Interview between Friends Council and ultra-marathon runner Richard Bowles

The Council of the Friends of the Heysen Trail was able to sit down and chat with ultra-marathon runner Richard Bowles, who recently completed his 15-day run of the 1,200 km Heysen Trail.

In the interview he talks about his excellent experience with the Heysen Trail – the scenery, the way marking, the huts, the people. He goes on to describing himself as not a runner or superhuman, yet why he undertakes such runs, talking about headspace and motivation. He talks about food, shoes and why he camped on the trail.

Captions are available in the video.


Richard Bowles >> I’ve ran many trails around the world and if I’m honest this [the Heysen Trail] is the best marked, the best looked after, the huts are amazing, you guys have done a wonderful job. You should give yourselves a round of applause.


Someone >> [inaudible comment]

Richard Bowles >> And the support has been fantastic, and Robert (president) and other people that came out to the trail. Not just from the Heysen – the Friends of the Heysen – but people from all around Adelaide, runners and others alike for a quick handshake or quick donation to the charity. It’s been absolutely overwhelming, amazing. I just don’t know where these people came from, out of the er woodwork.

Richard Bowles >> As you guys know, you’ve been out there, it’s an amazing trail, right across the entire length and um I guess this thing that people, I guess walkers often say to me, you must miss a lot running. No, I just see more in one day. I see the landscape change within the morning and afternoon, and that’s kinda incredible, you know, to see it change so quickly. Um, it is so diverse out there, it’s incredible. Er if I think I am honest I think it’s probably longer than I originally thought, I don’t know why when you hear the word ‘range’ you think that is potentially flat. I don’t know where that came into my head. But ah I know it definitely has it’s challenging moments. Robert did ask me if I fell over, I did fall over. Also learnt to speak French while I was out there as well. I lot of the times were a lot like that. Ah particularly on those dry creek beds, river beds, through gorges and stuff. That’s tough going for a runner. I done those kinda of things before, they’re always a challenge, always. [inaudible word]

Richard Bowles >> Look I think the biggest question people ask me is ‘why?’ ‘Why would someone want to go and do that, within two weeks, to put themselves through two marathons a day, or 85km a day, through that kinda of environment.’ It’s a question that I struggle to answer. I still ask myself that same question every day, particularly when I’m out, I’m going ‘why?, why would I want to do this to myself?’ And I guess the last er 6 months before coming into this particular project, I sat down with a bunch of psychiatrists, most people think that is quite fitting, you bloody should. To try and figure out why I do what I do, why I go and take these huge challenges, these trails around the globe. And er quickly what I have learnt is that it’s not what really about the why, the why is so different for everybody. I guess you guys in this room are all trying to head toward a common goal, but your reasonings for doing this are all so different, the reasons why you are here tonight are so different. And your why changes weekly, daily, monthly, mine changes by the minute at times when I’m out there on the trail. Um, so yeah the why is hard, but I think the better answer to that question is ‘how?’, ‘how does the everyday,’ and believe it or not I am an everyday guy, I say to people, ‘I’m not superman, I’m just this everyday guy,’ ,’how does he go out there and achieve something monstrous in a sense’, and that’s what I try to show in those video documentaries. Did any of you guys see those little snippets of video we put out?

Someone >> [inaudible]

Richard Bowles >> If you’ve not seen those, I recommend you do, um we put twoof those out first five days, then ten day mark, then the last one has just been released now. So um kinda gives a bit of insight into my headspace and you know my thoughts and the things that go on. I guess I’ll just open up some questions to you, to you guys, what some of the things arise you know. Be it about me, be it about the trail, nice and easy to follow, and it is, you guys have done a fantastic job. You can almost run the trail without a map, I wouldn’t suggest it to anyone did that but you could, you know, it’s well trodden, um it’s marked in both directions and it really is a nice easy trail to follow.

Colin Edwards >> What time did you start and finish?

Richard Bowles >> So I was averaging 12 hours a day so I was starting at 6:30 am finish off obviously at 6:30 pm. Um, and that was challenging because of the light, it was getting dark at 5:30pm here in Adelaide every day we were adding a minute. By the time we finishing it was actually 15 mins of darkness, hence why on that last leg I kinda did a bit more in the dark at night across the Fleurieu Peninsula just to kinda bite off a bit more mileage. Those were long days, you know, I’m used to that kinda stuff. But, it’s not so bad for me believe it or not, it’s worse for the team [points to team partner Vicki] cos they’re up before me and they go to bed after me, and between that it’s all about me. But they’re exhausted, they cant sleep, always preparing things for me, you know, the whole project is about me, it’s kinda self centered really.

