Many years ago I was asked what my dream job would be if I could do anything in the world. Unable to answer the question there and then, I mulled over it for some days until I realised that if I could be anything, I would be someone who got to wander through the most beautiful places in the world. It’s not a doctor, or a millionaire, or an advocate for world peace, but it is my happy place. It’s the place where you get to experience moments in minutes and hours, not just seconds. Where you get to take in the world around you with widened eyes, and soak it up until you have to blink and look away.
After this revelation I began wondering about how I could make it a reality, and how I could actually spend my days wandering throughout the world. I’m still not quite there on the job front, so if anyone’s looking for global wanderer and want to pay the bill, feel free to get in touch. I am however, getting there on the personal front. In 2012 I embarked upon what was to be my biggest physical challenge at the time. A 435km crossing of the Simpson Desert in Outback Australia. Crossing one of the world’s biggest dune deserts on foot was never going to be easy, but it was always going to be worth it. So as it was to be, after 15 days and over 1000 sand dunes, I walked into a little place called Birdsville, my hometown on the edge of the Simpson Desert.
With every man, woman and dog hash tagging about personal growth and how product x or y has changed their life, I sometimes feel that real change gets lost in technology. Real change doesn’t come from following someone on social media who posts pictures about how positive thinking can change your life, or by following a diet of tea leaves; it comes about by a conscious decision, actions to follow through, and really hard work. When I walked back into town after crossing the Simpson Desert I realised that I had changed in a way that I barely recognised the person who took those first steps.
I have been so blessed (another classic hash tag that is overused these days), to have always had support from family and friends in my endeavours, who have never questioned my ability to be anything I wanted to be. I’ve never been told you can’t do that or be that, and for that I am eternally grateful (insert hash tag). So how did it change me? Well I suddenly realised that nothing was too big anymore. There were no more what-ifs. There was no more pondering about whether I should or shouldn’t do something, or whether I could or couldn’t do it. It was simply a case of ‘I’ll have a crack and see how it goes’. I was no longer bound by self limiting beliefs, and if I could finish something of that magnitude then why couldn’t I do anything I wanted.
What I found most interesting was why as a society we continue to believe that we can not do something, rather than believe we can and just see what happens. Why do people always feel the need to give their opinion on why something won’t work, rather than encouraging others to go for it? Is it because life is so often seen as a competition? Is it because it is ingrained in us from our childhood? Is it because society as a whole, no longer sees people as individuals, but rather as segregated groups based on gender, age, race, weight or looks? Why do the people who want to break others down often have the loudest voice?
Long story short, after what felt like an epic walk across a desert, I fell into the ultra running community when I decided to line up at the start of Australia’s most unique multi-stage ultra marathon – the 250km Big Red Run. In fact, I loved the community so much that I did it twice (and probably will a third time just for good measure). What I found in this community was something that is so often missing from mainstream media and society – I found a place where people build each other up, not break each other down. And let’s be honest, the trails and terrain do that enough, so it’s no place for fellow runners to do the same. No matter your age, your physical condition, your gender, or whether you run or walk, every single person who stands on that start line completes the exact same course, and every single person deserves the same amount of respect. I love that when I am surrounded by my ultra-running friends that I feel like I’ve been taken in by a warm embrace just by being in their company. It’s like a family that you got to pick for yourself.
So after a long walk, and a couple of ultra marathons I found myself standing on the start line of another of Australia’s famous races – the UTA100. Living in what could be described as the flattest section of land in Australia, I had done no training on hills, and just generally no training. Why then did I sign up for the race? Well, because a mate said we should do it and it seemed like a good idea. I didn’t finish the race (no surprises there), but it was still a good idea. After 57km and 2000m of elevation gain I was a little bit tired, my feet were a little bit sore, and as I’d earlier made the passing comment that I’d be finished by 10pm, I figured I’d better stick to it. I knew I was underprepared, and that’s an understatement, and I knew that I had no real idea of what I was getting myself in for – but, and this is a big but – in signing up for the race I got to hang out with some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever met, see them achieve massive personal goals, and sometimes that is enough. There is no greater feeling than when you can watch a friend do something they didn’t know they could do; or when you can hug them so tight and look into their eyes and tell them ‘you did it – you magnificent human!’; or when you can sit back at the end of it all and be truly proud of what you yourself achieved because you did your best on the day.
So this brings me to the now. I recently took up the suggestion to get a running coach after deciding that I needed someone to think for me. Living remotely, I have three roads I can run on, none of which link together, and all of which are flatter than you can imagine, so needless to say it gets a bit stagnant at times. My second reason for getting a coach was to get better at running. I don’t have a coach because I am disappointed in past performances, far from it in fact, because on those days I did what I could with what I had. Now with a coach, I plan to do exactly the same when I stand on the start line at my next event – to do the best that I can with the skills that I have. Clearly it’s my hope though that my best will be better because the skills I have will be better.
