Running across Australia on Coconut Water – A conversation with Erchana Murray-Bartlett

Erchana at the end of Her Tip to Toe Challenge from the Top of Australia to the Bottom

Erchana Murray-Bartlett has just completed an epic record-breaking journey from ‘Tip to Toe’ across Australia, running 155 consecutive marathons and raising awareness of the wildlife extinction crisis there.

She recently got in touch with The Green Runners because she aligns very well with our pillars, and it’s a subject very close to her heart.

We sat down with Erchana, remotely from her campsite in the Australian bush, to talk about all things Green Running.

[TGR] Why is protecting our environment important to you?

[Erchana] I love nature and the outdoors. I love running through the wilderness, and I’d love it to stay green. I just have such a strong connection to nature. Right now, while talking to you, I’m standing in the Australian bush and you probably can’t hear me over the crickets and the cicadas!

Unfortunately in Australia we’re a world leader in biodiversity loss, and I grew up running around amazing animals like the Echidnas and Kangaroos you only get here in Australia.

It’s just so sad that the numbers are really declining, for a number of reasons: bush fire, floods, climate events, deforestation, industrialisation… I just think we can do better.

It’s never been on a federal agenda to protect these species. It’s hard to pinpoint one reason why! For my mental health, my physical health and the health of the planet. For me it’s just a no brainer.

The bigger question is “Why would we not protect it?” The food we eat, the water we drink; it all comes from earth. It’s hard to give an obvious why, because it is everything for me.

I had received comments on some of my [social media] posts that I found frustrating, things like “Why did you run for wildlife? You should have run for sick children.” My response to that is “Well, if we don’t have a healthy planet, everyone’s sick! So I’m running for the health of the entire global population.”

There is no ‘planet B’, so I just find it interesting how people have that mindset.

How did you first get into running?

I first got into it in 2013. I was a football player – I’ll say football rather than soccer because you’re in the UK! – and I wanted to meet some friends in Victoria.

Across the road was an athletics track, so I wandered down there with the intention of meeting people and keeping fit. I was 23 and probably drinking too much back then. And yeah, I fell in love with it!

I’ve always been a road or track runner. Trails are something I did for my enjoyment but it was never my event. Road racing was what I took seriously, so ‘Tip to Toe’ was amazing because it was a combination of road, trail, bush and beach. It was such a great combination of Australian terrain.

It took a long time to build up to longer distances, and I didn’t do my first marathon until my coach thought it was something worth going for. I got quite good at the marathon in 2018/19.

Taking a step back from the race mentality I probably could have done it much earlier for fun and had a lot more enjoyment than I did for my real first marathon, where I bombed out because I went out too fast!

What’s your fastest marathon now?

Brighton Marathon in the UK!

It’s 2 hours 50 minutes flat. I could go faster, but I just missed two chances – the catalyst for ‘Tip to Toe’ actually – as I got injured in Berlin when on pace for 2h40, and I had an entry to Tokyo 2020 but that was cancelled due to Covid; so I never got the chance in my red hot fitness to give it another go. I have Valencia in December, so maybe this year!

Erchana Running as Part of Tip to Toe Challenge
Erchana Runs Through the Australian Landscape on her Way to Completing the Tip to Toe Challenge Across Australia

Let’s talk ‘Tip to Toe’, what was the funniest moment?

The funniest was the things that went wrong. One day I got my hair caught on the Velcro of the camper and I couldn’t get off, I was stuck! I was so tired because I’d been running in the sun for five hours, and I couldn’t move anywhere until my partner rocked up later and had to cut me out with scissors!

One time, I was on my own and I couldn’t get the car to start and no-one would help me jump start it. It was pouring with rain, so I waited over an hour for roadside assistance. The guy arrived and asked “Do you know what you’ve done wrong?” I replied “no, please don’t play with me – I’m so tired!”.

