Two months in and four marathons down might be the point where most of us ask – ‘what on earth have I signed myself up for?’, especially if we’d never even been a runner.
But 23-year-old Aaron Royal is as driven as ever to complete his 18 marathons in 8 months mission and show people what the mind and body are capable of; at the same time raise as much money and awareness around mental health and suicide prevention for 'The Black Dog Institute' as possible.
In June, Royall set off on his big lap around Australia solo for Lap 4 Lives, and its’ not long now until he’ll be rolling into Alice Springs to take on the Run Larapinta Stage Race.
What was the initial motivation for Lap 4 Lives, was it personal, or something larger?
I had a couple of friends who suffered some pretty severe mental health issues, I saw first-hand the effects it had on people’s lives when not treated or understood. Since this whole ‘lap4lives’ project started I never had to look too far to find motivation to run for a cause like this. I have met some incredible people along the way (both running and not running) who have shared their stories with me. You only have to look at some of numbers surrounding mental health illnesses to realise just how big this thing is and to understand you’re not alone.
How did you feel when your Lap 4 Lives idea first became a reality?
My idea became a reality when I did two things in the one day and it felt bloody awesome! Firstly 5 months out from when I planned on backing out the driveway for the last time this year I spoke to a mate of mine Jock Campbell (professional coach in his field of athletics). I said to him “My plan is to run 18 marathons in 8 months now can you help me”? He replied “You’re an idiot! Your poor body, but absolutely, I’ll help you get there"! From that moment I put my full training faith into Jock’s hands. I made a promise to myself that I would stay fully accountable to my training, not just running but everything behind the scenes. Having said all of this, distance runners would know just how much you have to put in and just how hard it is to find enough time in the day! So I saved up as much as I possibly could and quit my full time position and worked part time to stay afloat. The second thing I did on the same day was walk into the ‘Black Dog Institute’ I explained my idea and explained where exactly I want people’s donations to go. I explained - What, Why and How I plan on doing this thing and that’s when I realised I was in hammer and tong.
How did it feel to finally embark on Lap 4 Lives in June?
I had so many mixed emotions. I was nervous and excited. But to tell you the truth I was most excited about running a competitive race and hearing other people’s feet hit the pavement apart from my own. I used to run a lot of long lonely nights and early mornings by myself. When it came to my first marathon I couldn’t shut up to the people I was running next to (Doug and Matty). Since running my first marathon with those two I have since run another with them at the Gold Coast.
How do you feel about the mission in general, have you felt nervous or had doubts about the distances and dedication required?
I would never have done this If I didn’t actually believe I could do it. Sure, I’ve had my doubts, my struggles and fought my own battles to not give up and stop. But I truly believe I’ve learnt more about myself and what I’m capable of doing in this 6 months than in my whole life prior. 6 months ago I had doubts about running 42.2kms but proved to myself that I was capable. In my next chapter I run the 'Townsville Marathon’ then drive from Townsville to Alice Springs in under 4 days on very heavy legs to arrive in time for ‘Run Larapinta’. I have my doubts about this sure but as I said earlier I would never have done this if I didn’t actually believe I could do it.
You’ve been a dedicated cricketer all your life, but when and how did running really take off for you?
I love my cricket but I have never been a runner. Running only started for me when training for this whole thing. You could say I fell in the running trap that people talk about. I believe running will be a big part of my life when this is all over.
You must really love to run, what do you love about getting out there and smashing out the kms?
That’s a great question, I often ask the same thing to people I meet when I run alongside them. I’ve fallen pretty quickly for trail running as opposed to road running. I love the scenes, I love how you’re not always running on peoples heels and I love reflecting on why I’m doing this when times are getting a little tough.
You only recently added Run Larapinta into the Lap 4 Lives schedule, how and why did this event make it into your mission? And what are you looking forward to about Run Larapinta?
This was a very rare opportunity for me to continually see what I’m capable of doing. As I said previously I’ve become pretty fond of trail running and I’ve always wanted an opportunity to see parts of this country by using my legs to get there.
What would you say is the most important message you have for people who hear about your journey? And what are the hopes you have for the impact of your Lap4Lives campaign to be?
The reality is 1 in 5 Australians will battle a mental health issue and the biggest killer for males between the ages of 15-44 is suicide. So the most important message that I’m trying to deliver is to just have the chat. I’m not specifically talking about the people who are suffering because I’ve seen how hard it is for people to reach out, I’m talking about the friends and families, I want them to ask loved ones / mates ‘how are you’ and actually mean it and be present in a reply. If this whole campaign can get one person to speak up about their mental health, or save a life, or deliver enough funds for education in schools to run successful campaigns for students then this was all worth it and I would do it again.
You can follow Aaron’s journey on Instagram.
And you can help him raise funds for mental health and the Black Dog Institute at Lap4Lives.com.
Run Larapinta is a four-day, four-stage trail running race along the most spectacular sections of the Larapinta Trail in the Northern Territory, from Friday 11 to Monday 14 August 2017. The quality of the running along the Larapinta Trail, combined with the incredible setting and the friendly camaraderie between competitors will make it an exceptional experience for all participants.
To find out more about Run Larapinta head to RunLarapinta.com.au.