journey to my first ultra

the story of the journey that gave me title 'inspirational runner' at the TNF100 2009 and resulted in a story in "runners world" ... along with a couple of pieces of 'ultra bling' as reward ! :)

written Saturday 30 May 2009

333 solo starters, 333 amazing stories that lead us to the race, 333 individual adventures during it.

My journey began, simply, as weight loss ...

A long and lonely struggle with drugs and alcohol resulting in a teenage injury, I was told by the time I was 30 I would be in a wheelchair. Still walking, I made it to 37 before I had my lower spine and sacroiliac joint fused.

It took six months to learn to walk again, then, I simply used it all as an excuse to become lazy.

I woke up suddenly one morning at nearly 120kgs, and had no idea how I had reached that size so unknowingly.

The gain comes slowly, stealthily over years somehow, I don’t think anyone sees it coming to them ... but I woke, knowing somehow that day was the beginning of change, and that it was necessary, mostly for myself, but also for my children, Storm and Tobias. I also knew it would be a difficult and ongoing journey.

My first battle in a long war became conquering sleep.

I was constantly lethargic.
My sleep patterns weren't that great and I knew I needed to get past it and improve the habit and that, along with a wiser choice in food, would work hand in hand to make me a healthier person.

At that stage exercise in any way didn’t even really come into the equation. I couldn’t even imagine walking around the block without becoming breathless.

I'd become very lazy over time from both a health and an exercise point of view. I worked incredibly long hours and used the argument that I had ‘no time’ and the fact that I had no movement in my lower back, as my excuse.

I didn’t know I was unhappy nor anti-social, but it surely did affect my relationships with others.
I never socialised nor talked to others at all.
I was polite, of course, but I would never initiate a conversation.

To get a look of shock from me was apparently a common retort in answer to “how was your weekend” mostly because I couldn’t imagine anything I did over a weekend would be of interest to anyone else. I would grunt and say “nice thank you” and get stuck into work.

I avoided people, they scared me. Why would they even want to be talking to me anyway right? I was embarrassed to be me.

Slowly the weight goes on and slowly it would have to come off.

It would be a hard slog, but I’d faced so much adversity, and survived, I knew I could do it. And that day, I was ready.

I told nobody, because I feared their laughter and there wasn’t really anyone to tell. I simply ate less.

It took nearly four months, and I had lost nearly 20kgs, when someone first asked me had I lost weight?

Even then I was embarrassed, and mumbled, “not that I was aware of”.

It was the small changes that I noticed, the looser clothes, the first time I hopped in the car and the seatbelt went easily around me and I could see my legs and feet, buying jeans with a zipper and button that done up and no elastic waist, are some that come easily to mind.

I guess at this stage I realised I somehow had to do some form of exercise.

I wouldn’t dare to go into a gym, everyone would look at me and wonder what the fat woman was doing there.

Instead I walked on the spot in my lounge room, for hours, via dvds. Occasionally, in the dark of night, I would walk outside, when no-one would see me ... months passed and I had got down to 90kgs, but then nothing was budging. I had hit that plateau.

I checked out a few gyms, but didn’t want to join any of them because of fear. It took me a few more weeks before I made myself join one.

For six months I went in every day, religiously hopping on the same machine in the corner where I thought noone could see me for anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours.

My weight still didn’t change, maybe it was simply my mind. I couldn’t imagine myself any different. My mindset had to change. I started using a personal trainer, he encouraged and motivated me and made me believe in myself and begin to learn that I was worth it.

He got me doing classes, a huge feat. Combat and circuit. He got me walking and running, outside. I lived 7.5kms from the gym, I went every single day, but twice a week, when I could work it in timewise, I would walk to the gym, do my workout, and walk back home.

I altered it slowly, eventually walking a block, running a block, and any manner of pattern to not get bored ... the weight, headed downwards again.

I hated running. The roadside was boring, the route I took mind-blowingly boring and I was so slow. It was exhausting.

But I had got my 7.5km time, which started at around an hour and a half, down to around 45 minutes, and that impressed me at the time. I eventually got to about 77kgs.
A loss of 43. Then I moved to a new town.

