Northern Beaches resident Chris ‘The Bull’ Turnbull has set the world record for the fastest run from Perth to Sydney (Manly) running more than two marathons a day to complete the 3,856km journey in just shy of 40 days.
The record is 43 days and hasn’t been broken in 18 years. We are yet to receive the formal time for the record books.
He passed through Manly and fell into his family’s arms just after 3pm today, Saturday 16 September, 2023.
This article was first published a few days before he finished his epic run. The 39-year-old was kind enough to take our call – and barely lost a moment’s breath – interviewing somewhere West of the finish line a few days off the finish.
The engineer and father of two started in Perth (WA) on August 8 and ran 3,856km.
What’s the record?
Back in 1999, Frenchman Serge Girard covered the distance in 47 days, while in 2005, German runner Achim Heukemes ran from Fremantle to Sydney in just 43 days.
During our interview Chris was running along the Sturt Highway as B-double trucks roared by at regular intervals. He’d crossed the Victorian/New South Wales border earlier that morning and had just passed through Wagga Wagga… a mere 460km or so away from reaching his end goal. (Next up was a switch to the Hume Highway and a quick stop in Gundagai, some 80km distant.)
While most people fit enough to undertake an ultramarathon like this, do so to raise awareness of and funds for a particular cause, but Chris’s main motivation is far simpler… he just loves running!
“I do runs like this to feel alive”, said Chris with only a hint of catching his breath. “It’s an adventure, and life has too few adventures these days. And I guess I also want to test the limits of what is humanly possible.
Chris wasn’t always a runner; his main sport as a youngster was gymnastics. “I also dabbled in rugby and skiing”, said Chris, “and just ran to keep fit. But about 13 years ago, I fell in with the wrong crowd… ultramarathoners!”
“My first ultramarathon was back in 2010 when I crossed Bass Strait in a sea kayak along with a few mates. After reaching Tassie, they then suggested we do The Cradle Mountain Run – a one day traverse of Tasmania’s famous Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair overland track for about 80km. I loved it and couldn’t wait to do more. I kept running over the years, twice winning the Oxfam 100km challenge as part of a team and of course regularly taking part in the City2Surf and other such events. There was a bit of a break when I first started my own business, and we had the kids… but towards the end of 2022 I ran the 80km Bondi to Manly Ultra without much training and still came third. That encouraged me to run further.”
There’s another reason Chris undertakes challenges like this most recent one: he loves exploring new places and meeting new and diverse people. When asked about some of the interesting folk he’s met en route from Perth to Manly, you could hear his voice light up with enthusiasm.
“I’ve met so many great people in the regional towns we’ve passed through, cheering me on and offering me a drink or a sandwich to keep me going… people out here really are the salt of the earth. There was one interesting character – a guy who just called himself ‘French Chris’. He was cycling across the country and rode past me one day with a wave. I caught up with him later that day during a rest stop and we had a great chat.
“The next morning I took off early as I always do (I run pre-dawn to post-dusk every day) and a few hours later he zoomed past me again with a friendly wave. This went on for quite a few days and we’d often end up at the same camping ground sharing a cup of tea and an ANZAC Energy Bar. But eventually he decided to take things a bit easier than me and I’ve now left him way behind.
“I also met some great people in the Riverina near a small town on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River called Darlington Point. Belinda and Troy were their names. They’d seen Nikki Love pass through earlier in the year. Nikki ran from Perth’s Cottesloe Beach to Bondi Beach in 77 days at age 56. I’d been inspired by this feat and had run across Sydney in July to meet Nikki and match her over that last stretch to Bondi. Amazingly, Belinda’s sister Lou had supported Nikki as she ran into Sydney and I’d met her then. As a result, Belinda had followed my journey and tracked me down to offer support as I passed through Darlington Point.
“Lots of people have lined the highways and offered me water or food and had a quick chat along the way. They tell me I’ve inspired them to run or even walk a bit every day, and that in turn inspires me… to think I’m changing lives for the better… wow! If I motivate others to exercise a bit more, that’s a real bonus to every adventure.”
The road less travelled
And while Chris has kept to the major highways for the majority of his run, just out of Perth he diverted to a road less travelled – the Hyden Norseman Road. This is an unsealed road that stretches around 300 kilometres through the Goldfields-Esperance region of WA, between the two towns of Hyden and Norseman.
“I ran for 3 days without a shower or any cooked food… just dozens of boiled egg sandwiches.”
“While this was the more direct route by the map, the going was tough and I was often running on loose gravel. Then the rain came and turned the road into a bog. Our RV couldn’t get through the mud, so I ran for 3 days without a shower or any cooked food… just dozens of boiled egg sandwiches! I ended up losing around two full days by making that choice. But after that, I became a very good customer at every bakery in every town I passed through!”
Many people have been keen to support Chris further in what he’s jokingly tagged ‘The Running of the Bull’ (Bull being one of his nicknames), suggesting they want to seize this opportunity to help Chris make a really positive impact. In reply, Chris recommends they get behind the Black Dog Institute and in particular, their mental health training program for business.
“As MD of my own company, Turnbull Engineering, I really encourage all businesses to dedicate just two hours to join a Live Online Training session provided free by Black Dog Institute. This training has significantly enriched my career and indeed, my life.
“Somewhat embarrassingly, I was actually quite oblivious to mental health issues until I undertook this training at another company at which I worked. When I discovered that unknown to me, some of my colleagues suffered from depression and that in fact, about one in five Australians are dealing with it daily, I was blown away. I know that exercise can ease the symptoms of depression and anxiety, so that was the perfect tie-in to my passion for running.”
Cheer Chris to the finish line this Saturday
Chris said he was most looking forward to seeing his family after six weeks away when he pulls into Manly this weekend.
“I live near the beach in this beautiful part of the world with my wife Katie and our young kids Lucy and Finn. What a brilliant place to raise a family. There are the wonderful parks with playgrounds for the kids, the beach and pools, and the whole of Middle Harbour to explore on my kayak.”
“Now that I can let myself start to think about the finish line, I’m feeling pretty emotional about seeing my family again after what will be six weeks away,” Chris said.