with certain people and do interviews and to sometimes do experiential processes where I would see how they would cook meals, see their family and so on. I had so many ceremonial dances and songs. Most of the rewarding moments are when I would be sitting in someone’s home, a home that should only fit one person but has 15 people in there and I was just speaking to people about how they live their life and what are their hopes and what are the challenges.

I very much think that my run and the brutality of the run — I hate the road and my run was pretty much all on the road. To run the road like that I feel like my role and my treat was to get invited into strangers’ homes and to have those interactions.

Ian: One of the things that strikes me immediately is covering this distance and covering this distance over the amounts of days that you did it and covering a big chunk of mileage every day is stressful enough as it is because you’re worried about getting injured, you’re looking at your nutrition, you’re looking at your hydration but then on top of that, you’ve got all these other things going on.

You’ve got a time frame where you need to be in certain place which means that certain days you’re going to have to run a certain distance whether you want to or not, but also there’s logistics and there’s planning. I’m fully appreciative that you’re going to enlighten me on how that planning and everything happens because that’s obviously something that you can’t do while you’re running, so there’s a great team of people behind you organizing all that.

Is this type of thing a real positive in that it refocuses your mind and takes your mind away from the actual running and it provides a distraction? Or is it a distraction that impacts on the running?

Samantha: All the above at different times. It was brutal particularly the first month. You plan so hard for two years and you think that our plan will equate to success particularly when we’re diligent, when we work with the right people and then you get to India… I have done a lot of traveling in developing countries and I realize that nothing goes to plan.

I got very sick from week two to week four because it was so hard to get my head around just the immense amount of changes happening every day. I get there and the monsoon season had been much later this year which meant the humidity was high. I’m running in nearly 40 degree of temperature and high humidity – It made Costa Rica seem like a walk in the park with the temperature.

©bruceviaene

©bruceviaene

Ian: I was going to say The Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica was must have been preparation for that?

Samantha: Oh, my god. I kept thinking where are those water crossings that I could just put my entire body in? Luckily I had Nicky Kimball who came out and joined me for part of the run, I met her in Costa Rica and we just kept saying, “Oh my god, this is so humid. This is just unbelievably humid.”

I had three teams out there with me. My crew which travelled with me, I had an Indian based logistics team that I had contracted in, they were well versed with the areas that I was running in and then I had a security team.

Essentially I had these three teams and I had a team leader from the Indian side because culture is different and you must respect it. You need an Indian team leader to look after that side of things and then I had an Australian team leader who I’d hoped would bridge that gap between all the different teams. To put it out there, my Australian team leader couldn’t cope with India, it’s completely understandable but it was very unfortunate.

He couldn’t cope with the intensity of India, the lack of privacy. We had a camper and were pretty much sleeping on top of each, add such high temperature as well and he just had a bit of a break down. Unfortunately considering the project was my baby and everyone else was pretty pushed as it was, my paramedic who was there for the first five weeks’ kind of took over some of the financial components of the project. But in terms of the liaising with the teams, it fell in to my lap which is not good. Tip – never ever allow yourself to be the one that deals with the rest of the human interactions when you must push yourself and do the running. Not a good idea!

It’s never going to be done as successfully as it can be done. I got to one point after I got very sick and I just got this realization, “Sam, a successful day for you is if you can just keep moving forward and no one wants to walk out on the project.”

The sickness was an issue, when I got to Deli I had an MRI on my knee because something felt wrong.

I got the results back and I had a couple of issues but nothing like what I thought I was going to have. I adjusted a mental shift and then we kind of went up north to the Himalayas and I just felt that there was a shift in the project from that point on wards.

Ian: It’s exhausting listening to you saying it.

Samantha: I haven’t even touched on the chaos!

Ian: Yes, I can imagine. I can absolutely imagine. You started on the Pakistan side and then went across, you went up towards Nepal and then came across towards Bangladesh. It’s part of the world I have visited and I can completely get what you’re saying about the chaos. There’s elements of these areas that are very very well planned. Very well-organized, but the problem is, nobody else knows what those plans are. Somebody knows, but nobody else knows. It’s about communicating with that person, and making sure that that person or several people are in line with the plan. I’m guessing that was one of the big stresses that you are having to deal with day in and day out.

Samantha: Yes. You just described it beautifully and I haven’t thought of it that way. Running across India is like running across a lot of different countries. If you know the history of India, it just had so much shit and border change, the language and dialects. Everything is just so… it can change every 50 kilometers. You must put so much responsibility in your Indian team and then accept on a cultural level of things are very, very different. You must give in to that when you do a project that’s in a country that’s not like yours. When you don’t accept that, that’s when things go wrong.

I remember saying to my crew constantly, stop longing for things that you’re going to have in a couple of weeks’ time. Accept and embrace what you have now which you’ll never ever have again. I was incredibly grounded into just try to make the most of every moment. Sometimes you feel you’re getting fleeced by that, and you start to second guess things when you’re being communicated too. Because India is sometimes the culture where people try and make the best of every situation.

You must think why that’s the case. That’s the whole point of empathy. I think it’s irrelevant for day to day life. But we think of India, population of 1.26 billion. People who are very successful are ones who have made the most of any opportunity that comes their way. Sometimes that gets interpreted differently from people. I just think I learned so much about my own ability to deal with stressful situations. I think just being very grounded and present with the survival being out there.

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Ian: I knew Nikki Kimball was joining you because I’d spent time with her when I was in America, and you bumped into Emily Forsberg, she was out doing her yoga camp. Can you tell me how that came about?

In addition to all that, there was content being put on your website. The Run India website, and the address for that is runindia.org.au. There were stories appearing on there like Deepika’s determination to get education. There was one about self-defense, about a brave father being reunited with his daughter. How was that content being put together, was that content being put together in real-time as you were running?

Samantha: Yes, most it. That content was created with the supportive of World Vision and the community visits that we did. I had about 16 community visits that I did along the way, and within each of those community visits I probably did three to five different interactions around that community, and all of that we filmed. I mean, we learned along the way which were the better ways of filming it. Sometimes we would just first go in there and speak to people, do the interaction and then do a post interview. Other times we would film along the way.

You just had to learn quickly which was going to be the best way of creating content that could be shared later. We had one videographer out there with me. We would film it all, and then we would send it off trying to upload that content, that footage every night. It’s really, interesting.

Ian: Yes, I know that pain. Internet is not a strong point of these places.

Samantha: Exactly! World Vision wanted us to send it in hard drives back to this editing house in the south in India. And I was like, “There’s no way we’re going to find a post office to send you these.” So, we did the uploading, which brings its own problems – they did a great job.

The whole point of the project was to explore the barriers to why a child in India can’t go to school, and to look at it in a geographical sense that as you go across the country and the road that we were traveling across, those barriers are so unique to that area, and what makes up that area. We looked at malnutrition, which I think is a consistent barrier across the entire country. The prevalence of the sex trade, child marriage, all these different subjects such as personal safety and protection, particularly when you’re in the urban centers of India.

Those stories were about looking at education, but looking at the barriers. As opposed to just education itself.

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Ian: What’s amazing and it’s always been one of the things that I’ve always enjoyed about you as a runner. Running almost is an accident for you. And I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. But if I think back to when we first met, when we first started to talk, you’re a very educated person from a very educated background. You gave up a very successful career to start running. I guess it was that career that originally enabled you to take on the 4Desert races. You were the first female, the first youngest person to complete that – Gobi, Sahara, Atacama and Antarctica. Was it this experience that made you realize that there was an opportunity for you?

