Could a Girl Who Couldn’t Run 400m Run a Marathon?

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When I was in school I was pretty naturally gifted at most sports. If there was a ball involved I was good to go. One thing I was not particularly good at was running. With no ball to chase, or opponent to run from, my lack of stamina, speed and agility was always quickly exposed. I was built like a runner but I was a swimmer.

I can remember when athletics rolled around each year I would put my name down for the long jump, the javelin, things like that. No running events for MC, no sir. I have a vivid memory of my head of house saying we desperately needed someone for the 400m run. I said no at least 10 times but she persisted and eventually I agreed.

On go everyone took off at full speed, myself included. However at around 250/300m I didn’t have anything left in the tank. They all took off and I was left behind, prancercising my way to the finish line. I couldn’t even run 400m.

I remember a couple of years later my sister and I randomly decided to go for a run. Within a minute I suggested that maybe we just walk. Yup, still couldn’t run.

Many years later my Mum got herself a personal trainer. His name was Matt Fuller and he impacted my life in more ways than one. He was one of the reasons I decided to become a PT. He also turned me into a runner. I used to jump in on some of Mum’s PT sessions. Every time Matt made us run I would protest saying, “I can’t run. I’m not a runner.” I think he got sick of my protests and eventually asked me if I wanted to be able to run? I said yes. He asked how far. I said I wanted to be able to run for 30mins straight. I didn’t care how fats I was going or how far. I just wanted to run for 30mins unbroken. And so he gave me a plan.

The plan started with me running for 30secs then resting for 1min, and repeating this for 30mins. I did this twice a week. Once I got comfortable there we’d build it up. So then I would run for 1min and rest for 1min. My running continued to build over months and months until I eventually ran for 30mins unbroken. Over the next few years I started pay more attention to distance. The 10km Bridges Loop run came next, then the City to Surf 12km run. In 2012 I did the City to Surf half marathon.

This year I decided it was time to tackle the big one and do a marathon. The step from a half marathon to a marathon is a big one, both mentally and physically. It’d had been a long time since I completed the half marathon, and my training focus since then has not been on running at all! So I wasn’t sure how my body would cope. There’s something very daunting about going for a 28km training run!

Turns out my body held up ok. I discovered all the delights that long distance running can open your eyes to: chaffing between the thighs, chaffing from your sports bra, blisters literally all over my feet, cramps, sore knees, ITB Friction Syndrome, callouses and losing your tie nails entirely.

But I also discovered that my mental toughness is a lot tougher than I thought it was. I can run for kilometres with a stitch, I can run through cramps in my feet, I can run through blisters and chafe to the point of bleeding, I can run in pouring rain and I can run sweltering heat.

My last big run (32km) was 3 weeks before the race. After that I didn’t run more than 15km. There’s definitely more than a few moments where you wonder if your body will remember how to run that far! My final run was a 3km at marathon pace (nice and slow) on the Thursday before the big day. My body seemed to be feeling ok. My blisters and chafe had all pretty much healed. The forecast was sunny, a bit windy and a top of 17.

I like to think I’m a pretty calm type of person but I was pretty bloody nervous the night before. I had to keep reasoning with my brain, “why are you nervous? You just have to run, you can do that. Just keep running.”

After an average night sleep I got up at 5.30am to have breakfast. I made sure I had the exact same thing I had before all my other long runs: vegemite and avocado on wholemeal sourdough and a banana. I made sure my mini bumbag had everything I could possibly need in it. I had my watch, I had my headphones, I had my phone with play lists ready to go on spotify. This was happening.

Has we stood at the start line waiting to go I kept telling myself these three things over and over:

1. Oh lordy it is cold!! Are my hands purple? Of course they are.
2. Go at your own pace, don’t worry about anybody else.
3. No, you don’t need to go to toilet. You literally just went.

Then the moment came and we were running. Most of the first five kilometres was spent trying not to let my brain think about how far I still had to go, and trying to get some feeling back in my hands.

I was being quite conservative about my pace. For the first half of the marathon I was quite comfortable. Our pace was consistent, the sun was shining and we had a cracker of a playlist.

Around the 26/27km mark my feet started to hurt. I could feel non-taped toes rubbing against taped toes. They were also starting to get that delightful crampy feeling. This did not get better. Around the 32km mark I hit “the wall”. I did the maths and realised that at my current pace i still had a little over an hour of running. Don’t do the maths people. DO NOT DO THE MATHS! There were multiple points along the way where I was just thinking, “I’m not a runner! Why the hell am I doing this to myself?!”

My feet were just two balls of pain at the bottom of my legs. And my legs, well they really started to feel the Sydney hills. For someone form Sydney this probably wasn’t a particularly hilly course but for someone from Perth this was very hilly! I had told myself I wanted to run the whole way. I was allowed to stop for water because I choke if i run and try to drink at the same time. I was determined to stick to this!

So for about 5 kilometres my sole focus was putting one foot in front of the other and listening closely to whatever song was playing in my ear. Once I reached the 37km mark, with 5km to go, I knew I could hold on. They were probably the slowest 5km I ever run, probably more of a shuffle than a run. I did pick up the pace for the last kilometre because there are crowds cheering you on, you can see the finish line and you feel like the fittest, most badass athlete in the world.

I crossed the finish line with a huge smile on my face. The two friends I’d run with were waiting there with open arms.  As soon as I had crossed the finish line my body must’ve known it was allowed to crumble at that point. My knees and hips were so sore. My gluten were fired up. I could barely walk. Stairs were an absolute no-go. But I didn’t care.

Never did i think I would do a marathon. Never. I’m not a runner. If you’ve thought about doing a marathon, or even a half marathon, but then said something to your self like, “don’t be ridiculous” or “I’m not a runner” or “I could never run that far”. Believe me, it’s possible! If I can do it anyone can!

I have to say a huge thanks to Asha and Kameika for dragging me along the 42.2km with them! They definitely set the pace and just tried to keep up for as long as i could. Also a shoutout to Em Bongers who picked me up from multiple training runs and was an all round excellent support crew during training.

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