Mile 27 client Jenna Brook is currently running 4500km from the southern most point of Tasmania to the tip of Cape York to raise funds and awareness of bowel cancer, the second biggest cancer killer in Australia. Jenna tells us that with early detection the treatment of bowel cancer has a 90 percent success rate, but only 40 percent of cases are caught early enough. The project is called Running for Bums and whilst we are in awe of such an ambitious project the very humble Jenna doesn’t think of herself an athlete, more, in her words, a ‘part time jogger on a full time contract’.
For more information see Jenna’s website.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN TRAINING WITH MILE 27?
I started training with Mile 27 in August 2016.
HOW DID YOU FIRST GET INTERESTED IN ENDURANCE RUNNING?
In 2012 I walked across the Simpson Desert which piqued my interest in endurance activities, and from there I particpated in two Big Red Runs and finally thought I should learn how to run so I could continue to challenge myself with these longer multi-day type adventures.
WHAT GAVE YOU THE IDEA OF THIS CHALLENGE?
I’ve never been one to box myself in and have always had the mentality that if I can dream it, I can achieve it. I was looking for something big that would test my resilience, both mentally and physically, and traversing the length of Australia on foot seemed to fit the bill. When the idea to run across Australia didn’t fit with my other commitments and seasons (I didn’t think it was necessary to cross the Nullabor in summer), heading from Tasmania to Cape York became the number one option, so I got to work on making it happen.
HOW DID YOU MAKE THAT MENTAL SHIFT FROM CONCEIVING THE IDEA TO ACTUALLY COMMITTING TO IT?
I think that one of the most important aspects in planning and commiting to something like this is to malleable and able to go with the ebb and flow of preparing/training for it without being emotionally reactive to it. Sometimes it requires you to sit back, take a deep breath and say to yourself ‘alright then, this is the new normal – let’s go with that’. I don’t think you can go into a 4500km run and know exactly how it will unfold, but you can go into it knowing that you’ll finish it if you are prepared to sacrifice what you want to do, for what you have to do. What you “have” to do can change for a number of reasons, which is why it’s so important to be open to change.
WHAT’S THE MOTIVATION BEHIND TAKING SOMETHING THIS EPIC ON?
For me it’s simply a case of achieving something so outrageously big that it puts everything else into perspective. There is also of course the charitable base raising awareness of bowel cancer, and for me the gruelling nature of it is what lends itself to starting conversations about that – the two go together.
On a personal note it’s also about refusing to live in the box that society has put you in and embracing the magnificent potential of the human body. It’s about reminding myself that each and everyday I am constantly breaking new ground and every day learning new things about the world and about myself.
HOW CONFIDENT WERE YOU IN YOUR ABLITY TO FINISH IT WHEN YOU STARTED ?
To be honest (and I know this is rarely said), I was 100% certain I would finish this run when I started it. That’s not because I have a huge ego, but because I have an innate belief in myself to achieve what I set out for. I didn’t know how I would finish it, but I knew that if I was willing to adapt my approach as need be and didn’t have any major accidents then I would definitely achieve it. Obviously I’m not quite there yet, but all being well I reckon I’ll get it done. Again, one of the most important things on a challenge like this is to be able to adapt, not only physically, but also mentally and emotiomally to changes, both planned and unplanned.
WHAT HAVE BEEN YOUR BIGGEST CHALLENGES IN BOTH TRAINING AND ON THE ROAD SO FAR?
Like most runners injury is probably one of the biggest challenges we face, with the road to recovery often a long one. After a couple of false starts I was diagnosed with a nasty labral tear in my hip eight months out from the run and over the course of 2017 didn’t build my training for the better part of eight months, including time prior to the actual diagnosis.
During this time though I was able to bring more strength work into my routine, get back on the yoga mat more frequently and work on the logistics of the run while I had time on my hands. I always knew that taking time out was going to stand me in better shape come run time than starting with significant injuries at the start line, so I held onto that belief and rode the waves that came with it.