Someone >> [inaudible comment]

Dom Henschke >> Richard, my question is you were talking about why. But how do you do it. [inaudible]… I walk for a 100 ks but that was miniscule, that was 14 years ago when I sat at the front. But how do you manage to bound out those steps. I saw you on the Channel 7 news and on the er YouTube thing, it was …. I’d be crawling by the time I finished. I know I wasn’t stretching, I don’t know all the things in your body, but are you superhuman or is it just what a regular person can do with how many years of training?

Richard Bowles >> Well I think a regular person can do anything they want to do, I think that’s what it comes down to. They want to do that. I say to people, for instance, they might want to loose some weight. They come to me saying ‘I might start running,’ and I say ‘why?, and they say ‘to loose weight’. But I hate running, why do you hate running? It’s very difficult to loose weight. If you like to dance, to play tennis, go and do that. It’s very easy to get out of bed and do that. So I guess first of all there’s about the wants, the want to. And then, I’ve got this ability I think to put my mind in a place that’s, let’s say is, is comfortable for room to move, a nice couch and a cup of tea, and I stay in that room until the whole trip is over. Now that doesn’t mean that I don’t go through all those painful moments and bad times, it just means my head space is always in a good place. Now I think that is why you see me smile a lot. I’m very outward in that, in talking to other people, see how they’re going. I’ve met with walkers out there and ask how their trip was going, and I think by doing that it doesn’t put the emphasis on me, and therefore I don’t feel those things perhaps I should feel. Um, again, it becomes a point on these trips where it’s purely mental, the body is not designed to do activity 1 or two marathons a day over that kinda of terrain, you know, it’s a real effort and a struggle.

Dom Henschke >> I assume you must come across the End-to-End 9 group [Friends of the Heysen Trail walking group] on the last day down there on the Cape Jervis?

Richard Bowles >> I did, that was a big group. There was a lot of high fives [laughter]. I had a sorer hand then feet after that.

Dom Henschke >> I was hoping you were going to do that, because to me that was when you were just going to need it. There were going to be these people starting out when you were going the other way, when you have done it. Did that give you something, or were you already close enough t the end that you were over your doubts along the way?

Richard Bowles >> Well you are over your doubts but that stage, you know, … it’s funny, often before you start the trip the trip in your own mind is done, I don’t think how about how it is going to be. I feel like I think about what it is going to be like now it is finished. I’m going to be here speaking to you guys, I’m going to be talking to people, to Channel 7, I’m thinking about those things. Yeah so in my own mind it’s kinda already been done, I’m just playing it out there. But again, certainly when you meet people and you tell them what you just

being doing, ‘oh congratulations, that’s amazing,’ of course it’s […] reflects amazing. I think I ran that section pretty quick actually when I saw those people. Look at me. [laughter]

Someone >> What about your food?

Richard Bowles >> It’s probably not as er technical as people think actually it’s you know, it’s very straight forward, it’s you’re kinda three straight meals a day, it’s just in bugger quantities. Um I don’t eat any kinda special diet, I mean really, I’m making sure I’m getting my proteins and the carbohydrates and stuff. My whole day is made up of sports nutrition, bars and gels and stuff. You guys are eating that stuff […] it’s horrible, it just becomes a fuel source, you know it’s not really about eating. It’s just about putting your fuel in. Um

there then at the end of each day you made all sorts of things [looks to support team member Vicki], pasta dishes, potato and strews and all sorts of delicious stuff.

Vickie Saunders >> all canned

Richard Bowles >> or not delicious, it just tastes […] at the same time

Vickie Saunders >> to be honest, during the day, it’s when the mental side of things come in. I prepare a smorgasbord of treats at every aid station, he can just just take whatever he wanted. It might just be some potato chips, sandwich, or biscuit, just something that was enjoyable for him to consume, and a little bit …. that was how I saw it. You certainly didn’t need that.

