In 2020 the world changed forever. The challenges of social distancing, self-isolation and lockdowns were tough for us all, and for long distance runners it was a nightmare. Australia, by virtue of its isolation and vast spaces, has been spared the worst effects of the pandemic, while most global communities still wrestle with the impact of Covid-19.
Appropriate then that Australia served as the unique backdrop for a most unusual event – a relay footrace from Broken Hill to the lighthouse at Cape Byron (Australia’s most easterly point) – from the red dirt outback to the blue Pacific Ocean. For the very first time, this ultra-race between two international teams tackled 1000 miles in just 10 days, crossing terrain that will test limits of endurance, commitment and determination.
Created by athlete Pat Farmer, 1000 Miles to Light is helping raise awareness about the activities of Reach Out – an organisation committed to supporting young people suffering mental health issues and to raise funding for its charitable activities.
Now more than ever, the importance of making healthy lifestyle choices for ourselves and for our shared environment has become critical. The 1000 Miles to Light event has showcased how much can actually be achieved by every one of us.
Together we’re capable of achieving great things.
We sat down with Pat Farmer to hear first hand what 1000 Miles to Light meant to him and the hopes he has for the future.
Pat Farmer is the only man to have run from the North Pole to the South Pole, traversing the polar ice caps, the infamous Darien Jungle, North America, Central America and South America and is the author of Pole to Pole: One Man 20 Million Steps.
Pat still holds the fastest time across the Simpson Desert and has run through the hottest conditions on earth and the coldest. With a career spanning 35 years, Pat has also raced across America twice, run the length of Vietnam, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Palestine and has competed in numerous 24-hour, 48-hour and 6-day races.
Pat was inspired by Cliff Young, famous for the Sydney to Melbourne races and, just like Cliff, Pat believes nothing is impossible. In 2012, Pat was named Adventurer of the Year. He was also a federal politician between 2001 and 2010 and is now a director of Sport Australia.
We were fortunate enough to gain some insight into Pat's inspiration for the event, his ambitions and the like long friends he has made throughout the 1000 Miles to Light Event.
What inspired you to create the 1000 Miles to Light event in the midst of a global pandemic?
Now, more than ever, we need to shine a light of hope for those people feeling disillusioned by the lockdown and disorientated by the lack of opportunities, especially young people who have only just found their first job, only to find that it was taken away from them.
There was a memorial trophy for the winning team that was dedicated to a dear friend of the Sydney running community, who sadly found himself in a dark place suffering depression and consequently took his life early last year, due to his inability to be around other people. That is why I was so determined to make this event happen and to win.
How was this endurance event different to those you completed in the past? What made it so special for you?
I recognised that to make an ultramarathon interesting, it needed to have more than one layer of runner. I decided to have a team of four and to run these four athletes in relay with the handing over of a baton every 5kms.
This baton is a message stick that was carved and designed by two indigenous artists in Broken Hill (Wiljaali), Anthony Hayward and Taya Biggs . We carried this every step of the way to symbolise our respect for the aboriginal nations that we would have run through from Broken Hill to Byron Bay. Even though the route changed, our commitment never did.
From strangers, to life long friends, how do you feel 1000 Miles to Light brought you together?
The runners from both Australia and America forged a friendship during the course of the event as they battled it out, acknowledging the strength and tenacity of their opponents. We were all there for a common cause and we have nothing but admiration for each other, pushing us on and helping us to achieve our best.
We received an enormous amount of messages of support from people that really did see this as a light shining for them and an opportunity for them to focus on something positive in their life, especially during the lockdowns Australia is experiencing.
2,721 virtual runners participated in the event through Running Heroes, running a total distance of 118,630kms in 10 days. The 500 army trainees on base at Singleton Lone Pine Barracks were also inspired by the efforts of the runners and their relentless pursuit. The event was covered by mainstream media, including the Today Show and the Sydney Morning Herald, which meant that people, from a distance, were uplifted and inspired to achieve their own fitness goals.
What does the future look like for 1000 Miles to Light?
I’ve always said that I want to grow this event into the biggest ultramarathon in the southern hemisphere. I cut my teeth on the Sydney to Melbourne race, and it was renowned as the biggest ultra in the world, at the time. It attracted the best ultra-runners from all four corners of the planet. Sadly, it stopped and created a void for those who can run incredibly long distances.
1000 Miles to Light is here to fill that void and encourage international runners to compete on Australian soil.
In 2022, I hope to have 10 teams from around the globe participating in this event. I also intend to host a qualifying event in each state and territory, with a grand finale of the best teams from each state going head-to-head to determine who will represent Australia in 1000 Miles to Light, against the world, next year.
Team Australia & Team USA have given a personal insight to the lead up and achievement of completing this race.
"Leading up to the race I was nervous as hell, seeing big names like Dean Karnazes and Pat Farmer, I felt out of my depth, fearing that I might let the team down or not live up to expectations.
I’m grateful to the people around me who had faith in me when I didn’t have it in myself, shoutout to 2XU, Dan Price & Alex at the Running Room. Preparation included high weekly mileage, increasing strength training, and managing niggles like achilles tendinopathy and ITB.
I’m proud to say that I ran strong, smiling throughout and my confidence grew with each passing day of 40km. Highlights include the relationships built with all the athletes, the entire support crew, and the Australian Army who were incredible in providing the logistical backing.
Getting kudos from Karno who called me the ‘She-Beast’ was a standout.
