Ever since I ran my first half marathon at the Australian running festival in Canberra in 2016, I’ve had my eyes on the people running the 50km ultra in absolute awe.
Wow! How could they do that? How could their legs go for that long? Could I one day get there? It seemed unimaginable.
I gave birth to my 4th child Mackenzie in June 2018.
I had run my 3rd marathon at The Western Sydney marathon with a Pb of 4:08, unknowingly around 4 weeks pregnant at the time.
We have had a rough trot, with food allergies and reflux ruling our days. I had to go on a strict elimination diet for her as she was breastfeeding. Starting with eliminating all dairy and soy and then with more and more foods being added to the list, I eventually had to do a strict total elimination diet, getting down to eating literally 3 foods only for a few weeks and then gradually adding back in foods to see if she would react to them or not. We are currently still on this journey, at 21 months old, though we have many more foods as safes now. It was a gradual return to running and building my fitness and distances back up.
I ran my 4th marathon in 2019, at the Blackmores Sydney running festival, still very restricted food wise and breastfeeding on demand. I was pretty happy with my time of 4:30.
I have run at Canberra 3 Times now, each time running the half marathon.
With the next big event on my calendar after Blackmores being Canberra I started to wonder…ultra? Could I? Should I? Should I wait till I’m not breastfeeding anymore. Should I wait till Mackenzie is older? Wait until she’s out grown (hopefully) her food issues? But the more I thought about it the more I started to think it was now or never. Now was the time! I felt ready to up the training fitness wise. Having the time to train was never going to be perfect. There would always be something with 4 kids. I found a training plan online and wrote it out in a diary.
I started the training plan, not mentioning to anyone what I was thinking. Eventually I said it out loud to my husband.
‘Are you kidding?’ he said. ‘You’re bloody crazy!’
He is not a runner. He loves playing sport but finds running boring. And the thought of that many kms is insane to him. But as always he goes along with my crazy running ideas and supports me.
As the training went on, people around me were asking me when my next event was? What was I running next? And I started mentioning it to a few people, making sure I added that I hadn’t officially entered yet. Still giving myself that little out if it didn’t end up happening.
Gradually it got closer. The training runs got longer and I started telling more people about it.
And finally, 4 weeks before the event was on, I officially entered the race. We booked accomodation 2 weeks before. With money being pretty tight on one income, 4 kids with way too many extra curricular activities and general life expenses, accommodation for 6 people is never a cheap occasion.
The kids were excited. We were going away. They would get to stay in a motel and cheer mummy running.
My biggest two long runs were 38km and 40 km. I was bummed when I worked out that my longest training run of 40kms fell when hubby was away for his end of year cricket trip on the Gold Coast. How could I make this work?
I had utilised the treadmill for many midweek runs. But no way could I do 40km on the dreadmill. I had also had my amazing parents offer to mind Mackenzie for some longer midweek training runs. I felt guilty leaving the 4 kids with them for so long to go for a run! I assumed it would take me over 4hours.
So I swapped the 38 and the 40 around, ran the 40km run the week before and then when hubby was away, my beautiful mum came over to mind the kids and I ran 34km in the morning, then did the extra 4 on the treadmill that afternoon when my youngest was asleep and I could get the other 3 occupied with something or other.
There was a few missed training runs with 4 kids and all their activities, a husband who travels a lot for work and just general life.
Just before these longer training runs, I started hearing more about something called the Corona virus. I really don’t watch much tv or news and find most things out through social media. It was being mentioned more and more. And then things started being cancelled. Big sporting events where being cancelled or played without crowds attending. Then flights were being cancelled. Travel warnings came in. Would this affect my race? I surely hoped not!
A couple of days after my 40km training run, on the 12th of March, I got an email from Sole motive regarding the Canberra Times Marathon festival and COVID-19, saying that at that time they were continuing as normal.
I breathed a sigh of relief.
The very next day while taking my boys for haircuts I scrolled through my emails while we waited and my heart sunk when I saw an email from Sole Motive again.
