One week on and as I write this now I feel empty, there are no more tears, but there is still pain and darkness, it has been a big week, a bigger month, a huge year and an overwhelming life.
I thought that completing another marathon would bring relief, I would be happy, I would be on top of the world. But the opposite happened, I came crashing down, I felt the darkness wash over me, I felt flat, alone in a room with others laughing and celebrating, yet all I wanted to do was cry. And once everyone left and I closed the door and was alone I did. I sobbed uncontrollably. All the emotions flooded out, why am I doing this? This is just too fucking hard!!
I ran my first marathon almost 5 years ago at Melbourne Marathon Festival. My first experience was not what I had planned. Tearing my hamstring just days before my 12 week training plan commenced was the first hurdle I had to get over. I recovered quickly but the injury was always there in the back of my mind. Then 1 week out from the event I re-injured it and thought that I had ruined my chances of running. But I’d come that far and was determined to do whatever I could to run. 7 days of complete rest and intensive physiotherapy and I was at that start line wondering if I could run let alone run 42km! The gun fired and I ran, slowly, but I ran. Things went well until around 32km when my claves and quads began cramping. The pain progressively got worse but I kept pushing on. Then at the 40km mark when I knew the finish was within my grasp my hamstring gave way and I felt a sharp pain deep in the belly of the muscle. I was so close and I desperately wanted to get there so continued running in pain trying to nurse my hamstring. Only moments from finishing as I entered the MCG my hamstring pulled sharply again and I was now limping, focussing on every single step just trying to get to the finish. I crossed the finish line and broke down and sobbed. I was relieved it was over but the pain in my legs was excruciating and I could barely move.
Those mental images are still as clear in my mind today as they were 5 years ago and because of this I couldn’t bring myself to go through it again.
It played on my mind and I wondered how different it would have been if I wasn’t injured. Would it be fun, would I have been able to run faster. Two years later I decided to give it another go but couldn’t face the pressure of anyone knowing so I trained in secret, I registered for a virtual run and ran it on my own. The run went perfectly and I had regained my confidence that I could run a marathon and have a positive experience.
But still I couldn’t bring myself to run another official one and I couldn’t understand why. I knew I could run the distance and I didn’t aspire to run a sub 4 hour time, I was happy with my 4:02 PB. So why did the thought of doing it again cause such incredible anxiety?
I put this all out of my mind as I moved towards coaching others and I founded Evolution Runners. My focus moved away from my own running goals to those of others. It gave me so much joy and satisfaction to see them achieve their goals and fall in love with running.
I am trying my absolute best to be the coach I want to be, the mother I need to be, the wife I should be, the friend I strive to be and somewhere in there the runner that will help me be everything else.
But how can I support my crew as well as strive for my own running goals? To maintain my credibility as a coach I need to be doing these events but I also need to be giving my club members all the support they need to. Amongst all of this I need to remember I am a person to, I have a life (apparently) I have friends (I hope they still remember who I am) I have a husband (so patient and tolerant) and I have children (who need me more than ever right now).
Where do I go with all this? Running marathons gives me credibility right? That’s what all the other coaches are doing. If not they have a suite of running credentials behind them. I’ve been a rec runner for 20 years but apart from my passion for running and being able to share what I have learnt with others what else do I really have to offer? I can’t run a sub 100 min half marathon or sub 4 hour marathon nor do I aspire to, I don’t have the best running form, I’m not athletic looking, I don’t have the trophies or accolades that you would associate with a traditional running coach. But I do have a love for running and the power that it can have on our lives. I have confidence in my ability to guide and support others to reach their running goals and although others in this business are trying to build their client load I just want to look after those I have, to give them all the support I can. Not a very clever business model I know but maybe this isn’t really about that.
Late in 2017 I realised that I had lost my way with my own running journey and it was time to set some goals for me again. But the mental challenge to run a marathon and do it publically was still there. So I gave myself permission to take the pressure off and decided that I would take it slowly so that I could take in the experience and enjoy the journey. Sharing this journey with my club offered me that comfort and support.
