'If you want to experience something, run a marathon' - Speech, House of Representatives


Emil Zatopek once said, 'If you want to win something, run 100 metres. If you want to experience something, run a marathon.'

The Czech locomotive knew what he was talking about. In the 1952 Helsinki Olympics he'd won gold in the 5,000 and 10,000 metres, and he decided to enter the marathon. He had never run a marathon before, but he maintained a blistering pace in order to win that race.

There are many of us who enjoy running for the simple pleasure of it, well away from winning. As Dick Telford wrote in his terrific book Running: Through the Looking Glass: 'Running's not just a random something tacked onto each day. It's like eating and sleeping. Psychologically habitual, even addictive.’ There is a group of us who have used the Twitter tag #auspolrunners to share our running joys in our local electorates. Among us are the members for Warringah, Gippsland, Brand and Paterson and journalists Shane Wright and Sam Clark. We're among the many Australians for whom running is just part of living a good life. For me, the running genes go back to my grandfather Keith Leigh, who ran 50 miles on his 50th birthday. He clocked up a string of marathons and passed on to me some genes which have allowed me, thankfully, to keep on running at my current age, and hopefully for many years still to come.

For many Australians, running is synonymous with parkrun, a movement founded by Paul Sinton-Hewitt 15 years ago, which had emerged to the stage where, in the pre-COVID world, it involved more than 2,000 events in 21 countries with more than 350,000 people participating every week. Parkrun has been called ‘the most significant public health initiative of the 21st century’. Saturdays at 8 am, and it's free forever. I congratulate Paul Sinton-Hewitt for his recent receipt of the Royal Society of Arts prestigious Albert Medal, and I admire his aspiration for parkrun's 30th birthday, where he aims to be operating in 50 countries, 10,000 locations with 100 million people having participated one billion times.

Parkrun in Australia has been closed down through much of this year, but is, thankfully, now resumed in Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory. This weekend, parkruns will resume right here in the ACT. I know many parkrun organisers are eagerly awaiting that, and I thank the health authorities for the way in which they've worked so constructively with parkrun in order to resume events. I think of my friends, such as Dave Robertson and Andrew Dodd and the Wooters of Newcastle, as they look to bring their parkrun back into effect.

Little Athletics will soon be kicking off, with appropriate COVID precautions, and there has been a series of trial events organised here in the ACT to keep us runners going through the shutdown. I'd would like to thank many people for their important work in organising these events, and keeping the community fit and socially engaged. John Harding organised the Mount Majura Two Peaks race, up Mount Majura and Mount Ainslie, with the cooperation of Frank van de Loo, from Mount Majura Vineyard, who presented every runner with a bottle of his delicious wine as we crossed the finishing line. Pam Muston organised the Kowen Trail Run. Reuben Caley and Robbie Costmeyer organised the Weston Creek Athletics Club half-marathon—an event that was delayed less than 24 hours before it was due to start in March, and was finally able to take effect in October. Prachar Stegemann has organised many Sri Chinmoy events here in the ACT, including a recent half-marathon and also the 100-kilometre event circumnavigating the ACT—for which I was a starter, but not a finisher; making it to the 52-kilometre mark before I decided that Prachar's course had bettered me. Mellita Bingley is organising the Stromlo Running Festival, and it's a reflection of her organisational work that the event, due to take place next month, is now completely booked out.

And then there are the many organisers whose events haven't been able to go ahead. The organisers of the Canberra Times Fun Run, the Canberra marathon and the Canberra Triathlon Festival have all, reluctantly, had to pull their events this year. I know how much hard work goes into this events—into organising the volunteers and the refreshment stalls, and ensuring that the courses are right—and the frustration that it brings for many of those organisers when the events aren't able to proceed. I hope it will be possible for those events to go ahead next year.

There is also the Indigenous Marathon Project, located right here in the ACT. I acknowledge its staff: its founder, Rob de Castella; its lead coach, Adrian Dodson-Shaw; and other staff members—Peta MacKinnon, Dilani Abeysuirya, Amanda Dent, Cara Smith, Elsie Seriat, Laura White and Tim Rowe. This year the Indigenous Marathon Project organised its virtual Run, Sweat, Inspire festival, with all runners receiving a uniquely crafted medal. One of the most inspiring of those runs was by Nat Heath, a Noongar and Martujarra man, who ran 100 kilometres, starting and finishing at Nobbys Beach in Newcastle. Nat is an extraordinary triathlete and an inspirational young Indigenous leader. He is somebody who has competed in multiple Port Macquarie Ironman events and even competed in the Hawaiian Ironman itself. Nat has recently set up TriMob, the first Australian triathlon club focused on Indigenous athletes. I acknowledge his extraordinary work as a leader in his community and the work that he did raising money for the Indigenous Marathon Foundation; he set himself a goal of $10,000 and raised $26,000.

