By TOM HAYES
COULD you imagine trotting across a desert in 30 degree heat? Not me.
Traralgon local Blake Bourne has recently returned from his trip to the Simpson Desert, with memories both good and bad.
Bourne set out to attempt to break the world record of running 380 kilometres across the Simpson Desert in less than three days and eight hours, a record set by Pat Farmer in 1998.
To cut to the chase, Bourne’s attempt was unsuccessful, yet has emerged from the experience with a handful of new lessons and the will to want to try again.
“It’s one of those things where I’ve invested so much time and energy into it, to fall short is a bit of a kick in the guts,” Bourne said.
“I would’ve preferred to be back here knowing I’ve gone the distance, now that I’m back I just want to get back out there again and finish it off.
“But, I believe regardless of the outcome we were still able to make some positive change, so I think that’s awesome.”
While attempting to break a 25-year-old record, Bourne’s main cause was to raise money for mental health via the Black Dog Institute.
The Black Dog Institute is a not-for-profit facility for diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mood disorders such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder.
Talking to Bourne, in February, he spoke on his own mental health battles that he faced in the past.
“I’ve been through a few mental health battles myself,” Bourne told The Express in February.
“I’ve seen mates go through the same thing and watched mates lose people to suicide.
“The impact and seeing how it affect their lives, I don’t want anyone else to go through that pain, so I’m doing this to hopefully spark some change and bring those numbers back down because they’re not looking good.”
The lead up to the run did not hold Bourne back mentally, but perhaps physically.
Between February and July, Bourne suffered multiple injuries that he believes disrupted his preparation, but they weren’t going to stop him from trying.
He had been suffering from hip pain since the start of the year, before a calf tear during training.
“I tore my calf during a 64-kilometre run … the next month or so was where I was going to peak, I was going to do three 100-kilometre runs back-to-back-to-back, and I couldn’t,” Bourne said.
“Leading into the run, the most I’d ran was probably about 10 kilometres.
“It definitely had an effect on my fitness levels, like my resting heart rate when I was running was a lot higher than it was typically, and that probably effected the heat stroke and things like that.”
Bourne set off on his journey, beginning at 4am on Thursday, August 3.
He pulled the pin a little over two days later, after running 203.2 kilometres in 53 hours and 33 minutes – almost the length of five marathons.
“My body shutdown, so I couldn’t lift my feet at all, I was running and I could lift my legs but not my feet – which worked okay on the flats and the downhills, but to climb up the dunes I couldn’t push up,” Bourne admitted.
Bourne began strongly, as his pace within the first seven hours was 20 hours ahead of schedule, meaning that if he was able to continue at that pace, he would break the record by 20 hours.
Of course, the trials and tribulations had to come down on him, and there were multiple occurrences, including heat and the vigorous sand dunes.
“It was forecast, the hottest temperature the whole time was meant to be 18 degrees (Celsius), and the first day was 32 (degrees Celsius),” Bourne said.
“There was no wind, no cloud cover, no trees for protection, nothing. And it’s a dry heat as well.
“The first two days my body was strong, but it just saps all of your energy out of you, like I was more exhausted than I was sore after running for 48 hours.
“The sand dunes were relentless as well, as soon as you go down one, the next one is right in front of you, and it’s just non-stop the entire time.
“There’s nothing even remotely close to it down here … they’re just different they go forever and ever.”
Within those 53 hours and 33 minutes, Bourne had practically no time to rest either, so keeping up energy levels were vital.
On day one, he suffered heatstroke and had to lay down for around 45 minutes in order to cool himself down, before gaining a couple of hours of sleep after surpassing the 100-kilometre mark.
Once awake again, Bourne walked and ran throughout day two, before having a brief four to five hour sleep at around 10pm.
Despite not reaching the ultimate goal, Bourne remains in good spirits, remembering the highs of the trip, with his persistence to eventually cross the Simpson Desert never wavering.
