Week 2 of the lead-in training schedule ahead of the Marine Corps Marathon to be held in Washington D.C. on 30 October supporting The Mission Continues.
|Day 7||Monday, 12 September 2016||8 km|
|Day 8||Tuesday, 13 September 2016||6 x 200 m,
then 3 x 400 m,
then 3 x 800 m
|Day 9||Wednesday, 14 September 2016||8 km|
|Day 10||Thursday, 15 September 2016||5 x 1000 m,
then 3 x 400 m,
then 6 x 200 m
|Day 11||Friday, 16 September 2016||Rest|
|Day 12||Saturday, 17 September 2016||27 km|
|Day 13||Sunday, 18 September 2016||Rest|
I have always been a runner. Okay, maybe not always. But it was something that did come naturally to me.
I remember when in secondary school, we would run laps around a circular path in the park that separated the primary school from the secondary school which I attended. At the time, I thought that this path was a long distance, but returning to the area a few years ago I was surprised at how small it actually was. I was usually well out in front. I didn’t see my ability as anything special. It was just what I did.
My passion for running really comes from my father. How or why he started running is something I can’t say for sure, but it is likely to be been influenced by the interest in running during the 1970s. My father read the books of people like James Fixx, and also became involved in orienteering. In fact, he travelled overseas a couple of times to attend orienteering meets.
I would go so far as to say that my father was at his happiest when running. He showed me where he ran, and these become daily routines for me. I don’t think we ever ran together. We weren’t joggers, but runners.
My father ran a marathon. I remember seeing him at the finish line. He was part of a larger movement of runners, but each one also achieving their own personal victory no matter what time they completed the distance.
A few years later in 1983, I followed his example and ran a marathon myself. My time was pretty ordinary, but I was only young. I don’t think I really appreciated the value of training as a means to improve performance at that time.
Around the same time, I remember going to some junior athletics meets, but I just couldn’t get into the intensity of the other competitors and coaches. For me, exercise came naturally and was something I enjoyed. That was enough for me.
One time, I remember meeting Robert De Castella at an event somewhere. I knew he was famous for running, but I don’t think I was really aware of why he was among Australia’s, and even the world’s, greatest runners. Looking back, I cringe at my naivety.
Distance was my thing. I could run with endurance and probably had a gift. I was fast enough, and remember running a pretty quick 5 km course around Albert Park Lake and The Tan course which circumferenced the Botanical Gardens in Melbourne. Even though I was fast, there were always others who were faster. I don’t think I understood then that it might be possible to train and become the best.
I also used to ride my bicycle a lot at that time. On one occasion, in fact the year before I joined the Australian Army, I rode from Melbourne to Singleton. It just seemed like a good thing to do. There was no real occasion, and I have often thought that if I was going to do such a thing now that there would need to be a reason combined with a circus of media and fundraising. Other than getting my photo on the front page of The Argus in Singleton at my uncle’s insistence, it was a simple journey full of adventure. I probably didn’t appreciate my ability to get things done and took a lot of my youth for granted.
After joining the army, I ran long distances for sport and was good at cross country. I later was involved in a sport called “rogaining” where in pairs we would run 24 hour orienteering-style events across large areas of the bush. They were great days.
I’m not quite sure how I came to choose running as the vehicle for raising awareness at the beginning of this journey described by this book. There had been no precedent that led me to setting a challenge involving running, and I wasn’t anything out of the ordinary in terms of being a runner.
I had an idea at the very beginning of this journey which much later would lead me to begin the 10 City Bridge Run. This idea was to undertake something I called the “7 x 7 Bridge Run” where I would run seven laps of a 25 km course looping around Sydney Harbour in seven days as a stunt to raise awareness for homelessness. My only real exposure to homelessness at that time was some volunteer work I had done in London, New York and San Francisco with some great organisations that we impacting people caught in what I would describe as chronic homelessness. I thought it would be worth opening a similar conversation in the city which I lived at the time, Sydney, and that by running across bridges through different suburbs I could symbolically show a connection between people. My contention was that people who were homeless came from somewhere, and the many households that sat around Sydney Harbour were as likely to have their own stories as much as those places that seemed to be like a beacon for people who were homeless. At that time, I had never had any experience of being homeless myself personally.
