Sharon Turner – My Sydney Marathon Story

I came from Perth from Brisbane and heard about On My Feet (OMF) through the Beacon, where I was staying at the time. OMF has been life-changing for me – and given me a caring and fun community – who like me, love running and a healthy lifestyle. Hearing that I was going to be part of the OMF squad going to Sydney Marathon (17 September ’23), was amazing! Representing a group that has done so much for me was really an honour.

I was all geared up to do the half-marathon when we were informed that the time cut-off for the Sydney 21.1km was 2h30! Maybe I could have made it in that time – but others in the squad weren’t so sure they could – and so, at 63 years old, I decided to take on my very first marathon! I knew we had 7 hours to complete it and believed I could achieve that.

Sure – I had my worries but I know that when I set my mind to do something – I can achieve it. Plus in the Sydney Marathon launch workshop that OMF offered, we were all allocated a mentor. I got Kylie Breuer who is one of our Tuesday evening coaches. Kylie is not only a seasoned marathon runner, but a personal trainer and an amazing woman. From the get-go, we got on like a house on fire and I knew I was in safe hands as we trained together.

Our head running coach Michelle Keaughran designed our running training program which included weekly; two OMF evening training sessions (running and strength training), our own runs and a long Sunday run. I’ve always been a regular at the evening sessions and found the strengthening exercises really helped my running. I absolutely loved the long runs which we did together – seeing new places and having coffee afterwards. The toughest part of the training was our 30km run in Rockingham- it just went on forever – and on top of it – I had a headache. But I made it.

On My Feet had regularly workshops as we prepared for the Sydney marathon on training, motivation, nutrition, sleep etc. I was so grateful for the knowledge and experience that our mentors and coaches shared. These workshops were also great for making us feel like a team, connected and supported. They also strengthened the bonds between mentors and mentees. Preparing for the Sydney Marathon as members of the OMF community, gave us a real sense of belonging, as we shared a purpose and goal.

The final workshop was the most special. Aside from hearing all about the logistics of the trip and getting tips about what to do and what not to do – OMF awarded each of us a small metal shoe-tag. On it was engraved who we were running for – or a mantra that meant a huge amount to us. I had recently lost someone dear to me, my brother Ricky – so I knew who I was running for. I felt pretty emotional looking at this shoe-tag which suddenly added a whole extra dimension to taking on this mammoth task. Kylie – who had come up with this beautiful idea – gave out the shoe-tags and I was close to tears as I looked at Ricky’s name.

Before we knew it – Friday 15 September arrived and we were at the airport boarding the plane to Sydney. You could feel the excitement and the nerves, but there was also a sense of relief that finally the time had come. The weather forecast predicted very hot weather for Sunday – so an extra challenge was added to the day! On Saturday we headed off to collect our bibs and look around the running show. I was over the moon – bumping into runners from all over – many of them elites who I would be running with! Suddenly the magnitude of it all hit home. While there, Kath Mc Quaide, our CEO, said we needed to meet someone from the Sydney Marathon organising company. So we all followed her to the ASICS stage not knowing what she was talking about. There we met Tim Wiche, Marketing Director of Pont3 (the Sydney Marathon event organisers). He congratulated us all on our hard work in getting to the marathon and rewarded each of the 10 OMF team members, with a brand new pair of beautiful ASICS running shoes. I was blown away – what a surprise! Tim is such a gentleman and he certainly made us feel very special. I got the Gel-Kayano’s which feel so comfortable and supportive. We also bumped into our OMF founder, Keegan Crage at the running show, and he gave us some great encouragement.

Being nervous the whole of Saturday, I had to try to calm myself down which I did with deep breathing, positive thinking and knowing that I would have my mentor, Kylie by my side running step by step with me. I also knew that in dedicating the marathon to Ricky – his spirit would be with me. I thought of all the running training he did as a professional boxer, and I kind of felt at one with him. After a delicious supper of spag bol, I went to bed early – but my mind was racing. Eventually I slept.

Race morning, Sunday 17 September, dawned and my nerves were replaced by huge excitement. My cup of tea gave me a boost – I was ready to go! We caught the train to the start where I met up with Kylie. Another volunteer, Sophie Wilkinson also doing her first marathon ever, ran with us for many kilometres – we were like the three omegos! Running over the bridge was amazing and beautiful and in one of my photos I was airborne as I jumped for joy.

A marathon is a long way and especially difficult when the sun is beating down on you with temperatures peaking at 32 degrees C. On most of our training runs, the temperature seldom went above 20 degrees! I experienced all kinds of emotions en route.

I am a pretty outgoing person, so we got chatting to many awesome people as the kilometres clicked by; some very friendly Americans from Chicago (who I decided we should beat), and many others. I asked Kylie where the marathon concept came from and this guy running with us, shared the legend around the origin of the marathon. So apparently in 490BC, this Athenian courier Pheidippides, ran exactly 42.2km from the battle site to Athens with the message of ‘Victory’ before collapsing and dying! Not the way I wanted to end my first marathon J

Internal grumpiness set in when we seemed to be doing endless loops in Centennial Park and I was getting tired and hot and just wanted to move on! I say internal because all the marathon photos show a happy, smiling Sharon! The hills were challenging as we had done most of our training on pretty flat courses. When exhausted – I said to Kylie ‘this is really hard!’ But then I looked at my shoe-tag and said ‘Come on Ricky – give me a kick up the butt!’. He did! I visualised him running around the city in his boxing days and giving it his all and this gave me strength. Ricky had done it tough, he had been homeless at times and we understood each other. I realised what an honour it was to run for him, for OMF and for homelessness. And not once, not even for one split second did I ever think I might give up. It didn’t even cross my mind.

Someone else who gave me a second wind, was another OMF participant, Ben Castlehow who was also doing his first marathon. His goal was 3h59 and he smashed it – coming in at 3h51. In true Ben style – no sooner had he finished than he put on his thongs and headed back on the course to find Kylie and me. Ben was cheering us on, jumping up and down and taking videos of us. The next thing – as he was filming us – he ran straight into a lamp-post and fell down. Kylie and I thought he had knocked himself out! We rushed towards him – but Ben bounced back up like a jack in the box, said he was fine and kept on running next to us and cheered – ‘you’ve got this Sharon!’ I felt like I developed wings and my tiredness vanished. At that point I felt immense love for Ben and thought ‘God bless this man’ as I fought back my tears.

Kylie and I had been identifying runners we wanted to pass all the way along the course. As the finish line approached – we ran hell for leather and managed to pass our final targets.

Running into the finish at the Opera house was of course my absolute highlight. I felt a huge sense of achievement, pride, gratitude for OMF and for Kylie. In fact I had tears in my eyes looking at Kylie and thinking of how she had journeyed with me. I felt really blessed as my very first marathon medal was draped around my neck. What an honour!

Another favourite part of the marathon was after we finished, sitting together on the hill in the recovery area and hearing the OMF runners share their stories. Plus my 22 year old son, Kyle, a musician who lives in Sydney was there. He was asking all about OMF and absolutely loves the program. This was so affirming for me and I realised he could see how much his Mum had benefitted from it.

My advice to anyone who is thinking of training for a marathon is this….’Make sure you train properly, stay positive and believe you can do it’. If I can do it – anyone can!