Ailsa Zadow

Testimonial – Personal Training – Half Marathon Story – Ailsa Zadow (Midge)

MY GYM IS BETTER THAN YOUR GYM. No, seriously. It doesn’t give you the feeling that you’re being lied to; it doesn’t sell the idea that fitness is easy; it doesn’t have machines with numerous features that will do the work for you. This is false. Fact is. My body weight is my body weight. And 61kg of my weight hanging on a chin up bar ready for me to lift doesn’t care if there’s a warm towel at my feet, or if there’s a Desperate Housewives marathon on the flat-screen TV across the room. My gym is where-ever Adam Fowler from F!T F!X decides, be thy backyard, playground, local park or oval. My gym is honest. I’m not told that apricot foot scrub in the shower will make everything alright. Hell-there isn’t a shower at all. This gym embraces the concept of ‘hard’, and savours every heartbreaking, agonizing rep.
I’d recently returned to exercise after spending what felt like four years straight being pregnant. As a result, my husband and I have three beautiful balls of energy bouncing around the house, plus his eldest son that completed the package when we first met. I have always been active, from child through to adult. As an adult I’ve joined gyms…barely using them a handful of times; played netball throughout the year and jogged off and on.
It was after having my third child, I was studying part time & working part time, that I weighed the lowest since school, 57kg. Rather than be happy, I felt disgusting. Everything wobbled, and was soft, and squidgy. This is when I realised weight means nothing. Well it did. It meant that I had lost all muscle tone and was incredibly unfit.


I clearly remember my first run two years ago, the beginning of this journey of regaining my fitness and muscle tone. It was 4kms of flat road, and 35 minutes of hell. My Brother-in-law, 17years my senior had just run a marathon. I figured if he could do that, I could at least run a half. So I started to clock up the kilometers, running 5 to 6kms a couple of times during the week and each weekend adding 1 or 2 kilometers to my long run. I was 6 weeks away from the chance to run a half marathon in Adelaide. It was at this point that I returned to winter netball after my absence due to years of pregnancies. With my little bit of regained fitness I managed to jag a spot in the A-grade. It was during a pre-season trial match I fell and hurt my shoulder, consequently missing weeks of netball…and running. In the 5 weeks off of exercise I felt defeated. I didn’t consider even trying to take up running again, because the thought of the amount of effort involved in building up my long run distance was unbearable.
I played the netball season, and then did nothing for a couple of months following. It was my netball coach that invited me out to Original Bootcamp in the local pine forest at Kersbrook for some pre-season over the Summer break. As soon as I began Bootcamp, I could tell it was the kind of program where instructors, one of whom was Adam, wouldn’t leave me alone; encouraging, pushing, extending, and constantly challenging my limitations. I’ve always embraced the idea that fitness was hard, but this place was hard. Small hills, big hills and bloody ridiculous hills were all abused with the aid of equipment. The equipment was made up of hessian sacks filled with sand, pvc pipe full of sand, heavy back packs, truck tyres, nautical rope and fencing posts. I found the vein-popping, heart racing, sweating atmosphere of Bootcamp motivational.
I discovered many things over the next few months of Bootcamp. I found me. I gained muscle, I put on 4kg and I was full of life and energy. There was renewed spark in my relationship with my husband, I developed a six pack for God’s sake, I felt fit, I was happy, and had met a bunch of like minded people regaining control of their bodies. I set a new goal for myself, to try for the most Association umpire votes for my netball grade.
Early into the season I was again plagued by injury from netball (surprise, surprise) and missed 7 games, as well as Bootcamp. It was Adam that encouraged me to continue using him as a fitness coach through F!T F!X to maintain my fitness by working every other part of my body while I couldn’t play netball, attend bootcamp or run. The first time I worked out with him was intimidating. I could see he used ‘strongman’ equipment: chin up bar, barrels, boxing gloves, medicine balls, tractor tyres, sledgehammer, and dumbbells, which seem better suited to a rumble than a workout. Definitely no floor to ceiling mirrors aligning the walls. Ha! One would need walls for them! Thankfully he didn’t start me on these apparatus.
Adam built my strength differently every session, occasionally using commercial, friendlier looking equipment with ‘pretty pastel’ colours. Gradually he introduced me to the ‘strongman’ equipment, continuing to build the complexity of exercises, until the equipment no longer looked intimidating, it was the thought of what challenge was attached to each piece of equipment that was intimidating. The difference of Adam’s approach to fitness meant everything to me when I trained with him. I knew this was the place for me to not maintain my fitness, but build on it and improve my muscle tone and strength. I couldn’t just get back on the road and jog myself back into shape. I had to join a gym. F!T F!X was my gym.
I returned to netball and continued training with Adam. His training was primarily focused around my personal goal for netball, and despite games missed from injury; I came Runner-up Association Best & Fairest. I was blown away. The feeling of being ‘proud of me’ is indescribable. I was proud that I had worked hard on my fitness to strive for my goal; proud that I represented my Netball club; and proud that I was able to be competitive with girls half my age. I was ultimately so thankful to Adam for his training support and guidance.
Soon after the netball season my husband and I ran the City to Bay 12km Fun Run. Our times were separated by 2 seconds, as we both encouraged each other to continue pushing hard aiming to finish in 60minutes. We ran it in 61minutes and were both stoked. We loved competing and completing the event together and set a new realistic fitness goal – a half marathon. We agreed on Great Ocean Road International Marathon in May this year as a goal. Adam discussed with me how I felt when I finished the fun run in order to determine the best training focus for my first half marathon. I admitted that my drivers hurt and my legs felt tired after about 6kms.
Over the next few months our training sessions changed to cater for more running and leg work. Admittedly I hated it. I felt sick, I hurt and I was exhausted. He made comment one day that stuck with me throughout my training “you want to finish the half marathon and feel good, and know you’ve run the best you could”. I ran another 12km Fun Run through Black Hill Conservation Park to help prepare myself for how these sorts of events are managed. I also continued running and other fitness in between training sessions with Adam. Adam emailed through websites for me to look at for half marathon training, he sent daily exercise suggestions, he was able to order me in some protein powder, and he enquired as to how I ‘pulled up’ after training sessions. His support was constant.


