30 Mar 2021

Matt Fenn's 654km run to raise suicide awareness

From First Up, 5:47 am on 30 March 2021

A man has run 654 kilometres in six days for suicide awareness. 

Matt Fenn ran 654 kilometres around the Auckland Domain, one kilometre for every Kiwi who committed suicide last year.

Matt Fenn ran 654 kilometres around the Auckland Domain, 1km for every Kiwi who died from suicide last year. Photo: RNZ / Ella Stewart

Only stopping for occasional breaks and power naps, 22-year-old Matt Fenn ran the distance in laps around the Auckland Domain.

Fenn started running last Tuesday at 6am and crossed the finish line at 11.57am on Monday morning.

Doused in champagne, dripping with sweat and in a lot of physical pain, he couldn't stop smiling. 

"I'm tired ... but really good especially after the last few laps. Sort of putting the hammer down and going hard. But all of the other people out there sort of inspired me to push hard," Fenn said.

"It's been such a long time and it just became the new normal, I think my body just adapted to trying to figure it out."

Various people - strangers and friends - have come down the domain in support to run a lap with him. 

Matt Fenn ran 654 kilometres around the Auckland Domain, one kilometre for every Kiwi who committed suicide last year.

Fenn with supporter Mike King and others after completing the 654km. Photo: RNZ / Ella Stewart

Fenn has had his own mental health struggles which motivated him to complete the challenge.

"I think the biggest thing for me is trying to do something big so that as fewer people need to feel like that as possible. I feel like if you can do something you should."

It's not Fenn's first time testing his limits.

In October of last year, he completed a 24-hour long run wearing a vest weighing 24 kilograms.  

One month later, he came up with his next big idea. 

He phoned up Josh van Wyk, a long-time friend and mentor and pitched his plan. 

"He really wanted to take something bigger and better to the public and something that would really shock people, that would grab peoples' attention on and hit it with obviously the key message of what's going on in New Zealand with suicide in particular," Van Wyk said.

"We did some research about sadly how many lives were lost last year and 654 was the number and so he decided he wanted to run that distance in honour of everyone who had taken their lives."

Van Wyk didn't think Fenn would make it. 

"To be honest it was only probably about 18 to 24 hours ago that it was like 'Right he is going to smash this, and he is going to get it'."

But the challenge was not easy.

Over the course of his run, Fenn experienced a urinary tract infection, dehydration, blisters and more seriously, a stress fracture in his right foot, and a ruptured quad muscle.

Matt Fenn recovering after his 654 km effort.

Fenn recovering after his 654 km effort. Photo: RNZ / Ella Stewart

He was off to hospital to get a full check-up. 

"Everything's pretty sore, it's been the feet that have been a major one. I've got a probable stress fracture in my right foot so that's been since day two, so we've done about 450km with that so yea I'm just going to get some x-rays and see what's happening," Fenn said.

"Obviously there's some external injuries but it's more the internal things, the chemical stuff and especially the come down now when my body figures out we have stopped."

Mental Health advocate and founder of I am Hope Mike King was down at the Auckland Domain supporting Fenn every day. 

Fenn's idea was unique, he said. 

"Everyone else who does things like this, it's always about the money but his motivation was awareness, and we've had literally thousands of people come down here over the last week saying 'where do we donate money?' and his response has been the same every time, 'we don't want your money, we want you to go home and have a conversation'," King said.

"that's just unbelievable for a 22-year-old kid to be this mature and have this much internal fortitude and such a huge heart, I mean New Zealand is a better place with him in it.

"He really is a gift to New Zealand."

Fenn said he had some big things planned for the coming year which he would not reveal just yet, but promised it would be even bigger and bolder next time.

But for now, it was all about recovering and watching some Netflix on the couch. 

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason. 
Lifeline: 0800 543 354  or text HELP to 4357
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.
Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202
Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz
What's Up: Online chat (3pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 helpline (12pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-11pm weekends)
Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7) 
Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254
Healthline: 0800 611 116
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.