A FEW words are all it takes for Nicole Barker to sum up the exhaustive strain of running almost continuously for 24 hours.
“There’s pain all the time. The good thing is once you start to feel pain in one area, it takes away pain in another area,” she said.
The Warrnambool runner battled through the pain to complete 193 kilometres as part of the Australian 24-hour championships in Melbourne.
Her effort, at Harold Stevens Athletics Field in Coburg on Saturday and Sunday, was a personal best and ranked her sixth of 11 women in the field.
By completing more than 190 kilometres, she also qualified to compete at the International Association of Ultra Runners 24-hour championships in 2015.
Barker, 42, said she was unsure if she would apply for Australian selection but was proud of her effort. She completed 186km at the same event in 2013.
“It’s really nice to have done the distance to qualify. Even if I didn’t ever look at going, it’s nice to know you’ve actually achieved it,” she said.
Baker said running for 24 hours was a “more mental than physical” challenge.
Competitors must balance the need to clock up the kilometres with maintaining energy and fluid levels. The help of their support crews is imperative.
The hardest hours are in the middle of the night, when most stop for a massage or a rest while those still on the track run almost solo.
Through all of it, Barker kept setting small goals, then bigger goals. She started to count down the hours when she reached the half-way point.
“You change direction every four hours. I know it sounds odd, but that’s something to look forward to,” Barker said.
“The really difficult challenge is during the night. A lot of the runners go off the track. They might go have a massage or a rest.
“A lot of the crew members will go get a few hours sleep. It’s dark and quiet — there will only be a quarter of the competitors on the track.
“And it’s cold as well. From midnight through to 6am can be a bit of a battle. But you just keep setting little goals.”
Barker, a speech pathologist and mother of three, started running five years ago. She soon discovered her pace wasn’t quick but she could run for hours.
She set herself to complete a half-marathon as her first goal. Next was a marathon before she turned her focus to ultra marathons.
She trains up to five times a week, running up to 90 minutes on weekdays and increasing her time on weekends.
Barker said her family — partner Greg Kew and children Jye, Alexandra and Annabelle — were “fantastic” as she ran lap after lap at Coburg.
“I couldn’t have done it without Kewy being there. He got everything organised for me on the side of the track and looked after the kids,” she said.
The respect is mutual. Kew said he was in awe of what Barker had been able to achieve
“She was amazing. It was a Trojan effort. It was so tough and beautiful to watch and beautiful to be a part of,” he said.