New area. New gym. New mindset.

All of a sudden, I was cross training.

I had stopped running due to the distance to the gym but I was doing combat, step classes, pump, my own weight sessions, xtrainer, treadmill, bike, rower, you name it I was doing it, always, always still with the intent of losing weight.

I started doing boxing with my new female personal trainer, and loved it. She was as encouraging as my old trainer.

My goal had originally been 73 kilo’s, I reached that, I reached 68, my goal then changed to 65, but I couldn’t get there.

The gym owner, who over time had taught me a lot about food and eating, persevered with me and kept encouraging me to find a new goal 'other than weight loss' ... but for three years, that was all I had known, and that had been my reward, so every week, if I had no loss (and there was nothing left to lose), or especially if I gained even the slightest amount, I was totally disheartened.

I didn’t know what else I wanted to do. I toyed with weights, thinking maybe I could just work on getting some muscles, it didn’t interest me but I tried to make it so.

They held a boot camp - so I joined up and I loved it. I loved the adventure of it, the not knowing what we had to push our bodies to do each session, and I loved my body hurting with such a good hurt. I loved the athleticism of all the others doing it, amazed at what they could push themselves to do and wanted to be as incredible.

It finished.

For the next few months, I still toyed inside my head with what my 'new goal' could be, this continued for many agonising months actually. I ran now and again, 5 kms seemed such a long distance and took me so long to do, I did it mostly because I thought it was good for me, not for enjoyment.

I struggled with the addiction of the goal to lose weight, battling the negative thoughts associated with that and the gruelling exercise and eating regime continued.

For 12 months my weight had stayed fairly consistent, I couldn’t see there was nothing else to lose, nor how proud of myself I should have been, just that it was frustrating.

Speed through to October 2008 and months of this behaviour with the never ending patience of the gym owner, and my trainer, still encouraging me to set a new goal and get myself away from losing weight.

I work at a newspaper and we receive books each month to review. In October 2008, only a short seven months ago, in came a book called 50 marathons, 50 days by an American guy I had never heard of, Dean Karnazes.

I took the book home and read it, cover to cover in a couple of days.
I was mesmerised by this man. At the time, I thought he was the only person in the world who could be so amazing and awe inspiring.
A section in his book talked about 'going walkabout'. Setting one foot in front of the other and just not stopping.

So one Saturday, I set out to do this, my goal would be the waterfall, near where I lived, 16km away or 32km return.

I walked all the way there, running briefly now and again, I feared running out of energy and not making it back, but was surprised how easy it was.
I ran the 16km to home, mostly road, but all country. Once again I used one of his strategies, 16kms seemed such a long way, yet it was only from ‘tree to tree’, or ‘sign to sign’, all the way. It goes quickly. I decided I loved the longer distance, just not the repetitiveness of the same foot fall each time.

I knew I loved walking the trails around the area, and anywhere I went to visit, so over the next couple of months ended up running most of them, slowly at first, then building up both in distance and in speed. I loved the magic of it all.

I was seeing things other people never did.

I ran through many a tropical storm and was awed by the beauty of it all, and by the fact none of it seemed like 'exercise'.

I ran up hill and down, building up the distance over time and had only the occasional road run, adding in tempo runs and intervals, both on flat terrain and on hills.

I now knew what I loved doing, I simply loved trail running - the challenge of it, the change that every run brought, the changing of nature around me brought different scenarios every single time I ran. There was no run, even on the same trails, that was ever the same. And every single foot fall was different.

I had a couple of people from the gym who would run on the odd occasion with me along the beach or on road, but no-one was interested in running the trails. I couldn’t understand that not everyone in the world wanted to do it!

I also enjoyed the solitude of it though, and the fact that with some sort of smug satisfaction they are 'my moments'.
It was only me capturing the magical individual scenario of being one with nature and I didn’t have to share any of it with anyone else.

Each snake, goanna, rock, leaf, mudpile, overflowing creek, tree crash, commando crawl through the overgrown trails, leech, even toad, everything was there just for me.
The excitement of it all, mine!

