The Hobart

LOCAL PEOPLE: Ben Hirst

by Peta Hen
LOCAL PEOPLE: Ben Hirst

Running a marathon is one thing, however running the distance of two Mount Everest climbs in a single week is another thing! We caught up with ultra-marathon runner and founder of Run for Mental Health, Ben Hirst, to speak about his upcoming Double Everest Challenge.

Where did you grow up and where do you live now? I’ve spent the majority of my life in Sandfly, a picturesque place not too far from Kingston. It’s a remarkable spot surrounded by vast paddocks and enchanting nature. I’ve recently relocated to Montagu Bay, on the other side of the river, and I must say, I’ve fallen in love with this area.

Tell us a bit about your work. I’m working as a Suicide Prevention Officer promoting suicide prevention initiatives and creating community action plans in Tasmania. Eight years ago, I created my own awareness campaign called Run for Mental Health. It aims to educate and start a conversation about mental health issues that affect many of us. The Run for Mental Health Challenges is all about bringing the community together to educate and start a conversation about mental health and suicide. Through my passion for endurance running, I have accomplished some incredible feats to raise awareness of mental health issues. In 2016, I ran a total of 340 kilometres from Burnie to Hobart in just three days. Two years later, I ran for 48 consecutive hours on a treadmill, and in 2019, I ran for seven days straight, covering a total of 800kms around a school oval to dedicate 2,348 laps to the 2,348 males who died by suicide in just one year.

How did you get into ultra-marathon running? I overheard a conversation between a group of people in the pub about a 100km run in the majestic Blue Mountains, which is now called Ultra Trail Australia. I went home in the early hours of the morning to add myself to the waiting list. A week later, an email came through offering a spot, I almost had a heart attack but signed up anyway. I embarked on this remarkable journey that would soon become an indelible part of my personal history. As the hours ticked away, I pressed on with unwavering determination, until finally, in a moment of both triumph and exhaustion, I stumbled across the finish line, having conquered the gruelling course in over 22 hours.

Training on kunanyi

You’re taking on the Double Everest Challenge. Why? On 12 July, I’ll be running the Double Everest challenge on kunanyi. If you’ve ever run the Point to Pinnacle in Hobart, which is known as one of the toughest road half marathons in the world, you’ll understand the challenge. To give you an idea, I’ll be running the equivalent of three Point to Pinnacles each day for a week, covering over 60 kilometres in total-all on the mountain. And to make it even tougher, it will be during the coldest time of the year, and I’ll be running back down each time. This is the fourth running challenge since 2016 and I’m always looking at doing something daring to get people’s attention and start that conversation.  Each climb during this challenge will be a tribute to those we have lost to suicide and a source of inspiration for those who are currently struggling. It’s my way of spreading awareness, normalising conversations around mental health, and fostering a supportive community. What makes this run even more special is that it will finish on the 10th anniversary of SPEAK UP! Stay ChatTY, adding an extra layer of significance.

How do you train for this? I like to find the biggest hill near home or where I work and repeatedly run up and down them. This builds up the muscles required for repeat efforts on the mountain, but also the mental strength side of having to do the same run over and over again.

Why is Stay ChatTY close to your heart? In my mid-twenties, I was really struggling with my own poor mental health. At the time, Mitch McPherson had lost his brother Ty to suicide and created stickers to put on cars to get people talking and reduce stigma. I decided that I wanted to raise some funds for Mitch and Stay ChatTY while openly talking about my journey. Fast forward eight years and this will be our fifth fundraiser, I’m an official ambassador and working alongside the team. That well-known sticker is a reminder for me to keep advocating and talking about mental health and suicide to reduce the stigma and help those who are suffering in silence.

What do you love doing outside work? When I’m not running on the trails of Hobart, I’m playing hockey. I’ve been part of the hockey community for 20 years and I love being part of a team.

Who do you admire? I admire my parents, Mick and Sharon. They gave me and my three brothers the best chance at life, providing everything that we needed and now that I’m a parent to two young girls, I honestly don’t know how they  did it.

Favourite podcast or tv show? Ted Lasso is a TV show that perfectly captures the essence of a wholesome, funny, and heartwarming comedy. Its delightful charm and clever humour effortlessly brings joy to its viewers. On a different note, if you’re in search of a gameshow packed with lively banter, Hard Quiz is the ultimate choice!

Secret vice? I’m really competitive, and I honestly can’t go past a food challenge. Unfortunately, I seem to enter the really spicy challenges that seem good at the time but end in disaster!

Ben completing one of his running challenges for mental health

What are you reading now? I just finished reading The Happiest Man on Earth which is a thought-provoking book by Jakus, a Holocaust survivor, that challenges societal notions of success and explores the true meaning of happiness. The book serves as a reminder to appreciate simple joys, practice honesty and openness, and discover purpose in life.

What gets your goat? I really struggle with witnessing people not being kind to one another. It doesn’t take much to make someone’s day! Be kind people. Pineapple on pizza is a close second!

What was your first job? My first job was as a kitchenhand in a local Hobart pub/restaurant prepping food, making desserts and washing dishes. After a year, I was offered an opportunity to train and become a chef which I did for over eight years.

What are your daily news/social media habits? I usually look at the news in the morning but struggle with the negative stories. I’m focusing on making a conscious effort to take breaks and not look at social media too late at night.

Your favourite place in Hobart for…

Breakfast: Lost Freight Café – I’ll always stop in for a coffee and treat during a run on kunanyi and sit in front of the fire and thaw out. It’s the best feeling!

Lunch: The Lounge by Frogmore Creek. My wife Jess and I have been several times for special occasions. Always beautifully presented food and the service is impeccable.

Dinner: Malik is hands down the best restaurant I’ve ever been to. When you step inside, you instantly feel like you’re in a place that truly values you. It’s cozy and comfortable, just like being at home.

Favourite team? The St Marys Hockey Team that my wife and I coach. Made up of 5–7-year-olds, they are gaining confidence and playing so well!

Favourite Hobart secret? If you time it right, there’s a platypus that lives in the Hobart Rivulet, which often pops its head up and plays around.

Parting words? After every competition, an athlete asks themselves did I give my best effort? If the answer is yes, they are happy and then plan how to do better. If the answer is no, they are happy and then plan to do better. Every time we have the courage to try it makes us stronger.

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May 2024

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