Anna Fitzgerald – A running journey.

Well hello there RMA!

Running, like-minded mums, bursting with support and positivity-I must be dreaming! I feel like I am part of a special secret club where the currency is endorphins, a go-get it attitude and the ability to multi-task only like a running mother can.  

I am Anna. I am 37 years old, live on the lower North Shore of Sydney with my husband and two beautiful daughters aged 7 & 8 and, I love to run.  

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At least, that’s what my number plate says.  Actually, to be precise, I love the sense of achievement, reward for sacrifice and fulfillment I get from running (amongst other things).  I often do not enjoy the act of running itself.  Its tough, it hurts and sometimes it’s boring. There are certainly other things I could be doing than trudging out in the torrential rain, busting my guts hammering up hills or doing a hard speed session.  I certainly don’t enjoy rolling my sore muscles for hours on end or the disappointment and pain of injury. Come to think of it, there is a fair bit I hate about running but they are also some of the things that make me love it and make it worthwhile.

Running Beginnings

I ran a little as a kid.  My father was a runner and he was very keen to get me out there. He never endorsed the Little Athletics model and believed there was too much ‘standing around’.  He was more focused on having me run longer events of between 5 and 10kms.   I always enjoyed sport but had a fair bit of disdain for running.  I ran to make dad happy while focusing on the sports I actually enjoyed-swimming and gymnastics. When I was 12 years old, I ran the C2S for the first time.  It was the last time I would run a fun run for a very long time.  As adolescence hit, I became forthright and resolute in refusing to train and henceforth became incredibly inactive.  

I reluctantly started running 4 years ago.  I say reluctantly because what I actually did was join a gym for the first time in my life on the strict proviso that I would not run because, you guessed it, I hated it.  I was unfit, weak and carrying some extra kilos.  I’d like to blame this state of affairs on having two children but in truth, it was largely due to my inactivity.  My husband made jokes about the fact that I wouldn’t be able to manage a round of golf because I would find it overly taxing- he was probably right! The goal, get fit.  3 months later, in a moment of weakness and wanting to feel part of the gym community, I agreed to do the 9km Bridge Run.  I can’t recall the exact time I ran but I placed quite well and so my interest was sparked.

Half Marathon

I tend to approach things all-or-nothing. This is a mixed blessing.  Once a goal is set, I throw everything at it but it also means that I can be a little over-zealous.  In those first couple of months after the Bridge Run, I went from running 0kms to 40km weeks, mostly speed based, on hard surfaces; Silly but true.

My first real running goal was to conquer the Half Marathon distance on the Gold Coast. I was told 90mins was a great benchmark to aim towards.  This sounded reasonable to my inexperienced and ambitious self and so I said, “why not?”. I was completely naive when it came to training for a half, the pace I would need to run, the racing experience, everything. Indeed, I wasn’t even sure I could cover the distance.  I didn’t respect what it would take to run such a distance, how hard the effort would be on my body, what such a time meant. I had a lot to learn and my thinking was a little arrogant.   Nevertheless, I ran, I covered the distance, I finished in a time of 85:02mins.  The half marathon has since become my favourite distance and the Gold Coast event, my ‘must do’ event.

Of course I was elated with the result but didn’t really understand its significance. I ran naked in this race.  Not because I didn’t want to focus on the watch rather, because I actually did not know what the per/km pace was that I needed to hit in order to achieve a sub 90mins.  So when I crossed that line it was a mixed feeling of joy and relief.  It was an all out effort. Although, I achieved my goal I paid for it in kind.  I could barely walk for 2 whole weeks following the race.  I was swollen, my feet were completely smashed up and in the month that followed, I was rewarded for my haste and impatience with a medial tibial stress fracture that prevented me from running for over 4 months.  I needed to learn the art of measure-patient and persistent effort.

I made many, many mistakes on the road to that event but I also learnt a great deal.  Training for and conquering this goal and the injury that followed elevated running from an enjoyable pastime to pure obsession. I began to realise that I was no longer running because I had to or to satisfy the ambitious of my father but because I enjoyed it and it was something I wanted to do.  This was an important revelation.  Since then, running and I are intermingled. I do not myself know where one ends and the other begins. My poor husband married Anna (version 1) and has watched her metamorphosise into a weird hybrid running version of the same woman that: gets up before the sun rises; spouts running jargon; uses spikey and cylindrical contraptions on her muscles; has more running shoes than heels; and often returns from a run with gooey, sticky stuff splayed all over her face.

