Pushing the limits – a book review

As a kid, I wasn’t one to have sporting heroes. Honestly, I just didn’t like sport. I played hockey (sporadically and badly) but avoided every other form of exercise and, by default, also avoided sporty types of people. Some of my friends liked footballers but I was much more likely to have pictures of singers and bands on my walls.

As an adult, especially since taking up running, I do have a couple of sporting role models who I admire. Their spirit and tenacity is part of what I draw on when long runs get tough. One very significant one is Kurt Fearnley.

For the few of you who may not have heard of him, Kurt Fearnley is a Paralympic gold medallist, multiple marathon winner and all round good guy. And what better way to become acquainted with him and his story than read his autobiography – ‘Pushing the limits’.

This book takes you on the journey from his birth and through his idyllic childhood, growing up in a supportive family and wider community in country NSW. The long and winding journey from Carcoar to the start line of the New York marathon and an Olympic podium is littered with amusing stories, significant challenges and setbacks and many laughs, all told in a very down to earth manner. Throughout the book, I kept thinking what an incredible ambassador Kurt is for Australia in all he does – setting incredibly high standards for himself and relentlessly pursuing his goals but, at the same time, demonstrating outstanding sportsmanship and compassion for others along the way. Qualities we could all do to cultivate.

More importantly, the message that Kurt leaves us with is a crucially important one – to not allow preconceived notions limit the life chances and choices of people with a disability. To believe that equally high expectations of life are just as important for people with a disability as for those without and to make sure our actions support that belief. The story about his treatment at the hands of a major Australian airline was an eye opener for me and made me angry at the lack of consideration given. As well as enjoying immensely hearing about his story, I valued the opportunity this book gave me to open my mind up to new ideas and perspectives I haven’t experienced and expose some of the challenges the world puts up for people with a disability. An inspiring read in many ways.

Not letting fear get in the way of the good things

I pushed myself well out of my comfort zone yesterday by trying something new. Something I had previously said I’d ‘never do’. I went to a group fitness session. I know – radical, right? It was always something I assumed just wouldn’t be the right fit for me. I find personal trainers intimidating and the the thought of having to exercise with the potential for others to watch me? Blah!

So why did I go along? Just in case. Just in case I actually liked it. Just in case it actually helped improve my running. Just in case it helped reduce my risk of injury. And I’m pleased to say, I actually did enjoy it. I’m not a convert and won’t be switching from running any time soon but the half an hour went pretty quickly and I mostly smiled – can’t ask for more than that.

It did make me remember though all of the barriers I put up before my first parkrun so that’s what I wanted to share. In doing so, I hope that someone reading it might realise their thoughts aren’t unique, their worries are shared and the worst things you imagine are very, very unlikely to happen.

  • It looks complicated – what do I do with my barcode? And the map looks confusing – what if I get lost?
    It’s actually very, very simple. Register once on the website, print that barcode and take it with you to your local parkrun (which you’ll also find details of on the website). If you’re nervous when you arrive, introduce yourself to the Run Director or one of the volunteers and tell them that – they’re very friendly and will happily answer any questions you have. Listen to the briefing – it will tell you all the important things you need to know about the course. Follow everyone over to the start line and go when the crowd does! Most of the courses are really easy to follow and those that are a little more complicated have signs, chalk drawings on the path or marshals to help you get around. And, unless you plan on being the first finisher, there’ll be lots of other bodies to follow. When you’re done and you’ve crossed the finish line, you’ll be given a finish token. Take it and your personal barcode up to the scanner who’ll scan both and take the finish token from you. And that’s it! Sit around on the couch feeling smug and wait for an email from parkrun with your results 🙂
  • I don’t have the right gear to wear.
    Wrong. You have clothes, yes? They will do. For your first parkrun, you don’t need any particular clothes or shoes or accessories. Yes, I’ve certainly seen people wearing all manner of sports gear but I’ve also seen people complete it in shorts and a t-shirt. Whatever is comfortable and you can move in.
  • Everyone will look at me.
    Probably. They will need to to welcome you properly, at least to begin with. And then, after it all starts and people are exerting themselves, you’ll get the odd ‘Go!’ or ‘Well done!’ but, other than that, people will be far too worried about breathing, not tripping over and moving forward that they will not have time to look at you.
  • I’m shy.
    While a big part of parkrun for lots of us is the social stuff, it’s not compulsory and you get out of it what you want. I remember being so nervous turning up to my first parkrun, particularly as I’m not a social butterfly but I needn’t have worried – people were so welcoming and friendly but there was also no pressure. There were some groups chatting and there were lots of parkrunners standing around stretching or chilling, waiting for the briefing and start. And all of that was perfectly ok.
  • I’ll be the slowest one there.
    Wrong. Every parkrun event has a tailwalker whose job it is to be ‘the slowest one there’. They are also quite skilled at offering regular encouragement and making sure you don’t get lost or left out on the track.
  • I’m not really ‘a runner’. Can I walk?
    Sure. Walk, run, womble or a combination of all 3. You can’t bring your scooter or bike but, other than that, you finish that 5km however you like. I suggest cartwheels are possibly not very efficient and may get you some funny looks. And, fyi, if you run any part of it, you are a runner. Really.
  • What if I can’t finish the 5km?
    Then don’t. Do what you can. The fact that you’ve turned up, listened to the briefing and crossed the start line makes you automatically awesome and there will be no judgement. There is no pressure to finish in a set time so try slowing down. And remember that your brain is ‘done’ a lot sooner than your body is so do a quick ‘body check’ to see if you’re feeling ok and actually can keep going.
    If you’re worried about the distance, check out your local parkrun course on the website – they’re either out and back or laps so you could always set yourself a shorter target to get you started. And keep picturing how amazing you’ll feel on that day in the future when you do cross the line and have your token scanned after doing your first 5km.
  • I’m worried that once I start, I might not be able to stop.
    Um, yes. This one’s true. It is addictive. Luckily, that’s not a bad thing.


