Byron’s Outback trek for Beyond Blue

Byron Lester will run 460km in the Northern Territory Outback for Beyond Blue. (Ivan Kemp) 319270_03

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Byron Lester is preparing to run 460km of the Larapinta Trail near Alice Springs to raise funds for Beyond Blue. Justin Flynn spoke to the Newcomb resident about what made him decide to undertake such a gruelling run.

Around three years ago Byron Lester found his world caving in due to the ‘black dog’ that many know as depression.

An accomplished trail runner, Byron, now 47, was due to line up in a gruelling 64km event from the bottom of Mt Bogong to Mt Hotham.

It was then that he felt as if his mind was “drowning”.

“I felt numb and crippled,” he says.

Byron pulled out of the event, notifying the race director of his decision.

“He came back to me and offered for me to come up and be part of his team that helps with running the event,” he says.

“I went up there and wasn’t in a good state. I was mentally weak and fragile, but being in the mountains, in my happy place, made me come back to life a little bit.”

Byron decided to line up in the event the following day after consulting with race officials.

“I stood at the back really quietly,” he says.

“I didn’t know whether I was going to have to pull out halfway or finish. I ended up finishing the race but broke down a couple of times on course.

“It was a changing point in my life. It’s one of those things you look back and you realise now you’ve always had it but just didn’t realise.”

Byron, who doesn’t take medication for his depression, says “nature and running” is his medicine.

Eventually he found solace in the trails with each step a coping mechanism.

He undertook a 24-hour challenge in the You Yangs in January, but decided he needed a bigger challenge to raise funds for Beyond Blue.

That’s where the Larapinta Trail came into his thoughts.

In July, Byron will undertake a 460km journey through the MacDonnell Ranges near Alice Springs in what he hopes will bring $100,000 to Beyond Blue’s phone hotline.

Byron estimates the trip will take about a week. He will have help from pace runners who will take turns to run with him, but he won’t sleep, other than the occasional power nap. There will be no campsites and no beds.

“I’ll just go until it’s finished,” he says.

“It will be one single push the whole way through. It will be a matter of power naps. I can go for about 30 hours on trail before I feel the first signs of sleep deprivation. After that it’s 10-minute power naps initially and then it just switches on in your mind.

“You know you’re struggling with sleep deprivation when you start tripping on and kicking rocks. The longer it goes, the longer the power naps. As I get to the halfway mark the power naps will be about an hour, they may end up being two hours.”

Byron grew up in Norlane and moved to Melbourne to live with his father at age 11.

After a short stint in the navy, he came back to Geelong and now resides in Newcomb.

He is a cleaner by profession.

“I can pretty much just switch off my mind,” he says.

“I get the money so I can go trail running. It’s critically important to me.”

Byron’s Outback run is in July, when daytime temperatures are mild and nighttime temperatures are often close to freezing.

“During the night that will be the important part, just to make sure I am able to keep sufficiently warm overnight,” he says.

“Thermal pants, thermal bottoms, beanie, gloves, a fleece top and just make sure I maintain that heat for seven nights in a row.

“My focus will be more on that nighttime period.”

His advice to anyone who may be feeling signs of mental illness is simple.

“I’d tell them it’s important to talk to a mental health professional,” he says.

“You feel numb and don’t care about anything so you just want to know that people care.

“Go and see a really good friend. Do something you really enjoy. But mostly talk to a mental health professional because at least you know it’s going to be somebody that’s going to listen and understand and somebody who is not going to be judging you in any way.”

Byron says the time he spends immersed in nature is his medication.

“Because I run a lot, the endorphins and feel-good chemicals that I’m stimulating in my mind to release can help me most days,” he says.

“Most people couldn’t run for three hours and then get a good feeling for a long period of time afterwards, which is why I want to use my running to help fund the Beyond Blue hotline.

“I’m lucky to have nature and trails, but most people don’t have that.”

Byron’s training will involve four months of slogging it on the east-west trail in the You Yangs, although he enjoys areas around Torquay and Anglesea the most.

He might get out on the Bellarine Rail Trail some mornings, but it is too flat to properly prepare for this type of event.

Byron stresses that while he is in a much better place these days, he is doing the 460km trek to help others.

“It’s not about me, it’s about other people,” he says.

“It’s purely trying to help others like myself. It is also my goal to show that even though you have depression, you can still do incredible things.

“And that it is possible to be fragile, and vulnerable, and still incredibly mentally tough.”

To donate to Byron Lester’s cause, go to and search for ‘Larapinta Challenge for Beyond Blue’.

If you or anyone you know may be experiencing signs of mental health problems, go to or phone 1300 224636.