Sean Bell Is Running 13,383km Around Australia For Charity

Meet Sean Bell, the man running 13,383km around Australia for charity

Driven by a cause he believes to be worthy of any physical undertaking, starting next month, Sean Bell is going to circumnavigate Australia on foot. He caught up with Men’s Health to discuss what motivates him, the method behind his madness, and the mindset he believes can benefit every runner—even those not running around a continent.

13,383 KILOMETRES. An incomprehensible distance. A distance that makes up more than a quarter of the Earth’s circumference. A distance that would get you from Sydney to Los Angeles. A distance that would get you from New York to London, and back, with more than 2,500km to spare. To run such an astronomical distance, much less in just 169 days, would be inconceivable to even the most experienced of ultramarathon runners, but that’s exactly what 26-year-old Australian Sean Bell will attempt to do come Sunday, March 10.

In less than three weeks, Bell will depart Melbourne and begin an arduous journey around Australia. To break the existing round-trip record, Bell will need to average more than 79.6km per day—close to two marathons daily, for almost six months. Speaking to Men’s Health 24 days out from his record-attempting effort, Bell admits that the magnitude of his run is daunting, and that it’s easily the most physically daunting endeavour he’s ever faced. “The goal is not to run fast, it’s to not break down,” Bell says.

When meeting someone set on accomplishing an extraordinary feat, the first question that inevitably arises is simply: why? For Bell, the why of his endeavour is not to be found only in his goal of breaking a world record, but also in his commitment to supporting Make-A-Wish Australia. “I’m incredibly inspired by their life-changing work,” he says. “They support the children throughout their journey. It’s not just the day the wish comes true, it’s giving them hope every day throughout their treatments, and I think that’s a powerful thing.”

Bell is aiming to raise $1.4 million for Make-A-Wish. An arbitrary figure and one that is not capped. In a best-case scenario, Bell hopes to raise even more. “If I can use my passion and strength to make a difference for sick children, that’s just amazing.

“I believe there are few tougher things in life than a child facing a critical, and sometimes life-threatening illness,” Bell says. “With bringing hope and happiness to these children and their families front of mind, what’s running an ultra-marathon each day?”

It’s one thing to say you’re going to run around a country, it’s another to actually be able to do it. As such, anyone who claims they can do so will naturally be met with scepticism or flat-out disbelief. Mostly because the average person simply cannot fathom how running that far is even possible. For that reason, the second question you’ll inevitably ask when meeting someone like Bell is: can you actually do it? “I’m confident I can,” Bell replies, without hesitation. “I’m someone who loves a challenge. While this 80 or so kilometres per day, day after day, is more than I’ve ever done before, I believe that I’ve done the work over the last six years to reach this goal.”

And what a journey it has been for Bell, a man who, seven years ago, considered himself more of a footy player than a runner. To understand Bell’s formidable aspirations, and his insatiable drive to do good for a noble cause, we need to go back to where his running journey started.

 

Sean Bell Mak-A-Wish

 

BELL HAS BEEN a Melbourne man all his life. He was born and raised in the East Melbourne suburb of Vermont and grew up playing for his beloved local Aussie Rules team, the Vermont Eagles. He’s always enjoyed running, but trying to break world records wasn’t exactly something on Bell’s radar in his childhood. “I never did little athletics or anything like that. Aussie Rules was always my preferred sport growing up,” he says.

Bell’s interest in running was brought on by tragedy. In 2016, he lost a friend and teammate to an unexpected passing. “I think that’s one of the things that turned me away from football and towards running,” he says. “His passing made me think about how he lived his life and taught me that life is so short and precious. The time to chase our dreams is now.”

The aspiring footy star’s shift to running began in 2017, when Bell, then captain of the Vermont Eagles under 19s side, guided his team to an undefeated season and a grand final victory. “Even with all that, I was finding I didn’t love my footy as much as previous years, which was a big indicator that I needed to find something else,” Bell says. “Three weeks after the grand final, I attempted the Melbourne marathon and from that moment I haven’t looked back. I used to be all in with footy. From that point on I was all in with running.”

That first marathon unlocked something inside Bell, sparking a desire to find new challenges that pushed him further than ever before. “I loved the feeling of getting better,” he says. “Whether it was improving my mental health or my physical health, feeling stronger throughout my body, feeling like I’m part of a community and inspiring other people to get better, that’s what I loved about running. And still do.”

Over the next few years, Bell would gradually increase the magnitude of his goals. He had soon completed 60- and 84-kilometre ultramarathons and monstrous 100- and 200-mile races, while also taking on multi-day challenges for charitable causes. At the age of 21, he finished 50 marathons in 50 days, raising more than $30,000 for The Compassionate Friends charity. Then, in 2022, he ran 4,000km from Cairns to Melbourne in 60 days, raising $100,000 for Make-A-Wish Australia, in what was to be a dress rehearsal for his next effort. Which brings us to Bell’s upcoming run. His biggest yet.

 

Sean Bell Make-A-Wish

 

BELL’S RUN AROUND AUSTRALIA has been six years in the making. He set it as a goal back in 2018, not long after he started taking running seriously, announcing it to the public shortly thereafter. “With the help of my coach, Jase, I set the goal to one day run around Australia for charity,” Bell says. Since then, he’s been pounding pavements, honing mechanics, streamlining technique and gait. Originally, the plan was for the run to take place in 2021, but as Bell explains, “COVID got in the way”. Then, in 2022, Bell’s running coach passed away. But his influence will be at the front of Bell’s mind throughout his run. “To see this through and honour Coach Jase will be a dream come true for me.”

