Competing for Scotland in the Commonwealth Games

Dumfries GP Dr Joasia Zakrzewski competes in ultramarathons and has been selected for the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow

Dr Zakrzewski: training to prepare for the Commonwealth Games (Author images)
Dr Zakrzewski: training to prepare for the Commonwealth Games (Author images)

How did you get into running?

A friend talked me into taking part in the Atacama Crossing, a six-day 250km desert race across Chile. I was a medic and he was a competitor in the Jungle Marathon in Brazil.

I went from trying to complete the race to competing in it, finishing in a new women's record and sixth position overall (two hours, 45 minutes ahead of the next female competitor). From then on, I was hooked.

I ran the London marathon a month later and finished in three hours, one minute, which spurred a desire to break the three-hour barrier. I managed this in spring 2011, winning the New Orleans marathon in two hours, 47 minutes. I lowered my time to two hours, 41 minutes in Florence that autumn.

In between, I ran the Comrades Ultramarathon in South Africa. I won silver representing Great Britain in the World 100km championships and bronze in the 50km.

I have run Comrades on two more occasions (among other races), finishing in fourth place both times, earning a coveted gold medal.

Any memorable moments?

At the start of this year, I raced in the Seville marathon in Spain, where I was knocked down within seconds of starting and then ran with a cracked rib and a broken nose.

Standing behind the elite men on the startline, we were jostled by people behind and when the start sounded, the pressure became so intense, I was knocked to the ground. All I could see was hundreds of legs and feet bearing down on me.

My face was smashed into the concrete by the flow of runners and I felt people stand on my chest. After what seemed like forever, but was actually less than a minute, a kindly Spanish runner diverted oncoming runners and helped me back to my feet.

I debated dropping out of the race, but the adrenaline kicked in and I seemed to be flying down the road without a huge amount of effort and had to check myself to settle into a pace and steady my breathing.

I initially thought the pain in my right side was due to panic breathing, but it didn't go away. My knees stopped bleeding early on and my nose had almost completely settled down by the 10km mark.

The last few miles were the toughest. I tried to ignore the pain and focus on finishing strongly.

I knew I had made it home as fourth female runner, but wasn't sure of my time - the medics converged on me as I crossed the line. I pleaded to be given a finisher's medal before I was whisked away to hospital by ambulance (where they wanted to admit me for 24 hours to see the plastic surgeons about my broken nose).

I later learnt I had run two hours, 41 minutes, 27 seconds - slower than my best time, but not bad in the circumstances.

When did you qualify for the Commonwealth Games?

Last autumn, I lowered my marathon time to two hours, 39 minutes, enough to qualify for this distance in the Commonwealth Games.

I learned this spring that I had not been selected to run for Scotland, but I then received a late night call on my return from holiday in early June.

One of the other women was injured, so I was in the team. Shocked, stunned, honoured and rather scared doesn't start to cover how I felt.

The marathon, which is the first athletics event of the games, is being run on Sunday 27 July on the streets of Glasgow. It is unticketed, so anyone can come along to cheer the runners on.

How do you fit your training sessions around GP work?

It is difficult to fit training around life as a GP partner in Dumfries and I had to give up my police surgeon work to make more time.

There are early morning runs, runs to and from work and using a lot of my holiday to train or race. The late notice for the games in Glasgow has meant even more pressure to get ready, which is especially difficult at this time of year. The school holidays are a busy time and colleagues have annual leave booked, but we help each other as much as possible.

What's next for you?

After the games, I will be back to work, then heading to the US for the World Long Distance Mountain Running Championships.

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