Following in the Footsteps: The ANZAC Ultra Preview

It seems like the week for the really long stuff. Yesterday we featured the Yukon Arctic Ultra, a 430 mile trek that takes most competitors 13 days to complete. Today we feature a slightly shorter race (longest distance 435kms!), born on our shores and a very important one to commemorate a historic, yet rather sombre moment in history.

The Anzac Ultra takes place on April 6th, organised by former RAAF Serviceman, Phil Essam, who also runs the Ultra Legends Facebook page. With a brother that serves in the British Army back home, I guess there’s a bit of attachment I have to make sure something like this gets some airtime, alongside the very important fundraising element of this run too.

The idea for the race was born five years ago , when Phil was at the ANZAC Day Dawn Service at the Australian War Memorial, listening to the then PM talking about the ANZAC Centenary. Thus the idea was born and now long distance runners have a chance to participate in a historic event, marking the Anzac Centenary in a very special way.

The journey taken by the Anzac soldiers to the battlefields half a world away on the Gallipoli peninsular, or the fields of France and Belgium was often long and arduous. For many Anzacs hailing from country Australia, just the trip to their port of departure was often hundreds of kilometres. Many recruits did this journey on foot, as part of recruitment marches, marching from town to town growing in numbers along the way, as they made their way to boot camp.


On the 6th of April ANZAC Ultra 2015: The Bushman begins, a long distance ultra marathon that commemorates the passages so many Australian enlistees made before they faced the horrific realities of war.

Normally, we’ll focus our features on the leading runners, but for an event such as this we’re not so interested in the leading runners, but moreso the stories behind some of the competitors and why they have chosen to race.Many of those who have entered have some form of connection to the veterans that lost their lives.

One such runner is Jenni Buckley from Mudgee. She has two family connections to WW1 through her husband’s ancestors, and feels it is very important to both her and her husband that their three young sons know all about their courageous forebearers. Two Buckleys were awarded VCs (Victoria Cross’) in WW1.

Alexander Henry Buckley was killed in action at Peronne, September 1918 and awarded his VC posthumously. Jenni’s father in law still farms the same property in Warren NSW, where Alexander grew up.

The second Buckley enlisted in 1914, was sent home with a VD in 1915, but then re-enlisted under the false name of Gerald Sexton in 1916. It was under this name he was awarded the VC for bravery at Le Verguier.

Another runner is Paul Mahony. He’s running the 145kms in honour of his paternal grandfather, whom he ever met. He served in the RAAF in PNG in WWII until he was invalided back to Australia.  While he lived a further 21 years, he spent much of the rest of his life in and out of Repat Hospital. Legacy’s assistance was important to Paul’s grandmother in raising his father and his five siblings.

Phil Essam wanted to mark the Anzac Centenary in a way that was grounded in history and was a reminder of the feats and sacrifice these men made:

“One of the longest recruitment marches was the Coo-ee March, which went from Gilgandra in regional NSW to Sydney. That was over 400 kilometres on what were in those days, rough unsealed tracks.

“These men marched with such enthusiasm, often eager for adventure and to prove themselves and their country. Sadly they were naive to the horrors of they were set to face; the casualties of those battlefields are difficult to comprehend.”

While the safety logistics of a race following the exact Coo-ee March proved a challenge, the final course on Canberra’s Centennial Trail will provide participants with a fast track that takes in bush, farming and semi-urban terrain, including some of Canberra’s famous landmarks, like the War Memorial. There are three solo distances – 435km , 290km and 145km – all with very generous time limits and one relay race of 435km with teams of 3 to 5 members.


Race ambassador Sam Weir is also a serving member of the Australian Army and says that by raising money for Legacy, the Anzac Ultra is doing far more than reflect on the Anzac legend:

“I’ve stood alongside the men and women who work for Legacy and have witnessed the great work they do for veterans and their families. I also know how underfunded the organisation is, given the importance of their work. Supporting Legacy is supporting today’s return service men and women.”

Legacy is a charity providing services to Australian families suffering financially and socially after the incapacitation or death of a spouse or parent, during or after their defence force service. Legacy currently cares for around 100,000 widows and 1,900 children and disabled dependents throughout Australia.

Entries close this Friday on 30 January. Visit for more race details and to enter.

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I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

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