But also, using your education and your background to turn it all in to good. It’s obvious when you’re speaking now that you’re not talking about running. You’re talking about awareness. You’re talking about people. You’re talking about change. You’re talking about why this journey was happening. And I think if you were a pure runner you’d be telling me about how the running was, but you’re not. You’re telling me about the journey and why you’re doing it. Is that a fair assessment?

Samantha: Yes. I am not a professional runner. Though I get put in that category all the time, I’m derogatory to professional runners, but I do a whole lot more than just run. It’s interesting because people try and understand and try and make a connection with the way I’ve chosen to run, and why I’ve chosen to run.

At the end of the day, if you look at people who run, they always have different motivations. I think all those motivations are to be celebrated in their own way. And if you’re using running for the thing that makes the most sense for you, well then you’re more likely to be running for a much longer period. For me, I just think the way I’m in love with endurance sport. You see the highs and the lows, and the self-discovery that it takes people too, but it also takes you to your worst state.

In a development context, when you are being pushed so hard, your capacity to understand people who are in a daily worse state. Not by choice which we choose to do as ultra-runners, but because of their circumstances. And I think that connection allows us to share a story. And when we share a story, we can hopefully help other people understand a life that is so far removed from ours.

Ian: Absolutely. I hate asking these questions, but inevitably I must ask them because I’m trying to compress your incredible journey into a small block. What was the highest and the lowest point of your incredible journey?

Samantha: I guess on a running perspective, the low point, when I went up to Rishikesh and when I went up to Darjeeling in Gangtok, I really struggled on the road. The plains of India are just incredibly overwhelming from a running perspective. To be in that intensity of pollution, at times it was heartbreaking to my soul.

Anytime I got up towards the mountains, even though with technically harder running, my pace just increased. I live in a National Park; I love the solitude of running for what it does to our mind. I was on cloud nine and thinking of Nicky Kimball’s journey with me in India. She was there for some of the most crucial running. Later, like a week after she left, she saw me running up on the mountains and she was like, “Oh gosh I chose the wrong section of the run,” and I’m like, “I’m so sorry.” She was there for some of the most humid running. I didn’t realize it but don’t sweat that much. I didn’t sweat anywhere near as much as other people who came out which was why my feet didn’t get destroyed. Nicky unfortunately was getting some terrible blisters and her feet were falling apart by the end.

Highlight to me was going up to the mountains. It was amazing to see Emily Forsberg out there. The Himalayas are so incredible.

Then I think that visiting different people in Himalaya as well was quite transformational for me. I don’t think I could have done the run if I didn’t continually see people along the routes and understand what was going on. That is why this projects was so special, it was the connection with people. When I ran across South Africa with Mimi, we ran across some beautiful terrain but had no connection with the outside world or the beneficiaries that we were trying raise funds for. But because the running was so beautiful, it made running 1,968 kilometers okay. There is no way I could have run over 3,000 K on the Indian roads if every couple of days I wasn’t going into the slums or a development project and understanding why I was doing it.

Ian: You mentioned Emily, how did that happen? Was that a pure coincidence?

Samantha: I had a friend in India who was like, “Do you know Emily is here right now? I was like, “Really?” I had a quick check on Instagram which confirmed and so I asked a mutual Ryan Sandes to connect us. Emily had a very full schedule, she was doing a yoga training camp. But we managed to meet up on her day off.

We caught up, we did some yoga. I met one of her other friends who is from Australia and we just spent the whole time chatting and eating lots of food. It was nice to see someone from the running community out there.

Ian: How did the actual journey itself unfold? Did you stick to a daily average that was consistent with your planned 50 kilometers?

Samantha: It was an average 50 and there’s probably about nine days that I didn’t run at all. There were a few ad hoc days of around 30 to 40 but beyond that, it was 55 up to 76 k’s per day.

Ian: 55 to 76km days make a huge difference because if you’re trying to cover 50k (31 miles) you can jog, you can run, you can walk and you’ve got plenty of time in the day if you’re not going up 2,000, 3,000 meter mountains to cover the distance. If you then add 10 kilometers, 20 kilometers to that, then certainly you are talking about being on the road on the trails for 12 hours. Then that starts to impact on your rest, on your recovery, on your team, and everything else that you do. I guess what you were trying to do all the time was manage that balance between covering the distance but also making sure that you could recover and go the next day and do it again?

Samantha: Yes, and it was hard the first two weeks. One day, I had a community visit, I ran 50ks and then did the community visit immediately afterwards which lasted five hours. I remember I got there, it was so hot during the day because you’re in the desert. Also, as I ran towards the town the monsoon weather just came down – it feels like, “Oh I’m kind of hot, I’m cold, I’m steamy.” I didn’t know what was going on and then I go straight into a community visit where I am being presented about malnutrition issues…

I remember thinking, “I think I’m going to pass out right now. I am feeling really light headed.”

I had to quickly put food in and I go, “I’ve just really got to be on the ball. If I am going to try and do this. I have to make sure that I have food and water in these community visits.” There was maybe like a handful of times when I would run and then go into a community visit and I just had no other choice but to do that. That is what I didn’t want to do because I knew that I wouldn’t be fully engaged in that visit and I would lose these amazing opportunities. That’s why I had days when I wasn’t running and I’ve got to say now these were harder days than the running days. Because we never knew what the day would look like. We would be driven to the middle of nowhere and you would face confronting things.

One day I went into a malnutrition clinic and I just I saw babies who were so much smaller than they should have been for their age. The mothers looked so young. Then we did a backwards kind of on a journey and saw the travel that they would have done to go to that place to get to that clinic. Then you get perspective – you learn that those parents earn 40 cents/50 cents a week. They are on such a spectrum of poverty, that making the decision to take their child to this malnutrition clinic, which is their only chance of survival, they must potentially lose the income for the day, which means they might not be able to feed their family.

Every day was life and death. We were talking about education what they needed is food to survive. They can only change their lives once the children get educated, so, these families have some hard decisions.

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Ian: Nepal is a similar situation. There’s people in Nepal who have money but there’s so many people who don’t have money. I have this real dichotomy sometimes whether what I’m doing is justified and right? I walk around with a camera and I see beauty in everything. Whether it’s something that is beautiful or something that isn’t beautiful but becomes beautiful because of hardship, poverty, etcetera.

It’s very easy to just lift a note out which is worth a dollar or two dollars and give it to somebody for a photograph. You walk away and you think, “Did I help that situation? Was what I did morally correct?” I must try and justify it to myself and I think it was okay because at least they can go and buy something.

But one of the things that you were doing was obviously you were raising money for World Vision who can then support six different areas within the regions that you were running. You already touched on the fact that that money could help malnutrition, child protection, maybe just provide clean water.

Samantha: Definitely.

Ian: How did that fundraising project work and I’m assuming that the fundraising is still going on?

Samantha: Yes, the fundraising is still going on. We’ve raised over $160,000 so far. I expect we’ll raise close… I hope we’ll raise closer to the $200,000 mark. In a couple of ways, we worked with corporate partners to fund certain components. We also got people in the public to take on a 12-week challenge. The concept was Strong Minds and it was, “What strong mind do you need to take on a 12-week fitness challenge?” While also fundraising for the strong minds of those in these communities who must be so resilient to deal with the circumstances that they have every day.

We were looking at that, what does it take to have a strong mind and how can you make your footsteps count. We had public fundraising for people doing that and then also just donations through the website and through our awareness campaign. It was as much of an awareness as a fundraising.

How do you measure success in these types of things? I think it’s very hard. I always want to raise more and I’m very hard on myself; have the objectives being met? Did I make my footsteps count? But yes, having seen the project and seeing how far that money can go, I feel very confident that people’s lives can be changed in India and I don’t say that comment easily. These projects do make a tangible difference!

Ian: Now you started the journey on August the 22nd. What was the date that you finished?

