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Lucy Bartholomew trains and smiles through Australia’s wildfires, COVID-19

Australia has suffered a one-two punch in the last six months, first devastating wildfires, then COVID-19.

“It’s been some of the worst times for Australia,” ultrarunner Lucy Bartholomew says from her home in Diamond Creek, Melbourne. “The fires were horrific and just as towns and communities began to rebuild, the amount of smoke in the atmosphere created its own climate and we had terrible flooding.”

Some of the fires have been burning since November or December. “I was in and out of the country between Australia and New Zealand but it was really upsetting to hear about it when you are not in the country to fight with your community,” Bartholomew says.

She considers herself lucky since the wildfires did not affect her directly, through a minor fire just 7 kilometers from her home destroyed one of her favorite tracks. “The really big fires in the alpine area and the east coast only affected me through clouds of smoke and closed trails, if I wanted to train in these areas. The smoke was so bad some days that running was too dangerous and it was a time to be serious about the health risks.

Races were cancelled and though she wasn’t signed up for any, her brother was. Still, as the fires receded, Australians looked forward to life getting back to normal.

“Once that was recovered and people were calling March the ‘new, new years,’ we went into lockdown for the virus.”

At the time, Bartholomew was in Nepal and had to change her flight to get home. “I felt like every time I touched down it was with a crisis and suffering for many. Australia is very brave for battling the way they are and with the spirit that remains. I am very proud.”

Working her way back

And Australia is proud of Bartholomew.

She gained attention during a pretty solid string of finishes from mid-2017 to mid-2018, highlighted by fifth place at TDS, a victory at Tarawera and, of course, third place at Western States. In 2019, her body was telling her she needed to take a step back.

“I really look back to when I started running ultras in 2012 and I realized that with the way I travel from northern hemisphere to southern hemisphere I never really have a good break,” she explains. “After a super successful but very tiring 2018 with my first 100-mile run that I put my heart and soul into I knew I needed to sit back a bit as it was booming obvious that this was not sustainable. I also started to feel my body and mind reject the running and the joy for it.”

Physically, Bartholomew was dealing with a hamstring injury.

“I saw it as a tap on the shoulder to say, ‘Time to rest now before we have another injury that will be more debilitating,’” she says. “It was a mix of voluntary rest, small injuries, a step back and out-running the joy a little, burn out.”

Waiting for Western

In 2019, Bartholomew finished 15th at Western and was aiming to improve upon that this year.

“Of course, I was a little sad,” she says of hearing that Western was officially cancelled. “That race has always meant so much to me. Even before I had stepped foot on the course it was the race my Dad and I talked about a lot. More than the race I was sad that it will mean not getting to see the family and friends I have come to know as my own from the two years of being in that area for the race.”

Now that the initial disappointment has worn off, Bartholomew is looking forward to June 2021.

“After the sad emotions comes a lot more gratitude for the race to make a hard decision that is fair for all the athletes involved during this time and gratitude that I will still stand on that start line in 2021. I know how special that is.”

She is also hoping for a strong showing at UTMB, which as of now is still on. “It will be my first time to do this race but if that too has to wait another year that’s OK.”

Life in Australia now

Finding gratitude at this time is critically important to the mindset of everyone, runners and non-runners alike. After the number of coronavirus cases peaked in late March In Australia, there are now between 10 and 20 new cases daily.

Bartholomew says Australia’s physical location and isolation have been helpful in limiting the impact of the coronavirus. Still, she points to a photo from a beach in Sydney that indicted Aussies were not following the early recommendations for social distancing.

“Once we learned that this is not acceptable and we weren’t just doing this for ourselves but others we have done a really good job of abiding by the rules and trying our best to be respectful and safe.”

The Australian government has said there are five reasons to be outside of your home: essential work or education, fitness, shopping for essentials, and receiving medical care.

“For exercise there is no limit on the distance you can go or for how long,” she says. “It is more of a ‘don't be dumb and please be respectful’ approach. We don't want to have to rescue anyone for trying to be a hero on a trail in the middle of nowhere and we don't want 1,000 people at the same park.”

Bartholomew is able to keep training, thanks to gym equipment at her home (her dad works at a fitness center). “And I have nice trails and roads nearby that I actually don’t get to run so much as I don’t spend too much time at home these days with all the travel so really, my training has been very consistent and fun!”

With stay-in-place orders, this will be the first winter in six years that she will be at home. “That will be a challenge for me but maybe I will try some snow sports if the snow falls but otherwise working on my cook book is enough for me.”

Cooking up a healthy diet

Bartholomew refers to herself as a foodie, and her website offers a peak into her favorite dishes. She describes herself as having a plant-based diet.

“I travel a lot and I always try to do my best with where I am, what I need and the choices I can make but for sure it’s not perfect," she says, noting she has been plant-based for about five years. “I have found that it gives me good, light energy and I really enjoy the challenge to create food me and my family or friends can enjoy without the effects on the environment or the animals.”

When she switched, one of the biggest takeaways was how a plant-based diet impacted her sleep.

“When you eat some meat for dinner and go to bed you spend a lot of the night with blood going to your stomach to break that down so the body doesn’t get the full time to do what sleep is made for: rebuilding, repairing and growing muscles and ‘cleaning’ the systems,” she explains. “When I started to eat a plant-based meal for dinner I found that it was ingested a lot quicker making more time for the important things to be the best athlete and version of myself I can be. This meal was the first thing to change for me and I saw the biggest noticeable difference.”

Amid this challenging time, Bartholomew will focus on her training, work on her cookbook and — perhaps most importantly — smile.

“Even through the tough times; tough times build tough people. Together, we got this.”

Speed drill

Name: Lucy Bartholomew Hometown: Diamond Creek, Melbourne, Australia Number of years running: 8 years-ish. How many miles a week do you typically run: 60 to 80 miles Point of pride: My smile even in the tough moments. Favorite pre-race or training food/drink: Oat waffles. Anything oats really with fruit and nut butter. Favorite piece of gear: The Salomon S/lab Sense 8 shoes Favorite or inspirational song to run to: Together, Ziggy Alberts. Not for fast running though, ha ha. Favorite or inspirational mantra/phrase: Hakuna Matata, it means no worries.

Where can other runners connect or follow you: Facebook:




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