As you can tell I like to write, but I assure you I am getting to the Running for Bums question posed in the title of this post. After working with my coach for a couple of months, my feet started to get itchy (not from tinea), and as my confidence in running grew, so did my ideas. I began to wonder what I could do that was big! So, the other morning while I was eating breakfast with my parents I made the comment of ‘I have a really good idea’, to which both their eyes widened, probably wondering what was going to come next. What came next was the manifestation of an idea that I vaguely recalled having when I finished my Simpson Desert crossing – I said ‘I think I am going to run around Australia, or from Tasmania to the tip of Cape York’. Now you’ll have to ask them what their first thought was, but once again in their true spirit, they were behind me from the get-go (NB: I wasn’t even behind myself at that point).
Over the next few weeks though the idea niggled at my thoughts every chance it got, and eventually I pulled a map out and decided that Tassie to the Tip it would be. One, it’s shorter; and well that’s about all there was to it. Just like that I had made the decision to do it, with a view to work out how to do it afterwards. After all, you don’t always need to know the how straight away, you just need to know the what and get started.
So now onto Running for Bums. The question I had to ask myself was did I want to do this just for myself, or did I want to do it for a cause. In the end the cause option won out, partly because my family would probably think I was completely bonkers to do it for no good reason, and two, because by attaching it to a cause it creates another level of commitment from me that flows right through from training to being out on the road during the run. The run is not for me – it may change me – but it is not for me. What it’s for is Bowel Cancer Australia.
Finally, after all this time we get to the question of why Running for Bums? I assume the name speaks for itself given Bowel Cancer has a very close relationship to bums, and I figured it was a name that would pique interest, as well as probably get my emails sent to the spam folder but that’s a minor detail. The bowel cancer link probably won’t be so obvious though, and this is where if you’ve made it this far I hope you pay very close attention.
Bowel cancer is the second biggest cancer killer in Australia. Some people may say that that is because it’s not gender specific like some cancer’s, but I think that is kind of irrelevant. I will never understand people’s aversion to talking about bums and bowels, and poo’s and colonoscopies, and I won’t stop talking about them until Bowel Cancer no longer appears anywhere near the top of the list of cancer killers. It simply does not need to be there. We as a society have a massive role to play in getting bowel cancer off that list and I will ask everyone who I meet on this run to help me do that.
We need to talk about bums. Yes, bums; we need to understand that 90% of bowel cancer cases can be treated successfully if they are caught early enough. That means that we need to know our family history; we need to know what our risk factors are; and it means that when you get your bowel cancer screening kit in the mail, that you need to go and do a poo and send it back for testing. We need to make sure our friends and our loved ones are doing their screening, and we need to make sure that children today know if their close relatives have had bowel cancer, or even pre-cancerous polyps. We need to stop being embarrassed by bowels because there is nothing funny about bowel cancer. It kills and it doesn’t need to.
As you can probably tell I am a fierce advocate of early detection and here’s why. In 2013 I had been having some gastro-intestinal issues and after extensive investigation an endoscopy was suggested (that’s where a tube goes down from the top). Knowing that I was going to have to go into hospital for this procedure, I mentioned to my doctor about my family history of bowel cancer and bowel polyps, and we decided that it would be good to also investigate if that was a cause of my issues at the same time – so a colonoscopy was ordered (that’s where a tube goes up from the bottom). Here’s the kicker – if I didn’t know my family history or had been too embarrassed to talk about it, shit would have got nasty (pun intended). When I came out of the anaesthetic I have a vague recollection of the doctor telling the nurses that they had removed a number of polyps. He later confirmed this when I was slightly more coherent – 8 polyps to be exact. None had turned nasty, but 8 was a lot for a 26 year old and definitely not normal. He also told me that there was 50% chance that any number of the polyps could have turned cancerous by the time I was 30. I’d just dodged a bullet. All of my family members were screened in the next 12 months, and we all learnt a big lesson about the importance of knowing your family history.
As a follow up, I was put on a 2 year recall list where they subsequently removed another 3 polyps. As fate would have it I am due for my next screening when I finish the Running for Bums challenge in June 2018. Whilst my body may at some point decide to spontaneously sprout a lot of polyps for no good reason, it is my hope that with continual screening I will never have to say that I have bowel cancer, and moreover, that by knowing what we know now, no one in my family will ever have to say they have bowel cancer either.
It is my hope that Running for Bums can remove the stigma associated with bowel cancer, and I am so looking forward to the day when someone calls me or catches me on the road, and tells me that they did their test, or they talked to their family, or they finally booked in for that colonoscopy that they have been putting off for years. Only when bowel cancer is off that list of cancer killers will Running for Bums have done its job.