Samantha: November 5th.

Ian: Okay. That’s a big chunk of time.

Samantha: Yes, it could have been 10 years ago.

Ian: [Exactly.

Samantha: It feels like a lifetime.

Ian: It does. I know myself with travelling is that you wait for that opportunity to get home and go and relax and then within two days it feels as though, “When did I travel last and what was I doing and where was I going?”

Samantha: Yes, totally.

Ian: What’s the impact been on you emotionally, physically and what’s it like getting back into Australia and readjusting into normal life?

Samantha: I think it’s a lot easier to adjust to being back home than the adjustment to be India. I kind of told you before, my whole mental approach was about being very much in the present and having so much gratitude that I could have this experience.

I didn’t get down much when I was doing the project. There was plenty of reasons to be down. I think there was only one moment where I was like, “I just don’t want to run right now.” I had an hour sleep and then I got back out there.

It was a shock to the system that I had to do so much and I just felt I had been let down in that moment with the planning but physically I felt good. You can’t go from that much level of activity to inactivity. In fact, that’s not healthy. You have to kind of wean yourself off but you wean yourself off by just kind of being outdoors and listening to your body and not feeling like you need to wear a watch and not committing to a race even though I have a race in February. Physically I feel quite good. I do get tired when I do a little bit too much. I’ve gone back to work and I’m doing quite a bit of travel so I think it’s just that culmination of all that stuff that sometimes mentally and physically drains me a little quicker.

Emotionally it’s like I try not to talk about it. My job is to talk about it, I have now started to incorporate India into my presentations. The other day I was like, “Oh gosh, I’ve been so verbose”, because I haven’t verbally processed much of it.

Where do you start? You have given me quite a good platform to ramble but it’s hard to know where to start. People traditionally just want to know, “What was the hardest thing?” I give these generic answers like, “Well, there was no one thing that was the hardest. It was the culmination of many things.”

Ian: Exactly.

Samantha: Every now and again I watch back the footage and I just can’t believe that I got to live that life. The power of photos and the power of video. It makes it very, very real and I still can’t believe that I did what I did and I managed to fit so much into every day. That was a lifetime in three months.

Ian: I think you’re right. I think one of the reasons why I created Talk Ultra is that I said right from the start that it would always be a long show because I didn’t want to compress people’s experiences into 20 minutes. I wanted to find that space and that arena that would allow me to talk in more depth.

Admittedly I put my hands up 20 minutes ago and said I’m going to have to ask you this bad question because unfortunately the people listening do want to know the highest and the lowest points – equally, how do I compress your 3,000-kilometer journey into a period of time and try and encapsulate what you went through. It’s not possible. It’s not possible.

I think what is interesting is that you’ve managed to encapsulate a journey without talking about the running. You’ve talked about the important things about the journey, which is the impact that your journey can have now with fundraising and how it will affect people’s lives. You questioned yourself whether it is valid. Of course, it’s valid because I think sometimes we can look at these things and think, “Well what is the positive? What is the negative?” You only must change a handful of people’s lives for the journey to be valid because everybody has validity in an existence and a continued existence. I think you can create a knock-on journey which hopefully will continue to perpetuate.

Samantha: You’re right. This project is something that has had an impact. Its right we push ourselves in these types of way and yes we want to make an impact to other people’s lives but I think you should always be clear that the bigger impact is probably going to be on your life too. That’s okay because that’s how we push ourselves in endurance sports. It’s to see what we’re capable of doing and how far can we push our minds and how far can we use these thing, which is our bodies, to be able to do that.

Ian: You’re the type of person, Sam, that always has something planned. [laughs] Dare I ask, is there another project at the back of your mind that you’re thinking of for two years’ time or three years’ time?

Samantha: I wanted to do this since 2011. It was when I was running across South Africa with Mimi that I was like, “Yes, I think I’m ready now to tackle this,” because it wans’t just tackling the run and it wasn’t just fundraising. It was also to work with a not-for-profit and try and change the way that they connect with people as well.

World Vision being one of the — I think is the largest not-for-profit globally, this was a radical project for them to get behind. When so much is happening in the development sector at the moment with funding and foreign aid, it was an intense time to push the boundaries. I think I had to just be so strong with this project was important to doing and that for two years I was lucky enough to have a champion in World Vision that was willing to do the fight with me. I did a couple of trips to India and went to see the project. It was a lot. There was so much more to this than any other project I’ve ever done.

I think what I now need to do is to not plan for a little bit. This is the lawyer side in me. I like to plan and I can’t help but get obsessive in that planning process which is why I can do something like this. But I’m planning to do the Western Arthurs hike in January which is very technical hike in Tasmania. I’m doing that with another female endurance athlete. I want to look at kind of collaborating with other female endurance athletes in different types of, I suppose, adventures. I’m doing that in January and then in February I’m doing a multisport event in New Zealand called Coast to Coast.

These are just more light hearted things. I’ve been enjoying multisport hikes, cycling and kayaking now and it’s good to use my body in a different way. Yes, there is a project still in that region that I am interested in doing but I’m not planning anything right now. That part of the world (India) is still fascinating to me and obviously, the Himalayan area.

Ian: Can I ask you, your background as a lawyer? How much help does that give you in what you do now?

Samantha: You don’t need to be a lawyer, but my background helps, also my experience in performing arts. I think the two of them, that capacity for communication, for rational thought, for logistics understanding culture and bureaucracy and obviously, a lot of that was relevant in India.

On the flipside, being a strong independent, and I’m going to put it out there, fiery abrupt woman was also part of the negatives in India. One day there was a bit of a crisis over payments or something and I was being taken advantage of. I should have been calmer but I fired off an abrupt email.

You must change sometimes your style of communication

Ian: Yes, I am sure you do. Well, look, it’s been fascinating to get just a little insight into this journey. Where can people go to get more information? I mean the runindia.org.au website has got a lot of information on there and people can still go there and donate, but is there anything else out there Sam?

Samantha: So, in the runindia.org.au website has a lot of videos and I think the videos captures the imagination of what happened and provides a better insight than me rambling at times.

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BIG RED RUN Australia June 2016 – Entries Open

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Marathon des Sables celebrated 30-years in 2015. An amazing achievement. Just think about it, multi-day racing has been in existence for so many years. It’s a sign of how ultra running and the challenge of testing oneself over long distances and over multiple days is so appealing.

Racing is a word I like to use in a very casual way when I talk about ultra running. After all, only a very few runners can really race an ultra. The real story often is those who test and push themselves to see what is possible, to push a boundary, to achieve something that they thought impossible is what captivates me. Don’t get me wrong, I marvel at the front of the race but I can often feel a little removed from the supreme efforts.

Over recent years, multi-day racing has boomed due to several key factors:

  • It’s an opportunity to travel
  • It’s an opportunity to push boundaries
  • It may well be a once in a lifetime experience
  • It allows you to escape back to our primitive roots of survival and escape a material world
  • It affords an incredible opportunity to socialize with like minded people and create special bonds
  • You get memories that will last a lifetime

Imagine finding all of the above in Australia?

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The Big Red Run is the brainchild of Greg Donovan, a runner who ran the 4 Deserts and then decided he needed a 5th, back home, in Oz.

Taking on the classic multi-day racing format created by Marathon des Sables, runners at the Big Red Run will travel through the Simpson Desert on mainly untracked paths but gear is transported to each night’s camp allowing you travel each day without the burden of a heavy pack.

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Sleeping in tented accommodation for the entire race, the week is topped and tailed with accommodation at the Birsdville Caravan Park or Sports Hall.

