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On the Run
By Margreet Dietz

It has been eight weeks since I finished my second Ironman Australia triathlon in 11 hours and 58 minutes, which was 15 minutes faster than the year earlier. Instead of being happy and proud of myself, I was disappointed with the time it took me to do the 3.8km swim (2.4 miles), a 181.1 km cycle (112 miles), and a 42.2 km run (26.2 miles).

I know I can do it faster, especially the marathon run, which I did in 4 hrs 11 mins. It was a personal best (PB), but it wasn't the sub 3:40 I had aimed for. So I have signed up for the Gold Coast marathon on July 6th. There are exactly three months between the two events. The first month has been taken up by recovering from Ironman. Then I resumed the training program with my coach to get as fit as possible and also as careful as possible to prevent injury. I also am doing short races, which is fun after the strenuous training for Ironman.

I have done a near-Olympic distance triathlon, a 4km run race (16:42 for 2.5 miles), a 10km run race (45:30 for 6.2 miles), the Sydney Morning Herald Half marathon (1:43 for 13.1 miles), ran a 42:37 PB in a 10k race (6.2 miles) and have entered a three-day triathlon "challenge camp" in June. I also want to focus on increasing my body strength so I joined a gym focusing on Pilates and Yoga.

None of this would have even entered my mind six years ago. Apart from some sporadic jogs during university trying to cure a hangover and work off some of the thousands of calories consumed the night before, I didn't really start running until I was 26. I had given up my first real job - to the horror of my parents - in the Netherlands to go back to university to study a Master's Degree in International and European law in Brussels. And hopefully find a job there with some "international prospects".

It was a bit hard to give up my own apartment and decent salary to go back to the cheap life as a student, sharing my kitchen and bathroom with at least four others, and having a room of 12 square meters as my only private domain. The Master's required a lot of reading. I spent hours in my little room behind my old study desk, slumped on a chair, reading through the piles of law books. Soon my head, shoulders and back seemed to ache permanently and I gained a relatively sedentary body shape. Some kind of sport looked like a good idea.

I had played volleyball. But with little time or money to spare, I decided running was the best option. A 5-minute jog from my student house there was a park, which offered a lap of a few kilometers. The first time, I was exhausted by the time I made it to the park and didn't even need to go in it. I didn't give up and even started liking my runs, which slowly and surely became longer. One day my watch told me I had been going for 60 minutes, which had never happened before. I ran another 12 minutes and got my first runner's high. I can still remember the exhilaration I felt realizing I was actually able to run for such a long time.

I was getting hooked on running and kept it up, made it through the Master's and even found a job as a journalist at an international wire service. There, workdays of 10 hours often without a break gave me another reason to run. I always ran alone and usually after work.

One night, I was supposed to meet with friends for dinner, but didn't want to miss my run. Again, I did my usual laps around the park. I didn't follow a program, just ran as long as I liked it. That night, I felt great and ran for two hours. Feeling guilty that I was late for the dinner, I rushed to the restaurant where my friends had already finished their meals. They were happy to see me but wondered why I was so late. Surely I hadn't been running all that time. When I told them I actually had, a friend said in amazement, "so you just ran about 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) then"?

I hadn't thought about it that way and the distance sounded very impressive to me. Soon I entered my first real run race. It was the 20km of Brussels. I cried when the start gun went off and all the heads in front of me started bobbing up and down. I cried some more when we came to the first hill and I really had an impression of all the thousands of people who were sharing this moment with me. At the 15k mark (9.3 miles) I cried again, yet this time it wasn't exactly an emotional high. I finished the race in about 2 hours (minutes and seconds didn't matter yet).

I didn't know anybody in the race nor did I know any of the spectators lining the course, yet I felt that I was sharing something special with the other runners and strangers shouting encouragement along the way. I didn't know anything about training programs and race nutrition. I did know that it felt great to be running and wanted to know more.

I found a club and a coach in Brussels. It was great running with a group of people in varying shapes, literally and figuratively. It was also harder because now I sometimes had to finish a run when I didn't feel so great. It also gave me a comparison of my fitness and I realized there was a lot of room for progress.

Unfortunately I lost this group and coach rather quickly because I moved to Canada for my job. It didn't take long to enter some races there. I even ran my first marathon. Without a coach and enough knowledge about how to take care of yourself, I got injured and started to swim (breaststroke) to keep fit. I bought a mountain bike and was ready for a triathlon, I thought. Two days before my first triathlon, an Olympic one, my bike got stolen. I had to move quickly or forget about the race! I found an old road bike for 200 Canadian dollars (about 220 Australian ones) the next day and used it in my first triathlon. And the second Olympic one. And three half-Ironmans.

By then, I had moved to Australia. Having watched a lot of triathlons on Canadian television and seeing the top five spots taken by Australian female triathletes at the International Triathlon Union's World Championships held in Montreal in September 1999, I realized it would be a good place to train.

To be able to enter races, you have to be a member of a triathlon club. Living in Bondi Beach, I signed up with the Bondi Running And Triathlon Club. Having heard that races in Australia fill up quickly, I started hassling the organizers to make sure that my entry for the Forster Half Ironman (our first) had arrived on time and accepted. I couldn't wait to do the race.

There are two moments that stand out about my first Half Ironman. One was seeing these beautiful, light, expensive bikes with aerobars, race-wheels, and pedals for special bike shoes in the transition area. Intimidated, I put my heavy, $200.00 bike next to them! The other was at the race start, when I realized I was one of the few without a wetsuit and the only one doing the entire 1.9km swim (1.2 miles) with a breaststroke. Still, I finished in one piece in six hours and quite enjoyed it. And so did my boyfriend, who convinced me it was time to sign up with a coach.

These days, I train with a group of triathletes all under the strict eye of our coach and his program. The kitchen cupboards are filled with energy bars, energy drinks, energy gels, and recovery bars. During races, I always know at least one person in it. I also have many goals now as you may have gathered.

A lot has changed since I barely could run the five minutes to the park around the corner. I love exercise, especially running, and it is a very important part of my life. I realized only how much when some clueless physiotherapist tried to forbid me to run. Instead, he said, I should do something for fun and relaxation.

I couldn't help myself and started crying uncontrollably at the thought of having to give up running. Needless to say, I didn't see that therapist again. Bring on the Gold Coast!

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