From donning a swim cap to running gear, Donna Urquhart from Black Rock, Victoria made the move from triathlons to long distance running and hasn’t looked back since.
Her background fares a decent amount of interest too, with a career as a medical researcher/physiotherapist investigating treatments for musculoskeletal pain (lower back pain in particular) where she has in the past had an opportunity to study ultra runners’ pain thresholds and what mental strategies they use to deal with pain.
After having met her husband Rhys in the swimming pool, where she is adamant she must have been looking good in a tight swim cap and foggy goggles, both were working towards triathlons 12 years ago. But she soon became aware that following the birth of their son in 2012, training would become more complicated.
“When Max was born I realised that training for adventure racing, including paddling and mountain biking, was going to be a challenge,” she says.
“Given running has been my love, and it was so easy to just throw on my shoes and head out the door, I found myself building my walks slowly into a jog and then into something you could call a run.
“I set my goal to run for two hours as I always loved that longish run in my pre-baby training days, however after several months of running I developed back pain and couldn’t run for more than two minutes without pain.
“I saw a great physio and started some exercises, then patiently increased my run distance; it was so incredibly satisfying when I finally reached my goal of running for two hours and this gave me the motivation and confidence to enter my first ultra in 2013.”
“I recall an ultra running friend in 2016 telling me she was going to do a 24-hour event at Coburg, around an athletics track,” Urquhart says.
“I remember thinking, ‘what on earth would motivate you to do such a thing?’ and to much amazement, a year later I found myself towing the line at the Sri Chinmoy 24hr race in Sydney.
“But this time, my mindset was different. I was intrigued to find out how far I could run in that time frame; would I hit the wall at 100kms? I had never run more than that. Or would I be able to push on and complete a miler?”
With no pressure and just an opportunity to challenge herself, Urquhart clocked 192kms. She explains the event was tough but it set her up for the future.
“Yes, it was difficult, but at the same time the experience set the cogs in motions and I found myself asking the next question – could I make the magical 200kms? With the training and knowledge I have now, could I really do it?” she recalls.
“So I raced Coburg 24hr in 2017 and finished with 203kms! This got me across the line to be part of the team going to the Asia Championships this year!”
Urquhart’s fascination with a 24-hour race is about exploring her physical and mental limits.
Curious to know how far she can go, Urquhart is just as intrigued to learn and implement strategies to push those limits; from trying different nutrition plans and mental approaches to adding more tempo work in her training.
“Experimenting with these different factors and seeing how you can optimise your own performance is challenging, but at the same time very empowering and rewarding,” she reveals.
“I still feel very new to the 24-hour event, and there is a lot to learn, so when I found out I was on the team I decided to link up with a coach, Andy Dubois. Up until this year, I had trained myself, using much of the knowledge I had gleaned from ironman triathlon and adventure racing, but having Andy on board has been invaluable.
“It has taken the stress out of planning my own schedule, provided me with an experienced person to ask questions and brainstorm issues, and allowed me to build up my confidence in my running.”
Urquhart says she is beholden to be part of a great team heading to Chinese Taipei.
“I feel very grateful to have been given the opportunity to represent Australia like this, and appreciative of the support I have received to make this happen,” she beams.
“One area which I think I can improve on is my mental preparation, so I’ve started learning more about mental strategies and practising these during training sessions.
“I think there is so much we don’t know in this area, or which may be understood in fields of psychology, but has not been translated to our world of ultra running.”
Urquhart will be racing alongside her Australian team mates at the 2018 IAU 24hr Asia and Oceania Championships in Chinese Taipei the weekend of December 1-2.
Pictured (feature): Donna Urquhart. Photograph – Joe Armao.
Pictured (above left): Donna Urquhart with her family after the 2017 Coburg 24hr. Photograph – Supplied.