Richard Bowles >> No …

Vickie Saunders >> It was a nice little treat

Richard Bowles >> But the answer is ‘a lot’, you eat a lot, you wonder where it goes. You think jeeves I can eat more than that horse in the field.


Someone >> Have you ever known you have missed [enough food], that you haven’t had enough to eat, the fatigue, that comes with that

Richard Bowles >> Err.

Someone >> Or do you just tend to over do it.

Richard Bowles >> I don’t normally over do it. I just know I need a minimum number of calories per hour, and I’ve got that on me all the time. Yeah so it’s just constant. Whether you like it or not it’s just easier to go in. The only time you get caught out with fatigue when you’re not doing the right thing with food, is when you are not drinking enough. Then you know notice that, that you dehydrate.

Robyn Quinn >> Do you have trouble hydrating, you know cos the guys that the Tour de France type of thing, they have trouble just taking enough fluid in

Richard Bowles >> Yeah, it’s up and down to be honest. Yeah I mean some days you just don’t drink as much as other days. In fact this trip is I probably drank more on other trip, I mean Israel, is pretty bloody hot. Um, it’s just, sometimes it can be an effort and you just need to force it down. And I am literally going by how many times I go to the toilet, if not regular enough I need to drink more fluids. Even then I need to check that is clear or yellow.

Robyn Quinn >> You don’t get queasy in the stomach from drinking so much?

Richard Bowles >> I don’t think I could drink that much. Yeah almost impossible for me to guzzle down too much

Robyn Quinn >> And what about the aftermath on your body? you know knees, ankles, is there…. coming downhills. Is there [inaudible] coming down?

Richard Bowles >> You definitely, the first day you know about it. The second day you really know about it, then you question yourself, ‘why am I doing this, this is ridiculous?’. Then you are just trying to push yourself through more pain. You kinda get used to it. I never think for the rest of the time, it’s just there and you just become used to it. It’s like people when they have back pain, I’m sure you’ve … the back pain, you’ve grown with it for years and you just kinda live with it and that’s kinda what happens out on the trail. My feet were you know, swollen, swollen up, ankles were swollen up, I was sore, I had problems that would come and a day later they would go. It’s kinda amazing when you just push your body and you just keep demanding more, how it kinda adapts and just changes. You guys probably know from your own [….] when you go out there, on the first day things are a bit tough, then you get in a bit of a rhythm, and you kinda feel pretty good, I mean it’s the

same kinda thing […]

Robert Alcock >> What about coming down after? This week?

Vickie Saunders >> That’s what I think we can grab you for.

Richard Bowles >> Yeah. It’s not really the day after, it’s the day after the day after. Yeah so yesterday was my real bad day. Yeah you don’t really know who you are, or you’re not particularly excited, you’re not sad, you don’t know if you’re hungry or you’re not, or want to watch television or want to go for a walk, really hard you don’t know what you want to do.

Robyn Quinn >> Your body is telling you it wants to go for a run really

Richard Bowles >> Yeah kinda strange yeah you know, all sorts of different things come in and it’s different, eating, I mean obviously I’m eating, but it’s like craving bad food, eating something like lollies or chips. It’s kinda like my goes ‘I want lollies, I want chips’. This is the worst time to eat loads of chips, what am I going to do with them?

Male 3 >> Tempo that varies only according to the terrain, or if it gets flat do you find yourself I mean, flat and easy going

Richard Bowles >> Easy going is harder for me. So when the going is flat and easy, and I had a day like that, I did 65km I think, um err

Vickie Saunders >> It was to Tanunda, Tanunda, the wine region

Robert Alcock >> through the Barossa

Richard Bowles >> Yeah I remember you said, you could see I was a struggling on the track

Vickie Saunders >> It’s flat and he only did 65 [km]

Richard Bowles >> Sometimes with flat terrain it’s…

Robyn Quinn >> every step is the same

Richard Bowles >> yeah, it’s that, and I think it’s, I think mentally you know that you can do the distance if it’s flat. At any moment pick up the speed and just get this done and with that becomes this kinda not wanting to go, complacency with it. Yeah if you give me this 80km big rugged mountain range, you know you have to just get on with it or you’re going to be out there when it is dark, cold and horrible. You kinda push yourself through. Um so yeah sometimes the flatter terrain’s hard, but there’s kinda a set speed, and you said it, the terrain dictates my day and how it is going. It’s like this all day [hand gesture up] or like this all day [hand gesture down] its a big difference.

