Rob Kolbe runs 50km on his 50th Birthday, to raise money in support of refugees

Rob finishing his 50km run, with his supporters cheering him on.

To celebrate turning 50, keen runner Rob Kolbe embarked on one of his longest runs, through Sydney, to raise money for Australia for UNHCR in support of refugees around the world.

He speaks to Runner’s World about what motivated him to take on the challenge, why he loves running, and why running for a cause is worth it. 

Tell us about your 50 kilometre run? I set out on one of the longest runs I’ve ever done in a single day. 50 kilometres from Sydney’s Botany Bay to Opera House, to celebrate my 50th birthday. The goal was to get 50 people to join me along the way and raise some money for UNHCR and the amazing work they do helping refugees around the world. I was joined by three people who ran the whole way with me and another 50 – 60 people who joined me during various parts of the run, including through pouring rain. The day was very rewarding. It combined my love of running and hanging out with friends while raising money for refugees – what better way to celebrate my 50th birthday? I also exceeded my fundraising goal. An extra bonus was running along the coast of Sydney’s eastern beaches and suburbs and finishing at the Opera House.

Why did you want to run/fundraise for refugees? There are currently 114 million people displaced from their homes by war, persecution or violence across the world, so the need for support has never been greater. Sometimes the needs can feel too big, but I believe we can all do something to help. No donation is too small. And Australia for UNHCR is such an incredible organisation and worth supporting. UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) is on the ground helping the most vulnerable people in such practical ways, providing cash, psychological support, immediate aid like blankets and shelter, as well as longer-term support to help refugees rebuild their lives.

What was the most challenging part? Sometimes I feel like if I run slowly enough, I can run forever. We moved at a very social pace, with lots of chatting and stops along the way. I ran a marathon four weeks ago after a solid 13-week training block so my body is used to the kilometres. The course was pretty hilly with quite a few stairs and a really big hill from Bondi at 34kms, but I was able to push through. That’s because I was in a spectacular location with good people and doing this all for an important cause. I am extremely thankful for my good health and good fortune and know how privileged I am to live in this amazing place.

When did you start running? I ran at school and enjoyed it but didn’t continue in my 20s and early 30s. I was always scared of running again as I knew I would take it too seriously and when I did start running again, I did get obsessed. The journey involved the typical story of pushing too hard, doing too much too fast and getting injured, like 40 half marathons in the year I turned 40 which resulted in a stress fracture in my hip. After getting faster and more focused, I kept getting niggles, so in 2019 and 2020 I pulled right back. At the start of 2020, I had no goals but to be consistent, do more slow running and enjoy the process. I got my body right and have not had an injury since (except for some “hectic DOMs” after achieving my half marathon PB in August last year). My goal is to be fitter and faster at 50 than any other time and I’m on track, setting a marathon personal best four weeks ago with a perfectly executed negatively split run. I have a lot of unfinished business to do with PBs. I am however being patient and chipping away rather than doing too much to quickly… it is working so far.

What do you love about it? There is not enough space to answer this one. I just love getting out, I always feel good after a run and it’s so great for me physically and mentally. I love running with people, I love the communities I run with. I love achieving goals both personally and with others. I recently had the privilege of joining a mate – who could not run three years ago – as he completed his first marathon. I witnessed another mate do his first marathon four weeks ago after a dedicated training block; and my niece who did her first half marathon. I shed tears on all three occasions. I love to get outside and explore, and you see so much when running. We do a sunset run on Sundays each week around the headland national park at Maroubra in Sydney’s east and I am always amazed by the changing environment. The sunsets are pretty good too. I am just about to do a month-long holiday and am very excited about all the exploring I will get to do. A run really is the best way to check out a new place. I am constantly inspired by anyone who runs: big, small, old, young – running is hard and doing it takes determination and effort. Every runner is an inspiration.

What would you say to other runners thinking about running for a cause? Do it! It will give you more focus and motivation and make it bigger than just you. There are so many great causes out there and no effort is too small.  It all helps and is appreciated.

Why do you think Australians should support this cause? We truly are the lucky country.  The stories UNHCR hears and the circumstances refugees face are harrowing and simply terrible. And yet despite these hardships, we witness again and again the resilience of refugees. People who have lost everything and find the strength to keep going to find safety for themselves and their families and rebuild their lives.  Australia for UNHCR is doing an incredible job supporting these people. And we can all do something to make a difference.

Rob raised $3845 for Team UNHCR, surpassed his goal of $2,500. Congratulations Rob on your outstanding achievement and for your heartfelt contribution to the lives of Refugees.

Check out Rob’s Instagram for more here.

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