After running for 35 years and fairly recently being told by an old coach that “you are not a real runner if you haven’t run a marathon”, Toni Ferguson has finally bitten the bullet after years of procrastination. After 11 months of training, she will do her first 42.2km at the inaugural Queenstown International Marathon this weekend. It’s a fitting choice for the mother-of-three with Queenstown being one of her favourite place on Earth, New Zealand her country of birth, and the event occurring on her marathon-running father’s birthday. Leaving today, Toni explains what she hopes to achieve and why running has an even bigger place in her heart that we could have imagined.
“The years ahead proved to be extremely difficult, but the more I became involved in the community and the more I ran, I became stronger and very much a fighter”
Two years ago I was invited by my old running club in Auckland to represent them in a team for the NZ Road Relay Championships in Nelson. While over there I visited my coach and in conversation he was stunned to discover that I had never run a marathon. His words were: “You are not a real runner if you haven’t run a marathon”. I was gobsmacked. It was like a huge kick in the guts.
Barry Magee had trained me as a teenager and I trained mostly with marathon runners back then. It was normal for me to run up to three to three-and-a-half hours on a Sunday at the age of 16. Barry won the Bronze medal at the 1960 Rome Olympic Marathon in a time of 2:17:18 and his main event throughout his career was the marathon. I have always had the utmost respect and admiration for him. So when he knocked me with that comment I knew I had to seriously do something about my procrastination of running the dreaded 42.2km.
I went home and decided to enter the Sunshine Coast Marathon the following year (2013) but a few months later I got an injury running the trails from wearing minimal shoes. With five months of no running I reluctantly withdrew my entry and concentrated on recovery.
Then, with 2014 fast approaching and the celebration of 35 years of running, I decided it was more fitting to do my first marathon in my country of birth and where my running career started. I did some research and found that there was an inaugural marathon to be held in Queenstown. It has to be one of my favourite places on Earth; plus it was to be held on the day of my father’s birthday and he was a marathon runner.
In my teenage years my dad ran many marathons and has a PB of 2:45. He has always said to me that I could never beat his time. So at a young age I etched a time in my head that I wanted for my very first marathon. It was a huge challenge, however it’s for this simple reason that I have not yet run a marathon. Unfortunately for me, through personal circumstances and lack of support, I have never been able to train for that time: a time that secretly remains hidden in the back of my head.
So when I finally made the decision to take on the challenge of running the 42.2km, I had to convince myself that it wasn’t going to be about that time, but about the experience and the satisfaction of finally racing the distance.
So on Saturday, November 22 my goal is to purely finish with dignity and pride surrounded by close friends and family. After all – running is much, much more to me than simply keeping fit, setting PBs and winning.
Fifteen years ago I packed up my life in New Zealand and fled to Townsville with my two boys, then aged three and five, due to the breakdown of my 11-year marriage: one that almost cost me my life. I had been running very little for the 15 years prior and knew that this change of life was only going to improve if I started to run and compete again. In the past it had always been my happy place: a time to de-stress and reflect on life. It made me feel free. Running was to become my lifesaver, my anti-depressant, and my time to take away the pain. The years ahead proved to be extremely difficult, but the more I became involved in the community and the more I ran, I became stronger and very much a fighter.
“Positive thinking, determination and my motto ‘Never give up’ have all got me to the start line”
I had to keep setting myself goals so I wouldn’t give up. And, I haven’t given up. Every single time I have fallen, both physically and mentally, I have got straight back up and carried on. I haven’t done this for myself either, but for my children, my family and my friends. I have done it to prove that anything is possible: If you want to do something, if you have a dream, follow it, grab it and don’t let it go, cause once you have it, it’s just like sharing a smile… it’s contagious!
With just days to go, I look back on the past 11 months and reflect on the journey to my very first marathon. Being single with an 11-year-old boy and working full-time, I don’t have the support of a partner, which can make it difficult at times to put in the training I require. So I rely on my amazing coach, a very supportive running buddy and a handful of special running friends for the motivation to train. And I train hard.
I have great parents who are there for me when I race at away events. As a very competitive runner, I have struggled with the tough training schedule my coach has given me this year, to the point that I even lacked motivation and self-doubted myself. But there have been a few things that have happened in these past few weeks that have suddenly all tied in together and provided me with the confidence I was lacking. One of these was getting second place in my age group for the year at the Road Runners presentation night. Being in a very competitive age group, it came as a huge shock, especially as I had not specifically raced at club all year.
The final boost was in the form of increased training sessions with my training partner: He joined me on my speed sessions and would take me to the hurt locker. It proved to be invaluable.
How will I feel when I’m standing at the start line on Saturday? I’m definitely going to feel nervous. I always do. But I think a lot of the nerves will be excitement. I think I will feel like I’m in a dream as it seems like this day has taken forever to get here. I will also feel a little relieved knowing that I finally made it to the start line. After having a bad fall while out training two weeks ago which landed me in hospital with a busted shoulder and a split chin, I feared the past 11 months of training had just stuck to the same concrete I had face-planted on. Yet today you wouldn’t guess it ever happened. Positive thinking, determination and my motto ‘Never give up’ have all got me to the start line.
To finish the race it will mean the end of another chapter in my running journey. It will mean that I will now be in that elite category called a ‘marathoner’. And, most of all, it will mean that I am now a ‘real runner’!
From the team at TheGo: Best of luck Toni! We will be cheering you on from across the ditch!