Years ago, 13 to be exact, I suffered an acute illness and I nearly lost my life. Now, that’s a heavy sentence to begin an article with. And, it sounds a little dramatic without any context. Stay with me. This story is not about that experience however; it is a story of time, and what changes when a goal is set, when comfort zones are challenged, and when one kiwi gal begins to believe maybe, just maybe, she can take on the world. That life altering experience is where my running journey began, and where the inspiration to keep pushing, comes from even now.
Growing up in New Zealand, that tiny country at the bottom of the world, I was so lucky. I knew the value of money, the value of time, and I was so fortunate that there were many opportunities presented to me. New Zealand is an incredible place; it’s beautiful beyond words, and everything you could ever dream of exploring is at mere fingertip reach. And yet, I never quite felt like I belonged. Like I fit. I had this inkling, a tiny inkling, that perhaps I was meant for more. That perhaps there was more out there in this world to explore.
I left New Zealand nearly seven years ago, moving first to Melbourne, Australia, and then to the United States. Part of this story begins in Australia, where I started running regularly and consistently, ultimately running every second day for more than two years. The goal was not to push too hard, or train for anything, it was simply to move my body in a way that felt good to me, to listen each time I set out to how I felt that day, and to run to that feeling.
Prior to moving to Australia, I had completed two half marathons, the first three years after I was gravely ill, and the second, two years after that. And to be fair, when I signed up to complete that first half marathon in 2014, I did say that I wanted to run a half marathon every two years until my body simply couldn’t run anymore. So, I guess that’s where the original spark came from. And I guess thereafter running was always going to be part of my life. One of those pivotal moments I guess, where we have absolutely no idea that we’ve just put something life changing out into the universe.
Okay, so let’s fast forward a little. Early in 2022, I signed up to run the Honolulu Marathon. I thought okay cool, if I’m signing up for this marathon and I have to travel to one of most phenomenal places in the world (sure, that’s a personal opinion), I really should put my best foot forward, and all the genuine effort training for and running a marathon deserves.
Did I do it…? Oh heck no. Yes, I ran and completed the marathon, and I actually felt pretty strong and capable and on top of training until about five weeks before the race. But I was not consistent in those final few weeks before the race, nor did I stick to a training plan in any kind of way. In the end, I ran for the pure joy of being outside, and with my original philosophy; run to how I felt on any given day. I shifted my expectations, increasing the time in which I wanted to finish the marathon, and I was still over the moon to have run that far, and in such a beautiful place as Hawaii.
Now let’s fast forward another year. Way back when I first completed the Auckland Half Marathon in 2014, I had a wild idea to complete the Tarawera Ultramarathon (50 km distance) that’s held in New Zealand every February. I didn’t know when I’d complete it, but tentatively I put a 10-year time frame onto it. Little did I know what the next 10 years would hold, and that in fact I would set a goal to complete an ultramarathon in that time frame. And maybe a totally unrealistic and unattainable goal for someone who hasn’t spent their life constantly running and competing at running.
Okay, so this wee kiwi gal is a little ambitious. I have BIG goals for this ultramarathon. I want to finish top 15, maybe even top 10. That’s a big deal. For a complete amateur. But for the first time in my life, I feel a completely new lease on life, and the support and encouragement to push, to fuel, and to achieve those lofty goals. For the first time in my life, as of five weeks ago, I have stayed consistent in ticking off each and every training run set out in my plan.
To me, that’s a big deal. What I haven’t mentioned yet is that I’ve always felt that there is a ceiling. A “we’re so proud of you going out there and wanting to run this race, but don’t overdo it.” A “your body went through so much when you were 18; be careful because your heart might not be able to handle the exertion.”
Now, I know that ALL of this is coming from people who love me and care about me more than words. That each of those sentences comes from a place of love. But it has always felt like I’m not quite strong enough to go all the way, to really succeed at a race, even podium.
Yes, I recognize that a lot of this is me, my ability to adapt and use these comments as fuel. And I’m grateful that I understand the process I’ve needed to work through to realise that regardless of all that has come before, I am totally and completely capable of finishing this ultramarathon in the top 15, maybe even top 10.
So, we come back to right now, where I am five weeks into a six-month ultramarathon training plan. The race is the Golden Gate Trail Classic in San Francisco in November 2023. I have this huge newfound inspiration, motivation, and drive to work so hard toward completing and actually competing at this ultramarathon. A spark that has ignited my soul. And I hope that in some small way my story will spark your own version of breaking through the ceiling you feel.