I opened it and felt like crying as I read the words…
‘As a precaution against the spread of COVID-19, we have decided to postpone The Canberra Times Marathon Festival until August 2020. All registered participants will be automatically transferred to the rescheduled date.’
All that training… all that hard work! All that shuffling things around, running through nap times, lunch times, early mornings, pram runs, split runs just so I could get them done…for what?
I messaged hubby, heartbroken. But within minutes I messaged him again.
‘I’m running it anyway! I’m not wasting all this training!’
So I kept following my training plan. As the days went on the Covid-19 situation got worse. The kids sports and extra curricular activities were cancelled. Non essential things at school were cancelled.
I kept running.
That 38km training day was a real head game. The constant thoughts going round in my head as it got tough. Why am I doing this? I don’t need to do this. What’s the point?
But each time a thought like this came it was followed by a resounding ‘yes you do!’…’Don’t let it beat you!’…’You’re doing this to prove you can!’
I got that run done and I was officially in taper.
I had a long run of 28km the following weekend and on the Wednesday of that week the universe threw me another curve ball when my Garmin broke! I was devastated. I couldn’t afford to buy a new one. And I couldn’t run these distances without my trusty Garmin to show me how far I’d gone and how many kms I had left to go. So I borrowed my daughters older style Garmin for a while and then my sister lent me hers to get me through.
Next thing we knew social distancing was upon us. We were being told to keep our kids home from school. For how long no one knew. Then companies were closing, businesses shut. Everyone who could told to work from home.
With every Update from our PM I listened, and quietly celebrated when he emphasised exercise as one of the few reasons we were allowed to leave our houses.
When I first decided I would run it anyway, I planned to do the same route I had done for my 40km training run and just add on another 10km. But as the situation got worse, people were getting really fired up about what was allowed and what wasn’t.
I just didn’t feel right running through 6 or so suburbs and back again to go for a run.
I felt guilty every time I went out for a run, like I was doing something wrong.
The thoughts kept entering my mind, should I just call it and give up? But I couldn’t let it go.
I made a new plan. I would leave as early as I could sneak away from my youngest who was generally asleep on or right next to me in the early morning hours. I would run laps along the highway and back. As many as it took. And I would get there!
My neighbour Dave was also supposed to run at Canberra in the marathon. We discussed running anyway and our options. And him and his wife Emily became some of my biggest cheer leaders. They, along with another beautiful friend and fellow RMA Amy, messaged me in the days prior and asked me to update them and said that they would be there to see me finish. Social distancing of course.
The night before I couldn’t believe how relaxed I felt. Way more calm than before any event I had run in before. Most likely because this would be run on my terms, in my own time. I didn’t HAVE to be at the start at a certain time. I didn’t have to worry about getting to the event start line. I didn’t have to worry about missing my alarm or any of that! I hadn’t stressed at all about carb loading or race preparation. Heck we even went for a hike in the bush behind our house on the Saturday to get the kids out of the house. I carried my 21 month old on my back in the ergo and following my hubby’s choice in direction it ended up being a lot longer with way more hills than I anticipated. I remember feeling the burn in my legs as we made our way back up towards home, laughing and saying to hubby that this isn’t good for a pre race rest day. I was just so calm about it.
The night before my run I prepared my tailwind in my pack bladder. I filled my pack pockets with dates, salt tablets and lip balm. I layed out my clothes, my shoes, my RMA visor and my sunnies. Set my alarm on silent so it wouldn’t wake Mackenzie, for 5am. The vibrating would wake me. And off I went to bed.
I woke just before my alarm as Mackenzie stirred and I fed her before she fell back asleep. That worked out well as it would be a while before I breastfed her again.
I got up, got dressed, had some water and half a banana, and headed out the door.
I was doing this!
As I ran up to the highway I couldn’t believe how calm and serene I felt. The world was still asleep and I felt free.
I started south along the highway up towards the factories. Some of that section is not well lit and I had to run on the side of the highway for some of it so I turned back once the footpath stopped, thinking it wasn’t worth the risk and I’d wait to go all the way up on my next lap once the sun was up.
