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.
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.
Running is an inherently selfish pastime. As an ultra runner participating in 100km and 24 hour events preparation requires quite a bit of time on the feet running. While I structure my training so that the impact on my family and work commitments is minimal the need to get out for a run that is up to 5 hours in duration is going to cut into the weekend.
My family are used to this. When it came to considering treatment options for my Breast Cancer the impact on my running influenced my decisions. My husband agreed with me perhaps for different reasons that Breast Conservation Surgery was preferable to a Mastectomy. A mastectomy decreased the need for chemotherapy. I agreed to Radiotherapy as this appeared to be less invasive. Radiotherapy uses x-rays to destroy any cancer cells that may be left behind after breast cancer surgery and reduces the risk of breast cancer coming back in the breast. My risk as a result of these two treatments is pretty low. I could reduce it further if I had Chemotherapy. This is where I selfishly made the decision to accept some risk.
My proposed Chemotherapy treatment option would take 3 months and then I would also undergo Radiotherapy a further 6 1/2 weeks of treatment. I am extremely careful about what I eat and have an avid interest in nutrition. My preference is to use real food as medicine rather than rely on supplements in tablet form. So I was reluctant to have drugs injected into my body to treat something that might not even be there. Especially since chemotherapy works by killing not just cancer cells but any rapidly dividing cells. While these normal cells will repair themselves it takes time. I was at the time of my diagnosis in peak physical health, injury free and had the 100km in 2016 and 24 hour World Championships in 2017 firmly in sight. I decided selfishly that I wanted treatment options that would significantly reduce the risk but allow me to remain competitive in the short-term. I did not want to be in a situation where in the future I wondered ‘what if’ I had been able to compete at those World Championships. If the Breast Cancer returns in the near future I will deal with it then.
My husband and friends were supportive of my decision to avoid chemotherapy. Not everyone with early stage breast cancer will have chemotherapy, the decision is based on each persons risk of breast cancer coming back, the stage and grade of breast cancer, whether there are hormone receptors on the breast cancer cells, general health and personal preference. Others in my situation might choose to eliminate as much risk as they can I selfishly chose to accept some risk.
My breast cancer cells have strong hormone receptors. Hormone therapy should not to be confused with HRT. Hormone therapy stops the growth of cancer cells that may be left in the body after other breast cancer treatments but cannot be detected. So I accepted this form of treatment which is far less evasive than chemotherapy. Then came a stumbling block. A check of the Australian Sport Anti-Doping Authority check your substances link revealed that the hormone therapy I was prescribed is a prohibited substance. While I have never been tested and it is highly unlikely that I will the very fact that I represent my country and compete at International events means it’s possible that I will. I successfully applied for a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) and can now compete knowing my treatment is completely legal.
During the process I tried to find examples or anyone who had a similar experience to me. My contact at the Anti Sports Drug Medical Advisory Committee advised that I was unique. A TUE had been issued for my particular treatment before but not for someone competing in athletics. I have tried to find ultra runners in my position with a similar condition in an effort to understand what I can expect. I have asked the members of my medical team and again nothing. It seems I am a trailblazer.
Yet, I still feel a little selfish. Every time a high-profile person dies as a result of cancer I can’t help thinking that this may be my fate well before I would like it to be. That be while I still had a lot of running left to do. My children are almost young adults, my work there practically done. BUT, my risk is low and my choices have been well-informed.
So I am off to Kaohsiung, Taiwan on the 19-20th November for the Asian 24 Hour Championships and will have the privilege of representing Australia for the 4th time. I will miss my daughter’s birthday for the third year in a row because I am somewhere else in the world running. I have the honour of being nominated Women’s Captain and I am excited because I have been able to do some of the harder sessions I did before I was diagnosed. For the most part I forget that I have cancer but it is never long before I am reminded of that fact. I live for now and will run my best and enjoy every opportunity as I always have.
Life as an Ultra Runner and Breast Cancer Survivor
I literally had to consider this year whether or not I would have a mastectomy. It was an option I seriously considered one of a few explained to me by my surgeon. As an ultra distance athlete in the best form ever I certainly wanted to keep running at the International/elite level. At 44 as a female ultra distance athlete I certainly have a few good years in me but I don’t have time on my side. I wanted or perhaps needed to be back competing as soon as possible. Ultimately I elected to have Breast Preservation Surgery for now I still have two boobs.