My efforts were to be entirely self-funded, and I approached a well known charity which seemed to be doing great work in this area. We agreed that through this running, it could be a good vehicle for opening a conversation. I agreed that the charity might be able to do some fundraising of the back of this initiative. None of us knew what the outcome might be, but to their credit they were wholly supportive of a new approach and a new idea. It was new territory to explore.
There was an organisation in Sydney at the time which conducted a walk around the harbour once a year. We were a few months away from when I was going to conduct this event, so I finally was able to connect with the organiser of this harbour walk so that I could introduce myself and suggest that we had an opportunity to share what worked. Together, I thought it was a natural way to collaborate. His response was entirely baffling. After I explained on the phone what I was planning, his response was incredulous as he exclaimed: “Look mate, you can’t just go and make a sandwich then call yourself McDonalds”. I was at a loss as to what he meant, so asked him to explain further. “Mate, if you do that, I will sue you. We have spent a lot of money on our branding, and the last thing we need is some upstart to come along and ruin it for us all.” Welcome to the wonderful world of professional fundraising…
I rang the organisation who I had approached earlier to work with on this endeavour, and explained that the response I received on my phone call presented too much risk to their brand to continue. I was willing to have a go, but I thought there was too much room for unnecessary controversy. That was 2007, and I parked the idea thinking that it would remain forever on the shelf.
It was around this time that I first met my good mate, Tim. He asked what I had been up to, and I explained this conundrum I found myself in. I think Tim is the one person who has seen this whole journey unfold from that point onwards. This is worth remarking about because Tim’s kindness which I have subsequently benefited from first-hand stood in stark contrast to the mean-spirited response from the person who I had encountered earlier. Be careful of your words and actions: they can embolden someone to better things or extinguish dreams that would otherwise make the world a better place.
The organisation I was offering to support were really good about the whole situation, and later invited me to their annual gala evening. I was great that they included me on their invitation, but I still had unresolved feelings about how this 7 x 7 Bridge Run had ended. My instinct was to push back, as I sensed the response I received an enormous injustice on so many levels, but I saw the reputation of the institution as more important than my personal soap box.
And this is where this book could have ended, except for a meeting with a few friends a short while later which changed the conversation forever.
This has been a time of inspiration. Perhaps this is unwarranted, because it also has felt like a time when the sands of opportunity seemed to be avoiding my grasp as they slipped away through my fingers.
Trying something, and it not working. It is a very common experience. A quintessentially human experience. Is it strange that we have forgotten all of the failures from the early years of life during a time when walking might have seem to have been an impossibility? Perhaps it is stranger that we can get so hung up on a point in time when it would appear a plan has ended in failure. Not that we can remember, but if we were to think back to childhood, we would know that through perseverance we would eventually overcome.
I’ve been caught up in the words of a Brazilian philosopher called Roberto Unger recently. The title of this blog comes from a quote of his that I like:
“Change requires neither saintliness nor genius. What it does require is the conviction of the incomparable value of life. Nothing should matter more to us than the attempt to grasp our life while we have it, and to awaken from the slumber of routine, of compromise and prostration, so that we may die only once. Hope is not the condition or cause of action. Hope is the consequence of action. And those who fail in hope should act, practically or conceptually, so that they may hope.”
This post is an update about an epic quest I undertook in 2010 and have yet to complete. I called that quest the 10 City Bridge Run. The purpose of the quest was to address an ambitious question through a conversation asking: “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?” The method was all the more ambitious to the point of ridiculous: I proposed a stunt to highlight the conversation about child survival where I would run 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries.