Mixing sand dunes, gibber plains, salt lakes, clay flats and several station tracks, the Big Red Run is a true adventure. Camp will be near Big Red for the first 2 nights and on a gibber plain in a dune amphitheater for the next 2 nights. The final camp after the long day is on the Diamantina River just outside of Birdsville.

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Covering the classic distance of 250km in 6-stages the race is a great adventure into the Australian outback. 5 marathons and a long day of 84.39km make up the total distance for the race and if that is too much, a shorter race of 150km is available; The Little Red Run.

As with any race, the after party is a key element. Here in Oz they celebrate properly with a concert. Yes, runners gain entry into the ‘Birdsville Big Red Bash Music Festival’ that coincides with the end of the race.

Attracting a global audience, the Big Red Run in 2016 is inviting past winners to rejoin the race and to increase the competition, 2015 Marathon des Sables ladies champion, Elisabet Barnes will toe the line.

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Entries for this unique experience opened on the 16th September 2015 and places are limited.

I caught up with Greg Donovan, the Big Red Run race organizer in a one-to-one interview to find out about him, his history and of course the Big Red Run – Listen HERE

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Elisabet Barnes needs no introduction to a worldwide or UK audience, her rise in the sport in the past 12-months has been quite incredible. Speaking about the Big Red Run she said:

“I am really excited to be taking part in the Big Red Run. It will be my first time in Australia and getting the opportunity to experience it through a multi-stage desert race is just fantastic. Greg Donovan, the race director, has extensive experience from other multi-stage races around the world and he has created a truly unique event, aiming to offer the best possible experience to the participants. Having heard the feedback from previous entrants I can’t wait to head out to the Simpson Desert!”

Elisabet Barnes at the 2015 Marathon des Sables

Elisabet Barnes at the 2015 Marathon des Sables

In conjunction with Elisabet, iancorless.com is running a multi-day desert training camp in late January that will provide a perfect opportunity to gain information and train specifically for a desert race such as Marathon des Sables or Big Red Run – Details HERE

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Entries close on May 5th for the Big Red Run and all entrants who enter before January 16th will obtain an early bird discount.

Entry details are as follows:

Be sure to get in early and take advantage of the early bird specials outlined below which apply to both Australian and overseas participants!

All competitors and volunteers receive free tickets to the Birdsville Big Red Bash music festival on 5th and 6th July valued at over $300! Festival details to follow in late 2015.

Payment Installments

Register by 31st October 2015 Deposit $500 Balance8th April
Register 1st November 2015 to 16th January 2016 Deposit $1000 Balance 8th April*
Register 17th January 2016 onwards Full entry fee payable  on registration
ENTRIES CLOSE 15TH MAY 2016

* Balance of entry fees will be invoiced and payable by 8th April 2016. Entry fees can be paid by direct transfer or credit card. Credit card payment will incur a 2.5% surcharge.

Early Bird Offers

For all entrants who register BEFORE 16th January 2016

Early Bird extras include

  • $100 entry fee discount
  • Helicopter flight voucher valued at $60
  • Big Red Run fleece valued at $60
  • Big Red Run casual T Shirt valued at $40

Total Early bird extras valued at $260. Early bird packs will be sent by 29th February 2016.

UK and European entrants can find out key information HERE. Pricing is as follows:

Overseas Fundraiser: AUD $2,850
Overseas Non Fundraiser: AUD $3,200

Please use the contact form below to express an interest in the race or book a place.

All images ©alisonstepens / ©bigredrun

Nepal Appeal – #NepalEarthquake

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I have been very fortunate to visit Nepal and work on the Everest Trail Race twice, I hope to return again in 2015.

Nothing can quite prepare you for the beauty of the place, it’s magical in its chaos. But no matter how beautiful the scenery is, the people really are the highlight; so warm, so giving, so generous and they smile… they smile a great deal!

The current tragedy that is facing Kathmandu and all the surrounding areas is heart breaking.

It’s never easy to watch a tragedy unfold and listen to the appeals of charities. I made a donation, I worked on the principal that no matter how much I gave, if we all do the same then it amounts to a bigger total that can be used for good.

It actually took my partner, Niandi, to think of the idea but she said, ‘why don’t you sell images as prints and donate the money?’ 

I then thought of my FACES of NEPAL project. I diid this in November 2014 and the whole series of images are available on my website iancorless.net

The idea was so simple it was beautiful. So, that is what is happening. All the ‘FACES of NEPAL‘ are now available to purchase as a print and prices start from as little as £7.00 for a 6″x4″ paper print. Look at this as adopting a person and helping someone in Nepal in this difficult time. ALL MONEY FROM THE PRINT SALES WILL BE DONATED.

Please view the image gallery HERE

All proceeds will go to OXFAM using the donation page here.

To purchase a print click on the red ‘Buy It’ button and then you will be provided with three options. Paper Prints offer the cheapest solution and prices start at £7.00 for a print.

Many thanks.

NAMASTE

Sir Ranulph Fiennes to run the 2015 Marathon des Sables – Interview

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Ranulph Fiennes (March 7th 1944)

 Sir Ranulph Fiennes has been called, ‘The World’s Greatest Living Explorer.’ It’s a difficult statement to argue. Sir Ranulph’s list of achievements is quite incredible. 

Born in ‘44’ he was educated at Eton, served in the Royal Scots Greys for eight years and progressed to the Special Air Service (SAS) where he specialized in demolitions. In 68’ he joined the Army of the Sultan of Oman where he was decorated for bravery after leading several raids deep into rebel territory.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes Portrait 2012_militaryspeakers

Sir Ranulph Fiennes Portrait 2012_militaryspeakers

Sir Ranulph married his first wife, Virginia (Ginny) in 1970 and between them they lead expeditions all over the world. Ginny was awarded the Polar Medal in ’87.’ Sir Ranulph has raised incredible sums of money for Marie Curie Cancer Charity as his wife, mother and sister all died from the disease within 18 months of each other (2004.)

Currently, Sir Ranulph is the only person alive to have to have travelled around the Earth’s circumpolar surface. Continually a pioneer, Sir Ranulph is ever present at pushing boundaries.

The first explorer to cross the Antarctic Continent unsupported, Sir Ranulph has come a long way since leading a British Expedition on the White Nile in ’69.’

Ran, as he likes to be known, may perhaps be best known after travelling to the North Pole unaided. Dr Mike Stroud has figured heavily in Ran’s career and amongst many expeditions, two stand out! A 97-day trek across Antarctica in ‘93’ and running seven marathons in seven days on seven continents (2003.) The latter was undertaken just four months after a triple heart bypass.

In 2000, Ran attempted to walk solo to the North Pole but his sled fell through thin ice. Exposure to the ice-cold water resulted in severe frostbite and some months later, the famous ‘finger’ incident.

Having been to both Poles and participated in over 30 major expeditions, Ran summited the Eiger in 2007 and at the age of 65 (2009) he pushed the boundaries once more to be the oldest Briton ever to climb Everest after two failed attempts in 2005 (he had a heart attack) and in 2008 when he ‘went a little too quickly’ and exhaustion foiled his attempt.

After 5 years of planning, in 2012, Sir Ranulph set off on his latest expedition, ‘The Coldest Journey’ leading the first team on foot, across Antarctica during the southern winter. The expedition was brought to a sudden halt for Ran when in training he removed a glove to attend to a ski binding. Ran was evacuated for frostbite and treatment but the expedition continued without him.

In 2015, Ran will attempt the 2015 Marathon des Sables.

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Ranulph Fiennes Interview undertaken by Niandi Carmont at ‘The Druid Challenge’ 2-day race in November 2014. An event both Niandi and Sir Ranulph were using as preparation for Marathon des Sables in 2015.

NC: Welcome Sir Ranulph

RF: Many thanks for the invite and showing an interest.