Six weeks before my half marathon I started to experiment with other influences on my run. Water and glucose fueling before, during and after the run; energy bars, different socks; gel shoe inserts; band-aids that stayed on; clothing; and running in different weather conditions. My knees began to hurt after long runs, which I ignored, presuming I should expect that from long runs. After the marathon the podiatrist at Joggers World in the city explained to me my shoes had no cushioning left and I hadn’t trained solely on bitumen for a long run. I should have been alternating bitumen, track and grass running each session. I knew I needed new shoes but left it too late to break in new ones before the run date.
A fortnight before the run I decided to train considerably hard, and back right off the week leading up to my Half. My body was exhausted, I was exhausted and not surprisingly I was hurt at netball the Saturday before the run. I hurt my shoulder. Any runner knows that an immense amount of power from the arms is contributed to running smoothly and powerfully. I couldn’t move my arm! I wasn’t sad, I was wild! I could not believe this had happened. I was forced to rest, which as a friend once said, was like ‘telling a red bucket not to be red’. This was almost impossible.
My husband trained for the run differently to me which created some competitive rivalry between us as to who would win on the day. In this same week leading up to the run our baby-sitter plans fell through and I lost my competitors number I needed to pin on my shirt for the event. With all avenues exhausted, my hubby said to me that he would look after the kids while I ran the race. With everything going wrong we both became superstitious and discussed the fact that perhaps we weren’t supposed to run the race.