Dopey training – week 13

It feels wrong to call this week ‘training’ as there was none of that actually going on. Yes, none. I didn’t run at all. Allow me to elaborate.

I started the week suffering from end-of-term-itis, a very serious condition known to teachers all over the world where you have no energy and no drive to do anything and all you can focus on is getting to the end of the week and the glorious, glittering holidays. That, combined with School Council on Tuesday night, meant my first run of the week was already getting pushed back.

Then I didn’t go out and do one on Wednesday either – ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’ I thought to myself. Thursday came and I was struck down with some combination of mystery germs that have been circulating around my classroom for weeks. I was in bed by 6pm and there was no way I was going to even go for a walk, let alone a run. I dragged myself through school on Friday, returning to my bed as soon as I got home.

I volunteered at our parkrun first birthday on Saturday and, had I not been volunteering, would have had another day in bed – running was definitely still not a possibility.

Sunday was the first day I was possibly capable of a run but mentally wasn’t up to it. And there’s the irony – those days when you’re mentally least able to drag yourself out the door are the days your mood most needs it. But it wasn’t to be. Instead, I spent the day haunted by all the thoughts that come when you can’t/don’t run – what if I’ve lost my fitness? What if I can’t get back into it? Why would I want to put myself through it anyway? What if all of this is a waste and I can’t finish the marathon?

Thankfully today is a new day and the start of a new training week. I’m happy to have written last week off and got the rest in that I so clearly needed. I knew I had to get out there today, just to ‘get back on the horse’ so to speak, even though I knew the horse would probably kick me in the attempt. It is here that I have to pause to thank 2 of my fabulous friends who helped me more than they can know. I was getting ready to go out, feeling very apprehensive and not at all up to tackling this when I got 2 messages from friends in quite quick succession, just checking in. It was exactly what I needed – knowing that I’m not alone in all of this and only have to whisper ‘help’ in their general direction for it to be forthcoming. And so, I ran. I won’t say this morning’s run was pretty but it was done and I couldn’t ask for more than that.

Dopey training – week 12

Training ramped up a notch this week with the addition of 1 more session – a Saturday walk. Not too taxing but a reminder that it is getting serious. As it should – this week also flipped our countdown down to double digits until we take off. Definitely getting real.

Tuesday’s run was an easy lap of the neighbourhood block made even easier by the fact that it wasn’t freezing and was still light when I got home from work. Bonuses all round.

Thursday was hill day and I took my friend back up the Saddle. She did brilliantly and we were lots faster than last time. It was a stunning afternoon in the You Yangs – perfect Spring weather and exactly the run I needed at the end of the week.

Saturday was parkrun or, rather, parkwalk plus a bit extra to make up the required mileage. I really like that I can walk these although take them seriously and am still aiming to keep my pace ahead of the virtual balloon ladies. I managed that very successfully yesterday, as well as having a great chat with another running friend I don’t catch up with very often.


