I’m a ‘back of the pack’ runner, and it’s taken me two years to feel okay with that.
Going back to my high school days, which (dare I say it) was 20-odd years ago now, I was a star pupil with my after-school activity, spending every minute and every hour dedicating myself to training and later teaching the art form of Tae Kwon Do.
At the age of 15, I was used to being top of the class – winning the medals and trophies, breaking the thickest boards and dreaming of one day competing in the Olympics.
I was fit, I was fast, I was a machine.
But oh how life changes and 20 years later, I’m no longer fit, no longer fast, and certainly not by any means a machine.
Over the past two years since giving birth to my daughter in late 2013, first beginning with parkrun and then discovering Running Mums Australia, I’d developed a love and enjoyment for running – since that moment I placed her in my bright yellow running pram, the aim was to get back into shape and at least feel like I was gaining ground.
Perth Half 2014 – At my heaviest and at my first half marathon, where I came last.
I remember not even being able to make it to the end of my street, a mere 50-metres, without huffing and puffing and needing to walk.
Although I’ve improved since that day, I’m still a slow runner, averaging a pace of anywhere between eight or 10 minutes per kilometre, and for the life of me, it’s incredibly hard to quicken the pace (it could have everything to do with me despising HIIT training so much that no one can get me doing it).
Despite the slow trot I’m known for with my running buddies, it hasn’t stopped me from entering fun runs and aiming for longer and longer distances – my first half was on August 10, 2014 at the Perth Half Marathon and I was last to cross the finish line – in a whopping 3:22:44.
Australia Day Ultra 2016 – At my first 25kms event, where I came last again.
It was incredibly demoralising at the time – most of the aid stations had packed up by the time I’d reached them, and I was accompanied by the tail-cyclist who constantly offered me a banana and would speed off to the public toilets to top up her water bottle for me; by the time I crossed that finish line, most everyone had packed up and gone home – I never even got a finishing line photo for my first half marathon.
However since then, because I’m as stubborn as mules come, I’d done four half marathons and then taken it one step further by doing three 25kms races – and in each and every single one of those, I’ve been last to cross the finish.
Those fun runs, it’s important to note, are not events like the City 2 Surf where more than 20,000 people are participating; no, these are small, independent races where there are no more than 200 runners and I not only personally know the organisers through the running community, but I run with and know about 150 of the participants.
And if it weren’t for all those runners, I wouldn’t be entering these events like the Feral Pig Ultra or Lark Hill Ultra, because although I’m last, the support I get from everyone is astounding.
Being ‘not of the weight I want’ makes running physically harder as it is and it can also be incredibly disheartening if, for example like in the Lark Hill Ultra, where runners do 3kms laps, I’m on lap two and everyone else is finishing lap four or five.
I could easily let it get to me, let the mental game get harder and fight me tooth and nail, but you know what? Every time a runner passes me, I get more ‘keep going’s, more ‘almost there’s and more ‘you’re doing great, keep it up’s then I’d ever hoped for, and without my fellow runners, I don’t think I could ever finish a race.
One of the things that will forever remain engrained in my head is something a friend said to me after my first half – ‘I have so much respect for those slogging it out for hours on end just trying to finish, they’re champions in their own right through and through.’
Feral Pig Ultra 2016 – My third 25kms event this past July, where yet again, I came in last out of 200 participants across the board.
And those frontrunners who speed past in laps or on out and back courses, my goodness they inspire me to be better; a lot of times, in lap races, they’ll slow down their own pace and hang with me for a bit, and this is probably the most treasured gift they give me – because it’s where I get tips from them on how to keep going, if my form is good, and the ever important ‘I’ll see you cross the finish line, Kate! I’ll be waiting!’
Ultimately sure, I’d like to not be last, but I’ve come to learn that it’s not the end of the world if I do; it’s become a ritual to check cut-off times every time I want to enter a race so I don’t feel bad if volunteers are still out there waiting for me.
I don’t think I’ll ever get any faster; maybe cutting 20 minutes off my time will be the closest I’ll get to speeding up my pace but I’m quite happy letting everyone pass me by as I plod along.
I might not go to the Olympics and I might never ever get a podium finish, but I have two legs that work and am grateful I can move them – because a lot of people on this planet don’t have that.