NC: You hold multiple records, I am a little overwhelmed. You were in the army for many years, did that ignite a passion for adventure?

RF: Well when I was in Germany it was the Cold War. We had 60 70-ton tanks facing the German border waiting for the Soviets to attack… but they never did attack. So the soldiers got bored. So, we were made to run, canoe or whatever it may be. I was told I would be the running officer. I wasn’t asked, I was told! I became an expert in a week. I started to train 600 soldiers. We got to be 5th best regiment out of about 80 regiments after 4-years. All the races were 6miles though.

NC: Wow an interesting beginning and somewhat unique. What was it like to be the first person to visit both poles?

RF: Well, it was my late wife Ginny (married 38-years) who motivated me. Before we married we had done various hot expeditions in the Sahara, the Nile and Arabia. In the 70’s the British press were no longer interested in media for hot expeditions. So, no sponsorship equals no expeditions. Ginny decided we should go to cold environments. We looked at a globe and we decided that nobody had gone vertically between the poles. There was only one route!

NC: How long did this take?

RF: It took 7 years to get sponsorship. We had 1900 sponsors and raised 29 million pounds. This was in the 70’s! Nobody paid us to get sponsors so we had to work at weekends in pubs to make a living. Eventually Jennies dream was ready to go… we had a team of 52-people who had given up everything. Engineers and so on… we got a 40-year old Norwegian vessel and set off from Greenwich and arrived back 2.5 years later. We were the first to go around the earth surface vertically around the world ever and nobody else has repeated this. More people have been on the moon! So in all, 10 years!

NC: Amazing that the record still stands. So remarkable! You were the first person to cross Antarctica on foot?

RF: That was the Antarctic Continent? Antarctica changes all the time… I did coastline to coastline: Atlantic to Pacific. We completed the first crossing in ‘79’ but we used skidoos, nonetheless the first crossing side-to-side. But when we crossed the Continent that was 20-years later and that was unsupported. So, what we carried on day-1 was enough for 2000 miles without resupply. That was somewhat problematic but we did do it and we were in a bad way at the end!

NC: Problematic?

RF: We ran out of food! I started at 15.5 stone, at halfway I was 9-stone despite eating 5000 calories a day. So we had a daily deficiency of 3500 calories per day. So, we were officially starving. Mike Stroud thought this was fascinating… he is Europe’s top physiologist studying in starvation and muscle cannibalisation, so he was able to study this first hand. It had only been possible to study something like this previously at Auschwitz!

NC: You had frostbite. Many have heard the stories about you cutting your fingers off. Are they true?

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RF: I got frostbite on a solo expedition to the Arctic Ocean. If I had had a doctor with me he would have pulled me out and got the tent out with a cooker on and avoided the frostbite. As it was, because I was alone by the time I had got out of the water… the damage was done. I was too cold too pitch a tent, start a cooker and so on. It was -48. Think about it, it was pitch black on a semi frozen sea, so I went back to the start to find land again and sent a radio message. An amazing Canadian ski pilot landed in the dark on the edge of the coast and he saved me. I was taken to hospital. I had special pressure treatment for 60-hours to lengthen the living part of the fingers on one hand. They cut off about 2-inches of the five fingers on one hand. The other hand recovered. My insurers refused to pay unless the operation was in the UK. I tried to find someone in the UK who knew something about frostbite. Navy divers are susceptible to the bends and apparently they can lose fingers. Apparently they don’t amputate until after 5-months to allow for some recovery. Five months is a long time. Every time you touch something with mummified fingers it hurts… after 2 months my wife and I decided to cut them off. We went to the garden shed. We got a Black & Decker workbench and micro saw. It took 2 days and lots of tea. Apparently a physio in Bristol said I did a great job but my surgeon was less pleased.

NC: Did it take courage and did it hurt?

RF: No, if it hurt or started to bleed I just moved further away and just made sure the bit I was cutting off was dead. It doesn’t hurt!

NC: In 2009 you summited Everest at the age of 65-years; what impact did age have on you if any?

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RF: This was my 3rd Everest attempt. My 1st attempt had been somewhat risky from the Tibet side and I had a heart attack on the last night after 2-months of acclimatizing. Bad timing eh but I survived! I said I would never go back… but I was told that was a rubbish idea and that I should go from the other side.

So my 2nd attempt was from the Nepal side; which is easier. But we still failed as we passed a load of bodies including the father of my Sherpa. We passed a Swiss climber too who had summited without Oxygen but died on the way down with hypoxia.

In 2009 it was easy… I guess I understand why I had failed the first and second times. I had been trying to catch up with my British guide the second time. Competitiveness can be a bad thing. When you have had a heart attack you must obey your surgeons advice and not exceed 130bpm. So, in 2009 I took it easy and it all came together.

NC: You are obviously endurant and resilient?

RF: When I was in my 50’s I enjoyed running a great deal and I had success. In my 60’s running was no longer an option… I was jogging until about 69-years of age and that was okay, not that I ever went in for races in that decade. Jogging became shuffling and that is very annoying! Avoid geriatric status at all costs.

NC: I agree 100%. You have a great collaboration with Mike Stroud – 26-years?

RF: Mike comes up with all the ideas. For the last 5-years we have been working on an idea that involved Antarctica. Mike unfortunately had a hip problem. In the last couple of years his other hip went, it wasn’t as easy as the first one so Mike took on all the scientific side. In many ways this is more difficult and that is what he is in charge of now. We are still doing things. There was a time when Mike and I didn’t do expeditions; this was after the Antarctic crossing. We did running races. Mike led an Eco-Challenge team, which must have been one of the first in British Columbia in the Whistler Mountains. That was very enjoyable… it was a team of five and it included Rebecca Stephens the first the British lady to summit Everest, his Father who was over 70-years, the editor of Runners World and an SAS man, David Smith. Mike put the team together and introduced all of us back to running in 1995. We have also done many events as a pair such as the 7-marathons on 7-continents.

NC: He is also a friend, It’s more than running surely?

RF: You don’t choose people for expeditions because they are friends. We chose Mike Stroud in the very beginning because I was already in the Arctic. The man I was with was recalled to London and I was left with nobody. I rang my wife in England and said, ‘I need someone in 3-days who is completely ‘polar’ trained.’ Dr Mike Stroud had been a reserve on another expedition and had only just returned from Antarctica after 1-year away. Somehow he pulled it off… he managed to come away on a 3-day turnaround.

NC: You obviously relied on your wife a great deal.

RF: Absolutely! Since my wife has passed away, Mike has taken on the ‘idea’ role.

NC: Can we discuss the 7-marathons in 7-days on 7-continents?

