Running passion starts a new adventure

Images of the2023 event supplied by Susie Blissner.

By Tania Phillips

Extreme sport enthusiast Susie Blissner has fallen in love with the beautiful hills around Kilarney where she now lives so it’s hardly surprising that when she was looking for something to do in retirement that she decided to organise her own event running event in the region.

Of course it didn’t hurt that as well as loving running (and mountain biking) she likes to organize things to the point “I annoy people” and has a background in marketing and accounting.

And so out of all that has come the Untamed Border Run Festival two-days of running in some of the most beautiful country in the world in the hills and properties around Killarney 22-23 June.

The event, now in its second year, is two days of trail running events including a 50km, 21km and two 10km events and will have “the same courses as last year with a little twist”.

“Entries are flowing in,” she said.

“When we started the event last year I said I’d be happy if get 15 and we got 200.

“This year I said I want 300 hundred – I don’t know where that number came from, it was just a dream. We won’t get that but we could well go close to the 200 again, But whatever we get is ok, it’s a community event and last year we gave away $5,500 – $600 to nine small community groups including the men’s shed, girl guides, the art gallery and that’s what we’re all about.

“We want to bring tourist runners to our region. Some people didn’t even know where Killarney was which is mind-boogling.”

For Susie, who started her love with sport as a six-year-old swimmer in Melbourne and moved Queensland to spend more time outdoors as a triathlete, the event was also a way of staying involved in a sport she had truly come to love – adventure racing.

“My husband Gavin and I met through sport, in the sport of adventure racing,” she explained.

“I had been a triathlete prior to adventure racing and I had done marathon running. Gav had always kept himself extremely strong and fit. We both enjoyed Rogaining which is an orienteering based sport, but we met through adventure racing which is quite an extreme sport. “The duration of adventure races ranges from, back when I started, six hours to ten days.

“We raced in Tasmania and down the Eastern seaboard of Australia.

“My interest in triathlon had waned and I hadn’t trained for a couple of years. I had to buy a mountain bike to commute to work, because I didn’t have a car at the time. But as a result of purchasing a mountain bike I was looking for a more nature-based sport than triathlon afforded so I started orienteering on a mountain bike which led to me becoming very passionate about orienteering maps and compasses which then led me into rogains which is where I first met Gavin but I had already started adventure racing. In fact, we had both done a few adventure races.

“Gav did a ten day one in Broken Hill and I was dabbling in 24 hour adventure races. Gav asked me to join he and two of his work buddies, all firefighters in Brisbane, on a 10-day adventure race in Tasmania which was in February in 2006.

“I’ve been doing this for 20 odd years and I can tell you I wasn’t young when I switched to adventure racing – I was 48 at the time.”

However, she pulled back on training and racing as her parents got older and then both her husband’s parents needed help.

“We had moved to South-Eastern Queensland in the country and bought 50 acres to escape the city of Brisbane.

“But his parents lived on the Sunshine Coast. He was still working full-time. I had retired and thus I took on the enjoyable task of helping out his parents. His dad died and I ended up living for almost three months with his mum. Actually the idea of the run came to me as I was washing the floors after we’d sold her house.

“I thought, I need to get back into my sport into my passion, I need to get my fitness and strength back. But my body was telling me I was a little bit older and couldn’t’ do that so I decided that if you can’t do something, organise it for other people can enjoy it.”

And for Susie, her husband Gavan and friends the best part about the event has been in the organising, the getting out on the tracks and exploring the countryside with the help and consent of local farmers.

“I had come with the idea of the run but together Gav and I started to think about holding it here,” Susie explained.

“He at first thought I was crazy but then we decided to make it a community event.

“In the township of Killarney, which is the closest township to where we live, there were horse events, motorbike events, rodeos, shows, polocrosse but there was no sport like marathon running.

“We did organise a couple of cycling events as well, basically orienteering on mountain bikes, “We realised I had time, passion and experience. I did a lot of volunteering at adventure races and we felt that we were in a good position to put on an event.

“We chose running because there’s not a lot of tracks in this area to stage a long-distance mountain biking event or indeed an adventure race. Adventure racing incorporate paddling and obviously we don’t have enough water ways or lakes here to do that. So thus the idea of the run was born.

“I really wanted an ultra-marathon, I had done a couple in my running years and I just loved the challenge of them and we wanted to showcase the southern downs region – the mountains down to the flat country.”

The first one on last year was an adventure in it’s self, with the organising group trying to work out where to stage it.

“We spent countless hours up in the mountains walking and mountain biking through the farmers properties. The farmers, who once we explained to them what we wanted to do, I think they felt our passion and realised we were very experienced. We were safety conscious and we were also very respectful of their land.

“We spent countless hours measuring tracks. Trying to find new tracks, visualise where we might slash tracks across cow paddocks which was all a heap of fun I must say.

“For our inaugural event last year we staged a 50km a 21 km and 10 km. All three races started at remote locations so we bussed the runners in. We kept the locations secret to ensure the privacy of the property owners. A lot of long-distance runs, the courses will be advertised but we kept it all a secret. Some people guessed where we might go but that was our adventure racing ethos, coming out that you keep it a secret as long as you can.”

If they had any doubts about staging the event the were pretty quickly dispelled thanks to the support from the locals and from the running community.

“We received emails saying ‘I’d been looking at that area for years and wondering why somebody hadn’t staged a race up there in those beautiful mountains,'” she said.

“And then we had 200 racers on race day, volunteers who came from within the community of Killarney and Legume. The property owners volunteered to open and close the gates – we had 49 gates that had to be opened and closed on the 50 Km course so that was huge and then the finish line was at the showgrounds for all three courses.

“The show society did food and drinks and we had a presentation.

“I have to say we were thrilled, the compliments from the very experienced 50km runners who came was just wow.”

And now they’re set to do it all again.