Strength and suffering in the headlights

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A Story Of Flooded Roads, Semi-trailers And Unbreakable Spirit.

Sub Three Run was conceived in October 2016, but inspired by a long dark night in the You Yangs some 12 months earlier.

On one of the coldest nights on record in recent years, I supported lifelong friend Pat overnight in his first 100 miler. It was here in the depths of the cold and the dark that I was exposed to an entirely new side of running, crewing, and supporting. In these races, in these environments, you can’t do it alone. You must work together to achieve a goal.

The idea behind Sub Three Run was to bring together a group of friends who didn’t ordinarily have the opportunity to run, train and compete together. Recent challenges for some team members ranged from traditional marathons and ironmans, to ultra trail races, and for our sole female member Sam, running across India.

With this in mind, looking at the calendar of events and our combined schedules it became clear we needed to create something unique, something audacious and something big.

After weeks of researching, planning, dreaming and endless conversations, we decided running an 800 km relay from Adelaide to Melbourne was a good idea. Then we decided to do it non-stop, in under 3 days. Hence Sub Three Run was born.

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Very early on in the planning phase we discussed supporting a cause. I’m a firm believer in the positive effects running can have on total wellness, including mental health and resilience.

A marathon medal to me is much more than a finishing time, it’s a reminder of what we can all achieve with perseverance, dedication, patience and inner strength. Partnering with Movember in support of their work in mental health and suicide prevention added extra inspiration and meaning to every aspect of the run, from engaging with people on the question of why, to many personal, genuine, and honest conversations around mental health before, during, and post event.

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Crew Leader Kieran Ryan with Andy Sargent

Two weeks prior to the event, I flew to Adelaide and hired a car so I could drive the 8-9 hours back to Melbourne along the route. During the drive I meticulously planned and measured out the change over points for the runners, each point 15 km apart, with only slight variations to avoid unsafe stretches of road.

By the time the event came around, those plans were out the window. Heavy rainfall meant many of the country roads I had just driven were now completely flooded or otherwise impassable.

The willingness and enthusiasm of the entire team was an essential ingredient heading into the event. With so much distance to cover, so many variables, and so many unknowns, the crew and the runners had to be ready to tackle anything and everything.

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The full team didn’t assemble together until 2 PM in central Adelaide, 3 hours before we would set off heading east toward the Adelaide Hills, in quickly fading light and light rain that would only get stronger as the night wore on.

From that moment, 5 PM Thursday the 13th of July, we were running. July in Australia is cold and dark, we ran through 10 hours of daylight and 14 hours darkness per day.

The temperature rarely rose above single digits during the day, thick layers of frost visible on runners clothes during the early morning legs.

We ran through through driving rain, mist and fog, through sublime sunshine and clearing showers, and sometimes through my own rain of tears.

At times the distance we covered seemed incredible, and the distance still to run seemed a formality. Other times, when energy faded and progress felt painfully slow, Melbourne seemed like a very long way away.

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Pat Bowring starts the run from East Terrace in central Adelaide.
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Sam Gash after her first leg

Sub Three Run was always a goal, never a race. We ran for ourselves, each other and for the cause. There was nothing to prove, no records to break and nothing more to it. The only constant out there was running; simple, uncomplicated and primal.

Nothing could have prepared me for the visual intensity of the experience. From the vast expanse of the Australian landscape to the depth of the milky way illuminating long flat stretches of highway. The thunder and force of semitrailers powering through driving rain in the dark.

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Andy Sargent
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Mathieu Doré
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Josh McCormack
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When we weren’t running, we were resting, generally in the back of our campervan. Everyone had their own routine, their own place in the van they went to after their leg. Dry clothes became a luxury, as did solid food and silence. The road noise of the van chugging along, combined with the constant rattle of everything inside the van made sleep elusive.

As tiring as the whole routine could be, the mood of the group swung with the sun. Late afternoons were tough; staring at a long, wet night in temperatures hovering around 0c did nothing to inspire anyone.

But as hard as the nights were, the mornings made the darkness worth it. The sun brought renewed energy and a reinforced believe that we were making progress.

