In August 2017, I took part in my very first Parkrun. I was nervous, as I was stepping right out of my comfort zone as you will see by the video I have attached. I can hardly believe that in under three years, I am now a marathon runner!

There are many parts to this journey, so I will briefly cover each:

Part One – learning from all I knew

Running my first self-trained half marathon, all I did was ask everyone I knew who ran any sort of distance how they did it. I wanted to know how they trained and what was the longest distance they’d run before their half marathon. I then just went about doing the same thing! I even ran 20km in Ireland, across the countryside (where the wild horses roam) with some other runners that were introduced to me.

I was extremely nervous at my first half marathon in Surrey, England. I remember feeling scared, and I was running with someone who was super relaxed in his preparation. I remember the night before saying, “You have to understand this is my first ever half marathon!”

After that run, I was very sore with cramp and could hardly walk up the stairs.

Part Two – commitment to training

When I came back from the UK, I decided that I didn’t want this to be like some other things in my life where I did them once, love them, got a lot of satisfaction from them but never found time to do them again!

I wanted to keep running, so I joined the Manly Beach running club and got into regular running. I found myself a coach and the benefits of this I have been enormous:  

  1. Commitment to getting up at 5am 4-5 mornings a week.
  2. Guidance from Joe, my coach was invaluable. He once said to me, “You are more someone that I need to tell to stop and go home rather than wonder where you are because you haven’t turned up to training.”
  3. Friendships and connecting with people who have common interests and goals has been amazing. I’ve been inspired by those way ahead of me and more recently by inspiring newcomers!  

Part Threehalf marathon’s for fun

I did a couple of half marathons in Sydney and Orange, both very different events and each was so enjoyable in their own right. After my Sydney half marathon, I stayed to watch the runners come home. It was so emotional watching them cry, celebrate and even hobble across the finish line. It was then that the idea of running a marathon began to light a fire in my belly.

Part Four the marathon journey

So, the marathon journey began! 

I told Joe that I wanted to run the Sydney marathon the following year. However, as that was my 60th birthday year, I was going to be overseas for two months before the marathon. I was told that it takes four months of training together with your coach to achieve a marathon comfortably.

Because of this, I put off my goal and decided to do Queenstown in November. What a beautiful place to run your first marathon! It’s the country where I was married and where my children were born. That seemed perfect!

The training was going really well. I was up to 22km when I felt a little bit tight in the chest and the next thing I knew, I had pneumonia. Now, with 4 to 6 weeks off from training, there was no convincing my husband or Joe that I could run the marathon in Queenstown. I had to take second-best and run the half marathon! 

On the way home, having spoken to lots of runners about New Zealand marathons, I committed to running Hawke’s Bay marathon on 16 May 2020.

Once again, the training commenced. For those of you who have never run a marathon, you need to know that the training actually changes very little from your Sunday long run. The week is filled with 6 to 8K runs, including hills, sprinting, recovery runs, a beautiful beach track on Wednesdays and the Saturday Park Run. The only big commitment is your long Sunday run which peaks at 32 km.

This time, I was at roughly 24km when COVID-19 hit, and Hawke’s Bay marathon was cancelled. You would think my dream shattered, especially as Joe told me to stop running any long distances to preserve my immunity system while the virus was around.

For the first time, I ignored him and went on running longer than a typical 10 to 12 km on a Sunday, making an excuse I was running to Dee Why, but quietly meeting a friend to extend the run. The Sunday I was due to do my 30km I had a fall! I was with Joe and Elise. With blood pouring everywhere, and grazed knees, I hobbled to the coffee shop and wasn’t able to do the 30 km. Joe was quick to blame me for training for no race and getting myself tired.

Well, nothing was going to stop me, and I came back the following week to run 20km as prescribed. The next week I ran my longest run of 32km.

I can’t describe the excitement when I received a text from Joe congratulating me on my 32km and telling me that now all I needed to do was around 20km next week, 12km the following week, then taper off and I run my marathon as I had planned around Narrabeen Lake. 

I was jumping for joy! To know that I had his full support meant the world to me, and I set about getting a group together that would support me. We had to be responsible, practice social distancing and run in pairs. I had incredible support. People volunteered to run each lap with me, even the first part at 5:30am.

