The long road

Professional runner Lucy Bartholomew regularly covers distances of up to 100 kilometres, but her experiences are valuable for joggers of all levels.

Lucy Bartholomew running through mountain trail

You might have heard the saying, ‘life is a marathon, not a sprint’, but for ultra-runner Lucy Bartholomew, even that doesn’t cut it. The 25-year-old from Victoria regularly competes in events and races that see her run distances of 50 kilometres and more, often up mountains and down rocky trails. In April this year, she even clocked up around 230 kilometres over the four-day Larapinta Trail race event in the Northern Territory. Lucy began in the sport of ultra-running at age 15, after seeing her dad, Ashley, compete in a 100-kilometre event in the Blue Mountains just outside Sydney. 

“I saw people of all ages and sizes taking part and was so inspired by this sport I’d never heard of,” she recalls. “So when I saw Dad cross the finish line, I had to find a race that would let a 15-year-old compete.”

It’s easy to be awed by Lucy’s incredible achievements since then, such as running a 100-kilometre trail in under 10 hours (nine hours and 36 minutes, to be exact). But she says that she hadn’t even been much of a runner before she started competing, and did it mostly to spend more time with her dad. In fact, Lucy reckons almost anyone can run a half-marathon (21 kilometres) if they really want to. And she’s learnt some valuable lessons that can help runners of all ages and stages.

Lucy on… finding a running buddy 

Running is often considered a solo event, but Lucy says she takes every opportunity to run with family members or friends. “There’s nothing better than sharing a run,” she says.

Her dad is still one of her favourite running buddies and she laughs that big brother Josh is now “adequate enough” to run alongside her at some of her big events. At other times, she’ll schedule a training run as a way to catch up with friends.

“When you combine that human connection with being in nature on the trails, it’s just an amazing combination for both your mental and physical health,” she says.

Now you try it…

Lucy says that finding a running partner can help keep you motivated and accountable as you progress. “When you share the journey like I did with my dad, it’s so much richer than just going for a run and plodding along, stuck in your own head, for however many minutes.”

Her tip: Try to jog at a pace where you can still hold a conversation.

Lucy on… staying focused

It’s obvious that Lucy gets a kick out of running long distances, but even her attention can waver from time to time. She says she uses meditation and visualisation strategies to map out her runs, plan for tough times and keep focused. “For me, it’s not only about visualising the good times, but seeing that it’s also going to be hard at times. That’s when I have an opportunity to grow.”

Lucy sitting on the rock 

Now you try it…

Lucy prefers running among nature to hitting the wide open road, and says this can be a good tactic to help hone your focus, too. “When you’re on the trails, it’s not boring because you need to look for the trees, the tree roots, and follow a single track.” She says the combination of mental and physical effort required to run along trails also helps her feel strong and empowered.

Lucy on… beating burnout

Although she’s at the top of her field globally, Lucy says she had a “terrible year of racing” in 2019. “I was doing more and more running, but I was kind of outrunning my love of running,” she says. “I was doing it because I felt like I had to, not so much because I wanted to.” It took a toll on her race times, and on her emotions.

COVID-19 offered an unexpected reprieve. Being based in Victoria, she spent several months of last year in mandatory lockdown. “It was such a blessing in disguise not to have to race and not to have to run all those hours. I just appreciated that one hour a day [we were allowed outside to exercise] and I ran for enjoyment.”

Now you try it…

Whether you’re just starting out as a runner or have been jogging for a while, Lucy says it’s important to remember why you want to do it. “Are you doing it for your mental health or because you just want to challenge yourself?” she asks. She says it’s also important to have interests outside of running – something her dad reminds her of regularly. “He’s said to me: ‘Lucy, you’re not just an athlete. There’s so much more to who you are and you can choose what you offer the world’.”