Long story short, I have completed the stunt, but not yet done justice to the conversation. And in between these two events there is a book I am yet to publish and send to my supporters. That book is to be called Life Bridge, and will feature a photo essay with 100 pictures of human bridges to illustrate that it is through our connections that change can take place.
I am very aware of ways this could have been simpler, or ways the execution to date could have been more effective. It has been lumpy in parts, but that too is part of the journey.
And so that brings me to this point about failure, about inspiration, and about hope where I began the post. A reasonable person would at this point in time cut their losses and apologise saying that it was all too much trouble, and that they were not up to the task. As I write that, I know that I cannot accept this as failure, and hear the words of George Bernard Shaw. You know the ones: “the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.”
And so yes, I have been staring down failure as I interpret what this journey has meant.
Staring down failure because there is inspiration. Inspiration from the fresh initiative called the Sustainable Development Goals which will replace the United Nations Millennium Development Goals when they expire at the end of this year. Inspiration because I know there is purpose in holding this conversation, and that hardship is part and parcel of trying to achieve difficult things. And inspiration from a conversation I had in Newcastle recently where someone challenged me to look again at what I had achieved.
Let me explain this incident from Newcastle briefly. Back in 2009, I ran what was the initiative that preceded this 10 City Bridge Run initiative. In 2009, I called it the 9 City Bridge Run, and it was undertaken in response to the suicides of many friends as an effort to show that resilience and community wellbeing could be counterpoints to the conversation that was prevalent about depression and suicide. Long story short, that journey was personally a success, but a complete failure in attempting to have some impact on an issue which I considered to be important.
Unger refreshingly argues that change can be piecemeal, fragmentary, gradual and experimental. His words help to reframe our perspective: “we should not associate radical change with wholesale change, and gradual change with inconsequential change.”
The strength in Unger’s words to me is this: “To grasp what it can become” is necessary to embrace is we are to overcome the failure of structural imagination. To be sure, I have take Unger’s words out of the context they were written for, but I believe that remain entirely relevant to this situation.
And so from that conversation in Newcastle, I realised a few things. And this is where you come into the picture.
I realised that my efforts have been too much me pushing. As valiant as that might be, it leaves little room for the ‘us’ to truly collaborate on this epic quest.
I realised that concluding this quest through the publication of the book Life Bridge and the holding of a series of Design Forum to address this conversation about child survival required more input from others. It was possible, but it wasn’t just a matter of pushing harder from where I am now. I need to relent a little to invite others in to this space.
I also realised that what I achieved in 2009 and in the recent 10 City Bridge Run was worth exploring further. And this has pointed me to the next steps. And I’ll come to that shortly at the end of this blog.
Mao famously had a quote to ‘let a hundred flowers bloom’ which was actually a ruse to out the intellectuals within Chinese society so that their influence could be purged by “enticing the snakes out of their caves.” I think that Mao was definitely onto something. Not the crackdown of dissidents, but an openness to others being involved.
One of the last acts of the 10 City Bridge Run involved me delivering a letter to The Hon Julie Bishop MP, Australia’s Foreign Minister, asking her to be the champion for this initiative. Her staff replied in time, and I recorded a video when I was in Korea earlier this year just after receiving their message. Watch it below:
And this is where you come in. I’m asking for some help. I’m inviting 100 people to be our champions of change, to pick up the slack where Julie Bishop is unable to put her shoulder to the wheel. Returning to Unger, I note his words: “Great ideas are not beyond the reach of ordinary people.” So please note that I am looking for 100 champions of change, and you could be one. There will be more on that in a later blog post.
But here is the final comment, and the point of this blog post. Hope is the consequence of action. What I am proposing is to return to my initiative from 2009, and next year in March 2016, to run 16 runs in 16 towns across NSW in 16 successive day, and in each of those towns it is conducted where there is a group, individual or organisation that is prepared to host a Design Forum. The issue will be the same one I championed in 2009 which was to address the taboo issue of depression and suicide. The reason for this activity in March is to provide a rehearsal for the big event in September/October 2016.
