by Louise Shannon
MOST people honour a landmark birthday, such as turning 40, by throwing a colossal party, taking up yoga or jumping out of a plane attached to a parachute.
But not Strathdickie woman Julia Wheway, who five years ago hit 40 and, in a dedicated bid for fitness, became an ultra marathon runner.
A few years later she is a running circuit regular, competing whenever she can, and consistently striving to beat her own personal bests.
Currently in training for the 45km Sixfoot Track Marathon in the Blue Mountains on March 10, Mrs Wheway says she used to doubt whether she could last the distance.
"But your body gets conditioned and then you realise what potential your body has, and you don't let your thoughts stop you. A lot of it is mental,” she says.
"They reckon the body will keep going far longer than what your brain will tell you you can do.
"I'm amazed that I'm doing it. And I'm amazed by what you can achieve. The human body is unbelievable.
"Running was about improving my fitness overall. And when I turned 40 I thought if I don't do it now, I'm never going to do it.”
Mrs Wheway says she is also amazed by the sights she sees while out and about training in the early mornings.
"This weekend we got up at 3am, and we were running through the main street at 4am and colliding with people coming out of the nightclubs.
"It's quite good as we get quite a good cheer squad at that time of the morning. And a few of them even join in for a bit of a run, but they don't last very long.”
Mrs Wheway says that in preparation for the Blue Mountains race - which she also completed in 2016 - she has been running five times a week, at least 10km each time, or running a total of 80km a week.
"We train all year, but during the build-up three months out from a race, we up the amount of runs we are doing.
"It's a real balancing act between training enough and not overtraining. My main focus is to make sure I recover well on the days I'm off by getting enough sleep and eating the right foods and a high protein diet.”
Her time in the previous ultra marathon was six hours, and this year she's aiming for 5.5 hours.
"I don't generally compete against other people, and if it's an event I haven't done before I pick a time I'd like to get and aim for it, and if it's a rerun I try and beat my previous time.
"A successful race is about getting through the training and the race without injury. And getting to the starting line is actually a win. You put yourself through so much to get there, and whatever happens on the day is a bonus.”
These days, she says, she finds it harder "to not go for that run then go for it”.
Mrs Wheway, who works in Bowen with Bowen Gumlu Growers Association, says her relaxed country lifestyle with her partner and 10-year-old son helped give her the space and time she needs to prepare for events.
"I tend to do at least one or two marathons a year, lots of half marathons and a triathlon at the end of the year which is great for cross-training and having a bit of fun.
"Last year I had a hip flexor injury that stopped me running for 12 weeks. But you learn a lot from your injuries about how to look after yourself.”
She says that as well as improving her physical fitness, running has boosted her mental stamina and confidence.
"It makes you realise what you really can achieve.
"Running releases so much stress and you feel so great after going for a run.”
While it sounds cliched, she says the best aspect of running has been the people she has met through the Whitsunday Running Club and the Whitsunday Triathlon Club, who have members aged from their teens to their 70s.
"We support and inspire each other. We realise we've all got busy lifestyles and we've all got different things going on, so we always have a good chat.
"The first challenge of running is to learn how to run and chat at the same time.”
Fitness, fun and a fantastic social network have fuelled Mrs Wheway's love of running, and she is a firm believer in the mantra that if you're not enjoying it, it's not worth it.
"I absolutely love it. I just can't get enough of it. For as long as I'm able to, I will keep running. And I can't imagine myself not wanting to.”