Now, the time has finally come for Bell’s record-breaking attempt. While he will set off in less than three weeks, it will be around six months before he finishes. Departing from Melbourne, Bell will work his way around the nation in an anti-clockwise direction. First heading North, he aims to reach Sydney within a few weeks, before powering up the East coast on his way to the top end. By the time he reaches Darwin, it will hopefully be late May, meaning he can power back down the West coast and across the Nullarbor Plain to Adelaide during the winter months. Bell’s journey will then take him beyond mainland Australia as he runs across Tasmania from Devonport to Hobart and back, increasing the total distance to approximately 14,000km, in line with the $1.4M fundraising goal. The lap will finish at the MCG—if all goes to plan—in late August. Although, a Tasmanian round-trip was not included in the existing record, meaning that if Bell breaks the 13,383km record, he’ll do so before the MCG finish line.

To break the current record, set by Dave Alley, Bell must complete the 13,383km lap in less than Alley’s 169 days, 15 hours, and 31 minutes. He can’t take any rest days and must move a minimum of 20km on foot every day, despite any injuries or illnesses that may occur. There’ll be absolutely no cheating involved either, as Bell must mark out his finishing point with spray paint each day.

Timing is crucial for Bell’s run to be a success. Not only because he’ll need to keep to this schedule if he wants to break the record, but also because if he doesn’t, he may not finish at all. Bell’s route and timing was designed to be attuned to the weather, so that he won’t be heading across vast desert landscapes at the height of summer. “We wanted it to be as efficient and optimal in terms of weather as possible,” Bell says. “For that to happen, I have to start in Melbourne in March.” Running across the Outback over summer would not only make the run a whole lot harder, it would be near impossible.

To keep to that schedule and break the record, Bell will need to cover an average of 79.6km every day for five and a half months, or 169 days. To do it, Bell is planning on setting an 80km-per-day benchmark and giving himself 12 hours to reach it. The key here is leaving enough time for recovery at the end of the day. For while covering the 80km distance at a slower pace might make it easier on Bell’s body, it will mean he has less time to rest, and crucially, sleep. “Nothing is as important as sleep,” he says.

“What we plan on doing is that from within an hour of when I wake up, I have to be running,” Bell says. “Twelve hours of running will give me around two or three hours afterwards to refuel, shower, stretch and go to bed. And then eight hours of sleep.”

For those doing the math, we’ll save you the trouble. Eighty kilometres in 12 hours equates to a 9 minutes per kilometre pace. That’s not exactly lightning fast, but remember the emphasis is on distance, not speed. “That is truly what’s required when you do something like this,” Bell says. “The harder you run and the faster the pace, the more stress you put on your body. So if I’m going to go the distance, I need to be pretty smart about pacing.”

 

 

HOW CAN ANYONE PREPARE for the monumental undertaking of running around Australia? In any other sport, going through a routine similar to what you’ll do in competition is fairly easy. Many athletes will practise the same skills so often that when it’s their time to shine, muscle memory kicks in. That’s not quite possible in Bell’s case. Eighty-kilometre runs are rather difficult to make time for, especially on consecutive days.

In addition to these difficulties is the risk of overdoing it before the starting gun. To run more than 13,000km, Bell will need to be in peak physical form, but his body will also need to be in pristine condition. That means he can’t risk injuring himself beforehand by pushing too hard. “I’m going to build and condition my body as I go. Too often, people will overdo it in the build-up and be cooked once they start,” Bell says. “It’s a balancing act, you’ve got to be strong enough to do it, without doing too much.”

Instead, Bell is cautiously applying a moderate training regime—moderate being the operative word here, for by no means is his workload moderate by anyone else’s standards. “At the moment I’ll go up to six hours on my longest runs and I consistently hit between 80 and 120km per week,” Bell says. “Day to day, I focus on strength training, yoga, nutrition and sleep. I’m in the gym four or five times per week.”

That workload is compounded by Bell’s full-time job as the head of online running company First 42K. “We coach athletes from all over the world to help them with anything from their first 5km run through to an ultramarathon.”

Bell doesn’t just run ultramarathons; he helps others run them too. His experiences, along with a Bachelor’s degree in Physical Activity and Health Science University and Athletics Australia coaching qualifications, make him uniquely suited to offering guidance to runners of all fitness levels, and he has a few tips for our readers. “The two key things that I consider level one for all runners is having patience and consistency,” he says. For more experienced runners, working your way towards a marathon, Bell recommends thinking about your progress in years, rather than looking at minute daily changes. By doing so, he believes runners can achieve goals they wouldn’t have thought possible.

As for beginners, Bell touts the “run-walk method”, which involves sporadically switching between short periods of running and walking to manage intensity and slowly build confidence. “You could go on a ten-minute run and swap between 30 seconds of running and 30 seconds of walking,” he says. “Then next time go for 12 minutes and keep working your way up that way.” Bell trusts the run-walk method so much that he’ll be using it during his record attempt, with 12-minute running periods followed by three minutes of walking.

Earlier, we noted that meeting someone like Bell prompts two specific questions: Why? And can you actually do it? The same can be said about the remarks you’ll make at the end of your meeting. After a conversation with Bell, during which he expresses a desire to accomplish a superhuman goal, inspire people across the nation and honour those who have supported him, all for an admirable cause, there’s only one thing you can possibly say. Good luck.

To find out more about Sean Bell’s run and to donate to the Make-A-Wish Australia, click here.

 

Sean Bell Make-A-Wish

 

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By Cayle Reid

Cayle Reid is a fan of everything sports and fitness. He spends his free time at the gym, on his surfboard or staying up late watching sports in incompatible time zones.

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