This weekend the Indigenous Marathon Project squad will take part in the Moonlight Marathon in Alice Springs. Ordinarily the Indigenous Marathon Project squad would be heading to New York in order to compete in the iconic New York Marathon, but that, needless to say, isn't possible, so they will be running in Alice Springs, with the support of so many Australians who are inspired by the work that the Indigenous Marathon Foundation does and the work that we know they will do in their communities. What I love about the Indigenous Marathon Project is it's neither just an elite program nor just a mass participation program. It builds leadership among Indigenous Australians but also then seeks to have an impact in the communities, assisting IMP graduates with organising their Deadly Fun Runs. The 12 Indigenous men and women who will take place in the Moonlight Marathon this Saturday night—or Sunday, I guess it'll be, by the time they finish—are Cameron Manning, Alex Blanco, Peter Miller-Koncz, Rhett Burraston, Zak Stephenson, Ethan Mulholland, Lena Charles-Loffel, Samara Fernandez, Cassidy Goodwin, Robyn Liddle, Libby Cook-Black and Maiquilla Brown. I wish them all the best with that run.

This year has also been an exciting one for those of us who watch elite sports. Needless to say, the World Marathon Majors have all been cancelled this year, but we have seen instead the creation of bespoke events. We didn't expect to see it, but Eliud Kipchoge, after a seven-year run of winning every single race he started in, finally lost a race—proving that Eliud is in fact human after all. This is the man who has, under controlled conditions, shown it is possible to run a sub-two-hour marathon and who holds the marathon world record, at 2.01, set in Berlin. The London course—not an ideal course, it has to be said; 19 1½-mile loops—proved not to be to Eliud's liking. Due to an ear infection, he lost to Ethiopian Shura Kitata.

We also have soon two extraordinary runs from Joshua Cheptegei, the Ugandan long-distance runner, who has set world records this year in the 5,000 metres and the 10,000 metres. It is important to recognise how extraordinarily blisteringly fast Cheptegei is. His 5,000-metre record time of 12 minutes and 35 seconds would have seen him lap Emil Zatopek, who was the world record holder in the 1950s. His 10,000-metre time, 26 minutes and 11 seconds, would have seen him lap Emil Zatopek twice back in the 1950s. Joshua Cheptegei really is an astonishing athlete.

The sport of running is an egalitarian sport which allows anyone to line up at the start line and it doesn't require a great expenditure and resources. The test in running is not how big your hopes are but how good your training is. As Archilochus once put it, we don't rise to the level of our hopes; we fall to the level of our training. Many of us runners, when we've been undertrained on the start line, have experienced what that's like. The egalitarianism of running is something that I know so many Australians prize. It brings people together in events like parkrun, and running has kept many of us sane through this very trying year. I acknowledge the runners in Victoria, for whom identifying suitable running tracks which took them no further than five kilometres from their house has become particularly challenging.

I look forward to a time of being able to get out and enjoy so many of the great running trails around Australia. When I think of Perth, I think of running the loop across the bridges around the Swan River. When I think of Adelaide, I think of running along the river. You can do a nice long run, starting in the city, touching your feet onto the sand and then coming back to the city, for about 30 kilometres. In Melbourne, there's nothing like running the Tan, a track which is designed for easy training or sprints, if you're feeling good on the day. The Brisbane River stretches as far as you want to go. Seeing the twists and turns of the Brisbane River is one of the great delights when you're in Brissie. Of course, here in the ACT, running the trails around Mount Majura and Mount Ainslie are a real pleasure. Down in Hobart, you can take the trail going up-river and are able to watch the boats easing in and out. And, when you're in Cairns, you're able to take the gentle run along the boardwalk. That is a beautiful run. Suddenly, you turn at the end, the tourists dip away and you're on your own.

I want to conclude, given that I have so much that I'm trying to get to, by seeking leave to have incorporated in the Hansard some further information on running and on the support that's been given to Little Athletics and to other sports by the government.


Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.