I’ve represented Australia five times with pride as an ultra runner. I currently hold an Australian Record for 100 miles. At the youthful age of 46 I could be content with these accomplishments. I’m not. I have the determination and desire to do it at least one more time. I want to prove that Breast Cancer at the age of 44 did not get the better of me.
On Christmas Eve while out on an annual traditional run with my running club I had a less than courteous encounter with a runner unknown to me. I was down right rude, I actually swore. I immediately felt remorse but the opportunity to apologise had passed. It was behaviour so unlike me, I couldn’t explain it at the time and it took some weeks before the penny dropped.
That low in December carried through into the new year. I was functioning in the real world but only just. I was prone to bouts of depression and I was hard to live with. I survived thanks to my running. Despite it feeling really hard and even harder in the heat and humidity here in Brisbane I craved the company of my running friends where I could tag along often just slipping through the forest, one foot after the other, running in the company of friends, nature, the chatter, the easy silence and coffee afterwards the best type of therapy.
I recently wrote about road blocks. I had identified that the chemotherapy medication I was taking to reduce the risk of my Breast Cancer returning was what had been holding me back, both mentally and physically in my running. I sought the advice of my Oncologist and we agreed that the best way forward for my personal situation was to stop taking it. For someone who was so fit and healthy before the diagnosis the side effects of such a drug were really noticeable. It was a relief to find that the risk in my case due to my health and physical activity was low and for my long term well being the decision was easy. I was advised that it can take a few months for things to improve and I am happy to say they have.
A quick trip to the Albany in Western Australia for an event leading into my sisters wedding and my Mum’s 65th birthday was a great distraction and the opportunity to run in some much cooler conditions a great relief. March brought a commitment as a volunteer, a Games Shaper at the Commonwealth Games and April more Commonwealth Games highlights and a family holiday in Singapore for my sisters wedding and I continued to train with purpose. More running in some different places. I explored trails at the Mac Ritchie Reservoir in Singapore and the monkeys came out to play but the breakthrough was at parkrun East Coast Park Singapore. It was there despite the heat and humidity and some long days on the feet I managed a credible 2nd place in 23 minutes or so. A significant improvement (4 minutes) on my parkrun personal worst in January in similar conditions.
I adjusted my ambitious running plans in February and settled for now for events that I considered more ‘fun’. So it is with some excitement that I am now finalising my plans for a trip to Western Australia’s wine country for the inaugural Margaret River Ultra. I’m excited to be traveling with friends from Queensland I can’t wait for them to see the magnificent South West for themselves. I’m race ambassador at the Darkness to Daylight Challenge in May and I am returning to the Whitsundays in August for a trail ultra. All good fun.
During these tough times I’ve drawn much of my inspiration from the athletes I coach. I’m grateful for their patience from time to time when I haven’t completely had my shit together. I live vicariously through their successes and my heart goes out to them when things don’t quite go to plan. But we are always learning. Learning what it is to be human, to be humble, to be proud, to celebrate our achievements, to plan, to fall and get up again. to take pleasure in the simple things and to leap for joy. That success requires hard work, determination, perseverance and most of all patience.
Hurry up already.
It’s been 2 years now since my Breast Cancer diagnosis but I am still adjusting. I feel well but my running has left me disappointed. I had a great run at the Lamington Classic easily managing to run a technical trail half marathon on both days and managing to remain on my feet while many tripped on the terrain. However the fatigue, muscle tightness and soreness, sore knees and depression seem to plague me. I find it hard to accept that I am so tired as I have trained harder and currently sleep better but find recovery from the hard sessions indeed recovery at all much slower.
I have attempted to reason why, reflected on my past training and concluded that I shouldn’t feel this way. I checked again the side effects of my medication. I have been taking Tamoxifen for over 18 months now. My Breast Cancer had very strong hormone receptors so taking Tamoxifen to block estrogen is a preventative measure. I believe it is this medication that is holding me back, leaving me depressed and I am starting to question whether it is worth it. I an now seeking more information and assessment of the risks with my Medical Team. I am hopeful of a solution soon.
I am physically very fit but mentally unwell. This is compounded when given my past ability and current training there is an expectation that I will continue to perform. I expect it for myself but I can’t physically do it. Mostly my mind lets me down but the body is also affected. I know what I am capable of I have to believe this is simply a roadblock temporarily in my way. I instinctively know that it is possible and I have evidence in a wide number of ultra running friends who continue to challenge the concept that age is just a number.
