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Lucy Bartholomew's Larapinta Trail Run: What Really Happened Out Here?

Updated: May 25

The recent release of the 'Running Out' movie about Lucy's run on the Larapinta Trail this year has sparked a lot of interest about running the trail and lots of emails to LTTS about how amazing Lucy is; what actually happened out on her run and; for some, why she didn't make it.

More than 30% of our customers over the years have been hikers and trail runners, many who know of Lucy and her incredible achievements. When the doco came out last week, we've received a bunch of emails from many of our customers asking about Lucy, the run and our involvement. So instead of repeating ourselves in emails, we've written an article below with the most commonly asked questions and provided some perspectives from our own experiences and knowledge to fill in the gaps.

I have run all around the world and never have I seen a trail so physically, mentally and emotionally demanding.

. Lucy Bartholomew, FKT Website

What is the Running Out movie?

The Running Out movie is a doco of Lucy's attempt to run the Larapinta Trail end to end. The doco is a small scale, self-directed documentary, mostly paid for by Salomon and a bunch of freebies thrown in from Tourism NT such as the heli flights. The whole activity; the plan, running timetable, the logistics and everything in between was heavily influenced, shaped, organised and led by the videographer. This was all about the doco and branding, less so about the run.

The running attempt by Lucy was made in April 2021, a warm/hottish time of the year. She ran West to East from Redbank Gorge (Section 12) to approximately Brinkley Bluff (Section 4) and then due to extreme fatigue, heat stress, bad luck, injury and challenges with navigation and logistics, significantly reduced her speed to an occasional run, shuffle and walk the rest of the way from Standley Chasm (Section 3) to Alice Springs Telegraph Station (Section 1). Section 4 and 5, two of the hardest sections of the Larapinta Trail were crushing for Lucy and arguably were the two sections that defeated her attempt at a record breaking run.

Overall this doco is about an amazing attempt by an elite athlete to run the whole Larapinta Trail in record time. While it may not have turned out as envisioned by Lucy, it is nevertheless a film about a remarkable young woman throwing herself into the deep end of the Larapinta Trail and giving it all she had. Watch the movie and be inspired. It's only $6 to rent

What support did LTTS provide and does LTTS offer support services for trail running?

LTTS provided some advisory support in a voluntary capacity, about two days worth, meeting with Lucy and her crew to discuss terrain, conditions, challenges and heat risks of running ( or walking) the Larapinta Trail in April. The brief included access, resupply points, water tanks, natural water sources and evac points but a lot of the discussions were related to the filming - best camera views, filming angles, lighting, sunsets and what would look great in the doco etc, etc. As we mentioned earlier, this whole gig was mostly about the doco and less so about the run. Lucy was ready to run and smash it but the fellas, the two man camera crew, needed to pull together quite a comprehensive plan to get the footage they needed over a massive area AND meet Lucy at as many intervals as possible to feed her, rehydrate her, patch her up and of course film it all. They would really only have one go at it.

We did not provide any field support for the run because we were not prepared to do it for free. The field support was entirely provided by Lucy's mates, a two young Sydney city fellas, a photographer and a videographer, who had never been to Central Australia before.

We hired out a Gen 3 SPOT Tracker to Lucy and satellite tracked her entire run including a voluntary 24hr monitoring service of her run with a location ping every 2 minutes, so we virtually observed Lucy's entire run and all of its trials and tribulations.

Various local and highly experienced trail running organisations, groups and individuals in Alice Springs ( and elsewhere) , as well as the pros of the trail running space for the Larapinta Trail, the West Macs Monster crew, also offered their experience, knowledge, planning, preparation and support to Lucy.

How much she took on board from all the advice and guidance provided to her we don't know but it was widely and kindly offered to her while in Alice Springs.

Sadly though, there was not a single mention of Parks and Wildlife Commission NT (PWCNT) or the local Rangers, or the Friends of the Larapinta Trail (FOLT) in the Walking Out doco. PWCNT is the owner and manager of the Larapinta Trail and without their (and FOLT's) incredible efforts in maintaining the facilities along the trail, water tanks and campsites, the Larapinta Trail wouldn't be a reality and experience for many thousands of hikers each year and the occasional trail running doco.

