Friday, 13 December 2013

Inspirational Women Who Run.... Introducing Jennifer Williams (my mum!)

My mum came to sport later in life. She learnt to swim when she was 38. At the time she was a single mother of three and also studying at university to finally accomplish her dream of becoming a teacher. She has since gone on to complete more than 20 marathons, multiple ultra-marathons, and around 12 ironman triathlons. She continues to do all these races while working as a teacher, looking after my sister who has just finished her last year of school, and remaining very active in the local community - including having been director of the local theatre company. She is truly a master of many things, and always extremely busy. 
I hope you enjoy her story. 

Can you tell me a bit about yourself? 
I am married with four children and one grandson. I'm the eldest of six children. I did some sport through school, and loved it. I moved to Woolgoolga - a small town on the North Coast of New South Wales in 1975, and it's been my home ever since. 

How did you get into running and triathlon?
I have always loved running. My eldest daughter was asked to join the local Athletics Club because a teacher thought she could probably ‘walk as fast as she could sprint the 100 metre race’ and so we joined as a family. (Eds note; back in high school this was true. Yep, I was a race-walker!)
When she then left home, the then President, Steel Beveridge, said there was still the family membership, so why not give it a go.
I did, and told Steel that I wanted to do the Sydney City to Surf. (A 14km race from Sydney City to Bondi beach.) Steel wrote me a program, and it worked. 
Some years later, Steel wrote me another program for the "Host City Marathon" (the trial run for Sydney Olympics).  For my training, I just enjoyed the local Athletics club meet nights, and also did some regional fun runs.  
The Marathon was April 2000, and for nine months before I trained 6 days a week. I loved it.

What was your first triathlon?
During the preparation for the Sydney Marathon, an ‘enticer’ triathlon was introduced at Coffs Harbour Triathlon Club. It was a 200 metre swim, 10km bike and 2.5 run. We were put with a buddy to stay with us for safety. I finished and was so excited. I felt like I’d won the Olympics. When I went home, my husband thought I’d been out running with a friend; I hadn’t told anyone that I was participating for fear of failure!

What made you decide to do your first marathon? 
I had watched Robert deCostella run the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane. It had been televised and I was at home with small children and whilst ironing, thought wouldn’t that be wonderful to run a distance like that. He was inspirational then and now. It was something I always dreamed of doing. 
In July 2012 when I had completed my 10th Gold Coast Marathon I had a photo taken with him.  It’s framed on the fridge.

And then how did you make the jump to ironman?
Once I’d started triathlons I was bitten. I wasn’t good at swimming. All the Tri Club races are in Coffs Jetty Harbour. I breaststroked the whole 200 metres in my first triathlon and didn’t know until I completed the event that I could have put my feet on the bottom!
I was petrified during the swim leg and have been rescued many times. So I decided to have swimming lessons. A local coach who had a swim school gave me private lessons starting with the basics. His wife was also keen and so we learnt together. How to breathe, float, do 4 big arms then a breathe, kicking all those things. After 20 weeks of doing lessons twice a week he said, ‘you can swim now get out there and do it.’ 
I did, but I was still fearful so I joined the swim squad at Coffs Harbour Pool. I was so slow that I had to go in my own lane for 6 months, after which I progressed into the ‘cheese and bikkies’ lane. 
During training one day I was talking to a friend who was also swimming - in a faster lane than mine -  she said she would like to go to New Zealand for the ironman. 
I had been thinking about it because I had done a few longer distances. For my 50th birthday I had completed the Coffs Harbour Bananacoast Olympic Distance Triathlon that I had long admired, and I placed third in my category. I was so delighted to spend a birthday that way. So made my decision and started to train for the ironman the following year.

What’s the hardest thing about training and racing ironman?
The hardest thing about training for ironman is the time. It takes such a long time, not just physically, but the mental preparation is tough. Getting up in the dark to cycle and run is tiring. Going to bed in the dark is a relief, but the nights seem short.  
The hardest part of racing ironman is the people around me when they are getting ready for the swim. It’s hard to block out their incessant chatter about what they have and haven’t done. But once I’ve started and in my own space I’m alright.

