16 marathons and 1 Ironman triathlon

Monika ran her first marathon for her 30th birthday – a “to do” she had long wanted to accomplish. 16 marathons and 8 years later, she is now preparing for her first IRONMAN triathlon. She chats with us about her current training sessions and looks back on her best experiences and the unique running tracks she has already been on all around the world, as she works as a flight attendant.

What is your training like?

Currently, I am training for the Ironman, which takes place in Carinthia on the 1st of July. That means completing 3.8 km of swimming, 180 km on the bike, and 42.2 km of running. Obviously, I adjusted my training accordingly. I train twice daily 6 times a week, a combination of running, cycling, and swimming.

And if I can still fit it in, I also include weight training at home – I am talking about the famous stabilization exercises for the abdomen and back. It’s not always that easy when you spend 1.5 hours daily on the bike, do 1.5 h of swimming, or 3 hours of running and half an hour of swimming. But a stable core is also important for a good performance.

Are there any regeneration phases at all?

Well, the week has seven days after all 😉 Regeneration would for instance be 45 minutes of cycling, so the muscles get supplied with blood and the accumulated lactate can be flushed out. It might also be a long walk or going to the sauna.
And then there is my job: I am a flight assistant, and quite often the regeneration day is the day on which I have a long-haul flight.

Since when do you train, and what got you involved?

Initially, I encountered running in my training as a sports teacher. I also worked as a fitness trainer, and at the time, I wanted to integrate something into my life that keeps me fit and healthy – running was the easiest option. At the start, I ran longer or shorter distances as the fancy took me. Later, I started to develop more steadily. My first marathon in 2010 was something I wanted to tick off my bucket list on the occasion of my 30th birthday. At the time, I couldn’t really judge my performance – I simply wanted to do it once.

 

What was your first marathon like?

It was great. I enjoyed it so much, and I even finished among the first 50 women. That made me curious: what if I train better and more systematically? Can I become even better? At the same time, I set myself a new goal to train for. To do that, I included a number of smaller runs, like 10K and half marathons, as a preparation. That’s what life is all about, after all – to have new goals and to become better than you already are.

How many marathons have you run so far?

17 in total. I constantly adapted my training and structured it better, or tried to train according to certain plans. I also often compared notes with other runners and learned new tips and tricks from them. For a marathon, I run 10-15 kilometres a day. But the type of training is different every day. It might be intervals, sometimes a steady run, sometimes a long run over 2-3 hours, tempo runs … variety is important, because if you only run with the same intensity, you don’t improve.

Currently, however, I train with a trainer. He prepares my training plans, which are also adapted to my lifestyle and my profession. At the moment, the training is very demanding and takes a lot of time, which is why I even temporarily reduced the hours I work in order to be able to train more. Running and flying is the ideal combination for me.

Why do you train?

In order to improve. Without a structured training, there is no progress.

What makes you continue your training and not give up?

I never have motivational problems. For me, it is extremely important to have music while running, it motivates me tremendously. When I train, I have a lot of time for myself, to think things through and to enjoy music.

Don’t you ever have a low?

I try to compensate lows by sleeping. Because I have a lot of night flights, I’m afraid I don’t sleep very regularly. Therefore, I like to allow myself some sleep during the day, too, when I really need it and the opportunity is there.

 

Have you always been this ambitious?

Not really, not as a child; I discovered my love for sports relatively late. And I am the only one in my family who does sports to this extent.

What is your routine of mental preparation for your competitions?

Actually, I haven’t done long stuff like the Ironman very often. I always try to stay in the moment. In the competition, you also have the spectators on your side, they cheer and clap you on; I need a good atmosphere. When I end up running by myself for some reason and there are no people around, I often wish I had some music. But in general, I don’t listen to music during a competition because it disrupts my concentration.

Thinking of my 100-kilometre run, when I ran 13.5 hours in one piece, without a break, the whole thing was not so very hard for me. I ran more than 10 hours with two other athletes, and we even had a good time. Those are good memories.

Thoughts before, during, and after the training?

  • Before: depending on what is on the training plan, it is often like an exam I have to pass.
  • During: you quickly know whether it is your day or not. How you feel on a particular day is very important. Often, you have to motivate yourself to make the best of it.
  • After: there are only ever good feelings. Pride in having accomplished something that I can tick off, so to speak.

Have you ever thought of giving up?

