Happy New Year to everyone!! This is a time when a lot of Australian’s find themselves eating and drinking a little too much over this festive period while a large group of runner’s from all over Australia make their way up to the mountains and other training camps around the country to get a solid block of training done.

Not me, well not the going away part anyway. I love this time in Melbourne where the streets are not the usual hustle and bustle. People are a little more relaxed and easy going during the post Christmas period. The running tracks and trails around Melbourne, like the busy Tan track, are much quieter while the usually quiet trails at Falls Creek witness
traffic jams at peak session training times. Falls Creek becomes a training holiday for many and a great opportunity to catch up with runners from all over Australia.

Apart from the great summer weather and quiet training locations, the other reason I stay in Melbourne is because of work. For me work and running, along with family, friends, relationships, study and travel have always been a balancing act that over the years I have battled with. There are only so many hours in a day, so many days in a week and so many weeks in a year. There are limits to how much you can do in a day and how well you can do things as a result. The battle for me has been prioritizing, balancing and maximizing my life’s activities. I don’t make annual new years resolutions. Instead, throughout the year I randomly step back when I believe it is required to reflect and analyse my situation and where I want to be. This affords a high degree of flexibility and provided I remain conscious of my bigger picture its proved an effective approach and a method I use in all walks of my life, not just running.

I started running at high school racing from 800m to 3000m on track over the two summer month’s it was done. The other 10 months of the year I was playing Aussie rules, cricket, kicking back with my mates and brothers. I am the second youngest of eight children, consisting of six boys and two girls. None of my brothers or mates did athletics, they all played football, cricket, martial arts or tennis. I captained my high school A’s football and cricket sides, so it was easy training twice a week with my mates than it was to go out and train 4-5 times a week running. Plus getting to athletics training was hard when mum and dad had seven other children to chase around. So I would just go to whatever training my older brothers did and join in. I am sure having older brothers is what got me running in the first place! At that stage balancing running into my lifestyle was never a real option.

At the end of year 11 I fractured my sternum and was hospitalized for several weeks with a dangerous infection which almost took my life. I was told no more contact sport and I was placed on huge amounts of medication for 2-3 years. I was allowed to run, but that was about it. So in my final year at school I was training 2-3 times a week – plus a race – or in the case of no Saturday racing, a Saturday morning session if I could make it out of bed. Not much now when I look back, but from year 7 to 11 all I had been doing was the Tuesday and Thursday school session plus Saturday racing for 2 months of the year. I had taken running a little more serious for the first time – I always have and always will give my racing 100%. But it was the preparation for these races that was different. On finishing high school, running seriously still was not going to fit into my busy lifestyle. I just wasn’t ready or able to change my world to make it work appropriately. So over the next 8 years, I would keep fit by jogging a few times a week, I even made 3 short term efforts to get back into racing on track. But each effort lasted 2-3 months until I quit going back to playing cricket with my brothers, or travel, or injuries took their toll as I trained too hard using the all or nothing principle.

There were also many distractions during this period – University, travel, relationships, family and friends, social activities and much more to break up my training routine. I was not ready to give running the full attention and commitment that it would require if I was to be truly successful at a level I knew I was capable of achieving. The balance was still not right, but there was no panic as I knew I still had time on my side. Goals in running were beginning to surface strong in my mind, and by the age of 24 things started to change. I had finished my Human Movement Sport Science degree, been working two years as a personal trainer, lifeguard and manager at a health centre when I decided I wanted to go back to University to become an Osteopath. I enrolled for the full 5-year course in Melbourne instead of heading overseas for 2 years travelling as I had been thinking. I put my working career first, but I also committed to a holiday overseas each year during this course and by the end of my third year I would give my running 100% focus.

I spent the first 3 years making several running come backs. The hardest part was balancing the University 20-25 contact hours with just as many non contact hours. Then working 25 hours a week, trying to maintain some sort of social life with family and friends and then try to run 5-7 times a week. It was not uncommon to be heading out at 11pm for a run after I got home from closing the gym or using it as my late night study break. These three years taught me a lot about making things fit into your day if you really want them to.

During this period I also realized that I would need some guidance if I was going to achieve my goals. I had learnt to juggle things in my life but needed a coach. So I went back to where my running began, my high school coach Johnny Meagher. He had been terrific with me and did what he could to help when I wanted to start back running and racing. But when I returned he was, and still is today, coaching a large and extremely successful squad at Marcellin College. He tried to guide me, but taking me on was too hard as I could not make the school training times and needed a more individualized coaching program. I knew I was now finally 100% committed to my running dream, but I could not achieve this without the right coach. After a few months of self coaching, I came across Keith Livingstone. Keith was a New Zealand runner who had moved to Melbourne to study Chiropractic in his 20’s and continued running here in Melbourne. Keith was now in his late 40’s, had coached John Meagher and was living in Bendigo. After giving Keith a call to introduce myself, explain what I was after and wanted to achieve, he agreed to coach me via correspondence. In chatting to Keith, it was the first time someone had understood exactly what I wanted to achieve and knew exactly how I could do it. Most people had been saying, you are 25 or 26, aren’t you too old to take this running business serious. People were giving me every reason why I shouldn’t take up running seriously. I knew if I listened to what these people said, I would never get anything done in life. So it was a breathe of fresh air to have someone say not only that you can do this, but this is how we are going to do it.