What’s the best thing about racing ironman? 
All three parts! When finishing the swim I love getting out of the water and getting ready for the bike. Then on the bike I love that feeling of pushing up a hill and flying down. It’s exhilarating. Then there's the excitement of coming into the transition. I can’t wipe the smile off my face. 
But my favourite is the run. I think, ‘oh no, it’s nearly over!’  I love being in the zone of moving along - albeit slowly - counting the kilometres as I go along and challenging myself from one kilometre to the next. The last two kilometres are the best. I’ve set a goal, trained for it - through the good, the bad, and the ugly - and completed it to my best on the day.
My mum is far left, with some of her club mates from Coffs Harbour triathlon Club.
What race stands out in your mind as the most difficult and why?
My most difficult was ironman Oz three years ago. I had just turned 55, I was training really well, and  had placed in a number of races. I had a good program and felt great. 
However, my mind started playing tricks on me when, at the beginning of the race, I was told that there were only 4 people in my age group and I would have a good shot of qualifying for the ironman World Championships in Kona. 
I got into difficulty in the water and I had an asthma attack. I was very anxious, but overcame it, and managed to get out onto the bike. 
At this stage of the race, I was coming third in my age group. I felt more anxious and under pressure, so I decided I’d give it a good shot, ignore what everyone was saying and just focus on my own race. However, the medication I had taken was giving me breathing problems. I was having palpitations and felt uneasy. 
I was determined to finish so continued on. Unfortunately my cycling got slower and slower. I was taken off the course because I would not have made the cut-off time. 
It was difficult not finishing something I started. But it was a good lesson in mental toughness. Since then I have toughened up and ignored advice unless it is from my coach, or a few select people who know me well whose opinions I value.

Mum, you hold the record for the longest time in transition. What are you doing in there? 
Making friends! Making sure I get all the bits and pieces in the correct order so I don’t forget anything.
Mum, second from the left. Wearing the Woolgoolga Athletics Club uniform proudly and training for ironman Oz in 2006. 
Mum, your race more than just about anyone I know. Why do you do so much? 
I can only say I love it! Despite the time it takes, and the effort it requires being organised to complete the goals I have set for myself, I just love that freedom of being on the road when cycling. 
The outdoors where I train is spectacular. I see so much, smell the bush, and enjoy every minute. 
Running is the same. Our training ground is the best part of the world. We can see the bush, the ocean, the city; there is no end of scenery when training for an ironman, or any other goal that I’ve set.
It really is a great way to see the world. During a visit to Europe, a friend and I decided we would go for a run around Venice. We found lots of dead ends, but we also saw the city and had lots of laughs. It’s like a mini adventure everyday! It’s also great thinking time and helps me put lots of day to day decisions into perspective.

How do your juggle work / children / sport and all your other commitments? 
I’ve always been lucky in that my husband has almost always been supportive. A number of times I’ve almost turned back thinking I should do this or that at home, but then kept on because I believe that guilt is a wasted emotion. 
Marriage is a partnership and working at it is hard. My husband, Bob does what he likes doing too, and so we discuss what our plans will be. That takes some effort, but it all seems to work out.  
With work, I always prioritise with that which is important, urgent, and creative; I like to make sure I’m involved with something creative, it keeps all the brain active.
How long to you plan to keep doing ironman for?
For as long as I am able. I know that’s a cliché, but I love it. The feeling of achieving a set goal is important.
Melbourne Marathon 2008. Me, my brother Martin (his first marathon) and Mum. Victorious finishers! 
What’s your ultimate goal in racing, and how do you plan to achieve it?
My ultimate dream is to qualify for Kona. Who doesn’t want to go? I’ve seen it once. I was fortunate enough to share it with my daughters; my eldest who is inspirational in her strong mental and physical attitude, competed (thanks mum!). Me and my other daughter Alice were there to watch her. It was emotional as I am astounded and in awe at her power and the process in which she implements her goals.
My plan in achieving this goal is to get focused. Sometimes I let excuses take over, but I feel that now with my youngest child on the verge of starting her life as she starts university, I can use the empty nest to thrust me into a bit of selfishness!

What advice would you give to someone who doesn’t come from a sporty background, but wants to give running and triathlon a go?
Wise words were given to me when I started: If you want to run, you just need to get out there and do it. 
If you want to cycle, just cycle. Same for swimming. Keep at it because persistence pays off. Initially I gave myself a couple of goals per year. I considered races that I could afford, places I could go, how the training would fit in and then committed myself to do it.  I’ve loved it!
The whole family at Sydney running festival 2012; Me, Henry, Sunny, Edward (little brother - back), mum, Martin (other little brother) and Alice (little sister.)

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