Who wants to be normal?
Editor’s Note: This look at what’s weird and what’s not is brought to you by On Running and their brand new Cloudmonster.
We’re not quite in the same category as cyclists or triathletes, but much is made of the idiosyncrasies of runners. Whether it’s to our partners, our colleagues or our non-runner friends, it feels like we’re constantly having to explain the little things we do. The tubes of Body Glide strewn around the house and car, the seemingly endless refusals to go out for drinks (“Sorry, got long run tomorrow”) and the ability to eat for three are just some of the behaviours others might view as “weird”.
As someone who runs more than 5,000km a year, I think not running is weird. I think letting the sunrise pass you by as you hit snooze is crazy. To quote the great Bon Jovi, “I’m gonna live while I’m alive, and sleep when I’m dead.”
Anyway, this is not about me. It’s about you, you weird runners. To celebrate the release of On Running’s new Cloudmonster, I connected with four Melbourne runners to look at their relationship with the sport, and to see if I could find anything weird about it.
“Funnily enough, I love running in the dark on gravel tracks; I find myself totally at peace when I'm running late at night on a gravel track listening to my feet crunch away beneath me.”
“Guirgs” is the perfect example of a high-achieving amateur runner. He ran his marathon PB in Shizuoka, Japan in 2019 (2:30:12), before a couple of injury-riddled years during the pandemic. He’s now back in training for the upcoming Gold Coast Marathon and is coached by Collis Birmingham at Pulse Running.
Guirgs spends a lot of time in the car – his work takes him around regional Victoria, often offering up an overnight stay in Horsham, a town near the South Australian border, and a three-and-a-half-hour drive from Melbourne.
“The runs in Horsham aren’t my favourite, just because it’s so early. I’m usually running at 5am, and it’s not like running at 5am in Melbourne where it’s well lit and you’ve got other runners out. I’m really just getting those ones done; they’re a grind.”
Running 160km per week means double days are all but inevitable, and for Guirgs that includes a double after his long run.
“I’m getting used to the Sunday double. I try and keep that run as easy as possible; I usually do the doubles on a treadmill, actually. It’s just a bit better on the legs.”
I don’t see too much “weird” in Guirgs’ routine. Unusual, yes. Less than ideal? Certainly. But weird? I guess it depends on your perspective.
“Ha, nah it’s not weird. It’s what I need to do to achieve my goals. Sometimes it’s a slog – especially if I get home from a country trip on a Tuesday night and have to go and do a speed session in the cold and dark. My wife has given up trying to understand it … she probably thinks the obsession is weird.”
You think it’s tough for you to sync up a workout or a long run with the squad? Meet Will Ockenden.
Will works as a nurse in the emergency department at one of Melbourne’s biggest hospitals, meaning running has to fit in around a roster that includes regular weekend and night shifts.
While a lot of us would like to pretend we’re living the pro-runner life and prioritise our training accordingly, running has to play a secondary role in Will’s life, as he deals with a high-pressure job that requires a lot physically, mentally and, sometimes, emotionally.
“I find that I have to be dynamic and almost fluid-like with my schedule. Work when I'm rostered, run when I have time and rest when I'm tired. Whilst it does mean I'm often running solo – in the dark or even post–night shift – it's a way that I've found works for me.
“Funnily enough, I love running in the dark on gravel tracks; I find myself totally at peace when I'm running late at night on a gravel track listening to my feet crunch away beneath me. I think that we live in a world where we are almost constantly in a state of stimulus overload and running can be a great way to get away from it all.”
Will was a talented junior runner, competing at the junior national championships before crossing over to cycling, where he competed at the 2018 U23 Cyclo-cross World Championships in Belgium. He’s now back running; I ask him what races he has on the schedule, assuming he’ll answer with the usual suspects: something at Gold Coast, maybe some smaller races and then Melbourne Marathon in October.
“Running’s not so much about the wins, losses and races for me, but more about getting the most out of my body, staying fit, eating well and hopefully having a long and healthy life.