It turned out I’d left the car in-between Park and Drive so it wouldn’t start. All of that stuff was, in hindsight, just funny, because if you don’t laugh about it you’d cry.

Did you ever have a really low point?

I had so many low points. I had points where I was slightly injured from overuse in my calf, or my leg, and they were pretty painful.

I had low points because it hurt to run. But every time I got into a negative headspace I knew I’d been there before and got out of it previously. So every time it happened, and I didn’t quit, it added another layer of strength and I became more and more resilient.

There was one specific day in Holbrook, Victoria, where the road was long and flat. I was tired and dehydrated, and I was bored of the songs on my playlist. So the next day I put a call out on social media for people to join in. On the start line, no joke, there were 30 or 40 people and 11 of them ran the full marathon. I leant on community a lot to get me through.

If it wasn’t for the people that ran with me it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as fun. And most of the time I was in places I didn’t know, so the best part was they’d say “Hey, don’t go down the freeway, we’ve got this national park that’s only seven clicks out of town. Let’s go there and I’ll show you”. So it made it so much more wholesome because I got to see places I wouldn’t otherwise have seen.

What did you carry with you / use for fuel?

I had a little backpack and I’d carry tins of coconut water or stuff that no elite athlete would ever do. I had an Australian mountain runner join me for a bit, Simone (Sim) Brick, and she said “I can’t believe you’ve gone 120 days and you just carry that!” So she gave me a new pack, filled it with nutrition, water, proper stuff.

Have you done any ultras before?

I did one 55K in preparation two weeks before, and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

I won the race, but then I got disqualified because I didn’t have enough emergency water capacity!

In Australia we have to take snake bite kit, satellite phone, everything.

And here’s me, I’ve just run the length of the country on coconut water and my mobile phone, and I get DQ’d. But I respect the rules, there’s a reason they’ve got them!

What other fuel did you use on the run?

It changed over the run. Up North there are no stores, so you have to carry everything [and be] self-sufficient.

I was sponsored by Clif which was handy, so I had a lot of their bars. Fruit was easy to digest.

If there was a petrol station I’d have a pie. I always hate carrying things, I’m such a minimalistic runner I’d just go out in a sports bra and come back whenever. I’d prefer to pay for things as I went.

I ran through banana fields so I would just pick them along the way! I did have a support crew so I’d stop for pasta, bread, pancakes or something more substantial along the way.

As I got closer to Victoria my marathons sped up quite a bit so I would rely more on gels, Tailwind and drinkable nutrition as we weren’t stopping.

How did you prevent calorie deficit?

I was eating an exorbitant amount of food. I found it hard to have big meals, so I had lots of small ones like cereals before bed and smoothies between meals.

I had two healthy meals a day then supplemented it with ice cream and soda for high calories.

I deliberately put on 5 kg to start this, and despite eating such a large amount of food I still lost weight. I finished around my usual weight, so I think I did well!

Why did you choose to raise money for the Wilderness Society charity?

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to take a top-down approach to lobbying government, or a grassroots approach.

The Wilderness Society actually do both. They have something called the “Movement for life” which encourages people to volunteer and take an active role in our environment. I’m a nutritionist, and one of my other passions is getting people outdoors and moving.

At the same time the Wilderness Society spend a lot of time lobbying government and using people power to make federal change to protect our wild places. I wanted the money I raised to be really helpful.

I’m going to follow up with them and hope to see physically where the money is going.

On her Tip To Toe Challenge, Erchana drank a lot of coconut water!

What’s your experience been with media interviews related to environment?

It’s been a really hard one.

Unfortunately a lot of people didn’t even ask about the problem.

I remember we had a big arrival into a town where the representative for the Wilderness Society got interviewed for the nightly news, and probably spoke to them for 15 minutes but the only cut they used on the show was “Erchana’s raising $100,000 for the Wilderness Society.” It was so frustrating rewatching that, I have no say in what’s portrayed and that’s why I really tried to make my message as clear as possible.

