An Australian expat in Singapore is running 180km around the island, starting on 7 July, in support of mangrove reforestation in Indonesia. Neil Little is a dad of two who has followed a plant-based diet for the past eight years. He plans to complete the distance over just 72 hours. The maximum sleep he’ll get between runs is two hours, which adds enormously to the degree of difficulty involved!
We find out more from Neil about his “Oceans180” challenge.
How did you come to set yourself this challenge to help with mangrove reforestation in Indonesia?
Prior to the pandemic, my work involved two to three international trips per month. As COVID has grounded travel, I’ve had a lot of time to think about my impact on the environment. In 2020, I also set the target to run 10km or more a day each day for the month of April. The final total was 465km, and we successfully raised $10,000 to help provide food packages to those most impacted by Jakarta’s 2020 COVID-19 lockdown.
This year, I wanted to do another fundraiser for the environment. This is where the 2021 documentary Seaspiracy comes in. After witnessing the challenge we collectively face to restore healthy oceans, I felt somewhat hopeless. I’m vegan and I wondered what it is I can do on top of voting with my fork.
After talking with my wife, Angela Richardson, who is also vegan and runs a non-profit called Foundation in Jakarta (Indonesia Indah Foundation), we decided to focus the fundraiser efforts on mangrove rehabilitation. I’ve come to learn of how significantly important mangrove ecosystems really are. Mangroves are like our oceans’ lungs; they sequester carbon at a rate two to ten times more than mature rainforests. Further, mangrove deforestation has increased at a rapid rate in recent years. If our oceans die, the human race will not survive.
Oceans180 is a wordplay, implying we need a 180 degree turn to restore and heal our oceans. Running 180km is the means to raise awareness. The way to run this distance is to run 10km every four hours for 72 hours. We set out to raise $18,000 to plant 18,000 mangroves as part of the Indonesia Indah Foundation’s “A Tree for Life” programme.
What’s your background with running? Tell us a bit about the running challenge you carried out last year.
I’ve always been active with sports as a child in Australia and then running, swimming and cycling in my adult life. Now, I enjoy the solitude and focus that comes with training. I’ve competed in full Ironman distance triathlons as well as Ironman 70.3 events in destinations such as Taiwan, Australia and Indonesia.
While OCEANS180 will be my biggest challenge yet, I’m not a stranger to long-distance events. In 2020, three friends and I set our sights to run the Gobi March, a six-day 250km run through the Gobi Desert in Mongolia. You carry your own food and clothes for the duration of the run. After nine months of training, it was disappointing to have the race cancelled due to COVID-19.
Not letting the training go to waste, I set my sights on raising funds to provide essential food to people in the city during lockdown. We again worked through the Indonesia Indah Foundation to distribute over 1,200 food provision packages to low-income families in Jakarta. I’d never run consecutively for more than three or four days in a row, so 30 days straight was a big mental challenge.
However, as donations came in, each day became easier. On the last scheduled day of the challenge, when I had planned to run 30km, I felt so inspired by the donations that I finished with a 42.2km marathon run!
Are you following a single route for each 10km run, or different ones? Where do you plan to run?
I plan to run from home and I have five 10km runs mapped out to avoid the monotony of running the same loop 18 times. During the day runs, I’ll aim to run the coolest possible routes. This includes running up and down Bukit Timah Road to enjoy the shade provided by the city’s covered walking paths. Otherwise, I’ll do some of my favorite runs at Bukit Brown Cemetery, Rifle Range Road, MacRitchie Nature Reserve and the Botanic Gardens. I’m lucky to have all these locations within a 10km radius of my house.
What do you think will be the biggest challenge?
Without doubt, the lack of sleep and hydration. In May, I completed a simulation of the challenge, where I followed the exact schedule for nine sets of 10km. What was clear is that on a normal day I can run 10km in about 50 minutes. But under the conditions where I plan to run 18 lots of 10km, the effort has to be reduced to a much slower pace. After each run I need to shower, eat, hydrate and stretch – the time passes quickly. Before long, I’m back out in the Singapore heat and humidity and the available time to sleep between each run is at most two hours. I also have two young daughters so I need to find time to play with the kids too.
How can Expat Living readers help?
We are seeking pledges to plant mangroves! It’s easy – you just need to fill out a pledge form. I also ask that readers consider what they can do as individuals to help mitigate their impact on the environment. Consider what you can do to help; for example, eat less meat and seafood, use environmentally friendly products at home, reduce the use of plastic or do a beach clean-up.
If we reach our goal to plant 18,000 mangroves, all money in excess of the target will go to COVID-19 relief in Jakarta.
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