Worth the weight

15 July 2011

Written by: James Rosewarne

When the Women’s marathon gets underway at this year’s World Athletic Championships in South Korea, Australia’s best distance runner won’t be there.

Instead, Lisa Weightman will be in Melbourne, curled up on the couch with her husband Lachlan closely eyeing the form of her competitors.

Though qualified, Weightman’s decision not to run this year in Daegu says a lot about how far she’s come as an athlete and how much she appreciates her body and its limitations.

To understand Weightman’s ascension to the top of Australian distance running is impossible without noting the veritable laundry list of injuries she’s overcome throughout her career. Seven stress fractures in nine years, countless hamstring strains, a severe stomach upset which landed her in hospital and more recently osteitis pubis, have at various stages held Weightman back. However, had it not been for those challenges, she may never have become the runner she is today.

‘Being injured has taught me two basic things; patience and balance. Patience because with injury you have to wait and recover before you can run again and be doing what you love. Balance because injury breaks have given me the time to develop my professional career and spend more time with my family who are very special to me.”

Her maturity as a runner underpins Weightman’s decision to forgo the expected sweltering conditions of South Korea, which will bear no resemblance to what’s predicted for the London Olympics next year – conditions Weightman knows only too well after competing at the Delhi Commonwealth Games last October where she won bronze in a punishing marathon.

‘Following Delhi I was just exhausted. The marathon was run in thirty two degree heat in the most gruelling conditions imaginable. We flew home the next day and I remember walking through the airport, barely able to support myself. My knee just buckled at one point……I was a bit of a mess.’

Upon returning to Melbourne Weightman immediately resumed her full time role as a business consultant for IBM as well as moving apartments. All the while sporting a strained quad she’d picked up in Cairns in preparation for the Commonwealth Games.  The strain on her body from the Games experience contributed to a restricted training program through to Christmas.

‘We only moved from one apartment in the Northern Suburbs to another yet the experience was surprisingly quite an effort. It was a frustrating time as on the one hand I was over the moon to have won bronze in Delhi, however my body simply wasn’t allowing me to get back to doing what I wanted it to.’

Weightman initially burst onto the marathon scene with her debut appearance at the distance at the London Marathon in 2008. She not only finished 13th but posted a time (to the very second) equal to the best Australian debut set by Lisa Ondieki in 1983. Weightman’s time also qualified her for the Beijing Olympics where in only her second marathon she came in 33rd.

‘Competing in Beijing was so surreal. To have made my first Olympic Games after my debut in London was so unbelievable. I also think the Olympics prepared me well for what I expected in Delhi. I’m hoping that experience helps me get to the finish line in London in a much better position.’

Weightman’s performance in Beijing certainly raised her reputation in the athletics world, but it was what she achieved over the following two years which solidified her status as an elite runner.

At the 2009 World Championships in Berlin Weightman ran 18th in a faster time than what she ran in London on debut, and three and half minutes faster than her time in Beijing. In April 2010, in perhaps her best performance to date, Weightman won the prestigious Nagano Marathon in a personal best time of two hours and twenty eight minutes. In that race, Weightman not only beat her nearest competitor by more than three minutes, but in the process became the first Australian to ever win the event.

‘Nagano was a surprise to some but not to my coach or those closest to me. I was in personal best shape going into the race and I knew I had a really big chance to take it out. What I didn’t expect was to be leading so early and for so long. To record that win was just so enormous to prove that I could be up there with the best.’

Weightman’s presently in recovery mode again, having been diagnosed with osteitis pubis (severe inflammation and bruising of the pelvic bone) in February. Her recovery has consisted of regular visits to the Victorian Institute’s of Sport’s medical team along with calling upon her famous intestinal fortitude which has helped her through similar hard times in the past. She’s only just started running again which for the moment consists of nothing more than a gentle stroll around Princess Park.

In late August her coach Dick Telford has scheduled some altitude training in order to fast-track her recovery and to place her in a better position to record another sub two hour, 32 -minute marathon which is the qualifying standard for the London Olympics. At this stage a location hasn’t been set, however it’s quite possible Weightman will be following in the footsteps of her beloved Collingwood players with a trip to Arizona leading the list of possibilities.

At just 32, Weightman is only now entering her prime and can take comfort in the fact that the winner of the 2008 Beijing marathon, Romanian Constantina Tomescu, was 38 when she crossed the line. And though Weightman will be watching August’s World Championships from her couch, she can be pleased with how incredibly far she’s come in recent times in addition to her numerous achievements outside of athletics.

Next year and those beyond will hopefully be about bringing all facets of her life together. Hopefully minus the injuries.

James Rosewarne is a Communications student at La Trobe University and upstart’s sports editor.