Some of you may remember that at the start of this year, the year of my fortieth birthday, I made a goal for myself, 40 events for my fortieth. This seemed to be a very feasible goal that I could achieve through my regularly scheduled races I wouldn’t miss for the world, plus a few extra I had planned, as well as park runs and virtual events such as Run Down Under and 2020km for 2020. But then COVID happened and one by one every event was cancelled.
It’s happened to all of us. COVID has had a huge effect on pretty much everyone. As a school counsellor I am constantly telling the kids I work with to look at what is in our control, and unfortunately nothing about this situation was in our control, in fact things we could usually control had also been taken away. And to make it worse, my usual self-care strategies were no longer an option. I use events as a way to stay motivated, keep improving and to set goals. GONE. I would connect with my friends both through running and going out for coffee and meals. GONE. Even retail therapy was no longer an option (though my husband was very happy about this development).
But instead of just giving up on my goal I looked around and discovered that people everywhere were adapting to this “new norm”. I kept reading and hearing about all the amazing and creative ways people found to get themselves through all these challenges. Instead of being defeated, people were problem solving and coming up with solutions and alternatives to the norm. I teach about resilience every day, and watching our society face this pandemic with such positivity was so inspiring for me. I began to see other runners achieving amazing things, from PB’s, longest distances, to some pretty crazy challenges such as the Goggins 4x4x48 or 100km in one day (shout out to those runners, you know who you are).
This got me thinking… What makes an event so special?? There are so many aspects about a big race to look forward to; the expo, trip away by myself, my family can never come with me so this is often time for me to only have to worry about myself. But one key element really stood out for me, it’s the people. Plain and simple. I used to think it was about the race, the challenge of a new PB, but COVID made me realise I love these events because of the people I get to see, from the elite athletes to the everyday runners like me, the people I get to support and get support from. None of that had changed. Those people are still there. And there were so many people around me creating their own events and challenges. So what is to stopping me from creating my own event? This is where myself and my best running buddies Sarah, Tash and Lynn (Tahnie had to give it a miss due to injury) created the “In it for the long run: 50km” event.
The lead up to running our 50km was the same as any other event. Lots of rest and good food, those butterflies in the stomach getting worse as the event got closer, and for me, the day before is usually spent in and out of the toilet from nerves (sorry for TMI). None of us could sleep the night before. We spent the day messaging and checking in with each other, seeing what we were each going to wear, you know, typical stuff.
We chose the 6th of June as our date as it was to be the weekend of the Mackay Marina Run. This is the event that started it all for me. In 2012 not long after the birth of my first child I ran the 8km in that event. I watched all the half marathon runners head off thinking there was no way I could ever do that. Now, 8 years later, I am running full marathons. A lot has changed but mostly my own mindset on what I can achieve. So this event being cancelled had a significant impact on us runners here in Mackay, and that weekend, we all headed out to achieve various goals, from half marathons to PB’s.
We had decided to start running at 3am for a number of reasons, but mostly because Lynn had to start work at 11 so we had to get it done nice and early. We met at our start point, same place we meet every Saturday for our long runs. You know that feeling when you are just about to start a race? Your stomach is just about jumping out your mouth and you get a bit shaky? Or is that just me? Well, that’s how I felt. Even though there was only four of us, we were buzzing with equal amounts anticipation, excitement and nerves. And then we just started running.
The first 30km was pretty steady. Lots of laughing, funny anecdotes about the kids, hubbies, and fur babies, and for a few km’s there, singing of our favourite 90’s songs. A large number of runners from our local run club were doing the half marathon course from the Marina run that morning as well and we passed them and cheer them on, filled with pride for our fellow runners smashing their goals, all striving to achieve something.
We had mapped out a course with stops at the car to refuel. After our first stop at the car we knew it would be harder keep going if we kept going back to the car, so filled up with as much as we could fit in our running vests and just kept going.
Around the 35km mark was when I really started to feel it. Our longest run to date this year had been 30km, and while we weren’t going fast, my body was beginning to ache everywhere. The chatting between us was starting to slow down, and any other runners we knew running that day were long finished. We finally got to our pit stop at 39km, the BP servo. Here we loaded up on coke and sugar. Now fuelled again we got a second wind and off we went. Only ten to go, heading back towards the car. When we hit 42km we all cheered. A marathon!! Done. But still a ways to go. From here, we got a bit silly. The coke went to Lynn’s head and she began dancing around us. Sarah and I got the giggles talking about how it felt like our legs were moving but we weren’t actually going anywhere. By 45km we couldn’t even talk anymore. We spread after this, at our own pace, in our own heads, finding our own motivation to get through the final five. A parkrun, that’s all we had left.
This was when a group of cyclists joined in. They rode up and down the road a few times, yelling “You can do it ladies” in thick accents. We didn’t know them, and they didn’t know what we were trying to achieve but yet saw us and something about that made them realised we needed a push. They didn’t stick around for long but seemed to appear when we needed it the most and gave us the laugh we needed to finish the race like we started.
The last 800m was the best feeling in the world. We could almost see the finish line, just down the main street of the city to the cars. We suddenly picked up the pace. I didn’t think I had any fuel left in the tank, and being just another run, didn’t think I would feel the need to push out those last few hundred metres. But that is what it felt like. It felt like an official event. It was like my body went into auto pilot. When we got about 100m away we could hear this cheering. I looked around to see what was happening and that was when we realised at the end of the road, there was a crowd of people cheering. It took me a second to realise that they were cheering for us! People we regularly run with each week had come to see us finish. Immediately my eyes filled with tears. I could hear Tash beside me let out a sob. My Garmin clicked over to 50km just before we got to them. We could finally stop running.
What got us through that was that we were there together. Our bond seemed stronger than friendship, we seemed to understand each other, knowing when we needed encouraging, when we needed quiet. We ran as one unified system, with the same goal.
My running coach had said when the events started to get cancelled that we can either look out and see the view, or see the dirty window. We have all lost something during this time but we have adapted and came out stronger I think. Hopefully with a little creativity I will still get to my 40 events for the year. Sometimes we just have to think outside the box.