Multisports Q&A: Battler Bowles on staggering journey of discovery

By Peter Thornton

Richard Bowles is bowling his way through New Zealand the hard way. Photo / Supplied
Richard Bowles is bowling his way through New Zealand the hard way. Photo / Supplied

Richard Bowles is counting down the days until he can rest his weary legs on December 15.

The Briton adventure runner is over halfway to becoming the first person to run 3054km of the Te Araroa Trail, which stretches from Cape Reinga to Bluff.

It will be the end of a long and winding road that he has run this year. During 2012, Bowles became the first person to run the world's longest marked trail, the rough and remote National Trail of Australia, raising awareness and funds for mental health organisation Sane Australia along the way.

In just 5 months he ran the equivalent of 127 marathons, and traversed the treacherous dividing range mountains from Melbourne to Cooktown.

The endless pursuit of adventure continued in New Zealand on Saturday, October 13, with him completing 50km of off-road running every day until he is done on December 15.

He is raising funds and awareness for Project Crimson, a leading conservation organisation that has made impressive progress re-establishing pohutukawa and rata nationwide by planting trees, co-ordinating and supporting maintenance activities, scientific research, possum-control programmes and public education.

Many people have run the 2200km length of New Zealand on relatively flat terrain. But Bowles will run this distance plus another half, and on rugged, mountainous terrain.

"The trail less travelled offers the best adventures, and I'm all about challenging myself on a daily basis," he said.

We caught up with the 34-year-old Englishman who is loves pushing himself to the limit.

Q: You're just over halfway, how is the body holding up so far?

Do you want the hard truth or what I tell everyone to keep positive? [Laughs.] I am in a bit of pain but that is to be expected. You don't often run 50km every day and everything is sweet. There are always niggles and pain but you get used to it and you keep on going.

I am not Superman. I am doing what I can every day to get the 50km done and then I start again. The terrain is much tougher than I expected, which equals more time on the feet and makes for longer days and less recovery time. That is adding to the challenge but I am up for it.

Q: What has inspired you to take on this challenge?

People always ask me "why?", and when I am out there running forever I often ask myself the same question. I have just come from running the National Trail of Australia, which was 5330km, and at the end of that mission I started to think, "Well, what next?" And the logical next step was to come to New Zealand.

I love running in the mountains and New Zealand has plenty of them, and it was a lot closer than Nepal. Plus, I just love a challenge and to be the first person to run the Te Araroa Trail would be amazing and something great to look back on.

Q: What is the hardest part of doing something like this - the mental or the physical side?

Well, both, but I guess the mental side is tougher. Running 50km every day is one thing, but your mind wanders to all the other things you could be doing so sometimes it is hard to keep your focus and concentration.

I want to be running 10km per hour for the whole journey but with the terrain being tough that blows that out by 30 minutes every day.

Mentally you have to stay tough and not give up.

Q: I imagine one of the best things of this journey is the people you have met along the way?

Absolutely. Kiwis are world-famous for being very hospitable people and they haven't let me down on this run so far. I have been humbled by the support I have received. I have been welcomed into people's homes to stay and have dinner with them, been taken out for dinner - people have even offered me the keys to their beach houses. It is incredible. That generosity and support means so much.

Q: When you wake up in pain, how do you force yourself to put the runners on and keep going?

Well, pain is temporary. I am a running coach in Australia and I tell my students back home that they may feel like they are in pain but the body can take so much more than we give it. It is all about keeping positive and achieving goals along the way to get to the end of the ultimate goal.

Q: What advice do you offer to people looking to overcome their own challenges?

With running there is always an element of pain and I guess life can be the same. You have to get through that. With running there are lots of points along the way where I could give up, but I don't let myself.

Pain is part of it and there are moments in life when you are going to be uncomfortable. You have to deal with them and in a way run through it.

If you are going to be hard about it you'd say: "Suck it up, princess, and get on with it." But it is not always that easy. My advice would be set yourself realistic goals and go about achieving them and don't give up.

Q: What have you sacrificed to do this?

Well, I try my best to fit running into my lifestyle. It is hard when you have to run 40-50km in training to be ready for a period of running like this. Most of my friends are into running so rather than meeting at the pub for a few beers we all head out for a big run.

I also use running to commute. We'll be going to a party at a friend's house and I'll run there, have a shower, and at the end of the night run home. I don't want to miss out because of running so I have made it fit my lifestyle.

Q: What is it that you enjoy about running?

Well the whole thing I am searching for with running is the why, and I hope I never find it. Running in itself is pretty boring and can be a bit of a grind, but it is all the things that come with it that I love. I love the opportunity it gives me to see parts of the world I otherwise wouldn't. I love the feeling of being fit and being able to do most things physically, I love the connection I get through people, I love that I can have a goal any day and go and achieve it, and I love that I can have a goal over a year and achieve that too. There are lots of times when it is painful and awful, but they pale in comparison to all the highs.

Q: What is next?

I have to have a break. I am pretty buggered and doing this 3 weeks on the back of 5 months in Australia was taking on a lot. It was probably a bit optimistic. But I'll get there and then have some time out to think about what I am going to do next.


Richard Bowles

Bowles has many years' experience in the discipline of distance-running and regularly runs 200km a week on trails around Melbourne.

His running achievements include:

*The first person to run the world's longest marked trail

*The Australian record-holder of the 2010 Tenzing Hillary Mt Everest Marathon

*Winner of the 2011 Tasmanian Three Peaks Race (sailing and mountain-running event)

*Record-holder of the Wilsons Prom Ultramarathon 2010.

Richard is fundraising for Project Crimson. Donations can be made at www.givealittle.co.nz/org/projectcrimson

For more info go to www.richardbowles.com.au

- NZ Herald

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