The Spirit of India Run is done. Today, Pat Farmer took his last step in Srinagar, Kashmir to finish his epic run across India with a final total of 4400km.
The Australian ultra-marathon legend embarked on his 64 day run on January 26, both India’s Republic Day and Australia Day. When he took his step in Kanyakumari, the southern-most tip of India – where the Arabian Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Bengal meet – he started the most ambitious public relation events between Australia and India and touched the lives of millions of people from one end of the country to the other.
“The Spirit of India Run is my way of making a difference,” Mr Farmer said.
“It is my way of proving that one man can make a difference. We can leave all the work to our politicians and diplomats, or we can go on and do the job ourselves.
“The run is about showing the power of a single individual and what we’re all capable of doing, if we simply follow our dreams through with action.”
Mr Farmer said the purpose of the run was three-fold:
– – To strengthen relations between two great democracies, Australia and India
– – To raise funds for disadvantaged girls in India through the Nanhi Kali foundation
– – To inspire people, both in India and Australia, to follow their own dreams and make a difference as individuals.
The distance runner and former Australian Member of Parliament enjoyed support from both the Australian and Indian governments. The conception of the journey began with the Indian High Commissioner to Australia Navdeep Suri, who promised Mr Farmer it would be one of the greatest runs of his life.
“My warmest compliments and a big hug to Pat Farmer for completing his epic Spirit of India Run from Kanyakumari to Kashmir,” Mr Suri said.
“He has set a new bar for human endurance, for the triumph of the human spirit, and of mind over body. Through his charm and dignity, through the sheer power of his example, Pat has endeared himself to millions of Indians.
“He is a great Ambassador for his country and has truly contributed to a personal and direct connection between India and Australia. We look forward to welcoming Pat and his awesome team back home.”
Throughout Mr Farmer’s journey he and his crew stayed with everyday Indians in their homes, on farms and in palaces, from one extreme to the other. He mixed with rich and poor, advocating the same common message – the message of unity.
To showcase the wonders of India he ran up to India Gate in the heart Delhi, the nation’s capital; he stopped by the Taj Mahal, the palace of crowns; he visited the Golden Temple, the holiest site on earth for the Sikh people; he witnessed the opening of the gate at Wagha border near Pakistan; he sat in Sabarmati Ashram, home of Mahatma Gandhi and the place where the humanitarian started his movement for India’s independence; he entered temples and tombs and stayed in farm houses and palaces alike.
In between it all he ran through towns, villages, cities, deserts, highways, jungles and mountains through extreme heat and humidity, rain, snow and sleet.
While Mr Farmer is a veteran and multiple-record holder for distance running – having completed a run from the North to South Pole, the span of Vietnam and a run across the Middle East – he said India has been one of the most challenging runs of his 35-year career.
On just the second day of the run, where he was running in 37degree Celsius heat and up to 88 per cent humidity, he suffered from heat exhaustion, severe dehydration and muscle meltdown.
The crew’s medical director, Dr Joseph Grace, had Mr Farmer rushed to the hospital after the distance runner collapsed early in the run.
“In usual circumstances when someone collapses from heat exhaustion or a sun stroke, they would require two to three days of bed rest,” Dr Grace said.
“But Pat never missed a day of running, and once he left the hospital bed he went back to the road and continued on for another 11 kilometres. Since then he has been, on most days, running up to 80 kilometres a day.
“The human body does everything it can to tell you to stop when it goes through the trauma like he did. For Pat, it was mind over matter, he’s able to disconnect the experience of pain and resist the compulsion to pull away or just quit.
“To complete this journey, it’s a human entering a prolonged trance-like state and Pat does it for 10-14 hours a day.”
The Spirit of India Run was an enormous undertaking and Mr Farmer was warned during his planning stage that the Indian government across the local, state and national levels would not cooperate with one another. Through the completion of this run, all doubts were assuaged.
Most of the on-road planning was organised by Wolllongong’s Katie Walsh, who also accompanied him during his Pole-to-Pole and Middle East runs.
“Logistically these things are an absolute nightmare,” she said. “But in saying that, it’s part of why we do it – it’s the challenge.
“I do these runs because I want to feel like I’m contributing something to a cause that’s far bigger than myself and my own world back home. It makes me realise firstly how lucky I am but also that I can make a difference.
“The thing I always say, on these things it’s either sink or swim – logistically, physically, emotionally – and end of the day, sinking is not an option.
“It’s not because you can’t give up, because you absolutely can, that’s why not everyone does this. There’s a sense of pride and we’re carrying the weight of two countries on our shoulders; you don’t want to let people down and you want to show people that you’re down and out, there’s still light end of the tunnel.”
Throughout the run, an Australian and Indian film crew followed Mr Farmer and his crew as they traversed the Indian sub-continent. The film crew was led by Australian-Indian director Anupam Sharma, who recently directed Unindian.
“While people might think that race is finished, the journey has just actually begun,” Mr Sharma said.
“With the whole run being having been captured by Australian and India camera teams, the final film will make this run immortal. Thanks to the support of the Indian Government and Ministry of Tourism, we were able to shoot at places where filming is rarely allowed.
“My team and I are looking forward to editing all the footage from the last 70 days into an engaging Australian film.”
The feature film will not only comprise of the run across the mystical and spiritual landscape that is India, but will feature the drama and challenges from the point of view of Mr Farmer’s crew too. As with his other runs, his wife Tania Farmer was also present. As well as social media management, Mrs Farmer was also a major source of support for him.
“Every single day, the respect and wonder I have for my husband’s ability to stubbornly get the job done is renewed,” she said.
“I’ve watched him persistently push through every circumstance thrown at him: unbearable heat from a relentless sun; air filled with dust and dirt; traffic jams caused by landslides; overcrowded, chaotic roads where cars, trucks and bikes constantly attempt to weave in front of him; illness that would leave you or I in bed for days and all of this in addition to the extreme physical pain of running 85 kilometres each day, with only the night as recovery.
“Having a cause greater than himself is his biggest inspiration. Pat is raising money for the girl child in India through the Nanhi Kali Foundation, a cause very close to his heart.
“I am so proud of him, beyond words.”
The reception from the Indian people for the run was enormous. Mr Farmer appeared in the news every day and did press conferences almost every night on top of his run schedule. The media liaison and photographer for the run, Kevin Nguyen, said the positive reception was beyond comprehension.
“The enthusiasm we experienced from the people of India was unprecedented,” the 25-year-old from Fairfield, Sydney said.
“Literally millions of people cheered us over the course of the run, something that can only be achieved in a country with 1.27 billion people. They met us on the side of the roads, they ran with him in the hundreds and entire streets in major cities would close down.
“Pat transcended celebrity status – his face was printed on giant billboards, he had marching bands and parades run with him, and people were blessing themselves against his feet.
“He earned many nicknames, such as ‘marathon god’ and ‘run machine’. India has never experienced anything like this run before; there is no doubt that one of the hundreds of thousands of children he reached has been inspired to now go on and do great things.”
Following a few more days in India, Mr Farmer and his crew will return home to Sydney. People can continue to support education and see photos and updates from the run at patfarmer.com.