Since Lucy's run we have been asked many times if we could support other attempts at running the Larapinta Trail end to end. While at this stage ( though this is changing soon) we don't have any off-the-shelf-services to support independent trail runs on the Larapinta Trail, we can and have customised support packages for solo E2E trail runs.

This year (2021) we did provide various customised trail running support packages for a number of trail runners, many of them solo women, and will be offering the same for 2022.

Two of the E2E trail runs ( separate solo women) we supported this year, successfully completed the run in less than 53 and 51 hours respectively, others succumb to injury, heat and/or severe blisters, much like Lucy did. Many of these runs were personal accomplishment runs and didn't have (or particularly wanted) much fan fare. They came, they ran and they left to set forth and conquer bigger challenges. And they still wont allow us to brag about how amazing and inspirational they were out there and just how impressed the LTTS crew were who supported them on these epic runs and their mind bending physical endurance.

Why did Lucy run the trail West to East?

There was no technical reason for the choice of direction, something that is normally a huge thing for many hikers. Their planning for this trail run was all cooked up very last minute on the east coast and on the go by Lucy and her support crew mates as they made their way up here. It was clear to us they really did not comprehend just how tough Central Australia and the Larapinta Trail really was and just how hard the run would be. For example, they assumed the 'rivers' here actually flowed like rivers down south and that the 'trail' would be like a well made hiking trail down south in Tassie. It wasn't. It was Mars instead.

In a nutshell the choice for going West to East basically boiled down to being able to finish in town with all the local fans, running along side Lucy with their headlamps, smiling and cheering as she finished (great for the ending of the doco and uplifting music), something that would have been a lot harder to organise ( or motivate) if it was hundreds of kilometres away from Alice Springs in the sticks at Redbank Gorge in the middle of no where at 8pm on a working week night. But it did give the local fans an opportunity to show their support to Lucy after her epic run, and many were delighted to be a part of that finale.

What happened with Lucy and her running out of water?

We're not sure ( ok, we can guess, but its not for this blog to do so). Lucy and her crew never actually mentioned or even hinted anything about this to us after the run when we briefly caught up post-run. It wasn't an issue that was raised at all, so we were surprised it was a dramatic and sombre mini feature in the doco. From what we interpreted in the carefully and creatively edited part of the doco, she apparently didn't have access to, or couldn't find, water between Ellery Creek South (S6/7) and Section 4/5 Junction (S4/5).

Again, we can only surmise what may have happened out there but that's not for us to speculate in too much detail in this article, but going by the SPOT Tracker data it looks like Lucy ran past or missed, deliberately or otherwise, many of the water points along the way, which included the full water tanks at Rocky Gully on Section 6 and at Hugh Gorge Trailhead on Section 5 as well as the numerous waterholes along Section 5.

At the time of Lucys run the water tanks at Rocky Gully (S6) and Hugh Gorge (S5/6 Trailhead) were full and there were a number of waterholes and rock pools between Hugh Gorge and Section 4/5 Junction ( Section 5 length) including at Marsilea Pass (S5), Pocket Valley (S5), various rock holes in the vicinity of Hugh Gorge Junction (S5) such as Barefoot Pass, Hugh Gorge itself ( icy cold waterhole) and at the cozy waterhole at Fringe Lily (S5). See pics from early April 2021 below.

Specifically, from Hugh Gorge Trailhead to Hugh Gorge Junction, which follows the Hugh River, is up to 200m wide in some places and as narrow as 10m in others, with surrounding steep terrain and cliffs. So she may very well have run past many tucked away deep pools along the way while focusing on her feet, exhausted and fatigued. We're speculating she was expecting or hoping for a massive waterhole the size of Ellery Creek Big Hole (or the one she filmed separately swimming through at Ormiston Gorge) that she could swim in, something that never has existed on Section 5, to cool off in or resupply in.

We walked Section 5 a few days before her run and a week after it and came across many freshwater pools, rock holes and waterholes with very good quality water. We had big rains in late March which even resulted in the Hugh River flowing between Hugh Gorge junction and Hugh Gorge Trailhead, up to 5-10ft deep and 5-10m wide in some places, enough to fill many waterholes along Section 5, so lots of waterholes were topped up to capacity.

