First a little bit about me. I migrated to Australia from Romania approx 14 years ago. I love this country and have only moved twice during this period. The last move was 9 years ago when I ended up in the blue mountains, two kids later and on my own… I wasn’t feeling great, especially after my second baby. I was so tired, slept a lot and felt so depressed.

At first I struggled living in the blue mountains because I felt so alone! Growing up in a small village in Romania always brought back memories of playing in the woods and down the river with my brothers. One day I dream of going back there and showing my daughters where I come from.

I was struggling with so much in my personal life and I actually needed an escape! So after I finally found a job, I also discovered running! Juggling it all was such a challenge. The kids dad luckily is very much involved in their lives so I could arrange a tough but doable schedule of work/kids/running.

For the next year I ran at all the ovals in town and with the guidance and support of a good friend I quickly fell in love with this sport. He introduced me to trails next which I never knew were so close to my home, they were right at my front door step! Then I discovered parkrun and this became something I loved doing. I always looked forward to getting those joggers on and heading out the door! For a while I was even part of a very supportive running group in my town, but then schedules changed and some people moved away so I was on my own.

Another friend Introduced me to races so I started jumping in doing different half marathons. But I dreamed of something more, I didn’t know exactly what but I did feel stuck! I wanted to run longer, harder, I wanted to also know more and that’s when I discovered a coaching service near me. I signed up immediately, but because life was hectic and busy I chose to be coached online. This worked perfectly! I had a training schedule which I could follow with ease and a great coach which I’m still with now and is fantastic! He helped me achieve many goals. I wanted to run further so then I spent one year doing a few ultras until I felt ready to try out a 100km distance.

The Hume and Hovell trail race was a great choice for me. This historic walking track follows as closely as possible the historic route taken by explorers Hume & Hovell on their 1824 expedition to Port Philip Bay. The walking track starts at Cooma Cottage near Yass and finishes at the Hovell Tree in Albury, some 440km in length. The start and finish of the race is at the Henry Angel track head, some 94km south from Tumburunba on the Tooma Road. The track is a mixture of constructed walking track and fire trails. The highest point – over 1200 meters in elevation with natural attractions Including Buddong Falls, Paddy’s River Dam, Alpine snow gums and Mannus Lake.

I trained hard for this, I was pushing harder and harder so when an old injury came back, I was completely ignoring it! Before I knew it, I was effected by a lot of pressure and expectations from others including myself.

Friends and also my coach would ask how my training was going or even if I have any problems yet and I would not only lie to them that I’m fine but I was also lying to myself – I couldn’t face this.

I was so close to taper, I wanted to make sure that I nailed every training session, but everyday pain got worse.

The last long run was I think just over 2 hours at that point, I ran with a friend, I told him that I had a niggle but not the severity of it and by the end of that run I was in a lot of pain.

Those last 2 weeks before the race was when I finally told my coach. I was hurting a lot and couldn’t even run for an easy 30 minutes without limping away and in tears. I had to slow down! Coach was great, he gave me lots of tips on how to go from here and we pretty much agreed that it would be best not to run at all until race day, and I’d still be good if that’s what I choose to do. We also had the tough talk about race expectations at this point, old race plan out the window. New race plan consisted more of: walking if the pain intensifies, possible DNF! Etc.

I had spend so much time accepting this reality, accepting that even when you love something this much and work hard for it, you still can’t control everything and you certainly can’t ignore your body this way.

It made me think about who I was and why I choose to run. I remembered the first run I ever did, before anyone even knew what I was doing… my kids knew and they were always proud of me. I was running with my heart back then, I was running for them, for me, for the freedom it gave me and for being out there in nature taking it all in. This is what I needed to get back to. My kids made me bracelets which I wore with me and they were proud of me and were waiting to hear how I would go. I couldn’t come back home and tell them that I ran until I hurt myself, they need to also cherish their own bodies and they’re watching me care for mine as well. So I was going to race with my heart, regardless if I only did 10km, 50km or pulled out entirely.

The night before the race it hit me, I may not have been there at all if I didn’t slow down. I was suddenly filled with energy and excitement! Seeing so many people there and especially listening to a very inspirational speech given by the only woman to have ran this whole 440km track that same year on her own gave me a sense of connection to the land I was about to run on. It is after all, why I started, to run free of any worries and be present living in the moment every step of the way. I felt well rested that night and thankful for being there to hear lots of great stories and eat delicious food.

At the start line, the countdown started and I was smiling from ear to ear, this was it! Not just any day, but a day of letting go, a day of accepting myself the way I am and a way to nurture myself.

On the course everyone was so supportive! I think it was at the second checkpoint when I found out that I was in the lead – first female. I almost panicked, I didn’t want any attention, I wanted to tell everyone what was happening but people were so excited for me. Every station I had someone congratulated me, people on the course looked at me and cheered me on. After some self talk, I finally calmed down again to remain present and simply enjoy the experience – thats what I was really there for! I thought of my kids again and got so teary! I wished they were there to see me…

I have so many great memories of this beautiful trail, many wild animals coming out later in the day… fresh air and beautiful views.

I came through that finish line in a world of pain, was then congratulated for being the first female and had two trophies to take home for my kids. When I got home, both of them sat down and listened to me talk for an hour about this whole experience, and they were both so proud. I couldn’t run for two months after that and was so upset those first two/three weeks at home but then I accepted what had happened and definitely learned to remain more grounded and listen to my body, because I’m only doing this for me and I hope to run for many years to come, hopefully even travel back to Romania to show my kids that beautiful country and even do a race there!

By Florentina Dulceanu