Many in the ultra trail community will know of Kirrily Dear and her work with Run Against Violence, an organisation she co-founded that uses sporting activities as a conduit for educating and engaging communities in family violence prevention. A highly accomplished ultra runner having completed the likes of Coast2Kosci three times and numerous GNW finishes, Kirrily sets off on another challenge in a few weeks time, running through the heartlands of New South Wales to engage even further with community most affected by domestic violence. Kirrily very kindly gave up some of her time to answer our questions to help spread some further light on the work she’s doing and how you could help too.
You’re a pretty accomplished ultra runner, how and when did you get into running?
I rediscovered running as a sport in my mid-30s. It was the usual story of feeling fat, lazy and stressed. My partner suggested I needed to get a hobby to get some work-life balance. I decided to get off the lounge and run around the block. The bug bit straight away and I set myself the goal of running 10km. I could not comprehend how anyone could run a half marathon and thought that was way beyond anything I could ever achieve.
In terms of increasing distances, trail running really was the catalyst for that. I didn’t realise trail running was a sport initially. I used to do a lot of bushwalking and one day forgot my walking boots but I had a pair of running shoes in the back on the car so I donned those. It was like discovering an alternate universe. I was so excited by the experience and the kilometres grew quickly from there.
Give us some insight into the work you’re doing around domestic violence and why you’re involved?
Run Against Violence is a volunteer-based member association I co-founded. We use running and other sporting activities as a conduit for educating and engaging communities in family violence prevention.
We believe by breaking the silence and encouraging people to learn about family violence we can remove the stigma and social barriers that prevent people asking for help.
Our approach is inclusive and positive. We believe that anyone can be a victim or perpetrator of family violence and that we all have a role to play in prevention.
Run Against Violence was created following my 2014 White Ribbon Ultramarathon. Everyone involved in the project wanted to do more and we spent a few months researching how we could effectively contribute to the change process. We identified that a gap existed with engaging the broader community, i.e. those people who are not directly affected by DFV or working in the sector. Running as a sport, as a passion, has an enormous reach and influence in Australia so we set about working out how to use running to engage the broader community.
Thousands of volunteer hours have gone into reaching the point we are at now and we have occasionally asked ourselves why do it. The fact is time and again we have all witnessed first-hand the difference it makes. At our events, and through social media we have seen people open-up and share their stories, sometimes for the first time – and when that happens it is life changing. We have seen people learn, engage and become advocates for change. It almost seemed to simple at first – that starting a conversation could in some way make a difference to such a horrendous and entrenched problem, but it does. I think also runners intrinsically understand what it’s like to face fear and to struggle, and what it takes to create change in your life which creates a natural empathy with the journey of survivors. While most of us will never know what it is truly like to walk in their shoes it does create a respect for how difficult that journey can be.
How did the idea for the run come about?
It was during the planning for my 2014 860km run from Walgett to Forbes in NSW for White Ribbon. I heard at a lot about the problems they were experiencing in Broken Hill in relation to family and domestic violence and the support services in the region were also winning awards for the leadership and initiatives they were undertaking to address the issues.
At the time, I wanted to shine a light on that fantastic work but the logistics, and distance (previously I had only run 260km) felt beyond me at that stage.
In 2016 I decide I was ready to take on another big ultra marathon challenge and in discussions with Brad Smithers – my head of crew and logistics – we decided the goal would be Broken Hill to Sydney because it covers every cross-section of Australian community and it inspires people’s appetite for adventure which gives us the opportunity to engage people who wouldn’t normally think about family violence as something they can be a part of solving.
We also decided to focus on sharing the stories for children who have experienced family violence, the impact it has had on their lives and their hopes for the future. Children are present in around 70% of cases of domestic assault and exposure to a single incident can impact the rest of their life. Being forced to live in an environment where there is constant emotional tension and fear impacts the child’s mental and emotional health on many levels including their understanding of their own self-worth and relationships. We had also noticed over the last few years of working in this field that children lack any genuine voice. Whenever we have shared the stories of the children, people stopped to genuinely listen and ‘ask what can I do’ so we have decided to become a champion of the children for this project.
You’re doing a virtual run alongside this, perhaps give some more insight into that and how people can get involved
The StepsTogether Virtual Challenge will take place concurrently with the StepsTogether Ultramarathon enabling people from around Australia, and the globe, to show the world they too are willing to take steps to end family violence.
Teams of up to 10 people can race me from Broken Hill to Sydney. The challenge is to accumulate 1300km within 19 days. Each day team members track the distance they walk or run, using a device such as a gps watch, fitbit or smart phone app. The team is provided with a login to upload data to the Run Down Under platform which will display your map. Each day they can watch their team’s progress compared to other teams and my actual location. All team members successfully participating in the Challenge receive a once-in-a-lifetime finishers medal, entry into our prize draw and serious bragging rights!
People can register as a team or as an individual and we will place them in a team.
As of this moment we have around 150 teams registered and are expecting to top 200 by the time we start on 30 Aug. That’s 2,000 people choosing to be part of the change. We have been left completely speechless by the response we have had.
How do you go about training for this type of run and what are some of the logistics involved?
I turned my full attention to training for this event back in January 2017. To be honest covering the 1300km route in 19 days doesn’t concern me too much. I know I can do it. It’s going to hurt and there will be challenges, but I know deep down that I can achieve the goal. So training the physical aspects of the run was a continuation of my existing routine with a few longer weeks thrown in.
However to take on such a big project I wanted to make sure I got something of value out of it on a personal level. To me, Broken Hill to Sydney is not so much a run but an opportunity to learn and grow as a person.
I have been running ultra marathons now for eight years and in that time my physical and mental ability has changed dramatically. I have gone from quaking in my boots about a 100km race to taking on the most challenging races in Australia and pioneering new routes and records.
While I have achieved a lot, I am also acutely aware that there is still so much more for me to learn. I know there are layers of my beliefs, my mental approach and my physical strength that I am yet to peel back and discover my true capability.
So 2017 became a year of exploration. A year of pushing personal boundaries, of discovering, of exploring, to see the world through different eyes and maybe, discover the key to unlocking the next level in this game we call life.
The centre piece of this exploration was my “15 days of epic” in Peru in May / June. Within a 15 day period I completed the Lima Marathon, trekked solo for 5.5 days through the Andes, most of which was above 4000m above sea level and became the first female to complete the Andes Challenge solo – a 180km single stage trail running and mountain bike race that starts from 4500m above sea level and finishes when you run into the ocean. This experience pushed me to my limits I discovered a new mindset and gained a lot of fitness in the process.
What are your longer term goals with the domestic violence work you’re doing.
To continue to get the community engaged and to be flexible and creative about what that means. We want to keep focused on activities at a community level, and it is exciting to see community and sporting groups pick up our idea and make it their own, mould it into something that works for them. I think we really have only started to understand the potential of this idea. In the short-term we are making another documentary ,and there is a book brewing that we want to get out into every reception area in Australia.
How else can people find out about what you’re doing?
- RAV website: runagainstviolence.com
- Overview video of RAV and the Ultramarathon: https://vimeo.com/222479601
- More detail on the StepsTogether Ultramarathon: https://www.runagainstviolence.com/2017rav/
- More detail on the Virtual Challenge: https://www.runagainstviolence.com/virtual-challenge-stepstogether