When I wrote about my diagnosis two years ago I considered it a speed bump and at that time it simply was. At the time I was in peak physical and mental health. I underwent surgery and quickly recovered and was able to race competitively afterwards. I finished the 6 Foot Track Marathon 2016 in a time good enough to secure a Women’s Team Trophy for the UP Coaching team. I went on to race in a 24 hour race in China finishing 3rd and secured a Boston Qualifier at the Sunshine Coast Marathon and ran the Boston Marathon in 2017 under 4 hours. But I know under different circumstances I could do better. In 2013 I ran the Boston Marathon in 3 hours 16 minutes. Since I ran Boston in 2013 I have become a better runner and achieved some amazing results. I’m not done yet.
I still very much enjoy my running and the people it connects me with. I want to run, I want to be able to push myself in my training but the side effects of the drug I take to prolong my life is limiting me. I need a solution. I don’t want to accept that this is how it will be for me. My treatment options centred around returning to running. I ran through Radiation treatment but running is practically my life. While I can accept that I won’t always be competitive that I will slow down I am not willing to accept at this time that I can’t do better. I am determined to prove that I can produce an outstanding result after Breast Cancer to provide inspiration for those who find themselves in my situation.
The last two years have been all about acceptance. Accepting I had Breast Cancer, accepting I needed treatment, accepting help and accepting that my running would be affected but it has also been frustrating. Especially now that I have recovered from the surgery and Radiation Treatment I expect to be able to resume my training. So at this time I accept that maintaining consistency in my training in the hope of building on that in the near future is my best option. I fight on. Always. There are always other amazing opportunities often hidden just around the corner.
I previously wore, reviewed and loved the Salming Trail 2. It’s safe to say they never let me down but shoes wear out and their integrity is compromised with use so it’s inevitable they will need to be replaced. In comes the Salming Trail 5. There are lots of modifications on it’s predecessors but it felt comfortable when I put it on and I was keen to try it out.
I’ve now really worn the Salming Trail 5 in, taking them for a ride at the South East Queensland Trail Running Series at Enoggera where it rained and conditions were wet and muddy. To the Sunshine Coast Hinterland where it was wet muddy and raining and a long run at Mt Cootha in dry humid conditions.
At the SEQ Trail Series at Enoggera I was sure footed and comfortable charging up the hills, splashing through the puddles and bombing down the descents often overtaking others as I sure footedly bounded the short steep technical down sections.
On the Sunshine Coast I ran from Mapleton past the falls through rainforest, picked my way through the slippery mud and then made my way via the Leafy Lane Track to the Ubajee Workers Camp and negotiated the switchbacks down to the Gheerulla Falls which were flowing fast. I ran in the rain on muddy, rocky and leafy trails, waded my way through several creeks and I always felt I had good grip but wet feet.
I can spend several hours over the weekend on the trails so a shoe that is comfortable hour after hour is a must. When I first ran and raced long trail events one thing that troubled me later in races was sore feet, really feeling the rocks on the souls of my feet. These shoes gave me comfort and responsiveness to the ground as a traveled across it for the duration of my run and on this occasion we were out and about at Mt Coot-Tha, the Brisbane Forest Park and the Enoggera Reservoir for 4 hours or so. The Recoil Midsole a super lightweight cushioning compound gave me good rebound energy or essentially a spring in my step.
The toe box is also roomier, easily accommodating my broad forefoot and also allowing for expansion and swelling after many hours on the feet.
And finally the Vibram megagrip on the soul which had me confidently picking my way across wet, muddy and loose gravel and stay on my feet and upright. In the image above I launched off a rock sticking up out of the creek ensuring my feet and shoes didn’t get wet on this occasion.
I am sure to enjoy many more hours on the trails over summer in this bright comfortable pair of shoes. I plan to run most of the upcoming SEQ Trail Series Events and a number of Run Queensland events, Beerwah @ Daybreak and the Aus’Trail’ia Day Trail Marathon or Beerwah @ Night.
Steve and Lisa Walton and the team at Slaming Australia supported the Brisbane Track Ultra an event at which I was co Race Director. I also wear the Salming Distance 5 for my road running recently taking them for a tough but enjoyable road run at the World 50km Championships Trial event in China.
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes well you just might find
You get what you need (Keith Richards/Mick Jagger)
What I wanted was to run over 200km and to get kind of close to the 220km World A Standard mark. At the previous 24 Hour World Championships in April 2015 I ran an amazing 230.244km and finished 6th. This time around things were different. Later that year I discovered a lump in breast. Early in 2016 I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. All of 2016 was consumed with treatment and recovery but my intention was always to get to the IAU 24 Hour World Championships again.
