Veteran’s Trails, The Beginnings

14 November, 2021

I served for a period of time in the Australian Army and I struggled with my mental health after leaving service. At one point in time whilst juggling work and family, I was seeing three psychologists and one psychiatrist. There was a common theme from this cohort, in order to look after others, I need to look after myself. The theme after that was not so clear cut, exercise, goals, community and mindfulness spilled out in my haze. I found enjoyment in trail running and it ticked all the boxes that I was learning about.

I was a Dog Handler in the Army and as such, would often run with my dogs on the back trails of the bases where I had served so it made sense that I should return to trails. I ran around my local areas on trails in the hinterland of the Gold Coast and really loved it. I obtained an entry in the Hong Kong 100 (HK100) and did a few trails in Vietnam and Thailand prior which were again amazing. The HK 100 was absolutely amazing and the scenery defied my thoughts of what Hong Kong was. I decided to do a trail run on K’Gari (formerly Fraser Island), from the west side of the island to the East side of the island. It was an extremely rewarding experience and I loved the views I got, images of fresh dingo prints in the sand next to my foot strikes stands out in my mind. The trail running worked for me, giving me focus and a reason to explore other beautiful locations.

My next thoughts were about, if it worked for me, it could work for others. Obviously not for everyone but surely it could help some, which is better than none at all!! So, I started out planning, I managed to get a few people interested in the idea and it began, 4 runners and two supporting vehicles with two support staff. Lots of lessons were learnt such as good as camping can be, it’s not as fun after finishing a 30 km trail run. Also, lots of change is needed for public showers and that rain can make camping difficult. The biggest lesson though was that of having the majestic lake McKenzie located two-thirds of the way in the run. Telling people to get out of the pristine water of the lake to finish the last 10 km almost ended in a riot! But get out they did, continued and finished at Eurong beach. It was an inspirational place to finish but of course, you can’t go for a swim.

Changes were made and we started the second trip, a new start point and a new finish point. Again, four runners and two support vehicles for the trail. After a geographically challenged start which saw us travelling past the support vehicles 30 minutes after we started and a little bit of bush bashing. Travelling past the numerous pristine lakes and through the rainforest around central station bought us to Lake McKenzie where everyone partook in a swim. The accommodations this time was an Airbnb, which really set the reminder of the weekend. The exploration of the North K’Gari the following day was also a great rendition for the weekend. The last amendments were made and confident that we were pretty close to a finished product, we upped to six runners and three support crews. The 30 km trail went like clockwork, the remainder of the weekend also was excellent. At the end of three trips to K’Gari, every participant, both runner and support crew were left with an experience that not only uplifted them but gave them a sense of renewed purpose that would follow them in their individual journeys. For the majority of the runners, they will be embarking to Bruny Island on Tasmania for the Bruny Island ultra. After this, we look to see them on the various training runs that we conduct in between the K’Gari trips or hopefully we can watch and support them through their own journeys of higher-level ultra-trails.

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