It’s never too late to take action.
That’s the motto of adventure runner Mick Marshall who is ‘having a crack’ at his lifelong dream of breaking a Guinness World Record.
The 49-year-old is on a mission to run eight ultra-marathons in some of the world’s most gruelling conditions.
He has his sights set on breaking the world record for most desert races run in a single year.
The brutal running itinerary covers 1,436 kilometres across the deserts of Peru, Oman, Africa, India, the United States, and Australia.
It’s a courageous attempt at a lifelong dream, but also a chance to channel his passion to help others.
The electrician turned therapeutic carer is hoping to send a simple message – that we are all capable of positive change.
And he has set an ambitious goal to raise more than $140,000 while he’s at it.
“As a little kid I always dreamt about being in the Guinness Book of World Records and I used to try all these things to get in there. It is funny when opportunity strikes, and it struck me at age 49,” he said.
Mick will donate money raised from his fundraising campaign to child and family welfare organisation Berry Street, where he works as a therapeutic carer.
He will also support charities RU OK?, River’s Gift and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation throughout the campaign.
“Apart from the personal level of getting a world record, I wanted to drag along the organisations that have assisted me to be who I am,” Mick said.
“We all have our own mental health issues and challenges and for me it was connecting with people that helped me make a change.
“I want to create awareness that we can all make positive change in our lives. Just to take that first step towards change is a pretty hard thing to do but a very rewarding one too.”
Mick had run for leisure his entire life, but it was only seven years ago at age 42 that he tackled his first marathon.
“I dipped in with not much training at all and not much knowledge of running. I completed it,” Mick said.
“I didn’t do it in a bad time but I couldn’t walk out of the MCG. I was just done. I swore I would never do anything like that again.”
Now he’s counting down the days to the first of his eight desert runs. The Big Red Run covers 150km of the Simpson Desert in six days, kicking off on June 27.
“The training is pretty intense. I’m running five days and doing gym work, strength work and a lot of mind work and meditation,” Mick said.
“You are out there for a long long time – you have to be at peace with yourself just to keep chugging along. The mental training is the toughest bit.”
Tackling 42 kilometres on the first day, three half marathons and a marathon on the last day over the largest sand dune in the southern hemisphere would be an achievement of a lifetime for most.
But for Mick, the Big Red is just a training run. It is one he has done before and will be the easiest of the eight.
Race two will take him to Peru, race four he will run run 100 kilometres through the Sahara Desert in North Africa and in race five he will cross the Oman Desert.
But it is the last races that will raise his nerves.
“The last race is called The Track Australia. It is a 520 km race that is totally self sufficient. That’s the toughy,” Mick said.
“That is what these first seven races will be building up to which is why I see them all as training steps to those last events. It is 520 km from Alice Springs to Uluru and it is pretty brutal. It is over nine days and fully self sufficient.
“You have to cart your bedding, all your clothes, all your tucker for those nine days. It is a very very tough gig. We have got 15 kilogram backpacks on. People don’t see that. They have a look at your time but they don’t realise you have got all this equipment you must cart.
You have just got to keep going, enjoying, staying in the moment.Mick Marshall
“The race in India Run the Ran is another one that is fully self sufficient. But they’re all very different. I am doing one in Utah which is 100 kilometres straight. That will be one of my hardest races. You have got 20 hours to complete it, it is in the desert, its thin air and it's also very hot. We don’t get a break.
“You have just got to keep going, enjoying, staying in the moment. That’s where the mindfulness comes into it. It is a big part for any endurance athlete, a space you have got to find and go to.
“The pain does come –there is no two ways about it, it comes. It is about how you deal with it that counts. If everything is not in tune you are in strife.”
It is this example of resilience Mick hopes to share with the young people he works with at Berry Street.
Berry Street western region deputy director Warrick Remilton said he had already seen troubled youth gravitate to Mick’s campaign and share in his success.
“We see the flow on effects and the positive impact it will have not just on kids but their families, and staff morale,” he said.
“What he is doing is very powerful. I think he will be able to have a positive influence on whoever connects with this campaign.”
Mick works one on one with young people in his role as a therapeutic carer at Berry Street, helping transition from their troubled background to an improved lifestyle through positive change.
“One of the young lads we are working with has come a long way. He said to me the other day ‘I love what you are doing. All I can say to you is that I am doing my best’,” Mick said.
“For someone who has come from a very rough background to even be brave enough to say that is enough for me.”
Money raised through Mick’s campaign will be invested in Berry Street locally to support young people and their families who suffer trauma and neglect.
Deputy director Warrick Remilton said the funding could improve campaigns to recruit foster carers, help expand the Berry Street School and expand the family violence program.
“We are hoping to expand the number of enrollments we can take at the school. We only have 20 places at this point,” he said.
“Our family violence program helps around 10,000 women each year state wide from only two bases here in Ballarat and in Melbourne. It is tough work. This campaign is so important for Berry Street and Ballarat and the positive change it can make.”
Excitement is building at Berry Street at Mick prepares to pound through red sand on his ultra-marathon journey into the unknown.
“You go above and beyond what you feel you are capable of doing. You are limitless in what you can do,” Mick said.
“We have got to be the ones to push our own barrier to find those places and surprise ourselves. That’s what I am hoping to do as well – to surprise myself and say ‘wow, I can do it’.
“There is a big element of excitement there for me and hopefully that will encroach on to anyone and everyone.”
Mick is calling on the Ballarat community to get behind the Running 4 Change campaign.
You can follow his journey or donate on the website running4change.com.au.
Businesses are also invited to get on board the campaign. Mick is available for post race presentations, talks and running advice.