When you are diagnosed with Breast Cancer you are put in the care of a team. My team of health professionals was extensive and I sought from each and every one of them treatment that had me returning to running and indeed training as soon as possible. I worked with a Sports Dietitian, Sports Psychologist, Podiatrist, Physiotherapist, my GP, Surgeon and Oncologist. It was great to hear from my Oncologist that for me as an athlete my running was just as effective as chemotherapy.
I arrived in the UK the Saturday evening prior to the race and stopped overnight briefly at a hotel near the London Heathrow airport. Sunday morning I enjoyed a run and found some trails adjacent to the airport easily accessible from my accommodation. That run felt good and I seemed to have handled the long day travelling well. I set off for Dublin and enjoyed some casual runs along the River Liffey, walked and rested. Dublin was the perfect venue for a few lazy days.
I caught the train from Dublin to Belfast in typical English weather (it was raining). I was met at the airport by a volunteer on behalf of the Local Organising Committee (LOC) and before I knew it I was crammed into a vehicle with a bunch of Canadians, I was in good company and was soon settled in my accommodation at the Event Head Quarters the Queens Elms which is student accommodation for the nearby university. I was excited to be amongst athletes preparing for the World Championships and to reconnect with those I had met at the previous championships and other international events that I have attended in the last 2 years. I feel extremely fortunate that my running has presented me with these amazing opportunities and experiences and brought all sorts of awesome people into my life. My life is certainly richer and fuller for it.
The usual pre event activities included a walk to the local supermarket for extra food, water and any other race essentials, a few easy runs around the surrounding area and the Opening Ceremony is always a highlight. The Event Organiser did well to attempt to say hello in all the languages represented including an Aussie ‘G’day’.
So did Breast Cancer detract 50km from my potential performance. Probably not entirely but it certainly has impacted my performance. There were other factors and external stressors which I certainly didn’t need. This time I traveled without family. While I am happy to travel solo and have traveled to 3 out of the 4 previous Championships on my own on this occasion when I realised everyone else had someone close to them around I felt really isolated. While I have made some really strong connections with my team mates and consider them practically family I still felt something was missing. Race morning I was not the usual happy relaxed person. Some issues I had tried to sort out a month or so prior were unresolved. However, once we made our way to the start line I focused on my run and enjoyed the challenge, camaraderie and soaked up the atmosphere.
So as I have alluded to in an earlier blog Breast Cancer has been a major speed bump in my race through life. As an athlete I have lost a little of the speed I once had. A few additional injury niggles have troubled but not stopped me. I sought regular treatment from Paul and the team at Body Leadership Physio. With their support I was able to be competitive and to keep on top of the niggles. I certainly tested the limits of my body over the last 6 months.
I worked really hard for what I wanted, that World A Standard, a result I have achieved on 2 occasions. I know now that I didn’t have enough time to rebuild from the ravages of my Breast Cancer treatment. I had no way of knowing or information to gauge how an athlete competing at my level as an ultra runner might recover from the treatment I received. I worked hard to get to these Championships in the best possible shape, while the result wasn’t what I wanted I am extremely grateful for the honour and proud of my achievement. We compete as individuals and a team at these Championships and it is the team effect and the support of fellow Australians and friends from around the World that keeps us going or helps us to push through the discomfort to achieve what we do.
I feel I just need time. At these Championships it had been just over 12 months since I completed my Breast Cancer treatment. Since then I have struggled with adjusting to life as a survivor consequently diagnosed with an adjustment disorder, a mild form of depression. I have always remained positive that I could return to running and to once again be competitive on the World Stage. I do still have the best running ahead of me. Stay tuned.
What’s my next adventure? I have been offered an opportunity to return to China to race. You bet I will be seriously considering that opportunity. I continue to live life to the fullest, one run at a time.
I was lucky enough to win a pair of Salming Shoes through Running Heroes and since I was on the lookout for a new trail shoe I opted for the Salming Trail. If you are a member of the RMA Member Benefit program you can get 20% off. Check out the awesome range here.
Out of the box I loved the styling, bright and colourful. I know they are going to get dirty and mine certainly did but when your sweating it out on tough terrain you might not feel and smell all that great but at least you look good and let’s face it there’s nothing cooler than a great trail selfie.