As mentioned earlier there was a substantial amount of heavy rain in late March 2021 so many pockets of water and the waterholes were quite full, in good condition and remained that way along Section 5 long into the hiking season. There was certainly enough fresh water between Hugh Gorge Trailhead and Hugh Gorge Junction to resupply many times and it would have required some minor wet crossings or scampering to avoid wet crossing some of the waterholes. So whatever happened out there, the water was available and it was there.

The other two solo women who ran the whole trail E2E in late April and mid May resupplied at all the tanks and resupplied from the natural water sources and waterholes between the tanks but they did stop to sterilise the water at times. ( Note that sterilising water can take time! So if you're on the clock, you'll loose a bit of time sterilising your water from natural water sources and this may affect your decision whether to stop for 5-10 minutes every time you needed to top up).

We did drop off a number of STS Watercell 10lt-20lt bladders of water for one of the solo runners who used the bladders in between trailhead tanks, 8 bladders in total, so this may be an option for you if you need this level of support for your run.


Waterhole pics below taken in April 2021 along Section 5

Lucy mentioned in the doco she would have been prepared to drink cow piss if she found it, but as you can see the pics below, she could have drank crystal clear fresh water instead.

The doco implies Lucy ran from Ellery Creek South all the way to Section4/5 Junction, something like 50+km or 6-7 hours in the blazing sun without any water. Is that true?

That's not for us to say. We don't know what Lucy did or didn't do during that particular phase on the run, and her support crew weren't there either. We only know where she was at what exact time and place based on the tracking data which can tell you a lot too.

What we do know about this particular 43.8km dramatic thirst driven part of her run is that Lucy ran Section 6 , a 28.9km long section, and Section 5, one of the roughest and toughest 14.9km sections of the entire trail, all in one day and in full sun which also turned out to be quite a hot day with temps in their mid thirties, radiant temps likely high thirties. So whatever happened out there, we know ( and can see quite clearly in the doco) she got thoroughly fan baked on the long run across the exposed and hot Alice Valley on Section 6 and then was physically smashed and cooked on the hot, rough and rocky/bouldery and gorgey terrain of Hugh River and the open oven of Linear Valley on Section 5.

Wearing only a cap for shade, a t-shirt, shorts and having her fair skin legs and arms unprotected and fully exposed to the raging and intensive sun and extreme UV would have accelerated her dehydration, heat exhaustion and extreme fatigue, all of which she clearly was suffering from, and very likely wouldn't recover from quickly, which in the end is what happened.

We've seen this many, many times on the trail.

Make no mistake, we're talking about hot April conditions that Lucy ran in, common conditions for that time of the year. Many other fit and capable hikers and runners have died or become very seriously unwell out here in these exact locations in similar times of the year and same conditions even after they drank many litres of water but STILL ended up very seriously ill in hospital. Some perished.

If Lucy did NOT have ANY water at ALL on that day, covering 40+kms of open and rough terrain in full sun, with mid to high thirties heat, with 60% of her skin exposed to the ferocious sun, then she would have been statistically likely to have had a near fatal or fatal ending. It's statistics and facts. So its very likely she had drinkable water along the water, and drank it, but just succumb to dehydration and heat exhaustion like many, many others before her ( and hundreds of others since), something that looked quite obvious in the doco.

We saw the doco showed an SMS from LTTS to Lucy's support crew about Lucy getting lost. What was that about and what actually happened?

That's was one of a few messages LTTS sent to the film crew at Standley Chasm when Lucy got badly disorientated and lost on Brinkley Bluff, Section 4, at night. This part of her run, in our opinion, broke the back of Lucy's run, and she didn't recover. She was already exhausted and roughed up from Section 5, but it only got harder.

Lucy veered off the trail about 200m east of Stuarts Pass on her way up to Brinkley Bluff in the total darkness using only a headlamp. We watched in near real time on the satellite tracking portal as she missed a bend in the trail and got disoriented. After going in a few circles looking for the trail, losing valuable time, she almost found the trail again but missed it. Not deterred she pushed directly east and up the bluff basically bush bashing cross country to the top of the bluff exposing herself to an enormous amount of physical strain, pain and personal risk along the way.