I headed towards Engadine, looping in and out of some streets along the way to add more kms to my laps. I constantly went over in my head how many laps I would need to do and after my first lap and a half realised it would be one less than I originally thought.
I had promised Dave, Emily and Amy and of course hubby that I would send them updates along the way. I told myself that I wasn’t allowed to send that first msg until I hit 30km.
Once I did I sent them a quick update and got some wonderful encouragement back.
Hubby had planned to bring the kids for a drive by at some point to cheer me on.
I sipped my tailwind whenever I needed it and I had a salt tablet and then a date roughly every 7 kms. That date was like a reward every 7k, more so than fueling but something to look forward to. At the 30km mark when I messaged hubby I asked him to bring my salt tablets and chuck me some as I realised a few kms earlier that the rest of my salt tablets had fallen out of my pocket.
Not long after Hubby messaged me asking where I was. I was at Cooper St Park heading back towards Heathcote. 15 kms to go!
Within minutes I heard loud beeping and yelling… ‘go go go’… and the kids were waving and screaming in the back.
They drove past just as loud a few more times before meeting me near Heathcote pub and giving me cuddles, some water and my salt tablets. Hubby said they would go home as my older two kids were getting car sick. They take after me!
I continued on back up to the factories.
It was starting to hurt!
I felt ok fitness wise, but the legs and joints were starting to ache.
I stopped at the turn around point for a quick leg stretch, a few deep breaths and off I went again.
I ran back towards Engadine around the last block and headed back towards Heathcote. I calculated that that should be my last loop. 5 laps. Back at cooper st park and I msgd them all to say i had 4.4km to go and was heading home. More encouraging words came back. Almost back to Heathcote I heard beeping and yelling again. Hubby had piled them all back in the car to come and cheer me on for the home stretch.
Back to Heathcote and at the road I would normally go down to run home I knew I was 1.5 kms short so headed back up to the factories again. I knew I’d only need to go half way and that should do it kms wise. I got back to the shops and turned down towards home. It started to hit me. I was going to do it!
As I got further down I could see Amy standing at the end of her street waiting for me. I immediately felt like I was going to burst into tears! As I got closer she cheered and yelled encouragement at me and took some photos. ‘Keep going’ she yelled. I kept running trying to yell thank you at her through my teary breathing, and as I turned back I realised she was running a few meters behind me. I choked up even more. I was so great full for her support. I tried to tell her that my breathing was really ok but that she made me cry and we laughed. I calmed down again and we had a few little chats as we ran down the hill. I turned the corner into my street and I could see hubby and the kids out the front of our house.
Then I saw Emily, Dave and their kids outside their house all yelling and clapping and cheering.
‘You’re going to make me cry’ I yelled at them. I had to run about 30 metres past them for my watch to tick over to the 50km. I turned back around and got cuddles from hubby and the kids and congratulations from my friends. They took some photos of us and handed me medals!!! Dave had grabbed one of theirs from home as he said I had to have a medal and then Amy pulled out one she made for me! It was so thoughtful! I loved it.
We had a quick social distanced chat. I thanked them and then back to our houses we went.
Once in our front door hubby started playing ‘we are the champions’ and I noticed he had put a message on the tv screen.
‘Congratulations Angela May. 50km! What an achievement!’
Then they presented me with a medal made with a 50 cent coin.
I sat on the lounge, thinking I don’t know if I’ll get back up again and Mackenzie jumped on me to breastfeed. Hubby got me some water and my son got me an Apple. It started to sink in what I had just achieved. Hubby went to run me an epsom salt bath. The kids started fighting and asking about lunch. Back in the reality of life…
And just like that, I was an Ultra marathoner! Unofficially of course….
If you dream of one day running an Ultra, or any distance that seems unattainable for you, please entertain the thought!
You really can do anything if you get your mindset right and give it all you’ve got.
If I can do it, then you absolutely can!
By Angela May.