Friday 8 November 2013

Inspirational Women Who Run... Introducing Phoebe Gregory

Phoebe is one of those people you meet who had lived more, done more and achieved more before she turned 30 than most people do in their entire lives. She studied undergraduate Development Economics and  also Medicine, and then went on to win a prestigious scholarship for a Masters of Science in Global Health and Science at Oxford University. She was the founder of Hands of Help where amongst other things, she personally helped rebuild schools in Uganda, develop a Community Health Project to provide health care for over 30 000 Ugandans, set-up a Child sponsorship program for children in Kenya, and establish an Indigenous Australia Project to give medical students experience in Australian health care problems. Recently, she was nominated as one of the AFR & Westpac 100 Women of Influence. Did I mention that she is also a Doctor, a mother of 2 year old triplets, now a marathon runner and a really lovely person. (I'm not sure how she had time to answer my questions - but I really appreciate it!)

Phoebe is truly inspirational! 
She looks so happy when she runs!
 Sydney Marathon 2013

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself.
I am a Mum of 2 year old triplets and work part-time as a Doctor, currently specialising in Paediatrics at Sydney Children’s Hospital. I also work at The GuardianshipTribunal of NSW which works to protect people with disability and incapacity. Life is busy as I have to study to complete my specialty training, work long shifts at hospital and run a childcare centre on my ‘off days’! But I wouldn’t change a thing.         

How did you get into running?
For me, two things started my running – firstly, a very energetic Jack Russell / Kelpie cross (my beloved ‘Archie’) who clearly needed more than a daily walk, and also when I realised the stress relief it could give me as the pace picked up in med school. At the start of 2nd year in medicine, I began with 3-5k runs in the evening and couldn’t believe how much better I felt after a stressful day and how much better I slept. As the stress in my life increased, so has the distance I run! Within a couple of years I was completing half marathons, and this year completed my first full marathon.

What do you love about running?
The peace and quiet, the time to empty my mind, the time to myself. I always try and run towards water or a large open space to stop for a moment and clear my mind. It is the most incredible ‘recharge’ and helps me to sleep well and survive long stressful shifts on the ward. If I miss a few days running, I feel completely jittery and desperate to hit the pavements again! And most importantly, as my children grow I love the example it sets for them. They see my sandshoes on and say ‘Mummy going running!’ and as a Doctor in Paedaitrics I am all too aware of the issues in childhood obesity and how parental role models are by far the greatest indicator of a child’s health. My wonderful and supportive husband always brings them in to watch and cheer at the races I compete in, and they talk about the ‘running race’ for weeks. I can’t wait until they are old enough to come along with me on a loop of Sydney's Centennial Park!
A strong finish

I know that you just completed your first marathon in Sydney this year. Congratulations! How was that?
Completely different to anything I have ever done before in my life. I have run at least ten half marathons, but as they say, a half and a full share nothing more than the word ‘marathon’ in their title. The training was a lot more taxing, and I was often up at 4:30am on a Saturday morning to head off by 5am for a lonely 30k in the dark, getting home as the kids plastered weet-bix all over the walls to survive a very achy day running around after them! Unfortunately I had to train alone as I often work Sundays which seemed to be the only time most training groups do their long runs. It was tough to find the motivation after the inevitable 25km ‘wall’ I kept hitting as I trained, but it was worth it for the experience. I was lucky enough to have my sister and her family give me a wonderful cheer at the start line, then my children cheered me on at 10k and 25k (or more accurately tearily screamed for me as they didn’t understand why Mummy kept running past and not stopping to play at the park!), my sister and her daughter Poppy ran with me from 31-32km just as I was losing my mind in the heat, and my wonderful husband rode his bike alongside me from 36-38k before finishing to the cheers of all my sisters’ families, nieces, nephews and my husband, Hamish. It was an incredible day and one that will stay with me forever. Talk about runners high! But the pain I was in that night was second-to-none…I literally couldn’t sleep because my joints were so sore and my headache so severe, and no amount of water, nurofen or panadol would help. I ended up getting up at 2am and watching trashy Foxtel shows to take my mind off the agony!