The journey down to the Great Ocean Road was difficult for two reasons. Firstly we were both superstitious; being particularly careful in case something went wrong. Secondly, I was bubbling with excitement that I bottled up because I could tell that my hubby was disappointed and understandably grumpy. Despite his disappointment he still played a part in my preparation. We drove the half marathon route and discussed the altitude changes and markings for distances, how to run the hills and the possible impact of wind at particular points. These were conversations that should have included both of our runs. There was something special about running it together; something that brought us closer together. Not only this, I was depending on him to pace myself against. I knew he runs at a steady consistent pace, so I would know if I was starting to drop off. And he would be there to encourage me along the way when it got hard. I lost a lot of confidence that I could run it at a competitive pace, on my own, with no support other than my own determination.
With pasta for tea and everything prepared, the morning of the marathon finally arrived. I woke up at 5am, ate breakfast and got myself ready before waking up my hubby and the three littlies. At 6am they drove me to the bus in Apollo Bay, in the dark and drizzle, where hundreds and hundreds of other competitors were being draughted like sheep onto the correct bus for the correct destination; Kennett River or Lorne. I waved my support crew off, and me, my adrenaline and my belly full of butterflies boarded the bus to Kennett River.
I had over an hour to wait at Kennett River before the race began. Thankfully it didn’t rain and I had the absolute pleasure of watching the sun rise over the ocean as I stood on a beach scattered with athletes jogging up and down and stretching in preparation for the race. I chatted to a number of people while waiting on the beach; in the mammoth line up for the toilets; and in the starting line, exchanging past running stories and goals for this run. Little did I know that one particular man I chatted to would be my motivator that pushed me the whole way and helped me achieve my goal of completing the 23km in 2 hours.
8 o’clock arrived and the starter’s pistol signaled the start of the race. I knew the first four kilometers were basically an up hill climb, with a small flat stretch after the first kilometer. I was determined to restrain myself from going out too fast in the beginning, which was incredibly difficult to maintain as I was being passed by so many runners. Despite my restraint I knew I was running faster than I normally would, which I owe all my thanks to my buddy adrenaline.
I found with in the first two kilometers of running that I was virtually keeping pace with the older man I had chatted with at the starting line. He seemed to catch me on the up hills and gain a lead of a meter or two, and then I would peg him on the flats and down hills and lead by a meter or two. It was in this early chapter of the race we introduced ourselves and exchanged finishing time goals. We were both aiming for 2 hours. Neil was from Melbourne who was wearing his daughter’s running number. She is my age and was in London. They intended to run the race together, but wearing her number was the closest they could come to doing that. So perhaps we were destined to meet each other due to our similar race backgrounds.
Neil wore a gadget on his shoe that tracked distance traveled. He told me we needed to run 5minute15second kilometers to accomplish our goal. This constant feedback played a crucial part in our running. After the initial 4 kilometers of hill climbing we lost 1minute. At that time, I told him we’d regain that easy at the end of the race with the added adrenaline. Ha, little did I fully realise how I would be feeling at the end of the race. Each kilometer Neil would let me know how many seconds we were up or down.
The road was incredibly hilly, winding in and out of a head wind. Each hill his pace did not alter; nor did his breathing. He ran like a machine maintaining time. As I climbed each hill, I was determined to stick with him, not prepared to lose even one meter. My legs screamed; my breathing was rapid, but I pushed through it with the knowledge that there was a flat or downhill waiting for me to recover. All I wanted to do at the top of each hill was walk for a few steps to recover. In actual fact, recovery didn’t happen. Flats and down hills were used to regain lost time, so they were the opportunity to push harder; stride longer; breathe deeper and power harder with my arms.
The camaraderie that quickly grew between us is hard to explain. One of us would grab water at the drink stations; the other would grab a Powerade. We would share what we both needed, then drop them in the nearest bin. We constantly encouraged each other when we knew it was hard and readdressed how we were placed with our time goal. Neil wasn’t convinced we would make it; I kept telling him we were going to do it!
Five kilometers from the finish line we both intuitively knew it was time to up the pace. This hurt a lot. It was a gradual uphill climb all the way to the finish in Apollo Bay. I did not want to maintain this pain. We spotted the first timing station, which threw a surge of adrenaline into my system, injecting spring into my stride. I ran over the timing belt in 1hour and 44minutes. I leapt and laughed and carried on, explaining to Neil that I had beaten my friend’s time by 3 minutes and we had our 2 hour time goal in the bag. It was when we spotted another timing station we realised we had just run over the full marathon timing belt.
I had a sinking feeling in my belly. For a fleeting moment I thought it was nearly over. That it could all stop soon. But I had to keep pushing even harder for longer. Our half marathon timing belt came into site, and this time it wasn’t adrenaline that injected extra spring into my step; it was determination and competitiveness that drove my pace. I knew I couldn’t beat my friend’s time, so I was going to keep our gap as small as possible. I clocked 1 hour and 50 minutes. I didn’t jump; I didn’t smile; it wasn’t over. We had two kilometers to run in 10minutes. I had blisters on my feet. My knees were killing me. I was mentally and physically trashed, and I had to run the fastest I had run all day.
Neil took off, immediately pulling away from me. He got about two meters in front of me, and I consciously thought of Adam’s words. “I want to finish and know that I have run the best I can”. I was faced with a decision. To do what my body was telling me to do, let Neil pull away from me knowing I could never catch him; or do what my mind was telling me to do, catch him now, stick with him like glue and run the best bloody race I can. It was at this point I first felt like crying. This felt horrible. I caught up and maintained this grueling pace.


