In the dwindling months of my 30’s, my family asked me what I wanted for my 40thbirthday.

My answer: “A marathon”.

As mum to Henry (8), Braden (6) and Tahra (nearly 2) the best present anyone could get me is 4-5hrs of peace and quiet.  My life is beautiful chaos. I juggle part-time work, study, mumming and running the household with my shift-worker hubby, Chris.  He works days and nights, meaning that I’m solo parent half of the time, including weekends. I fiercely love my family, but running is my passion.  I can’t live without it.  It’s the only time when I truly get my mind to myself. Running sets my adventurous spirit free and my soul on fire.

I’m not sure whether I chose the marathon, or the marathon chose me.  I had to find one that was on or near to my birthday and also on a date that Chris wasn’t rostered to work, but there wasn’t one.  I lost hope and forgot about my wish. I kept training just in case a miracle happened.  Many weeks later Chris called me from work – “My boss has just approved a weekend of leave in November.  You’re running your 2nd marathon!”  I cried with joy, mostly because I was so humbled by his selfless act of kindness. Within minutes I hopped online and registered for Jervis Bay Marathon.

The leadup to the race was tumultuous. Tahra had not slept for the first 15 months of her life and it was a living hell.  Running was the only thing that kept me sane during that time, but I was running on empty. We had finally turned a corner with her sleeping habits when I decided I’d tackle this marathon.  Then as soon as I registered, she stopped sleeping again. Chris got a secondment to a different job for 2 months, I started studying uni again, and our grandparent helpers were away for unexpected extended periods meaning I had increased responsibilities with the kids and less freedom to train.  I was copping it from all angles.  Determined, stubborn and afraid of failure, I pushed on.

Being my 2ndmarathon, I knew what I was in for and exactly what kind of training schedule I needed to maintain.  I somehow managed to cover 50-60km per week which included 3 proper, planned training runs. The rest was woven into life – commuting, school runs, grocery runs, many pram runs and sometimes even running in my work breaks in my pretty corporate clothes and not caring about the sweat! I got sinusitis and ran 35km at Western Sydney Parklands Trail Run and survived.  I was so sick and every bit hurt, but I made it.  It was a huge confidence booster. I also ran Coastal Classic (30km trail) one week after having the ‘flu and survived that.  Where had Sensible Sally gone?  She was nowhere to be seen, and she was on a mission to greatness.

Three weeks before the marathon Tahra stopped sleeping completely. I was up all night until 4am with her for 2 weeks solid.  I was ready to sell her on eBay, until RMA Laura reminded me that I should sell her on Etsy because I made her myself! Our two boys got head colds and were coughing and sneezing all over the place.  I started to contemplate pulling out of the marathon as my muscles were not recovering and I was a wreck, both physically and mentally. I got myself some Armaforce and hoped for the best.  The best did not eventuate – two days before the race I got a virus which settled in my glutes, shoulders and neck glands.  Usually I’m one who avoids medicine, but this was like labour-level pain, so I downed some pills and went for a short pram run at Cronulla to clear my mind and help me decide what to do.  I randomly ran into Jenelle, the first RMA I ever befriended, and it was a sign. I went home and packed all of the suitcases for Jervis Bay.

Race morning arrived and I woke up feeling great!  The muscle virus thing had eased, and I got some sweet sleep!!!!  I followed my usual pre-race routine and then walked over the road from our holiday house to White Sands Park to collect my race bib.  I meandered through the trees and admired a lot of very fit-looking athletes doing their warm-ups and stretches in the park. There was not one runner that looked like an amateur and there I was in my Wonder Woman socks just being me.  I had a little giggle to myself. The air was still, it was cool, and it smelled like rain was coming.

I had plenty of time, so I popped back over to the holiday house.  The boys were awake now.  I gave them hugs and kisses and we spoke about the race.  They said “Mum, we hope you win”.  I told them I knew I would ‘win’ because finishing a marathon is a win for anyone who does it.  I took a few minutes to listen to Where The Streets Have No Nameby U2 on my headphones as this song always gets me amped up for a race.  Then I was ready.  I gave Chris a quick kiss goodbye and wandered back over to the start line, the red capes on my socks flapping in the soft breeze.

Now at this point I’m usually at crapping-myself-or-maybe-vomiting level of nervous, but for some reason I felt completely calm.  I have suffered social anxiety all of my life, so rocking up to an event not knowing anyone is usually terrifying.  Perhaps my body just knew it didn’t have energy to waste on worrying? The other runners appeared relaxed too, and we didn’t move over to the starting area until 2mins prior to the gun going off.  There was none of the fuss of the big, fancy city races. The announcer told us about the dozen or so athletes going for their 4thmedal – the mighty ones who did a 4km swim and 90km bike the day before who were now facing the marathon course.  We all gave them a cheer, then the race started!

