Here, the Jaybird ambassador takes us through her training regime, pre-race prep and how she maintains motivation while pushing her mind and body to the max.
First off, congratulations on becoming the youngest person in the world to complete ultra-marathons on all seven continents - can you tell us a little bit more about how you first got involved in this event?
I was pretty much hitting rock bottom just over 2 years ago. I had come to a point where if I didn’t make a serious change, then I was just going to continue on that downward spiral.
I have always been very sporty and loved fitness, competition and running - but never thought my love for running would turn into pretty much my whole life.
So it began after I watched a YouTube video of Andrew Papadopolous completing a multi-stage race across the Simpson Desert in Australia. I didn’t know Pap at the time, but this achievement planted the seed for me.
I decided to do my first race and had 8 months to prepare, train and save up. However, when I started researching all things ultra marathons, I realised this sport was bigger than what I had imagined. I decided to take on ‘Racing The Planet’ which is a 4 Desert marathon phase, and noticed no other girl my age had done it. The hardest part was telling my parents at just 22 that I was going to be running 250km’s across the hottest, windiest, driest and coldest deserts in the world haha yep that was my first major obstacle! This was all around August 2017… I haven’t looked back since.
How did it feel to cross the finish line after your final race, the Grand 2 Grand Ultra in Utah?
The Grand Canyon was such a spectacular race, I was injury free and felt really great, I was racing pretty well and with some good friends in the race that I convinced to do it as well. Ryan Adam from New Zealand who ran Alps 2 Ocean 323km race in February of 2019 and Ann Verhaeghe from Belgium who I ran in Antarctica with. Those two, plus six others made up our tent crew which was very fun. Ann and I crossed the finish line together on the final day and it was a very special moment, I was super happy!
I guess I wasn’t TOOO emotional though, because for me this wasn’t the end. This, is in my eyes was my journey for the moment, but now I am just getting started. So instead of being sad about it being over and being lost on what to do with myself, now that all 7 are done I more see it as an opportunity to keep growing as an athlete/runner.
I honestly thought after race one and two last year that I was probably going to die HAHA, but after race three and then four I started to love the sport. After race seven I just wanted to run more.
I also had a real incentive after race seven. One of my main supporters ‘Adrenaline’ are all about experiences and they knew it was a real dream of mine to fly over the Grand Canyon, so Naomi Simson said to me if I complete all seven races then they would gift me a helicopter ride over the Grand Canyon.
There were so many moments I wanted to quit, like the 25th sand dune I had to run up on day 4 in the middle of the night on the longest day... I just remind myself of this. PS. the helicopter ride - It was BLOODY AWESOME!
How have you improved upon your performance each time (eg. What did you learn in previous runs that helped you this time?)
Race one was my real learning curve - I had a horribly long day and anyone who has followed along these races knows exactly what I am talking about… I was a mess, crying, talking about digging my own grave, hacking off my limbs… I look back on that and am like “arghh silly Jacqui.” I used up so much energy having a big sook for hours on end in the middle of the African desert alone rather than just getting the day done. I was sulking for honestly hours, dragged out the last 30km’s and my mindset was in the absolute pits.
No matter what though at that point in race 1 I know I had to go through what I did. In hindsight, I now have these experiences to shape how I run and who I am.
Now when I feel like a 2/10 I know to just push through it because within 10-15 minutes or so it usually paces and that momentary feeling of being beaten passes. I try to stay super strong through those really challenging times and then really enjoy it when I am in those super high times.
What was your training like in the lead-up?
Eight months out from the first-ever race I was running about 40km’s a week. I was not in shape to run 250km’s that's for sure! I worked with a running coach and he got me clocking up over 150km’s a week plus bike sessions, swimming, boxing and some yoga. I also worked with Rory Tim’s - a strength coach at Science of Fitness in Milton. He has been my go-to guy since the start and I still reach out to Rory when I need a program or want to bounce some training plan ideas off him.
As these races aren’t just a physical challenge, I was testing myself mentally as well. I would sit on the exercise bike with the heater as high as it would go in the middle of summer with 2 big jumpers on and ride for a few hours… I did a marathon on an assault bike at the gym… 1 hour of burpees… you name it and I was testing myself. I knew that it wasn’t ‘if I hit a wall in the desert races… more like WHEN’...
How do you balance this with work and general life stuff?
Luckily one of my strengths is being organised so I am able to try and sneak in dinner catch-ups and coffees with friends before or after training sessions or work. It is definitely harder these days as I am travelling a fair bit but I always try to prioritise my family and friends :)
I work at Bodyfit South Brisbane and the owners Joel and Codey are the best! It is very hard to hold down a job as a fitness trainer when I can’t commit to a lot of shifts but the guys are very supportive.
