Shared Paths Along Different Distances
Increasingly each year, in the lead up to the Melbourne Marathon Festival, there is a change in the air on running paths all around the city. Gloomy winter mornings give way to crisp spring sunrises; there are more runners out on the trails. Carbon-plated race shoes fly by on Sundays, as marathoners condition their legs to the rigours of their goal pace. As unknown runners pass each other, each contemplates whether the other is preparing for Melbourne too … as if yearning to feel connected along the journey.
Many runners do in fact connect. Over the past few weeks, larger and larger packs formed on the trails. Laughs and smiles have been shared between gasps for air. And in just a few days’ time, many thousands of runners will congregate at the end of this particular journey with a final lap around the MCG.
For three runners gearing up for Melbourne, the starting and finishing point look much the same. At last year’s edition of the event, Brit De Groot, Shannon Reynolds and Harrison Manias didn’t know each other. But they were all there in some capacity, and all vowed to be at the next iteration, now just days away. Their journeys here are as unique as they are similar. Brit will run the 10km, Shannon the half marathon and Harrison the marathon.
I was fortunate enough to sit down with each of them to discuss their goals and fears, their reasons for running Melbourne and their relationships with running more broadly. Despite not knowing each other less than a year ago, their journeys have since intersected in ways unbeknown even to them.
For Shannon and Harrison, running Melbourne is an opportunity to celebrate.
For Shannon, the celebration she has come for is of each other. Shannon is often thinking about other people before herself. Inspired by heartache close to home, in the past she’s used the run to raise money for the Brain Foundation and the Cancer Council. But at last year’s event it was the touching celebration of other runners on the course that inspired her.
“I loved it so much that when we were approaching Albert Park – the front runners of the marathon were running in the opposite direction, and we were all cheering them on … We didn’t know them, but everyone was getting behind them,” she says.
Naturally, she’s looking forward to this year’s event. “This is going to be so fun. Like a big party. It’s a celebration of running.”
Unlike Shannon, who doesn’t have a performance goal for this event (having ticked off her time goal in her last half marathon), Harrison is here on business. He’s chasing a PB.
But it’s hard to ignore the celebration at hand as well.
This will be Harrison’s 10th Melbourne Marathon and will earn his place – alongside his dad before him – as a Melbourne Marathon Spartan.
In his induction speech to the Spartans Club Harrison asked, “How many folks complete a marathon? Then how many come back for another go? Then how many come back a minimum of ten times? How many things in life require a commitment that lasts a minimum of ten years?”
As with any endeavour requiring enduring commitment, it’s more than the finish line being celebrated here. Among the many obstacles and hurdles Harrison has had to overcome was a brain injury and emergency surgery in 2014 that doctors gave him a one per cent chance of surviving. Sunday will be as much a celebration of life itself as of the finish line.
In a touching but tragic parallel, Shannon’s journey has also been shaped by brain injury. Her younger brother, Kieran, suffered a catastrophic brain injury in 2015 in a tragic case of medical negligence. Kieran survived but now requires full-time care from his parents.
“At that time, running was a way of processing grief. I just channelled all of my grief into running.”
Running was not only cathartic but also became a vehicle for Shannon to overcome a sense of helplessness in the wake of trauma. Shannon’s younger brother wasn’t meant to survive that sort of injury, and so there was so much unknown about his future quality of life. She signed up for the 10km run at the Canberra Marathon Festival and committed to raise money for the Brain Foundation.
“That was my way of feeling like I could help when I felt so helpless. I couldn’t change what happened to my brother but perhaps I could change the lives of people that end up in my brother’s situation, and also perhaps to give families that end up with a loved one in that kind of situation a little more assurance.”
Brit’s relationship with running played a similar role in processing grief.
“I didn’t really develop a real love for it [running] until early 2021. I unfortunately witnessed a suicide … I was out on my balcony and someone jumped in front of the train. Then, two weeks later, I lost my ex-partner to suicide as well.”
Brit had only taken up running during the early days of Covid, and grief turned her relationship with it on its head.
“I’d be out running around Royal Park and crying. It was a really cathartic thing for me, just to put on some music and just be with myself.”
Grief was a significant challenge to Brit’s mental health. And despite the conventional wisdom around meditation and mindfulness, Brit found the run was her way of accessing that groundedness.
“I think there’s a lot of misconception about mindfulness and meditation … people don’t think they have access to mindful practice because they’re not a spiritual person, which is incorrect.”
As it did for Shannon, catharsis gave way to purpose, and Brit now bravely shares her mental health journey and the part that running plays in it.
“That’s how I honour my friend.”
For both Brit and Shannon, participating at Melbourne is testament to their resilience and the role that running has played in nurturing them through challenging periods of grief. Those feelings may not disappear, but lining up this Sunday is a sign of how far they’ve come.
Beyond the catharsis and sense of purpose, for Brit running has provided a means to connect not only with herself but also to a broader community of runners.
She founded Flow State, an all-female weekly community run in Albert Park. Flow State has simple goals: building community and finding enjoyment in the process. It is how Brit and Shan came to meet and be part of each other’s lives.
But behind that run, Flow State is something so much more for Brit. There is something inherently connected about being in flow. The opposite is true too: when things aren’t flowing, there is disconnect. Brit knows that. Working in the music industry, she is surrounded by artists whose soul occupation is finding flow.
“Flow state is when you’re so engrossed in something that time passes and you don’t realise. For me, that state is being out and going for a run.”
For Harrison, the connection is to his dad, John. He grew up watching his dad train for and run marathons.
“I would ride my bike with him on his easy 10k days. I would ride with him – complaining endlessly – on some Sunday long runs. I would race him on his track runs.”
But becoming a Spartan like his dad doesn’t quite illustrate the depths of what the connection means to him and how it influences his daily life.
Outside of running, Harrison owns a successful consulting agency that is currently in the midst of building an office space in Coburg. Importantly, the location Harrison so carefully secured for this fit-out was the warehouse his father once owned many years ago.
Connection through time.
“I guess I wanted to follow in his footsteps.”
In a few days, he will.
For all three runners, the journey to, and the broader relationship with, running transcends the Melbourne Marathon Festival. As it will for many other runners lining up on Sunday 2 October. But for Shannon, Brit and Harrison running has been a vehicle for self-discovery – of personal potential and of connection to self and community. It has offered each of them a means to bring to life the best versions of themselves. Versions we will undoubtedly see and celebrate this Sunday.