BEING A TEAM PLAYER
For many years I wondered how athletes in individual sports could get the same enjoyment as those participating in team sports… that sense of pride as a team-mate pats you on the small of your sweaty back after an intercept, joining several other hands as you reach into a container of juicy orange pieces that your friend’s Mum had cut earlier that morning, huddling in a tight circle to perform ‘three cheers’ and then dragging your feet back onto the court for an exhausted warm down lap or two with the team and screaming your lungs out to “We are the champions” following glory on Grand Final Day… how could an individual sport match that?
From the age of ten I enjoyed (if I could think of a stronger word I would use it) playing netball for a small town called Kybybolite, just outside of original hometown of Naracoorte. Basketball, Volleyball and more netball were among the team sports that I pursued when I moved to Adelaide in 2003. It was a very challenging decision to hang up my netball bodysuit at the end of the 2008 winter, in order to focus on my running. I felt as though I was making a choice between being a member of a team and a close circle of friends versus taking on the ‘lonely-man’s’ sport. In the five years since my decision to pursue running I can easily and excitedly say that I feel like I belong to one of the most closely-knit teams I have ever been a part of and an even wider team in the local and Australian community.
In my experiences, running is far from a lonely sport… most of the time! In my average week of training I run anywhere between 1-3 hours on my own and even those runs are in partial company with dog-walkers, construction workers and friends tooting as they drive to work! You can’t get away with anything in Adelaide. I am fortunate to have a partner, Matt or ‘Ferbs’, who also loves to run middle-distance events. In an average week I run 2-4 hours with him. The bulk of my training however is the 8-10 hours per week that is done with my training group, Team Tempo; which also includes Matt. I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to run in company so often and it makes me appreciate my alone time when I do have it. A solitary run is a nice time to listen to a favourite playlist, solve the world’s issues, think about the day ahead and take in your surroundings.
On the contrary, jogging with fellow runners and friends is an opportunity to cover many conversation topics and it is incredible how much you learn about a person during a run – in some cases too much! When conversations start to dry up or in times of fatigue and delirium, some of comments that come out are priceless. One thing I look forward to every weekend is the post-run coffee with my training group. The simple routine and the chance to mingle after a hard workout is a part of the Australian distance running culture (and obviously cycling too) that I quickly learnt to appreciate. I have enjoyed watching new recruits also become victims of this ‘healthy’ addiction over the years!
Whilst Team Tempo has grown in numbers over the past five years, the runners have also developed strong and special friendships. When I was fortunate to represent Australia in the London Olympic marathon last year, I felt like I had my entire training squad running with me; in fact they even made me a video before the race with “we’re running with you” as the main slogan. I have no doubt that this sense of team support helped me to get the most out of myself on the day as it helped me gain strength during those tough mental battles. Furthermore, the team support from fellow Australians and friends from other countries left me wondering how I ever thought I was going into this alone back in 2008! From the other side of the fence, I also experienced extreme excitement when my training partner debuted in the Melbourne Marathon, which emphasized the team aspect of this sport.
One thing I love about being a ‘runner’ is that when I meet a fellow runner, I feel an instant connection. There is a sense of mutual respect and understanding. Without having to express any thoughts, feelings, opinions on the highs and lows of the sport, I know that ‘they get it’. They know what it feels like to wake up to an alarm and fight a mental battle before rolling out of bed to fetch your sneakers, to feel the burn in your chest and experience the sensation of lifting legs that resemble led-weights when lactic acid makes itself known… but also understand the many joys of running!
When participating in races of any level, particularly the longer road races, I gain satisfaction from working with other runners. It might involve sharing a water sponge (which was the case in my most recent marathon in Moscow), or simply giving a quick word of encouragement. Whatever it may be, I believe a simple positive gesture from one athlete to another during a race can be very uplifting and has helped me to gain motivation during races. I guess it comes back to feeling that sense of teamwork and camaraderie from my rural netball upbringing of which I have such fond memories.
As a runner, you are not only a member of your immediate training group or team but a part of a wider running community. School teams, State teams, National teams and training camps (i.e. in Falls Creek) provide opportunities to meet people from all parts of world. The common thread and idiosyncrasies that we all share and appreciate, lead to development of special friendships. There are a lot of us ‘runners’ out there and it only takes a quick read of a running magazine, an attempt to register for major marathons and fun runs at the last minute or a peruse of social media and web pages to see this. Running is by no means easy, yet there is an element of simplicity that sets is apart from other sports. All it takes is a pair of shoes, a small piece of land and you’re set… in fact many would argue that footwear isn’t even necessary!
So in exchange for sharing half-time orange wedges and post-match huddles with the girls, I have instead shared gels, shoes, freezing aqueducts and so many laughs with fellow ‘runners’. Both experiences have led to developing special friendships and memories that I will forever cherish.