What do you like to eat the night before and the morning of the race?
During the desert races I eat pretty boring foods, usually, dry-packed meals of an evening which are high calorie and you just add boiling water to them and they cook. My favourites are spaghetti bolognese, mac and cheese and the old two-minute noodles (I dislike these a lot in everyday life though).
Breakfast used to always be oat sachets and add boiling water but I got very sick of this. Now I have peanut butter… yep, I will literally have a few scoops of peanut butter and maybe a True Protein Shake for breakfast in the desert…
In a single-stage race like a 100k or 50k run though where I can eat whatever I want, I like to keep it simple and pretty normal. Carb loading is pretty hard to nail and usually just makes you feel heavy and gives you a funny tummy. I will have a bowl of pasta the night before a race and maybe an ice cream or something fun! Breakfast… I LOVE Farmer Joe’s Muesli with a banana so that is my go-to and a few espressos for a kick!
Do you have any superstitions around race day? (e.g. you always have to have Weetbix or wear yellow shoes.)
As I mentioned above, I like to keep my food pretty basic… I like to have my clothes laid out, I have my favourite pair of shorts - they have almost had their day sadly but I love wearing them, and I always need my Jaybird Earphones charged and ready to go! I always squeeze in a little stretch, then even if it is overcast I will load up on zinc to protect my skin and clean my teeth - even if I only have 2 minutes I will make time to clean my teeth.
What’s the hardest part of the race for you?
The first 5-10km’s is ALWAYS the hardest, finding my groove and trying not to go out 100 miles an hour… I always go out too hard. Once I settle in and find my rhythm, it starts to feel good. I am also still figuring out exactly how much I can give, I think this will come with more experience - knowing how much I have in the tank. A few races recently I crossed the finish line thinking I could of gone harder and given it more.
This event isn’t just about physical endurance but mental strength too, how do you keep motivated?
For me it is really simple - I love this, I love running, so it isn’t hard at all. There is no way I could of done all seven if I didn’t love it. I started out doing this because I needed to bring something back into my life that made me want to jump out of bed in the morning and not lay there and hit the snooze alarm.
Looking back, did you ever see yourself getting into something like this - or being so successful at it?
I have always had a strong work ethic when it comes to training and I have been like that since I was probably about 5… or younger. I wanted to be the youngest kid in the school skipping team in year 3, so I remember spending hours upon hours a day skipping and practising to make it into the team, for no other reason than reaching my goal.
I also played years of tennis and would drag my dad to the tennis courts at 430am in the middle of winter. I just love working hard for a goal and competing. Even though I never thought I would be running around the world, I guess I thrive the most when I am doing sports.
I am not sure I would personally count myself just yet at being so successful in the sport. I think I have a long way to go but I am quite young to be running ultras and I hope to be doing this for the next 10, 15, 20 years and look forward to seeing how much fitter and faster I can get!
Are you doing it for a reason? (e.g. a charity or personal goal)
I set out to do this to overhaul my own mental health. I never had an intent on it turning into what it has. From the start I wanted to raise funds for mental health charity, The White Cloud Foundation, because I really believed in what they stand for; ‘to be healthy you need not only your Mental Health but physical, emotional and social wellbeing.’
I had some pretty rough years myself after breaking five bones consecutively, having my tonsils removed and then being pulled from my scooter in Bali. I was only 20 when this all happened and from the outer, I looked like I was dealing well with these things. I would whack on a smile, but behind closed doors, I swept all my issues under the rug and was turning to anything that would distract my mind from how unhappy I was.
No one would have ever guessed that bubbly, happy, energetic me was in such a bad way and I really did withdraw and was embarrassed I guess, so I didn’t talk to anyone about it. I hope that it shows that sometimes it is the people who seem the happiest that might be struggling the most.
I feel like with the huge mental health push around not only females but also the big focus on males these days is making a huge difference. From what I have noticed people seem to really ask how you are, and the person responding feels more comfortable to explain how they truly feel rather than just saying good. I love seeing the conversation around mental health being so open now.
What’s your next goal?
I am looking forward to improving my running and my results in competitions. 2020 is filling up pretty quickly for me with different races. I am heading back to New Zealand for Alps 2 Ocean 323km Ultra Marathon then to Sri Lanka for a 250km Ultra Marathon with Ultra X Co.
I am also really excited to do some more single-stage races - I will be doing the 100miler at Brisbane Ultra and the 100k at Blackall100 again next year. The 100miler is something I am really going to be focusing on. I hope to get back overseas as well to do some mountain running and training in the high altitude.
Another challenge for me is public speaking and I will be doing more of this in 2020, sharing some of my learnings and experiences throughout the seven continent races. I am just loving the journey, the people I am meeting along the way and also the mystery of not knowing exactly what will be next.