Contributed by Mick Duyvestyn, AURA Member (Mt Martha, Vic)
DUNCAN’S RUN, TARRA BULGA NATIONAL PARK (VICTORIA), 19-20 March 2022
I don’t think I even got his name. He had a gnarled, wrinkled face. Streaks of silver matted through his motley mop of hair and the glint and shimmer in his bright blue eyes that seemed to pour with truth. He could have been a trail archangel, he could have been another delusional distance runner, running a rouse on the rookie.
For all intents and purpose I was convinced. Truth and passion were dripping from his lips as he fulfilled that finish line tradition, the ‘trail runners flex’ on races past and future. To the wide eyed newbie who was drinking in every essence on offer for future trail dreams and glory.
He stared flat and hard. I wasn’t sure if the spark in his eyes was humour or wonder.
“You think that was tough, you should run Duncan’s!”
I had just prevailed 60km through the Prom. Piss-istant rain, hail, gale force winds and cramps. Forgive me if, even in my wide eyed state of wonder I didn’t believe the Duncan’s hype on the first bite. Where is it? What is it? Who is Duncan?
He then told me of Duncan Orr. The way he ran, the way he encouraged and grew the running community and the details of his passing. Thinking of it now years later…it still gives me goosebumps on what he said next. I asked if he knew Duncan. He had not, but after running the race he said it was more than just a race. It was a celebration of the running community. Something not to be missed. His passion infectious, he seemed close to tears. All truth.
Eighteen months later, after pestering other runners, researching and reading the race reports, blogs and snippets within in our superb trail community, I turned up to Duncan’s in the best shape I have made it to for a race.
I really wanted to give this race my heart and soul.
Lucky because this race was happy to take it.
Duncan’s Run is set high in the Tarra Bulga State Forest, an incredible rainforest surrounds the town of Balook, the starting point for the race. There is one and only one tavern/guesthouse in the nearby vicinity. On my first Duncan’s Run I elected to eat the night prior to the race at this establishment. I awoke for the race feeling ill in the stomach, I figured it was nerves.
By the time I made it to Macks Creek, I realised it wasn’t nerves. I vomited several times between the towering glorious ferns and repeatedly apologised to the passing runners for disturbing the serene surrounds. The first checkpoint was 35km in. It was to be a long haul back to camp, but when I got in at least I could pull out and enjoy the warm fire at the guesthouse, maybe pass on the food though. For the next 14kms the relentless climbs in the stunning forest, surrounded by towering trees somehow quelled my stomach cramps and nausea. I managed to get down a gel and keep it down. My intention never in doubt, survive the now with the majestic distractions but when I get back to Balook, my day is done!
When, or if, I get back to Balook.
As I reached the foothills and final climb back to the main aid station and I met Alex. Twenty years younger than me, Alex had a Survivor buff on his head, so we swapped tales about Australian Survivor. I told him of my gut issues, which by that point, had seemed to have settled, but that my day was done at 35km.
He quietly asked me if I knew Duncan.
The silence in my response, the expanding importance of that question and why the race was named Duncan’s Run filled the infinite space in that rainforest canopy. It was at this moment I understood the race, the community around it and of course the pathetic discourse of myself pity party at an upset tummy. I was going the distance.
The day continued to challenge. The climbs did not relent. The course was a little bit out (6km…doesn’t feel as bad to type that extra 6km as it did to run it in the dead of night). By the day’s end I also understood why his punishment was such a sport.
I have since volunteered a few times at the run and have returned to drink in the glory of the Tarra Bulga Forrest. Each time I have marvelled at the community, the willing friends that happily share stories about Duncan and his run adventures at aid stations, the coffee cart, the registration desk and yep even in the queue for the funny. Duncan’s love for our trail community and his joy in unofficially coaching someone to love running just that little bit more.
So many of us love this race for everything it represents. Yes, many have been sad and voiced upset it is coming to a close. I had the distinct honour of spending a good 20 minutes with Helen and Ray Orr (Duncan’s parents) after finishing the 50km last week. The collective efforts of volunteers and family to stage the race each year is phenomenal, there are thousands over the years that have now been exposed to the trails Duncan loved. Thousands have felt the joy of the running community he helped foster and grow. Thousand have got to meet and be in awe of the family and friends that have honoured his life with the running of an incredible event. They have put on the event with love care and purpose that made you smile to yourself on the long drive back up the highway with aches and pains in places you never thought possible.
This may have been the last Duncan’s event but it won’t be the last time it’s mentioned. Especially as I now have some silver streaks of my own and a few rookies to rile up at the next finish line.
Duncan’s Run 2022…trails, hills, community, heart, and soul.
Photograph – Mick Duyvestyn.