That’s a bit tricky: I never had to abandon a race. My goal is to finish each and every race, even if it may not be in record time. There will always be highs and lows in competition and training, but giving up isn’t really an option. I want to be proud of myself.

 

Do you have a favourite course?

In Vienna, I have a favourite course: I love running along the Danube canal, that’s where I feel at home 😉 Because of my job, I had the opportunity to train at a variety of great places: once on a cruise ship in the middle of the Caribbean, or on the Maldives, where the islands were so small that I ran right around them; or I ran a lap around Manhattan in New York, a total of 54 kilometres – a dream I fulfilled myself at the time.

Would you say you are a competitive person?

In sports at any rate. Sports really are the most important thing for me.

However, I don’t feel any rivalry with other runners, I don’t need to compare myself to others. Because competitions, for me, are really about being better – I am my own competition, in a way. I simply find it motivating to have a goal, and to be able to work towards it, whether in sports or in my job; it’s the same there.

Something negative or positive you want to share?

Positive: for me, training is really only ever positive. Sure, for many, it may be extreme, but it makes me happy, and I have lots of goals I want to reach.
Sport also keeps you young, especially your brain. I notice this in particular with other runners. They are all fun, cheerful, young at heart people – sports have their own spirit.

Negative: there often is a risk of injuries. Many women have anaemia or a vitamin deficiency. Often, these nutrients are depleted because of the intense training, or are ingested in insufficient quantity. This leads to deficiency symptoms or a rapid tiring of the body and muscles. The increased training unfortunately also causes injuries of the knees, hips, or the Achilles heel. With me, it was a fatigue fracture, a fissure in the metatarsal bone. It happened because of deficiencies, because at the time, I ran 120 km a week. But I felt great every day, my body did not give me any indication. Then there suddenly was a stabbing pain in my foot, and I could no longer put weight on it … That’s obviously very sad.

 

If I hadn’t become addicted to sports?

I would certainly travel even more.

Is there a moment that has stayed with you in particular?

There are so many. One very special thing was the New York Marathon, one of the biggest city marathons in the world. In that year, I ran 4,000 kilometres. In this marathon, I finished in my personal record time of 2 hours 58 minutes. I even won an award because I finished in 42nd place among approximately 20,000 women, and in 2nd place in my age group. The organizers sent me an engraved plate by Tiffany’s. I took 3 months until it arrived, and when I opened the package, it was the wrong plate … I simply put the award in my bag and went to change it in New York myself – I can do that, after all, being a flight attendant 🙂

I record my training with a GPS watch, it helps me and my trainer to trace and manage every session. The watch measures everything, average values, pace speed, pulse, even ground contact. I also swim with the watch and cycle with it. This yields an overall analysis, which is also sent to the trainer. Successful trainings are green, ok trainings are yellow, and the rest is, well – as in a traffic light – red.
I also print the data and collect everything in folders. That way, I can simply leaf through the past years. For special races, I also print the GPS data. That’s a great souvenir.

5 keywords, what is the best thing about your training?

  • I know my body very well.
  • I am more resilient, which makes me calmer and more relaxed in the remainder of my life, too.
  • I am fit, physical strain is no problem, even if it is only carrying your groceries in everyday life 😉
  • I can bear intense exertion. In a marathon or a triathlon, you have to endure extreme exertion over a longer period of time, after all – I can do that.
  • I am more confident.

I guess you went through a lot of running shoes over the past years?

Yes (laughs), I have about 50 pairs of running shoes at home, five of which I currently use. Every shoe has its particular qualities: for a long run, I take a shoe with more shock absorption, for interval training a shoe with little cushioning; a competition shoe needs to be very light, they hardly weigh anything. For cross-country, there are proper trail shoes. I keep the old shoes as souvenirs, because every shoe has its own history – I simply cannot throw them out …

The cost is all self-financed?

Running as a sport is not expensive, you simply need shoes, and off you go. The triathlon, on the other hand, is a lot more expensive. A good bike and its components come with a hefty price tag, and the entry fees are much higher. For competitions, you have to add travel and accommodation.
In general, I try to combine running and competitions with flying. The last marathon I ran was in Toronto. This year, I might want to run in Spain. There are a few gaps in my list 😉

Many young people aren’t interested in sports and don’t even know the positive influence of sports on your life and your health. I share my experience on my Facebook page. Often, people ask questions, or I compare notes with colleagues. Training is often a little lonesome, but the community provides a lot of support. We cheer each other on, and also congratulate each other for achievements – that’s something I like most.

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