After 39 days on his feet, Chris Turnbull has set a new world record for the fastest run from Perth to Sydney, running more than two marathons a day to complete the 3,856km journey.
The previous fastest recorded time of 43 days was set by German ultra-marathon runner Achim Heukemes 18 years ago.
A desire for a big adventure and to push his personal limits was Chris’ inspiration for the run.
“I love big adventures, ones that take me away from my city slicker life and expose me to new places and people. Ones that leave me with extraordinary memories for a lifetime. I also love pushing my endurance – seeing how my body and mind adapt and thrive through extreme experiences.”
The idea to run across Australia first came to Chris from Paul Every in 2010 who shared stories of competing in the 2001 Trans Australia Footrace. Since then, it had been a big distant dream. However, this year a few stars aligned at home and work, so Chris took the opportunity to make it happen.
To achieve his record Chris ran an average of 100km each and every day – the equivalent of two and a half marathons on a daily basis. To keep up that pace Chris put in the hard yards in preparation for his run.
“I planned the run 4 months out. I started running 200km to 300km each week. I also did a few 100km training runs backed-up by 60km or so the following day to see how my body could recover and keep going. But really, my ability to do it came from decades of running 100+ kms every week.”
This kind of physical accomplishment doesn’t come without some serious mental strength and grit. Having experienced the mental strain of extreme distance running in 2012 when he ran from Sydney to Melbourne, Chris knew firsthand that an undertaking like this can be much tougher mentally than most would anticipate. With this experience under his belt Chris thought long and hard about his mental preparation before hitting the bitumen in Perth.
“Before I commit to a big adventure, I think a lot about what success means for me, what could go wrong and if it’s worth doing. The “what could go wrong” part involves thinking about the tough situations I might have to deal with and what extreme situations could stop me. Importantly, this is done with a clear head before the fatigue and emotion of the adventure. This means that once I am committed, I don’t continuously requestion my motives to do it. I trust my earlier decision and put my energy into moving forward.”
The engineer and father of two started in Perth (WA) on August 8, 2023. While Chris mostly kept to the major highways, just out of Perth he diverted to a road less travelled – the Hyden Norseman Road. This is an unsealed road that stretches around 300 kilometres through the Goldfields-Esperance region of WA, between the two towns of Hyden and Norseman. On this stretch he ran for 3 days without a shower or any cooked food, subsisting on dozens of boiled egg sandwiches.
“Often adversity leaves the best stories and laughs – like the rain which made the extremely remote Hyden-Norseman Road unpassable for our RV. This left me running for three days without a shower or cooked food – so sandwiches from breakfast throughout the day, to dinner and desert. It was filthy, uncomfortable and really tough, but it felt truly wild and will remain a treasured memory shared with great mates Jack Bullen and Richard Mountstephens who crewed and lived that with me.”
With the run encompassing close to 4000km from west to east, the changing landscape was a highlight of the journey for Chris. Wave Rock, Forrestania, the jaw dropping cliff tops of the Great Australian Bight and mountain ranges like the Flinders and Great Dividing Range offered a welcome distraction from the repetition of running.
“These places really soaked into me as I crawled past them, often watching them through dawn and dusk.”
Now that Chris is back home in Manly his key focus is helping his body recover from the stress of 39 days on the trail. To keep the record attempt on track Chris ran through engrained injuries. For the first week after completing his record-breaking run, he was fatigued and had little energy. Leg aches and cramps meant that sleep was hard to come by. Two weeks since crossing the finish line and his energy and sleep are returning, but his feet and legs remain traumatised. The road to full strength and physical recovery is a slow and steady path.
Decompressing the mental stress of pushing his limits day-after-day for 39 days however came at the very end of his journey.
“I literally haven’t cried since I was a kid but during the run I could feel emotion building up. I was trying to block it out to stay focussed, however 1km before finishing in Manly, for the first time I felt that without a doubt I would be able complete the run. I stopped and sat down on stairs into an apartment block and let it all out. I cried uncontrollably for 60 seconds – eyes and nose pouring and wild, loud involuntary crying – a huge decompression. More than the physical pain, it was the unrelenting pressure of time throughout 24 hours cycles that had weighed on me. After this outpouring, I laid back on the stairs for a few more minutes, feeling the most chill I have ever in my life, before running down to Manly to celebrate. I’ve been in a good mental space since sitting on those apartment stairs.”
With a firm belief that adventure is an undervalued virtue that is deep in our DNA, it won’t be long before Chris is dreaming up his next big adventure. While it may not be long before he’s back on the bitumen, he assures us that it will be quite some time before he can face another boiled egg sambo!
Follow Chris “The Bull” Turnbull on instagram HERE