Running From the Blues

When my mate Olly Woolrych told me he was going to do a solo charity run for Beyond Blue across the entire length of Central America, I was dubious to say the least. Running from the Blues, six months, 6000km through every country in Central America, aiming to run an average of 5 marathons a week, unsupported – I honestly found it quite unrealistic. What does unsupported mean in Olly’s case? We’re talking about one man, no lead or follow vehicle, no security or entourage, no doctor or masseuse, no PA or PR, carrying his shelter, clothes and possessions on a specially built cart named Colin that he tows behind him while he runs. Sounds unbelievable doesn’t it? As unbelievable as me writing that he’s half way through, as of this week. 3000kms down. Absolutely killing it.

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I’ve known Olly for 10 years. We met in 2005 while he was dating my sister. Whilst our friendship began as a by-product of his relationship with my sister, we continued to hang out after they broke up, and Olly and his twin brother Ed quickly became a big part of my life. Like all young twenty something kids we spent most of our time getting drunk, hanging out at the beach and doing as little work as humanly possible. At some point the three of us thought a job in the coolest new nightclub in Kings Cross would be a good idea – it wasn’t. Sleepless drunken nights, 7am finishes, constant partying, and exposure to the wrong types of people will take its toll on anyone, and I’ll be the first to admit it was toxic for all of us, but it really consumed Olly. Ed and I gave it the flick and watched on for years as Olly went from job to job, managing bars and clubs, ignorant to the detrimental effect it was having on his physical and psychological health.

Olly and I in 2007.

Olly and I in 2007.

Ed, his older brother Dom and I watched Olly slip into this fake world, and as hard as we tried, we just couldn’t reason with him. On the surface he was surrounded by ‘friends’ but it was all bullshit, he was so jaded by the scene and we couldn’t get him out. So much happened to Olly in those years and none of it was good. The situation spiralled out of control, burning relationships with friends, employees and family, even his support crew of Dom, Ed and I. Even though he was always smiling, he was a mess. He ended up loosing his job and it was the best thing that ever happened to him. He straightened out a lot, but it wasn’t over, he was seriously unhappy and continued to use partying as an outlet to forget about it all. He knew the only way to change was to separate himself completely from the temptations that had caused his downfall and moved to Avalon to live with his mum.

With the move Olly found a new outlet for his unhappiness, running. Rain, hail or shine, Olly would pop his headphones in and run, outrageous distances at times. What started as a method to escape, became a method to inspire, and his run through Central America is nothing short of amazing. When I said goodbye to him two nights before his trip I was worried. It seemed unbelievable and unorganised – classic Olly. I regret to say I doubted him, I think a lot of people did. Writing this now, I’m blown away by how far he’s come, how much he’s developed as a person, and what he’s already achieved from this run.

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I asked Olly if he’d prepare some words for this article about his depression, running and some of the challenges he’s faced.

Why I run:

In the years after leaving school it became pretty obvious to me that I’d missed some pretty essential lessons in how to grow up and become a young adult. I was making bad lifestyle choices and burning plenty of bridges whilst doing so.

After long enough of feeling bad about how I was behaving on a daily basis, I ended up being severely depressed and to be honest pretty scared to step outside, most things I did I was messing up. I got to a point where I didn’t really trust myself to go out and do things because I wasn’t sure I could do a decent job at it.

I found running at these times and I instantly liked it, I could put my earphones in, turn my phone on to airplane mode and be unreachable. I remember I hated picking up the phone at this time, the fact that I could go off the radar for a period of time everyday was great.

I also liked that I saw my non-existent fitness improve in quite a short amount of time. It was something I could control, and the results directly correlated to the effort I put in. For the first time in a while, I was winning at something. Running became the highlight of my day.

I don’t remember when, but at some stage I stopped using running as an escape and started using it to find something, I started to push myself physically and I responded mentally. For the first time in a long time, I was putting myself out of my comfort zone and I liked it.

I also started to be conscious of my diet, conscious of my sleeping patterns and how I was treating my body. Running was effecting every aspect of my life, it slowly started making feel better about myself. I then stopped taking my anti depressant medication, and I was fine. My running has never let me down and I have never taken a step back with it.

Running saved my life, because I found my passion, from a young guy who had a pretty empty life aside from fast thrills and a Facebook account. It turned me into a young man who understands what it means to work hard, be humbled, accept disappointment and the power of satisfaction.

I believe life is like an elastic band, the further you stretch it the more you can fill it with. I used to live with not much emotion because I kept it safe, now I challenge myself physically, emotionally and mentally, it means I stretch my limits often and live a fuller life.

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Why I wanted to do this run:

Running proved to be the best medicine for me when I was depressed as a young person. I want to be an example to other young people that are suffering from mental health issues that no matter how bad it is, you can one day chase your dreams and take on big challenges.

I wanted to challenge myself so that I will come back a better person, with more confidence and more experience under my belt.

I want to bring awareness to the importance of a healthy lifestyle and the massive impact it has on your mental frame of mind.

I like tacos.

Why I chose Central America:

I wanted to run through multiple countries and cultures. Central America is made up of 8 small countries that all have unique cultures. I thought experiencing this would give me a better understanding of where “Sydney” fits into the grand scheme of things and in turn give me a better point of view of where I fit in. I believe travel and experiencing other cultures should be a main ingredient in happiness.

I wanted to put myself well outside of my comfort zone. Having a language barrier means that I do this constantly. I think if I did this run through a English speaking area it wouldn’t be nearly as challenging.

8 countries, 2 different coastlines, dozens of volcano’s, blistering heat, mountains reaching 14’000 feet, deserts, rain forests, 45 degree steep roads and amazing wildlife. Central America has everything!

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Biggest Challenges I have faced:

I have been pulling a custom made cart from Germany with all my supplies in it. Clothes, spare pair of shoes, technology, GPS, food and water, full camping set up. Total weight is 17kgs. Massive challenge pulling it uphill!

Keeping hydrated both during the days run but also in the evenings is a big challenge. 10L a day is about average

The sun is brutal, spending 8 hours a day in it is a constant challenge. Slip, Slop, Slap

Olly’s stats so far:

Distance covered: 3012kms
Percentage of run complete: 50%
Days since start in Mexico City: 115
Running days: 87
Rest days: 28
Distance covered per run day: 34.6kms
Distance covered per week: 186.8kms
Vertical gain (metres Climbed): 26,500
Countries run through: 3
Nights slept in hotel: 78
Nights slept in family’s home: 8
Nights slept in tent: 29

Olly’s journey has been tumultuous to say the least and I’m really proud of what he has achieved, overcoming his depression and using his passion to inspire others. If you’re keen to help Olly achieve his $50,000 goal for Beyond Blue you can donate via his website www.runningfromtheblues.com. You can also follow his journey on the website blog or via his Facebook or Instagram

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James is the Founder and Editor of The Versatile Gent.

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