Heather Turland - A Balanced Life
Story by: Amanda Kunkler
When Heather Turland arrives to pick up her children from school dressed in close-fitting leggings and a crop top that reveal her muscled frame, no-one raises an eyebrow.
The other parents and children know exactly where Turland's heading. After dropping the kids off at home, organising their afternoon tea and taking them to after-school sport training, she hits the road for a quick 10km run.
This is Turland's second training run for the day. She has already tackled the steep incline from the family's home on Bowral's Mt. Gibraltar during a 6am session, covering between 15km - 35km before returning home, getting the children off to school and going to the gym she runs in town.
At various stages during the day Turland finds time to prepare dinner, catch up on housework, ferry her four children to after-school activities, help make school lunches, clear the dinner dishes, supervise homework and fold laundry.
The commitments of working and organising a family are enough to exhaust most parents, without a two-hour run every day. But it's a juggling act Turland, 37, has been happy to perform for the past four years, after discovering she had a talent and passion for running.
Turland isn't an Australian household name, but after her selection for the Athens World Athletics Championships in August she is one step closer to gaining international recognition. "This is the highlight for me, it's the biggest thing that's happened to me", Turland said. The Athens race will be the pinnacle of her career, and although she's not expecting a place, let alone a win, she is hoping to run well. "A good run in Athens is pretty much automatic selection for the Commonwealth Games", she said. "Then once again a good run at the Commonwealth Games and then proof of fitness is your next step towards (the Olympics) Sydney 2000. That's the ultimate ... I'll be 40 then so after that, I'll continue running, but at what level I don't know."
After taking up marathon running seriously just four years ago, Turland was the last one to consider herself an elite athlete, well after the officials and other runners started to take notice. After all, she only took up running to get back into shape in between the births of her children. She even entered a few fun runs with the girls from the local gym. But it wasn't until she came fifth in the 1993 City to Surf race in Sydney that Turland considered she just might have the potential to compete at a higher level.
"I just went in the City to Surf with a group of girlfriends and ran, and when I came over the finishing line they passed me a flag with a number five on it. I just couldn't believe it," she said. "I can remember holding this flag and looking up and thinking I was fifth. I wasn't even running seriously. "After I was fifth it was really my husband, Gary, who wrote off to the institute (Australian Institute of Sport) for a (training) program and he said: 'You know you should train seriously, you've got potential.' But I really didn't believe in myself."
Turland began following the institute's regime scrawled on a bit a paper. She was now training with a new goal - other than running for enjoyment and exercise. "Running was always my special time. I started jogging to maintain my weight because I wanted to have the children fairly close, so I just started getting up early in the morning before my husband, who is a builder, went to work at 7.30," she said. "Then I'd be at home with the children all day. When I discovered I had this ability suddenly it wasn't just getting up in the morning and going for a run because it made me feel better and I loved it - I had other goals I was aiming for."
About six months after she started serious training, Turland won the 21km 1994 Sydney half marathon, overtaking athletes she had only read about, including 1990 Commonwealth Games silver medallist Tani Ruckle. "I didn't think I would win it. If I was in the top 10 I would have been happy. Suddenly running was an ability I never realised I had," Turland said.
Turland's life then changed dramatically. She now had a major sponsor with Puma and started to focus more on her running, setting goals and working hard to prepare for each race. In 1994 alone she competed in Korea, America, Norway and twice in Japan, as well as Australian races. She finally gained selection in an Australian team after finishing third with an Olympic qualifying time of 2hrs, 35min, 10sec in her first full marathon of 42km in Frankfurt, Germany, last October.
Turland said it wasn't hard to stay focused before such an event, but the actual race could sometimes be a psychological hurdle. "That's where her coach, Nowra physiotherapist Larry Wicks, comes in. I remember before the Frankfurt marathon, although I knew I had done the training and raced a really good half marathon four weeks prior, I rang Larry in tears and said I don't think I can run that far. He just said to me, 'I have no doubt you'll be sensational'. That's all he said and when I was coming over the finishing line and looking at the time, realising I was going to run an Olympic qualifying time, those words came back to me. Just having someone believe in you is really important because it helps you believe in yourself."
Turland's husband Gary and children Clint, 15, Carli, 13, Guy, 11, and Cade, 9, were overseas for her biggest racing achievement, although they didn't watch the race. She said she didn't want them at the venue because she feared their presence would break her concentration before the race.
Turland said she had never had the ambition to travel overseas, let alone represent Australia. "Running was just something that I discovered I had an ability in. We certainly wouldn't have travelled if it wasn't for the opportunities form running. It's been great."
