Ever considered running 100 kilometres in one go?
Mel Bingley has attempted it twice and, while completing it still eludes her, it’s very much on her bucket list.
That’s not to say Mel hasn’t completed many other incredible races, and as race director of Stromlo Running Festival since 2019 she knows a thing or two about lacing up her sneakers and pounding the trails.
Although she was sports vice-captain in high school, Mel says she was a bit of a nerd, and started running in her late teens and early 20s with one goal in mind.
“The 14km City2Surf race is a bit of a pinnacle event that draws in huge crowds – more than a quarter of a million people a year – so that was my goal,” says Mel.
Once that race was under her belt, Mel kept on running, completing the Blackmores Half Marathon in Sydney and then getting involved in Can Too, a charity organisation providing professional coaching in return for raising money for cancer research.
When she relocated from Sydney to Canberra, Mel switched to trail running.
She describes the move to the ACT as a bit of a homecoming as her husband, Steve Bingley, originates from the region. Together, they launched outdoor group fitness business Century Strength and Conditioning.
“Everyone said we were crazy to come to this climate and start an outdoor bootcamp,” laughs Mel.
But the business took off and so did Mel’s passion for the bush capital’s great outdoors.
“I seriously think Canberra is second to none when it comes to trail running,” she says. “There’s a whole community of keen runners, a bevy of well-connected trails, and then iconic tracks such as Canberra Centenary Trail all on our doorstep.
“I really just love climbing some of those big hills.”
While Mel admits says she will never be a podium runner – she says she only has one speed, “plodding” – there is something about the sport that has kept her hooked for around two decades.
“There’s the community, the vibe of amazing festivals such as Stromlo Running Festival, and the feeling of accomplishment and motivation when you set a goal,” she says.
“I much prefer training when you have a goal race in mind as it keeps you accountable. I like signing up for events that are going to push me out of my comfort zone and encourage me to train hard.”
But Mel also knows firsthand that goals don’t always pan out the way you hope, and that you have to just keep on running.
While they were still living in Sydney, Steve completed an ultra 100km trail run, which kickstarted Mel’s desire to do the same. In her two attempts at the distance, she’s had a personal best of 75km, but the full distance remains elusive.
With the couple’s combined love of fitness and health, it’s unsurprising they both came onboard with the Stromlo Running Festival in 2019, which Mel describes as an event with a real community focus.
The spirit of event co-founder Robert de Castella is still very much thriving, especially given he still holds the Australian marathon record, which he set in 1986, and runners return year upon year for the race.
It’s also a growing festival, and in 2020 it saw a record number of participants despite being a restricted event due to COVID-19.
As well as Stromlo Running Festival being a goal race for many runners, Mel also encourages beginners to have a go.
Training for long runs, organising the festival, working a nine-to-five job four days a week, and juggling family life with three kids is a lot, but Mel says it’s easier because her and Steve take it in turns to support one another with their health and fitness goals.
“Focus on quality rather than quantity when it comes to training, and work your training into your life – it shouldn’t take over,” she says.
For more information and to register for the event on 20-21 November, 2021, visit Stromlo Running Festival.