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When bushfires, floods and covid 19 interrupt your running plans

Updated: Jan 10, 2023

I wrote this post for the Running Mums Australia website to share my experience of the last 9 months of training and what happened when all my planned races suddently got cancelled.

After my daughter was born in June 2019, I had plans to get back into training as soon as possible to run a marathon in 2020. I got my six week check up, saw a pelvic floor physio and started slowly building up my training.

My first goal was to do the 10km at the Blackmores Bridge run, which I did at 3 months postpartum. That was a good confidence boost, and I kept building from there.

By the time November came around, and entries for 6ft Track opened, I was confident I could run a marathon but was less sure I was getting enough sleep to do speed training. I decided to give 6ft a go, and started doing longer runs and hill training, including lots of treadmill running because my gym has a really good creche.

When Sydney started getting blanketed in bushfire smoke, I ran outside when possible and used the gym when needed. But by January, it was looking possible that 6ft would be cancelled. I tried not to focus on the unknown, but registered for the Canberra marathon anyway as a back up plan.

As the bushfire situation slowly came under control, and it looked like 6ft would be able to proceed, I ramped up my long runs, going out for 3 hours on a Sunday, trying to include as many hills as possible. I was aiming for 100km weeks, but more often than not was sitting around 90km.

It was obviously my choice to train like that, but since I was still breastfeeding and have a baby that is a frequent waker, I was getting more and more tired.

But, I felt fit, I felt strong and I felt like having running as my ‘me time’ each day was really good for me. I ran through my whole pregnancy, but not with the same volume or intensity as I usually would. Being able to let loose and push hard when I wanted to made me feel like myself. It made me happy to do something I’d always done, and feel good doing it, which I’m sure was also translating to my overall mood when I was with my daughter.

So I pushed on, knowing there were a lot of benefits that balanced out the tiredness.

Then the rain came. We had wanted it for so long, I was so glad when it did. But before long, it looked like 6ft was in trouble again, this time because of floods. Being much closer to race day and with limited access to the finish area, I made my peace with the fact that it would be cancelled and focused on the fact that I still had Canberra. I was more in shape for a long, hilly ultra than a faster road marathon, but I still thought I could give it a good go.

When 6ft was officially cancelled, I shifted my plan to include some speed and tempo running. With five weeks until the race, I had a bit of time to get a bit faster. Since I wasn’t getting as much sleep as I usually would, I wanted to be extra conscious of recovery. I decided to focus on my Sunday long run and a mid week speed session, with lots of easy running around them. It wasn’t how I would usually train for a marathon, but it seemed like a good approach for where I was at.

Even though it only lasted a couple of weeks, I loved it. The two speed sessions I did felt great. Then all of a sudden, we got the news that Canberra was off.

I was deflated.

When 6ft was cancelled, I was upset but did my best to look forward. But this time, there were no back up plans. I wasn’t going to be running a PB in Canberra, but I was proud of the fitness I had managed to build up in the 9 months since giving birth to my daughter. I really wanted to race to celebrate all the hard work.

The next day, I went to parkrun. In the process of running off some frustration, I managed a post baby PB and hit a goal I had been targeting for awhile, which was getting back under 18 minutes.

It lifted my mood a little, and I decided since I had the fitness, why not still run my marathon. Initially, I thought I could do in Canberra on the weekend the race was going to be on.

I kept following my program for the most part in the week that followed, but by the weekend more things were being shut down and I started to wonder if we would actually be able to go to Canberra. The other option was doing it at home. My local running route was more crowded than usual, and I was wondering if that would be closed too.

My motivation was definitely taking another hit. Part of me was leaning towards not bothering, part of me didn’t want to miss my opportunity and regret it later.

I decided I needed to get it done as soon as possible and started to make plans.

My rough goal for Canberra was to run under 3 hours. It was a bit of a guess because most of my training had been for trails, but it was realistic enough based on my previous marathons and the one half marathon I ran since my daughter was born.

I thought that if I started at 4am and was done by 7am, it wouldn’t be too crowded. I was a bit indecisive about exactly where to run, parts of the course I wanted to do were very dark. Eventually, my husband suggested doing it in the evening. On Tuesday morning, that is what I decided to do.

My husband and daughter came down to cheer me on and pass me drinks, and that night I ran 42.2km around the Bay Run in Sydney.

Family photo before the start of the marathon
Family photo before the start of the marathon

It wasn’t exactly what I was hoping it would be when I originally had the idea. The path was very busy, I wasn’t tapered because I brought it forward and it was windier than I would have liked. I had plenty of doubts did creep in while I was out there. It got hard, I slowed down, and I questioned if I should continue since it wasn’t an official event.

But I’m glad that I did. It’s not every day that I’m fit enough to run a marathon, and I felt my training deserved a marathon.

Half way through the marathon
Half way through the marathon

I ran about 3 hour pace for almost 30km, then slowed down and finished in 3.06. It wasn’t the result I was hoping for had the race gone ahead. But for a solo effort, I’m stoked with how it went.

30km point of the marathon and getting dark
30km done and getting dark

I feel like I have released a lot of energy, and with it went the frustration of being ready to race without an event. It has left me feeling a lot more relaxed overall. I also feel satisfaction from having achieved something I wouldn’t always do. It definitely gave me something to smile about after a pretty low few weeks.

A large part of the reason I wanted to run after my daughter was born was to maintain an activity for myself. But I also wanted to show her some of the things we can achieve if we challenge ourselves and work towards our goals.

It has been really hard training for a marathon with a young baby, mostly due to the lack of sleep. But I thought the end result and the reasons I could tell her I did it would make it worthwhile.

It may have ended up more than that. Hopefully I can also show her that while it was disappointing, I could still move forward and take something from it. One day I will tell her the story of how I trained for a marathon, it got cancelled and I ran my own one anyway (with a very cute support crew). Fingers crossed she won’t just think I’m crazy! 😉

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