Ultra Runner Kim Matthews: From 5.5KM Fun Run to 100KM Mountain Marathon
Growing up, Kim couldn't run for 1.5km without taking a walk break. But, once she crossed the finish line at 5.5km Melbourne Marathon, she started dreaming of bigger and more exciting goals.
Kim Matthews was never a runner. In her early twenties, she tried running but it never lasted for more than 15 minutes. And she couldn’t run the entire 1.5km without stopping for a break.
One day in 2008, she decided to sign up for 5.5km run at Melbourne Marathon with her then boyfriend (now husband) Danny. After a few sporadic training that never exceeded 15 minutes, she turned up for the race wearing netball shoes because she didn’t invest in running shoes.
The couple did their best in the overcrowded event. At the end of the race, they were bitten by the running bug. They couldn’t stop talking about the race, and they were already planning for their next race. From that moment, running quickly became an integral part of their lives.
From Fun Run to Marathon
The transition from fun run to a full marathon didn’t happen overnight. They took their time increasing their distances, enjoying the shorter races without any pressure to run longer. In 2009 and 2010, they had fun joining various races in Australia, from 8km Super Sunset Series Melbourne Zoo, to 15km in the Great Australian Run.
The road from fun run to marathon took Kim 6 years. After increasing her mileage to half marathon 2012, she added variety to her training by joining duathlon, vertical marathon and even triathlons. Eventually, she ran her first full marathon in 2014 City to Surf Perth with Danny and smashed her goal of completing a marathon under 4 hours.
Here’s how she did it in her own words,
Instead of training four or five days a week after work, I was training six to seven days, often morning and night, just to fit it all in. I was still a gym member and I had also joined up to local kickboxing classes, giving me another form of cross-training in my schedule. During the intense weeks I was swimming, cycling and running three times per week, taking part in one weights session and two or three kickboxing classes, plus some core work at home. My life boiled down to work, exercise, sleep, repeat. I loved it.
From Marathon to Ultramarathon
It wasn’t long after that Kim decided an ultramarathon was on the cards. She signed up for a 50km race in Marysville Marathon. After coming back from her long-term travelling of 6 months to Central America, she had only 14 weeks to go from almost zero to 50 km.
She created her own training program where she combined training programs that are available online and her own experience training for the full marathon the previous year. She ran five days a week, cross-training with cycling and weights on the other days. On weekends, she would run at Perth hills. She recalled, “I peaked at about 90 km a week, with a long run of 40 km. I analysed the course map and elevation profile, organising my race plan to fit around the aid stations and drop bags. By the time race day came around, I felt as prepared as I could be.”
Her first ultra race wasn’t without any challenges. Firstly, the temperature in the mountain was so much colder than the temperature at the place where she trained at. Secondly, she picked up chest infection 2 weeks before the race and didn’t recover in time. But hard work and perseverance triumphed. She became the first female to cross the finish line, despite her bib saying, “Kimpossible.”
For newbies who have completed a marathon but have never done an ultramarathon, Kim advised,
If you have completed a marathon I am certain that you can finish an ultra. Often it is only mindset holding people back from signing up, but I encourage you to make the leap – you won’t regret it. There are a few differences, most notably an adjustment in pace and expected finishing time, plus nutrition becomes more of a factor. A little research online will give you all the training and racing advice you need. I had many doubts leading into my first 50km, but it ended up being one of the best experiences of my life.
Kim’s Current Obsession
Having been running trails and ultras two years now, Kim has found that trail run is her passion in life. She hasn’t completed a road race for 18 months now and doesn’t have any burning desire to go back to roads yet. But she hopes that one day, she would complete a half and full Ironman.
Since the end of 2015, Kim and Danny have been living in Southeast Asia for work. Here, Kim joined various ultramarathons in Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Philippines, with the longest distance being 100km (Penang Eco 100 and Vietnam Mountain Marathon). And she won most of those ultramarathons that she took part in Asia!
This incredible woman achieved all these by self-training. She reads tons of running books, listens to podcasts regularly and subscribes to several running blogs. She feels that she knows what she needs to do to train well, but she believes the different perspective provided by a coach would greatly benefit her.
Kim admits that training for trail races is not easy, especially since she’s living in Saigon at the moment. The city is flat and requires transportation to reach places where there are trails. To deal with this, she makes sure she gets lots of mileage in, uses bridges and stairs to simulate hills, and tries to fit in resistance work to help build up the strength. “If I had a choice I would live in a place that allows me to run on trails every day,” said Kim.
Kim Matthews has a specific goal that she wants to achieve this year. That is completing a 100-mile race (approximately 161km) to make up for her disappointing performance in Thailand last year. In addition, she wants to join races she hasn’t completed before to explore the amazing trails out there across Asia.
When asked about the plan to settle down, Kim said, “My husband and I are happy with our how our lives are going right now. I’m enjoying my running adventures, and we definitely want to travel more in the future. Being an expat means that our lives can change in an instant, and we never know where will be more than a couple of months in advance. While this lifestyle isn’t for everyone, we love the spontaneity and the chance to explore new cities and cultures. We never make any long-term plans, we just see where life leads us.”