“During the last six months, running has almost turned into a form of meditation or relaxation. It's not often that I get 30 minutes to an hour to be alone with my thoughts.”
Again, nothing weird here. Just a young man using running to help bring some balance to his life. While a lot of people turn to other interests to cope with the stressors of life, Will just likes to go running alone in the dark. I can’t fault that.
Mardi Cuthbert is a triathlete from Hawthorn, Melbourne, currently in triathlon rehab as she trains for her first marathon on the Gold Coast in July.
For Mardi, running is routine. It’s something she can rely on when the rest of her life seems crazy or chaotic – sound familiar? Having spent the last six months managing the pandemic response for a large local council, Mardi makes enough decisions at work without having to think up new routes and runs all the time. That’s why she relies on her staple favourites: a Tuesday track session, a Friday social run and coffee with friends, and a Sunday long run along Yarra Boulevard.
“Over lockdowns I enjoyed doing the same route every Sunday on Yarra Boulevard – it created a sense of structure and certainty in an otherwise uncertain time. I’ll admit I haven’t strayed from it much this year and still tend to stick to it for consistency.”
Adding to Mardi’s workload are her positions in triathlon. As vice president of her triathlon club and a board member for Triathlon Victoria, she finds both running and triathlon enrich her life.
“I love the lifestyle of running and triathlon – the friends and community I’ve met, the destinations races take you, and the routine and structure of training … Through the challenges of the past few years, and the dynamic nature of work and life, the consistency of knowing you have structured runs to look forward to has been great.”
But now, as Mardi looks ahead to Gold Coast and ramps up her training, running has taken on a bigger role in her life as she juggles additional run days in an already packed schedule.
“Right now, I’m training for my first marathon at the Gold Coast, which has been interesting to challenge the routine with added run load (and doing more strength and mobility, for my physio reading this) but I love finding a new rhythm, and new routine, to make it happen.”
You know those people who just seem to be naturally talented at whatever they pick up? Sarah Gordon is one of those people. That’s not meant to discredit her hard work and application to training – it’s meant in admiration of the fact that she never seems to struggle the way many of us do.
Sarah ran her debut marathon at the Melbourne Marathon in December 2021, crossing the line in 2:59, a time most debutants could only dream of. And while many of us would choose to double down on the marathon in the hopes of whittling away precious minutes and seconds, Sarah has instead decided to conquer another challenge: triathlon.
“I do want to do another marathon but not yet. I was extremely happy with my marathon and want to live with that happiness and not compete against myself until I am ready again. The triathlon provides me with this new challenge and a new learning experience.
“I think the triathlon provides me with a new challenge into the unknown and to learn about other planning and organisation of the sport – while also learning to be alone with my thoughts for that length of time.
“I really enjoy my comfort zone in life and perhaps sport is the only chance I can leave completely without expectation.”
Sarah rarely does sleep-ins or rest days – there’s simply no time with the training required for mastering three sports. When you consider the training it takes to run a sub-three marathon, and then add swimming and cycling into it, every moment counts.
“I’m definitely a morning runner! How early? While I say I hate the wake-up call to a 5am alarm, I never regret it. Seeing the light transition from complete darkness, graduating to a pink sunrise and then finishing your run in full light is something truly special.”
Spending time with Guirgs, Sarah, Mardi and Will over the last few weeks got me thinking about the investment each of us makes in running – not just by the four of them but by me and you as well. We all put a lot in, but each of us is looking for something different in return – whether it’s chasing fast marathons, social connection or stress release, or we’re just looking to challenge ourselves.
I’ve also been reflecting on the way everyone stretches themselves and their time, like sacrificing sleep or time with loved ones to get their training in. And then I come back to the question of it being weird or not, and I realise that even if non-runners do find it weird – the Strava obsession, the caffeine gels at 6am, the black toenails – I don’t think any of us would have it any other way. Life is about exploring boundaries and getting as much out of the experience as you can. And if you choose to attack life in a pair of running shoes, I don’t find that weird at all.