Picture ( or check out the pics below) huge 20 ton boulders and loose 30kg rocks, slippery and shaley scree slopes, dead, spear like stumps poking out of the ground and of course the cliff at Rocky Cleft with its 150m cliff drop. Combine all of that with complete darkness and a fatigued and an exhausted runner, it was a case study in the making that could have been near fatal. We SMS'd the support crew frequently updating them on the precarious nature of Lucy's situation. Lucy was very, very lucky that night. We chewed through all our nails.

As many thousands of hikers and runners can vouch for, Section 4 and 5 can be unforgiving at the best of times, let alone at night ( on a warm night too), so it was a BIG call on Lucy's part to do this at night.

From very extensive experience out here with many very unhappy endings for runners and hikers alike, we knew Lucy was a hairline or bad footstep away from potential catastrophe. Lost, disorientated, dehydrated, delirious and running semi-aimlessly in complete darkness on one of the roughest parts of the Larapinta Trail with natural hazards all around her, the risk, in our opinion, was disproportionate to the value of the doco.

Despite all these challenges and risks, Lucy kept going, through pure willpower, discipline, determination and by sheer luck found the trail again very close to the summit of the bluff. It required a huge herculean effort on Lucy's part to push up hill over that rough terrain and get on top of the bluff, at night! We were blown away by the effort and were enormously relieved she made it to the summit. Had she missed the trail and kept going, things would have rapidly got worse in the much steeper, precarious terrain and unstable scree slopes that would have greeted her shortly after on the southern end of the bluff.

How did she veer off? We know she veered off the trail a few times on her run and paid for it in bruises, scratches and cuts, but the bluff was the most serious deviation. We don't exactly know because we never fully debrief with Lucy about that night, but when running or walking at night and using a headlamp, the terrain becomes 2D ( 2 dimensional) and often the prolific grass and spinifex on the bluff slope ( or anywhere on the trail with long grass) can easily obscure the trail. Add extreme fatigue, deliriousness, dehydration and exhaustion, its very likely you're going get disorientated and hurt as Lucy did and in this instance, it unfortunately compromised her run. From that point on, it was largely a walk back to town.

Here are some day pics of the area she would have had to bush bash over but at night!

If Lucy was alone on the bluff when she got lost, who filmed the infrared drone night footage of Lucy running up the bluff?

No one did. That footage wasn't taken on the bluff and it wasn't at night either. It was filmed somewhere else during the day and the videographer used some creative filters and design to make it look like night footage but they didn't have any night vision drone capability. They asked to use our $25K+ thermal drone for free but we politely declined. During that whole night run on the bluff the support crew were miles away at Standley Chasm Kiosk at the time. Lucy was on her own proper.

I'm inspired! I'm thinking about running the trail solo. What tips or suggestions do you have?

We can give you excellent tips about the Larapinta Trail, and the terrain, etc and everything about the logistics and safety mechanism you'll need, but we're not trail runners so we can't give you the best advice for running the trail ( i.e technique, training, gear etc). If you touch base with the pros at West Macs Monster ( and some were mentioned in the doco) they can offer much better specific running advice, or perhaps consider signing up to do an organised run with the West Macs Monster. We don't know anyone in town or a local who has ran the whole trail solo so we can't recommend any blogs or websites or services other than the great people at the local Alice Springs Running and Walking Club and the legends at West Macs Monster.

Here are three of the best tips we've observed from other peoples pain over the years. The pain hasn't really discriminated between hikers and runners either:

  • If you run in summer or during the season in the hotter months of April or September, watch the heat! You will get cooked just like Lucy did. Lucy was warned about it many times.

  • You may be a semi-pro, champion, an elite athlete even, but the Larapinta Trail doesn't care about that. Don't under estimate this trail, especially when running solo. If you do, expect a high failure rate or the wind ( or Will) knocked out of you.

  • If local Alice Springs trail running pros give you excellent tips and offer some advice for planning and preparing for your solo run, take it. That is of course if you bother to ask.

And a final word from Lucy the superhuman legend herself:

Hey Zak, just got home and we are rolling through the footage and just wanted to say a huge thank you for your ( and LTTS) support with this project. While it wasn't the run I envisioned it was the run I needed and taught me so much. Thank you so much for being a huge pillar of this film. Lucy
April 2021



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