RF: Mikes’ idea again! The New York marathon club considered themselves the best marathon club in the world. The only non New Yorker as part of this group was Dr Mike Stroud. They swore him to silence that they thought it may be possible to run 7-marathons on 7-continents in 7-days. Mike kept his word and 2-years later, Mike approached American Airlines and they said they couldn’t schedule the flights. (You need jumbo jets and 5-hours in each continent.) Delta said they couldn’t do it. United said they couldn’t do it and now 6-years had passed. It was 2003 and Mike had still kept the secret. I called Mike in 2003 about another expedition. He said great, I’ll ask the boss. They told him he could only have 1-week’s holiday as he taken so much time already. Mike phoned me and said, I can’t do your expedition but I want you to do mine! So, Mike asked me to contact British Airways and within 2-months they phoned back and said they had cracked it! They said we had to finish with New York and not Asia. Asia would need to be in the middle. Also, if we were a minute late ever they would fly without us. They wouldn’t keep passengers waiting. So, they provided 2 free first class beds and food (this was our only opportunity to rest) and yes, it was all systems go! It all went well to Argentina. We were suppose to be running on King George Island (Shetland), the night before we were due to run the ‘Argies’ blocked the landing on King George with their own planes. So we had a team meeting, Mike and myself, BBC news, a reporter from The Times and a photographer: 6-people in total. When we suddenly arrived the whole thing had been cocked up, the BBC bloke said, “I’ve got a very good friend in Santiago, I will ring him now and get him here and he will fly us to one of the other Antarctic Islands.” So we had to run one of the South American marathons locally. That night we ran a marathon and we had officials to make sure we ran an official marathon in 3:45, which was extremely stupid. The next morning we get on this plane without a worry of which island we would go to. Apparently the only island to run on would be the Falklands. You may know, but you are not supposed to fly from Argentina to the Falklands without 6-months notice. So we slept on the plane. Mike woke me up and we looked out of the plane window. We had two Tornado jets on either side of us… they made us do a force landing on a military airstrip on the Falklands. We were marched to the CO who was furious. He told us we had no permission and that we could all face prison. At this point, one of the reporters went forward and said, “Did they realise that the news and the papers would make this not look good for the army!” There was a fairly quick turnaround…

“You can run your 26. something miles locally and we will watch them every step of the way,” The CO said.

They never saw us off. Funny really.

NC: This seems extremely stressful. Running, logistics, last min changes and so on.

RF: The BBC and The Times did all that for us.

NC: Yes, but it must have been stressful.

RF: The 7x7x7 challenge was sponsored by Land Rover and they did everything for us. It was incredible. They did all the work for us and they had cars waiting for us at anytime. Land Rover and British Airways made this all possible. They had the contacts.

NC: Before the 7-challenge you had a heart attack and a double bypass. It’s amazing that you would undertake this.

RF: I was on a drip for 3-days and nights, they decided to cut me open and do a double bypass. They just decided to do this! It took 13 attempts to revive me after they sewed me up. When I woke up my late wife said, “Ran you had a heart attack 3-days ago” but I still can’t remember anything!

NC: You aborted your most recent expedition, is that the end of cold journeys for you now?

RF: We aborted the crossing but we kept the team (all 5 of them) not Mike and not me through frostbite, but we kept all the team for 8-months at 11,000 feet above sea level doing scientific work on each other. It has delighted the Royal Society and all the scientists, we raised 2.3 million dollars for blindness in Bangladesh and I went with Joanna Lumley to Bangladesh to see what they were doing with the money. For £19 they could remove cataracts from babies. Quite remarkable! For £9 they could provide spectacles to children. This means they can go to school and have opportunities in the future. We really need charity PR people to get behind us, the more money we make, the more people we can benefit.

NC: What does the future hold for you?

RF: Well, I am not allowed to talk about this until I get the nod, but I will be going to Marathon des Sables in 2015. And I am also writing another book. One book actually came out last week.

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Get involved and support Sir Ranulph! Text RUN and a message of support to 70007 to donate £5, or you can visit his Just Giving page here:http://bit.ly/1xUB298

Find out more about Sir Ranulph and his Marathon des Sables challenge:http://bit.ly/1wvffi8

NC: Can you tell me about Agincourt, your most recent book?

Agincourt

 

Book on Amazon HERE

RF: A historian would normally write a book like Agincourt… but it turns out that I am related to Robert Fiennes from the village of Fiennes in the Pas de Calais.

NC: What an amazing story?

Niandi speaks French to Sir Ranulph and he is taken aback. He also speaks French and they enter into a short dialogue. 

Sir Ranulph comments that he could hear an accent in Niandi’s voice but not French! Niandi explains that she is South African born…

NC: So you lived in South Africa?

RF: Yes, my relatives live in South Africa. I spent the first 12-years of my life in SA.

Anyway, we digress. I decided to go to Fiennes and find my French cousins. They were wiped out at the battle of Agencourt and I found out how. One of them was part of an 18-strong commando group with the specific aim of killing King Henry V in the battle. One of them, maybe not Robert Fiennes, got to knocking the crown of his head… Two of King Henry V’s generals, one was a sheriff of Kent in Sussex. He was corrupt man; so corrupt that Henry V1 made him into the Chancellor of the Exchequer. When soldiers came back from France, 20,000 of them attacked London. The King gave the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the mob and they killed him… nasty business!

NC: I guess we are going to have to read the book. Sounds like a fascinating story. Looking at modern day adventurers, what are your thoughts on Uli Steck and Kilian Jornet?

RF: Uli is amazing, incredible… I do not understand how you can go up the Eiger in 2-hours or something ridiculous like that. He is unbelievably amazing. Both of them are just incredible.

NC: And what about your new book, what is it called?

RF: My new book will be called HEAT. Nice contrast to my other book, COLD.

“Physically I’m going to be a wreck pretty quickly.” But these challenges are fought in the mind, he says. “There’ll be a voice in my head saying I’ll have a heart attack, I’ll get hyperthermia, I’ve got a family, it’s stupid to carry on. That sort of wimpish voice tries to appear logical, finding reasons for stopping. You have to fight it. I’ve had it so many times.”

-BBC News, Tom de Castella

 

Cold

On Amazon HERE

Sir Ranulph Fiennes will participate at the 2015 Marathon des Sables. An announcememt will be made on January 8th. We hope to have follow up interviews with Sir Ranulph to help document this exciting journey.

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AWARDS

In 1970, Fiennes received the Sultan’s Bravery Medal.

He has also been awarded a number of honorary doctorates, in 1986, 1995, 2000, 2002, 2005, 2007 and 2011

Fiennes received the Royal Geographical Society’s Founder’s Medal.

Fiennes was appointed Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 1993 for “human endeavour and for charitable services”

In 1986 Fiennes was awarded the Polar Medal for “outstanding service to British Polar exploration and research.”

In 1994 he was awarded a second clasp to the Polar Medal, having visited both poles.

In 2010 Justgiving named Fiennes as the UK’s top celebrity fundraiser, after raising more than £2.5 million for Marie Curie Cancer Care.

In September 2011 Fiennes was awarded an honorary Doctorate in Science from Plymouth University and

In July 2012 he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship from the University of Glamorgan.

In October 2014 it was announced that Fiennes would receive an honorary Doctorate of Science, from the University of Chester, in recognition of “outstanding and inspirational contribution to the field of exploration”. 

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Links and credits:

‘I am not a madman’

http://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2007/oct/05/features11.g21

Fiennes climbs to Everest summit

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8060649.stm

Ranulph Fiennes pulls out of Antarctic journey

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2013/02/25/ranulph-fiennes-antarctic-journey/1946571/?AID=10709313&PID=6156889&SID=w7wk81lnnmpn

The world’s greatest living explorer

http://www.militaryspeakers.co.uk/speakers/sir-ranulph-fiennes.aspx

Interview with TIME

http://content.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1900969,00.html?imw=Y

Ranulph Fiennes – Wikipedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ranulph_Fiennes

Who, What, Why: Is it harder to run in the Sahara Desert or the North Pole?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-30716727

FAILURE! Isn’t an option – Robert Portal attempts the 29th Marathon des Sables

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA It doesn’t happen everyday does it… an actor with a career spanning back to 1992 taking on the challenge of the Marathon des Sables; arguably one of the most iconic multiday races in the world.

Bertie (Robert) Portal however is not shy of a challenge or putting himself way out of his comfort zone. In 2012, along with James Cash, Bertie crossed the Atlantic in 63-days and in doing so raised £350,000 for ‘Facing the World Association.’

‘…the idea of setting foot again on another waterborne vessel, let alone our boat, Patience, fills me with dread and horror.’ Bertie explained in a Telegraph interview (Feb 2012).

