The man who runs further than nearly all of us is moving on. After five years, ultra-runner Mike Le Roux, wife Kirsten and dog Roddy are leaving Far North Queensland to chase their American dream. The endurance king talks to Andrew Piva about his time in Cairns and what lies ahead in the US.
FOR a man who's preparing for one of the biggest moves of his life, Mike Le Roux appears surprisingly relaxed.
The 36-year-old ultrarunner is sitting at an Edge Hill cafe, looking like he could teach the Dalai Lama a thing or two about serenity.
His Disney-cute dog, Roddy, is loitering at his feet, mirroring his owner's tranquillity as he laps water from a drinking bowl.
Mike looks a man in sync with his surroundings.
The South African native moved with wife Kirsten to Australia in 2001, settling in Melbourne before relocating to Cairns in 2007.
Over the past five years, Mike has fully assimilated into the Far North's casual lifestyle. He's a local, even though he doesn't have the birth certificate to ratify his credentials.
What counts more is that feeling of belonging to a certain place. On that front, Mike is as Cairns as the giant Captain Cook statue that lords over Sheridan Street.
But a change is coming. If everything goes to schedule, Mike and Kirsten will leave before Christmas to start a new life in the US.
The couple will enter the event management profession and organise up to six races a year in the southern Colorado resort town of Pagosa Springs, which sits at the base of the San Juan Mountain Range
Operating under the name Athletes At Altitude, Mike and Kirsten will also hold training camps for runners who want to make use of the of the region's cloud-piercing altitudes and testing topography.
For Mike, it's also a chance to live in a country where ultrarunning has a devoted following.
"It's a numbers game," Mike says.
"Ultra marathoning is a burgeoning sport in Australia, but we just don't have the numbers.
"There are almost as many people in the US following or running ultramarathoning as there are in the whole of Australia.
"While it is becoming popular in Australia, its kind of already going the States.
"It's also kind of new there, but there are more career opportunities.
"Even if there's .1 percent of 360 million interested in it, you can make a career out of it."
There's also a huge support network in the US that Mike wants to embed himself in. Americans love a winner. Australians do to, but only up to a point. Then winning almost becomes like bragging. It's an ugly aspect of the nation's collective character that a person's individual success can sometimes offend like it was a swear word screamed on Sesame Street.
"It's not anything do at all with Cairns. You don't get it up here. But down south, in general, there tends to be a bit of tall poppy syndrome," Mike says.
"It's never been the case here, but in ultra running circles down in Melbourne and Sydney, you get to a level and then they go `Well support the next Aussie battler'.
"Then he gets to a level and they cut him down and then go to the next guy and so on.
"In the US, they support anything. If someone's doing well, they'll happily get behind you no matter what."
And Mike plans on making himself known within the US endurance community. Mike may be friendly, humble and unassuming in the confines of normal life, but those niceties are quarantined when it comes to racing.
Mike has a competitive streak that shames some professional athletes. He's programmed with an incorruptible, Terminator-like determination to win. The US is home to most of the world's major ultramarathon and trail races. As a consequence, the standard of competition is much higher than it is in Australia.
There are ultrarunners there who seem to defy the performance limitations of human physiology when they compete. Far from intimidated, Mike is invigorated by the prospect of testing himself against such elite company.
"You're effectively going to be a small fish in a big pond," Mike says.
"And that's great. I'm big about getting out of your comfort zone.
"While it's nice to be at a level that's comfortable, I'd rather not be comfortable. I'd rather put myself under the pump because that's the only you grow as a person."
Mike's evolution as an endurance athlete has taken its biggest steps in Cairns. Since moving to the tropics, Mike has gone from an anonymous start-line presence to the bloke rivals are praying sleeps in.
Two of his biggest achievements were winning the 2010 Ultraman World Championships in Hawaii and finishing second in this year's Grand Slam of Ultrarunning in the US.
Those successes had their roots in Cairns. The hours doing the Freshwater loop. Running in the moonlit dark behind Glacier Rock with nothing but a head torch for company. Swimming countless laps of Tobruk Memorial Pool. Those experiences have shaped Mike as a competitor.
"It (Cairns) has launched the career," he says.
"Up until that point of moving here, I was career focussed in engineering. Pretty much when I got here I left the confines of doing the normal type of stuff.
"It all happened as a result of being here. Maybe it's because Cairns is a smaller town. I don't know. It was just easier to do it from here.
"But while I'll really miss it, the timing is right to leave.
"We kind of always had a five-year plan. Ultimately, we wanted to go to the US.
"Each year it got to the end of the year and I'd say `I cant have another year like that. It was too heavy going'.
"But each year got progressively more heavy going until eventually it's now got to the stage where it can never been enough.
"Now we're at the stage where it just makes sense to go the US."
While his business sensibility and competitive instincts liaised to make the US move impossible to refuse, Mike knows there's a quieter part of him that will miss Cairns.
It will be the absence of the little things that will cause the pangs. The first breath of tropical humidity after walking off an aeroplane. The air freshener aroma of backyard fruit trees flavouring the breeze.
And then there are the people. Mike's become a local celebrity. Strangers know his face, name and latest athletic exploit like they're part of his inner circle.
During his last race in Port Douglas, Mike was surprised at the level of support he received as he ran to victory in the Solar Eclipse Marathon in a touch over three hours.
Those well-wishes make a difference to Mike. It's something he never takes for granted. Every word of encouragement, from stranger and friend alike, is absorbed into his system like a swig of electrolyte.
"That type of stuff is great," Mike says.
"It's funny. I don't know everybody, but a lot of people seem to know me.
"Even at Port, I was crossing people and they were shouting out. I didn't know who half the people were.
"But it's been awesome. I feel like I've almost been coined as the hometown boy.
"I really hope that stays even though I won't be here.
"People talk about Brad Bevan for example. Even though he doesn't live here anymore, he's kind of like our guy from the north.
"Hopefully I leave a bit of that and people still remember me."
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