I have a runner’s body. And if you run, so do you.

I’m part of a very motivating, caring and diverse tribe of female runners online and there have been some comments coming through recently about how some of them have been told they don’t have ‘a runner’s body’. It got me thinking about what a runner’s body is and what it means to have one.

There really is only two criteria you need to fulfil. Do you run? Yes. Do you have a body? Yes. Then you have a runner’s body. It’s that simple. There are no required measurements, no genetic markers, no visible indicators that will tell you whether you have a body that can run. The only way to know whether you have one is to run. Can you? Then congratulations, you have a runner’s body.

I know I’m making light of this but it really is an exceptionally serious concept. I was told by various individuals throughout life what my body was and was not capable of. All of those comments ate away at my self esteem and contributed to how I viewed myself and what I was capable of. However I was fortunate enough to have others in my life who also planted different, more productive seeds.

One was my PE teacher, Mrs Jackson. I was not a star student in PE. I’d got it into my head that, as part of a rather unathletic family, I too was destined not to be successful in this area. I made a comment along those lines before a fitness test in Year 8 and she tore it down, telling me that it wasn’t my body letting me down but my mind and if I wanted to achieve in PE, I could. As proof, she nudged, pushed and cajoled me through my fitness test and I achieved a B, a huge improvement on the D I’d received in every other test. While I didn’t continue to push myself in sport as a teenager, that seed stayed with me and is something I still hold onto – I can do it, if I choose to.

I’m grateful for the confidence I’ve nurtured as an adult so that ill informed and potentially destructive comments now merely sting and don’t crush me. A physio once told me that my injured leg was caused by the fact that I continued to run despite not having a body built for running. I didn’t bother to ask him what one of those looked like or where I could get one, I just found a physio that didn’t have such a limited view of the world.

Recently, seeking advice after spraining my ankle, a doctor told me that people of my size needed to be very careful if they were going to run as injuries like this were more likely to happen. I’m not sure how injuries like ‘falling in a hole’ (which is how I sprained my ankle) happen more to people ‘of my size’ – do people who weigh less float over the top of them? Telling him that it was lucky he hadn’t told me that before running my marathon shut him down pretty quickly.

Ultimately, the truth is simple – I have a runner’s body. I know this because it has carried me over short and long distances for the last four years. It ran a marathon. The day after it had run a half marathon. It ran over 1000km last year. People who walk past me on the street or see me in work clothes may not realise that it’s a runner’s body as they don’t see me run but it doesn’t change the type of body I have. We have to make sure we all call people out who perpetuate the myth about needing to look a certain way to be considered an athlete. As Kelly Roberts says, strength doesn’t look a certain way, it feels a certain way. And, sprained ankle aside, I feel strong enough to get ready for marathon #2.



Pressing pause

I think my Strava summary probably tells the story of my current running life quite well – I’m not running at the moment.

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My last run was cut short 600m in by rolling my ankle down a hole in the footpath and I’ve been nursing the resulting sprain ever since. It’s definitely improving but, on physio’s orders, I’m not to run for at least another week, possibly two.

To start with, my frustration levels were high. I’d just started to get back into a regular routine after the post-marathon blues and was working my way back to marathon fitness. My mental health has certainly taken a hit – I depend on running so much for my ‘zen time’ and endorphins and haven’t been able to find an appropriate substitute in the last fortnight. Sitting on the couch is no fun when it’s not accompanied by the smug ‘I’ve just run a long way and deserve a rest’ thoughts.

I’ve missed the personal connections too. I know I could have still gone to parkrun for the social aspect but, as the volunteer roster was already full, just didn’t feel like I had a place there so couldn’t get out of bed for it. Considering how much of my running I do alone, it’s interesting how much I feel disconnected from my network when I can’t run.