Swapping water for sand, Bertie will attempt the 29th edition of the iconic ‘MDS’ and his journey begins on April 3rd. I was intrigued; what had attracted an actor who has appeared in some modern day blockbusters such as, The Iron Lady, My week with Marilyn and The Kings Speech to leave the comfort of ‘Blighty’ behind for a week of self-sufficiency in the Sahara? After all, reduced food and water rations, sharing a bivouac with 7-others, oh, and the small matter of running approximately 250 km’s wouldn’t appeal to everyone?

I caught up with Bertie in the final days before his departure for Morocco, for the first of several interviews that will help document Bertie’s journey into the unknown.

MDS Logo

IC Bertie, you are renowned for your acting career, what has attracted you to the Marathon des Sables, it’s going to be a little different to what you are used to!

BP People ask me this all the time and I often give different answers, however, as an actor I spend my professional life in someone else’s clothes, speaking someone else’s lines and being told where to stand and what to do… these events are me being me! Facing a challenge, it’s what I enjoy. I also enjoy facing the elements, be that the Atlantic of the Sahara on its own terms to see what it has to offer.

IC Is this something that has come to you later in life or have you always been interested in testing yourself in sport?

BP Fair to say I have pushed the envelope recently! However, I have done marathons, triathlons and swum to keep fit. I found that when I did the Atlantic, we were halfway across in a storm and I thought if I get out of this, I will do something land based. The Sahara fits the bill!

IC MDS has a reputation. It’s one of the oldest, if not THE oldest multiday races. It’s on many a runners bucket list, for you, the contrasts between the Atlantic and the Sahara will be extreme. When did you start preparing?

BP I have been training for about 18-months specifically. Ultra marathons are very different from doing a ‘normal’ marathon of 26.2-miles, so, doing longer runs of 30 or 40-miles have been a great eye opener. The thought of doing them back-to-back is very different; running on tired legs is something you need to adapt to. I have done lots of that; I don’t take this lightly! I think the MDS will be more painful physically than the Atlantic as it is more compacted in terms of time.

IC I guess 18-months ago you were just getting consistency in running. When did you start being very specific; placing an emphasis on MDS and doing specifics that will allow you to run in the Sahara?

BP I have been training with a pack for quite a long time. I availed myself of the services of Rory Coleman, he has done MDS 10-times and he helps out people with coaching. He set me a program and I have followed it. I went to Wales a month ago, we had a weekend program of running in dunes. It was a nightmare! I hated it… it’s grueling, debilitating, energy sapping, exhausting and depressing to be honest. It was a big eye opener and I found it incredibly hard. I am under no illusions of what to expect. Recently I have been in a heat chamber and I have 2-more sessions to do before we depart. That was horrible too!

IC Aaagh, you are really looking forward to the MDS then? (Laughs)

BP The heat chamber was just a small room. Quite claustrophobic, so it’s not ideal, however, it serves a purpose. You just want to get out of the room but you can’t. Lots of people are watching so you can’t ‘wuss’ out.

IC You will learn from anyone that has done MDS that heat sessions in the final days before departure are a great thing to do. It can be a savior to have that adjustment done before arriving in Morocco. Let’s go back a month ago if I may… the dunes, I guess you wanted experience and also a confidence boost. Do you now have a sense of dread of what the MDS holds?

BP The weekend was 2-days; Saturday was dunes and Sunday was a little different. I felt a little down after the first day but running up a mountain on day-2 was much better. I have also been told that dunes only make a small part of the MDS. The terrain is quite compact, hard, and rocky at times and we have salt flats to cover so that is good, we have a bit of everything! Dune day sounds like it will be day-1 so I shall grit my teeth and push through it.

IC Yes, you are correct. Dunes only usually make about 20% of the race route. However, the dunes take longer to get through because of the difficulty. What are you most fearful of?

BP Not finishing! It’s a fear of failure… far more than the heat, dehydration and so on. I think I can control those things. I need to look after myself. Personal admin is important. If I have my head screwed on that will be okay. However, I will have unknowns, maybe the medical team could pull me out of the race. I would hate that. All I can do is look after myself as best I can and don’t start too quickly. I need to enjoy the experience. I am so looking forward to it.

IC If you look at the race objectively; completion over competition, It is a great attitude to have. Cut-off times are very generous so you can slow down and still finish. Have you thought about this?

BP Well I set myself goals and I like to do things to the best of my ability otherwise I don’t see much point in doing them! I want to be the best that I can be. I’m in the middle I think; I won’t win but I want to give the best account of myself.

IC With a couple of days over and once familiarized, you will then be able to asses and decide if you can test yourself. You will know at that point how you feel and how you are reacting.

Bivouac will be interesting; an open tent with 7-other people. For me, it’s an attraction. You do have a celebrity status do you think at MDS you will be recognized?

BP I’m always ‘another’ person! I love these events because I can get away… no e-mail, no phones, I am away from all the humdrum day-to-day routine and I love that.

IC You have appeared in The Kings Speech, My week with Marilyn, The Iron Lady; they are all films about strong individuals. They are all characters that have overcome diversity, pressures and so on that have used strength of character to survive. Can you take anything away from the real life situations and apply that to the MDS?

BP Gosh! I don’t think so… my film life and my adventure life are so different. My actor mates and directors just don’t understand what I do. I was about to row the Atlantic when I did ‘Marilyn,’ my peers just didn’t get it. So, I don’t intertwine the two things at all. You are correct though; the films were about strong people. It’s the first time I have ever thought of it… it’s a great question. I will need to go away and think about it! Ask me on day-3 of the race.

IC How has training gone for you, are you confident, can you maybe give us an idea what a training week has looked like?

BP If I am honest, I was at my fittest in October last year. I was doing 3-day ultra runs. A normal week would be as follows: Monday, power hour on a treadmill – this is 4mins at pace and then sprint for 1-min and repeat. It’s horrible but gets your speed up. I may run a 5km the next day, 10km the day after and then on Thursday I would do a long run in the park. Richmond Park is my ‘killing ground’ and this is where I do my entire running. It has some nice hills! Then I would race at the weekend, a marathon or an ultra.

IC Okay, so how many races have you done in the build up?

BP Lots! I must have done somewhere in the region of 20 marathons in the last 11-months.

IC Wow, that is great. That’s lots of racing.

BP I have always ticked over. A typical year for me would include what I call the ‘Big-5.’ That would be 2-half marathons before London, London marathon and then another couple of other events. I am also a swimmer; I do that throughout the year. So I have a good base.

IC Tell us about your equipment. I am sure you have been through everything, weighing it and looking at options. Are you taking any luxuries?

BP I am looking at my bag now. I had problems with packs. I was going to use one pack but I found it too small, I just couldn’t fit everything in so I have changed it recently to something a little larger. I can’t run on nuts and air! (Laughter). My luxuries are ‘sweeties’ such as jellybeans, cola bottles and so on. I have a few gels but they can make me run to the bushes… not many of those in the Sahara! I have kept luxuries to a minimum; I see this as 7-days and 7-days only, I can get through that!

IC What is your pack weight?

BP About 9kg I believe.

IC You will need to add water to that?

BP Yes, I will add water and that is provided. I have packed food that I had left over from the Atlantic and I have trimmed packets, cords, and other items to reduce any weight. The food packets are useful as I can eat out of them.

IC You will take a stove then?

BP Yes.

IC Do you have any words of wisdom or is that only something you can pass on after the experience?

BP I think there is only so much you can do. You can train, you can prepare and you can plan but you can’t actually prepare for running in 45 degrees other than doing it. It’s no sprint; it’s what I call the Sahara shuffle.