Fast Forward

Training with the SWEAT elite squad under the coaching guidance of Sean Williams I was able to do what I had previously thought was impossible.  I broke 80mins for the Half Marathon on the Gold Coast in 2013. I still regard it as one of my memorable achievements.  The race doubled as the Australian Half Marathon Championship and it was the first time I was selected to represent my state. I managed 10th in the Championship.  Buoyed by this result, I managed to run a 10km PB of 36:42mins the next week.  A personal best I haven’t improved on to date.  

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2014 (as in all the years I have been running) has been a year of change, challenge and triumph. It began with a graduated return to running, after a considerable lay off post injury.  My children’s activities increased and hence, so too the limitations on my available time.  This necessitated change to my training and more recently, a change of coach. I have since started working with Gary Howard who has been able to structure my training in a manner that fits with my responsibilities, serve as a much needed training partner and in a very short time, guide me to two new personal bests.  The first, in the Half on the Gold Coast, which I ran in a time of 79:45mins and the other in the City2Surf, which I ran in a time of 52:59 (11th female).

 

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My Training

I don’t want to go into too much detail here because I do believe everyone is different as are their training needs but suffice to say that when I am in full training I average approximately 100kms/week.  I run most days but generally have one complete day of rest.   This usually includes a couple of speed sessions that vary depending on the event that I am training for.  I have a structured strength training session with a strength coach twice a week and I do plenty of what I call, maintenance strength work such as body weight core exercises at home everyday.  I roll, self-massage, stretch etc everyday.  When I am unable (due to injury) to run, I swim, row, deep-water run, or use the stationary bike to maintain my fitness levels.  I don’t enjoy these however, and tend to view them as a means to an end.

The Challenges

No running journey is without its challenges.  Whether it is injury management, motivation, time, financial pressure, stress, health, relationship breakdown etc.  It is here that there is always commonality and it is also why groups such as RMA are important.  Safe places where the focus is support and encouragement. There will always be something that knocks us down but it is comforting to know that when we are, we have a hand to hold onto to get back up.   So here is my list of injuries, I have had: 2 stress fractures; bursitis of the knee and ITB syndrome which was remedied by surgery; a muscle tear in my foot; and most recently, a significant acute tear in the plantar fascia of my right foot.  Thankfully none of these injuries (aside from the ITB syndrome) were chronic in nature so they only required some alteration to my form and time off from the sport. I have generally been able to view them in a positive way because each one has lead to changes and adaptations to my training, diet, strength/conditioning/form work and other aspects that have helped me to continue to improve my times.  They have been opportunities for learning and discovery and have made me the runner that I am today. They have also served as a test of my resolve to continue running and reinforced the positive gifts that running brings to my life. This notwithstanding, there have been moments when these injuries have brought with them self-doubt, tears, pain, and disdain.  Running, like life, is not a bed of roses.    

My biggest challenges and disappointments have come as a direct result of my attempts to or rather failure to effectively manage a seizure disorder that I have.  I have had epileptic fits unexpectedly in key races and in training. Unfortunately, high exertion and stress is one of the triggers (in combination with other things) to me having a turn. These fits are scary, undignified and have left me embarrassed, emotional and doubtful of my abilities. Primarily though, they have left me feeling powerless- a feeling I try to mitigate against at all costs. When they happen, my fits are energy sapping and their presence often brings about attention from others that I feel incredibly uncomfortable with.  This attention is always well meaning and necessary but even so, it is attention I would much rather do without.  Ironically, it is this same awareness and support that I need to have around me when I am struck down by one of my episodes.