In April I completed a virtual run around Australia. I was the 1st female and 2nd person ever on Run Down Under to do so. Travis the founder of Run Down Under joined me for a run over those final kilometres that completed that lap of Australia. On that run he asked me a question that gave me pause to think. He asked me what or how I motivated myself to run. On reflection I realise that running for me has become a habit. I have a training schedule, it includes 6 runs a week, my schedule doesn’t vary much and I rarely miss a session.
When I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in January 2016 I knew I would still be able to run I just wasn’t sure exactly what it would mean for my running and the opportunity to represent Australia as an ultra runner in the future.
My training was scheduled to make the most of the period leading up until I had surgery to remove the cancer and some lymph nodes. I trained through the fatigue knowing I would be forced to rest after surgery. I kept active and returned to running as soon as it was comfortable. I saw no reason to stop and I had the blessing of my surgeon and Oncologist.
But running after surgery to remove the cancer and while undergoing treatment is different. I had a very good base fitness and I saw no reason why I shouldn’t race. After surgery but before I underwent Radiation treatment I ran the 6 Foot Track Marathon a 45 km trail event in the Blue Mountains in March (15th female, fastest female team -UP Coaching), then a 55km trail race at Easter (2nd female) and then I joined three other amazing women athletes, Samantha Gash, Jo Brischetto and Marita Eisler for Oxfam Trailwalker Melbourne in April (Team She Science), we were the fastest female team and 2nd overall. Recovery from two lots of surgery seemed to be fairly quick and didn’t stop me running. Radiation Therapy was another matter.
During the 6 weeks I underwent Radiation therapy the fatigue gradually accumulated. Despite this I maintained my training until it got to the stage where the fatigue was overwhelming and the body really started to breakdown. I could still run but it felt different. I went out for a long run one Saturday prepared to run for 3 hours or so and after 1 hour things weren’t right. My pace had slowed and I felt overwhelming fatigue. I got to a point where I felt ‘stuck’. I am used to fatigue it is something you become accustomed to as an ultra runner where it is not uncommon to run all-day and then through the night. But this was different. I had a long run scheduled the next day; I elected to sleep in and go to Yoga instead. I had a niggle and I couldn’t do the speed work that is a regular part of my training. However I had been invited to a 24 hour event in China and it was an experience I didn’t want to miss out on. My reasons for running that 24 hour event were two-fold.
My medical team was very supportive of my desire to participate in the 24-hour event in China, clinically there was no reason why I shouldn’t participate. In fact it was the trip to China that helped me focus on getting through the Radiation Treatment. Every working day for 6 ½ weeks I fronted up at hospital for treatment it was a tedious process and to top it off the Oncology Unit was undergoing renovations. So an all expenses paid trip to China was something to look forward to. I also wanted to prove to the Australian Selection Committee that I still had the capacity to compete Internationally.
One week after finishing my treatment I was on a plane to China to run for 24 hours. I was certainly not in my best form but I was confident that I could run out the 24 hours and prove that I still had the ability to be competitive for selection at upcoming World Championships. The conditions were extreme the temperature did not drop much below 30 degrees C and the humidity was 80% plus. But I did it. I suffered, I wasn’t happy with the conditions but I persevered and finished 3rd. Under different circumstances I would have challenged for 1st place. I was happy to have fought for 3rd and to run out the 24 hours.
When I got back to Australia it was time to start Hormone Therapy to reduce the risk of reoccurence and Secondary Breast Cancer. This treatment brings another set of challenges that are only just starting to emerge.
I submitted my application to represent Australia at the 100km World Championships which will be held in Spain on the 27th November. I was excited to be selected for the 3rd time for the 100km and grateful of the faith the committee had placed in my ability to work through my Breast Cancer diagnosis. Then a spanner in the works. Another opportunity to represent Australia emerged the Asian/Oceania 24 hour Championships were announced. The 24 hour event will be held in Taiwan on the 19-20th November one week before the 100km World Championships. I qualified to participate in both but it is impossible to do both. I deliberated at length over my choice but finally made my decision.
Stay tuned for more crazy stuff where I share my experience with Breast Cancer and ultra running in the lead up to the Asian 24 Hour Championships. Go Team Australia.