IC You have the physical and mental strength to last 63-days in the Atlantic. I am sure you will be able to draw from that experience and apply it in the Sahara.

BP Yes, I do have lots to call on and I am grateful for that experience. I had some horrible moments. When things get tough, I will think to myself, it’s only 7-days. My father said, ‘you can doing anything for 7-days.’ However, I don’t think my dad has done MDS! (Laughter)

IC In the Atlantic you broke your oars and you bobbed around in the water for 7-days unable to move… ironically you could have run MDS in those 7-days.

BP Absolutely! Thank you for that. I will think on that whilst I am in the Sahara.

(Laughter)

See you in the Sahara!

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Information

 A race preview of the 29th edition of the MDS is available HERE

MDS hints ‘n’ tips from 3x ladies winner, Laurence Klein HERE

 

Links:

Bertie will be raising money for Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity (Facebook Here)

To make an individual donation, please visit: uk.virginmoneygiving.com/Blazing-a-Trail
Or send cheques payable to Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity to: 
6 Cleeve Court, Cleeve Road, Leatherhead, Surrey, KT22 7UD

Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity website – HERE

Go to ‘Blazing a Trail’ on Facebook – HERE

Follow Bertie’s MDS experience on www.iancorless.com and on Twitter @talkultra

Images from ©IMDB

Atlantic Crossing in The Telegraph – Here

White Flow Nepal – Fernanda Maciel #ETR13

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Kalaish Children’s Home – Himalayan Youth Foundation

 You can read this article translated by Fernanda Maciel into Spanish HERE©copyright .iancorless.com.©iancorless.com549

Thirty minutes, that is all it took to depart from Lukla, the trails and mountains of the Himalayas replaced by the noise and frantic activity of Kathmandu. To say that the Everest Trail Race had been an experience would be an underestimation. I have been extremely fortunate to travel to some beautiful places and follow some incredible races in the past couple of years, but the ETR, Nepal and the visual splendor of Everest and its sister peaks was a joy to behold.

As a photographer (amongst other things), Nepal was always going to tick several boxes on so many levels. I love to see culture, people and the life of a place unfold before my eyes and if I get things right, I hope to capture that in images. The diversity of the region; noise, congestion, and the buzz of Kathmandu, to the open trails and the simple pleasures of the Khumbu region was an experience that I will take with me forever. I will return to Nepal but it will be different next time. It will never be like the first time, the first time is unique.

As we landed in Kathmandu, runners and staff from the ETR started to say, ‘it’s over’. I couldn’t disagree more. We had a day and a half before our respective journey’s home and in that time I wanted to make the most of what was on offer.

A trip down Tamil Street to experience the banter, buzz and shopping experiences of a Bazaar is always a great experience. Here in Kathmandu it was no different. Like a step back in time, I bantered and bargained for the ‘best’ price on presents and souvenirs for loved ones at home.

The final day arrived. It’s a very definite thing the word ‘final’. I wanted to ensure that my final day was the start of something else and to that end I was elated to be involved in White Flow Nepal.

Fernanda Maciel, ladies winner of the Everest Trail Race and second placed finisher overall had asked me several months ago would I be involved in this project. It all came about in a pre-race interview for the ETR (here).

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Fernanda, following on from her White Flow Brazil project decided to utilize her free time in Nepal and in conjunction with the *‘Mountaineers for Himalayas Foundation’ (www.mount4him.org), Fernanda created White Flow Nepal with a primary aim to help the children at Kalaish Children’s Home.

The Kailash Hostel (www.hfy-us.org) is operated by the Himalayan Children’s Foundation. The ‘HCF’ is a Nepali charity organization who provides education and care to underprivileged children. Currently, 92-children are homed at Kalaish.

Evicted from three rental buildings, the children at Kalaish have been provided with a home due to donations and charitable endeavors. These donations allowed HCF to build a completely new hostel consisting of three buildings, a dining/administration room, boy’s dorm and girls dorm. Located in the quiet valley of Gorkarna just outside the center of Kathmandu, they have created a secure and stable environment for the children. The buildings were inaugurated by the US Ambassador to Nepal in 2007.

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Education, healthcare, extra-curricular activities, a vegetable garden, music, dance, swimming, and mountaineering all provided to the children who come from the remotest parts of mountain villages in Nepal with an emphasis placed on children from the Tibetan border region. The main reason for this has been the lack of facilities on offer for the children in these remote areas. For example, the nearest school was a three to four hours walk away. Children are accepted from 5-7 years old and are cared for until they graduate. It’s an incredibly warm, welcoming and happy environment.

Fernanda wanted to provide some assistance, no matter how small. So armed with bags of clothes and with assistance from Overstims, Compressport and The North Face, Fernanda provided essential items to help facilitate the day-to day experiences of the children of Kalaish Children’s Home.

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Our experience started at Hotel Shanker, we were picked up by staff from the school and joined by several of the older students. Departing from the center of Kathmandu we ran through the chaotic streets to the hostel in Gorkarna. Weaving in and around the traffic, passing homes, shops and farmland, we progressed along the 7km route and children from the school joined us at different stages. The closer we were to our arrival, the younger the children became until the final 200m when we where joined by the youngest!

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It was quite an experience! The joy, the laughter, the cheers and most importantly, the smiles, made every step of this run a wonderful step to something more positive. I could see a bigger picture and after all I had experienced in the past 12 to 13 days I could see it all making sense in this final journey. We were doing something very small that was making and creating a massive impact.

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At the school, Fernanda was welcomed like a queen. A banner had been placed on an external school wall congratulating her on her ETR victory. On the school playing field the children formed a large circle and then under the instruction of the ETR ladies champion, they all performed some simple stretches.

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Inside the dining/ community room a surprise awaited. Once a month, birthdays are celebrated and today an extra cake had been made, one for Fernanda. Joining the ‘top table’, Fernanda blended in perfectly. Grinning like a small child, Fernanda embraced the celebrations and when it came to celebrating, she followed tradition by smearing some cake on the children’s faces. In a place were food is such a precious commodity, it was wonderful to see the children, irrespective of age, allowed to be children.

The whole experience was rewarding, uplifting and reassuring. Nepal and its people are special. Amongst the beauty and diversity I witnessed great extremes. Poverty on a scale I have not witnessed before and this was contrasted by some of the most dramatic and beautiful scenery I have had the pleasure to witness. The Kalaish Children’s Home and other places like this are the very very tip of the iceberg. They don’t even make a dent in the very apparent social issues that are so clearly present within the whole of Nepal. But, every little helps. In spite of this, I have the found the people, irrespective of wealth or social standing, the most welcoming, generous and friendly of all I have met. I leave Nepal not with something coming to an end, but with a beginning. I witnessed on the face of each and every child that our ‘disposable’ items could generate happiness, warmth and pleasure. It’s time to look within and think, ‘what can I do to help?’ Believe me, the donation of clothes, toys, books, writing materials or a donation of say £10 literally can make a huge difference.

I sincerely thank Fernanda Maciel, the staff and the children from Kalaish Children’s Home for providing me with the opportunity to experience something that will allow me the opportunity to look within and find a way to help in the future.

Namaste

Would you like to help? Why not donate to one of the faces Kalaish HERE make a payment to Paypal account: iancorless@mac.com all proceeds will go to the Kalaish Children’s Home.

Fernanda Maciel – Here

*Mountaineers for the Himalaya’s Foundation is a private, non-political, non-profit making, non-religious and non-governmental organization created by Mountaineers to help and assist children in remote and mountainous regions of Nepal, Pakistan, Tibet, India and Bhutan.

Contact

Himalayan Youth Foundation – UK

18 Holeyn Hall Roade

Wylam

Northumberland

NE41 8BB

Tel 0044 1661 852278

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