“The first kilometre is the one that I remember the most from the entire time. I remember starting that first kilometre and getting about a minute into the run and just all the memories came back that led up to the point,” Bourne recalled
“I was that hyped up, and adrenaline – that fuelled me for the next few hours that’s for sure.”
Bourne found that overcoming hurdles while on his run gave him a spark to continue and push through the pain.
“There were a lot of times when my body was shutting down and I would get up and go again, so overcoming those hurdles was good,” he said.
Now back at home, already back in training at the gym, Bourne has to take things a little easier to accommodate the toll taken to his body.
Bourne suffered inflammation to his ankles, calves and achilles – which are still sore – while his feet were originally swollen so much that he was struggling to fit into a size 13 shoe, when he is regularly a size 12.
Due to the sand build-up inside his shoe, the rubbing on his feet caused blistering on his toes, which could see him lose a few toenails.
Running to raise awareness for mental health, he had to take a step back a think about his own mental health post-run, Bourne opened up to what he felt on the drive home.
“The first, probably two or three days afterwards was a massive struggle,” he said.
“I was down in the dumps and screaming and crying every day, but I’m feeling better now.”
While in reflection, Bourne thought of what he could change or do better for when he decides to tackle the Simpson Desert again, which still remains a goal for him.
Top of his list was to pack more gaiters, as his broke, leading to sand filling his shoes and rubbing his feet, while more ice packs was also high on the list.
Another support vehicle would’ve eased things, as his dad – Brad – was busy working the change-overs while Bourne stopped to eat, drink or change something.
Due to the heat, Bourne regrets eating hot meals, so next time he prepares to pack dryer and cooler food to keep him fuelled.
While in terms of change-overs, Bourne believes they could be quicker in future with improved waiting times for refilling water.
Since the start of his campaign, Bourne has had donations open with 100 per cent of proceeds going towards the Black Dog Institute.
He had a goal of $38,000 – $100 for every kilometre ran, but now has altered his goals due to the outcome.
“The $38,000 figure came about because it was $100 for every kilometre, so I’m still pushing for the $100 for every kilometre, but it will end up being around $20,000 instead,” Bourne said.
Bourne remains focussed on completing his goal.
“The goal was always to run across the Simpson Desert, the goal was never to run halfway across the Simpson Desert,” he said.
“The body has taken a fair hit at the moment, I’ll recover and then work out a path forward.
“I definitely have plans and hopes of getting to that other side and going the distance!”
Despite his goal in mind, at the moment he would prefer to reach the other side without the weight of a time element involved.
“I think I just want to go the distance, I want to be able to say ‘I’ve set this goal to cross the Simpson Desert, and now I have crossed the Simpson Desert’,” Bourne said.
“I’m already back into training, I was in the gym putting in the work.
“I knew I could do it, and even though I fell short, I know even more now that I can do it!”
Bourne has become an inspiration to the local community, with messages flooding his phone of well wishes or thanks for the inspiration he had spread.
“I get messages pretty much every day,” he said.
“So, there’s no service out there the entire time, I was out of service from August 2nd, and then I remember once I got back into service again – the amount of messages I had, I’m still trying to get back and reply to everyone!
“I definitely know that it’s making some change regardless of the end result.
“I think it’s definitely helped, the goal going out there was always to spark change and important conversations around mental health, so even though I have fallen short in my goal … to do that is awesome.”
Bourne remains thankful to those who got him as far as he could, from his friends and family on a personal level, to sponsor helping with equipment and gear.
“I want to say a big thank-you to my friends and family who have supported me on the way, and to the businesses that helped sponsor the run,” he said.
Bourne thanks his major sponsors Latrobe Health Assembly, The Athletes Foot Traralgon and Optimum Nutrition.
Bourne raised $21,715 in his pursuit help people with poor mental health, with all proceeds going to the Black Dog Institute.
Tough: The heat was a major issue, considering the original forecast.
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