I live in Brisbane and I spend a bit of time running the trails in the Toohey Forest, composed of a variety of surfaces and after a rain event those trail can get slippery and muddy. I also spend quite a bit of time at Mt Coot-tha and with the Salming Trail shoes on my feet I feel confident bombing down the Jacksonia Trail, tackling the Pinnacles route
and churning through the kilometres somewhere in the Brisbane Forest Park.
I’ve tested these out on leafy trails, rocky trails, muddy trains and everything in between. These shoes are designed with natural running in mind and with a low heel to toe drop of 5mm. I find I run more naturally and respond better to what’s underfoot. After several hundred kilometres on the trails these shoes aren’t showing much wear proving they are well suited to rugged conditions and should serve you well right throughout the trail running season or even the year.
I wore these all day when I was sweeping the trail at the Blackall 100 in 2016 and not one blister. Althought that might have been the Steigen Socks which I have found to be awesome with colours that match these shoes perfectly. The Salming Trail Shoes were perfect for fast descents on leafy trails, picking my way through the rocky creek beds and then opening up the legs on the short road sections and open fire trails.
If trails aren’t you thing I have recently bought the Salming Distance D5 which is a road shoe built to go the distance. I have it if Diva Pink for all those running diva’s. Look out for my review on this option soon.
I accepted that I had Breast Cancer quite quickly. You have to because treatment is a priority and before you know it in most cases you are scheduled for surgery literally within days of diagnosis. Accepting I had Breast Cancer was the easy part, accepting that after 2 surgeries and 6 weeks of radiation treatment that my running performance would be affected was harder.
I trained through the whole process as best as I could. It was a learning experience for my coach as well. There are no ultra runners competing at my level dealing with this scenario. I was determined not to let it affect my life too much but there really was no information around to gauge my recovery as an athlete. For most Breast Cancer survivors increasing exercise and adopting a healthy diet is recommended. If anything I needed to reduce my training load to allow for recovery and a dietitian confirmed that my diet is really good. I was always open with my Cancer Care team about my desire to run, train and even compete. There was no clinical reason why I should not continue to run so I did listening to my body and resting when I needed to.
I feel really fortunate that as a result of my exceptional result at the last 24 hour World Championships in Turin where I finished 6th with 230.244km my selection for the next was guaranteed. I still needed to prove fitness, that I could at least put in a solid performance. My performance at the Asian Championships did not reflect this but it was a good indicator of what I had to do to get back to peak form by July 2017. My mental game was off. I realise now that my expectations were too high for what I had been through. I needed to adjust my mindset and work within my capabilities. That is really hard to do when you have achieved some pretty significant performances.
So I started 2017 with a schedule of events on which I would build. It started with a trail marathon. An event where I held the course record and was the title holder an event I had run just days after my Breast Cancer diagnosis one year earlier. I ran that event content to finish it but managed to grab a place on the podium, happily giving up my title and course record. I enjoyed the night out running and mixing it with other like minded people.
The next event was a 6 hour at Caboolture. It was at this venue that I achieved a qualifier for my first Australian team and broke an Australian Record but again I would have to adjust my expectations and was happy to run almost 60km in extremely hot and humid conditions, finishing 2nd and not quite catching up to my husband Tim who had decided he would give this form of ultra running a go. He concludes that it’s not for him. Just as well as I know I am going to need a reliable crew over the years to come.
Most recently the next step was a 12 hour event on an athletics track in Canberra. Again I had expectations of what I should be able to achieve at this event and again I fell a little short but I am happy that I could pull off a respectable performance and if anything be consistent in my build up and it’s always great to claim a place on the podium. One step at a time. I thoroughly enjoyed my short trip to Canberra. It really lifted my mood, the ultra running community is amazing. So many people from such different backgrounds all with the insane desire to run a bloody long way. It was also great to have almost all the Australian 24 hour team in attendance especially the women. We all look forward to teaming up in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
This year has been frustrating to say the least. I know what I am capable of and the speed that I used to to achieve in my training sessions but the speed and pace are just not there. As a consequence I have suffered some depression and have been diagnosed by my GP as having and adjustment disorder which entitles me to a Mental Health Care Plan. Some days the intensity of my training leaves me extremely fatigued and I find it hard to function or get on with everyday life. Before my diagnosis I would be tired on the days I did long hard sessions but I could get through a full day of work or activity. These days I am pretty much a zombie on the couch. But I am determined to do the best I can and I have time to continue to build towards that. Ultra running has always required patience and my patience has really been tested. I have sort professional help and have a entire team of health professionals behind me. I am extremely grateful to Paul, Angela and the team at Body Leadership Physiotherapy who have continued to treat me and ensure that I make the start line in the best possible shape.