Lessons

For me, running has never been about how far I can run but rather, about how fast I can run a distance.  Its about competing with myself and getting the best out of me-holding myself to account, setting goals just outside my reach, working hard and relentlessly so that I could reap the rewards of my sacrifice and application. This is not to suggest that there isn’t any legitimacy in setting a distance goal or that such an achievement is of lesser value than how quick you run the same distance. We are all runners, regardless of our speed. I am incredibly humbled and awestruck by the mental fortitude and training volumes that go into running long distances such as the marathon and beyond. However, I do think that for everyone the journey and source of pleasure is different. The drug for me is the clock. That being said, I do believe that there are several things any runner, particularly those that are serious about improving their times, can do to help things along. It is in this context that I offer up the 10 things I view as of significant importance to my training. They are:    

  1. Understand your weaknesses and work on them with measure and purpose.
  2. Practice the mental.
  3. Stay on natural surfaces-limit road running in training
  4. Work on one thing at a time.
  5. Set goals and commit.
  6. Get a coach or incorporate structure into your training
  7. Understand the purpose of each session and its place in your training.
  8. Fuel for performance and health not weight loss.
  9. Seek guidance and maintain an open mind but become your own expert on you.
  10. Recovery, recovery, recovery.

Support and Inspiration

No one does it alone.  We all need a helping hand and to feel like we are part of something bigger than ourselves.  So here is my small list of acknowledgements.  

First on this list has to be my husband Mark and my two girls-they are my biggest fans. They are perpetually encouraging and resolutely supportive. Mark is patient when I am injured and believes in my abilities and dreams even when this belief is absent from me. He is my biggest supporter and my rock. I realise how blessed I am to have such support in my life. My family is on this running journey with me and they play an active role in it- they cry when I cry; celebrate when I celebrate; endure when I endure.

Secondly, I am grateful to my coach, training partner, friend and sports masseur, Gary. We are a team and his support is invaluable.  I believe, he has helped prolong my competitive running and has made concessions to his time so that I can remain safe when I am training and racing. He has been a master at modulating and graduating my training program. Without this level of support, I am unsure that my epileptic condition coupled with the demands on my time, would not have caused my departure from the sport.

In terms of athletes, I have the utmost respect for Ben St Lawrence.  He is firm in his belief in himself and he has a work ethic that I deeply admire.   Of course, he is also an: Australian record holder; a multiple Olympian, Commonwealth Games and World Championship Representative; and an accomplished and incredibly talented athlete but, that is only part of the equation.  I have learnt many lessons from, conversations and communications with Ben.  It is not so much what he says but more his attitude, professionalism, humility, application and willingness to be an expert on himself that I find compelling.  I admire that he has been able to take charge of his life and be the driving force, forging his own destiny.  I realise that the road is not rosy and he has had many struggles, yet he is able to keep achieving and keep moving forward.

Amongst the ladies, I find Lisa Weightman’s journey and achievements awe-inspiring.  Her track record in conquering the marathon distance is just phenomenal. It is incredible to consider that she has been able to achieve Commonwealth and Olympic representation in the marathon while holding down a full time job.  In her mid thirties, she has endured over a dozen stress fractures and other injuries and persevered on. I am sure she will continue this success when she adds motherhood to this long list of accomplishments.  

Finally, I am inspired by all my fellow competitors, training partners, and other running mums such as those in the RMA community.  Everyone has a story. Everyone has a battle.  Everyone can triumph.  I learn many things from the inspirational stories of those around me.  Their struggles can be the source of great learning.

Next?

I was recently named in the NSW team for the Australian Half Marathon Championship (incorporated into the Blackmores Running Festival), in September and I have commenced training for my debut marathon.  It has been a goal that has been on the back burner for sometime.  After one failed attempt already, I am keenly focused to make the start line. This is where my current energy is directed and it is an ambition that is already proving challenging. Once I have achieved that, I will do everything in my power to get to the finish line.  I look forward to being able to call myself a marathoner- at least once- and join that special club that many of you amazing RMA’s have entered.

Happy running.

5 responses to “Anna Fitzgerald – A running journey.

  1. Awesome story , we have challenges and your inner strength shines Anna. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • Thankyou Trisha. I often don’t feel strong but that’s really the point isn’t it? Happy Runnjng 🙂

  2. There are so many things I’ve learnt about you Anna and am so impressed where your running has taken you in such a short amount of time. As others have said, thank you also for sharing those very personal thoughts and realities. Your determination and want for these goals are evident in your achievements. Look forward to cheering you on for the next race!!

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