I cannot imagine how you balance work, being a mum of triplets, and still train to run a marathon. How did you fit it all in?
Just lots and lots of early mornings. We all have busy lives but exercise is something I really prioritise as I know it makes me feel better, sleep better, concentrate better at work and have more energy for my children. I like to grab that cortisol ‘surge’ we all naturally get in the morning (accompanied by lots of caffeine!) and use it to exercise and set myself up for feeling good for the day.
Go Phoebe! Total rockstar!! How can you not be inspired?
So do you think you will do another marathon anytime soon?
No! It really took a toll on my joints - or more accurately, my joints struggled to carry around my ice-cream habit and cappuccinnos for 42k! I also found it hard to get through the 2-3 hour barrier when training, and for me I love running up to that 2 hour mark and after that the mental battle was pretty exhausting. I’ve really enjoyed being able to return to running 10k as my casual daily run, rather than having to plan in the next long run. And now summer is here, I plan to get swimming too and sweat it out at Bikram Yoga. It's nice to be able to cross train a little after a long year of running. That said, however, my husband is already teasing me that my children won’t be able to remember that Mummy ran a Marathon, so insists I do it again some day! I have said I will when we can train together and he competes his first too…

Do you think you will keep running, or now you’ve ticked “marathon” off your bucket list, it’s onto something new for you?
Running will definitely remain my ‘bread and butter’ of exercise. It’s the most soothing, relaxing and familiar regimen and most importantly takes the least amount of time – you put on your sandshoes and the clock starts as soon as you shut your front door. No time needed to get to a gym or yoga studio, and you can be back before anyone else in the household has even started to rouse! I love the feeling of hitting the empty pavements and watching the sun come up while most of the world sleeps… and I try and start my day that way at least three times a week.

Is there anything that you hate about running?
Like anyone it can be hard to motivate myself some mornings, and the joint pain is pretty relentless. But as that famous quote goes…
“I Really Regretted That Run…Said No One, Ever!”
I always remember that when I’m finding it hard to find the energy to get out the door.

What do you find to be the hardest thing about running?
Finding the motivation to do interval training. Its so much easier to just head out on a steady long run. I would be a much better runner if I actually committed to a proper training program that included Fartlek sessions, but I find I need the time to have a mental ‘break’ so much that the last thing I want to be doing is watching a stopwatch and pushing myself to the extremes! Lazy, I know…

What have you learnt from being a runner?
That the ‘Hare and the Tortoise’ premise is completely true. So many people who I have known have injured themselves training for a marathon by doing extreme programs that are really beyond their fitness capability, or pushed out hard in the start of a half marathon only to have to walk the last 5k because they’re just too exhausted. I’ve always had a slow and steady mentality and have managed to never stop to walk in a race (aside from taking in water at drink stations), so my times have been consistent and gradually I’ve shaved a few minutes off each race.

What’s harder, being a mum of triplets, or a marathoner?
Oh god that is a no-brainer! Lets just say the exhaustion I felt in the marathon is pretty much on-par with the exhaustion I feel at 7:30 every night when my kids are finally in bed. At least the marathon was a once off! And the negotiations were only with my own head for the marathon, rather than the constant negotiations required to keep three toddlers well behaved!

When things get tough, how do you keep yourself going forward - either in
running or more generally?
There’s nothing like my job to keep life in perspective. Every day I see the best and the worst of human kind; stillbirths, traumas, children battling through leukaemia – all it takes is a short shift at work and any challenge I feel I have in my life is immediately put in perspective, making me realise how lucky I am to have a body that is healthy enough to run, and three children who are healthy enough for me to run around after, despite their very premature start to life.

And what is the thing (or things) that you are most proud off – both in running and more generally?
Being able to juggle working and motherhood. I worried that it would be one or the other in medicine, and I certainly didn’t plan to have a family of five so early in my career. But so far, I’ve managed to do both despite the shift work, night hours and extra study involved.  I’m proud of the example that sets to my kids, though they probably disagree and would just like Mummy at home all the time!

What advice would you give someone who was thinking of doing their first marathon?
Go for it! Anyone can do it. Its just a complete mental game and with persistence and strength of mind, you will be able to push through the pain barrier at 20k and the hallucinations at 30k. A wonderful support crew and cheering family on the sidelines will help, too!
Congratulations Phoebe. You are truly amazing!

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