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How a Sydney duo is rewriting the book

[mo]re than a run is a new initiative that will see community run clubs from across Australia and New Zealand join forces to raise funds and awareness for Movember.

It’s not overstating things to say getting people inspired for a virtual event in late 2021 is a hard sell. Melbourne and Sydney are coming out of prolonged lockdowns, and residents throughout the rest of Australia have been able to participate in large-scale public events fairly consistently for the past few months. We’ve seen Perth and the Sunshine Coast hold their annual marathons and successful events go ahead in Adelaide and Tasmania.

This is what makes the groundswell of support for [mo]re than a run such a significant achievement. Event creators Olly Woolrych and Alex Bell have inspired runners from all over Australia and New Zealand to get behind their mission and raise valuable funds for Movember through participating in a virtual run on November 27.

[mo]re than a run exists primarily to collect donations and start conversations, and Olly and Alex have set some lofty goals. They’re hoping the program will raise $500,000 for Movember, as well as prompt discussions all over Australia and New Zealand about the things we don’t talk about enough: men’s mental health and suicide prevention.

Participants sign up to run one of three distances on November 27. The 10k, which represents the 10% of Australian males who experience anxiety disorders in a given year; the 30k, which is for the 30 people who attempt suicide every day in Australia; or the 60k, for the 60 men who we lose to suicide each hour across the world.

It’s not about one distance being superior to another; a lot of us forget what it was like to start out in running. Alex shares a story that many runners can relate to – of tackling what feels like an almost impossible goal, only to succeed and grow in the process.

“We want this to be inclusive, so the 10k is really important. We’ve got a runner down in Melbourne who’s doing the 30k. Her son has been battling mental illness for a couple of years and when she mentioned to him that she was taking this on, he said, ‘Mum I can’t do the 30k with you but I am going to do the 10k.’ So now their whole goal is around getting him through that 10k.

“That’s the stuff that gives me goosebumps. If that’s the one person that we make an impact on, that’s enough – it’s all worth it.”

The three distances are there not only to provide an option for runners of all abilities but to help drive as many conversations as possible around the ‘why’. Over 1,000 people running means the opportunity for thousands of conversations.

Olly explains why it’s critical that the distances tie back to something – in this case some pretty hard-to-stomach statistics around mental health. If a run becomes a race, the messaging and the ‘why’ get lost.

“The fact that this is a decentralised event is really important. We keep saying ‘it’s not about the course – it’s about the cause’. The cause is what shines through, and that’s important because it drives awareness.”

The financial target of $500,000 is lofty for sure, but as more and more people sign up to the event the target gets ever closer.

Raising funds and awareness for Movember is the immediate goal, but there’s something else driving Olly and Alex: the opportunity to unlock the power of community.

Alex owns The Running Room – a group of three physiotherapy and podiatry clinics in Sydney that serve the growing running community. The nature of his work means he’s constantly meeting and talking with runners from different backgrounds and groups.

“Often we see run clubs come together in race situations; that’s the only time you see another run club. It’s very tribal – it’s a very competitive environment. You see someone from another club and you instantly want to beat them.

“We wanted to really break that competitiveness down and turn it into collaboration, so we brought people together over the idea of community, and we wanted to show them that it’s okay to be in the same room as other community run leaders – it’s okay to talk and to get along, and that naturally leads to working together.”

There can certainly be an element of tribalism in the modern run-crew space, and it’s not hard to understand why. Run crews are (generally) highly supportive environments where people feel safe and included, and naturally an emotional connection forms to the group.

Olly explains that community run groups all have similar missions and are too often separated by small differences in direction.

*“I had this desire to start working with other run clubs. I felt like I couldn’t get access to these other community run leaders because they were part of different groups and there was this virtual barrier between us.

“I think we should be focusing on the 90% of what we all do that is the same. The 10% that is different is cool because that’s what makes each group unique and it brings variety, but we all want to achieve the same thing.”*

It’s an interesting idea, and one that from the outside seems idealistic, but it’s exactly what Olly and Alex have succeeded in doing. They started out wanting to unite 15 run clubs across New South Wales, before deciding to break down the state and even national borders – taking [mo]re than a run throughout Australia and into New Zealand.

“I think if we were to honestly sit here and say we are not somewhat surprised (by the response) it wouldn’t be truthful.”

Alex Bell

For Olly, success with this initiative will be measured in the months and years that follow.

“We’re so used to thinking that winning is seeing someone from another club at a race and wanting to beat them. But we’re changing that. Winning here is about raising lots of money for Movember and looking in the rear-view mirror in December and saying, ‘Hey, we’re now one big, connected community.’

“I want people to feel like they can go to leaders of other run clubs and feel comfortable enough to ask for advice or help or to work together.”

At the time of writing this piece, November hasn’t even started and the pair has signed up 115 run clubs across Australia and New Zealand. From an initial goal of 15 run clubs, it’s fair to say things have escalated. The enthusiasm from both Olly and Alex is palpable; they’re bubbly, but they’re driven – they’ve got a lot to share, and I’m not surprised to see the success of [mo]re than a run with these two behind the wheel. But are they surprised? Alex is keen to again affirm that he and Olly are simply providing the framework that allows the community to mobilise.

“The overwhelmingly positive response from the running community has been incredible. I think it’s a combination of things. I feel it starts with the permission to collaborate, to do good and the opportunity to make a difference in this world using a vehicle that has given us all so much: running.”

Several times throughout our conversation, Alex and Olly stress that this isn’t ‘their’ event. It’s an idea that gained some momentum and now exists because of what everyone has put into it. Olly sums it up well:

“All of us as a community bring this to life through injecting energy into it. Alex and I would much rather be at the bottom pushing it up rather than standing on top of it.

“To be able to give the community a piece of ownership of it and for everyone to pick this up and run with it – that’s really important if we want this to be sustainable. We definitely have ongoing long-term plans for it.”

If you want to get into [mo]re than a run, you should check out the website here for all the information and follow on Instagram here.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, we encourage you to call Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 or Lifeline Aotearoa on 0800 543 354.

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