So then in mid-September through until mid-late October over the course of a month, I undertake to run 17 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 17 cities across more than 10 countries. In both the March and the September/October dates, I will be inviting others to run with me, and more about that later. And importantly for the September/October event, in each of the cities, and in other cities even where running doesn’t take place, I will be asking people to organise these Design Forum for me. Why 17? Because that is the new number of Sustainable Development Goals. What about child survival? That remains a key focus, but also we will be taking a holistic focus in line with the Sustainable Development Goals.
Many friends have given me very good counsel about my execution of the 10 City Bridge Run, noting my shortfall on a reliable team, social media strategy and media coverage. Those are all very good comments, and I completely accept the need for improvement in those areas as well as many other. We now have an opportunity to get this right, but I seriously need the help from others.
We are at a Turning Point where Hope is the consequence of Action. And to achieve this Turning Point, it is necessary for us to take The Next Step, together.
Joe Louis the great American boxer was attributed to saying “He can run, but he can’t hide”, but that is not the reference I had in my mind when I started writing this post. I am sure it is a line from a movie somewhere, but someone will have to help me out.
The point is that we have a past, and try as we might to shake off the bad bits, they are part of makes us who we are for better or worse. Learning to live from the past is of far more importance. Make peace with the past and become a better person.
When I ran through Singapore, I was reminded of my early days as a young officer in the Australian Army when we did some training exercises in Singapore. I didn’t so much run through Singapore as across it, from top to bottom starting at the Causeway and finishing on Sentosa Island. I was a hot and humid day, and I was feeling it, probably getting a little heat stroke and dehydration along the way.
A short distance after getting started on the third leg of this journey when I ran across Singapore, I passed this red sign you can see on this post.
Singapore is only a small island, and so space is at a premium. It is also a country with conscription with every male required to do national service. So with a large army, they need space to train, and safely. This sign to some extend explains that, but it also echoes a past history marked by violent struggle to emerge as a strong democracy.
We have to know our past. There are lessons to be learnt, and the getting of wisdom.
Without sounding too dramatic, there is a lot we stand to learn about child survival from what has happened in the past. Not everything has worked, and no doubt there has been a lot of wastage. Some of that has been well-intentioned, and other has been simply wasteful. But this is not a time for criticism, but analysis and designing a better future. And that is what this journey is about. The 10 City Bridge Run asks “how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?” We are not all experts, but we can learn from those who have gone before.
Here is a short reflection from during the third leg across Singapore:
And here is a short musical note of thanks from the very talented Freddie King to Robert for his support on the 10 City Bridge Run. Thanks Robert!
December has been unmistakably cold in Seoul with temperatures down to -13 degrees celcius. There is a lot of ice and snow on the streets, and it makes doing distance in training difficult. Last night I ran through one of the extensive subway stations for training. Jongno 3-Ga has six platforms and 15 exits, so I could get some good distance, and even work in plenty of stairs into the run.
Jongno 3-Ga station became the world’s largest indoor gym for me last night as I sought refuge from the cold and ice during my training run.
Six platforms and 15 exits provided a good route to traverse without freezing entirely. I even had stairs!
Glasgow, Toronto and New York will be slightly warmer, and I expect wet, not snowy or icy. Running in cold for extended periods comes with its own challenges.
Here is the schedule for the journey ahead:
- Christmas Day fly to London
- 26 December arrive in London and directly transit to Glasgow
- 28 December run in Glasgow
- 28 December fly to London
- 29 December fly to Toronto
- 31 December run in Toronto
- 31 December fly to New York
- 3 January run in New York
- 3 January hold a wake for my brother and after-party to celebrate the conclusion of the running stunt ahead of the Design Forum ahead
- 5/6 January return to Australia
It is time to continue this journey. The time to complete the last three runs has been far, far longer than I had anticipated, with great delays in between. A satisfying experience? Not really. In fact, not at all.