This event has given me confidence in tackling more endurance races. Pat Farmer has been a huge mentor to me, the man is a legend. I’ve learned a lot about myself, mostly that I am capable of so much more than I think I am, we all are!!"
"My preparation for the run occurred during the NSW lockdowns. I was fortunate enough to have a treadmill at home and so I was able to train in 5km intervals with a 30 min rest time in between to simulate what I would go through in the actual event.
I’m fortunate to live in a nice part of the world close to Bouddi national park and on every second day, I would run trails close to home.
One of the biggest highlights during the event for me was when Captain Annie Richardson was inspired so much by our efforts that she decided to try and run a marathon herself on one of the days – even though she had never run further than 5kms herself before. She succeeded, although she acknowledged that it was the toughest thing she had ever done and she contributed that success to the motivation she got from watching us toil away each day."
"In preparing for 1000 Miles to Light, I was excited & nervous at what the event involved both physically & mentally. Physically, I increased my weekly mileage & incorporated heavy weights to strengthen my legs against the muscle & bone trauma they were going to endure. My nutritionist Lisa made sure I was packing a punch with all essential food groups and supplements such as AdvaCal Forte for extra strong bones.
To strengthen the mindset, I read ultra running books, listened to podcasts, swam in the cold ocean, did hard speed work with Rejoov & RITD, ran a few marathons plus the iconic Westmac Monster 65k in hot conditions on the tough Larapinta Trail. The true test arrived from Day One, with being able to back up 40k a day for 10 days on various tricky routes, mainly off-road in the bush.
This event for ReachOut mental health changed me forever and provided me with lifelong friends between team Oz, USA, The Army, the Camera Crew & the Physios. I believe in the message of light, hope and resilience more than ever. The highlights which I’m forever grateful for and want to inspire in others are that:
we can lift ourselves to new levels and achieve in the toughest of times, more than we know just by giving it a go. Run off your fears & losses, run with passion, run for your cause. This spurred me on in the pain cave.
humans are resilient. We are capable of burying ourselves, recovering and backing up the next day.
we gain so much strength, energy and compassion from others. The hugs & conversations really did give me wings.
the camera and those behind it share your story in such an enriching, soulful way
music, dancing & cheering ignited us to keep going
the Army support and their band was amazing, the power of their cheer squad and Army runners jumping in for a lap was monumental!!
smiling helps overcome the most difficult moments from within and for those around you.
Don’t be afraid to think big, act on it to the best of your ability and enjoy the feeling of achievement for yourself & for others.
"1000 Miles to Light, the visionary of Pat Farmer. Bringing 8 runners together, 4 Australian and 4 American to race in relay form was something magical to be part of. 40km a day, every day for 10 days in a 5km relay form, became more than just a race for us. We became united all with a common goal and quest to reach the finish line in our own individual ways, but together.
Travelling from South Australia to New South Wales for this event was somewhat easy for me, the returning home to SA via quarantine proved more difficult. It occurred to me just a few days out from this event that I unknowingly been preparing for the past 5 years. When I began a running streak with my wife, running 5km a day every day. Combined with some solid speed work and many longer runs, and the backing from a brand that made me 2X me. I don’t think I could have been better prepared to take on this challenge.
The highlight of this event for me was not so much the event itself but the aftermath, the lasting friendships that continue to run, beyond the finish line."
"Leading up to the 1000Miles To Light race my training was 50% physical 50% mental. I was running 75-100 miles per week and then, due to the pandemic, all of Team USA had a 14 day hotel isolation once we hit AUS. This was mentally taxing and treadmill running is not ideal for race preparations. However, we came- we ran- and we all finished together which was our primary team goal. During the race we had every possible added challenge thrown at us they could muster (isolation in one area with repeat 5k loop courses 10 days in a row, military rules and schedules to abide by, non-athlete food and beverages instead of our performance based nutrition, cold weather and some rain, complex human dynamics under stress, film crew documenting our experience, no outside work contact) and still we prevailed. It was a true test of the human spirit, proving once again that hope, resiliency and unity can make the impossible reality."
"Some experiences cannot be told, they must be lived. This was certainly one such odyssey."
"My experience at 1000 Miles to Light was complex and awesome and beautiful and deep. And all the feels. I came away from 1000 Miles to Light with a connected family of humans. And it was beautiful to witness us all go through our own challenges using the vehicle of running to do so. I know that I'll carry these relationships with me for the rest of my life because of the uniqueness of what we went through. My experience was mostly relational, and the running was secondary and for that, I am so grateful."
"This event for me was life changing. Not so much for the travel and the running, although that was great, but for the friends made over those 10 days."
With finish lines reached, everlasting friendships made and stories of individuals realising their own potential but more importantly collectively reaching our potential, 2XU looks forward to the future of 1000 Miles to Light.
Photos by Bradley Farley
ReachOut was chosen to be the event’s beneficiary as a result of the important work they do to support young people experiencing mental health difficulties.
With the challenges of the pandemic and the extended lockdowns negatively impacting mental health, ReachOut’s services are in high demand, now more than ever.
Money raised for ReachOut: $72,416 and rising
About 1000 Miles to Light
The inaugural 1,000 Miles to Light event took place from August 14 – 23, 2021, bringing together eight of the world’s best ultramarathon runners to compete in a 1000-mile race.
Comprised of two teams – Australia versus America – each team of four athletes set out to run a total distance of 1,000 miles (1,600kms) in ten days.
Initially the event was to run from Broken Hill to Byron Bay, however, due to the pandemic, changes were made to the race route and the event took place at Singleton Military Area.