Morgane's Larapinta Journey to Raise Funds for WWF Australia
Updated: Nov 21, 2021
Here at Outdoors People for Climate, we love celebrating the stories of people in our community to inspire adventure and advocacy for climate action.
Morgane is a trail runner originally from the south of France. Her motivation for climate action and conservation reminds us of the amazing outdoors people working hard in our community to combine their passion for nature with meaningful change. Read on to hear about her journey from the tropical sands of New Caledonia, to a newfound passion for trail running, culminating with her incredible journey along the Larapinta Trail in central Australia.
My name is Morgane, I am 31 years old. I was born and raised in the south of France. My childhood was spent climbing trees, playing football with my brothers, running around, and playing with our dogs.
I studied international law for four years, but realised it wasn’t fulfilling. I then chose a Master’s degree in sustainable development. It made more sense to me, as I started to realise the seriousness of global warming and the impact of human activities on our ecosystems.
I moved to New Caledonia while finishing my Master’s degree online. I fell in love with this magical island; so beautiful, with pristine blue water, amazing mountains and hills, forests, and birds. The native people were friendly and generous, and the Kanak culture was fascinating. There are also so many things to do there: running, biking, hiking, camping, climbing, kayaking, snorkelling, SCUBA diving, skydiving, and more. I have been lucky enough to try all of those activities.
I have always loved being outside, especially in New Caledonia where the weather is so good, in both winter and summer. I found out about trail running and loved it right away. It is now my big passion. I am so happy when I spend a whole day in the mountains or the trails. I love being in nature, running and listening to the birds. It is so peaceful. It is my happy place.
When I run, I feel free, happy, light-hearted, so light that I could fly. Nothing else matters, all the problems disappear.
Here is a quote from McFarland, USA, one of my favourite movies, that captures this incredible feeling for me: "We fly like blackbirds through the orange groves, floating on a warm wind. When we run, we own the earth. The land is ours. We speak the birds' language. … When we run, our spirits fly. We speak to the gods. When we run, we are the gods."
I started to participate in races and ran longer distances each time. I joined a trail running club in Noumea and met so many good people. The trail running community is another part of why I love this sport so much: they are so friendly, helpful, welcoming, and we learn so much from each other. One day, I ran a race and didn’t eat enough, so I felt really weak and had to sit on the side of the trail. I couldn’t count how many people stopped and helped me, gave me food and and an emergency blanket. One of them even stopped running, gave up on the race to help me, a complete stranger, to walk 6 km to the next aid-station so I could be safe and warm. I told the volunteers at the aid-station how this person had been so nice (the volunteers were also really incredible, like every volunteer from every race I ran). I was so happy to hear at the finish line that the person who helped me got a special reward for that.
I also ran two mountain marathons in New Zealand, where I spent months travelling around and enjoying the incredible mountains and scenery. That was such an amazing experience! That is also where I met Jake, my boyfriend. He is from the US and enjoys being outdoors: a hiker who also loves running.
When I left New Caledonia two years ago, the longest distance I had run was 55 km. I travelled a bit with Jake and we went to see both our families in Europe and the US.
We arrived in Australia in January 2020 with our working holiday visas, right before COVID-19. Sadly, we were in regional Victoria from January to November, and not able to do much because of the restrictions. We were fortunate to be able to work the whole time and run on the empty gravel roads and paths in the countryside. Last September, the restrictions eased so we could travel within Victoria. I was missing the races and wanted to challenge myself with a longer distance, so I ran the 74 km loop in the Little Desert National Park in ten hours, solo. It was a great day, I enjoyed the scenery and the wildlife while running, even if the soft sand was tough on my calves towards the end of the run. In October, I decided to run my first 100 km solo, in the Grampians National Park. I made my own trail and was lucky to have Jake doing the aid-stations and cheering me on. I completed the run in 15 hours without much training or pain. I had a great day on the trail and realised more and more that I was made to run long distances.
Last November, we were able to leave Victoria and visited Canberra, the western part of New South Wales, and then Tasmania for two months. We really enjoyed the incredible mountains and nature, the amazing wildlife, and the scenery. We ran, hiked, biked, and kayaked.