Part Five achieving the goal.

If we are all honest with ourselves, recognition, being liked and respected are essential parts of our human psyche. However, I still felt I needed a purpose over and above, inspiring others and achieving my personal goal. 

I was talking to a friend about the challenges facing women who are not supported and loved at home. Those that are abused and have children who are at risk. Coincidentally, at that time, I discovered the Women and Children’s Refuge in Dee Why, and I decided that that had to be my given charity. I met with the chairman of the board and was overwhelmed by what they do for women who need to take a step forward. Can you imagine what it would be like in lockdown with someone who doesn’t make you feel safe?

So far, we have raised close to $2000, and I hope to keep this open for a little longer, as I would dearly love to equal my marathon and raise $4200. 

Finally the day came 

15 May 2020 was my 61st birthday. I had a very quiet celebration as I was running my first marathon the next day. The day consisted of mashed potato, orange juice, pasta and drinking a lot of water. I got everything ready for the next day. It’s essential to have shoes, socks, clothes and all my nutrition prepared. I was nervous, that little voice saying, “What if you don’t make it?” However, the bigger voice was saying, “You have got this!” 

Thankfully, I knew that as long as I was horizontal and resting, it didn’t matter how solid my sleep was. It’s just important to rest, not necessarily sleep all night. When I woke up the next morning, I was excited and nervous. Everything was ready. I left in the darkness, with a kiss from my husband and ran off very calmly and excitedly to meet my first pacer. That first 3km running on my own was perfect. I got my head in the right place and overcame the little bit of fear that was floating around.

When Renee and I arrived back at the park, ready to start the four laps of Narrabeen Lake, I felt as fresh as a daisy and willing to do the next 33km. When I first saw the lake it was crisp and glistening as it was though my whole run.

You may think I’m mad, but I loved every minute of every kilometre. My family and friends had set up a drinks station halfway around, and each time I came back to home base, there was a new crowd ready to jump in and run with me. We even had some people who ran three laps and did their own longest ever run. (Veronica, Phil and Renee.) 

A highlight was seeing the twins, Axel & Eli on the first lap. They cheered me on and cried when I ran away. I had terrific pacers who kept me up-beat all the way and made sure I didn’t go too fast. My fellow runners say I talked until the last 8km when I became a little quiet. However, Joe took over at that point with stories and jokes! So, when you have the best coach and the best nutrition on the planet (including adaptogens for stress, naturally sourced  caffeine, creatine, beta alanine to keep me going, and lots of water and hydrolytes) how can you fail!  I do have a bit of determination and competitive spirit in me too! 

When we ticked over 42.2km, Joe took the video that I have included here, it was magic,  in that moment I became a marathon runner . I can’t believe the difference between me now and me back in Cleethorpes in 2017.  It has been a fantastic journey, and it definitely has not finished. My family and friends were all there at the end, finishing as I began with a kiss from Neal . I had two medals made by two very special friends, and I had a massive amount of love from my daughters, my husband and my gorgeous grandsons, who were not only there at the end but were there at one of the halfway marks as well, cheering me on.

I thought I would cry, but I didn’t because I was just so thrilled with the fact that I’ve done it and I really felt I had done it with elegance.

I promise you if I can do it at 61, seriously anyone can run a marathon. It just takes commitment, training and a big fat WHY. Then follow the guidelines from people have done it before. Seriously just do what your coach says!

I have found it harder to put this on paper than to run the marathon, but I just read this message Joe sent me ten days before my event and realised that is why I need to document my story.

One of the reasons I coach is to create ripples. Ripples of positivity and good energy. Out of all the marathon runners, I’ve coached, your energy is one of the most positive and infectious. I also think you are the athlete that will create the most ripples throughout your athletic community. What you are doing will bring so much wonderful energy to so many people. I’m very proud to be a small part of this awesome journey. Well done Heather” xx

If this race report inspires one person to get out there and do something they have never done before – whether it be a marathon or something else – then my job is done.

I have kept my fundraising open until this was finished , I will close it off on the 31st July , every little bit counts as much as the first step of a Marathon.

By Heather Rickard