Male 3 >> What was the rationale for starting in the north then?

Richard Bowles >> The hardest stuff first. Yeah, or it’s all in my mind I saw that dry creek bed stuff more demanding

Male 4 >> [….] Deep Creek before? Some of that can be a bit tough

Richard Bowles >> It’s kinda nothing compared to what the day’s before if I’m honest. Yeah I mean it’s pretty much up and down there but it’s all relative

Robert Alcock >> I mean you enjoy it, you can see the ocean you said, and you saw the whales and dolphins

Richard Bowles >> Saw whales, saw dolphins. It’s funny, we had a guy come and run that last section with me we got to the beach and running along the beach and he said ‘what’s that big fin there?’ and it’s was a whale, so we stop and take some pictures. We’re so lucky so see that. And then we run to the end of the beach there is this whole school of dolphins, jumping out of the water, it was unbelievable, some more fins and taking pictures. We climb over to the next beach and I said ‘wow there are some more fins in the water, I can’t believe it’, taking so many pictures, as we’re getting closer it’s just four surfers [laughter]. Like oops.

Robert Alcock >> And Elizabeth [Steele, birdlover] said you encountered some plovers

Richard Bowles >> Yeah, she was kinda surprised that I read the signage and stuff. Mate you have to read signs. I forgot to read a sign in Israel once and it said, this is like, an er army training club. I was chased by a tank, so you I kinda remembered to start reading signs.

Vickie Saunders >> and you signed the logbooks

Richard Bowles >> I signed the logbooks

Robert Alcock >> You signed all the logbooks

Richard Bowles >> That were there, yeah

Robert Alcock >> Cos I heard from someone who had seen your entry in one of the logbooks, I didn’t realize you stopped and signed them all.

Richard Bowles >> Yeah I stopped and signed the logbooks

Robert Alcock >> Terrific

Richard Bowles >> Cos I know it’s kinda history, it goes somewhere, put it in a file somewhere

Male 2 >> So what’s next for you

Vickie Saunders >> [gestures no, laughing]

Richard Bowles >> It’s funny, it’s not like I sit there with a big map, and go that looks, oh, I look at something and go […] appeals to me, looking at it for a long time, different places around the world appeal to me. It’s never those ones that come to me. It’s almost like these trails have pick me. Somehow, I don’t really know how, sometimes I wish I didn’t. It’s almost like they come to me, isn’t it [looking to Vickie]

Vickie Saunders >> He’s very unhappy because Richard is going on the cover of a magazine that is ending up in Israel and the lack of the marketing manager of the company of the backpack that Richard was wearing on cover of the magazine, they said, ‘are we sponsoring you?’, Richard said ‘no’ ‘Would you like to?’, they said yes, ‘have you got any long trails in Isreal?. ‘Yes we do’, ok, ‘then sponsor me and I’ll come over’. So it was kinda meant to be. And I cam here for a conference last year and er we… how did we hear about the Heysen [looking to Richard]?

Richard Bowles >> I knew of it. I mean I know of most of the trails in Australia for obvious reasons. Um but I went up for a run at er Morialta, yeah, and I saw the markers out there, and I thought ‘yeah this is the Heysen’. ‘So doyouknow what, I think I’ll just commit to that now’. That was really how it happened.

Vickie Saunders >> So where did the 14 days come from?

Bowles Richard >> [inaudible]

Vickie Saunders >> How did we say 14 days

Richard Bowles >> Cos we said it [inaudible]

Vickie Saunders >> No cos that was all I could take off work. If you can get it done in 14 days then I’m in.

Male 3 >> Have you done any stuff at altitude?

Richard Bowles >> Yeah well I did the Te Araroa trail in New Zealand

Male 3 >> Oh ok

Richard Bowles >> So that, so that starts in the very north of the north island and finishes at the tip of the south island around there. Mountain ranges, there’s some 3,000 metre peaks there. Um, very challenging, sometimes you are in the snow face deep, avalanche zones, It’s kinda dangerous stuff. That really is a wilderness trail. It was kinda…

Vickie Saunders >> Someone just died

Richard Bowles >> Yeah. And then some of the […] four […] seasons trail, I ran the Everest trail which starts at Base Camp, so that was kinda high altitude stuff

Male 2 >> [inaudible] lunchbox, I was doing a walk up around there reflecting on how [?clever] then suddenly out of nowhere appeared a […] guys running a complete marathon through the… just sorta real you know. [laughter] This is a one the greatest achievements of our lifetime and these people are just running the trail. [laughter]. And they run through places they had little groups of people [clapping] clap on the street, and they had walked walked up, you know, the bloody, the track.

