Allirra’s Journey to the New York Marathon with Indigenous Marathon Project

Lights! Camera! Action! You’re on Broadway now

In May when I was named in the Indigenous Marathon Project 2014, I was told that under no circumstances was my place on the New York marathon team guaranteed, and that I would have to prove to Rob De Castella and the Head Coach Mick Rees, that I had the strength physically and mentally to complete a marathon. I was assured that Duty of Care would prohibit IMP from taking me half way across the world to complete in the hardest thing (after childbirth) that I will ever do in my lifetime.

The IMP team were told that if we weren’t prepared to turn a 30km long run into a marathon in 5 weeks- we would instead be travelling to Tokyo (Feb) or Boston (Apr). Two Territorians, Sarah Carmody and I sat in our hotel room the night before the 30km trial contemplating an extended marathon training program during the worst possible time of the year; the build-up and wet season if we missed the NY team. We told each other that there was no way we weren’t going to make that team. We said that even if we crawled at the 25km mark, as soon as we hit the home straight it would be Lights, Camera, Action.

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“30km? Is that all?”

“I am woman, hear me roar”

“Run for 3 hours? Piece of cake- I’ve had a labour that took 16”.

My preparation for the Alice Springs 30km was smooth sailing until 2 weeks out. The week of my longest run I came down with a chesty cough that I couldn’t shift. After 11 days without running it was time to start tapering back. I started to question my decisions to harp on to everyone who would appear interested that I WAS going to make the NY team and that all it needed was dedication to the training program and a ‘no excuses’ mentality. Would I have to eat humble pie? I prefer cheesecake but don’t mind the odd piece of pie, but I don’t especially like the taste of failure.

On the drive to the start point in the darkness I felt vomit rising to the back of my throat. Being the world’s best vomiter I wasn’t too alarmed, but surely I couldn’t be that nervous could I? With Rob at the wheel, the Prado dipped with the road and the nausea rose to an all-time high. I was excited when I realised that it was car sickness and not nervousness!!! Eternally optimistic.

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The Alice Springs Running and Walking Club were out in full force to participate, volunteer and cheer but there was no time to waste. A quick pep talk at the line from Rob and Head Coach, a quick hug from my father and grandfather who drove from Darwin to Alice to watch me run and we were off. The morning air still crisp and the sun just about to start its rise. If you blinked you would have missed the men taking off, the women staying together until the 10km mark and turn onto Honeymoon Gap.

I started to pull away from the girls group just before the 10km mark. My breathing was great and my knee wasn’t giving me any trouble. I didn’t deliberately put the fire on the pace, but my aim was to stay consistent and continue the run for as long as I could without the huffy puffy. At 15km I really needed to go to the toilet, but the thought of losing my lead kept me running. I knew I was in front and I kept telling myself that Rob and Head Coach Mick would have to have a really good reason not to name the first girl home on the NY team, so I kept on running.

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Encouragement comes from a ’91 Land Cruiser

My father Alan and grandfather Vic Ludwig followed me for the entire 30km. I would be running along and I could hear my dad’s ’91 Land Cruiser approaching. After hearing this car’s gear change for 23 years, I could tell it apart from the other cars approaching with 100% accuracy. Dad and pop would drive past and park a couple of kilometres in front and await my pass. They would then stay and wait for the other 4 girls to run past them whilst giving words of encouragement and high 5s. This special consideration was only given to the females of the team, and by the end of the run my female team mates were calling my father ‘dad’. The other RMA mum Toni Daisy who ran with an injury told me that it was the sight of an old Land Cruiser that give her the hope and determination to finish.

Where the bloody hell is the Stuart Highway??

The longest leg of the run by far was Ilparpa Road which stretched and winded along from 10km to 25km where it would eventually T-Bone the Stuart Highway. My mantra along this road was “Just get to the highway Allirra”. Being a Territorian, the Stuart Highway signifies home to me. It was fitting that my destination was a ‘stone’s throw’ from it. When Ilparpa Road seemed like a time warp/groundhog day, I asked my dad “How long to the Highway?”. His reply “about 5km Lu-Bell”…. I won’t type my reply.

The dislike for this road was severely heightened, and my mental strength questioned when the road started to turn away from the landmark I knew I had to pass through; the Alice Springs Gap. My contempt for this leg of the run must have shown because words of encouragement from my dad turned into questions of concern. Still feeling strong-ish, I allayed his worry by telling him that I was feeling good, I was just so sick of this ______ road.

Being a mum and a wife, you are never off duty are you? And sometimes your mind is clearest during the hardest part of your runs. You plan out the day’s meetings and activities and you seem to remember everything you forgot to do the day before. At the 23km mark, I remembered a bill that I had neglected to pay on Thursday. So the smart phone was whipped out of the running belt and the bill was paid. Luckily I’m powered on oestrogen and can multi-task hey?

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The belt comes off.

Ilparpa Road finally T-Boned the Stuart Highway and if I thought I could have gotten back up- I honestly would have kissed the bitumen. Confident that I would be breathing at the finish line, my mind wandered to what time I would be coming in. With 5kms to go my splits crept up to 6mins, still feeling strong and able to multiply at grade 4 level (winning) I knew I was going to come in under 3hours. Wanting to finish strong, I kept a water bottle and gave my belt to my dad. Getting closer and closer to the finish line the thoughts in my head evolved from “why in the world am I doing this again?” to “I’m going to finish strong and get my ticket”. There was even a melody in there “New York, New York”.

At the last bend before the 300m stretch to the finish line, I saw Rob’s Prado and my dad waiting on the corner. Rob looked like he was heading out onto the highway but U-turned when he saw me coming home. In my exhaustion and stupidness I passed my empty water bottle to Australia’s gold winning champion and marathon star; a memory that I will cringe at for the rest of my life!!!! But Rob’s words of encouragement filled my ears and on I soared. Just before the finish line his words echoed through my fatigued brain “you’re flying Allirra, you’re lifting, you’re really lifting”. When Rob De Castella tells you that you’re flying, you do just that. Every feeling of heaviness leaves your mind and you stride lengthens as you power to the end.

You’re mumma would be so proud

I finished first girl home at 2 hours 47mins and the weight of my legs that had evaporated with Rob’s encouragement quickly returned. Hugging my giant father (over 6ft tall), he enveloped me in his arms and told me how proud he was of me. I was strong and elated and held it all together until he said “your mumma (grandma) would be so proud of you”- that’s when I cracked and the pressure of the 30km came flooding out. Knowing that I would be embarrassed about crying in public my dad wrapped his massive arms in front of my face to shield me.

With just a bit less than 5 weeks to go, I was named on the New York Marathon Team along with 9 other team mates. Everyone who stepped out on the 30km trial that morning had made it home and strong enough to make the team.

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