A month ago I ran the Great Ocean Road half marathon. Which is a half marathon and a bit. 23kms. Just to make sure you get your money’s worth, I guess.

My training in the lead up to the race was sporadic at best. Since wrecking my ankle last December and taking 6 weeks off to recover, I’d been trying so hard to rediscover that love of running I used to have. Trying, and failing.

I was still out there doing 3 or so runs a week. Mixing it up with hills and intervals and long runs. Now and again I’d have a really great run and think YES, I’m BACK! But it wouldn’t last and I was left to wonder if I had lost my running mojo for good.

That was not enough to stop me from committing to the GOR half, but in honesty 90% of that decision was about catching up with our team and having a weekend at the beach with my family. And it was awesome chatting with my friends, eating pizza on Saturday night at the caravan park with people who’d come from interstate to run with us and the more local crew as well. Event weekends are always awesome, even if you aren’t particularly looking forward to the event.

We hopped on the bus to the start line just after 6am on the Sunday morning, and that was where it all started to get a bit weird. Anyone who has ever driven the Great Ocean Road knows already that it is beautiful in a hilly, twisty, turny, windy kind of way. It was still dark outside, and within minutes my guts felt like a tumble dryer. For the first time since I was about 7, I had that terrible sensation of motion sickness. I managed to keep the contents of my stomach in my stomach, but it was a mission. A few times I saw Zoey glance at me and I saw the fear that I was about to hurl all over her, combined with sympathy for my plight.

But we got to Kennett River without incident and went to grab a coffee. Because coffee. It is a thing.

Then the super long line for the ladies. So long that when we realised the random runners disappearing into the scrub were not just out there adjusting their racing kit, we took off into the paddocks as well.

Finally as the sky lightened fully we corralled at the start line and took off running. Straight up the first hill. I mentioned hilly right? I watched Zoey zoom off like a mountain goat on amphetamines, and happily fell into step with Lee and Emily until we crested the first hill. At that point I cranked up the volume on my tunes, waved to my mates and stepped up the pace with the secret hope that just maybe, despite the hills, I’d pull a PB on this run. I was ready to race.

Within about 500 metres I realised that the gurgling in my guts wasn’t just from the effort of the uphill sections. I maintained my pace, but by a few kilometres into the race I pulled off the road and spent a good five or so minutes emptying my stomach. Motion sickness, you SUCK! In between hurls I caught sight of Lee and Emily running past, and vowed I would catch up with them again one way or another. Luckily I’d managed to lose my lunch (or breakfast, or just coffee to be specific) quite near a water station so I rinsed my mouth and hit the road again.

I felt absolutely fine once my tummy had emptied, but realising that my ‘race’ was over was a bit shattering. Seven minutes lost on a normal race would be hard enough. On a hilly race? Forget it. I started easing up the hills at a trot instead of pushing myself, and bolting down the other side. I caught sight of my girls about 100 metres ahead and with a burst of energy launched myself forward to catch them.

What followed were some lovely easy kilometres of chatting and laughing as we ran. We ate our gels, we walked through the water stations. What had felt like a hard slog turned into a chance to really take in the amazing scenery along the coastline and appreciate running along this iconic road. Further along Emily pulled back for a bit, so Lee and I continued the run together.

I don’t know if it was the scenery, the conversation, the beautiful company or the fact that my race was taken from me so early, but somewhere in that 23 kilometres I felt a deep shift.

I am capable of being super competitive. I’ll never lose that desire to beat my own times, to pull PB’s and to get faster and stronger. Which is good really, because I’d get so bored with training if I didn’t have goals to aspire to. But the Great Ocean Road gave me something that I’d lost long before.

It gave me back the joy of running.

Not racing. Just running.

It was a physically challenging course, but those hours just flew by whilst we solved all the problems of the world as we ran. The beauty of our surrounds lifted us up, and as we finally approached the finish line in the very opposite of record time I was able to reach out to my family and grab three of my four children to run the last 50 metres with me.

Instead of the pride and exhaustion of having smashed out a personal best run, I felt something different. A deep and abiding love for my family and for my friends, who have supported my running journey from the very beginning. They’ve been there for every step… even those lonely long ones out on my rail trail in the middle of nowhere.

The Great Ocean Road taught me that for all the excitement of racing, there is an awful lot to be said for just going for a run. Even moreso for finding your tribe; the people who share the lows of injury and disappointment then give you wings when you need them most.

I will race many events in the coming years. But those I will look forward to the most will be the ones that I just run. With my team. With my people.


Our next big Operation Move team event is the Melbourne Marathon series in October. We are proud to be offering a brand new event training course for anyone thinking about running the 10k or half marathon.

Come for a run with the most supportive team around.


Zoey Dowling

Written by: operationmove

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  1. Zoey Dowling

    Beautifully written. Sitting here with my stupid injured foot I'm taking everything you're saying and putting it in my memory bank for later. So glad you're back my darling friend xx

  2. Wonderfully written. OperationMove is good people. <3

  3. Yes I understand this so much I cried as I crossed the finish line at GOR after such an emotional run. Some runs change us. Beautifully written.

  4. I was motion sick on the Great Ocean Road and I wasn't even running. I can't imagine what that feels like at the start of a race. It;'s nice to just run sometimes and not worry about anything else isn't it.

  5. Pingback: When Zoey met Katie. - Operation Move September 17, 2014

    […] we all know what the results of her training looked like. She came in half an hour before me at the Great Ocean Road, then smashed out a sub 2 hour AND a sub 1:50 half marathon in quick succession. Times I still have […]