Louelle Blanchard never dreamed of running marathons, and now the fisiocrem sponsored athlete is running her heart out all over Australia. She’s shared her marathon journey with us to show that you can achieve anything you put your mind to!
I NEVER DREAMED OF RUNNING A MARATHON IN MY EARLY YEARS OF RUNNING…ACTUALLY I NEVER EVEN THOUGHT I WOULD RUN A HALF MARATHON! THE DISTANCE SEEMED SO FAR AND I JUST COULDN’T IMAGINE BEING ABLE TO RUN FOR THAT LONG.
In 2011 a friend ran her first half marathon and said how amazing the experience of crossing the finish line was. At the time I felt that we were similar runners and thought that maybe I could do it to. I didn’t have a training plan but learned that the idea was to build up the length of my long run, that I didn’t need to run the actual distance before race day and that I should have a taper period prior to the event to recover and freshen up. At that time I had run 10km at a few events and was comfortable starting here for my long run. I did all my long runs at my beloved lake as it was easy for me to measure the distance I was doing. Soon I ran two laps of the lake (12km) and then eventually 3 laps (18km). I didn’t really slow my pace down and I knew nothing about gels or hydrating during my runs.
In October 2011, I ran my first half marathon at the Melbourne Marathon Festival in a time of 1:53:50. My goal was to complete it in under 2 hours so I was thrilled with this result. But it was the toughest thing I had ever done and it was a mental battle to get to the finish and I quite literally had nothing left in the tank at the end. I swore that I would never do that again!
IT WASN’T UNTIL ALMOST TWO YEARS LATER THAT I JOINED A LOCAL SOCIAL RUNNING GROUP AND STARTED RUNNING MORE CHALLENGING COURSES AROUND MY HOME TOWN THAT I STARTED TO SEE AN IMPROVEMENT IN MY RUNNING.
There were a few in the group that wanted to do their first half marathon and in the back of my mind I wanted to do another one and not feel the way I did after my first. So together we trained for the Geelong Half Marathon. My goal was to complete it in under 2 hours and feel good. I wasn’t concerned about equalling or bettering my previous time and I really didn’t think that would be achieveable and to feel comfortable and enjoy the race.
This time I learned about fuelling during the run and the importance of taking on water. I felt comfortable and in control for the whole run and finished in 1:58:20 and I loved it!! A couple of months later I thought that maybe a marathon might be achieveable. But before I made the decision I wanted to see if my body would cope with a longer run so I headed out with a friend one day for a long run. She ran with me most of the way but I added a bit more on at the end to bring it up to 26km. I felt niggles in my legs and back but I had the fitness to keep running. I realised that by slowing my pace down I was able to run for longer.
SO I MADE THE DECISION TO RUN MY FIRST MARATHON AT MELBOURNE IN OCTOBER 2013.
I sought the advise from my personal trainer who had some running experience and was advised to keep my long runs capped at 20km until I was 12 weeks out from the event. I followed a beginner marathon 12 week training plan and adapted it to fit in with my current training routine which consisted of 3 run sessions and 2 bootcamp sessions per week. 13 weeks out from race day and 1 week before my official marathon training was to commence I suffered a hamstring injury. I immediately thought that it was over. Complete rest for several days and then some gentle running to build up the hamstring again is what I was instructed to do by my physio. The following week I was given permission to do a 5 km run, but of course I did 10km. The hamstring held out but was always there. I continued through the training and was happy ticking off the long runs. The last long run was 33km and was a hilly course. It felt good and I could imagine being able to run that extra 9km to get to the 42.2km.
YOU KNOW HOW I SAID NEVER AGAIN TO RUNNING ANOTHER MARATHON?….WELL TWO YEARS LATER AND AFTER IT HAD PLAYED IN THE BACK OF MY MIND, WHAT WOULD MY RESULT HAVE BEEN IF I HADN’T OF BEEN INJURED DURING THAT TIME, THAT I DECIDED TO TRAIN FOR ANOTHER.
But the emotions of how I felt at that time was my biggest hurdle to overcome. And for that reason I didn’t tell anyone that I was going to run another marathon and I just started increasing my long runs to see how my body handled it. The plan was to get marathon ready and then upgrade my event from the half marathon to the full when I arrived in Sydney for the Sydney Running Festival. But my nerves got the better of me and 12 days prior when I was setting out to do my final long run I made the decision to do it that day. I took enough supplies with me to run a marathon and I ran under race conditions (not pausing my garmin for drink stops or even when I quickly got some more gels from my car). I set out at a comfortable pace and got into a good rhythm after about 12km. My nerves finally settled down and I got my head into a space where I could just keep running. I had thought to myself that after 30km my legs would fatigue and probably slow down but looking at my splits that just didn’t happen. They got tired and niggly but they just kept ticking over at the same rate. It was after I passed 36km that I realised that I was going to be able to do this and when I hit 40km I decided to push up the pace and finish strong. I spoke out loud to myself saying “I’ve got this” and “just do it”. I don’t know what people near me would have thought but I didn’t care. As I passed the marathon distance I stopped and burst into tears.
I HAD DONE IT AND I FELT GREAT! IT WAS TOUGH BUT I FELT STRONG. I FINISHED IN 4:02:50, A MASSIVE 35 MINUTES FASTER THAN MY FIRST MARATHON AND WITH A NEGATIVE SPLIT.
Now I can finally put the marathon distance to rest and be satisfied that I could go the distance without my body giving out on me.
I have since continued to run half marathons and but didn’t aspire to try and beat that PB I set in 2014. It was tough and I didn’t think I had the mental capacity to push myself like that anymore. I just wanted to run and enjoy myself.
In May 2016 I ran the O’Keefe half marathon in Heathcote. It was an out and back course along the Heathcote Rail Trail. The conditions of the day were pretty tough but I managed to find a comfortable pace right from the start. The subsequent headwind after the turnaround point and the gradual incline from the 15-18km mark took their toll and I began to struggle mentally. I even considered stopping and walking for the first time ever in a race, but I didn’t and I kept pushing on. I was thrilled when I was announced as second place for my division in a time of 1:48:50. I didn’t think I would still be able to run at that pace.
A few months later I decided to run the Shepparton Half Marathon. I hadn’t done a lot of preparation but felt that I had the km in my legs to be able to run the distance on the day. I ran what felt comfortable and was surprised to see my splits on each km. I never thought I would see sub 5 min pace during a half marathon and feel comfortable at the same time. And the splits just kept coming…
I WAS ON TRACK TO SMASH MY PB FROM MELBOURNE IN 2014!
But I missed a turn around point on the course and ran an extra 600m which I knew I wouldn’t be able to make up for with my time to get an official PB. I was gutted but I just had to keep running. When I reached the 21.1km distance I looked down at my Garmin and saw 1:44…a PB! Disappointed that I still had to run another 600m to get to the finish line and get my official time I pushed on. In my heart I knew I had done it and that was good enough for me. I waited around to watch the presentations and see what times the winners had finished in and was again surprised to hear my name called out. I had won my division and I was absolutely thrilled!
I haven’t run another half marathon since that race…yet…and again I am starting to think that maybe never was too strong of a word to use about doing another marathon.
I am just enjoying my running, sharing that love of running with others and trying new events.