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Run For Your Life

A Triathlete discusses the joys and wonders of running


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Do you know the feeling of your heart pounding so hard you can hear nothing else? When you ignore the voice in your head telling the voice in your legs you should slow down? Feeling every grain of concrete or dirt in the ground beneath you with each step you take, feeling the wind blowing in your face even though you might wish it were at your back? Do you go a little crazy and wonder why the race organizers moved the mile markers farther back on the second lap?

I started running at primary school for our cross-country carnivals in Australia, where I grew up. But I didn’t really like to run. It was hard, I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and it always felt longer to the end than I expected it to be. When I got a little older, I started playing squash, and we had to run as part of our fitness training. I was sore the first few times, but I liked the feeling of having done hard work. As time went by, my efforts were rewarded in my matches. We went on trails, did hill repeats, ran track and did court-movement work, and I enjoyed it this time. Doing different types of running and having a group of people to do it with and a goal to aim for made it more enjoyable.

After I retired from professional squash at 23, I didn’t stop running. I loved the quiet of the early-morning runs, the smell of bread cooking in a toaster, the fresh scent of someone taking a shower, the aroma of coffee brewing, the sound of sprinklers coming on, the shhhhhh feeling of being out while everyone else was still in bed. And I couldn’t resist the magical colors of a sunset or sunrise, the satisfaction of seeing my lone footprints on the sand in an early-morning run, the payoff from running up a mountain trail and seeing where I’d come from, the sounds of birds waking everyone up, the sight of cockatoos flying over the mountain range for their afternoon group gathering—all because I went for a run.

Once my running got up to speed, I thought I would take up a sport I’d always wanted to try: triathlon. Why? When I was 10, my brother sat my sister and me down one Sunday afternoon to watch the World Ironman Championships on television. That event caught my full attention, and I knew that one day before I died, I would complete that race. My sister and I were so taken by it, we changed into the only Lycra clothing we owned (bright blue leggings and multicolored running tops) and, with our mother’s permission, rode our bikes to the pool, swam a few laps, got back on our bikes and rode the only loop our mum would let us (about 10 km), then raced down our street on foot.

As an adult, I didn’t know much more about triathlon than I did when I was 10. I didn’t have a car, and I commuted everywhere by mountain bike. I found a triathlon group (Troy Fiddler) near my workplace to learn how to swim better. The coach didn’t mind that I had only a mountain bike and had no experience in the sport; he welcomed me to his squad.

I moved to go to the University of the Sunshine Coast (Queensland, Australia) and joined the Noosa Triathlon Club. I did their club races on my mountain bike and saved enough money, in time, to buy my first road bike, two weeks before my first real Olympic distance race.

It was tough, but I knew I had to try a Half Ironman if I was serious. (I didn’t know I had to do it to qualify!) I placed second female overall in my first Half Ironman and decided to enter the Australian Ironman. I qualified, coming in first in my age group and 10th female overall, but I didn’t enjoy the race as I’d thought I would. In Ironman DVDs I had seen, everyone was smiling and having a good time. The real thing didn’t seem as much fun.

However, I decided I had to do it again to see if the World Ironman Championships in Hawaii would live up to what I had seen more than 10 years earlier. I borrowed the entry fee and got a second part-time job (as well as studying full time) to save for the trip. My local bike store owners (from Coolum Cycles in Queensland) gave me their frequent-flyer miles so I could go.

The deafening cheering, clapping, cowbell ringing and flag waving continued, but I heard none of it as I focused on the last kilometer of the marathon of the World Ironman Championships. Even though the temperature was scorching hot and had been all day, I felt goosebumps surfacing as I got closer to the finish line. I broke the tape and ran straight into the arms of my loved ones, grateful for what I had achieved—and learned about myself and life along the way.

Becoming an athlete—a winning athlete—doesn’t happen unless there is a certain restlessness in your thoughts, an “I wonder.”

  • I wonder what it’s like to climb that mountain, what the view from the top would be like...
  • I wonder how fast I can go...
  • I wonder if I can get through this (bad patch, hurt, pain, session, race)...
  • I wonder how many people I can surprise...
  • I wonder what it feels like to try hard and not reach your goal...
  • I wonder what it feels like to win...

All you’ve got to do is try your “I wonder” and see if the challenge is something that lights your fire. It might not happen the first or second time, but you will find something that fires you up, and you’ll feel the wonder of what could be possible!

» Kate Major has lived in San Diego since 2004, when she achieved first place in Ironman USA and third place in the World Ironman Championships. More about her achievements can be found at majorkate.com.

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