News / Sport

Marathon debutante puts her best foot forward

COVID led to Lee Harrison taking up running; now she is about to attempt her first marathon

Lee Harrison has followed a strict training program over the past 14 weeks to prepare for the Melbourne Marathon.

Mark Phillips
Wednesday, November 8, 2021

IF it had not been for COVID-19, Lee Harrison may never have taken up running.

A year ago, the 32-year-old Brunswick resident had never jogged more than a couple of kilometres in a session. So no-one is more surprised than her that she will be attempting her first marathon this Sunday.

She will join more than 8000 others in the Nike Melbourne Marathon which culminates with half a lap of the MCG.

If she completes the 42.2km course in less than 3 hours and 50 minutes, Lee will be over the moon.

She only became a runner because COVID forced her to discover a new way to exercise during lockdowns.

Lee, who works as a public servant, freely admits she was not at all sporty as a child, but an epiphany of sorts in her 20s led her to become passionate about physical fitness.

“I was an inactive kid, actually,” she said. “I didn’t like PE and wasn’t good at running or ball sports but in my 20s I got into gym and personal training and enjoyed weight lifting and pursued that.

“I started competing in novice power lifting and discovered a passion for personal fitness. I also became a qualified personal trainer and did it for a job for two years in Brunswick before coming back to my government job.

“I’m really passionate about health and fitness and COVID gave me the opportunity to reassess my powerlifting and the stress it was putting on me. The gym was shut for so long and I couldn’t do powerlifting from home so decided to take up running instead.

“I work from home as well and wanted a reason to get out of the house and break up the monotony, so running kept me sane and physically active in COVID.”

This time a year ago, five kilometres was still Lee’s limit, until she registered with running club Sole Motive and took part in an 8km fun run through the Point Nepean National Park in January.

She followed that up with 13.5km at Hanging Rock in April, and during one of Melbourne’s lockdowns in July ran a half marathon on her own along her regular training route through Princes and Royal Parks, the Edinburgh Gardens and part of the Capital City Trail.

Lee had set her sights on running the Melbourne Half Marathon in October, but the event was postponed until this weekend which gave her the opportunity to refocus her ambitions.

“I thought I’ve already done the half marathon in my training and don’t want to do that again, so the next step is a full marathon,” she said. She is excited by the prospect of running into the MCG at the end of the marathon, where her mother will be in the stands cheering her on.

Lee’s training regimen over the past three months has seen her run between 45-60km a week, four times a week. She has drawn inspiration from Irish-Australian distance runner Sinead Diver, who also did not take up running seriously until she was in her 30s. Diver holds the Melbourne Marathon record for the fastest time by an Australian set in 2018, and earlier this year finished tenth at the Tokyo Olympics.

Lee ran a half-marathon on her own during lockdown in July.

Not one to leave things to chance, Lee has built a team around her of a running coach, personal trainer, physiotherapist and a meditation coach. The latter has been essential to help build the “mental tenacity” required to succeed in both running and powerlifting.

“I’ve started meditating this year which I think has really helped me. If I don’t practice meditation before a run, I can get stressed and it’s taught me to stay focused in the present and not worry so much about the what’s ahead.

“It’s mind over matter for anything. If I don’t believe I can lift a weight or run a distance or time, my body won’t let me. If I do feel I can, nine times out of 10 I can. There are also days when you just feel bad and can’t get out the door so you have to push through. There’s peaks and troughs, but you have to embrace all of it.”

The 42nd Nike Melbourne Marathon Festival is being held over two days for the first time this weekend, with 10 and 15km and a 3km walk on Saturday, and the marathon, wheelchair marathon and half marathon on Sunday.

The full marathon takes a route from East Melbourne through the city to Albert Park and Elwood before heading back to finish with half a lap of the MCG.

Splitting the Marathon Festival over two days is just one of many measures taken to ensure the race is COVID-safe. Other precautions include include rolling start lines, hygiene stations, social distancing, and robust contact tracing measures. All runners must be able to prove they have been double vaccinated.

The Melbourne Marathon was first run in 1978 and is the largest in Australia. In 2019, the last time it was run, it raised about $1.2 million for several charities.