Let me rephrase that: it is time to continue the journey or to give it up.
My good friend gave me some good counsel earlier tis year. She said “look, all of this ambition is admirable, but you are not getting any younger. You can’t just wait forever. You really have to do it or give it up.” It wasn’t an ultimatum, it was good advice from a friend who cared.
And so I began. There have been plenty of mistakes along the way. Too many to mention. Stumbling forward in spite of myself, not really running in any heroic sense.
I avoided media earlier on because I knew deep down how pathetically inadequate my efforts were. I was hardly in a position to start, but at the same time had too much to lose by throwing my hands up and walking away. Besides, that is not my style.
And so I stumbled through this journey. Along the way a couple of friends unfriended me on Facebook over really petty stuff. Surprisingly, that took its toll as well. Was I just some misguided idiot?
And so I am now at that point, having been delayed in Seoul since my last run by almost a month now, and that run in Seoul taking place one month after I arrived. That is totally crazy.
This journey has always been ambitious. I never really appreciated how wildly ambitious it was at first. Would I have started if I knew this was going to be the trouble I would encounter? Hard to say.
The reality is that in the process of doing something, it changes you because of the fresh perspective you gain. Once changed, you can’t go back to how you were before. You see the world through fresh eyes, even if other people don’t.
In the midst of this, my brother died. Aren’t there more important things for me to be doing? Shouldn’t I play it safe? Return home to be with the family?
Besides which, how will I sustain this journey? Getting to Glasgow (my next city) is manageable, but flying home from New York (the final city) is well outside of my reach at the moment.
A friend asked me recently, how on earth did running have anything to do with child survival? Wouldn’t it just be better to raise money, or go any do some volunteer work somewhere, or just hold a gathering and talk about it? Why go to all this trouble?
It does remind me of the joke about the Irish swimmer who wanted to cross the English Channel. He made it two-thirds of the journey, and was so exhausted, he turned around and went back to where he bagan. It sounds like a stupid joke, but it actually makes sense. It is easier to stick with what you know than to go into unchartered waters.
Right now. I am about to dive back into those unchartered waters. It would be easier to go back to my brother’s funeral, but I really believe he would have wanted me to persevere. It was one of the things he admired in me.
What’s more is that my family are now almost expecting me to continue. My eulogy is prepared, and will be read by my sister. I think if I returned now, it would almost be a let-down, as much as everyone would be pleased to see me. It has the added benefit of giving people something to focus on in the post-funeral slump I would imagine too.
All of this at a time when an incredible event has rocked Sydney to the core. The strangest image just came across my Facebook feed. It was a friend taking a selfie in Martin Place with a steely look of resolve and some words about how sad we are all about the incident in Martin Place. Of course, he is right, but it is misplaced community spirit. We don’t need to wait for times of the worst to bring out the best in us.
And that is why I run. In my pathetically unfit, near broke, condition with no certainty of making it to the next city, let alone the end of the next lonely journey of 24km. I do it because I can, and we should. We should act now, today, and do what we can with what we have.
As I answered my friend, the running is important because more than just painting a narrative, I am seeing this journey afresh. I don’t mean this journey I am taking now, but the journey which you are all invited to participate in next year when we look to address this issue of child survival across a rolling series of Design Forum that stretch through the year.
Will we find answers? I don’t know, but none of us will know if we don’t try.
What I do know is that the investment in time has already paid off in terms of giving me fresh eyes to give this effort impact. That is a huge journey ahead next year, and I will be relying on all of the resourcefulness and guile that comes from this quest I am undertaking now, clumsily stumbling in the right direction, slowly but making progress.
The worst thing to do would be to wait until conditions are perfect because they never will be. Go now!
Having now run through six of the 10 cities, and ahead of the seventh leg here in Seoul, I have come to realise that going on the journey is necessary to improve child survival. These are things I could not have known from the beginning of the journey that I have learnt along the way. While this stunt might seem superfluous and unrelated to the question of child survival, taking these first steps has been an essential part of the journey.
