Lessons from competing in a half marathon.

I’m not sure what made me take on the challenge to compete in Sydney’s half marathon. Surely it must have been a moment of enthusiastic madness. A group of friends from the gym were talking about it and next thing I knew, I too, had made the pledge to compete.

I’m quite positive I never fully considered the ramifications of taking on such a pledge. You see, I’m not naturally athletic. Growing up, I was always the last person to be picked in sporting teams. My body is best suited to punching out babies & balancing them comfortably on my ‘womanly’ hips than sport.


My first shock came when a trainer designed me a running schedule 4 months to the race. The reality of all those kilometers ahead of me set my heart into a spin. Nevertheless, I stuck the schedule on the fridge and as an afterthought added the quote

“Every success has its price & the beads of sweat it took to achieve it.”

(I don’t remember where I found the quote but it helped to push me out the door.)


Previous to this race, I had competed in Sydney’s City-to-Surf and ran the occasional 10-12km on weekends. The first time I ran 16 Km, it almost killed me and my self-confidence plummeted. It took two physio sessions and plenty of positive self-talk to get me back on the road.

Each week I marked off another milestone: 14km, 16km, 18km and 20km runs were crossed off on Sundays, followed by a mid-week 10k run. Bush trails and coastlines were my favourite routes but I also enjoyed long straight roads where I could let my legs stretch. Every Sunday morning I dragged myself out of bed at 5:30 am to pound the pavement. To my surprise, I began to enjoy the solitude of early mornings, the still unspoiled air, and the first callings of birds. As weeks, then months passed, and the kilometers piled up, I grew more confident. And though running was never easy, I did look forward to my weekend runs.


Race day and I woke before the alarm and got dressed, made two trips to the toilet (nerves), and ate a small breakfast before my husband drove me to the city. The previous night I had laid out my ‘lucky’ running gear, lotions for aches and pain, vitamins, Gatorade and my favourite oil perfume (who said runners are anal).

7 am, the starting line was buzzing with 4000 plus runners, stretching and warming up. Young and old, running groups, social groups, workmates and even a bridal party were milling at the starting line, talking shop. Spying some of the girls from the Gym, I stayed with them till the start of the race but lost them soon after when they evaporated into the sea of runners.

The race required participants to twice run a 10.5km route through Sydney CBD, down to the Rocks and back under Harbour Bridge. I watched the sprint between the first and second place to the finish line as I was completing my first lap.

17kms and my legs started nagging me to stop. Their nagging turned into relentless screaming by the 19km mark. Pushing through the last kilometer was one of the hardest things I’ve done (childbirth included). Several times I closed my eyes and prayed for the finish line, which much to my dismay remained elusively a long way away. Around me, everyone was pushing their legs past the pain, their faces set in determination. I too gritted my teeth and willed my legs to get me there.

Finish Line…


I stepped over the line in just over 2hrs. I must have looked frightful for several marshals asked if I needed First Aid. I declined as graciously as I could and walked through, handing in my race tag and various things. Spying people crunching on fruit and energy bars, I dutifully lined up hoping to receive some, and was disappointed when I was handed a non-edible medal.

I was ready to cry. The volunteer dolling out the medals regarded me with a questioning look. Do I need First Aid? No thank you, I said, just fruit and water. She motioned to someone and I was handed a bottled water and a banana. I had them sitting on the curb, my legs stretched in front of me, no longer capable of standing.

Throughout the months of training, the one thought that sustained me was the imagined euphoria when I stepped over the finish line. In my mind’s eye I’d sprint the last kilometer, waving to and hi-fiving the crowd. Crossing the line, I’d fist punch the air like a champion. Sitting on the curb I felt relief rather than euphoria that it was over. There was no energy to fist punch; or to high-five. I just wanted to go home. I looked for my husband. I had spotted him cheering from the sidelines on the final stretch but had lost sight of him when I crossed the line. Borrowing a stranger’s phone, I called him.

Thankfully he was parked close by and soon we were on our way home. It took two hours of rest before I felt normal again. My husband brought me sweetened tea with toast, held me when I’d break into a shiver, and placed hot water bottles on my back.

Parting Thoughts…

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Thinking back on my experience, I’m glad I did it. Completing the race gave me a great sense of achievement. It armed me with the confidence to set new goals, challenge myself in new ways and face-down my fears. The following year, I signed for the OXFAM 100 km trail walk, which I completed it in 27 hours. The year after that, I wrote my first book.

The lessons I learnt from running the half marathon, I now carry into my writing. There’s not much difference between writing and running. Instead of ticking off kilometers, I tick off words. And just like running, writing does not come easy. It requires hard work and commitment. There are some writers who are naturally gifted, have a special epiphany with words. I’m not one of them. I work hard for every sentence. And it’s fruitless to compare myself to them. There will always be better and more successful writers than me. Just like there will always be better runners than me. The important thing is that I don’t give up. I am on my own path, a unique personal journey and at times when I’m gripped with insecurity I remind myself of the quote I once stuck on the fridge:

“Every success has its price & the beads of sweat it took to achieve it.”

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Till next time…


For authentic storytelling and articulate communication, you cannot go past Bonnie. She possesses a sense of warmth, sincerity and intrigue that makes you want to keep reading. For articles that have to make an impact – Bonnie is your girl. Proof reading, improving and creativity is her speciality.

Michelle Lee, Solo Ocean Rower, Australian Geographic Adventurer of the year

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