It's Turland's ordinary beginnings and attitude that make her running achievements even more remarkable. She was never a great runner as a child and would only participate in the obligatory school sports carnivals. She didn't develop an interest in fitness until after she became a mother, when she and Gary started a gum in Bowral. The couple sold the gym when Turland became serious about training for marathon running, but bought the same gym back three years later when their children were older. "(The gym is) still a bit of a social thing for me. I love it and I love the people there," she said. "They often motivate me when I am not feeling so motivated. Sometimes if I'm suppose to be running on the road and I am feeling a bit flat I'll go and run on the treadmill and by the time I've had a bit of a chat to the people on the treadmills beside me I'm feeling energetic and ready to go again.
Turland may be able to overcome a lack of motivation, but where does she find the stamina to train, race, help run a business and look after four children? She pays someone to do the ironing, but does the housework herself. "I just keep on the go all the time. I never let anything build up and Gary is very supportive and willing to help to fold clothes or whatever. The kids pull their own weight, particularly the older two. They'll cook sometimes if I've got to do a second training session. I'll put out some pasta and mince meat or something, and I can go and come back home and they'll have made a spaghetti bolognaise."
Family is the most important thing to Turland. In fact, she feels she wouldn't be able to be as successful as a marathon runner if not for the perfect balance of having a family life. "I wouldn't like to have just running. It's good to be focused but I think there needs to be a balance. For me the balance is having a family, having a supportive family, and being able to be a little bit selfish and do my running which I enjoy as well."
There were times, Turland said, "when you sort of think it's all folding in on you but I think that happends no matter what you do, whether you're a working mother who works nine-to-five or not. Generally I think we keep on top of it all." Even so, there are still times Turland experiences feelings of guilt. "School holidays can sometimes be frustrating because it's difficult. I want to be with the children but I need to fit my training in and probably get a massage once a week, and sometimes you feel like you're a bit selfish trying to have time to yourself because you've got four people who need time as well."
"But family grounds me. After I won the half marathon in May I came straight home. A friend rang to congratulate me and asked if I was going out to celebrate. I said no I had to do housework because I'd been away from home since the Friday. I just went from one end of the house to the other, it was like a bonb had hit it. I thin I worked until 11 o'clock that night just getting the house into shape, making lunches and getting clothes into order. But that's what life is all about."
Family and running are integrated as much as possible in Turland's life. She's now in Townsville with the children, for a month's heat preparation training with fellow marathon runner Steve Moneghetti. "They're saying Athens could be up to about 30 (degrees Centrigrade). At Townsville I think at the moment it's about 27, so hopefully it will get us ready for the body to be acclimatised as much as possible", she said.
After Townsville Turland will return home for a week, when she will travel to Sydney regularly to run in a heat chamber, before flying to Italy for three weeks and finally to Atherns four days before the August 9 race. "Most of the athletes have already gone over but I'm not prepared to leave the family that long, nor is Steve (Moneghetti)."
In Athens Turland would like to run an Olympic qualifying time (2hr 35min), but she's not looking at a place because of the tough competition at world level. "(When I run) I try to be positive and when I'm not feeling so good I keep reinforcing to myself that I've done the work, that I'm strong and that I'm in control, all those sorts of thoughts that hopefully carry me through."
Post running, Turland will be comfortable with whatever life has to offer, hopefully continuing to brave the frosty Bowral winter mornings for regular runs. "It never gets to minus but it gets cold and we get snow up on the Gib (Mt. Gibralter) probably twice in winter, but it doesn't matter once you get warmed up. I like the freedom of running. I think marathon runners are a breed of their own. They tend to like their own company. I like the feeling of being fit and well, of waking in the morning and running 10k, 20k or 30k. Each day is a challenge."
When Turland has finished being an elite runner, she hopes she is remembered not only for her athletic ability, but for her rise from the ordinary. "I like to think that people would look at me and remember me as an athlete who has a family and a balanced life - I think that's so important. People automatically feel they've got something in common with me because I'm not just a runner. They feel they can approach me and have a chat about their teenage daughter who's running or how they used to run around the block once and now they run around three times. You've automatically got something in common with the average person because what you're doing, in as far as you're a mum, is like everybody else."
"I guess I'm hope for them that you can achieve anything if you set your mind to it."
Cool Running Australia 19.07.97. This article first appeared in the Illawarra Mercury, 05.07.97. Reproduced with permission from the Illawarra Mercury. Photo by Ian Kemp, Cool Running Australia.