Today was long run day and I have been looking forward to it all week. I got my stuff ready last night and was in bed by 7.30pm, just wanting the night to hurry up and be over so I could go. The forecast was great and I headed out to my favourite trail for a few hours of zen time – gravel and soft stuff underfoot, waves crashing just to the edge of my vision and surrounded by nature bursting with Spring-ness – idyllic. The hardest part was knowing it was a run of superlatives – my longest solo run, my longest training run, the furthest I’ve been in one hit on the Surf Coast trail, my biggest total kms for the week. I think all of that messed with my head a bit in the first kilometre and I found my breathing was hard, more because of rising panic than pushing it too hard. I reminded myself that kms on legs were all that mattered today and that I could walk it all if I wanted. And I took some time to enjoy the scenery and the weather, all of which brought tears to my eyes – there was absolutely nothing else I could imagine doing at that moment that would bring me as much happiness as this. So I just got on with it.


It was a great run. I saw a few other people – enough to feel like I was safe but not enough to bother me. Ironbark basin is unfamiliar enough to keep me distracted as I wasn’t quite sure what I’d find around each corner. What I found was more and more beauty – I really am lucky to live where I do and have this in my backyard. None of it was that hard today – all body parts were playing nicely and nothing hurt. No (obvious) chafing (haven’t yet done the shower test!), my feet felt great and my left leg was not alerting me to any new or old niggles. The most annoying thing was that I got back to car having only done 20.6km so I had to do some little circuits to stretch it out to 21.1km. So proud of myself for getting it done. I celebrated with burgers with friends in town after their half marathon efforts at Cross Country Club.


And there’s another week done. 38.6km this week, 6 hours worth of running. Wow.

Weekly summary:

Tuesday – 5.6km (46:10)
Thursday – 5.3km (55:40)
Saturday – 6.5km (63:11)
Sunday – 21.1km (3:15:44)

Dopey training – week 11

I’ll admit it – the rain did put me off my run on Tuesday. I’d already got wet and cold on my walk to the train station and couldn’t face having to get out of a wet set of clothes into a dry set….only to go out and get wet again. I’m sure I made up some other excuses but really, that was it. The rain.

On Wednesday, I had another excuse – I felt like I was coming down with a cold, having clearly come into close contact with some of my students’ germs however I was running out of days to defer it to so I went running anyway. It was a slow, snotty and definitely not pretty 5km but it was done.

Thursday was a whole other matter – it was an absolutely glorious run (thanks to my immune system which clearly had fought off the invasion). Running with a friend, playing mountain goat up on the hills of our gorgeous You Yangs and a window of perfect weather – what more could you ask for? We weren’t breaking any records but this one was measured well and truly in smiles and was exactly what I needed. Again, we had a close escape and watched the rain approach as we were heading for our cars at the end.

Saturday was a short ‘long run’ and was an opportunity to visit another parkrun, this time Newport Lakes. I loved the trail and enjoyed running somewhere new and different. Next week brings the first of the multiple run weekends – eeek!

Weekly summary:

Wed – 5km (45:24)

Thurs – 5km (49:44)

Sat – 5.2km (41:03)

parkrun tourism @ newport lakes

When I think of Newport, Harry Potter-ish thoughts come to mind. Before you click ‘close’ and assume I’ve gone slightly bonkers, hear me out. We caught a steam train from Newport station once and it fulfilled many childhood wishes. I still vividly remember the train going through Southern Cross station, tooting its horn and feeling like I was on a magical mode of transportation that the muggles on the platform couldn’t quite see, only hear. So Newport will forever be a place linked in my mind to positive, if slightly eccentric, memories.

We weren’t able to make the launch of Newport Lakes parkrun as it was Balyang Sanctuary’s birthday so managed to get along today to event #3. This was probably a wise move. While there is definitely something about launches, there’s something different but equally as rewarding in turning up at an event unexpectedly and checking them out ‘in their street clothes’. Every parkrun has its own feel and quirks, even though the format and rules are all the same. The first thing Newport Lakes has going for it is a dose of the unexpected – I have driven through the area on my way to a friend’s house a few times but would never have known that this gem of a park was tucked away down a short road amidst all this suburbia. When I think ‘lake’ in relation to a Melbourne suburb, I assume it’s man-made and probably has a fountain and boardwalks. But no, this one has a lake that’s real and a trail that actually feels like a trail.