My whole thing was, “We have an extinction crisis for Australian animals,” and rinse and repeat that.

I had interviews where they just had no idea and brushed over the cause and also didn’t really comprehend the distance I ran either.

The day after the Melbourne marathon I had like 200 messages from people going “I understand what you’re doing now! It’s really hard.”

It’s been a battle and that’s the reason I chose the extinction crisis, because nobody knows about it here.

I have this philosophy in life that if you hear something two or three times you’re more likely to take action. I’m trying to put the word out there. I’ve said yes to probably more media than I should have, I wanted to get in front of every camera and be like “THERE IS AN EXTINCTION CRISIS!”

Have you experienced the impacts of climate change in Australia?

Floods were the worst for us; we’ve had them all year.

I personally experienced the fires of 2020 over Christmas. We couldn’t run outside because the pollution was so bad. I was there for that and it was horrendous.

The sad thing is when Covid hit those fires got forgotten, and they are the reason why our Koalas are now endangered.

The floods this year have been horrendous; I was landlocked for four days because the roads in and out were all flooded.

Auckland is going through it now. We’ve had more fires and floods in the last two years than most of us would have had in a lifetime.

It’s so hot and dry here, temperatures around 45 degrees Celsius. People said “Oh, you can go and run inside on a treadmill,” but you couldn’t because all the gyms were closed due to the pollution.

We all had to have apps on our phone and check the pollution level before going outside. It impacts your daily life, let alone running.

Do you think that the running industry is sustainable?

No, I don’t think so, particularly in Australia.

Even before I had a real focus on environment I never collected the T-shirts or the medals from races.

Sometimes at marathons you get a plastic gift bag with stuff you put in the cupboard and you’re never going to use, and I’ve never collected them and wish they didn’t do it!

I understand everyone wants a token but you can definitely do it in a much better way. Even with my kit I wore on ‘Tip to Toe’ I’ve had a few people ask me what I wore, and I’m really reluctant [to answer] because I don’t want to encourage consumption.

There’s some that are doing it, like recyclable pins and things you return to race directors. I think trail running is ahead of road running as they don’t use plastic cups, but road races have such a long way to go.

I partnered with a company called Tarkine. They’re a Western Australia startup using recycled tyres for their shoes. I deliberately chose recycled products for my run.

I think if we demand it as consumers, [then] people will make it as we’ll pay for it.

It’s hard as there aren’t that many companies out there doing what we need. We’ve got to get behind the companies that are doing good and show them it’s wanted.

What gives you hope for the future?

Two things. One is the people that rallied around Tip to Toe and showed that there is a community that very much care.

The second thing is that the entire way down the East coast I was doing a lot of school visits. What I loved about it was the children all already knew!

It’s not their role [to change things] but they are all so motivated, and that gives me hope that the next generation have a greener thumb.

We have a music competition called the Triple J Hottest 100, it stops Australia and we all watch it. Every year they partner with a charity, and this year it was an environmental charity focusing on climate change, as they said it was ultimately what everyone wanted them to do.

I think society is switching and it’s becoming common knowledge. This year the environment was on every politician’s agenda, so it’s at least in the public eye.

To finish, what message would you like to leave people with?

On running, I didn’t know I could do this so whatever your dreams are just back yourself.

If you put in the work you’ll get there. I think you can make a bigger impact on your own than you think.

As an individual who is concerned about our environment you can go out and do your bit.

It may seem small but it will have a big ripple effect and can inspire others to do good. If you dip your toe in it you’ll meet a large amount of people doing awesome things too, and be rallied around by a community of legends!

Thanks to Erchana for sharing her experiences with us, and for joining The Green Runners herself! You can find Erchana on Instagram @tip_to_toe_2022

Do You Want to Tell Us Your Green Running Story?

We’re always looking for amazing stories and content to go on our website or social media. Get in touch if you have a story that you’d like to tell.

We’d love to hear from you!

Leave a Reply

Share this post :