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David Holleran, runs across the desert. Photo was supplied.
David Holleran, desert runner. Photo: supplied.

Extreme pilgrimage: Traversing the wilderness

This July, long-distance athlete David Holleran of Mundubbera Uniting Church will run across the Great Victoria Desert, the epic last leg to a 19-year journey. Ashley Goetze reports.

Everybody has a story, you only need ask.

Dave Holleran is your typical Aussie bloke. Family man and owner of David Holleran Cleaning Services, it could be easy to miss that this active Mundubbera community member is a world record holder and soon to be the first person to run across all of Australia’s deserts.

While growing up in country Victoria, Dave’s family had very little money; there was not much he could call his own, except running.

“Running was the place where I was alone with God, always. You can have that absolute silence, that absolute peace and receive all the answers to anything you’re asking for,” says Dave.

What started off as a boyish adventure soon became a platform for ministry he and his future wife Janette would develop in and around the Mundubbera community.

The Simpson

Trained by ultramarathon legend Ron Grant in the late 80s, Dave’s running career took off when he was given the opportunity to either do the World’s Longest Triathlon or run the Simpson Desert.

“I thought, well, I’m going to do the Simpson and I’ll get back to the World’s Longest Triathlon later―which was a crazy thing to do because it went from being very small to enormous!” says Dave.

It was the first of 14 ultramarathon-sized Australian deserts he would go on to run.

Dave trained for four long years by running 160–200 km a week between his regular duties as a fitness instructor, full-time cleaning contractor, husband and father. Only then did he undertake the gruelling 419 km trek across the Simpson Desert.

He says the difference between those who fail and those who succeed is preparation and God’s provision.

“I honestly believe that without God, without being Christian, you will not be able to succeed in these runs because if you haven’t got his protection you ain’t gonna make it,” says Dave.

Faith, according to David, is the crux of survival.

“If you’re agnostic you’ll quickly become a believer but if you’re atheist you won’t even make it to the start line.”

It was these convictions, meticulous planning and a support crew of 11 that motivated Dave to trudge up 1062 sand dunes in 50 degree heat, requiring him to consume up to 40 litres of water and 52 000 kilojoules daily.

The trade-off is a cathartic experience that can change a life.

“In my last run I would just take my headphones off in the dark, turn my headlamp off, stare up at the billions of stars and just take in the wonder of what God’s done. You know, here I am this tiny little speck in the universe down this track and there’s just all this wonder. It’s just amazing, absolutely amazing.”

The World’s Longest Triathlon

Among his greatest achievements lies the conquest Dave brushed off in exchange for the Simpson.

Completing a 42 km swim, 2000 km bicycle ride and 500 km run in 17 days, 22 hours and 50 minutes, in 1998 Dave broke, and still holds today, the Guinness World Record for World’s Longest Triathlon.

“My entire life I’ve always wondered how far a human body can go and I found it,” says Dave. “For nine months I could hardly move and I thought I was going to die because my pulse was at 120 for a month.”

It was during this time Dave met his wife and “gift from God” Janette, a Mundubbera school chaplain and Dave’s support coordinator for his seven remaining desert runs.

Organising a team of 11 for Dave’s fourteenth and final desert run, the Great Victoria, Janette’s support is invaluable. As are her cooking skills.

“My wife does Masterchef meals in the desert!” says Dave.

“I would run for two and a half hours and my wife would come out and she would make bacon and eggs and all these incredible meals just on the road on a little cooker and she’d do it so quickly and then cook for everybody else as well.”

Dave and Janette’s collaboration as a couple has carried across the desert to the fitness, school and church communities in Mundubbera.

“Our ministry is just helping people where they are,” says Dave.

“My idea of Christianity has always been being Christ-like, you know—you don’t have to always be in church. Being in church on a Sunday doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.”

Dave’s athletic achievements and involvement in the local fitness community have won him several Australia Day awards including 2011 Citizen of the Year and 2013 Sportsman of the Year. He is also a popular guest and motivational speaker.

Throughout his 58 years, Dave has run 60 marathons, 100 ultramarathons and accumulated 25 Guinness World records all while fundraising for countless charities including Camp Quality and most recently, RACQ Care Flight.

“This one we are doing for RACQ Care Flight helicopter rescue. They came out here during the floods and they did over 300 rescues in the North Burnett and they’re out here every week picking up sick people and car accidents,” says Dave, a community man to the core.

The Great Victoria

A run is no easy feat for Dave, Janette and their crew, five of whom are members of the Mundubbera Uniting Church.

“The support crew are in four-wheel drives and they stay 2.5 km in front of me with one person sweeping behind me,” says Dave.

“They’ve got to keep the water up to you and the food up to you, ask you if you’re alright and if you’ve been to the toilet because if you haven’t been for a pee in an hour you’ll get dehydrated and that can lead to big problems—such as heat stroke.”

“A lot of people have actually perished out there so you look for people who are leaders and people who will make you think and look at things from your side.”

The Great Victoria is Australia’s largest desert. At 670 km long Dave will need to complete it in just over 11 days in order to gain an Ultramarathon record. His route starts 270 km west of Coober Pedy in South Australia and ends 250 km east of Laverton in Western Australia.

The run will cost in excess of $40 000 for Dave and Janette alone, excluding crew expenses.

A marathon veteran, Dave understands the anticlimax many athletes feel at the end of a long journey and hopes only for contentment in finishing what he started 19 years ago.

Yet the anticipation and magnitude of his last leg is no less lost on him:

“I’m shakin’ like a long tail cat in a room full of rocking chairs!”

To him it’s the signs and wonders on the tracks that make every run worth it.

Support Dave by donating to RACQ Care Flight.

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