Then, January 2009, Runner’s World had a full-page advertisement for the North Face 100 in the Blue Mountains.
My first thought was that, wow, someone other than Dean must run 100km.

In my naivety I thought this was the only race of its kind in the world - for a few days in a row I kept turning to it, thinking, wondering, could I do it? I had never run a single race in my life, a marathon certainly never interested me in the least. I could never run 42kms on a road.

Then, boom, just like the weight loss, I woke up on January 9, knowing I was going to do it.

I wasn’t going to tell anyone until afterwards, I would simply just do it. Silently.
However, at that point, I realised I would need the help of my trainer, as I had no idea where to even begin to train for such an event.
I knew I had to run, I knew I would have to run trails, but I was already doing all that.
So, off to the gym I went to face her, fearing only laughter.

But she was behind me a hundred per cent from the beginning with no laughter, saying I was already fit and ready enough to do it and what an amazing goal for me to finally have.

She was proud of me having a goal to work towards.
With her support, then over time with the support of others who learned of my journey I was on my way.
We studied the map and the area, got advice on the area from others, then came up with a plan of action.
We found similar terrain here in the Whitsundays to work with to get the best training possible.
We worked together on leg strength and core strength.
We worked on food.
Each week we introduced new elements, nothing was boring, and every day was a fresh and new outlook to everything else discovered along the way, all fitting in together seamlessly.

I did the 27km Whitsunday Great Walk countless times, each time with a different goal in mind; one focused on food, learning to eat while running; one focused on time, how long would it take me; one focused on the strategy of walk up hills, run the flats and trails. Each time seeing what worked best and what didn’t work at all.

I introduced night running into my training, an incredible experience and something I loved. And of course I increased the tempo and interval training both on hills and flat, coming to enjoy on the odd occasion I had to do it to build speed, road running.

The journey of endurance running goes way beyond the actual run.

I’ve met fantastic people along the way all eager to help and give advice and share their own adventures.

My socialisation skills have improved because of it, I actually don’t mind having conversations with people and like that they genuinely care.

I’ve read so many articles on the importance of food, learned so much about eating and how important it is during exercise and especially during endurance exercise, learned how to eat while actually running, one of the most difficult tasks of it all.

I’ve learned so much about clothing, cold, heat, injuries, ‘lubing up’ the hot spots, - how everything works hand in hand to get the best performance possible out of ourselves.

And of course over these past few short months I have learned of the endless trail runners similar to me.
I have realised Dean isn’t the only one out there.
I have learned the numerous choices there are to do such an event in a race format.

I am simply amazed the peace and beauty trail running has brought into my life on so many levels beyond running.

It was a long journey to find it, but now, here I am, forever.
This is now my ‘new normal’ and I love it.

Breaking my arm only a couple of weeks before the race during a combat class was a horrid thing.
My trainer and I ran together to see the affect the plaster would have and to trial a different way of running and adapting, coming up with strategies to get through 100kms with a broken limb.

Until we don’t have it to use, we don’t realise how much arm usage there is in simply running, let alone powering up the hills.
My time lowered a little to normal but I was still able to do it all and she made me confident and believe in myself.
Off I went, of course not realising the extent I would need to use it over all the rocks and trails of the Blue Mountains.

But what an adventure. What a high. What a reward.

After the hour and 10 minute wait at the ladders and also hurting my knee along the way on the golden staircase, I knew I wouldn’t make my 20 hour goal, that through training times I thought I could easily achieve. But I simply kept moving forwards enjoying the campfires and the camaraderie and journeys of all the other runners along the way as we ran and talked together, and I was really proud of finishing 24:34:41.

Next year, I will be back, and with the use of two arms, I will get the goal!

Meanwhile, there’s many trails and races to tackle in between.

It was a long journey, but a great result, with a wonderful and positive life ahead.

Strength faith and courage.

Number 215

 Getting to chat with Dean, certainly a highlight. I was an awestruck groupie on the Friday night!

My tattoo, after the race. A lifelong reminder there isnt anything in life I cant tackle and get through.


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