To truly understand my running story I need to take you back almost 30 years to 1989 when a 12 year old me started high school. I had always been somewhere in the middle of the pack at sports, but then I found myself at an elite high school with a strong sporting focus. It didn’t take long until a couple of dropped balls in PE class relegated me from middle of the pack to bottom of the pack. I was exposed and vulnerable. The last one picked.
I decided the best way to protect myself was to not participate. I was ‘sick’ every athletics carnival and every cross-country event. I focused on my school work (there was a lot of competition in this area too, but academically I could sustain my position in the middle of the pack) and created an identity for myself which didn’t involve sport – after all it wasn’t really my thing.
I graduated from high school, completed a university degree, got married and had two beautiful daughters. Through all these chapters in my life I still held onto my high school identity and the belief that ‘sport isn’t my thing’.
As a working mum I was constantly busy, my mental load was at capacity and I always put myself last in life’s list of priorities. Kids first, husband second, work third (I’m sure most of you are nodding and can relate to this). I did a lot of self-reflection and realised that for my own sanity, my marriage’s health and my kid’s well-being I needed an outlet, a goal, something that was just for me.
It was around this time that I crossed paths with Ana Croger, RMA ambassador. After hearing about her journey and witnessing her energy I became curious and started following RMA on Facebook. There were so many inspiring stories about mum’s who benefited, in more ways than just physical fitness from running and a seed was planted. I’m not a runner but maybe running could be the outlet I needed.
I discussed this crazy idea with another school mum and we mentioned to Ana that maybe we were considering thinking about contemplating starting to run. She then made it her personal mission to water and nourish the seed I had planted. With her encouragement we committed to starting to train for our first half marathon. We are Brissie girls so the Gold Coast Marathon, which was about six months away was the perfect option.
Another friend also agreed to sign up as well so together the three of us started training. I’m not a runner so before I could train with my friends I did some short runs by myself – you know, just to make sure I didn’t drop the proverbial ball.
Our first goal was to run 5km and then 5km in under 30 minutes. Soon our families were involved as well. The kids rode their bikes with us when we went on long runs and together we all did Park Run. Slowly but surely running became part of our family routine.
We researched, followed training schedules and did all the right things – increased distance incrementally, combined running with intervals and strength training, did our long runs at a slow pace etc. Despite this one of the team was struck down with an injury that disrupted her training schedule and ultimately forced her to withdraw from doing the half marathon. We were all devastated.
Then about six weeks before the main event, on our scheduled 16km training run, I experienced a terrible pain in my knee. I’m not a runner so had no idea what this was but with some help from Dr Google I self-diagnosed an ITB injury. A visit to the physio confirmed my diagnosis and I started on a treatment plan. The good news was that the injury was manageable and with the right treatment I could still run the half marathon at the Gold Coast.
My next few weeks entailed regular physio appointments, dry needling (not at all pleasant but very effective), remedial massages and training on the anti-gravity treadmill. I was feeling good and just before taper I completed an 18km pain free run!
Before I knew it race weekend was here and with our families we made our way down to the Gold Coast. As we lined up in the start chute, with almost 10,000 other runners, I said a little prayer and made a deal with my knee – just get me through this 21.1km and I promise to give you a rest.
Race conditions were perfect, the atmosphere electric and the crowd support indescribable. I was having so much fun and feeling great but then at about the 5km mark I felt a little niggle. This wasn’t good. It was much earlier than I’ve ever started to feel pain before. A few silent tears escaped as I told my running buddy and asked her to help me take my mind off it by talking to me.
The race went on and the niggle didn’t get any worse. I’m not a runner but I interpreted this as a good thing. I was coming up to the 15km mark and doing some calculations in my head. I was making good time. If I sustained my pace I was on target to finish in under 2 hours 15 minutes – my silent, never uttered personal goal!
(Openly my only goal was to just finish the race and I may have murmured something to my inner sanctum about 2 hours 20 minutes being my goal time).
I had my last gel and looked out for the water station that I knew I was approaching. This was my final planned water stop so I paused momentarily to take on sufficient fluid. I went to start again and my knee completely seized! No! This couldn’t be happening! I had been feeling so optimistic. I always knew that my mind and my lungs could get me to the finish line, but it would be my body that let me down – after all I’m not a runner and I don’t have a runners body.
I stretched and rubbed and tried a weird walk run thing but the pain was so intense I stopped and tried to stretch and rub again. After another failed attempt I sat in the gutter and cried. Not the silent tears from earlier but ugly crying face sobs. I cried because of the physical pain. I cried because six months hard work and sacrifice was unravelling, but most of all I cried because 12 year old me was right. Sport isn’t my thing. I am not a runner. I am a fraud.
Then I remembered the pictures my girls had drawn of us running together. I remembered how my heart swelled when my 6 year old wrote ‘running’ on a school assignment that asked ‘what my mum is good at’. I remembered training with my 8 year old and my pride when she came second at her school cross country and seventh at zones. I remembered her determination when we did a 5km event together and although she had a stitch she kept running and achieved her goal of breaking 30 minutes.
I thought about them waiting with my husband at the finish line. I thought about my friend who trained so hard with me and who, despite injury, had come to cheer me on. I thought about every time I tied my shoelaces and went on a training run. I thought about all the amazing memories and friendships running had given to me over the last 6 months.
I realised I AM a runner.
So, I got up and I ran. Those last 5kms were the fastest of my race, and despite my ‘moment in the gutter’ I finished in a net time of 2 hours 15 minutes and 29 seconds. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t fast and my race didn’t go according to plan but I found it within me to finish what I started.
When I talk about running from now on (which, let’s admit we all do a lot of) I will try not to say– ‘I’m not a runner but I’m training for a half marathon’.
I am a runner. I am a half marathoner.