I’m more at peace with it now – it is what it is. Injuries have happened before, will no doubt happen again and aren’t the end of the world. I’m hoping this enforced rest will help me appreciate how much I love running when I get back to it and increase my gratitude that I’m able to do it. And I’m already dreaming of where I can go for my first, post sprain runs. My beloved trails are calling me 🙂

To my running family

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I haven’t lost my love of running but clawing back my fitness after a break from my routine is a bit of a challenge and I have had a couple of ‘why am I doing this?’ moments over the last few weeks. Realising I can no longer run up a familiar hill without needing some ‘You will not pass out!’ pausing moments is disheartening, regardless of my certainty that I’ll get back to where I was and the acknowledgements of what I’ve achieved.

This weekend I have had a big, beautiful reminder of one of the most important reasons I do this and love it so much – my running family. The photos above are just a selection of those from the last few years and don’t encompass all the family members – they’re from far and wide and I don’t see some of them very often but, when I do, they’re as warm, welcoming and encouraging as ever.

Those I am fortunate to see more often have become such an important part not only of my running life but of life in general. They’re the most friendly, non-judgemental, unquestioningly supportive bunch of humans I’ve met. Running has often pushed us to the limits of our comfort zones and well beyond and, amidst that vulnerability, this family have been there, making sure we all get through it and celebrating at the end, regardless of how long it takes and how many tears were involved along the way. In all those moments where I questioned myself and whether I could do it, they were there with a resounding ‘Of course you can!’, chasing out my inner doubt with their certainty.

The 6 family members I travelled to the US with have very special places in my memories and heart, a part of such an incredible set of experiences and achievements that I’ll treasure forever. Yet the rest of the family were there through their online encouragement, post-event congratulations and just through their presence in the minutes and hours on course. I don’t need to be running with them to feel their belief and support – it’s just there.

This is a completely inadequate set of words to thank them because there aren’t enough words to do so. But thanks anyway. The world is a better place for having you all in it.

parkrun tourism @ rosebud

It has been quite a while between parkrun launches for me. That inconvenient (but amazing) marathon training/marathon/holiday thing kind of got in the way of parkrun for a while and I missed a few around Victoria. So today, we made up for it by getting up at silly o’clock to head to Rosebud to celebrate a new parkrun baby joining the family.

Rosebud parkrun starts next to the beach and was very easy to find with parking not far away. As well as toilets and drinking taps, there is even a playground for you to let out your inner child (or do hill repeats running up the side of the slide as some of the locals were doing). It was obvious from early on that this one was going to be a popular launch and there were certainly lots of people gathered for the briefing. The run director, Nadine, did the usual welcomes with 2 things that I particularly liked – 1. for those attending their first parkrun, this isn’t just a run, it’s a movement and 2. if you’re a local and are after a fast run or PB, come back next week. With the numbers today and the fact it’s a two lap course, we were all going to have to practise some tolerance and consideration.

And so, it was time to start. The starting flags were on a wide grass area which made it easy and people slotted onto the path quite well, just before we reached the boardwalk section. This is a where it got a bit tight, particularly as the faster runners had already hit the first turnaround point and were heading back towards us. I settled in to the left and kept plodding along at whatever speed the crowd would allow. Very soon, I was also at the turnaround point and heading back towards and then past the start line to turnaround point number two. The path is concrete all the way but I moved onto the grass at different points to give my legs a break. And then, after turnaround number 2…..it was time to go and do it all again. I’m not the biggest fan of multi lap courses but this one didn’t feel bad at all. It’s very flat and quite pretty, running along the waterfront with the boardwalk section a nice diversion and something different to run on. Running past the finish line a second time wasn’t as disheartening as I thought and the turnaround appeared quite quickly and then it was, finally, time to run through the flags.

It was great to see crowds still hanging out and chatting while waiting for all finishers and I took the opportunity to get my pirate picture (having joined the parkrun pirate club at Clermont Waterfront in Florida without realising it). As always, we followed it with delicious breakfast – almost too many places to choose from within walking distance but we settled on the the GPO Hotel which was great.