The next few years I was able to balance my work-study-running-social world well enough to finished my Osteopathic degree, progress with my running (with only occasional injuries/niggles which I was able to manage better each year), live comfortably and save a little, and see just enough of my family and friends to keep them all happy! Life was great. The hard work of juggling everything was paying off by the end of 2008. Running was on track and within 6 months of switching from a 800-1500m runner to 1500-10,000m runner I debuted at the 10,000m at the 2008 Zatopek classic crossing the line in 29.08 minutes. I was busy working as an Osteopath between October 2008-April 2009 before I planned to head off on a 2 year trip to Kenya, Europe and America to train and race in a bid to take my running to the next level. But things all changed due to injury and illness and by the end of 2009 I was coach less and so badly injured that there was a very strong possibility that I would not be able to run again – let alone train. My coach Keith, who had become a great mate and motivator had sadly been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor in 2008. With this, Keith gave up coaching to focus on his health and family. But he, along with John Meagher, had decided they wanted to help get me through the 2008-09 season before I was to head overseas. Keith’s inoperable brain tumor was predicted to take his life within 12 months and the fact that he is still with us speaks a lot to the character and tenacity of this man. Keith has continued to make himself available to me and we have the odd call to talk about many of the things that close friends share.

I returned to Melbourne for major groin surgery after suffering the worse case of osteoitis pubis possible. Before surgery in December 2009, I could not jog 20m without pain and any lateral movement caused major pain. The injury was uncommon so the surgery was rare, but there had been some good results for similar types of surgeries on people with injuries not as bad as mine. The doctors advice was “Stephen, you can’t run now, so what do you have to lose with the surgery. You either stay the same or get better. How much and to what extend, you can tell me later on in life. But at the moment you have zero chance of running again if you don’t have the surgery.” So it was an easy decision but I had a 2 month wait before I went under the knife as the two surgeons required to perform this rare surgery weren’t available together until then. The two months proved a good time for reflection and refocusing.

It might seem strange, but I knew I was closer to achieving my athletic dreams then while waiting for that surgery then I had been ten years earlier. Post surgery I had decided that I would attend to my own rehabilitation assisted by fellow Osteopath Nigel Roff. There was no set rehabilitation program for my injury and I needed people who understood running and everything involved in it. I have had previous experiences where poor advice and treatments have come from people without a deep understanding of running. Nigel was a very experienced Osteopathy who loved his running and understood it very well. Like me, he too had had lots of common running injuries along the way and understood not only how to treat them but also how to train through them or even stop if required. It proved to be a successful strategy.

The other problem was that I needed a coach and one who was on the same page as I was with what I was trying to achieve – someone like Keith. My current situation wasn’t a great selling point when approaching coaches – I was 29 years of age and just about to have major groin surgery. But I was motivated and focused and wanted a crack at making Australian running teams – which of course would now have to happen in my early 30’s.

I found the man I was after a few months prior to my surgery, his name was Patrick Ashkettle. He was coaching a small group of junior athletes at a rival club. I had had a few encounters with him 12 months prior about running and life in general. Straight away I took a liking to Patrick and during one of our chats I realized Patrick had grown up in New Zealand and knew my previous coach Keith, in fact they had run for the same club in New Zealand. I realized they had a similar coaching approach strongly influenced by the legendary New Zealand coach Arthur Lydiard. I knew this worked for me. So I spoke to Patrick and discussed my situation and what my plans were. To his credit, he told me to keep in contact and given the surgery and rehabilitation went to plan, he was happy to work with me. Everything was now in place for my return to running and push towards my running dreams – given that the surgery and rehabilitation worked!

The surgery was successful and after 12 months of rehab I started back into a training regime. It took another 5-6 months before I was doing full sessions and running 120km/week regularly. 2011 was a development year and culminated with a fifth place at national cross and then making the Australian team to compete at the Chiba Ekiden relays and Patrick accompanied as Australian team coach.

My winter season in 2012 was my first without any injury related interruptions and 2012 became my first year ever of not missing a day of training. I now feel that I have that balance right in training between volume and intensity and right across all the areas in life that are important to me. I have a good support network around me and I’m part of a really good training group. In the past year I have set new PB’s for 1500m, 3000m, 5000m and at Zatopek this year went within 10 sec’s of my 10,000m PB. I ran 8.07.2 for 3000m just before Christmas and it’s a sign that the building blocks are right for me to go on and see further improvements. Together with my coach we have set some goals for 2013 which will be a real challenge but I’m excited to see what has been a long journey beginning to bear fruit and deliver on the dreams that I have held for a long time. I know I’m not 25 anymore and that the next 3-4 years are a critical time if I am going to get to that next level.