The final 200 meters I spotted my family cheering me on. I fought back the tears and gave them an exhausted wave and smile. When the finishing banner came into view Neil upped his pace again. As I dropped behind, he signaled with a wave of his hand for me to get up there beside him. I pushed hard and did so. It was at this point I thought of all those fitness tests at Bootcamp when instructors would encourage us to sprint as hard as we could over the finish line. I never wanted to then, but I did it; and I didn’t want to now, but I did it. I ran as fast as I could; my legs feeling like they were going to give way; my lungs gasping to get air past my throat that was all tensed up wanting to cry. I could see the timer – 2 hours, with the seconds running fast towards 2 hours and 1 minute.
I said 2 hours and I was determined to get 2 hours. I ran over that timing belt in 2 hours and 57seconds. Immediately I did so I gasped for air as my throat tensed up completely and tears ran down my face. Tears of relief or tears of pride, I don’t know. I thanked Neil again and again, not believing he understood what he meant to me. Hugging each other he returned the thanks. Neither of us believed we could have done it without the other. The strength of friendship, support and encouragement are second to none when aspiring for a goal. And these friendships as proven on this day; despite their history are all as important as each other. My 17year relationship with my husband, through to 17 months training with Adam, to 170 minutes with Neil.


After a lot of training and mental preparation, I have just run my first half marathon: The Great Ocean Road International Marathon in 1hour and 50minutes. The support and encouragement I received from so many people in my varying fitness fields; the massive adrenaline rush of the event and two years of training enabled me to give this run everything I had. Thank God for people believing in me…I blew myself away with self-pride. I ran 19th for my age division 30-34year olds, of which I am at the top-end of at 34; and placed 106th of the 400plus female runners.
I knew the biggest challenge in preparation would be to find the time to train efficiently. I knew I could finish a half marathon, but I didn’t ever think I would be strong enough or fit enough to run it competing with a time goal in mind. There will always be faster runners than me with better technique and finely tuned bodies; and it is easy to become swept up in comparing myself with these other athletes. But I am proud of my fitness achievements while still living my busy life:- being a mum of four children, working part-time, studying part-time, managing a veggie patch and fruit trees, maintaining a farm, and cooking and cleaning.
My biggest danger was coming off of this ‘achievement high’ and not having an immediate goal to strive for in my training. Adam was onto me straight away…like the next day. “What’s next? Full marathon, triatholon, adventure racing? Set a goal.” I couldn’t decide and didn’t realise the importance of finalising a new fitness aim, until I experienced fitness training for the next fortnight. It was ‘blah’. I had no direction, or reason to push until it hurt and sweat rained off of me.
After much deliberation and Googling I have decided I want to run a full marathon, which I was very excited about when I settled on this goal. BUT!!… I want to be 5kg lighter. I hate saying that, because I am happy with how I look, I just don’t want to be carrying any unnecessary weight running 43km for a period probably close to 4hours. I have set myself 5 months to address the final 5kg, then 5 months to clock up the kilometers on the road. I have asked Adam to help me as I know I will want to veer from my goal path because there are three guarantees I will need assistance through. It will be hard, it will hurt, and I will hate it.


Obviously, F!T F!X is not for everyone. Neither are fancy health clubs and fitness centres. Maybe you’re able to exercise while watching Australia’s Next Top Model in glorious HDTV. Or maybe you can squat while Kelly Clarkson blares from the stereo. I can’t. The stripped down, focused environment Adam produces at my outdoor gym forces me to push myself, and I’ve made real headway.
I’ve regained muscle tone and incredible cardio fitness. I can run many kilometers for enjoyment, my netball has improved, and I take vengeful pleasure in meeting up with old school friends and accepting their compliments of how fit I look. For me, the key to making training easy was to make it hard. If you feel the same, then what are you waiting for, contact Adam at F!TF!X now.

Ailsa (Midge) Zadow June 2009

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