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My teenage running years - Benita Willis

I have a lot of fond memories of my teenage running years. Growing up in a country town (beachside suburb of Mackay, NQ), we used to do a lot of training that didn’t really seem like training at all. It was more of a way of life for us – how we lived and what we enjoyed. 

How I used to train

I loved competing but didn’t always enjoy training quite as much. I was so competitive that backyard sport with my siblings (I had 2 brothers and 1 sister) often finished when it was too dark to see the ball anymore (we were mad keen hockey players so this was hockey games) or mum was yelling “dinner time”. I used to get fired up in hockey games all the time (played underage hockey for Australia – was 16 when I was selected in the Aussie U/18 side to tour South Africa) if things weren’t going our teams’ way whether it was against my siblings in the backyard or National/ International tournaments. Just my competitive nature I think!

For running, I only used to train for 4 months a year to align with the Australian All Schools Championships in December each year. When I was in year 8 + 9, I wasn’t really enjoying the running as much as hockey so I didn’t even compete in those years. I just did hockey, touch, netball and many other back yard sports with my siblings on weekends.

When I was in year 10, 11 + 12, I trained for these 4 months of the year from Aug to Nationals (as this was when the hockey season had ended). My high school coach was John Clancy (he is now head of sport at BGS) and we often trained with the school rugby guys (as he was also their coach) but obviously did some great running sessions. We always trained on the school grass track, I remember a hard session back then was 6 x 300m with 2min recovery. My long runs were on the beach near where I lived and these were about 20min. Quite hard if the wind was against you in one direction! I also did sand hills on the weekends with my dad and sister, Caitlin. All up I would say I ran about 4 x per week but was training most days as often had some out of season hockey or other sport on or back yard sport with my siblings. I would say I did a lot of incidental exercise (i.e. we would often ride to school – took about 75min there and 75min back) just so we didn’t have to catch the bus, thought we were cool haha.

Where I used to train

I generally trained at our school oval at Mackay North State High school or at my beach (Bucasia). It was great training at low tide as the sand there is as hard as dirt so you have to wait for the right times. We also lived across the road from a primary school so I used their oval too. It was 260m so interesting doing reps on that! I had a few people I trained with at school and these numbers usually declined as the year went on as only those who’d made regionals/ states then nationals would continue training.

My goals

I didn’t have any specific running goals growing up. I watched a lot of football and cricket on TV but didn’t really think I could be someone who’d say go to the Olympics. Racing wise, I did think it was weird to win races by a large margin or run in a ‘time trial’ type fashion. So, I always ran the ‘sit and kick’ style race – thought that was the best way to race. Have learnt a few more tactics since then!

The most important people

For me, it was my Dad and my sister, Caitlin. My Dad loved running and did heaps of running with us. He was also a teacher at my high school so was always out at training to pick us up and see how we all were going. Sadly, he passed away in 2008 but taught me so much about life and how to love the simple things we sometimes take for granted. My sister Caitlin went on to be a fantastic athlete (amongst many achievements) and we often trained together although she was more of a speed athlete then me (gold medallist in the 4x400m at Melbourne CG, WC rep x 2). We had fun which was the main thing and why I continued to enjoy it.


Special things I remember

I used to love going to Brisbane to run on the red track. In those days, I didn’t like wearing shoes to race so I used to tape my big toe. Was a bit easier then figuring out what shoes to buy or wear! I used to love going to state and national titles as I got to meet some of the Brisbane runners – many of whom I am still good friends with to this day. I love the friends you make in running and for me, these people have lasted the test of time. I remember getting billeted for state and national titles – often you wouldn’t know who would be looking after you till you showed up after the really long bus trip or flight to your race destination. There is none of this now but we did have some fun hanging out with different families over the years.


I remember winning the Qld and National Championships over 800m + 1500m when I was in year 10, 11 + 12. I guess I enjoyed the success but didn’t deal with the pressure of people ‘expecting’ me to win as I got older – I would rather be the underdog! I had to learn how to deal with this pressure as I got older – for young athletes out there, don’t be afraid to take some time out to learn about yourself and your body as life and running doesn’t always have to go full steam ahead. We all come up against hurdles at unexpected times (running is such a rewarding sport but hard too) and it’s having the right people around to help you, which allows you to not only get through it but stronger for the experience.