For Kirsty Baker, a nurse from Australia, running isn’t just a way to stay fit but a lifestyle. She’s always been an active woman who enjoyed horseback riding, pole fitness, swimming, and more but once she turned her focus on running at the age of 27, her life hasn’t been the same.
Like many people, she wanted to accomplish a feat before turning 30 and for Kirsty it was to run a marathon. “I'm not sure where this came from! The most amount of running I did was a short distance on the treadmill,” explained Baker. Unexperienced but determined, she signed up for a 6.2 miles (10km) race that weekend. Her training for the race consisted of running 5km on the treadmill three days before and just going for it. “I managed to complete it in just over an hour and I can honestly say I don't know how my legs didn't fall off!” Nevertheless, after completing her first official race, Baker was hooked and there was no turning back. To help with training, she joined her local park run group. New to the community, Baker was nervous but was able to come out of her shell. Gaining friends and support, she began to run every weekend with the group and they even began traveling to races together. “Having that support network is amazing and has changed my running life for the better, but don't be afraid to go alone. The fitness community is friendlier than you think,” Baker encouraged.
Only nine months after that first 10K, Baker signed up for a full marathon. A mere twenty days after that marathon, she booked an ultra-marathon. Ultra distance running is any length longer than a traditional marathon length of 26.2 miles (42km). She finished both races and fell in love with the longer distance challenge.
Ultras pose their own unique hurdles to runners. Various ground types from gravel to road over long distances are liabilities runners have to prepare for. Finding the right gear is instrumental to overcoming those challenges. Runners prepare the best they can but with time comes knowledge and experience. The first challenge isn’t necessarily physical but a mental battle with the course length. Baker embraced the length because in her eyes in was a personal test of strength. “No one ever tells me my 50km (31 miles) race was slow, everyone was just blown away with the distance!”
Your base gear is most important. “Doesn't matter if you have great t-shirts, if your bra chafes or doesn't support you, you'll struggle from the start,” Baker points out. Even a simple piece of clothing like socks can make it or break it for a runner. The risk of blisters is real and if a competitor comes unprepared for the challenge, it can result in a DNF (Did Not Finish). “You can't cut corners in a race and certainly not ultra marathons,” warns Baker. Luckily she hasn’t had to face a DNF personally but isn’t overcome the with fear of ever getting one. Learn from mistakes but be proud is her mantra. Long distances can take time and with that, weather becomes a factor. Always check your conditions and take them into account. If it’s hot, take time to cool off. If you are hungry, grab a snack. If the weather is cold, plan for warmer clothes. “If you tackle every issue when it's minor, it goes away,” Baker advises. Serious physical ailments can occur when running ultras and competitors need to check-in with their bodies throughout the race. Rhabdomyolysis, is a condition in which damaged skeletal muscles break down rapidly. Muscle pains, vomiting, and even discolored urine are all warning signs not to be taken lightly. “I watch my urine often to monitor my hydration and kidney function.”
Baker doesn’t want to scare anyone away from long distance running, in fact, she’s actively trying to convince her park run group to join her. Traveling internationally to compete is another passion that keeps her going. She flew from Australia to the UK to run in Race To The King, a 53 mile race over two days passing through numerous historical sites and beautiful countryside. “I made sure I flew the Aussie flag across the finish line. I was nowhere near first! But I flew it with pride,” Baker beamed. She also has her sights set on Germany, where she was born. It isn’t about getting a new personal best, it’s about the experience.
The year of 2019 holds a couple of 50km (31 miles) races and a 100km race for Baker. More focused on the journey than her timing, she wants to have fun and get stronger. If she can convince friends and family to join her, she looks forward to pacing with them instead of worrying about her own records.
If you’re reading this and thinking about signing-up for a race, it’s time. No more excuses. “You'll remember the joy, the pride, the excitement of completing your first race or increasing your distances,” Baker encourages. It isn’t about watching the clock, it’s about joining a welcoming community and overcoming something you may not have thought was possible.