Experiencing different cultures and how different people think, while not a new experience, has shown me that this is a bigger conversation than simply holding a singular Design Forum in one location as was the original intention. By talking about this journey with others, my reach has been extended well beyond my grasp. Perhaps most importantly, I have come to recognise many of my own weaknesses and how the support from others is indispensable in order to make a difference.
While in Port Moresby, I learnt a Tok Pisin expression: “Yumi wok bung wontime!”. The expression means “Let’s walk together!” I am appealing specifically to a select group of ‘bridge builders’ within our extended networks to walk with us, so that we can together reach the destination of the Design Forum.
It doesn’t involve any ice or any buckets, and will only take seconds of your time.
The 50 Hour Challenge involves you forwarding this message to three of your friends.
This is about the 10 City Bridge Run, which is an epic journey involving a stunt running 10 sub-marathons each of 24 km in 10 cities across 10 countries, to open a conversation asking: ‘how might we use our networks to improve the delivery of child survival?‘
You can read more, and also support this journey at www.igg.me/at/10citybridgerun.
Right now, I am seeking a little help from just over 50 ‘bridge builders’ to help cross the imagination gap by each contributing $1 for each kilometre I am running during the 10 City Bridge Run.
If ever this stunt had meaning, it is now. Less than 50 hours remain to successfully fund the remaining journey for the 10 City Bridge Run.
The 10 City Bridge Run is grounded in an idea that it is through the triumph of imagination that we are able to achieve new possibilities. Bill Shore in his 2010 book: “The Imaginations of Unreasonable Men” describes a “narrow but vitally important space between the impractical and the impossible” which he calls the ‘imagination gap’. He writes:
The imagination gap is a place where hope lies waiting to be discovered, and cannot be extinguished once it has. Most failures in life are not failures of resources, or organisation, or strategy or discipline. They are failures of imagination.
All funds receive directly support the 10 City Bridge Run and the mission to improve the delivery of child survival through the running of the stunt itself, culminating in a series of Design Forum that will occur through 2015 to unpack this question of improving child survival. Supporters to the 10 City Bridge Run are in effect pre-purchasing a copy of the book ‘Life Bridge’ featuring a photo-essay of 100 photos of ‘human bridges’ that illustrates the importance of connection to design solutions to difficult problems such as improving child survival.
Please support this cause. Together, we can make a difference that matters by crossing the imagination gap.
Getting closer to the last four legs of the 10 City Bridge Run has presented its own challenges. The cost of living and travel to UK, Canada and US are significantly higher than the Asian cities where most of my time has been spent to date.
By itself, that ought to not be cause for concern, except that I am travelling on a very tight budget. Extending myself increases risk, and to a point that is not acceptable.
My earlier intention was to travel through New York to run on UN Day, 24 October. But it was a bridge too far, as it were. On 22 October this week, I was clear this wasn’t going to happen.
I held on to the possibility of achieving this plan of running in New York as scheduled until the afternoon before the day I was due to travel. The last safe moment. By then, it was clear that not only was I not going to make it to New York on 24 October, but because that is where my focus had been my preparedness for a contingency was only lightly developed.
There have been enough delays since 2010 with faltering attempts to start the journey. I was well aware of that. This was a stunt to inspire the imagination, not a catastrophe.
I don’t propose to apologise for a changing schedule. Yes, there are ways this initiative could have been better executed. But guess, what? This is me..
I’m flying to Seoul tonight, arriving in time for UN Day, but arriving at the airport, I recognised I was not prepared to run. Physically I am good. But the preparation on the ground is not as it should be.
24 October had become a distraction. Yes, it is good for the narrative. But no one really gives a second thought to the date. I will use this opportunity to get better organised, connect with a wider network I have yet to engage.
Seoul is a great city to run in. Let’s go, get organised, and enjoy this run.