• Mona Saade

Marathon Runner – Anna Jepson

Updated: Aug 13, 2019

Has running always been a part of your life?

Ironically no. When I was at school, because I learnt cello, I used to miss gym class to have my cello lessons. I hated PE (playing hockey in the pouring rain in Scotland is not much fun!) When I wasn’t having a music lesson, I was preparing debating speeches. Basically I would do anything I could to avoid PE!

However, when I was 15/16 years old I started doing 15 minute runs around the block so I could feel slim for the weekend which was my first dabble with running.

I did do a long cross country run when I was at University. I had this crazy friend (Caroline) who was under 5ft and a pocket rocket – she did a load of long cross country races. We did this hilly country race called the Allandale Challenge and it was quite freaky because it was horrific weather; there was no clear course, not many runners and it was really foggy. We had to use a compass to guide us and it was so muddy that Caroline’s shoe came off in a bog. We had to go back for it because it was a number of metres before she realised her shoe was missing.

It was the most hideous thing ever and I thought there was no way I was going to run again after that.

Tell me about your first Marathon

My friend Caroline convinced me to run the New York Marathon with her in 2001 before I moved out to Australia.

One of the ways you can qualify for the New York Marathon is to raise money and run for a charity. We decided to raise money and run for Whizz-Kidz – a charity that helps transform the lives of disabled children.

I didn’t really train for the race; I was in a bit of denial, and work had been crazy busy sending me to the middle of nowhere for a few months. I remember before I got onto the plane my brother said to me ‘I know you haven’t done much training but just remember when you feel like pulling out, you are actually in a lucky position that you CAN run. And think of all the kids you are raising all the money for that can’t’. And that was exactly what I thought about when I was running the marathon. Despite the cold and it getting really tough around 20 miles in, it was an amazing experience and the crowds were awesome.

I completed it in about four and half hours and considering I didn’t do much training I was really proud of myself. I remember I got to the finish line and they gave me my medal. The medal was half a circle and I was like ‘if I knew I was only going to get half I would have stopped at 21kms!’ It was quite funny. It was just the style of the medal that made me feel short changed.

What do you believe motivates a person to run long distance?

When I was eight years old, I came out of a ballet class crying, again. My ballet teacher used to smack my foot and say ‘you are sickling’; basically saying I couldn’t point my toes properly. My mother took me to the doctor and he told me I had really high insteps. They put build ups in my shoes for the next four years and then when I was 12 years old I had microsurgery on my feet.

Before the surgery the doctors said I wouldn’t be able to walk after I turned 40 years old.

So I think for me running is something I feel really lucky I can do, and wondering whether I will still be able to do it after I’m 40 (it’s a long time to wait and see if an operation was a success!)

For me, because a marathon is such a long distance, a lot less people do it so it’s a greater achievement – more rare; I feel proud of myself for being able to drive myself to the finish line no matter what.

What do you find most rewarding about running?

Some people watch TV to relax, I run. Marathon running is about clearing my head, and I feel like I solve a lot of things when I go for a run, plus I love collecting medals.

And I like that it surprises people when I tell them that I run marathons – because I don’t particularly look like a marathon runner (or act like one, as I also love wine!)

How do you prepare mentally and physically?

The mental training is almost the most important part; you run the first part of the marathon with your legs and the second half of the marathon with your head.

I often envisage myself crossing the finishing line and seeing the clock saying a certain time – my goal.

Some of the marathons I've finished, I've done minimal training because I’ve run so many – I have muscle memory in my legs, and I’m always running. However, when I ran the Comrades ultramarathon which is a 90km (very hilly) race in South Africa, the training for that was brutal. Every weekend I had to run about 25-30kms on a Saturday and back up with about 40-50kms on the Sunday. I was doing a lot of it on my own which was really hard; I had to motivate myself to do the distance and really focus on my goal.

Also what I tend to do a month before a marathon, is read some motivational books and listen to really motivational songs.

One of my favourite books is called “Ultramarathon Man” by Dean Karnazes.  He makes me sound very sane!

Who would you say you are inspired by?

Definitely Dean Karnazes.

There is also a tri-athlete from the UK who has won Iron Man quite a few times; Chrissy Wellington. She is amazing. She has won the Iron Man World Championships five times in a row. She is now retired (very young and at the top) doing other things for the sport. Nobody ever beat her in an ironman.

Is there anything in particular that you think about when you are running?

I often think about some of the problems I am trying to solve at work and solve them in my head.

I often forget I’m running especially when I have my iPod on. I could tell you that I couldn’t even remember the last five songs I was listening to as I would be so busy thinking about things!

On the day of a big race, how are you feeling? Do you perform any superstitious rituals?

The night before, I always cook my own food. I never go out to dinner the night before the race – it’s good to know exactly what I’m eating to reduce the risk of getting an upset tummy. I always have plain pasta with a few vegetables. The morning of the race I have jam on toast and a banana and a PowerAde.

There was a pair of shorts I used to wear at every marathon but I managed to grow out of that. They had loads of pockets in them which was fantastic but now I have one of those belt pouches that you can clip around your waist which is better.

My favourite sweets are green jelly babies so I used to safety pin little bags of jelly babies inside my shorts!

Which was your favourite run to do?

The Great Wall of China marathon – it was amazing. I had never been there before.

During the GFC I was made redundant, a week later my boyfriend broke up with me and I went off to Cambodia to teach orphans English and take some time out. In the middle of that I took a week off to run the Great Wall of China marathon. The scenery is phenomenal – the part of the great wall that you run on is amazing.

It was great to exercise some of the demons of losing my job and breaking up with my boyfriend.

What has been your most challenging race?

