Runners Descend on Simpson Desert for Start of Big Red Run

09 Jul 2013 06:00
Jean-Loup Fenaux
Press Release

Leading local and international runners will tackle the iconic red sand dunes of Australia’s Simpson Desert today for the start of the Big Red Run, a major new endurance running event raising funds for type 1 diabetes research.

Runners and walkers have descended on Birdsville, Queensland from across the globe for the week-long running event from 8-13 July, which will include Australia’s first and only 250km multi stage desert running race.

Happening on the eve of National Diabetes Week, the Big Red Run will take competitors across the famous red sands of the Simpson Desert, including the world’s longest parallel sand dunes and the famous 40-metre high ‘Big Red’.

Runners and walkers have the option of participating in the Big Red Run, a 250km six-day stage race, the Born to Run 100km or the Big Red Dash 42km.

The charity event was launched by amateur runner Greg Donovan, whose son Stephen was diagnosed with the potentially fatal type 1 juvenile diabetes at age 14.

The event has the support of some of the biggest names in Australian running and entertainment, with ultra-marathon champion and twice world record holder for crossing the Simpson Desert, Pat Farmer serving as event ambassador and country music legend John Williamson set to perform a sunset concert atop Big Red tonight.

“The Big Red Run will give runners a truly unique opportunity to tackle some of the most beautiful and forbidding landscapes in Australia and join an even bigger race – the race for a cure for type 1 diabetes,” said Farmer.

Today will see the start of the 250km Big Red Run and the running of the Big Red Dash, with runners setting out from Birdsville Pub into uncharted parts of the Simpson Desert towards the Big Red sand dune.

The first day of racing will also include “The Big Red Run Up” where competitors will be timed for their run to the top of Big Red.

The field of runners will include UK adventurer and tourism ambassador Ben Southall, who is competing in the 42km marathon just one day after running in the Gold Coast Airport Marathon.

“I’ve run in some extraordinary places over the years, but I’m told there’s nothing quite like running in the Simpson Desert,” said Southall, who rose to fame after winning Tourism Queensland’s Best Job in the World competition in 2009.

Among the runners tackling the 250km six-day stage race are New Zealand ultrarunning icon Lisa Tamati, rising Aussie stars Lucy Bartholomew and Matty Abel, and Donovan himself, who will lead a team of Australians as they attempt to become the first team in history to complete five desert ultramarathons in five continents.

Running the equivalent of a marathon each day, the team became the first in the world to achieve the 4 Deserts ‘Grand Slam’ in November, successfully completing races in the Atacama, Gobi and Sahara Deserts and Antarctica.

“It has been an incredibly gruelling journey and it’s certainly not over yet, but in every step we live our motto of fitness for fighting diabetes. I can’t wait to get out among the red sand dunes and to race across places in the desert where very few people have ventured on foot before,” said Donovan.

Donovan’s team, known as Born To Run, also includes 61-year-old Ron Schwebel, Jess Baker, type 1 diabetic Roger Hanney and sons Matthew and Stephen Donovan. A type 1 diabetic, Stephen is competing in his first ultramarathon.

The Big Red Run has the backing of Outback Queensland Tourism and Tourism and Events Queensland who are promoting it alongside other iconic outback events and tourism experiences as part of the ‘Outback Queensland Eventures’ campaign.

All money raised from the event will go to type 1 diabetes research projects and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), the world’s largest charitable supporter of type 1 diabetes research.

To follow the action or to make a donation visit and head to and