Congratulations to the event team at Rosebud on a fabulous launch – definitely one to visit if you’re down that way and I’m sure it’s going to be a very popular one with the Summer crowds. And those looking for an ‘aaaaarrr’ for their pirate club membership 😉

Dust off the sugar coating – getting back into it is hard

Time for a reality check people – getting back into exercise (or anything else for that matter) is hard. Between my injuries and then a virus I caught on the plane coming home, I haven’t run that much recently (other than a marathon!) and getting back to a regular routine is not easy. Once easy runs now seem arduous and long runs are not as long as they were, leaving me feeling a bit flat. No point sugar coating it – no amount of pixie dust (as they say at Disney!) is going to make it suck less. However having the right attitude helps.

I headed out for a long run this morning along my favourite trail with a blue sky and bright sun background and few others to share the trail with. I didn’t set a time or distance goal – this one was being measured in enjoyment and I tried to capture every moment of joy it brought. I’d forgotten how much I love the downhill sections – how I feel like an elite endurance athlete as I kick my legs into neutral and let them go. I smiled at the hang glider overhead and how he kept swooping between me and the sun, casting a shadow as I ran. I’d forgotten how much I actually like running uphill, finding it easier than walking them, even if my lungs do burn. And, on the way back, I ran and walked along the beach and remembered exactly how lucky I am to live not only in this incredible country but so close to this beach to have it as my running track. The more I travel the world, the more I am convinced that Australia is the best of it, all in one stunning package.

I tried not to think of how many times I needed to walk or what my pace was or how I turned around a lot sooner than I normally would. I know it’ll get better as I keep pushing but I have to give it time. In the back of my head, I have a new weapon in my arsenal – I am a marathoner. Regardless of how challenging this feels right now, I know what I’m capable of and know that I can do anything I set my mind to.

So, it’s hard. But at least this is a ‘hard’ I get to choose for myself. People all over the world are going through hard stuff that they didn’t get to choose and that is much harder than this. This? It’s just running. And running is great. So, hard or not, time to get on with it 🙂

parkrun tourism @ Clermont waterfront

On our recent mega adventure to the US, we were fortunate enough to visit not one but two parkruns. We initially thought we were only going to get one parkrun in as there aren’t yet many in the US and there are only so many Saturdays. Imagine how excited we were when we heard that Clermont Waterfront parkrun in Florida were holding an event on New Year’s Day! Clermont is a bit under an hour’s drive from Orlando so we plugged it into the GPS and headed off.

This parkrun is on the shores of Lake Minneola, a picturesque area on the edge of Clermont. We found it very easily, parked up and used the facilities (very clean and tidy) before moving across the road to the gathering spot. While we were definitely looking forward to partaking of another parkrun, running in general wasn’t that appealing on this particular morning – the weather was very ordinary. As well as being cold, it was threatening to rain – Florida had been having an unusually cold spell and most of the state was suffering.

Luckily, the reception was warm. As expected, there were many visitors, including some fellow Victorians who were also running at Disney. Briefing done, we moved onto the path for the start and we were off.

The course follows a path along one edge of the lake and, on a day when you could actually see things, would be very scenic. As we headed out, the drizzly rain began and the low cloud continued so we couldn’t see too much. The course is clearly in a well maintained area – good path and toilets on the way if needed. Being out and back, it’s very easy to follow and the turn around point was easy to spot (complete with a marshal ducking in and out of his car to avoid the appalling weather!).

I’d been looking forward to the return journey to get away from the rain blowing in my face but it seemed to change direction after the halfway point, like a painting whose eyes follow you around the room. And, thanks to me nursing my injured leg, I was walking this one so it felt like it took much longer than normal. Eventually I was back, crossing the bridge and within sight of the finish line. A very eager volunteer was cheering everyone in with the same enthusiasm for the first as the last finisher so I finished with a smile.