My training went well, there were a few ups and downs but that is to be expected when training for a marathon. I’d prepared myself as best I could and I finished my training on a high feeling like I could do it and actually excited to get there and run.
6 days out from the event it hit me. I had been doing well up until that point but suddenly it felt real and imminent and my anxiety levels went through the roof. It was almost impossible to calm my mind, not even with a run. I tried to take the logical approach and tried to work out what I was worried about. Over the next couple of days I managed to calm my mind and from pure exhaustion managed a few hours of sleep each night. Last minute drama with possible delayed or cancelled flights saw me back into that panicked state again. I just wanted to get there and get it done!
I am used to not sleeping well but with only 4 hours of broken sleep over the two nights before the marathon I was concerned that I really would be running on empty. But once the morning came I was calm, there was nothing I could do now, I got ready and headed to the event with those who were doing the half marathon. This distracted me from the last minute nerves and gave me something else to focus on. Then it was our turn. I hugged and said goodbye to Tracey, Sarah and Miranda who were starting in a different zone but was so grateful to have Kate starting with me. From this point is where I have documented my run on video (see below). I am so glad that I did because I know that over time I will forget these moments. There is one moment that I didn’t document, not because I didn’t want to but because I physically couldn’t in the darkness of km 40 & 41 where my mind went to a place where all I could think about was surviving, trying to stay upright and moving forward when I felt like I was going to collapse from the heat. I found the strength to keep running and to make the finish as strong as I could even though I could barely stand. I wanted to say at this time that I was running for those in our club who couldn’t run that day. I was running for them. After crossing the finish line I stumbled and staggered and was caught by one of the volunteers. I was crying and shaking. I bloody did it!!
But I couldn’t have done it without the support from my club, both on location at the event and at home in Ballarat.
I am so grateful for our primary support crew member Maddy. She did so much behind the scenes and was there from before the half marathoners started until after the marathoners finished. She didn’t stop, she knew where to be, what to say and what to do. She coordinated everyone and communicated to the location group. This lead to a seamless support process to those of us running. Not to mention the unbelievable selfless approach she had. This was supposed to be her marathon to. To be able to even be there when she couldn’t run must have taken a huge amount of strength. I promise that I will run a marathon with you one day Maddy!
And to Ned who got out there on course on a bike after running a 93 minute half marathon himself was incredible! He was there when we needed encouragement, he was there near the end when the darkness was washing over me. I just felt comfort knowing he was next to me.
To the others, Chris, Mardi, Kim, Tiarna and Trudi, who were there on the sidelines to cheer us on, take pictures and to update the crew at home following online. And to all of those back home in Ballarat who gave up their Sunday morning to track us live and cheering from afar. We could feel all that support and it really lifted us to keep going.
The reason why I am sharing my story is not to receive attention or sympathy (honestly I would prefer to be silent and alone) but to highlight that despite all my struggles, running is good. The stress I feel is all worth it when I know I’m helping others and I hope that by being open and honest about my feelings and experience it will help others. This may just be planting the seed of hope for someone else who thinks they are alone in their own feelings. We are never alone and there is always someone out there who cares.
Through my honesty I hope to open up the conversation about mental illness and remove the stigma. So many of us struggle each day, life fucking sucks sometimes but we don’t have to struggle on our own and we can keep moving forward even if the circumstances of our life can’t be changed.
I have connected with so many people through this crazy online running world and although at times I feel the pressure of trying to ‘keep up with the Jones’ or an unrealistic expectation of what I should be doing which adds to my stress and anxiety, I have also made some genuine connections with some incredible and caring people.
I have already decided that I want to go back again and run another marathon but I also feel that it is important that I return the favour to those who supported me and be there to support them at their next big event.
Trying to keep the balance as a runner, coach, friend, wife, mother and business owner is impossible. How do I even choose which order to list these in? I truly want to help each and everyone of my club , be there for my friends and family and somewhere in there I still want to run for me.