In February, we went to South Australia and spent a week in Adelaide while waiting for our new jobs to start. I remember walking on the river path from the city to the sea together, and talking about the environment. I had read the book "Pole to Pole" by Pat Farmer a few months earlier, and was amazed by what he did. This incredible Australian athlete ran from the North Pole to the South Pole in nine months or so, to raise funds for the Red Cross, so that people from poorer countries could have access to water. I was thinking that I would also love to help make a difference with my running. I told Jake I had an idea for a project, to run for weeks or months when I return to France and raise funds for environmental organisations. Jake asked me, "Why wait to be back in France? What about doing something here?", I thought he was right. I knew that this amazing country had to fight against big fires before we arrived, that coral reefs, species and ecosystems were endangered. I also was sad to see the amount of rubbish on the side of roads and trails every time I went for runs (my running pack was full of rubbish at the end of every run). I knew we planned to hike the Larapinta Trail, a 240 km trail located west of Alice Springs in a few months. So I told Jake, "You know what? Maybe we could raise money while hiking the Larapinta Trail in a few months… And if it is not enough of a challenge, maybe I can just run it!" At first, I kind of mentioned the running part as a joke, but the more I thought of it, the more it made sense to me. So I asked Jake if it was a problem if I decided to run it instead, and he said no.
The idea of running the Larapinta Trail was in my mind day and night. I wanted to challenge myself again, get to know myself better, run in the mountains for days and raise money to help preserve this incredible nature.
I started to train 3 months before the run, following a 100 mile plan. Most of the time, it was tempo runs or 1 hour training runs during the week, with longer distances on the weekends.
MY FUNDRAISING FOR WWF AUSTRALIA
I chose to fundraise for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Australia. I have been a volunteer with WWF New Caledonia for years and they are doing amazing things to help preserve our wonderful nature and ecosystems. Their mission is to meet the challenge of climate change and build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature.
After the bushfires, WWF Australia undertook a program called Regenerate Australia to help restore wildlife and their habitats, rejuvenate communities impacted by the bushfires, and boost sustainable agriculture.
The Regenerate Australia program is divided into four key projects:
• Koalas Forever: Doubling the number of koalas on Australia's east coast by 2050 by creating new koala corridors to improve and extend their protected habitat. This will also help other species.
• Towards 2 billion Trees: Protecting and restoring forest and woodland. We humans also need trees in order to live.
• Renewables Nation: Switching Australia to a low carbon future to insulate Australia from the more frequent natural disasters. Fast-track Australia's adoption of renewable energy.
• Innovate to Regenerate: Mobilising the greatest minds in Australia and around the world through a series of innovation challenges to discover the brightest solutions for future-proofing Australia.
I emailed WWF Australia to explain my project. They were excited and sent me an online fundraising link where I could write about myself and the run. Then, I tried to share it to as many people as I could. Coming from a different country, it was not easy, because I didn’t know many people in Australia. I contacted magazines, newspapers, famous athletes and YouTubers in Australia, but I didn’t get much help.
Pat Farmer actually called me and was really supportive about my project. He gave me good advice. He also said I should contact the radio channels. It was awesome to be able to talk to him on the phone!
I contacted ABC radio and was invited by Nadine Maloney, a very nice woman from the ABC Alice Springs morning program, to talk about my story. She asked me lots of questions about my life, our journey in Australia, and why I chose WWF for my fundraising. I told her about my childhood dream to come to Australia, see Uluru and other amazing places here. And that I was so happy to come here and that my dream came true!
We met local people while working, hiking and running, so we asked them if they could share it with their friends and family. A lot of them did give, and except for one anonymous donation, the rest were from people we knew.
MY EXPERIENCE ON THE LARAPINTA
The Larapinta Trail, located west of Alice Springs, follows the West MacDonnell Ranges. The trail is named after the Indigenous Australian name for the Finke River, which is one of the oldest rivers in the world.
I wish to acknowledge and pay respect to the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the Central and Western Arrernte Country, who have provided me the opportunity to explore the ancient landscape of the West MacDonnell Ranges.
The history of the Arrernte people dates back 40,000 years and they possess one of the longest continuing cultures on the planet. Their cultural heritage and connection to the land has been told over thousands of years through dreamtime stories, spiritual tracks, and ceremonial places that still hold deep resonance with the people today.
The Larapinta Trail is a technical and rocky trail, like very, very, very rocky, with a lot of dry river beds and rock scrambling. It is remote, and phone reception is rare. I rented a personal locator beacon (PLB) for safety reasons. The trail is approximately 236 km long with 7,500 m of elevation gain. The ascents and descents were not too hard or steep, but the rocky parts were hard to run sometimes. The temperature in the day was around 18°C in the day and around 2°C at night.
