New York Marathon episode 3: finding ‘Eileen’s pace’

New York Marathon episode 3: finding ‘Eileen’s pace’

New York Marathon episode 3: finding ‘Eileen’s pace’

This is episode 3 of Eileen Byer's journal following her journey to the 2015 New York Marathon.  I was stepping onto an aeroplane for the first time in my life: on my way to Canberra to the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) to meet the rest of the other eleven finalists for the Indigenous Marathon Foundation (IMF) team.

The purpose of this trip was to start our formal training: a run every morning and then school for our Certificate III in Fitness course.

I was so nervous I had a pounding headache. So my memory of this first flight, rather than the exciting adventure I expected, is one of stabbing pain.

The excitement came when we officially gathered together for the first time.

Our team members come from all over the country. 

– Jacinta Gurruwiwi is a Yolngu woman from Galiwinku, East Arnhem Land, NT
– Alicia Sabatino is from Thursday Island, QLD
– Jessica Lovett-Murray is a Gunditjmara/Wemba Wemba woman, VIC
– Dwayne Jones is a Ngarurruli/Billanara man from the Myatt Community, NT
– Chris Guyula is a Yolngu man who represents Gapuwiyak, NT
– Harriet David is a Torres Strait Island woman from Yam Island, QLD
– Daniel Lloyd is from Murray Bridge, SA

The NSW finalists surprisingly all have the same cultural heritage as me. I am a Bundjalung / Wakka Wakka woman from Casino, NSW. My mother is Bundjalung and comes from Tabulam not far from my home. But my dad is from Cherbourg in the South Burnett district of Queensland, and the Wakka Wakka are the original people of that country.

I was joined in the team by:

– Jamie Bird, a Wakka Wakka woman from Cowra, NSW
– John Leha an Aboriginal Wakka Wakka man from Marrickville, NSW, and
– Aaron West is another Wakka Wakka man from Queenbeyan, NSW

We were all pretty shy at first. It wasn’t until after dinner when we met Rob de Castella for the first time that the buzz started to happen.

For those that don’t know, Rob de Castella is Australia’s greatest ever marathon runner. He set the world record in 1981, became Australia’s first Track and Field World Champion in 1983, won two Commonwealth Games marathons in 1982 and 1986 and dominated the event worldwide for most of the 1980’s. He was the Director of the AIS for five years in the early 1990s and now he is the director of the IMF.

In short, he is inspiring. He is extremely knowledgeable and his laid back, caring approach is calming.

Our days started in the Stromlo Forest on Rob de Castella’s grass running track.

We ran, and Rob and the coach watched. Every race so far my breathing had been a major problem. I was trying to keep up with everyone, trying not to be last, but two laps in I was struggling to catch my breath.

My coach, Mick Rees, pulled me aside with Rob. The advice they gave me that morning changed my whole approach to running.

They said, “Don’t worry about running everyone else’s race, just run your own race. Find your Eileen pace.”

Over the next five days I practiced this advice. I now start really slow, focus on breathing in a regular pattern and getting a rhythm in my pace. If I start to pant, or get tired, I slow down even more.

However, the struggle for me wasn’t only on the track. I loved the Fitness Training coursework. I understood what we were learning but putting that on paper was really challenging for me.

I had missed out on schooling when I became a young mum, and to be honest I have always struggled at school, and now I felt like I was trying to catch up really quickly on all those lost years of education.

The great thing was I wasn’t alone. There were others in the team with similar issues and our teachers were incredibly understanding of the problem and supported us through it.

This is one of the inspiring things about the IMF. They know that this is a big journey for us. They know we are going to be challenged and they know this opportunity is going to change our lives.

I don’t know what I would be doing today if it wasn’t for them. Certainly not sitting in a café in Casino writing this post.

I have so much respect and gratitude for what the IMF are giving me.

I took all of my learnings from the AIS Camp into my next marathon in May, ‘The Mother’s Day Classic’ in Canberra. It was a 10km run, perfect for practicing my breathing and pace. And, it worked. I finished easily and I didn’t come last.

We went home with an 8-week program in hand to train for the next big run, the Gold Coast Half-Marathon. Once a week after warm ups and jogging I had to do 8 hill sprints, a 5 kilometer run 3 days a week and a long-run, between 10 and 20 kilometers, 2 days a week.

For me, the Gold Coast 21 kilometer Half-Marathon, was a test of whether all the training and the focus on pacing was working.

I ran 18 kilometers non-stop. I felt my body click into my new ‘Eileen pace’ and it was only my aching hamstrings, sore knees and hands going numb that brought me to a kind of shuffle close to the end. It’s faster than a walk but slower than a jog. It looks a bit silly but it got me to the finish line in 2 hours and 30 minutes, beating my Canberra time (but that wasn’t hard seeing as I walked most of the way – see my Episode 2.

Everything looked like I was on track for being able to run the New York Marathon, but when I got home I fell off my training wheels. I’ll explain what happened in my next episode.

DATE: 21 October 2015
IMAGE: Eileen Byer
PHOTOGRAPHER: The Indigenous Marathon Project