I settled into what I call my ‘forever’ pace.  Having had a crappy lead-up to the race I wondered how long I could maintain it. I had run my first marathon back in 2016 in 4hr56m and based on my training I knew I could do this one in 4-4hr30min. The marathon course is 3 laps out-and-back, which I knew would help my race strategy.  I would walk or crawl the last 10km if I had to.

The course was mostly on bayside sealed bike path, with a wonderful surprise the half-way turnaround point at lap 1 – SINGLE BUSH TRAIL!  My favourite!!  Having about 1km of trail/tree time to break up the hard pathways every lap was a wonderful mental break.  I completed lap one and the everything felt good.  The heavens had opened and most of lap 1 was run in heavy rain (bonus hardcore points for that!).

At the 21km mark, I suddenly felt dizzy and my vision started to go weird.  I slowed down a bit until I got to the next aid station and took in lots of water.  I must have been dehydrated, and once the water got into my system I was back to kicking-ass pace again. I made sure I took 2 cups of water at every drink station thereafter.

At around 25km I met Gemma, who was running her 2nd marathon and we chatted for 5km or so. She was such a joyful person to run with and made those kilometres disappear quickly.  She was feeling great and took off ahead of me.  We promised we’d meet up again at the end.  We cheered each other every time we passed.

I also met Alex, originally from Zimbabwe, who was running in a singlet in his home country’s flag design. He had run many marathons and was also a joy to run with.  We shared running stories and the kilometres melted away.  After 7km or so he took off ahead; I wished him well and told him if he was looking for me at the end I’d be in there > (pointing at the stunning, crystal waters of Jervis Bay).

I finally completed the last bit of single trail and was on the home stretch.  My legs still felt good! Was I actually going to run the whole thing?  Yes!

The crowd support was wonderful.  Not only were there runners from the marathon, half-marathon, 10km and 5km events whizzing by, but also many people lining the path cheering, clapping and shouting words of encouragement.  The Wonder Woman socks were a hit with the crowd.  I highly recommend wearing them if you ever want extra kapow!

Coming into the final kilometre I felt my chest swell with pride.  I could hear the announcer at the finish line.  As I rounded the final bend, there was Chris, with Tahra in the pram proudly ringing our cowbell shouting “Run Mummy, ruuuuuun!!”.  The boys were cheering me from the top of the climbing ropes in the playground (well I knew one of them was Braden at least – the other one was wearing a Spiderman mask).  I swallowed my tears and beamed a grin as big as the one I did on my wedding day.  I felt so happy that I thought my cheeks would burst! The finish was everything I ever dreamed of. I ran down red carpet with my excited arms raised in the air squealing with joy.  The announcer called my name as I crossed the line and I was handed one hefty marathoner medal by a wonderful volunteer.

Right here is where most people would finish their marathon.  Well I am not most people.  I looked at my new Garmin and saw that it had only measured 42.0km and we all know a full marathon is 42.2km so, I ran another 200m around the park.  Alex had spotted me and looked at me like I was totally mad (he was right).  Braden joined me for the run around the park and we laughed about how silly mummy is. I found Gemma and gave her a big, sweaty congratulatory hug.

I wandered back through the park down to the beach and jumped into the bay in my running gear (minus shoes) to celebrate.  The cool water was heavenly on my tired legs.  The afternoon was spent playing with the kids at the beach and playing hide-and-seek in the huge yard at the holiday house. Chris made me the best bacon and egg rolls I’ve ever eaten in my life. I made the kids’ dinners, bathed them and put them to bed.  The first time I properly sat down was at 9:30pm with over 50,000 steps on my watch. No rest for this mumma, even after a marathon.

I learned a lot about myself through this marathon experience.  I discovered a new level of determination in my soul in training and during the race. Yes, I had awesome support in training from my family and friends, but the choice to train hard was mine.  When I was exhausted and wanted to give up, I told myself not to quit. I could have chosen a much less challenging path in life but I did not.  I set out to test my limits, and that I did.  

I once thought that I ran for achievement, glory, results and PBs; but this one taught me that I run to be the best version of myself.  I am Sally and I ran a marathon on my own, and I feel invincible.

Jervis Bay Marathon 17.11.19 ~ 4hr 22min