I started to run at 5 am on May 26, 2021. I waited for the sun to rise on Mount Sonder, the fourth highest mountain in the Northern Territory. The scenery from there was absolutely stunning, even in this cold wind. Jake waited for me at four different places so I could eat, change my socks after putting vaseline on them, and refill my water and food for the run. For the first 130 km, I felt strong and had fun and enjoyed the run and the scenery. The sunset and the moon rise were stunning. I had an aid station in the early afternoon, and then one in the late evening where I slept for 20 minutes. The first night was cold, but good. I started to feel a little pain on the side of my right knee, but I figured it was probably because of the rocky trail.
Right before the sunrise on the second morning, I felt really tired, so I took a 5 minute nap (after setting an alarm on my phone) in the sand, on the side of the trail. I woke up feeling invigorated and fresh. I started to have a lot of hallucinations though: I saw a knight standing next to a horse which was eating grass, a lady bending down to harvest wheat who had a huge scary mark on her face when she looked at me. I also heard a lot of voices, when I was completely alone on the trail.
One or two hours later, at a point where the terrain was very rocky again and I had the sun in my face and couldn’t see very well, I fell over onto my knee and wrist. It was a little bloody but didn’t seem serious, so I kept running. Two hours later, I started to feel a really sharp pain on the side of my right knee that hurt badly with every step. I couldn’t bend my knee anymore, but luckily I found a wooden stick that helped me to walk. I also took some painkillers and put a compression wrap on my knee. I thought I saw Jake several times on the trail, but no, I was alone again. I walked through amazing ridges and gorges, and another amazing sunset. Somehow, I got through this long second day that was both mentally and physically tough. It was dark when I got to the third aid station. The last 2 km were along a very long rocky dry river bed and I was falling asleep while walking. I was happy and relieved to see Jake and rest a little bit. I changed some clothes, my socks, had a nice hot meal, painkillers, and electrolytes. Then I slept for 30 minutes before getting back on the trail in the middle of the cold night with my wooden stick. I still had a lot of hallucinations on this second night on the trail.
Here I was on the third morning of my run, hurt and still walking and limping. But I didn’t want to give up. That was out of the question. I wouldn’t have been able to look at myself in the mirror, and wouldn’t have been happy with myself if I didn’t complete it. I also thought of my friends and family, Jake, WWF Australia, and all the people who donated for my cause. I didn’t want to give up on our nature and wildlife. So I kept going, trying to breathe deeply and use meditation techniques to get through the pain. I embraced the pain and kept walking. For the first time since the beginning of my run, I listened to two podcasts to keep my mind busy. It was definitely the hardest time from the mental point of view. More visual and hallucinations, a weird scary old woman with paint on her face, little cute animals, shelters, people. I thought I heard Jake telling me, "You've got this, my love. You are strong. You are going to get through this." A few hours later, I heard a voice calling me, so I thought it was another hallucination. I also saw Jake doing weird things on the side of the trail. But it wasn’t anyone, of course. I heard the same voice calling me, and then I saw Jake, 5 km before the last aid station. He was worried and wanted to make sure I was okay. I was so happy when I saw him. He tried to talk and make jokes so I wouldn’t think about my pain. The last aid station felt amazing, and I enjoyed the last nap. It was hard to go back to it but I knew I had only 24 km to the finish line, at Alice Springs Telegraph Station. And what amazing scenery again! Such a great trail. I had my last sunset, a whole lot of hallucinations, and at 10 pm I made it to the finish line, running the last 100 m with Jake. What a journey! It was mentally and physically tough but the scenery was truly incredible and it was a pleasure to be out there in nature on the amazing Larapinta Trail.
A few numbers about the race:
65 hours of running/hiking, including an hour and a half of sleep, and four and a half hours spent eating, changing clothes, and refilling water and food at the aid stations
15 gels and eight energy bars, four bananas, three little packets of jelly beans, one and a half packets of glucose tablets, and 12 electrolyte tablets while running/hiking
Five blisters on my feet, mostly on my toenails
Ten nasty black toenails
$1,551 raised for WWF Australia
The fundraising is still open, so if you want to help the WWF preserve our wonderful nature and wildlife, please visit my page: https://run.gofundraise.com.au/page/Morgane-32349751
Don't hesitate to share it to your friends and family, and if you could donate, even a small amount, that would be really awesome! Donations made through this platform are secure and will be transferred directly to WWF Australia.
Thank you for your time! See you guys on the trails!
Stories like these warm our hearts at OPC, and remind us that there are some amazing people doing good out in the world. Are you someone working to support action for climate or do you know someone else who is? We would love to hear from you to continue to share the stories of the hardworking people in our community!