It’s funny, when Coach Amy asked me to write an article about my ‘inspirational running journey’, I kind of laughed (which I’d like on the record that she mocked me for). But it pulled me back a bit and made me stop and think. At that session, I ran four brick runs at a 4:40m/km pace and less than two years ago I was running at 7m/km, maybe high 6m/km on a good day…
My running journey hasn’t been easy and it’s been as much about the mental challenge as it has been the physical challenge. I always wanted to do a triathlon and I spoke about doing one for nearly three years before I actually did it. I hesitated every summer because I was way too scared that I wouldn’t be able to do the run.
At school, we had to do an “easy long run” on a Monday morning before swimming training (which would have been max 3km) and I remember busting my guts to keep up with everyone sitting at the back of the pack. We would finish the run at the pool and do a competitive sprint up the hill. Spoiler; I never won.
In the early, to mid years of school, I got put in all the long-running events because I had a really good base of fitness from swimming and could just keep going. But then, high school came. I was too shy to run in front of people, I stopped swimming and lost so much general fitness.
Friend and fellow TriChick Johanna encouraged me to join her on a couple of runs when I was at Uni. She would chat the whole time running at a leisurely pace, and I couldn’t speak due to heavy breathing/pain/plotting how to make the run end. I reckon we did three runs together before I pulled the pin.
Joining the TriChicks Beginner Course and attending my first running session was terrifying. And I’ll be honest, I cried when I got home. I couldn’t keep up in the warm-up, and couldn’t believe that was just the warm-up and I was going to be made to do more! I did less than everyone else and I was considerably slower than everyone else. And at the time that bothered me, because it made the silly thoughts in my head, that I sucked, seem like a reality.
I never told Coach Amy, but a week into the beginner course I was going to quit. I told Johanna I didn’t think I could do it, I was too far behind and it was making me feel really bad about myself. She just said, “Another session Nicole and let’s see after that”. So I did another session, and another, until I was like – OK, I’ll do the course for fitness but I’m not doing the triathlon race.
Fast forward eight weeks and with the support of our beginner course TriChicks, Coach Amy and Johanna I got to the race. My running had improved and I finished the 5km run in 35 minutes (hello PB). I remember TriChick Jess Hood running past me right as the run started giving me a huge burst of encouragement that kept me running for probably another 1km until I had to do the old run/walk strategy. But I was proud as punch to cross the finish line!
I was proud that I had achieved something; a triathlon and a 5km “continuous” run. I wasn’t fast and I was still in my shell. So I’m not sure anyone expected me to continue in the main squad and the main squad certainly had no idea who I was. But I liked the structure, I liked that I was doing sport again and I liked feeling fitter and better about myself. So I got hooked.
A year and a half into my triathlon journey I signed up for Busso Ironman 70.3. I always enjoyed the longer distance events when I was younger and thought this would be a great challenge both mentally and physically, while not having to do it alone. The run obviously scared me the most but I had accepted I wouldn’t be able to run it all and it was all about the experience. Overall, I had a goal time, but I was less focused on the run time and more focused on crossing the finish line.
I won’t lie, when the swim got cancelled at Busso and replaced with a second run I held back tears. I got over it and with the terrible weather conditions, it just became another thing to laugh at! With a weird staggered start where we seemed to just randomly push off, I ended up doing the first 3km run with TriChick Gabi. This was such a blessing. I was calm and it gave me familiarity until the nerves disappeared and I could focus on what I was there to do — complete a half Ironman!
Coming into the half marathon at the end, I felt great and gave Coach Amy a huge thumbs up. Then I turned a corner and the incredible headwind really got to me. It was the start of my mental game. I was only 5km in when I started walking. I could have kept running physically but as some of you know, there are points in anything (especially a half Ironman) that you are going to have what we were calling a “black hole” (where your mind gets the better of you and you need to pull yourself out of it). We had thought about these in our race plans and were prepared. But mine had come earlier in the run than I had planned, and the plan to get out of the darkness is always easier said than done. I wish I could write that I pulled myself out and I smashed it home, but the truth is I struggled. I got myself running again for about 700m but the wind was really using up my energy and I couldn’t get the positive vibes going. So I went to plan B.
I knew TriChick Georgia, my number one training buddy and saviour, wasn’t far behind me. So I waited for her. Many of the girls commented on how nice I was for waiting to run with her and it’s so untrue. I waited selfishly for me. Georgia was the way I knew I could get myself out of the hole. If she could do it, I could do it and we would do it together. I’ve come a huge way in my running but I’m not perfect or invincible. To run 21km, whether I stopped 10 times or not at all, was still a huge challenge and achievement. So on that day, maybe I could have done it alone and maybe I couldn’t have. But geez I learnt a lot. I now try to do 50% of my long runs alone to break that mental barrier and sometimes they are still mentally tough.
To be honest, I don’t know when I got faster at running or when I started to enjoy running. But I am here now and I am so glad I continued. It gives me so much satisfaction at the end of each running session to know that I achieved something that was once a dream. That one day not so long ago, I wouldn’t have imagined possible.
Sometimes runs are still a battle but now I know how to get through it. Like yesterday’s run. From just go and do 30 mins easy (justifying that a little of something is better than nothing), to throughout the whole run bargaining with myself until I got the end. But guess what, I did exactly what my program said. Because I could do it. The point is, sometimes a 70 minute run is going to be something I look forward to and sometimes it’s going to seem impossible, regardless of the fact I’ve done it before, I’ve done a half marathon and I’ve had some of the best and fastest runs of my life in the last two weeks.
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