Each and every member of the team, including 6 runners and 7 crew, was spectacular in their dedication and commitmet to the goal, their individual roles and their support of one another.

Everyone faced and overcame personal and collective challenges and low points but each and every member of the team was instrumental in us achieving something that simply wouldn’t be possible without a crew of supporters.

“In the lowest moments on Sub Three Run, I tried to put the struggle into perspective. All of this was our doing, something we signed up for. In a day or two it would all be over and it would be back to a warm bed, a hot meal, and people that loved me. That’s not reality for so many members of our society that have nothing”

Riley Wolff, Photographer, Sub Three Run

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Deep into the second night, when the adrenaline of the first night had faded, we’d covered well over 300 km, meaning each of us had a marathon of running in the legs. When the team divided for sleeping shifts I was in a rotation with Matt and Pat.

Pat ran first and had a slight niggle, which sent me in a spin. As we trailed in the warmth of the support vehicle behind, our headlights illuminating him on the pitch black road like a broadway spotlight, I was hitting a low physically and mentally. By the time my turn came around it would be 2 or 3 AM. Would he finish? is this too much? Are we pushing the pace too much? What have I created? He worked through the pain and got through his 15 km, climbing back into the van wet and cold, a mixture of sweat and dew from the cold night.

When Matt stepped out at 2 AM, it was on. It was like he could sense we were low and put in a run I’ll never forget. Sitting in the passenger seat, I was glued to his spectacular rhythm and form. For just over an hour, every breath syncopated with footfall streaming over his shoulders as he forged into the hills. He had started strong and as the kilometers wore on he was getting stronger, up and over a rise at close to sub 4 minute pace, and down the other side 30 seconds faster. Same regular rhythm, his feet falling in perfect alignment and balance. This was a masterclass in technique as well as grit.

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When I climbed out of the van I was inspired but full of doubt, we high fived and I could see from Matt’s eyes that it took every ounce of determination to do what he had just done. I climbed into my leg feeling slow, holding back some energy to make sure I could get through. After 15 minutes my mind cleared and my belief returned. Pat and Matt had both done their bit and now it was my turn. Then and there was the first moment where it really hit me.

Right here, right now, there is nothing else to do but run. I ran on feel, treading a path mostly in the soft gravel off the side of the road, through pitch back roads and patches of freezing cold mist. Still running on feel, and with swelling confidence, each kilometer got faster than the one before, to the point of being reckless. In this moment there was nothing else more important in the world than just running.

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We emerged from a freezing night of subzero temperatures to find ourselves on the outskirts of Metropolitan Melbourne. After 63 hours of running, we regrouped to run the final few kilometres together. This was the first point we had all run together as a team. The pace was slow, and footfalls were heavy, but spirits were high. The mood was a heady mix of relief, pride, excitement and exhaustion. We finished on the banks of the Yarra, greeted by a small group of friends and family.

With a few months to reflect on the experience, one of the most vivid memories is of the bond between the team, runners, and crew. For over two and a half days we had one simple goal to focus on and we did it. Together.

The running was pure, uncomplicated and uncompromised. The vast scale of the Australian landscape, the isolation and variable weather conditions combined to create moments we very rarely experience in our regular daily grind.

Sub Three Run stimulated meaningful conversations around genuine running and has led to many new friendships and opportunities. Completing this challenge has created the confidence, strength and curiosity from the whole team to seek what’s next.

Sub Three Run was a one and done, we set out and achieved what we aimed for. We tested ourselves mentally and physically, we endured, we grew stronger and we’ll all be forever better for the experience.

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Back Row: Rowan Gabb (Crew), Kieran Ryan (Crew), Andy Sargent, Josh McCormack, Samantha Gash, Aaron Knight (Crew), Thomas Hyland (videographer), Julia Bevis (Crew), Jack Patrick Garner, Yota Spanos (Crew). Front: Riley Wolff (Photographer), Mathieu Dore, Patrick Bowring.

Editor's Note: Andy Sargent is the Creative Director of TEMPO. Riley Wolff is the Managing Editor of TEMPO and also served as the photographer on Sub Three Run.

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