AS a new year’s resolution, most people vow to lose weight, stop smoking, get fit, spend more time with their family or simply become more organised.
Not Jenny Buchanan. To mark the new millennium, she decided to challenge herself to run a marathon. After all, she’d been running socially to improve her tennis fitness and her husband Alan had already completed several races over the Olympic distance of 42.2km.
Twelve years and a whopping 27 marathons later, Jenny is showing no sign of slowing down.
Her usual finishing time, give or take, is still around the three and a half hour mark she recorded at her first attempt: the Adelaide Marathon in September 2000.
Since returning from Queensland in July, where she completed her fourth Gold Coast Marathon, the 53-year-old has been preparing for yet another Melbourne Marathon next month.
It will be her third major event this year, having pounded the pavement in London in April.
Jenny ran an astonishing six endurance races in 2011, including a fundraiser in Marysville, the Outback at Ayers Rock, and along the gruelling Six Foot Track in the Blue Mountains.
“It all starts to blur after a while,” she laughs, as she thumbs through an exercise book she has established to help keep track of her long-distance athletic achievements.
And those pages are filling fast.
“We have ticked off marathons in every state and territory in Australia,” she says. “Then there’s the Big Five, of which we’ve done New York and London. We’re hoping to do Boston next year, followed by Berlin and then Chicago and that would be those ticked off as well.
“One on each continent would be good... until you got to Antarctica. They do have marathons there but there’s a lot of other places I think I’d run before I got to that stage.
“I’d love to do the Great Wall of China, but we only do one international run a year and we are already up to 2016 with the ones we’ve planned – unless we start doing two a year, but work might get in the way of that!”
Jenny is one of the leading marathon runners in her age group – she won in Melbourne in 2009, was second overall in Shepparton last year and often finishes top five in her category.
She still recalls the thrill of crossing the finish line for the very first time less than a year after taking on her marathon challenge, even though she pulled up with a sore knee at the time.
“My first impression was, ‘that was great’, even though the last half was hard because of the injury. I was thinking wow, imagine what I could have done without the injury.
“A lot of people finish a marathon and they say never again, whereas I was very positive. It didn’t put me off at all.”
It helped that Adelaide was quite a scenic city, as Jenny says she usually enjoys looking around while she runs: “Anything to take your mind off what you are doing.”
It was a different story in London this year, when the highlight of running across Tower Bridge and past Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace was tempered by pain and old-fashioned fatigue.
“London was not real good for me,” Jenny says ruefully. “Injuries and jetlag kicked in about the 25km mark and I was like, just get me home as quick as possible….
“I was thinking, ‘Why am I here doing this?’”
She made it to the end, but it is not her favourite marathon memory. That honour probably goes to lining up with 38,000 others in New York in 2008 – her inaugural overseas event.
“It was so well organised and the crowd support was incredible – they say there’s a million people watching from the sides of the roads there.
“Paris was good, but you were congested the whole way. There was still that vibe of running past the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and all those other iconic sites.”
Running has become a family affair for the Buchanans, who are members of the Bendigo University Athletics Club and take part in the weekly winter cross country season.
Alan has clocked up his 33rd marathon; son Andrew has regularly competed in 10km events at the Melbourne and Gold Coast Marathons, Sydney City2Surf and various Athletics Victoria events; and daughter Kylie did this year’s 10km Gold Coast event in what was her first official fun run.
Jenny says the sport not only keeps her fit, but also helps her stay young at heart.
“Doing international marathons has given us the chance to travel and we always combine those trips with a holiday and do an organised tour.
“We see so many people our age or just a bit older who physically can’t do a lot of the organised trips – if you have to climb stairs or get off the beaten track to see something, they really struggle.
“I’d like to think that I could keep going for another 20 years – and there’s no reason I can’t.”
Preparing your body for the punishing experience of a marathon is no picnic, but runners like Jenny thrive on the physical and mental toughness test.
She is often out battling frost and fog at 5.30am as she runs around Bendigo – she trains on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, Wednesday nights, competes in cross country on Saturdays then does what she calls her “long run” of anywhere up to 35km on Sundays.
“If you haven’t got the determination to do that training, then you’ll probably never run a marathon,” she says.
“I’m sure a lot of people don’t appreciate how much effort goes into it.
“The faster you run it, the more it takes out of you so in training you are trying to prepare to get to a physical state so the next day you might be a bit sore in the legs, but you can still go out and do a 5km run.”
Yes, that’s right, the very next day.
“A week later you are back running another 12-15km – you want to build up so you are still physically capable of doing normal things the day after a marathon and not be bedridden.”
Long-distance runners talk about “hitting the wall” during a race, and Jenny says being able to overcome injuries and push through that barrier is just another challenge to conquer.
“So much of it is mental. If you can overcome your brain telling you to stop and walk and force yourself through it, it certainly helps,” she says.
“I look and think, I’ve only got 5km to go, so the sooner I get there the sooner I can stop.
“It depends how mentally strong you are to push yourself through those hard spots.”
Jenny enjoys the camaraderie of running alongside strangers and striking up a rapport with them – people you may never see again but who you have something in common with.
In Paris in 2010, she met Melbourne man Tristan Miller, whose “Run Like Crazy” project saw him complete 52 marathons in 52 weeks in 42 different countries and then release a book about his experiences.
“He really was crazy,” laughs Jenny, “but it takes all types!”
Marathon running is a growing sport in Australia, especially among women.
When Jenny first entered the Melbourne event in 2001, she was one of just 256 females in the field of 1290 runners who made it to the finish line.
Last year, there were 1343 women out of 4971 finishers – a seven per cent rise in the proportion of female competitors over the decade.
“I’d definitely like to encourage other people, male or female, to get out and have a go at it – you don’t have to be able to run it in three hours,” Jenny says.
“We have a friend who has turned 50, who has always been there supporting her husband’s marathons, and has just now completed her first.
“She started running the 10km event, then moved up to 21km and is now ecstatic at finishing her first marathon.
“It is never too late to start.”