Maybe you started 2019 with a goal of running every day. Maybe you said you’d run a marathon.
But you probably didn’t aspire to run further than a marathon every day for four months to cross the outback, fitting all 136 kilograms of your supplies onto a bicycle pedalled by your husband.
Unless you’re Katie Visco.
The 33-year-old American ran from Darwin to Adelaide — 3,556 kilometres in 119 days — finishing what is the only known transcontinental Australian run with no vehicular support.
Katie loves a good challenge
Katie, who owns and operates a bicycle-powered food delivery service, has a knack for transforming physical challenges into ways of serving others.
In 2009, she completed a 5,040km run across the US, limping the final stage on account of a knee injury.
She now remembers that journey as approximately “five billion times easier than running across Australia,” in part because she could rely on the people she met as a source of motivation.
“It was basically a speaking tour on two feet,” she said.
“All I wanted to do was get in front of people and share this message of, ‘You’re worth following your dreams and goals in life’.
“I talked to thousands of people. No, literally thousands. I know because I wrote their names down in a spreadsheet. I had so much tangible purpose.”
A decade later, Katie aimed for Australia in part to experience what America didn’t provide: isolation.
“It’s a desert continent. You just have to rely on yourself in the desert,” she said.
“Need breeds creativity and need breeds growth. You go out to nothingness, where there are no people, no water, no re-supply … I wanted the experience so I can be a better me.”
As you might have expected, it wasn’t easy
In total, Katie and her husband, Henley Phillips, averaged 45km a day.
They began in July. A typical day involved waking in the dark and rising from a bed of dirt to run and bike until the sun came up an hour later.
After a breakfast of nuts, dried fruit and porridge, it was back to running.
Afternoons in the Tanami Desert — where temperatures can reach 50 degrees Celsius in the coolest months — forced Katie to rest her bruised legs, shake off the bugs and, most importantly, seek out shade.
She’d known to expect the heat. She chuckled through the irony of training in Montana’s frozen winters and sweated through Bikram yoga in the six months before her departure. But the sun’s oppressive qualities still amazed her.
“We’d set up a shade tarp held to a dead branch or a bush or a termite mound,” she said. “Sometimes there was nothing.”
When the sun retreated, it was back to (you guessed it) running before a quick dinner and an early sleep. They did this for 119 days.
The first half of the trip was especially difficult, serving the pair with literal bumps in the road. To avoid traffic, Katie and Henley opted to avoid paved roads when possible.
“The dirt roads have all these corrugations. It feels about like riding a bucking horse,” Henley said.
“Adjusting to that was mentally maddening. It made it to where our pace was different. I was behind Katie on the first section because I couldn’t pedal fast enough to keep up with her.”
While dirt marked the first half of the trip, the second half was nearly cancelled on account of sand.
“South Australia is when the shit hit the fan,” Katie said. “[Henley] was literally pushing a 300-pound bicycle through a sandbox. It could’ve been the end of the trip.”
The physical challenges were great, but the mental challenges were always greater
Both Henley and Katie found themselves questioning the reasons they pursued the goal in the first place.
“Running across Australia has been a long-term love-hate affair,” Katie said. “I’d been dreaming about it from before I ran across America.”
She spent three months in Sydney during her university years and committed to the run in 2013. It wasn’t long after starting training that she developed an insurmountable injury. Two years later, she tried again…and again got injured.
She set aside the goal for a while. She opened up her soup business and got married.
In October 2018 she watched the movie Free Solo, finding it to be a jolting reminder of what it’s like to stick to a dream through the impossible.
“This first and foremost was for myself,” she says of her decision to recommit to the run. “It’s hard to legitimise going and doing this crazy thing primarily for oneself.”
“I’ve gotten comments like, ‘You should consider doing this for charity,’ which was like saying, ‘You should be doing this for a purpose.’ I had a hard time hearing that because I did do this for a reason — I did it for the most important purpose, which is to do something for myself so I can grow.
“That’s the only way I can serve others is if I take the time to do some things for myself.”
Patience and self-compassion were key lessons to be learned
In a way, that lesson of serving others by serving yourself is the same one that Henley learned as he cursed himself for struggling behind Katie in the sand and corrugations.
“Because I was a support person, I felt like I couldn’t or shouldn’t be behind her,” he said.
“I felt like I can’t have a bad day. I was having bad days and didn’t want to express it because I’d be bringing the team down.”
It was only when he took the time to prioritise his needs and voice his struggles with Katie that he gained self-acceptance and a new source of mental strength.
In the end, both Henley and Katie say they’ll approach challenges with more patience and self-compassion from now on.
That’ll come in handy for the next trip. A common result of achieving your goals is developing the propensity to reach for more.
“Adventuring is in our bones. We just have to do it,” Katie says before offering her advice for those who’ve got a wild idea in their bones as well.
“Just get off your rump and do the damn thing.”