Richard Bowles >> Yeah the [Te Araroa?] you can […] the more

Robyn Quinn >> So how many pairs of shoes did you get through

Richard Bowles >> Oh, two. and only one pair really. yeah

Robyn Quinn >> and your running shoes gripped on the river rocks alright?

Richard Bowles >> Yeah mainly, trail running shoes, are still a running shoe, I guess they are more designed to move laterally, running shows made for that forward motion. You take that out on a trail, it tends not to last. But also a trail shoe has obviously got a lot more grip. They try and use sticky type of rubbers, […] plenty of traction and stuff. Until you slip. […]

Robert Alcock >> Just to finish off. What were your sleeping arrangements? Er you did have rests overnight, how was that?

Richard Bowles >> Yeah, so we camped and we stayed in some of the huts too. So um

Vickie Saunders >> We stayed in two huts, we camped and we stayed in a couple of hotels

Richard Bowles >> Yeah […]

Vickie Saunders >> pub

Richard Bowles >> Yeah, I mean it’s er, what I have learnt from some of the things I’ve done is that you really need to sleep on the trail, even though it might be ten minutes to someone’s house, or ten minutes to a hotel or ten minutes to a campsite, that ten minutes is sometimes crucial. I could have eaten and slept through that ten minutes so if you’re going to go off ten minutes early, it becomes a real rigmarole of stuff, so this time around we really tried to stay on the trail. So we camped where we could, um and if we were in a town we jumped into a pub, and you’ve got some amazing huts. We did the old school house…

Robert Alcock >> Mt Bryan East

Richard Bowles >> I’m glad you remember names cos I don’t. Ah what did I just say, the old shearer’s quarters?

Vickie Saunders >> Yeah at the Dutchmans um […]


That was great. Pretty sure it was [inaudible]

Richard Bowles >> Yeah so some amazing places hey, even places we didn’t stay at, that we just had a quick look, and go away

Male 4 >> We’re you in touch with your crew all day, or what?

Vickie Saunders >> We would meet Rich quite frequently, and in the first few days, in the Flinders Ranges, he’d go up to 35km without seeing us, which could be up to 5 or 6 hours. Um as we got further south we tried to meet him between every 6 and 10 kilometres, and where we could, we could drive on the trail on the road. We’d take his backpack, put it in the car, and we’d drive right next to him, or meet him every 2 to 5 kilometres. It just depending on how he was tracking, if he was particularly tired I’d stay with him.If he was tired and grumpy I would meet him every few kilometres, not so much grumpy, but if he wasn’t in that head space, you know, he’s better to be left alone I think.

Richard Bowles >> Yeah

Vickie Saunders >> We played it by ear. I think that’s a thing with supporting someone, as probably you guys would know, sometimes people need a bit of nurturing, other times they want […] to do their thing

Richard Bowles >> But what a wonderful trail guys, you do a great job, it’s a real testament to you. It’s beautiful, obviously you don’t have much to do with that [laughter]

Vickie Saunders >> It’s well organised

Richard Bowles >> There’s lots of information, lots of great updates, the blogs are fantastic and the people who walk this trail are in awe that it’s there

Vickie Saunders >> It’s well known in South Australia. Everyone knows of the Heysen Trail, that’s incredible.

Robert Alcock >> We do a bit with South Australia, but it’s getting that knowledge out to the rest of Australia, and especially overseas to um to bring some of the people over to experience it

Richard Bowles >> I was hoping you’d done that, and I’m on the Channel…

Vickie Saunders >> We were on ABC Radio National tomorrow, Weekend Sunrise on Saturday morning, Channel Ten Morning Show next Thursday

[comment >> show was axed, interview did not screen. An interview was screened on the Today Show on Nine ]

Robert Alcock >> Thursday next week?

Vickie Saunders >> Yeah, we’ll jeep you posted

Richard Bowles >> Yeah it gets the name out there which is great. So thank you, thank you guys.