We get so caught up in rushing everything, that sometimes we just need to take a step back and ask ourselves if our actions are getting us closer or further from our intended goal. If the answer is further then our decision is not the right one. For me my injuries were a way to reinforce the respect I have for my body and to not push it to breaking point. Nothing good ever comes of that. We have one body and it’s an amazing piece of machinery that deserves our respect and kindness. That doesn’t mean we don’t test its limits of course, but breaking it for the sake of an extra training session here and there is not worth it.
WHAT IS ONE OF YOUR MOST MEMORABLE MOMENTS FROM THE CHALLENGE SO FAR?
To name just one would almost be a crime! Setting off on that first day with my Mum and Dad standing on the beach at South Cape Bay would have to rate highly. I realise how ridiculously lucky I am to have so many people believe in me, so to have them there making the 7km trek in to the start was pretty special.
Crossing the first thousand kilometre mark just south of Narrandera was a pretty big win for me and reinforced that I was actually really doing it.
Reaching Queensland and having crossed three states to get there reminded me how huge this run is (and how bloody huge Queensland is – I wasn’t even half way yet!).
Taking an early mark one day to meet my newest nephew and reminding myelf that no matter what is happening, family always comes first. He was born about the same time I took my final steps in Tasmania and 8 weeks later I finally got to meet the little man.
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNT ABOUT YOURSELF FROM THE TRAINING AND THE 3000+KM YOU HAVE RUN SO FAR? WHAT HAS IT TAUGHT YOU ABOUT LIFE AND YOURSELF?
Wow what a loaded question! Without a doubt it has reinforced to me that I am capable of far greater than I have ever given myself credit for, and the same would be true for everyone out there. We are not limited by our physical capability, we are limited by our mental capability 99 times out of 100. I’ve learnt that we spend so much time fine tuning our physical preparedness without giving much thought to the actual thing that keeps us moving – our minds. The mental fortitude required to get up day after day and face the reality of what’s ahead is something that I didn’t think too much of before the run, but being in the thick of it now, it’s definitely the key to success on a run like this. Your body will keep going as long as your mind allows it.
The lessons on this run have been far too numerous to write here, from pain to body image, to nutrition and recovery, almost every topic has been mused over to some extent while following the white line along the roadside for the past 4400km. And the exciting part is that the lessons will continue long after the run has finished as I look back and reflect on it from every aspect of my life going forward. The sun rises and the sun sets, what we do in between is up to us!
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE PART OF TRAINING?
Rest days of course. Apart from rest days though, I think my favourite part of training isn’t a specific session, it’s the achievement of setting out each day to tackle something I had never done before, whether that be a distance, a time, a speed or a new method, it’s all worthy of being proud of.
HOW DO YOU FEEL YOU HAVE BENEFITED FROM TRAINING WITH MILE 27?
As someone who has had some odd injuries and living so remotely in Birdsville with no diagnostic tools, training with Andy has been a god send. His knowledge of the human body and all its systems have meant that even without a specific diagnosis we were able to adjust my program to suit. While being physically capable of achieving this run is mainly down to my dedication to get out and train, the role of a knowledgable coach like Andy has played a huge role in me being able to continue training in a variety of settings as he guided me from a non-runner in August 2016 to an endurance runner in the space of 18 months. His patience aligned nicely with my view on running and I appreciated his ability to answer questions and concerns with factual information.
WHAT IS THE ONE TIP YOU WOULD GIVE A FELLOW ATHLETE TO HELP THEM ENJOY THE EXPERIENCE OF RUNNING AN ULTRA MORE?
This piece of advice was handed to me as I was headed towards Collarenebri on this run and is easily the single most influential piece that I have received: ‘Stay in your own one square metre’. I have recited this many, many times on the run as everything I can control is contained within it and at the end of the day that’s all that’s really relevant, everything else is merely white noise.
WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ONCE THIS IS ALL FINISHED?
I’m looking forward to not having to mentally get up for 50k a day every day, and I plan to float in a pool for a few days to undo the physical effects of gravity! Also eat, I’m going to eat a lot.