The Comrades Ultramarathon in South Africa. It is the world’s largest and oldest ultramarathon race. You get 12 hours to complete the race and if you don’t finish it within that time they shut the gates and you don’t get your medal. I managed to do the race in 10 ½ hours.

The direction of the race alternates each year between the ‘up’ run starting from Durban and the ‘down’ run starting from Pietermaritzburg (it’s a very hilly course). The year I did the race it was my 35th birthday and that year the direction of the race was starting ‘up’. I was running uphill for about 40kms before there was any downhill; it was soul destroying.

I was also lucky that my parents came to support me during this race – they pulled off a PB of managing to see me at 5 different points on the course (the South Africans were amazed at that!); I was emotional due to the toughness of the course, but also so overwhelmed with the love and support my parents had for me.

It was one of the hardest races I have run; though it’s the hardest races you learn most about yourself – prepare, prepare and prepare some more. There is always a point in the marathon I feel like hell but I keep going and finish the race.

Was there a race that was quite personal for you to complete?

I was at PricewaterhouseCoopers at the time and I had run the Paris marathon earlier in the year. One of the junior guys I used to coach “Mossy” used to come up to me every Monday morning and ask me ‘how far did you run over the weekend Jeppo?’ He would be like ‘wow’ every time I told him.

He was training for the Gold Coast Half Marathon after I had run Paris. One evening he got hit by a car running across the road – he was on life support for about a week and then sadly passed away. This was going to be his first half marathon. I felt really guilty because I had encouraged him to run. I was so sad that he had died running.

So the next race I did was Melbourne marathon in 2007. I laminated this message on my back which said ‘My marathon is in memory of Mossy, rest in peace mate’. Unfortunately I had picked up a bug on the way down to Melbourne and at around the 27km mark, I collapsed at the side of the road and had to get some help from St John’s Ambulance. After a short time I staggered on and kept going (against the advice of the medical people). I didn’t want to let Mossy down by not finishing the race. I crossed the finish line however I didn’t feel like I had done him justice recording an awful time.

So I ran my next race with the same message on my back and had quite a few people asking me who Mossy was, it was great. I felt like it was keeping his memory alive. I now run with that for every marathon.

The greatest thing about it all is that Mossy would be delighted that he was running all these marathons without having to do any training. A few years ago someone who actually knew Mossy was running a race with me and asked if it was for him – the following week I got some amazing calls from his sister and parents who were quite overcome with emotion to discover that 5 years on someone that they didn’t know about was keeping his memory alive in such a beautiful way.

Is there a race that you have never finished?

There was a triathlon that I didn’t finish. I got a bit of swim fear and panicked in the sea. I have finished every marathon though.

What’s your training like? Do you have a set goal every week?

When I’m not injured I definitely like to train when I can and it depends on work. I can be training between 80-100kms a week.

Would you say running a marathon is still a challenge for you?

Running a marathon has become a challenge for me now more so than it used to be as I’ve had quite a few injuries since running the Comrades in 2011. I got a really bad injury called Osteitis Pubis which basically meant I couldn’t run at all for over a year which is why I started doing Iron Mans (the doctor told me to swim and cycle).

I think sometimes I forget that it has become a challenge so when I don’t train consistently and properly for a race I don’t enjoy it as much.

How do you pick yourself up?

I just make myself get to the next km marker or aide station. I’ve done so many now that I know I can run through it. I have to remind myself of that.

How often do you get injured?

I’ve had a couple of long term injuries as a result of ultra-distance running. The Osteitis Pubis basically took two years to go away.

At the moment I have an upper hamstring problem which has been with me for almost a year.

Anna Jepson interviewed by Mona Saade
Marathon Runner – Anna Jepson

How long have you gone without running a marathon?

When I got the Osteitis Pubis, I probably didn’t do a race for about 8-9months. I really struggled not running so I went to the gym and did some rowing but nothing quite compensated the running – more the head space time it gave me I could just let my mind wander to think.

You are going to encounter some points of pain and discomfort – how do you push past them?

Continually focus on achieving your goal. If you have done the training you will know you can make it through – you just have to keep going. And know that every step is another step to the finish line.

I imagine how I’m going to feel when I cross the finish line and telling people about my time.

Now I’ve run almost 40 marathons, I use memory recall to remind me of tough times in other races that I’ve managed to persevere through. Marathon running definitely tests your strength of character.

How long have you been running?

My first marathon was in 2000 – when I was 24 years old.

What has been your best time and where?

Melbourne marathon – 3hours & 43minutes – however I’ve since run the same time in Milan, Gold Coast and Melbourne a number of times!

How many runs are you aiming to do before you retire?

I want to get to 50 marathons, and then see where I can get to after that milestone!

What has been your favourite post-race activity and where?

The post-race Paris marathon. My friends had come over to cheer me on which was brilliant.

After the race we went to the Buddha Bar for dinner and drinks at the bar afterwards and they had to drag me off the dance floor at 2.30 in the morning as they were tired! It is quite stressful supporting a race too.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about running in general?

The biggest misconception is that it’s free. Unless you buy the right trainers, and you are careful to run properly (which most people don’t – including me), you get injured which can basically cost a fortune to fix yourself.

Another misconception is people think they need to be thin and athletic to be running long distance and think that it’s hard; if they gradually build up and train, pretty much anyone can run.

Where would we find you in your spare time?

Down the local wine bar.

Tips for a new runner

To wear a pair of running shoes at least one to two sizes bigger than you would normally run in. Best advice I got before my first marathon! Everyone finished New York with loads of blisters but my feet looked like I’d walked round the block!

Definitely train consistently.

Always do a long training run in the clothes you are going to wear on race day.

And don’t build up too fast because that’s how you get an injury.

Most importantly – enjoy it! It can be a lot of fun.

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