The first timers’ briefing gave us an overview of the course (which sounded confusing but signposted) and it was wonderful to see so many first timers. The main briefing then gave further delights – the Hobsons Bay running group had come along and were putting on a complimentary BBQ breakfast afterwards. I love this. I love that none of this needs to be a competition, that existing events and running groups can all work together to achieve the common goal – to get more people moving. But I digress.

After gathering at the start line, we were soon off. The start is across the grass, following the cones then looping back around near where you’ve come from. We followed the outside edge of the park for quite a while before following a bit of a long zig zag through the trails and closer to the water. The signposts were great and plentiful however I still had a few moments of doubt as there was no one around me and I wondered if that was because I went the wrong way. I trusted the arrows and kept going, finding some people further along the path. The surface is gravel track with some rocks and tree roots thrown in for good measure and I was glad I’d worn my trail shoes as they just gave me a bit more grip going up and down the inclines. There aren’t any terrible hills, just a few short ups and downs but lots of turning and loops so I really didn’t know where I was at any point. Running back along the road, I was completely disorientated until I turned back onto the grass and over the finish line.

Run done, we joined in the BBQ breakfast and chatted before heading off in search of a trendy venue for coffee and second breakfast. We found Leroy’s which perfectly fit the bill. Mmmmmm.

Well done to the event team at Newport Lakes – definitely a course I’d like to go back to although I’m equally sure I won’t be attempting a freedom run on it. I was fairly sure that, if I wasn’t completely attentive, I could get lost even with signs. Without them, I may be in the unfortunate position of needing to call for help in finding my way out of a suburban park!!

Dopey training – week 10

I had hoped to join some friends for a run on Tuesday but didn’t quite get away from work in time so it was a lap of the neighbourhood for me instead. And it wasn’t pretty. I felt strong and happy but my calf and foot didn’t and gave me pain from the start. I’m sure the fact I then spent the remainder of the run worrying just added to any pain, real or imagined. I heard my physio’s voice in my head and gave it a rating of probably 2 out of 10 – not a high rating and he’d tell me to suck it up and run but I was just concerned that it was even there.

Thursday was designated as a hill day which was possibly not smart with a dodgy foot/calf but I figured it would sort out whether it really was something or whether it was my brain making it up. A friend from work had decided she wanted to join me, despite my warnings that I was running up the Saddle and it wasn’t really a hill for starting your running career on. The weather was absolutely blissful as we headed down the hill and along the Branding Yard trail, rock hopping as we went. And then we reached the bottom of the Saddle. To her credit, she made it up with far fewer stops than I had on my first time and she also did it without whingeing (which I’m absolutely positive I didn’t achieve). We had a well earned rest at the top and enjoyed the scenery then headed back down the other side. Even though it ended up being mostly a walk rather than a run, it was great. I love introducing someone else to the treasures of the You Yangs and, as luck would have it, she didn’t completely hate me at the end of it.

This weekend, I knew I had a long run looming. I was Run Director at parkrun this morning then, scared off a little by tomorrow’s weather forecast, I decided to get it over and done with today. So, after processing parkrun results, I headed off to Melbourne to ‘my’ loop. I like the diversity of scenery it offers, the perfect length it came to and the fact that, once I’m running it, I can’t escape and have to finish it. Not that there was any danger of not finishing today. The weather was a bit changeable in the first 2km but after that, I was warm enough that I didn’t care what the weather was doing. I was running my usual 2/1 intervals and all was going well up until about 10km when my feet started to hurt. Not the calf/achilles/heel pain, the ‘pounding the concrete’ pain on the soles of my feet. Realising I couldn’t really do much about it, I just tried to suck it up and carry on although every step was a serious ‘ouch’. In the last few kilometres, I powerwalked and was very pleased to be keeping my pace around 9.30min/km – ahead of the ‘virtual balloon ladies’ that reside in my head, preparing me for the minimum pace at the Disney events. I managed a few spurts of running and completed my 18km feeling not too bad. Sore feet aside, I still had energy and felt good. In hindsight, I think it was a sock issue – must get on and order some more pairs of my favourite running socks. I’ve only found one brand so far that don’t leave me with sore feet when the mileage starts to increase so I’m sticking with them.

And, just like that, another week of training is done. I’m really, really tired tonight and the thought of running a marathon the day after doing a similar distance to today does not fill me with happiness and enthusiasm. Time to trust the training and stop worrying – easier said than done 🙂

Weekly summary:

Tuesday – 5.5km (46:15)

Thursday – 5km (56:06)

Saturday – 18km (2:38:09)