“My friends bought a Harley and a Porsche. I got a pair of running shoes”

running larapinta

It’s 4:30am, somewhere in the distance your alarm is sounding, but the trail’s already calling. It’s almost time to pull on your hydration pack and limber up your slightly weary limbs to meet day two of the Run Larapinta Stage Race head on – after all you’ve running a marathon today and the terrain’s not going to be flat.

Rewind to 1922 on the same stretch of trail, a local Mission worker Carl Strehlow lay dying. Horses were being saddled to dispatch a message to the Telegraph Station at Alice Springs requesting medical assistance, but Indigenous stockman Hezekiel Malbunka declared he would be faster on foot.

Malbunka ran the 126km from Hermannsburg (originally the Lutheran Mission and now an Aboriginal community) on the Finke River, MacDonnell Ranges to Alice Springs to save the life of Strehlow (1871 – 1922). It took him just a day and a half to run the 126km to Alice Springs, quicker than station hands agreed could have been achieved by their horses. Incredibly, he then turned around and started running back, taking only a day to return.

Back to 2017 and the legend of Larapinta grows. Malbunka is the name of the long course race at Run Larapinta, a four stage trail running race across the most spectacular sections of the Larapinta Trail over four days. This is its third year. The Malbunka boasts stages of running 20-45km each day. Totaling 132 kilometres. For the slightly fainter of heart, there’s the Namatjira named after Indigenous identity Albert Namatjira; a short course race offering runners stages of 10-30km each day, 81kms overall.

For New Zealand trail runner Gary Philpott, the choice was easy. The 48-year old electrical engineer got hooked on running only six years ago, a period he refers to as his mid-life crisis, with his running journey soon evolving into racing long distances. “My friends bought a Harley and a Porsche but I ended up with a pair of running shoes.

Gary Philpott running at the Tarawera Ultra
Gary Philpott Tarawera Ultra

It started with a good friend of mine suggesting we run a half, then came a Marathon moving on to the Ultra. I finished my first Ultra (60km Kepler Challenge) in pain and well here I am half a dozen Marathons and twelve Ultra’s later and loving it.” “Run Larapinta is something different for me; I guess a progression on from the standard Ultra. It’s not too far to travel and I love a challenge. It’s not my first multi-day race, so I sort of know what I’m in for but it will be my first 4-day stage race.”

Holidays for Gary now have to include an event – like the 3-in-3, 2014 (three Marathons in 3 days) he completed in Cairns in between diving and surfing. “Now, when I suggest a trip to my wife Anne, she firstly asks what race is there? I’ve run 60’s, my first 85 earlier this year (Old Ghost Road) and my first 100k last year was UTA100. I finished that and said I’m never ever going to do that again! I fly out on the 18th May for UTA100 again.

My wife has given up, my parents slightly concerned and well friends, they just think I’m mad!” The fresh air, being able to clear your mind, the mountains and the hills, getting away from a congested city and enjoying the freedom to run on the trails and forget work for a while are just some of the reasons Gary keeps coming back. “I just like the adventure, the different places and runners you get to see and meet. It doesn’t matter if you’re an elite athlete sponsored to run, a runner escaping from work on the weekends, or a novice at their very first race. You’re the same no matter what. It’s one big extended family.

“The scenery in the Red Centre looks awesome; four days of running in that can’t be all bad.” Gary’s year is full – with only work getting in the way – after running The Kepler Challenge in December he kept up his training through Christmas in preparation for The Old Ghost Road Ultra in February. UTA100 is this month and Run Larapinta in August. In October he’ll run the 50k Skyline Ultra (while on holiday in the States) before finishing with either The Kepler Challenge or the Queenstown Marathon.

Running from Simpsons Gap to Standley Chasm on the Larapinta course
Simpsons Gap to Standley Chasm on the Larapinta course

Gary’s coach, James Kuegler from James Kuegler Coaching in Auckland created a comprehensive training schedule for each of the races that sees his training vary depending on the event. “I’ve found good preparation goes a long way, guidance helps to enable you to finish an event and be proud of your achievement. “Make sure you’ve trained for the particular event, its way different from a Marathon or even an Ultra.

“At Run Larapinta you’re running for four days straight, twice in the first 24 hours, it’s going to get very real very fast. Train in the gear you’re going to use, eat the food that you will be consuming on race day which includes the liquids. Limit your changes. Don’t do what I did at Marathon One at 3-in-3, I ditched the bladder for a front bottle, changed my breakfast because my mate’s looked a whole lot better. Make sure you get rest, rehydrate, eat after the run because tomorrow you do it all again.”

Run Larapinta takes place between the 11th and 14th August. Runners and trail runners worldwide head to Run Larapinta with the number and diversity growing each year. Participants can choose between the two course options, or pick which stages to run. All race logistics are organised, so at the end of each day’s running you can kick back and enjoy the unspoiled beauty of the Red Centre.

For more information or to enter, head to http://runLarapinta.com.au

Run Larapinta is also part of the Ultra168 Supporters Club list of races. As a member, you can save a whopping 15% off the entry fee, which can save you up to $85. For more information on the Supporters Club visit: https://ultra168.com/168supporters/ 

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Dan on Twitter
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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