Finish Line™ Story: Debbie Thorley
Visiting Uluru is a memorable experience for thousands of people each year but for Debbie Thorley it was a breathtaking moment that would change her life.
Debbie set out to climb the rock on a family adventure to the Red Centre a few years back but not long into the steep ascent she had what can only be described as something of an epiphany.
“I used to be overweight,” she says forthrightly.
“We went to Uluru as a family, we were climbing the rock and there were all these really old guys who were overtaking us and I just thought ‘we can’t have this’.
“So I came home started into boot camps and that sort of stuff, and running was a natural progression of that.”
Debbie’s quest to shed the weight and improve her fitness and nutrition became something of an obsession and four short years after running her first marathon she is on the verge of taking on her seventh.
“Each session I went a little bit further and a little bit faster and a little bit further again, and somehow I wound up doing marathons,” the 43-year-old mother of two says.
“I think you could best describe me as a recreational runner and I do as much as my body will let me do.
“I used to be really driven on times, but not so much anymore. I’m just happy to do it, do my best and enjoy it. You can’t be disappointed that way. If you go setting big expectations you’re only setting yourself up for a letdown.”
Living just outside of Chinchilla and training on the flats of the Darling Downs it may come as a surprise to learn Debbie’s first marathon was the Great Wall of China race.
“It was crazy. It’s basically 5ks uphill to start with which absolutely zaps you, then there’s a few kilometres on the wall and then you come back in and do a loop in this Chinese square and by the time I got back there I was absolutely exhausted because I wasn’t used to the hills,” she said.
“It took me like six-and-a-half hours. It was stupid really, but probably one of the best experiences I’ve had in my life. So I actually dubbed that one as just a recreational holiday to say I’d done it.”
“That was May (2015) and because I hadn’t pushed my body too hard I came back and did the Gold Coast in the July.”
The Cadbury Marathon in Hobart followed and then back on the Gold Coast in 2017 Debbie posted her best time of 3hr 36min, a Boston qualifying time.
The Boston Marathon loomed large as the target event for 2018 but within a matter of weeks Debbie began to experience shin soreness.
“Me in my wisdom just thought I’d rest it for a little while but ultimately kept going and didn’t see a physio whatsoever,” she said.
“And I did some silly things in the meantime, like run an ultra marathon in New Zealand.
“I didn’t know at that stage what was going on in the background. It came to Christmas and off and on my legs were a bit sore.
“My coach said: ‘You need to go get those legs X-rayed’ so I had an MRI in early March and it came back that I had stress fractures.”
Debbie says her Coffs Harbour-based coach Kate Heyward recommended she contact Brad Beer at POGO Physio.
“I think Kate only knows of him through word of mouth but said he had a great reputation and that he was the physio to see,” Debbie says.
She hastily made the 500km trip from Chinchilla to the Gold Coast on March 10 where POGO physio Emily Georgopoulos saw her, referred her on to Brad Beer and they had their first FaceTime consult a short time later.
On very limited preparation, a total of three online sessions with Brad, 12 short runs and plenty of rest Debbie made it to the Boston start line in mid-April. Amazingly, she ran a 4:04.
It wasn’t until a month after the trip to the US that Debbie met and had her first face-to-face consult with Brad on the Gold Coast.
“So we’ve been nursing it and building it back up ever since. I’m pretty well 99 per cent right now and I’ve been seeing Brad for a bit over 12 months,” she says.
“I think I’ve only ever been in there and caught up with him twice, maybe three times – but I talk to him every three weeks to a month using FaceTime.
“Brad will give me exercises and then he’ll shoot me a text asking how I’m going, if I’m having any troubles. He’s constantly checking in which is fantastic.
“If you have an issue – a couple of times I’ve just been sore for some reason – I just shoot him a message and within a couple of hours he texts me back.
“Even though he’s 500km away, it’s not really an issue.”
Debbie’s long-term recovery is almost complete and her first marathon in more than a year – the second annual Wondai Country Running Festival in June – is a world away from the streets of Boston.
Debbie now firmly believes this past 12 months has armed her with a couple of powerful tools.
“I’ve never been a gym person, but the gym is now a big part of my life,” Debbie says.
“I’ve always had tight calves not realising that tightness is weakness so we just work and work and work on the calves.
“I do stuff with my calves now that I never thought possible. I’m not big, I weigh 48kg, and I can calf raise 120kg.
“And I used to not deal well with injury. And with long-term injury you have to be patient. I have learned a lot of patience.
“Because I was injured for so long I had to turn my focus to something else, so I focused 100 per cent on my nutrition while I couldn’t run.”
Adding swimming and cycling to her training regimen when the stresses of road running took it off the table may have also ushered Debbie in a new direction.
“I’m half thinking about going into triathlons, we’ll just see how I fare after this run. Triathlons are actually easier on the body,” Debbie says.
“I’ve now done the Hervey Bay 50, having done nothing but an enticer prior to that, and then I went and did the Hell of the West in Goondiwindi. It is a long course tri, so that pushed the boundaries a bit, and the legs held up.
“Some time in the future I would like to do an Ironman, but I’ll just go with what my body will allow me.”
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