Afterwards, we chatted to the local policeman who had dropped in then made our way to breakfast where we experienced the wonderful hospitality and friendliness of the Clermont crew – moving tables so everyone could breakfast together and chatting the morning away while it continued to rain outside.

I’m so glad we were able to include this one in our trip – my husband was fortunate enough to go and run it again while we were running Disney and he confirmed that, with blue skies and better weather, it was even cheerier. However what makes parkrun is the people and the Clermont Waterfront crew are very welcoming and friendly and it has such a happy, community vibe, whatever the weather.

Post marathon – lessons & what next

The marathon is done, the holiday is over and I’m home. I feel very fortunate to have had some down time between the running and the returning to real life – sitting by the pool in Mexico and wandering the streets of Hong Kong gave me time to digest and ruminate on the adventure and the experience.

Lessons learnt along the way…

  • Running is 1% physical and 99% mental. I already knew this but had it clearly articulated again every day of the Dopey challenge. I adored the first 3 events – they were fun from getting out of bed to returning home again and I wouldn’t take back a minute of them. And I think partly that’s because I already knew I could do them – the distances were well within my comfort zone. The marathon? Not so much. I didn’t hate it but it was a struggle from the start. And all of that was mental. Physically, I was fine (besides leg niggles) but I was pushing back ‘You won’t be able to finish this’ thoughts all the way through. Luckily….
  • I’m stubborn. Once I start something, I’ll do whatever I have to to get it finished and nothing in life has shown me that more than this event. When my blister popped and sent pain shooting through my foot with every step, I muttered ‘It’s only a blister. Get over it. At least you have feet.’ then actually found myself grinning at my ability to say that to myself. I saw people flooding in to the medical stations to tend to various bits and pieces but wouldn’t let myself do that either. I was convinced that, if I stopped, I wouldn’t go again so the only option was to keep moving.
  • You’re so much stronger when you’re with your people. There were 2 prongs to this. I travelled to the US with my husband and 5 wonderful friends and was so grateful for their friendship and support. Running with Jill in the first 3 events was a big part of what made them so epic. And in the marathon, knowing the others were out there, and knowing my husband was at the finish line, kept me going as well as the thought of stories we’d share afterwards. Often it is that – nothing specific that anyone says or does, just knowing they’re there and they get it. I’ve said before that I might run ‘alone’ but always have my running friends in my head and that was definitely true of the marathon.

    The second prong of this is choosing an event where I was with my kind of runners for the whole time. I’ve run events before where I’ve been pretty much left in the dust on the start line and then spend the whole time on my own and it is no fun at all. I love running alone but not when I’m paying for it. Disney was amazing. I never had any moments on my own and was constantly surrounded by runners who were a range of shapes and sizes but all my speed and many of them running intervals. It was an eye opening and immensely positive experience for me.

  • The journey is the best part. This one surprised me a bit. I’ve always enjoyed running events – the hype, the start line frenzy, the little distractions along the way and the bling at the end. However what I’ve enjoyed most about this experience is the training. The consistency and predictable nature of my weekday runs. Having a training plan and being accountable to it and myself. Getting lost in my own head and the world around me on my long runs. Pushing myself outside my comfort zone with every long run I did but knowing, somehow, that I would be strong enough to do it. I think what upset me most about my injury was not getting to finish the training rather than the fear of not getting to do the event.

So, what next?

Before this, I swore I would never do another marathon. And, in the moments after finishing, I probably said the same thing. Now? I don’t know. It would have to be the right one, where the only pressure I felt was from myself and not the cut off times. But it’s not out of the question. I know I need a bit of a rest but I also know I need routine and miss my long runs. 2018 is not going to be the year for setting any more big goals – ticking off such a huge one in the first few days of the year sets you up well. However I suspect it will be a year of pushing myself anyway, because I can and because I enjoy it. And, ultimately, that’s what running should be about anyway.