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Love of marathons has inspiring community leader running the world

Andrew Mathieson -

Andrew Thorpe's growing obsession for adopting more far-fetched marathons runs away like his beard.

The longer the growth droops down off the jaw, the deeper in thought the 32-year-old appears towards sifting out a more extraordinary race than his last.

Think epic treks that require super-human efforts, far beyond those marathon distances between the start and finish.

The Gunai Gunditjmara man living on Melbourne's outskirts was close enough to a clean-shaven face on joining more than 100 runners before him that date back a decade on graduating from the Indigenous Marathon Foundation.

The pandemic forced his 2020 classmates into running at Alice Springs instead of New York City, and Thorpe – as one of two Victorians in that project – was left to run in isolated pockets of suburbs in the midst of lockdown restrictions.

Pictures then showed the thickest of his facial hair was lying above the top lip, with the rest just bushier than stubble.

Now ahead of the most extraordinary task of facing seven marathons on seven continents over seven days, he looks more like a caricature of Forrest Gump.

But the fictional movie character ran coast to coast of the continental USA, and not just fly-and-run around the world, while for no apparent reason.

Thorpe has his reasons, even perhaps for the beard coverage.

Considering the first run begins below possible minus temperatures on a crazy course mapped over Antarctica, the lush follicles could be as integral as a fresh pair of legs towards leaving the frozen continent without frostbite.

"It's the next crazy stage of my running journey," Thorpe admits.

To call running day-to-day marathons around the planet for The Great World Race crazy is easy to validate compared to his slightly more modest challenge 18 months earlier.

Thorpe was one of 12 Australians – and the only Indigenous person – who then was handpicked to run a marathon each day across six states and the national capital.

That was made up of a marathon and a plane trip on the same day – but even 42.195 kilometres by foot and the longest flight of Perth to Adelaide looks to be comparably straightforward in contrast to the extra jettisoning alone.

"I think my longest flight last time was about three hours," Thorpe calculates.

He estimates time in the air on this trip for the National Indigenous Times as 62 hours – and that does not include the additional four hours a marathon, seven times over that it takes Thorpe to reach all the finish lines.

It's a case that time in the air is of the essence, far greater so than the distances covered on the ground, to get through the ambitious mission.

"I am not too sure what the travel distance is though other than it's quite a few thousand of kilometres," he adds.

The Great World Race will fly from Antarctica on February 6 to Cape Town in South Africa, then Perth for Thorpe to back in Australia before racing twice in Istanbul, as the transcontinental Turkish city straddles between Europe and Asia, ahead of Cartagena in Columbia and finishing off in the US city of Miami.

Only in Istanbul does he get to spend a good night sleep amid a cosy motel bed after the need to crash on the plane following the grind of the first three races.

He is one of up to 60 applicants against thousands worldwide that was capped to fit onto their chartered plane.

"We won't be waiting on a flight at the airports; we go onto our plane directly," Thorpe mentions.

"We're going to have our chefs, our doctors, all the rest of it, with us always."

While the lone Antarctic terrain not too icy to run over is the perimeter of the Novo international runway, most of the other marathons will also be nearby to airports. This is so the unsanctioned runs do not to shut down the cities.

The organisers have arranged for courses of eight laps over a 5.275km loop for most stops, while Istanbul has multi-loop courses on the Asian and European sides the Bosphorus Bridge.

The willing participants had to pass the standard medicals and show examples of how their body could stand up against the rigours of the weary schedule.

But Thorpe only had to point to a bulging CV that included the journey around Australia that will have 20 marathons done and dusted off – in little more than just three years – by the end of the adventure.

That's a far cry to his first 29 years of his life where he didn't dare run so far.

The only pursuit that was near equally as determined was running for a footy.

He has since transitioned into navigating 100kms once after his furthest run of a 56km trail run sealed his around-the-world ticket on the flight.

"Running 100kms is never going to be easy, but the cause and the reasons of why I was doing it takes a lot of the mindset into it differently," Thorpe says.

"Instead of focusing it was going to be hard, I was focusing more on the fact of who's going to be watching and how it's going to impact the Community.

"When you're not thinking about the pain, it's surprising just how much you can actually push through it."

Thorpe will also set to be the first Indigenous man to join the distinctive Global Marathon Club once completing these seven marathons.

But that concept was conceived after witnessing the first Indigenous Marathon Foundation graduate add another accomplishment 12 years since his first.

Inspired by Western Arrernte and Yamatji man, Charlie Maher completing the London Marathon, Thorpe was on hand at the finish line on that October day back in 2022.

Maher became the first Indigenous man to check off all the marathon majors – New York, Berlin, Tokyo, Chicago, Boston, and London – to become a world six-star finisher in which fewer than 200 Australians have ever achieved.

"There's almost like a badge of honour in them," Thorpe proclaims.

"There is that world marathon club, where people who have run marathons in every continent in general join. But this (The Great World Race) concept just is a little bit spectacular by having it done within seven days."

Without a sense of ego, running has cleared Thorpe's head and also been good for his own mental health.

The new fundraising partnership with the Black Dog Institute to help correct mental health has added extra motivation.

"I have got Elders that have approached me and said I inspired them to walk and get active because they have seen how it changes our mental health," he says, "and other than being stuck inside the house hoping for visitors, they're getting out and about, and seeing them."

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